Thursday, December 18, 2008

So...How Are You Doing?

"Oh. That's right -- you're not from around here. How are you handling the cold?" This, followed by the kind of worried look people give to someone who has received a diagnosis of cancer. 

Sure, we're from SoCal, and it's true that Mrs Elliott dresses like someone suiting up for an Apollo orbiter EVA when she has to go into the garage, but me likee this weather. I find it bracing. Haven't needed to don my big puffy jacket nor break out the merino wool underdrawers -- yet.  Just a beanie for my baldy head, an undershirt, a light wool sweater and a windbreaker (or occasionally my slightly warmer Mountain Equipment Co-op pullover) have been perfectly sufficient. I got some bulbous Sorel boots on sale from Fred Meyers for snow shoveling & firewood hauling, and have some nice warm Smartwool sockies. 

Mellow Yellow (my 1984 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper) got new Nokian Hakkapeliitta snow tires and they are working quite well. 

It's been fine. Really. But thank you for asking. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sampling Espresso


I'm not much of a coffee drinker anymore. There's something in coffee that triggers an anxiety response in me. It's not caffeine, I can drink plenty of caffeine in other types of drinks without anxiety kicking in, and since I get the same anxious feeling after drinking decaf, it's pretty clear that whatever it is, it's only in coffee. 

I used to be a total coffee freak and lived with the side effect until I quit all caffeine drinks for a few months and noticed how much mellower I felt. It was only through clinical trials (adding coffee back) that I determined that coffee was the culprit.

Once in a while, though, maybe once a week, I get a hankering for some espresso. But finding good espresso is not always so easy, despite the proliferation of chains like Starbucks and Peets, as well as smaller, local coffee roasters and houses here in the PNW. 

How many people even drink espresso, and why does it matter? In Italy, it's mother's milk. Even truck stops are packed with burly men ordering and downing espresso. 

Which brings me to Issue #1: speed. Espresso means "fast" in Italian. You order an espresso, you get an espresso, usually within 60 seconds or less. But here I find myself standing line behind some tense soccer mom wearing a ball cap ordering a venti half decaf frappuccino, then waiting for the barrista to make that coffee-flavored milkshake. Frankly, that's anathema to the concept of speed. Coffee houses need to have two lines: a slow one for folks who order coffee with issues; and a fast one for the person who wants a shot of espresso or a cup of joe. 

Issue #2 is, of course, grown men ordering anything fancier than an espresso or a cup of coffee. Men, stop ordering sugary drinks with whipped cream on top and a straw. You're embarrassing yourself and you're an embarrassment to all men. Stop waxing your chest, tweezing your eyebrows, and grow a pair. Sugary drinks are fine for women and children, totally pussy for a man. 

So. Back to the matter at hand. 

If you don't like espresso, then what's so important about it? 

Simple: it's the backbone for nearly all the wussier drinks. 

If a pizza shop can't make a decent Pizza Margherita, which consists of only flour, salt, water, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, then heaping more crap on the dough just hides that fact. Likewise, I know several Japanese men who order tamago (egg) when they visit a new sushi shop because you really can't get any simpler than that: if the chef can't get it right, there's some doubt about the rest of his offerings. By the same token, if a coffee house can't make a delicious cup of espresso, then adding other stuff to the drink is just window dressing, like putting perfume on a turd. 

That's what's so important about espresso.

So herewith, I begin my review of straight espresso sampled in downtown Bend. 

[Addition, 15 December 2008: a roaster for one of Bend's coffee shops emailed me to discuss the realities of meeting customer expectations. It turns out that Americans like their drinks so milky and so sweet that traditional Italian ristretto espresso -- the kind that I like, the kind that Italians like, the kind God, presumably, likes, my personal Gold Standard of espresso -- doesn't work so well. It never occurred to me that coffee shops have tuned their espresso to work best with girly drinks (another reason for me to despise the men who order them. Cut it out).  So is it even fair to review standalone espresso knowing that most shops have to address the larger market? I think so if only for the few, the heroic, the purists who like their espresso straight.]

Chocolat et Gâteaux: Tasted December 5, 2008. Lively and rich, with good balance between acid and body. The best I've tasted in Bend so far.  Owner Armand Speidel is an espresso purist and doesn't cater to the milk and sugar coffee crowd.
Bellatazza: Tasted December 10 (ish), 2008. Quite acidic, even sour. Not much richness. Not at all lively. 
Balay: Tasted December 14, 2008. Also pretty sour, but some mild bitterness and richness promote it a couple notches better than Bellatazza.
Thump: Tasted December 16, 2008. Yikes -- very sour. Like battery acid. 
Backporch Coffee Roasters: Tasted December 18, 2008. Tasted like the beans had been burnt in the roasting process, and with an overall sour taste. Second tasting, Feb 5, 2009: Yikes. Really really sour and bitter. 
Cafe Sintra: Tasted December 19, 2008. Pretty okay! Not quite Chocolat et Gâteaux, but not sour, either. 
Starbucks: To be fair I have to review it. 
Di Lusso Coffee Bakery (downtown): Tasted December 30, 2008. Like Cafe Sintra's, Di Lusso's espresso is quite drinkable. 
McKay Cottage: Tasted Jan 1, 2009. Feh. Remarkably bad. A flat, dull shot which suggested a cup of my mother's Maxwell House Instant more than it did espresso. 
Sarayu's: Tasted Jan 13, 2009. One sample was quite good, the second pretty bitter. repeatability is probably a challenge at some of these shops. 
Jackson's Corner: Tasted Jan 25, 2009. The nice fellow working the espresso machine did his best. He tried twice to pull a shot that he liked, and had no luck. He served me his second attempt but wasn't proud of it. The machine, he said, was old and sometimes it did a good job, sometimes not. Same for the grinder. Or it could have been the mass of onions they were chopping in the kitchen, maybe. Didn't charge me for the shot. It was sour, like Thump and Bellatazza. 
The Human Bean Drive-Thru: Tasted Jan 26, 2009. I asked for a short pull of espresso. What I got was 3oz of a dark brown liquid that tasted like strong instant coffee. McKay Cottage and The Human Bean both have quite a lot to answer for.
Sisters Coffee Company (Bond Street in bend): Tasted  Jan 31, 2009. Owner David was pretty proud of his new Faema espesso machine. His first pull was very acidic, so he tried again using a shorter pull and switching from a heavy stainless tamper to a ligher aluminum one and thereby not tamping the grounds as tightly. This one was much tastier. 

I plan to add to this page as circumstances bring me near commercial espresso machines. The establishments are listed pretty much in chronological order, as I visit them, and the comments reflect my purely subjective taste in matters espresso: I can't claim to be an expert, although I have been lucky to have had amazing coffee in Tokyo, Vienna, Milan, Rome, and Paris. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Central Services! Troubles with your ducts?"

I've written earlier about the poor heating this house has. Read all about that here, here, and here

The basic problem is that the original heating for the living room, dining room, and kitchen is broken. These rooms were built with radiant heat ceilings which no longer work and which are unrepairable, since the break(s) in the heating wire(s) could be anywhere in the hundreds of square feet of ceiling. 

There are little wallmounted Cadet  electric heaters in the walls, but they are glorified hair dryers and nearly as noisy. 

So I'm stealing hot air from the downstairs wood stove fireplace insert using an elegant ducting arrangement, as shown in the photo. 

The air coming through that duct is aided by a duct blower, mounted near the ceiling, and it runs about 150F when the wood insert is burning well. 

Still and even so, there's a lot of square footage upstairs and about all we can get is 68F in the living room. That's with outside temps above freezing. This week we're seeing teens and single digits temps, so I'm spending a lot of time hauling wood from the stack beside the house. 

Gives a man something to do when it "looks like we're living inside a snow globe," as Mrs Elliott exclaimed this morning. That, and shoveling snow. 

