28 March 2010

My First Leisurely Visit To Prospect Park

Today was a dreary, cold day that would be best spent curled up with a few movie DVDs. Instead of that, I cycled along Ocean Parkway to Prospect Park, went along the loop from the southern end (Fort Hamilton Parkway) to the northern end (Grand Army Plaza) then back along the same route, for a total of 20 kilometers. The ride along Ocean Parkway was not enjoyable at all. The long stretches between the Avenues were great, but at each end of the stretches were cars waiting to get to the other side, cars turning from Ocean Parkway, and most of them were your typical NYC drivers who do not yield to pedestrians and cyclists. There were some good exceptions though. One guy, upon realizing that he blocked the cyclist path, waved apologetically and actually backed off. One lady, turning into the crossroad from the service road, actually let me pass and missed her green light. Prospect Park made it worth the trip, though.

It was not my first visit to Prospect Park, per se. I drove to the iceskating rink before, but of course to me driving is never fun. There was just too many things out there to pay attention to. Some crazy drivers, some careless pedestrian or cyclist, and of course, all the rules and regulations. I went there once with my son on a school trip to the Audubon Nature Center. Again, I was busy watching my own kid and the other kids, sort of helping the teachers with crowd control. No fun there. Only today, even with the less-than-ideal weather, did I have a chance to leisurely go through the park. I stopped at some plaque marking the spot as part of the Battle of Brooklyn. There were some statues that I never noticed before. I also noticed for the first time some hilltops, with steps to make the trip easier, as well as some nature trails through the woods. The ride back toward the Fort Hamilton junction was mostly downhill, with the wind rushing through my hair, it was wonderful. I had a camera on me but with the cloudy/rainy weather I didn't feel like taking any pictures. My sister publication over at http://top-of-the-arch.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-york-is-on-my-mind-cherry-blossom.html does have some nice photos of Prospect Park during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

24 March 2010

Heartbreak Hardware - iPod touch vs. Handspring Deluxe

Is life full of surprises or what? Some time ago when I started a series of blog entries called Heartbreak Hardware, I planned to write about my old Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), electronic devices that have a calendar, an address book, a note-taking app, plus other. Back then, I already was using the iPod touch as a PDA. Of course, the iTouch also played music, served as a dictionary (American Heritage) and handheld game console, etc. My latest PDA at the time, the Handspring Deluxe, was allowed to lose its battery and withered away. The entry would be about the Handspring's death. Or so I thought.

A little over after my iTouch turned 2-year-old, it just died. Up to that time, its charge was not holding that well and I already had to charge it whenever I was near an electrical outlet. If left on overnight, even in sleep mode, it would not boot up the next day. The headphone jack was already mono and Wi-Fi decided to quit some time ago, too. It was still usable so I made the most of it and carried a charger with me most of the time. In the end, it simply would not boot up. Not from being connected to an outlet or via USB to the computer. I took it to Tekserve in Manhattan hoping it would be a simple battery replacement. Alas, they tested it with two different batteries and it still would not come back. Probably the circuit board, too expensive and not worthwhile to replace.

A typical hot-blooded consumer would go out and buy a new/replacement device. I am not that kind of person. Yes, I will get a new device eventually, when Apple decides to sell an iTouch with a still camera, whenever that is. In the mean time, I am making do with an old second-generation iPod, a Chinese PDA that I really use for its Oxford Dictionary, and the venerable Handspring Deluxe.

With only 8 MB, greyscale screen, stylus, USB 1.1 connection, AAA batteries, and no music-playing capability, the Handspring (HS) pales in comparison to the iTouch. But the thing that counts the most is that it is usable and not dead like the iTouch. I had to dig up the Palm software to install so that the HS would be recognized when synced. My decent organizational skill helped, Palm Desktop 4.1 was easily found in a folder called Install on an external drive. Next I had to find the cradle that has a USB 1.1 connection to the computer. Lastly, I had to sync all the old, neglected data I had on the computer to the Palm. It took a long time to run but by the end I had a functional PDA again. I plan to use the HS as a diary, to record events of the day. As far back as 2002, I had a series of notes in the Calendar app of the HS to record events of the day. I had a kick out of reading them, mostly mundane stuff like babysitting my 2-year-old son, going to the library or the playground, but also momentous events like my mother's surgery or some job-related announcements.

