Monday, August 28, 2017

Take me out to the ball game

When we go to The Joe for a Valley Cats game it is usually with a group. The elementary school goes to a game right when school gets out and a group from work usually goes sometime in July. Both of those come as package deals. For 10 to 12 bucks you get the ticket, a not very good burger or hotdog, a small cup filled with mostly ice and a splash of soda, plus a little bag of chips.

This year, we couldn’t make either group trip to the game. On Saturday, we went on our own. I think there might have been a slightly smaller crowd than usual because of the Traverse Stakes up in Saratoga. I think there was a concert and the fight was on Saturday too. I went online to buy tickets Saturday morning and there were plenty of blocks of 4 to pick from. For $12 a ticket (plus a $3 processing fee for who knows what since I printed the tickets myself and a computer handled the transaction on their end) we had seat almost behind home plate. Just a little bit towards first base, 5 rows back. Every other time we have gone, we have been much further up a baseline.

The seats were really good. You could get a sense of the strike zone (kind of – the ump was a little all over the place with balls and strikes), see a slider drop and watch a ball slice through the air after it was hit. We got a late start going to the game. The kids had some friends over and I was fighting some framing on the oven enclosure. Instead of eating the fairly bad food at the park, we stopped at Mac’s Drive In for bacon cheeseburgers and their homemade fries on our way to the ball park. We missed the top of the first inning but were in our seats for the bottom of the first 2 out rally where the Cats scored 5 and hit 3 home runs.

The umps were having a off night. Besides the moving strike zone which both teams complained about enough to get yelled at by the field umpire, the field umpire totally blew a call at second base. A Cat hit a single and rounder first. The outfielder overthrew the ball past second base and runner took off. The ball was caught, thrown to second base and beat the runner there. But there was no tag. The runner was clearly safe. The third base coach came out to complain but that was that. That call cost the Cats a run. During the next at bat there was a wild pitch where the runner on 2nd could have walked to third. The next batter hit a long fly ball and the runner could have tagged up from third and scored. Turns out they didn’t need the extra run and won the game 9 to 1.

For some reason, both teams seemed to have a lot of everybody-in-the-infield meetings on the pitcher’s mound. When that happens in a softball game, the girls in the outfield often have their own meeting in center field. No idea what they are talking about but whenever I see players talking at the mound it makes me think of the scene from Bull Durham where the players arediscussing potential wedding gifts during the game.

Candlesticks always make a nice gift.

If you can plan ahead a little bit, these tickets are worth it. It’s a completely different game viewing experience.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fakin' It

One unexpected souvenir from the recent family vacation was a counterfeit to dollar bill. We think we got it in Nassau, Bahamas as change from a $20 when we bought an actual souvenir. With 20/20 hindsight, it seems like we got three legitimate ones and the fake ten as change.

On the first Monday back at work, I stopped into the store I've stopped into almost every weekday for the 7 or 8 years. And I tried to pay with fake money. I didn't know it was fake money at the time, but it was definitely fake money. Josh (I've been a customer long enough to know just about everybody's name there) knew it was fake immediately. As soon as he touched it. Then he used that special highlighter cashiers have one it and the marker lines turned brown.

Josh pointed out the feel of the paper was all wrong. Apparently there is a lot of fake money going around. I swapped the fake $10 for an actual $20.  I felt lucky that this happened in a place that I was a regular and was completely able to avoid being accused of intentionally trying pass off counterfeit money. If there is a silver lining to being out the ten bucks, it's that.
With the change, I was able to compare the fake $10 to a real $10. The fake was slightly smaller and the feel was definitely off. If someone was handing me just this fake $10, I might catch the imposter based on feel. It is definitely the wrong paper. I doubt I would have noticed it coming back mixed in with some actual money.

Compared side to side, the color on the back of the counterfeit is slightly off too. The fake is on top.

Lesson learned. Time to start paying more attention during cash transactions. I went back the next day and Benny was the cashier. As I handed him a five, I said "Here's a real five." He laughed and said, "Yeah, Josh told me about that."

So now I've got a fake ten dollar bill. What the hell am I supposed to do with it?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Went on a vacation last week. We were completely cut off from the outside world. No phone. No internet. It was oddly nice. As someone that had to play catch up to the news of the week, I can verify that ignorance is bliss.

While on vacation, I thought of a bunch of possible post topics. Some food related, some on the oddities of a cruise (why are there continuous art and jewelry sales pitches?) and another one that I think a sociologist PhD candidate could use as a thesis topic. But with the news of the day in mind, I’m going to go with something light.

I hugged Andy the Dolphin.