And we're getting quotes on installing a small forced air furnace in the garage to service the kitchen, dining and living rooms. Fortunately, the ceiling heaters work fine in the bedrooms though I must say that it is totally weird to feel the heat "shining" onto the top of ones head when one walks into a room with those things on. 

Tea with Mrs Claus

Mrs Elliott held a fundraising event for kids at Balay Coffee, Espresso, and Bubble T on Sunday. Called  "Tea With Mrs Claus," it was an opportunity for some of Bend's little ones to sing songs, sip hot cocoa or cider, snack on Christmas cookies, have their pictures taken with Mrs Claus and tell her what they would like Santa to bring them, and take home some little gifts. 

A lot less freaky than sitting on the fearsome old man's lap. 

Even so, one little lad totally forgot what he wanted for Christmas when his turn came to be  seated next to Mrs Claus, a la Ralphie in A Christmas Story

Parents donated $20 per child and all the proceeds went to the Boys and Girls Club of Bend, and CASA of Central Oregon. 

The event was supported by Balay, KPOV, Center for Car Donations, Goody's, Leapin' Lizards Toy Co., FedEx Kinko's, and Powell's Sweet Shoppe. 

Mr Elliott played helper and did the photography. 

The little ones had a swell time. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fundraising For Two - Two - Groups at Once!


High Desert Chamber Music held a fund-raising gala event last night. I loves me some classical music so I just had to attend to support this organization. This was their first such event, and they hope to hold them annually. HDCM was founded in 2008 by violinist Isabelle Senger, with the mission to provide world class chamber music performances year round to Central Oregon.

The event was held at the North Rim clubhouse -- a fairly tony structure in a private neighborhood. We got there after dark so I have no idea what the homes look like. I reckon there were about 40 couples. This was the first time I put on a tie since we arrived here in Bend. Actually Mrs Elliott put it on me: I like to wear bow ties but cannot for the life of me figure out how to tie one despite having studied all the "how to" guides and watched the videos. There's this one step that I just don't get. 

Anyway, there was beer and wine -- reason enough to attend any event, in my mind, even if it is called "gala," and requires a tie. Before dinner the Crown City String Quartet (Isabelle is first violin) performed Dvořák's Quartet in F, Op.96 (the "American"). 

Now, you gotta picture this: after everyone had had a chance to mingle and chat and eyeball the silent auction items, we were invited to be seated at our tables which were in a large clear vinyl tentlike structure erected on the patio. Heating was provided. There were 8 tables under this 30-foot by 30-foot structure, and the quartet performed in one corner. They played beautifully. There were a few people between me and the group, so all I could clearly see were first and second violin, but the sound was excellent and I had no trouble hearing the viola and cello. Nature provided some added sound effects, too: high, gusty winds on the tent caused its metal joints to creak like timbers on a sailing ship. 

The weather here does have its effect on musical performances, I must say. During September's performance of the Highland Trio at the Tower, one of the tuning pegs on the cello shrank so much due to the low humidity here that it just came loose in its hole and the string completely detuned. The performance had to halt until she could get the darn thing to stay in place.  I believe I saw a mallet and some chewing gum applied.

I don't know if Dvořák's trip to America in 1892 was aboard a sailing vessel but I pictured him aboard one anyway when listening last night to this lovely piece of music. [Addition: Dvořák came to America aboard the SS Saale, a steam powered single-screw ship. I'll stick with my image of him aboard the sea-tossed ship.]

The lovely and talented Mrs Elliott was gracious enough to accompany me, looking as pretty as ever. She figured that while she was there she could chat up a few folk to see if she could get sponsorships for a fundraiser she is doing for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Oregon which has been in the news lately because they've run out of money and have had to close their doors, at least temporarily. 

A few days ago she met with Derek Beauvais, program director for the club and he said that the news of their financial situation had resulted in several donations, enough to re-open the club for at least a month. But they clearly need more money to continue operation.

So Mrs Elliott, who has been fundraising for charities for years and years, is ginning up an event to be held downtown for kids. She has already signed up a few businesses to donate gifts and snacks and will shoot all the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club. 

Chamber music, sports coats and ties, good food and wine, great music with the sound of creaking timbers and hawsers, and a chance to help not only the HDCM, but the Boys and Girls Club as well. That's a pretty nice evening out. 

So Simple . . . Once You See It


"The address is on Emerson Street and 3rd," Mrs Elliott said this morning. She wants to check out a holiday market or something and found a advert in this week's The Source. "Where is that in relation to Franklin?"

So I fired up Google Maps and found Emerson one block south of Franklin. One block farther was Dekalb. 

Hey, wait a minute. They're in alphabetic order! 

This is something that probably anyone who's lived here for more than a week has noticed, but I'm a little simple sometimes.

Alden, Burnside, Clay . . . Underwood, Vail, Webster, Xerxes (I like that) . . . but no "Y"? Oh yeah, there's Yale on the other side of the parkway. Only "Z" seems to be missing. 

Now I wonder if a "Z" street was ever planned but never happened, or what. 

But finding this pattern in the street names was gratifying. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wooten 6, Flecktones 4


Last night I rode my little city bike across the river and downtown in time for a 7 pm concert at the Tower Theatre. A lovely evening, cool and calm.  Chained my bike up right in front of the theater, picked up my ticket at will call and a glass of nice pinot noir in the lobby, and within 15 minutes of leaving my house, I was settled into my seat in the center of the theater, row D, to hear Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

I just have three words to describe it: 

Victor. F#@king. Wooten. 

He's only one member of the four-man band, but to this Sears and Roebuck-grade bass player, he was 60% of the show. He does things on a bass that I didn't know were possible. He gets sounds out of a bass that I've never heard before. He's a rock-solid accompanist with metronomic timing and endlessly inventive bass lines. He makes the impossible look matter-of-factly easy. 

I'm not dissing the other Flecktones, oh no! I bet that the banjo players in the audience were similarly blown away by Bela's playing, that the woodwind players had their socks knocked off by Jeff Coffin's saxamaphoning and transverse fluting, and only the best drummers may have grasped the skill, variety and monstrosity of Futureman's playing. 

But Victor was the reason I went to the concert. I can't speak for what the other members of the nearly fully house of men and women ranging in age from mid 30's to mid 60's came looking for, but with a band this good even the most tin-eared listener could not fail to notice how hot these players were and what a tight f#@king band they are. Enthusiastic applause followed solos taken by all the players, but when Victor soloed, his eyebuggingly virtuosic playing wrung gasps of surprise and amazement from the audience and left me slackjawed and agog with disbelief. 

Wow. 

Oh -- and the sound quality? As I've commented before in this blog, I've been abused my whole life by the shitty sound of so many venues where half of what a band is playing is lost in the blur of a muddy mix of crap acoustics and the neglect of indifferent and apparently deaf sound men that I would have been happy if the sound at the Tower had been merely good. But it was far better than that, it was superb. Every note was audible. Every. Note. 

I rode home a happy man.

I thank the non-profit Tower Theatre Foundation for making last night's performance possible. 
Check out their upcoming events: http://www.towertheatre.org/Events/default.aspx

[BTW: I didn't take that picture of Wooten, I got it off the web. I was temped to take a camera and binoculars to the show, but didn't know what the camera policy was; and didn't want to deal with the binocs on a bike. I didn't need the former, but my goodness I do regret not having brought the latter. Even Row D isn't close enough to watch a player's fingering and technique. Lesson learned.]




Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Almost Below the Radar


I'm a weather geek, and have been ever since the third grade when my friend Robert Reed and I built a weather station and gave morning weather predictions to our class at Cathedral Oaks Elementary in Goleta, CA.

The instrumentation was paid for, out of pocket, by our teacher. We had a wind gauge, a thermometer, a barometer, and a sling hydrometer for measuring humidity. Our library had a couple of books about weather but because they assumed an east coast or Midwest location, they were not very useful for  southern California. Thunderheads -- never saw them, as well as many other named forms of clouds that rarely occurred. And of course, precipitation comprised of frozen water simply didn't happen. 

