July 12, 2014

A Place to Hang Your Hat

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:25 am by kbartlez

I’ve been up in the San Jose area for a few days now helping my cousin find a cheap place to stay. I have to say, for a Japanese kid, he has a lot of guts (or profound naïveté—your call) for coming out here with nothing planned or set up outside of school.
The first day, despite a ton of emails, visits and phone calls yielded nothing. We were coming to the realization that any place was going to be double what he had the budget and means for. Even then, this is still currently the tightest market in California because of the new tech boom. We did, however, get one email back regarding a rather dingy sublet in Downtown San Jose.
The next morning was more of the same. No vacancies and nothing remotely affordable. Then we went to see Ben—our man in Downtown. He showed us a place that was a converted old hotel. The rooms were well renovated but the rest was pretty old and frankly, creepy. But at this point, we were pretty exasperated and ready to seal the deal. “Hold on, I have a nicer place that’s not listed for the same price,” he says.
Turns out the other place is a MUCH nicer place. Still a sublet with common bathrooms and kitchens, This time it’s a converted house. A pretty new one at that. To say Ben had a rough go of this place is an understatement. His previous group of tennants were a group of college males that pretty much made it into Animal House. Windows were broken and the place was completely trashed. Police were called on a couple occasions. He finally got them out and spent another wad of cash repairing and restoring the place.
Needless to say, he became wary of who next to rent the place out to. Apparently, seeing my quiet cousin, he must have figured he’d be a good fit. And a handshake and lease later, he’s got himself a decent place, very close to all major hubs, though a little far from his school.

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A remnant of the prior inhabitants.

December 22, 2013

A Lifetime of Cooking

Posted in Epicurian at 11:56 pm by kbartlez

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This is one the first cooking gadgets I’ve ever owned, from when I first started to cook meals some 30+ years ago. I still use this, though now it takes a backseat to my KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I recall that my first forays into cooking were in recreating these Kraft Foods-sponsored recipes that would appear in TV Guide along with specials. I distinctly remember “The Lion,The Witch, and the Wardrobe” as one of them. My first cookbook that I tried to follow was a Sunset Western Cookbook from the library at Madison Junior High (now a middle school or something).

The necessity of this interest in the culinary arts came from my mother, who said, “If you want to eat Western food, cook it yourself.” In hindsight, my mother was pretty patient. What with me most likely making a mess of the kitchen, buying up spices that would be useless to her, and making some probably not-very-good-tasting dishes. I remember there was a classic casserole with the crushed potato chips on top in particular. Remember, this was the 70s.

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The first cookbook of note that I purchased was The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, which I also still use to this day. Now my cookbook collection is massive. Combined with Fu’s cookbooks, it’s its own library section in our breakfast nook, occupying three rows of shelves.

What started back then and has continued almost uninterrupted for all these decades is that I was the one cooking the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. There are many variations of all sorts of recipes I’ve attempted, some becoming classics. It’s my favorite time of the year, laboring on a massive feast for my friends and family. Happy Holidays, everyone!

May 30, 2013

Buffy Made Me Cry

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:04 am by kbartlez

About a month ago, I started binge-viewing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Two shows that I’d never seen an episode of. Since, of late, I had become a Joss Whedon fan, I figured it was high time I gave them a try. I certainly didn’t anticipate that I’d like the shows as much as I do. Last night I watched the episode from the fifth season titled “The Body.” It is the one in which Buffy’s mother, who had just recovered and was doing well from an operation to remove a brain tumor, suddenly dies of an aneurism. According to the Wikipedia entry on the episode, it’s the first episode where someone dies of natural causes. Suffice it to say, I cried for almost the entire episode.

While I won’t go into hyperbole mode and say it’s one of the best episodes of television, I will say for me, it was. The primary reason is that it hit so close to home. I was raised by a single mother as well. And like Buffy, I came home one day to find out she had suddenly died. And much like this episode, since I had no other family, my close friends, who were grieving and confused right beside me, was what helped me get through the period. I’ve not seen that process captured and conveyed so well as it was on this show. If I had seen this when it first aired, just around ten years after my mother’s death, I’d probably be even more of a wreck. The confusion, the grief, the attempts to be stoic, the need for support, the sitting with friends in awkward silence. I experienced all of that. As Amber Benson’s character Tara says, it’s different for everyone and yet there is an understanding that only people who have experienced this loss know. I’ve read that Whedon used the episode as his own outlet for dealing with his mother’s death. It’s a superb piece of television. From the complete lack of music, long tracking single camera shots, and simply the brutal honesty of death. 