During the time we spent with Andy the Dolphin I also pet him, felt his teeth, held his front fins (it was kind of a dance thing) and fed Andy a fish. There was also a kiss.

Now, if one of my kids intentionally splashed salt water in my face I’d be yelling, “what the hell are you doing?!? Cut it out!” But when Andy the Dolphin intentionally splashes salt water in your face, you just smile and think, “Silly Andy…He’s so cute.” Dolphins could get away with anything.
After you hang out around a dolphin, you spend the rest of the day thinking, “I can’t believe that happened.” It’s been almost a week and I still think it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Pizza Oven Update: Topping off

Hit a milestone over the weekend so it is time for the next wood fired oven update. It was a bunch of long days so it is kind of blending into a blur. I might be messing up the timeline.

First, if you need steel studs I highly recommend BuildingSpecialties (L & W Supply) right off of Route 9 in the Latham/Cohoes area. Very friendly. They answered numerous and most likely annoying questions including a panicked phone call about the washers I used. Just generally nice place. I underestimated what I needed and had to get a few more pieces. They cut them down so they would fit in my mini-van.  They also stock the most sheet rock I have ever seen in one place.

One day after work, my friend Ryan drove up with me to L & W supply and we got a bunch of 18 gage steel studs and track. On the way to my house, we also stopped at Home Depot to grab a few sheets of plywood. All of this sat in my garage while it rained off and on for what felt like an eternity.

I unwrapped the oven and screwed the bottom tracks in for the steel studs. Lots of holes were drilled and probably an excessive amount of TapCon screws (concrete screws) were used. Then the oven got wrapped up again… and it rained again. 

I wanted to start with the easiest wall which was the back.  Just a straight 30-inch high wall. I messed up the gauges of the steel studs. I bought tin snips that said they were good up to 20 gauge. I was using 18 gauge steel studs. Perfect, the snips age good to 20. Except I forgot that gauges go the other way and 18 gauge is thicker than 20 gauge. I gave it a shot. My tin snips were able to bend the 18 gauge steel but not cut it. I don’t have a chop saw so all the cuts were made with an angle grinder. I kind of got the hang of an angle grinder just in time to be done cutting. The first wall went pretty well.

On to the sides. I decided on a 30 inch wall height in the rear and a 48 inch height in the front. The idea was to avoid being able to hit my head on a corner anywhere around the oven. It’s a little close in the back but the higher the back wall is, the higher the front wall gets for the pitch. The chimney also has to be factored in to the calculation. I have 5 feet of chimney and you should have at least 2 feet of pipe above the roof. 

I cut the wall closer to the house. Fit it together. It looked good so I took it apart and did my best to duplicate it for the other side. I fit them both back together to see if they were level-ish to each other. I was going to take them down so the current tarp/canopy covering system still worked, but they looked pretty good so I screwed them into place. It was also clear that I needed some more material that was it until I got the chance to go shopping again. 

My friend Joe stopped by to lay out the wiring. There will be a few outlets in back, a few on the side and a switch for some overhead lights. He also helped me figure out how to frame the front. Brick size limited the depth of the landing so the chimney is in there pretty tight.  After getting the second round of steel studs, Joe came back to help again. He mounted and wired the electric boxes while I cut the pieces for the front. We got the chimney anchor plate installed and then framed up the front.  The anchorage was set up when I built the arches. One thing to note, the bolts, nuts and washers are all stainless steel. You don’t want to heat galvanized metal up (puts off a toxic gas).

Then with some help from my wife and oldest daughter we put together the framing for the roof. My wife had to leave but my daughter and I were able to get the roof from the driveway to the oven with a moving dolly.  During the process, we met our new neighbors. I must have looked like a complete, possibly scary, mess. Great first impression.

I put the strips I used to for the concrete ring around the oven. I picked up a few bags of perlite to dump over the oven as a little bit of extra insulation. The form was to keep the perlite from flowing into the corners. Then the whole family managed to get the roof onto the framing and the concrete board walls went up. (I don't think I took any pictures of just the walls)

Last Sunday morning, we got the front wall mounted.  With the walls done, I dumped in a bunch of the loose perlite around the oven walls. The rest goes on the top as the roof gets installed.

The problem with changing the plans multiple times is that it eventually messes stuff up. I had figured three 4’x8’ sheets of plywood for the roof (a 4 foot, a piece cut to 3 feet, and another cut to a little over 2 feet depending on the overhang) and that adds up. What I messed up was having the roof framing line up at the right spot. Lots of measuring, a little bit of cursing and some work with a circular saw and each of the 3 sheets of ply wood were cut to something’ x 8’ so they hit the framing. There’s a reason everything is supposed to be 16 inches on center. It adds up. Local framing contractors do not need to worry about me stealing their business.