But even so, I recall that our little morning weather updates were more accurate than those printed in the newspaper. Probably just luck.

My love of weather and meteorology still persists even after long decades living in SoCal which doesn't provide one with much in the way of interesting weather. But when storms were approaching, I studied the weather maps shown on TV and in the newspaper, and in the early days of PC-DOS and MS-DOS ran the Accuweather software so I could see approaching fronts. 

Nowadays we can view weather maps and radar images on a number of weather sites. My favorite is wunderground.com. 

The PNW gets a lot more, and a lot more interesting weather than does coastal SoCal, which is a Good Thing in my mind. The skies here go on forever, unlike the thick atmospheric soup found at sea level in Socal. The temperature extremes are more so, the variety of precipitation is greater, and storms more frequent. 

But the available radar imagery is marginal. Portland's NEXRAD station, RTX, barely sees Bend, and Bend is beyond the horizon for MAX in Medford.

It's a pity. These two stations can show us what's coming to Bend -- as long as it's coming from the west, but they don't give a clear picture of what's going on around Bend. 

[Update: right now it's snowing lightly, though the sun is shining on our house. The clouds responsible for the snow don't even appear on RTX. My bet is that they are too close to the ground for that radar to see them.]
[Update to the update: I stopped at Pizza Mondo to grab a cheese slice for lunch. As I got out of my car, a pretty girl was walking in front of the Tower Theatre with her arms out, palms turned up. "The sun is shining and it's snowing!" she said, flashing me a happy smile. "Only in Bend."]

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Better Draw


A short while back, October 11, to be precise, I wrote about the need to improve the heating in this house. So as not to repeat myself, that posting is here. One of the issues we turned up (here) was that the lower floor wood stove insert didn't have a chimney liner, so it didn't draw well, and because of that, it dumped ash and smoke into the house whenever the door was opened for reloading. 

I contacted several heating and chimney companies to get bids for dropping in a liner. The first thing that turned up was that some quoted the job with an insulating sleeve, AKA a "fire wrap," and others didn't. This affected the price by a few hundred dollars. 

The point of the insulating sleeve is twofold. First, it keeps the hot stainless steel liner pipe out of direct contact with the inside of the chimney, especially in the tight area going through the damper opening and around the smoke shelf. As it was explained to me, while the inside of the chimney throat has a masonry liner to protect the wood surround from overheating, there is no way to tell how thick those bricks are. If the intensely hot metal liner is pressed directly against the masonry, it can make those bricks so hot that any wood they are in contact with can crystalize and potentially catch fire. By surrounding the liner with an insulating sleeve it protects the masonry from the heat. 

The second reason why an insulating sleeve is a good idea is that the metal liner will be insulated from the cooler air in the chimney for its entire run, and a hotter liner not only draws better, it allows less creosote to condense on it. It's that thick buildup of creosote which is responsible for chimney fires in the flue, and the softwood we have here in Bend makes its fair share of creosote.

Good reasons to pay extra for the wrap, I reckoned. I talked it over with Mrs Elliott and she agreed. The best price we were able to get which included a sleeve was $200 more than the other quotes without sleeves. I called up the two companies who had bid the job sleeveless and asked them how much more it would be to add the sleeving. One raised the price by $220. But Jeff at Cascade Heating said he had a bunch of extra insulating sleeving in the shop from another job that they had overbought for, and he said he'd add that to the job at no extra charge, making them less-expensive from their nearest competition by $250. 

Guess who got the job? 

His installers arrived this morning, as promised, and in four hours had the new liner, sleeving, and top parts (rain covers, chimney seal, etc.) all installed, then left quietly without making a fuss because they were so covered with soot and creosote flakes (they found 3'' thick chunks of creosote in the chimney throat) that they wanted to proceed directly to the nearest shower.

I fired up the stove and I'm here to tell you that it sucks very well now. When the door is opened for re-fueling, there's a stiff breeze into the firebox and the fire shows no interest in exhausting smoke into the room. 

That's an improvement.

Now the question is how good a job that wood insert on the bottom floor will do keeping the upper story warm. There's a vent in the ceiling below through which warm air from the heated room can come up into the living room upstairs, and I've got some muffin fans set atop the vent upstaits to force the air upward. I have a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer, the outdoor sender portion of which is in the lower room, and the receiver is in the upstairs. With this I can see how much warmer it is downstairs compared with upstairs and check the effect of blowing the warm air up to the upstairs room. 

All I need is a lab coat and a clipboard . . . and an attractive lab assistant named Inga, and I'll start doing some research. 

If the wood insert doesn't work as well as we'd like, then we'll be looking at gas inserts for the upstairs fireplace. But in the meantime I bought a electrically-heated throw blanket for Mrs Elliott to snuggle in. Cheaper, I figure, to heat Mrs Elliott than try to heat the whole darn house. 


Friday, October 24, 2008

DISH Network Not Schmucks


A few weeks ago I posted that we decided that satellite TV wasn't working out for us so swell here in Bend. You can read that post here. One lingering question was whether DISH would play nice and agree that the arrangement sucks, be mensches and not charge us the $230 early contract termination fee--or whether they would be dicks. 

Well, we got the final bill and they waived the termination fee. Mensches, not schmucks, is the verdict. That counts in their favor if things should change and going satellite makes sense to us. 

For the time being, though, we're quite happy with Bend Broadband's HD service. And since we're using them for Internet access, it makes sense to bundle the two services. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pledge Drive at KPOV

I volunteered on Tuesday night over at KPOV's studios, answering the phone during their pledge drive. It was great being back in a radio studio. I used to do studio engineer techie work for KTYD-AM/FM in Santa Barbara back in the mid-70's, before it became corporate radio. Album-Oriented Rock was the format, it was all about the music. The jocks knew how to get out of the way of the artists, and while the station was a commercial station and had its obligations to the local businesses that bought advertising, it was always made clear that the music was the focus, not the spots. 

It was a joy being part of that scene. Even when we had to come in on Monday nights from midnight to 6 am because that was the only time the studio was taken off-line so we could do the major work that couldn't be done when the studio was in use, there was a sense of being part of a community effort. 

I got that same feeling when I was at KPOV. But here it's even more fun because it's volunteer operated, donation funded. No owners to suck up to and no sales department trying to coerce the progamming department to play safer music. (I was in sales at KTYD for a while. Hated it.) Just folk doing radio because radio is cool and fun. 

The station is having some issues with their equipment right now. The CODEC that gets the signal through the T1 line to their (present) 2 watt transmitter* (this mighty transmitter is located high atop Awbrey Butte--500 feet closer to the stars)  glitches every so often, causing messy and embarassing dropouts; and there's some issue with the signal path where one channel is lost somewhere in the studio. My studio engineering background is pre-digital, so I'm no help with the CODEC but I offered to lend a hand to Tristan when it comes to troubleshooting the latter problem. 

These are high-energy people who love what they're doing, and they're bringing great music and covering community events in Bend like no one else.

Support them. If you've ever lived in an area that is dominated by corporate radio you know what a fucking desert the airwaves are. A suckhole of commercials and bland, commercial music, where creativity and spontanaiety are stomped out in favor of the formulaic and predictable. 

Click here to support KPOV. They're just trying to raise $10,000. A commercial radio station blows through that much money in a week -- much of which leaves town forever into the pockets of the owners and stockholders. You can donate as little as $20, or as much as your love of music moves you. The drive ends on the 18th. 

==============
* KPOV is presently a Low Power FM (LPFM) community station. Read more about that here

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Doesn't Suck Hard Enough


As I wrote in my post about this house's heating, the previous owners installed a wood stove insert into the first floor fireplace.  The darn thing billows smoke and ash into the room whenever the door is opened for reloading. 