This all comes at a time when I’m planning a trip to Japan for my mother’s 23rd memorial service. The Bhuddists have specific years that are observed, and this one is to be the last one. That means it’s been 22 years since I lost my mother. And days if not weeks do go by without me thinking of her, but when the reminders hit, I realize the wound is still tender and will never heal. Perhaps it’s better that way. It’ll keep me grounded.

March 5, 2013

A Close Call

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 am by kbartlez

Two times I’ve attempted to sell an iPhone on eBay, I’ve come across scammers. The first occurrence was Nigerian scammers asking if they could be by a means other than PayPal. This most recent incident involves a Ukrainian. Go ahead, look up “Ukrainian eBay scam” or “Nigerian eBay scam.” There are plenty.

First sign of trouble was when I found out the winning bid on the iPhone had a Ukraine shipping address. Even though I’d locked out non-US bidders, this person had a US account but Ukrainian shipping address. Fraud vector number one: the unwitting seller sends out a product before receiving payment–which never comes. It’s never been my policy to do so, and thus I haven’t fallen prey to this. In fact, I did receive a PayPal payment. Fraud vector number two: the scam artist uses false or stole credit card information to create the PayPal account. The account closes, and seller is told to return the funds. In this case, the funds cleared PayPal’s probationary period.

I took the package to our shipping department at work for FedEx International delivery. I notified the buyer that I’ve sent the package. The buyer demanded I ship it USPS instead. I thought it odd and stopped the shipment. Thankfully, it didn’t ship out. Then I started doing some research and discovered fraud vector number three. That’s where the buyer requests a carrier that isn’t DHL, FedEx or UPS. This way it’s not trackable. And so will simply tell eBay they never received the product. I cancelled the transaction and the shipment in time. I was way foolish to not be even more suspicious than usual. I’m giving a second chance bidder the option to buy, otherwise I’ll be relisting again.

March 5, 2012

A Long Journey’s End

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:36 pm by kbartlez

I received Bethesda’s Skyrim as a Christmas present. It was my first foray into console games in a very long time. Indeed, I hadn’t even played computer games in a long while. I wondered if I was over that phase of being drawn into a game. Turns out that was not the case. I just finally wound down from playing Skyrim this weekend, after almost 400 hours of play. There is no other game that I have played so intensely for so long. Until now, the heavy hitters were Final Fantasy, Suikoden, Oblivion as games that took 100-200 hours. Skyrim far surpassed those.

Still, because of some annoying bugs in the game, I did have to lose about 150 hours of play. I had to go a saved game from a month back in order to avoid the bug and continue on. But as of last weekend, I had finally finished the major Civil War and Dragon storylines. I’d also done the Mages’ College, Dark Brotherhood, Thieves’ Guild, Companions side quests and also the Dragon Priest Mask and Stones of Benzeriah side quests.

When all was said and done, I returned to my new, opulent home in Windhelm, sat down at the dining table with my lesbian wife (because I’m playing a female elf whose name is Buttercup), saved the game, and turned off the PS3. Fade to black.

January 13, 2012

Basic Home Wiring. A Comedy.

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:11 pm by kbartlez

While Fu was away during the break, I thought it a good idea to replace all of our old light switches and power sockets with new ones. What we had were old, cracking, yellowed. They came with the house, some 30-odd years ago. I know it’s dangerous to do so, but I knew working “live” with rubber gloves would be the way I’d go. And I saw plenty of sparks and tripped the fuse box a number of times. I can vouch that I felt no shock and was safe, though not prudent, I’m sure. Things were going pretty well. I got the hang of how the newer sockets worked pretty quickly. Most of the time, I’d simply note the wire configuration for the older piece and copy it for the new. I was working working on the power plug for our downstairs bathroom when I accidentally connected the two hot wires and tripped the fuse box. I went upstairs and reset the fuse. Still no power in the bathroom. I assumed I must have wired it wrong. Still no result. I then thought that perhaps I should be using a 20-amp socket instead of a 15. After all, the wires were too heavy a gauge to use in the new plug anyway. I went to the garage area, thinking I’ll drive Fu’s car to Lowe’s. I keyed in the code and the garage wouldn’t open. I thought perhaps that I’d typed it in too quickly. Still no response. I went to my own car and used the garage opener. Nothing. Then it dawned on me that the garage is on the same circuit as my guest bathroom. I was screwed. In a panic, I called a coworker’s husband, who’s an electrician. At the time, I didn’t realize that I had the wrong number, so I left a long, rambling message on someone else’s phone.

