Archive for April, 2010

An Electrical Query For the Nerds

I’ve been poking around the web much of the afternoon, and hunting through Wikipedia, and I’m left stumped about two things – two things I hope that you, Dear Reader, might know the answers to.

1. On utility poles in residential neighborhoods (in the U.S., anyway) there are periodically – once every could of blocks, say – a large metal utility box mounted to a pole at or around “chest height”, which appear to be power distribution panels of some sort for the electrical network. I’m not talking about the similar telephone distribution boxes, but the electrical ones… What’s the technical term for these things? (You’d think some nerd would have produced “An Illustrated Guide to Domestic Utility Poles and Related Attachments”, but, no.)

2. They have provisions for padlocks on the latches, and I see a lot that have locks attached. In some neighborhoods, I’ve noticed a lot without locks; ten seconds’ effort and you’re in… or so I’ve heard. This seems like a bad idea to me, but what do I know, right? Is this normal, or a sign of possible shenanigans?

Ta muchly, and all that rot.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on April 22nd, 2010 | No Comments »

(Near) Truth in (Candy) Advertising

Once upon a time, in a boardroom far, far away, a bunch of candy-company executives got together – or so I like to imagine, anyway – and plotted out their company’s new product offerings for the next six months or so.

“You know”, said one executive, “we’d really like to get a piece of the multi-billion-dollar tinned-mint business. What can we do to make a product that really stands out from the popular, established competition in this market sector?”

“Well”, said another executive, “we could try to make mints that are targeted more towards children…”

“You mean market it more as candy than as a breath mint?”

“Yeah! Bright packaging designed to appeal to kids, gimmicky shapes, that sort of thing.”

“Um,” interjected a third executive, “not to be a downer, but do kids actually like mints? Like, I mean, the taste? I’ve got an eight-year-old daughter who hates the taste of Penguin and Altoid mints.”

“Yeah, that’s a good point,” said the first executive. “How about we make mints that… aren’t… mint… flavored.”

“Yeah, we could do that, I guess.”

“What would a mint taste like if it you removed the mint bits?”

“I… don’t really know. Sugar and fat, probably.”

“Well, kids like that, right?”

“I suppose.”

“We just need to figure out how to market it…”

And thus was born…
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Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on April 21st, 2010 | No Comments »

Rehabilitating the Six-Dollar Bike, Part One

I have a fairly decent bicycle, which I ride somewhat often – 30-50 miles a week – and which theoretically didn’t cost me anything. Yes, free, as in it was hanging in the garage and had been since we moved in and probably hadn’t been ridden in a decade or more.

Mind you, free bikes aren’t as great of deals as they seem – that “free” bicycle has received, in addition to a bunch of labor-intensive cleaning and lubrication and adjustment:

New tires – $40
New tubes and rim strips – $20
A new saddle – $30
A new handlebar, stem, and grips – free, but worth about $30
New brake pads – $10
New brake and shifter cables – free, but worth about $15
A rear rack – $20
A front basket – $20
Two bike locks (one U-lock, one cable) – $50
A bell – $10
Some bungie cords for the rack – $5

Add it all up and that “free” bike required about $250 in parts to get in good working order as a commuter/utility bicycle. You can get a pretty decent used bike from a good bike shop for $250…

Anyway, I haven’t learned my lesson, and am at it again.
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on April 19th, 2010 | No Comments »

Now Boarding, the Slow Train to Bigotsville

I have a certain disdain for so-called graffiti “artists” – or at least the “artists” who do nothing but scrawl their nicknames across every vertical surface within their reach. (Ornithological note: the Lesser Pimpled Tagger, Corvidae Rattlebombus, is differentiated from the Small Spotty Dickhead, Corvidae Chavvus, primarily by differences in plumage and mating call; C. Rattlebombus, of course, don’t mate, and thus have no mating call. C. Rattlebombus specimens which appear to exhibit mating behaviour are most likely juvenile sport specimens of C. Trustafaria; the latter are particularly common around liberal-arts colleges, community soup kitchens, and something called a “punk house”, which is a bit like a landfill, only louder and found in residential neighborhoods.)

Where was I, again? Oh yes, taggers.

Below is a piece of graffiti I spotted on a bike ride the other day:
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Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on April 14th, 2010 | No Comments »

Oooh, That (Indescribable) Smell

When people find out I like to participate in urban exploration, they’re usually full of questions – some of them good and pertinent, some of them less so. Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t it illegal? Isn’t it scary? Have you ever found a dead body? A meth lab? A Satanic altar?

I generally have answers – most of them good and pertinent, I like to think, but a couple somewhat unavoidably less so.

A surprisingly common question is “Don’t sewers smell bad?”, and the easy answer is no, they don’t. Is “damp” a smell? Or “damp concrete”? If not, the best way to describe is is to say that a storm sewer generally smells slightly musty, like the inside of a refrigerator, perhaps.

Sanitary sewers – the kind that carry, you know, sewage (which is mostly water) are another story. They have a kind of distinct smell that’s incredibly hard to describe. It’s complex, but kind of sweet, is usually how I describe it, often to slightly incredulous looks. It’s one of those things that, if you’ve ever been in a sanitary sewer, you’ll never forget, because it’s pretty unique.

To be fair, I should point out that this is only really true of sewers in residential and commercial areas. Sewers near factories tend to smell like whatever the factories put down the drain – a sewer near a brewery has to be one of the foulest places on earth, whereas a sewer near a shampoo factory can smell disturbingly… girly. (There’s something fundamentally wrong about a sewer that smells like flowers.) Someone like Sangamon Taylor would probably greatly enjoy the wide variety of subtle odors found in sewers near industrial areas. I’m not Sangamon Taylor.

Anyway, over the weekend I was at a Bruegger’s bagel shop, and ordered a bottle of Naked Juice‘s “Strawberry Banana” smoothie drink to accompany my bagel.

I don’t know how they do it, but this smoothie stuff is truly amazing – it pretty much looks like vomit, right down to the consistency, and it tastes exactly the way a sanitary sewer smells, if that makes any sense.

I mean that in a good way, let me point out before the lawyers come knocking down my door. I happen to like how sewers smell – not in a “I love the smell of a sewer in the morning!” kind of way, but in more of a “I find that unobjectionable” way.

So… if you’ve ever really wondered what a sanitary sewer smells like, buy a bottle of Naked’s Strawberry Banana smoothie, and take a sip. Then you’ll know.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Urban Exploration | on April 13th, 2010 | 1 Comment »