I've been following the instructions: Before opening the door I fully-open the insert's air inlet and shove the outlet baffles out of the way. But even so, even after one week of operation everything in the room is getting ash all over it. 

So I had a chimney sweep come out and see what's up. 

Turns out that while the chimney flue's wide throat works well for a fireplace, which is inefficient and sends vast amounts of hot gases up the flue, it's far too fat for an insert. Inserts put out less exhaust, and cooler exhaust,  too, than a fire. This is because they are so much more efficient at getting the heat out of the fire before it goes up the chimney. 

As a result, they are unable to develop much draw in a fat chimney. The problem is exacerbated by how tall our chimney is: it rises two floors before climbing up through the crawl space then up above the roof. That's just too much volume of air to expect a fire in an insert to get into motion. 

Which explains why the fire and smoke billows out when the door is opened: it's probably easier for the smoke to go into the room than up the flue, especially when it's really cold outside or when wind is fluttering across the flue opening. 

The solution is to put a liner--essentially a stainless steel stovepipe--down the flue to the opening on the top of the stove. The sweep said it's a straight shot down to the insert so it should be an easy job. 

Seeking Used Mountain Bikes

"We sure have a lot of bikes," said Mrs. Elliott. 

She's right. We each have little road bikes, and we each have town bikes. The latter are more upright with shopping baskets and somewhat fatter tires than the "pizza cutters" on our road bikes. That's four. Then my son also has two or three bikes around the place. Adds a lot of clutter. 

But even so, we'd like a couple of entry-level mountain bikes for some of the easy trails around here. The town bikes just can't handle your fatter 26'' tires. 

So we're looking on craigslist for some affordable used mountain bikes. Problem is that both of us are small (I'm 5' 6'', she's 5' 2'') so we need small bikes. Most of the folk posting bikes for sale on craigslist don't say what size their bikes are so I email then and ask them to measure them. 

To make it easy for sellers to know what I'm looking for, I'm posting this information: 

Step 1. Adjust seat so that Dimension "A" (pedal at bottom to top of seat) is 33 inches.

Step 2. Measure Dimension "B" (handlebar to top of seat right above the seat post). Anything much more than 24 inches is too long for me. 

For Mrs. Elliott, Dimension "A" wants to be 31 inches, and "B" wants to be about 21-1/2 inches.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cost-Effective House Heating


The house was built in 1970. It appears to be fairly-well insulated. But still, it needs heating.

As originally-built,  most of the rooms were equipped with electric radiant ceiling heaters. Some of those work, and some don't. The ones in the bedrooms work, but the one over the main living area (dining room and living room) no longer functions. Repair is, I have been told, impossible. These heat sources spin the electric meter and only provide heating in the rooms where they are installed and work.

Many of the rooms have small Cadet wall heaters. When we bought the house they were inspected and are up to code. Earlier models were recalled, I am told, due to being fire hazards. The electrician (Alex Johnston) who did the wiring upgrades for my downstairs shop, and the electrician (Shannon, of Tomco) whom we hired to take care of some aluminum wiring issues, are both of the opinion that these wall heaters were retro-fitted into the house and are not part of the original construction. There is a wall heater in the living room, and one in the kitchen, and a few in the various downstairs rooms. These also are electric meter spinners. Noisy, too. 

Finally, there are two fireplaces: one upstairs and one downstairs. I'm no fan of fireplaces as a source of heat: they're inefficient (about 90% of the heat released through combustion goes up the chimney); the hot gases blowing up through the chimney create a partial vacuum in the house so cold air is pulled in through cracks and crevices, chilling the interior air; and after the fire has died in the middle of the night, cold air comes dumping down the chimney throat; and finally, they only provide radiant heating. If you're not sitting someplace where the fire's heat can illuminate you, you're not going to benefit very much from it. 

The previous owners upgraded the downstairs fireplace by installing a Lopi "Freedom" fireplace insert. These do a somewhat better job of heating than a plain fireplace. The fire heats the metal box both through radiant transfer and by passing the hot combustion products through baffles which transfer some of heat to the metal bits. The hot metal bits then heat the surrounding air through conduction, and heat items in the room through radiance. However, they still blow hot gases up the chimney, which draws cold air into the house unless they are provided with a separate air intake, which this installation doesn't have. 

The efficiency of an insert can be increased by adding a blower which sucks in room air, forces it around the hot metal box, and sends it out into the room. I bought one for this insert and mounted it last week. Seemed like an inexpensive way to get more heat per unit wood. 

Okay then. So the living room area has (1) a fireplace, (2) an electric wall heater, and (3) warm air from the downstairs fireplace insert which rises through the stairwell. Since this is where we'll be spending most of our free time, we'd like an efficient way to heat it. 

For several nights I experimented using a fire in the upstairs fireplaces versus no fire. Frankly, the room was warmer with no fire and the damper closed. The past couple days have been colder, so I've been seeing how warm the downstairs insert keeps the upstairs. The results suggest that while it does an exceptionally good job of heating the downstairs (which contains Mrs Elliott's offices and the shop for my business), it not so effective at heating the upstairs. 

The room with the insert is directly below the living room, and the previous owner put a small vent in the ceiling of the lower room so that heated air can rise into the upper room. Not much comes up that way, but I'll be rigging up a couple of computer-type muffin fans to increase the upward flow--we'll see how that works. 

So anyway. The house seems to be fairly well insulated. When I went to bed last night I put a couple good-sized pieces of wood into the downstairs insert, and choked the air inlet to "overnight" position for a slow burn. This morning the fire was out, the wood consumed (there is no hardwood around here for burning, only soft woods). With an outside temperature of 28 degrees F, the living room was an acceptable 63F, a 35F difference. But when it's, like, 1F outside, it could be 36F inside. 

That's pretty chilly.

So I'm exploring other options for heating the living room/dining room/kitchen area. 

We visited Bend Fireside to inquire about wood or gas inserts* for the upstairs, and while they have some lovely models, we're not talking low low prices: $3,500 to $4,000 for the insert and installation were the estimates. That said, I inquired about the price of an ash bucket, a simple metal can with a fitted lid, both painted black, and a handle for carrying. $80. Online the same exact bucket is $40 (+ shipping). Bend Fireside might not be the most cost-effective place to do my insert shopping. [Update: The same ash bucket is $20 at Home Depot. I'm all for buying local, but not if it means paying four times the price . . . .]

Less-expensive might be to install a free-standing vented wood or gas furnace in the living room and let the fireplace be merely decorative. But still, the cost to run the electric heater as needed for a few months might easily be a lot less than what it would cost for a new wood or gas stove upstairs, even if factored over several years. 

I need more information about our wall heater's power consumption and cost of electricity here before I can run the numbers. [Update: The plate on the appliance states that it consumes 2000 watts. Or 2 kilowatt-hours per hour of operation.  How much does it cost for a kwh? According to my August Pacific Power bill, the basic charge for a kwh is $0.036, add $0.002 per kwh for Oregon tax, then assuming that the power for the heater comes from the 2nd Block of Supply Energy, which adds $0.041/kwh, the grand total is about $0.08, or eight cents per kwh. Is that right? Well assuming that it is, and if we run the living room wall heater for, say, 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 months, it comes to about $1,000 for power.]

In the meantime, I have purchased six cords (real cords, 4' x 4' x 8') of seasoned and split lodgepole pine. It seems prudent to get more than less when how much wood this house will consume is an unknown. 

The last thing I want is a cold and unhappy Mrs Elliott. 

As they say: "Happy wife, happy life."

============
* The house has natural gas in the kitchen, and the electricians told me that there's a gas line up in the crawlspace, already stubbed off for future connections. 