As I waited for a phone call that was never going to come, I took my continuity tester to other rooms to see how they were wired and where I might have erred. When I got to the master bathroom on the second floor, I noticed that the GFCI socket’s fuse had been tripped. I hit the little red button, and suddenly I heard the bathroom fan downstairs roar to life. The garage door was also back to operation. Turns out that I had wired it correctly from the start, but my short circuit had tripped an entirely different fuse. Everything was working, and I had finally succeeded before Fu came back from Japan. Or so I thought.

A couple days after her return Fu said, “There’s something wrong with the hallway light. It won’t come on anymore.” I opened up both of the three way switches. Couldn’t find anything wrong. Not that I really understood what I was looking at anyway. I rewired it, and the lights worked again. Unless you turned it off at one end and tried to turn it on at the other. Clearly, I hadn’t wired it correctly. I scoured my home wiring book. Looked at scores of online tutorials and videos concerning how to wire three way switched. But I was still doing something wrong. I was at my wits’ end. Again. My mind was no longer able to process the logic of what wire when where. I decided that there were 4 different ways the wires could be set up per socket. There were two. Making for sixteen possibilities. My mind was too fried to logic out a wiring schematic but not so much I couldn’t do some math. So I wrote out all sixteen possibilities and decided to go at them one by one. Finally, I caught a break. The first configuration actually worked. Whew. I’m done now. A proper 220 volt line needs to be installed for my workshop. I’m hiring a professional for that one.

Failure. Resolve. Revenge. Redemption.

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:48 pm by kbartlez

Back in 2010, I attempted and failed the Levi’s Gran Fondo Ride, noted here. It was a bitter disappointment for me. I had thought I was in pretty good shape. But early cramps pretty much obliterated any chances for me to finish.

I was determined to ride it again and be better prepared. I started by having my VO2Max levels tested at Phase IV Scientific Training & Performance. Once I was assessed, they gave me a training schedule which started with two months of base training. Since I was in pretty poor shape (in light of the fact that I had already been riding consistently for two years), my heartrate zones were very low. This meant months of riding at around 10 mph where I could comfortably ride 15. It did, however have good results, as my endurance became a non-issue on longer rides. This was proven on the Tour de Cure Century and LA River Ride Century that I did. Yet another training ride that I did was Latigo Canyon loop. Previously, I had remarked that there was no routes in Los Angeles that would compare to the Gran Fondo, but I was mistaken. While the distance was shorter, the climbs here were just as steep, almost as long, and the descents just as treacherous.

I did one more century in the form of the Cool Breeze Century before the big ride. My average speeds were getting progressively better. Then came the big ride. Unlike the previous year, the weather was horrid. Which is to say, normal for that region. It was drizzly, foggy and cold for the most part. I went with my friend Ben, who, at the 35 mile mark, ran into his own troubles, documented very well at his blog. I trudged on. Those hills from the previous year where I had to get off my bike and walk I managed to push through, albeit slowly. Those cramps that came on early at the 30 mile mark didn’t start materializing until about mile 80. The base training had prepared me well for the endurance and pacing. The Latigo climbs and descents had also prepared me for the climbing and fast descending.

When I crested a major hill and actually saw the ocean, my tears were obscuring my vision. I had to bail the ride well before that last time. The last hill, Coleman Canyon, at the 85 mile mark was a steep, painful slog. And by then, yes, I was starting to get severe leg cramps. I’m sure the cold wasn’t helping. I’d stop. Rub out the cramps, and ride on. I had to stop several times going up that climb. The photo below was taken by one of the onsite photographers at my worst. But at least I’m on my bike. There are many photos in this set where people are walking their bikes. By the time I crested the last hill, my own jubilation and fury to finish propelled me to the finish. I was still out too long to make it in time to be counted by the clock. But it was enough to finish. Much like Ben, I felt afterwards that I could accomplish anything then. Check one item off the bucket list.

November 21, 2011

Not All eBays Are Successful

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:08 pm by kbartlez

I have to admit I’ve been doing well on eBay with many of my items. It’s having the benefit of clearing out space in our home and putting money in my pocket for things that are no longer of any value to me. I’ve learned quite a bit from my dealings with the iSold-it on eBay folks. The one I talked to had managed within a year to make his franchise in the top five in the nation. He sold it for a massive profit. Apparently, the new owners did not heed those techniques as it went under within a year of their takeover.