Once two pieces of plywood were on, I quickly realized my plan for locating where to cut the hole for the chimney wasn’t going to work. I had thought I’d be on the one piece of plywood and reach under to locate “centerish” with some help from the bottom. However, instead of being on one piece of plywood, two pieces had to be put up to get past the chimney location. Not sure this makes any sense. I had planned to be working fairly close to the edge of a 4 foot piece of plywood. I could lay on top and reach under. But I needed 2 cut pieces of plywood (about 6 feet up there), so I couldn’t reach around the framing to touch the center of the chimney. Plan B was needed.

We best guessed near center and drilled a hole. As long as the holes were inside the circle that was getting cut out, it didn’t matter how many were drilled. I lowered a string with a screw tied to the end (homemade plumb bob). From that location, we re-estimated center-ish (a few inches towards the front and a just a little bit more to one side. Drilled another hole and tried again – pretty close. I drilled a screw in where I thought center was. Using a string and a Sharpie I marked out a 12 inch circle. Then starting from one of the holes, I cut out the circle with a jig saw. Up came the chimney pipe (a 5 foot length of 8 inch double walled Duravent – outside diameter is 10 inches). Holy shit, it fit.

Dumped in the rest of the perlite and then we got the rest of the plywood on the roof. Snow and ice barrier is usually over the last 3 or 6 feet of a roof line. Since the whole roof is 9’ by 8’ and the barrier is sold in 150 square foot package, we covered the whole thing. After that, I popped the chimney flashing and cap on to the pipe.

Structurally, the oven is done. Topping party!

This Sunday, I wrestled with the fascia. I don’t really know the ins and outs of small building construction. My goal, based solely on earlier indecision, was to leave a 1.5-inch overhang with the plywood around the entire frame. 20/20 hindsight being what it is, I should have shot for ¾ of an inch. To fill this gap I needed a 2xsomething piece of wood which are significantly heavier than 1xsomething. Doesn’t mater structurally, more for installation difficulty.

So I got a bunch of 2x8s (which are actually 1.5”x7.25”), ripped about half an inch off them (the metal roof framing is 6 inches deep and the extra ¾ inch if to make a line with soffit (bottom of the eave). Once they were ripped I used the router and ½ in round over bit to make the bottom edge pretty. Then came the installation.

Each fascia board was clamped into position. Pilot holes were drilled and the widened a little for a counter sink. Each board was then attached with a bunch of screws. I’ll either plug the holes with a little piece of word or maybe a rounded button. I’ve got to decide which looks better.

It was now about 7:00 on Sunday.  I didn’t think putting up the drip edge was going to be a problem. But it was. And I messed it up. Expletives were muttered. OK, maybe louder than a mutter. I got the back piece on and called it day. After some more research and looking at our roof, it appears that no one does drip edge the way I was trying. And I thing bending one piece around a corner was harder with the drip edge I was using. I got the kind that has a 6 in flap so I could get past the steel framing to nail it on. It might work better with the 2-inch kind that could have worked if I built the entire roof out of wood. Caulk will be my friend here. 

Had an appointment Monday afternoon and then went home. Got the rest of the drip edge on and then set up to do the shingles. My wife Amy was cutting them and I was crawling around the roof nailing them on. We were careful to avoid nails going into the steel framing. We got lucky, there was really only one row that was a little too close for comfort. Cut out around the chimney pipe, got the flashing down and then kept going towards the top. (Side note: you can’t get more of an open ventilated area than the top of a roof and I think I caught a buzz off of the caulk around the flashing.) We finished up around 7:30.

There are a few things I want to touch up on the roof but the roof is basically done. Here's the view from an upstairs bedroom

Everything else is finishing work. There’s still plenty to do, most likely in this order...

1. The soffit: going to be a grooved pine with a few lights (once this is done, the oven is truly sealed up)

2. The counter in front - some more concrete and a counter top

3.  Make the outside walls pretty - I’m leaning towards stucco, I might need to extend the opening arch a little.

4. Make the concrete base look pretty- probably some stone veneer or tile.

Parts of this might get put one the back burner. I’m in a spot where I really want to use the oven and ease up on building it. Once the soffit is in and everything is sealed up, I wont have to worry about the weather forecast every time I think about firing the oven up.

Some 20/20 Hindsight: If I could go back in time, I would have only used the steel for the front wall and wood for the other three and the roof. It’s easier to work with, probably a little cheaper and would have been built faster. No worries about the steel rotting though.

Many thanks to Amy (she was really a huge help), Joe, Lisa, Eric, and Allison for their help with this phase of the construction.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tappan Zee

I like bridges.