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trick or Treating for Wine, Cycling at Night

Halloween came early this year, we decided. Last weekend we had visitors from SoCal: one of Mrs Elliott's sisters and one of her friends--a friend since childhood. My guess is that they came to make sure that Mrs Elliott was doing all right this far away from home, in this foreign country. 

Of course, what do three women do on a weekend, especially when one is decorating a new house? On a Friday when the downtown merchants keep their shops open late, and when Bend has its Fall Festival and the streets are invaded by peripatetic festival gypsies who set up booths to sell trinkets?

Shop, of course.

And shop and shop and shop.

After about the third free cup of wine, they decided that they were trick or treating for wine. 

And after following them as they slowly poked through their third shop, exclaiming over every little item they found, after watching them group and re-group to discuss whether some candleholder or hassock or bit of fabric would look good in the house, I decided that I had wearied of the hunt. 

Taking pity on my male inability to work up any enthusiasm over the fiftieth wall sconce or some bejeweled shower curtain, they left me at that nice wine shop a couple doors down from Thump Coffee. What's the name of that place? Google isn't helping. Nor is my memory. [Update October 25, 2008: The shop, of course, is The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar. I have no idea how or why I was unable to find it Googling, but last night we stopped in for a glass of wine and Melanie Betti found it with a Google search in about 10 seconds. Anyway, I like the place and they do have an awesome selection of wines by the glass as well as 2 oz tastes.]

Anyway, I recall a nice dry Riesling, and an interesting Muscadet. There might have also been a Pinot Noir, but the memory is a bit vague about that detail. The shop had quite a fair selection of wines by the glass, both local and imported. The woman who was serving me (named Tammy, as I recall) said she normally doesn't work in the shop but the owner was out of town. 

Somehow I managed to end up at the Deschutes Brewery pub where the ladies found me. As it was getting colder and the booths were shutting down we decided to call it an evening.
Though they had driven into town in Mrs Elliott's little station wagon, I'd ridden my town bike and wanted to ride it back home after dark to try out its new nighttime rig lighting rig: a red strobe mounted on the seatpost and a Lowe's 3-watt LED flashlight clamped to the handlebars.

Nightime riding is a new adventure for me. One doesn't ride bicycles after dark in SoCal: drivers are never prepared for cyclists even during the nicest afternoons, and seeing one at night might cause a driver to accelerate directly toward the oddity. But Bend is far more cycle-tolerant, and cyclists are actually more visible at night than during daytime hours, as long as they are well-lit and reflectored. 

I figured that the two lights, plus pedal reflectors, a reflective vest, and reflective ankle bands would make me nice and visible to drivers, so I reckoned it was time for a trial run.

The rig worked great: the flashlight provided plenty of light for navigation when I was riding through Drake Park and across the footbridge, and because the cars coming from behind gave me a wide berth it's clear that they noticed the strobe and reflective bits.

Either that or it might have been my erratic weaving while singing Ninty-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. 

Whatever the reason, I found the experience to be refreshing and fun and satisfactorily safe-feeling. 

So on Monday night my son and I rode to the Old Stone Church for a meeting, and last night I rode home from downtown after buying produce and cheeses (and a scone which is tempting me even as I write this) at this year's last Drake Park Farmer's Market, which was followed by an excellent meal at Staccato at the Firehall

Oh -- I almost forgot to mention: another of Mrs Elliott's sisters  along with her husband blew into town yesterday and they had dinner with us.  They're spending the weekend here and have rented a sweet little cottage on Riverfront Street, right on the river. 

My Magic 8-Ball is telling me that there is more shopping in my immediate future. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

DISH Network Serves Bend Poorly, Has To Go


Before we moved to Bend I looked at the various high-definition TV content carriers. Bend Cable, DISH Network, and DirecTV were on the list. 

Of course we could have just plopped an antenna on the roof and watched the local stations, but we like more programming than the traditional network affiliates provide. HBO and Showtime have original programming that we like, and other cable channels give us something to watch, too. 

(Even so, there are plenty of times when there's "Two hundred channels and nothing but cats.")

Mrs Elliott and I used to have TiVo. The box broke with a hard drive failure. They tried to sell me a new one. "To heck with that -- this box is less than two months old. We'll cancel the service." 

Suddenly they found a way to give me a new box no charge.

Then a year later, that box broke. The HD again. The conversation followed the same formula: they try to sell me a new box, I offer to discontinue service, they offer to send a new box for free.

When the third box failed (no idea why, it just stopped) I decided I didn't want to play the game any more, canceled the service and switched over to the local cable company's DVR. 

Which sucked -- once you've used the TiVo interface, lesser offerings are a pain in the butt. But we stuck with it.  

I vowed that I'd find something better when we moved to Bend, and that's why I decided to try satellite over cable. DISH provided more high def content, so I contacted Para-Tech Satellite Systems in Bend to get some questions answered and set up the service. [Correction (10.15.08): After I posted this blog entry, I was contacted by John Farwell, who is on Bend Cable's senior management team and is responsible for their video product. John kindly provided me with a comparison list showing that once you remove DirecTV's HD pay-per-view channels, their very expensive premium a la carte sports packages,  their regional sports channels not available to folk in this area anyway, and a few bogus standard-def channels upconverted to faux HD, then DirectTV's HD channel count drops below that of Bend Cable, though it still might be better than DISH's lineup. So my information about DISH having more HD content appears to be quite wrong.]

The problems began the day the DISH was up and running. Though we live less than a mile from the transmitting towers atop Awbry Butte, we had no signal from the local stations. This because of a ridge between the towers and our house (digital transmissions are line-of-sight). The little amplified "rabbit ears" antenna which they thought would work great didn't pull in a strong enough signal to get all the stations, and what it could pull in suffered from bad pixillation -- an indication of weak signal.

So the nice folk at Para-Tech came up with a second-hand high-gain directional antenna and a good little signal amplifier, and once the antenna was mounted we got all the stations we should and with good quality images. 

But--and here's the kicker--the DISH box's electronic program guide (EPG) which lists the programs available only works with the signals coming over the satellite dish, not the ones coming off the antenna which was connected to the DISH box. 

I know that a lot of people never bother to look ahead a few days in the EPG to find shows they want to record so they can play them back when they want to watch them. I'm cool with that. 

But Mrs Elliott and I don't roll that way, we likes to record our shows and watch them later. But when the local network affiliate's off-the-air (OTA) programming only displays "DIGITAL SERVICE" in the EPG, you can't select a program and tell the box to record it. 

This, in my opinion, is stupid. Digital television broadcasts are required by the FCC to transmit their programming information along with the signal. But there's no regulation that requires the receiving equipment to decode and display it. 

And DISH apparently decided they couldn't be bothered.

The tech at Para-Tech explained that very few people--he estimated fewer than 1% of DISH subscribers--are in locations where there are local network OTA broadcasts (which means that DISH or other satellite services are forbidden from providing network programming from stations outside the area) but where the local network stations are too small to have their content uploaded to the satellite for locals to view. 

In other larger areas, like Portland, you can have a DISH and watch the Portland channels on it, with full EPG information. But Bend's too small for that. Here, you gotta use an OTA antenna to see the network programs. But since the DISH box doesn't give the programming information, you can't see what shows are playing and what shows are coming up.

One workaround he suggested was to buy a TV Guide or look up listings in the Bulletin, then manually program the DISH box with start and stop times. Like programming a 1980's VCR.

And how often did that work properly? Besides, with a TV Guide on the table, I'd feel like I was in my mother's house again. 

But we tried that idea and found that when you look at the list of recorded shows on the box's EPG all you see is "DIGITAL SERVICE" listed. No telling if it was Judge Judy or 30 Rock.

So that was out. 

One final point about DISH's lack of support for OTA broadcasts: there's only one OTA tuner in the box, so if there are two network shows you want to record which are on at the same time, you're S.O.L. 

None of this had been made clear to me prior to signing up. Para-Tech told me that very few people even care, that they're happy to watch the shows when they are being broadcast. 