Some things that help are great photos, very descriptive copy, and good timing. I set my items so bidding ends at 6pm EST on Monday. This way, buyers have the weekend to mull it over. The failure this time, is that I simply got lazy and also overshot the mark. What I posted were digital art books in the Exposé series. The first four volumes, mostly first editions. Several years ago, I figured it just wasn’t worth it for me to keep collecting them as they come in at around $50 each. Even now, should you wish to purchase older issues, they cost about the same on their site. So I sort of had high hopes for the sell. In the end, they sold for $9.99. Total. Only two watchers over the course of the sell.

Here are my takeaways from that. I should have listed them separately. I shouldn’t have assumed that the only people familiar with the books would buy it. I should have pitched it to a wider audience by showing the inside illustrations as well. I probably shouldn’t have spelled it correctly. “Exposé” instead of “Expose.” I honestly think that my inclusion of the accent hurt my search hits. I should’ve taken a loss early and just closed the sale before any bids came in. In the end, only one bid did. So it sold for the minimum. Finally, I could’ve been a little more patient, and waited for the new edition to come out. Then I could’ve capitalized on buyers of the current one looking for deals on the older volumes.

All that said, I’m going to nail the next sale.

November 6, 2011

Slow Cook Curry

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:13 pm by kbartlez

I’ve been asked enough times that I figured I should post a lesson.

First, start with a quality curry roux. I currently use S&B curry flakes, which Japanese supermarkets will occasionally carry.

Cube the vegetables. Braise meat and place on top. The slow cookers don’t use as much water, so use only 700cc instead of what the package calls for.

Cook on HIGH for three to four hours.

Add in curry flakes and stir until dissolved. Cook for another 30 minutes. See? Easy.

July 20, 2011

Exercise in Futility

Posted in Cycling at 11:16 am by kbartlez

This rare posting documents my long and eventually futile attempt at using my iPhone as a full-fledged bike computer.

First, let me discuss what has been successful. It’s only that my needs became greater that I outgrew what was working for me in the beginning. Where I started was by using MotionX GPS as an application to map my rides. It was excellent in that it would use GPS, run in the background, export routes to sites like Strava and MapMyRide. It is stable, inexpensive, routinely updated and very well supported. To this day, it’s one of my favorites. It is mounted on my bike with a RAM-Mount. It’s sturdy, light and very inexpensive. I highly recommend it. So why did I stop using MotionX GPS? Simply because it can’t record cadence and heart rate, which I need for my training.

One option for adding this feature to the iPhone is to add on an ANT+ compliant sensor to the iPhone. It can pick up signals from ANT+ enabled heart monitor straps, speed and cadence sensors. The one I got was by Wahoo Fitness. For the most part, it works great. Not too intrusive to have it installed. In fact, the new version of the Wahoo Key is slightly smaller than the original. I used it with a great app I found called LiveCycling. With it, I was able to track all the important telemetry data of my ride. If you follow the link, click on the “Performance” tab to see that data. This pretty much made my iPhone just as capable as any Garmin-based GPS unit. “Okay, then why aren’t you using this?” you must be asking. This is one major deal-breaker with using LiveCycling. It’s that you can’t turn off the screen. Even with the iPhone 4’s phenomenal battery life, running ANT+ transmissions, GPS, and keeping the screen on kills the battery very quickly. Any ride over 4 hours is pretty much impossible. Other drawbacks for this app are that it’s pretty expensive and the support is utterly lacking. Their blog hasn’t seen any activity since January of this year.

Yet another app that I tried was Wahoo’s own Wahoo Fitness app. Among it’s great features lacking in LiveCycling are that it can directly export ride data to Strava and Garmin Connect, as well as MapMyRide and others. More importantly, you can lock out the screen, thereby extending the battery life a great deal and making long rides a possibility. But here again, is a massive deal-breaker. It’s very unstable. I’ve had many rides where the app crapped out on me after receiving a text or any notification. It would stop recording and when relaunched it wouldn’t continue where it left off. Utterly useless. I actually wrote a negative review on iTunes for the first time. I was that upset.

So where did I net out? I ended up purchasing a used Garmin Edge 500 unit. Since I already have the Garmin heart rate strap and Speed/Cadence sensors, I only needed the head unit and mount. So I got it for just over half of retail value. But I’ve spent over $100 in gear and apps for the iPhone. I’d figure that at the very least, I can post my experiences for others to gain some insight. Ride on.

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