Probably more than I should. The average bridge is completely utilitarian but some bridges, well they are amazing and beautiful feats of engineering. I've almost missed exits looking at bridges.

Until recently, people had been calling the currently under construction replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge "The New New York Bridge." I'm not not saying that is a horrible name for a bridge. With 20/20 hindsight I think the New New York name was a pre-set to a name change. Kind of like telling a kid they have 10 more minutes before you leave.

Recently, the New York State Legislature came back for some kind of special session to finish up stuff they didn't get to finish before they decided to take a vacation. One of the things they finalized in this special session was the obviously urgent renaming the of Tappan Zee Bridge to the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

As far as I know, the only person that likes the name is the governor. I haven't heard any positive reaction to the new name. It's just another example of government representatives ignoring their constituents. I get that the governor wants to memorialize his dad (and maybe also wants his name on the bridge as well). My dad passed away too and I bet there would be more enthusiasm if the bridge was just named The Ed after him.

"It's the third exit after you cross The Ed."

The other thing, and there is some irony here, is the history of the Tappan Zee. Do you know why the Tappan Zee Bridge is located where it is? It's 3 miles long (there are places where the bridge could be much shorter) and the ground is complete sludge (there are places where you could easily hit rock).

The bridge is located at that wide, sludgy spot because of political bullshit. The Port Authority controls a 25 mile circle centered at the Statue of Liberty. If the Tappan Zee Bridge was built in that circle, the Port Authority would have gotten the toll money instead of the Thruway Authority. The location of the Tappan Zee bridge is basically as close as you can get to New York City and be out of the Port Authority's reach. It sounds like fiction, but it's true.

So our governor just named a bridge that is essentially a completely overpriced monument to a lack of political compromise after his father. I wonder if he knows.

Doesn't matter. Everyone is still going to call it the Tappan Zee anyway. Just ask the Twin Bridges.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Softball season is in full swing. The weather hasn't been very cooperative but the games are scheduled into mid July. As a result, there haven't really been any food projects or any projects. Just fast dinners and late nights. Although I did get a grain mill I'm looking forward to taking for a test drive and I have begun to amass all the materials for the next part of the oven project. Maybe I get get started on that over the 4th of July weekend. Not sure. Kind of weather dependent. It would be nice if we could avoid rain for 3 days in a row that I had some time. So instead of any of that stuff, I'm going to yammer about satellite radio.

When we got the new mini van, it came with a few months of Sirius satellite radio. I thought it was alright, not amazing, but alright. My favorite channel is Comedy Central (Chanel 95) and the kids enjoy Hits One (1). As my subscription began to run out, that’s when the emails and postcards starting arriving. Sign up now for something like $240 a year. I’ll pass.  As the end of the subscription got even closer, I got a phone call. For $100 plus some taxes and fees, I thought I would be getting a basic subscription for a year that included being able to receive Sirius Radio over the internet. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case. For $100, I got a basic subscription that was just in the van. The internet access is an extra $4 a month, call it $50 a year.

I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have the internet options since I’m pretty sure I was told I would have it, but I have two main complaints about the service. First, while a bunch of it is “kind of commercial free,” a lot of it isn’t. Comedy Central isn’t. They play the same ads endlessly – debt relief, a pillow to stop snoring and shaving razors seem to be the ads of the moment. A lot of commercial free stations play ads for other stations. Personally, I don't care what Don Henley's favorite Beatles songs are, but I could tune in Friday to find out. Plus there’s the other crap. Take Hits One for example. They do a lot of pop culture news reports and they have their own Morning Zoo group but they also play segments about movie releases. I don’t believe getting your movie release information on air is free. Maybe it is, but I doubt it.  So it’s not commercial free even though it says it is.

My second complaint isn’t really a complaint a bout Sirius. It’s Comedy Central. First, they often play a made for them podcast called The Bonfire. If you like it, great. I don’t think it’s funny.  It's two stoner comedians (whose stand up is actually good) desperately trying to making fun of stuff they see online. And when that fails, they make fun of Corey Feldman’s band.  It also feels risky to play any of the comedy stations with the windows down. There are some topics and language that might not be appreciated being heard by a nearby car or pedestrian as you slowly drive through a parking lot. Ever hear KattWilliams or Eddie Griffen do stand up? About every 3rd word is not one I want blasting out of my car windows.

My current subscription ends in December. Not sure if I'll renew or not. Definitely not at full price. Two bucks a week seems borderline OK, $4.50 seems like too much. Weird how we draw the value lines on some things. I'll take the grain mill over the satellite radio every time.