"Quick, honey--Perry Mason's about to start!"

No thanks -- "appointment television," is so 20th century. 

Several people suggested telling DISH Network that we had relocated to Portland: simply find a street address there where no one has a DISH subscription (and are unlikely to), and give that to DISH as our residence, tell 'm that we brought the hardware with us and hooked it up, but that our mailing address is still in Bend. They would then cheerfully turn on the Portland stations. 

But those kinds of shenanigans make me uncomfortable.

A final suggestion was to get a standard DVR and let it handle the local channels. It presumably would display the program listings, but that's extra money, more wires and remotes to juggle--and no sale.

So I told Para-Tech that I was canceling the service. Nancy wasn't happy but she understood. And she warned me that I would most likely have to pay cancellation fees to DISH to get out of the contract. 

I called DISH this morning and canceled the service. I stand by my opinion that DISH's laziness w/r/t implementing EPG support for OTA broadcasts wasn't made clear to me, and I consider it to be a deal-breaker. I'm not sure whether I will need to pay the fee to get out of the contract, but I've been told that if one writes a paper letter to DISH to dispute their decision, they have in the past reversed their decision. 

Trick was to find the address to send that letter to. The nice lady at DISH's customer service spent over a minute trying to find it. In the interest of serving others who might need that elusive address, here it is:
Echostar Satellite LLC
DISPUTE RESOLUTION
P.O. Box 9040
Littleton, CO  80120

So how's this going to play out? I have no idea--DISH can either be mensch or schmucks. 

I can say that Para-Tech has been great through all of this. They're just the local installation company for the service and have no influence over DISH's policies or decisions. 

And I can also say that last Wednesday the nice man from Bend Cable came out and set us up with a new dual-recorder high-def cable box that provides the local channels, the same programming as the DISH service, and EPG information for it all.  Picture quality seems on par with DISH's service, too. [Addition 10.15.08: As I learned, Bend Cable's HD lineup is excellent--there's nothing offered in similarly-priced packages from DISH or DirecTV that Bend Cable isn't providing. The picture quality is superb, and I've had zero technical difficulties with the service. 

But I do have two gripes about the Motorola DCH3416 DVR/set top box (stb):

1. Two or three times a night we get an occasional black screen that lasts for about 2 seconds followed by a 2-second audio dropout--a problem we also had with the Moto HD stb--a DCH3412, I believe--provided by our former cable company in Carlsbad. This never occured with the DISH stb. This problem might be an HDMI handshaking issue between the stb and our Philips monitor, or it might be endemic to the Moto boxes, I don't know.

2. Motorola seems to have cheaped out in the microprocessor department on these stbs. In Carlsbad, our DCH3416's processor very often got so busy doing housekeeping or something that it ignored remote control commands, sometimes for 10 or more seconds. This would lead to repeated pressing of the remote's buttons, and nothing would happen. Suddenly the stb would wake up and process all the commands quickly, with the repeats, leading to unexpected results and frustration. The DCH3416 that Bend Cable provided may be a later model. The delays are still there, but usually the box gets around to processing commands in just a few seconds, not the 10 or more seconds that the earlier model took. UPDATE: January 2009 -- the lag has increased to the point now where it's not uncommon to have to wait a dozen or so seconds before the box processes remote commands.]

But it's got the same crappy iGuide user interface (UI) as the cable box we had back in Carlsbad. It really sucks hard. 

[Addition 10.15.08: Bend Cable's John Farwell doesn't deny that the "iGuide" UI is pretty crummy, but that Bend Cable's hands are tied: the company Macrovision, who owns TV Guide's Information Program Guide (IPG) used in the set top boxes, calls the shots. He said that a high-def version of the IPG is forthcoming. Maybe it will let us see more than five channels at a time on the screen, through I don't hold out hope that they'll dump the low-rent ads, though. He also mentioned that Bend Cable is working closely with Diego on their new Moxi two-tuner HDTV DVR unit. Though not yet released, it looks to be an interesting alternative to the Motorola HD DVR running iGuide. The user interface takes a different approach than anything I've ever seen. Dunno if I'll like it. Judge for yourself, there's a demo on Bend Cable's website. John reports that when the Moxi is released it will have a high-def interface, too.

The bottom line for me is that Bend Cable seems to be working really hard to bring lots of high quality HD content to its users. As I mentioned, the number of HD channels is perfectly satisfactory and the picture quality is excellent. If the Moxi turns out to be as good as John says it is, then I'll cheerfully drop the Moto box and pay the $2 a month extra for that box. Thanks, John, for the additional information!]

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wiener Dogs, Polka Music, and Beer

But and alas, no bratwurst or saurkraut. At yesterday's Bend Oktoberfest,  Deschutes Brewery won the coveted "Worst Pretzels Ever" award for their mushy and tasteless offering. A request for their hottest mustard resulted in a pretzel served swimming in a pool of watery sugary yellow liquid with a vague mustard taste.  Feh.

Mrs Elliott said that Velo's little meat pie was delicious, though. And of course, while other people in more-deprived parts of the country are cheerfully swilling down yellow fizzy pisswater beer from the likes of Budweiser and Miller, Silver Moon, Wildfire, Cascade, McMenamin's and the previously-mentioned Deschutes Brewery were serving up cups of their far better brews. It's only because Deschutes is my present favorite local brewery that I am not setting a vex on them for that stunningly crappy pretzel.  

Yesterday actually started with us riding our town bikes out to Fred Meyers via the Old Mill district and Reed Market Road. Mrs Elliott has taken up guitar lessons and needed to get the nails on her left hand shortened. This is the kind of work that she prefers to leave to professionals, so while she was being attended to by the folk at Smart Nails, I killed time by wandering around Freddies (sampled some nice cheese) and fiddled with the rear derailleur on my bike. It was being fussy. 

Once her manicure was done, we cruised back to downtown where we paid our $5 admission into the Oktoberfest tent, where we ate the cursed pretzel and uncursed meat pie, where the little doggies ran their little hearts out; and when we tired of the spectacle we settled down at a table in front of Bellataza and people-watched. 

My son, Jim, joined us. We'd been waiting to see him because he had just finished his first day at his new job at Bend Lock & Safe and we looked forward to hearing how it went. Very well, it seems. He reported that the company is very well-run, that they are on first-name basis with their customers, and that his direct supervisor has impressive knowledge of locks and safes, their operation, and their history. Jim is genuinely pleased to be able to use his training as a locksmith for such a good company. 

Mrs Elliott and I are genuinely pleased that the boy finally got a job at a place which enjoys a good reputation in town, and that he is now hunting for a place of his own to rent. 

This gets him out of the house, and I gotta say that having the house to just the two of us is something we've been looking forward to for a long time. 

We finished up the day with dinner at Taj Palace Indian Cuisine on Wall St. I'm no afficionado of Indian cuisine, but I have have learned that what is considered hot or spicy in Bend is considered less than mild, almost bland, in San Diego. The host just laughed when we asked for more fire--I suspect that he thought we were insane.  But despite my insistance that the curry must have some noticeable heat, it was only mild at best. 

(We've experienced the same thing at Toomie's, where the Thai dishes that are marked as "spicy" on the menu aren't. Pacific Northwesterners have timid palates, it appears. )

Today we took out our little road bikes and rode the 24-mile Bend-Tumalo route. Mrs Elliott got pretty darn tired and all kind of cranky toward the end of the ride. She was so intent on getting to Mother's Juice Cafe for lunch that she was positively shouting at little old women and little children to get out of her way as she rode onto the Drake Park footbridge. It's a miracle none of the old birds had heart attacks or took swings at my wife with their umbrellas or canes. I suspect that at least one toddler has been scarred for life and will never approach a footbridge without taking a cautionary look over his shoulder to scan for rapidly approaching cranky women on bikes. 