As a twist of fate, the Hardware that Broke my Heart in this instance is the iPod touch. Some day in the not too distant future, I will get another iPod touch but for now the Handspring Deluxe will be carried around everywhere I go.

06 March 2010

Manhattan Beach Re-Visited

New York City has five boroughs - Manhattan, Queens, Kings (better known as Brooklyn), the Bronx, and Richmond (aka Staten Island). So where in New York City would you find a place called Manhattan Beach? In Brooklyn, of course! Why? Fuhgeddaboutit, that's just the way it is. Maybe Wikipedia has some background on the name...

Manhattan Beach is a small public beach that would be connected to Coney Island's beach, at the eastern end of the Boardwalk, had it not for some private property in the way. I lived in the area for a while before I made a trip, on bicycle with my nephews, there one day. I returned a second time with my son. He had some fun playing in the sand and then in the playground. It is a small quaint area, quiet and clean, far from the maddening crowd. At least based on the occasions I visited it, which I am sure were not peak season.

I recently re-visited the place, again on bike, as I had a little extra time after reaching the eastern end of the Coney Island Boardwalk.

There is a beach house, I suppose for people to change clothes and take a shower to wash off all the saltwater.

Last time I came the beach was wide open. This time there were this structure I suppose to protect erosion or what not.

There is a barbecue area right off the beach, although there was a sign warning partying people to stay x feet away from the fence.
If you are not into swimming or getting sands in your shoes, relax on the benches or throw some basketballs in the court.

Pat Parlato Playground did not look any different. Some water fountain is still there, plus the typical playground structures. I once told my son, perhaps jokingly, that I would take him to playgrounds wherever we go. He may not care much what I said, but nowadays whenever we visit a playground I would take a photo of the place, especially with its name. I should put together some Google map of the photos I have. Perhaps I'll call it Every Child Needs A Playground.

The biggest difference I know upon my third visit to Manhattan Beach is the bike lane. I remember well the second time I came, perhaps in the afternoon, I parked the minivan right outside the park, on the street, on Oriental Boulevard. Now there is a bike lane and then a buffer zone. I am sure some motorists complain about the loss of convenient parking but as a cycling enthusiast, I welcome the change very much.

05 March 2010

The M.E. Who Only Computes

Some Mechanical Engineer I am. So I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but it definitely does not mean I have mechanical skills. Like what's needed to fix a leaky or broken pipe.

A pipe in the kitchen sink assembly broke open this week. Not a crack line, mind you, but a whole piece of the thing disappeared somewhere. I have no idea how it happened but the whole piece of pipe has to be replaced.

In the ideal world, things are done correctly and when they breakdown from normal usage, you replace them with off-the-shelf pieces. In my world, I learned today whoever installed the pipe assembly did a lousy job. I thought the pipes under the two sinks would meet perfectly right in the middle of the distance separating them, straight into the T-joint. Not so. The left pipe, which has the hole, is actually shorter than the right piece. The two 7-inch-long pipes I bought for the project could not possibly fit into the assembly. I ended up buying a shorter piece, probably 6 inches long but even then the connections do not fit nicely. As a backup plan, I got a whole set of pipes made of plastic. The T-joint for the plastic set is longer in all directions and somewhat cover the gaps in the old assembly. I find it amazing the old assembly ever worked. The T-joint just sat on top of the trap piece, only kept in place by an insulation jacket. The whole thing works, for now, but water still leaks if the sink is filled up then drained. I know what other pieces need to be changed, but that's a battle for another day this weekend.