We are seeing why so many Bendites say that September is their favorite month. The weather is fantastic, and the tourist density has dropped faster than a paralyzed falcon. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ingenuity

Nothing much to say here: this fellow converted a school bus to a fire wood delivery vehicle. Drove it all the way out from Michigan. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We'll Be Back

I've often glanced into Bistro Corlise on Wall St., having heard good things about the table they set, though we hadn't yet stepped in--until early last Friday evening, that is, when Mrs Elliott and I were lured in with a promise of a happy hour special consisting of a glass of either the red or white house wine and an appetizer for only $5.

Dinner hour hadn't started so we took a table on the sidewalk and I ordered a glass of the white and a haricovert (French green bean) salad.

My expectations were pretty low. I've never actually taken a house wine directly to the dump bucket, but I've also never had one that wasn't almost terrible.

Until now.

The wine was excellent! Our server explained that it was from Alain Brumont, one of France's most recognized wine producers. (For wine geeks, it comes from the Côte de Gascogne region in France and is a blend of Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc.)

A few moments later, the salad arrived. Again, my expectations were not high--I mean, how good can a green bean salad be? Especially as part of a $5 deal that includes such a fine wine?

Amazingly good, it so happens. This was an an extremely tasty little salad! Emboldened, we ordered the cheese plate. Two little wedges of cheese and some small sliced figs arrived shortly.

The cheese had a deep, rich flavor, which revealed more of itself the longer I let the crumbs linger in my mouth. The figs were perfect: as sweet as dates, ripened to perfection, something wonderful drizzled over them. Everything paired beautifully with the wine.

I emailed Bistro Corlise's owner/chef Jason Logan the following day to get more details about what we had partaken, and he replied in part that,
[T]he salad during happy hour was a haricovert salad (French green bean) with sprout lentils (done here of course), a zucchini mousse, and a hazelnut emulsion. The cheese is a Cap e. Tout, which is a small chevre (goat milk) from Les Fermiers Basco Bernais, a co-op of farmers in the French Pyrenees Mountains. The cheeses are handmade on the farm according to a thousand-year-old-recipe. We served the cheese with golden figs marinated with a little Armagnac.
Wow. Find another happy hour appetizer that offers so much attention to detail and such quality ingredients in Bend for $5. Or maybe anywhere in Oregon, for that matter.

We were impressed. I've eaten in some fine restaurants and have had lovely French cuisine, both in France and in Tokyo (where you'll find some of the arguably best chefs in the world). Jason knows his stuff and I think that Bend is lucky to have him. I hope Bistro Corlise can survive the current economic downturn. With Jason's palate, I expect he'd be able to work his magic with locally-produced ingredients and possibly keep a working profit margin.

Next week the Highland Trio will be performing a selection of Beethoven and Dohnanyi pieces at the Tower Theater. A pre-show dinner at Bistro Corliese would be perfect. We'll be back.

(Note: Jack Elliott is not a restaurant reviewer nor has he ever played one on TV. Please forgive the amateur quality of this writeup.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Local Resources

So far, Bend has all the resources I've needed for my business and personal needs. But a couple of days ago, when I was gathering my gear for a nighttime shot of Bend's Gasoline Alley* after dark, I discovered that the quick release post for my Slik U-212 tripod had gone missing in the move. Without this little part there's no way to mount my camera on my tripod. So I checked online and in the Yellow Pages for a photographic supply house, and found nothing other than Ritz. Ritz is fine for touristy stuff but I've never seen them carry anything like Slik parts or even good sturdy tripods. So I had to use my weenie little travel tripod, which isn't nearly as stable as my larger one, and stability is important for long exposures.

The shot came out pretty good (rough develop below), but I want to try it again with a steadier tripod as there is some motion blur, and I want to catch the moon in the sky down the alley. I reckon that'll be sometime between the next new moon and first quarter.




* Thanks to Dunc of Pegasus Books for providing the name of the alley. It doesn't show up on Mapquest or Google Maps.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Driveway Goes In


Some anonymous person at the Bend Economy Bulletin Board was of the opinion that the guy that I hired to put in the new driveway to the new outside door at our house wouldn't even show up, that instead he'd send over some $10 hour employees to take care of the job once he'd gotten the contract. Nope, it didn't work out that way at all. James Bevier of eponymously-named James Bevier Construction supervised the excavation last week, put the forms into place himself, and was out yesterday with one seasoned hand (and a visit from a giant cement mixer, putty-putty), pouring and shaping the driveway and sidewalk himself. That's James in the background of the photo, seasonend hand in foreground.

The driveway and sidewalk look great, and were brought in on time and within budget. Except that James found that he needed to rent some kind of pump that cost him $260 and he asked me to split it with him.

Sure -- why not?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Moths?


What's up with fuckin' moths around here? Our house doesn't have much in the way of window screens, and while there are parts of the country where screens are absolutely required because the bug population density is so high, the arid places I tend to live are not so buggy and I've never worried about the occasional visitor that wanders in by mistake. 

But every night for the past couple weeks there have been easily a half dozen dark gray moths batting about the ceilings. And these small black waspy-looking critters. Don't sting, near as I can tell, but they do make teeny little high-pitched squeaks if they become anxious. 

Now I like moths and other tiny multilegged critters as much as the next fellow. Maybe I even tolerate them better than most because I seldom ascribe malevolent motives to the little guys. This is just a higher small winged nonvertebrate count than I am used to. Any entomologists out there?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Concrete, Gardens, and Folkies


Mrs Elliott and I have devoted the lower story of our house to business, and the upper (kitchen, bedrooms, living room, dining room) as our home. To give delivery people and employees a way into the workareas w/o passing through the living area ("It's turf," said Paul Spencer, our IT guy, who immediately got the concept) a new door had been punched into the side of the house on the ground floor.

The next step is putting in a driveway and sidewalk down there. The driveway will let me park Mellow Yellow down there during non-camping season (Mrs Elliott and I are using MW as our daily driver, but once she gets a more convenient small car, MW will be retired from daily use and can slumber more), and the sidewalk will connect the end of the driveway with the new door.

Driveways and sidewalks are not inexpensive. We needed not only the driveway, but also a handrail to reduce the risk of injury to employees, delivery folk, and me when things get icy. I got quotes from a half-dozen concrete and asphault companies and eventually settled on James Bievier Construction. James' quote for the concrete work was a little better than everyone else, and his quote for the steel handrail was miles better than the other guys. So I gave them the job.

So far they've excavated, laid down the gravel ("three quarter minus," said the excavation guy, or chunks 3/4 inch in size down to, well, coarse sand), pounded the gravel flat, and have put the forms into place. James will make two pours: On Monday the lower portion will be poured with wetter mud so he can shape it easily, then on Tuesday the steeper portion gets poured with thicker stuff so it doesn't slide down the hill.

The front yard is not as beautiful as we'd like. In fact, it's a barren expanse of random rocks and dead grass. We're aware that Central Oregon is a desert and that your formal English garden look is wasteful of water, expensive to keep up, and not very practical. However, Mrs Elliot does long for a little green lawn and pretty flowers. I'm completely out of my depth w/r/t plants that are happy in this climate so we decided to ask around to see if we could not find someone who could help.

Pual Spencer has a nice little front yard which requires only a little mowing, and not much water at all. The secret? xeriscaping: the use of drought-tolerant plants. Paul said the man to talk to was Brad at Earth Logic Landscaping. After some discussion, it was agreed that we'd take snapshots of front yards that we like, and he'd give us addresses of places he's landscaped and maybe something could be designed that would meet my desire for an affordable, low-maintenance, water-frugal yard that will make Mrs Elliott smile when she comes home.

Went to the Sisters Folk Festival on Sunday and caught three performances: the charming Rosalie Sorrels (now in her 75th year
and still singing folk music, my son liked her most of all); the Wailin' Jennies (Heather Masse's round, deep alto voice blew me away, and what's that cool skinny Eminence bass she plays?)*; and ended with Molly's Revenge (Irish reels and jigs, occasional vocals by the lovely Miora Smiley) at Bronco Billy's .

* My hands are too small to play a full-scale bass upright bass. I just don't have the span. Monsters like Ray Brown make it look easy, I can't pull off a minor third in first position. Besides, who besides a professional can drop nearly $4,000 on a bass? But still . . .


Thursday, September 4, 2008

This, That, . . .

... and the other thing. 

Department of Miscellany, Dept. 
  1. Bend's water -- do I smell a tiny whiff of sulfur in the shower water? Where does the city get its water? Are there maybe sulfurous hot springs involved? [Addendum: In an earlier version of this post I managed to misspell "sulfur" and "sulfurous" respctively as "sulfer" and "sulferous." A tip o' the hand-knitted toque to Jake de Villiers of Crescent Beach Guitar for catching that error.]

  2. Is there a map someplace that shows where Bend's rafting shuttle bus picks up and drops off? There's a pickup/dropoff place at Drake Park & it would be nice to know the other spots. This upcoming weekend is shaping up to be right nice, and I promised Mrs Elliott that we'd do some floating.

  3. Of course, we also have to attend the Sisters Folk Festival this weekend: One of our favorite groups, the Wailin' Jennys, will be performing. 

  4. Jeepers, our Bend Garbage & Recycling fellow is nice guy! We've generated a stupendous amount of detritus and rubbish from the move here. Boxes, loads of old paint and wiring and weird shit that the previous owners left behind in the garage, even odder items found in the back yard. It's all been toted out to the front near the sidewalk, and I was planning to find someone on bend.craigslist.com to pay to come and haul it away. But this morning, when our representative from BG&R came by for his weekly round of picking up trash, he took the time to explain to us how we could arrange to have BG&R send out an open-back truck--no charge--and cart that stuff away. Sweet.

  5. Do any of the breweries in town offer a dry stout? I, for one, am a fan of dry stouts with their low ABVs. Enough with 9% alcohol by volume brews that force me to take a nap after two beers.

  6. We had a lovely evening last night. We picked up food items at the Wednesday Farmers Market at Mirror Pond (fine ciabattas and bread sticks from The Village Bakers' booth, some superb goats cheese [not chalky, but smooth and spectacularly tasty] from a vendor whose name I cannot recall, and lavender-infused lemonade) and parked ourselves on the patio in front of Bellataza to enjoy said viands. Mrs Elliott bought coffee to justify our taking up a table.  There was a group of motorcycle guys (one had a motor scooter) at the next table also enjoying theirselves. I've seen these guys before, they seem to be friends. Watched the younger folk mingle and show off and eye each other and vie for attention. Some young vagabonds with backpacks parked themselves on the patio and hung out panhandler signs and generally made no trouble for anyone. A place with a center, like Bend, is a magnet for folk whereas places with no center, like many places in SoCal, are desperately uninteresting and dreary. 

  7. Fellow came by today to look at fixing up my Ladybug (brand) trailer. That little trailer did such a fine job of carting my possessions from SoCal to Bend behind my Vanagon that I'm rewarding it by having its fiberglass body parts patched and polished. I'll also have some mods done so the top cover can be removed, making it a useful platform for hauling kayaks or other floaty things. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sound at the Schwab


I had speculated about whether the quality of sound at the Les Schwab Amphitheater was an attribute of the venue or due to the equipment and crew belonging to the artist. Yesterday's Mingo Fishtrap concert answered that question for me: the artist brings their own gear, the amphitheater has no sound system of its own. So it's the artist, the ears of their sound guy, and their equipment budget that determine the quality of the sound.

Mingo Fishtrap--guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and four horn players (including the highly-important baritone sax)--plays funk. They are a a club band--an extremely good club band--with roots in James Brown and his band, the J.B.'s, Tower of Power, Motown, and Stax. Their equipment is well-suited for enclosed spaces, even big spaces. Even so, when playing outdoors, which requires a lot more power than indoors, the band had a pretty darn good sound, all things considered.

I do make it a habit to sit near the sound man because he's mixing the sound according to how it sounds where he is, so we set up a couple lawn chairs on the grass, I bought a couple beers from the Bend Brewing Co. booth, and we all had a good time.

(Bass player geek note: he had two basses onstage, a p-bass and a j-bass, both 4-string. The j-bass sure looked like a Fender but the decal on the headpiece said something like "SX." I don't know what that was. [Addendum: could he have been playing a $140 "SX" j-bass knockoff from Rondo Music? It sure seems so. The logo on the headstock looks exactly like what I made out on his bass!]. He never played his p-bass. His bass was plugged into an Ampeg SVPro preamp, followed by a dbx 160a compressor/limiter, then into a Crest power amp. A Furman power conditioner keep the line-level gear happy [I'd like to find out whether it really makes a difference to the sound]. The cab was an SWR single 18''. Judging by the lamps on the compressor, he was hitting it real hard. He was plenty loud, but as totoro commented earlier, his tone was muddy. This maybe because of the big slow woofer. J-basses are famous for their growl, which helps define pitch, and a little more growl would have been right nice. He played fingerstyle and if I could play a fifth as well as him I'd be a happy man. He's the father of the lead singer/guitarist.)

These are accomplished player who know their stuff. A joy to hear such a tight band playing one of my favorite styles of music.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Music, Sound and Crap Beer

I was pleasantly surprised at the sound quality of the Les Schwab Amphitheater at last night's Sheryl Crow concert. More like very surprised. This is the first rock music performance venue where I could hear what the musicians were playing. Take the bass player, for example. Nine times out of 10, one can see the bass player's fingers moving, but with eyes closed, all that can be heard is a vague rumble that sounds like cannons are going off backstage. When players take solos, you know they are taking a solo because they will often be spotlighted and the other players will be watching them, but again, all that is usually heard is a blur of sound. I've rarely attended a concert where the singer's words were understandable.

But it was different last night and kudos to the sound designer and the folk doing the sound. I could hear every note the bass players were playing (kind of important to me because I play bass)--including the slap when the woofers in Reed Thomas Lawrence's bassist's amp hit bottom; the drummers were well-mic'd with clean kick drum punch, although a little more crispness on the high-hat would have been nice; and solos were articulate and clear. Vocals were well-done, too, although I must say that there was a sharp transistory edge to the sound in the lower treble which was a little fatiguing.

But all in all, I'd have to give the sound a 9 out of 10. Not bad when most venues provide a miserable 3 or 4. I look forward to the Mingo Fishtrap concert this Sunday: they are a tight band with a full horn section. Their arrangements are complex and without good sound the result could be a muddled mess. My fingers are crossed that last night's sound quality was not a fluke.

I'll leave reviewing the performances to others, all I can say is that Reed Thomas Lawrence and band were a perfect find to fill in time before the delayed main act could arrive, Brandi Carlile and her band were fun (excellent drummer), and Sheryl Crow's bank kicked ass. Great keyboardist. Tight band.

But what's with the shitty beer? I mean, holy crap! This town has--what? Five, six breweries? This is a town that knows from beer. Who did the Coors distributor blow to land the concession there? Coors Light and something called Blonde Bombshell were the only two offerings. Dreadful, miserable pisswater beers. They charge for this stuff? I pee this stuff out after drinking real beers. I had to dump my $5 cup after only two sips.

There must be a solution to the crap beer problem at the Schwab. If anyone knows how to get a decent beer into the place, please send me a comment. I won't publish it if you request me not to (in case you don't want your method public). Fortunately, the Bend Brewing Company will be providing refreshments for the Mingo Fishtrap concert.

But still -- when the big acts come into town, the food and beverage should be top-notch.

Loved the nearly naked girl making pizzas. I had a very nice cheese plate with crusty bread, olives, and grapes.
 
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