I used to think that Home Depot has everything for any given home-improvement project. Technically I would need to replace only the left pipe, the one with the gaping hole. However, it was tightly connected to the T-joint so I wanted to buy a new T-joint as well. HD only has plastic T-joint. When I came back to HD a second time in hope of finding a J-pipe less than 7" long, they didn't have any and the worker for the plumbing department told me he did not have the tool to cut anything for me. He had some machine to cut really long pipes down to size, but nothing for these small pieces off the shelf. A visit to my local hardware store on 86th Street solve the problem. Originally the good chap there was going to cut the pipe for me but then he found a pipe just the right length. On a second trip to the local store, I even picked up a metal T-joint.

Plumbing is no fun, to me. Each time I realized a piece is not correct, I had to go back to the store to get the correct piece. I could not just download the piece and install it. It would be so much easier if I can punch in some code to indicate the project I work on, into some web site, and get back just what materials, with measurements, I would need. Worst of all, there is no reboot. As is often the case, once I started to take things apart, I discover other problems and more pieces to replace. A reboot to get everything back to where things were at the beginning of the project would be so handy.

03 March 2010

And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor - Zheng Concert

What's your schedule on Sunday, April 4, 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM? How about check out the First Annual Zheng in the Spring Concert at NYC's Carnegie Hall!

For those who do not know, the gu-zheng (古爭) or just zheng for short, is an instrument of Classical Chinese music. As shown in the poster, it is a plucked string instrument. The positions of the bridges (those small pieces that slightly raise the strings) affect the major in use. The gu-zheng figures prominently in Chinese history and literature, but to me, the kung-fu movie junkie, Kung Fu Hustle has one of the more famous zheng scene in recent memory.

My wife, son, and niece will be in the performance. No kidding. Although the kids do not like it, as they are all shy, the performance will be good for them. In the future, should they want to follow a musical career, their resumes sure look good with reference to Carnegie Hall, even if it's the smaller hall of the famous place.

Give me a call and leave a message with info to get back to you if you are interested in attending the concert. Click on the "poster" for details.

02 March 2010

Geographic Word Links?

A niece of mine, who we shall call JC, likes to play with me a version of what I described in the last post as Word Links. Instead of regular words, however, we would use names geographic locations. Continents, nations, cities, mountains, rivers, and so on. It is nice that a kid actually likes geography, what with so many adults, not just kids, in the U.S.A. so ignorant of world geography. I am a tad above average myself with geography so I can use a lesson or two on the topic. It is not enough to utter the geographic words but also say something about them, how the places are important enough to be known. Hey, a little history is good to know, too.

Like the regular Word Links games, certain letters appear often at the end of these "words". I think most annoying is the letter "A". You have ASIA, AUSTRALIA, AFRICA, AMERICA, ANGOLA, and so on. You can spend the whole game using only words that end and start with the letter "A" - no fun at all. The letter "Y" also comes up often at the end of word, although there are not that many geo-words that start with it. "K" is another letter that behaves like "Y". If my memory serves me right, "E" and "N" geo-words are hard to come by, too.

In the spirit of making the Geo Word Links game better, I've created the following list of words with some info about them. Most info comes from Wikipedia, others from an ancient (1982) Compton's Encyclopedia I rescued off the street some years ago, and some just whatever came to my head, including attempts at humor. Feel free to chime in with suggestions or correction of facts. Enjoy!


AmsterdamCapital city of the Netherlands.

AnchorageThe largest city in Alaska.

AnnapolisCapital city of Maryland.

AntietamPart of Virginia, site of the bloodiest, single-day battle of the American Civil War.

ArlingtonPart of Virginia, best known for the Arlington National Cemetery.

EdinburghCapital city of Scotland.

EgyptA country in north Africa, home to the Sphinx and Pyramids.

ElizabethPort city of New Jersey, home to Ikea and Jersey Garden Mall.

EstoniaA country in Northern Europe. At the end of World War II, as the Russian Army advanced toward Germany, it took over Estonia and nearby countries. It was not until 1991 that Estonia became an independent country again.

EthiopiaA country in Africa. In the 1980s, Ethiopia was the victim of famines. The Supergroup USA for Africa raised money for Ethiopia and similar victims with its song "We Are the World".

EvergladesA vast area of land and water in southern Florida, by now (2010) probably taken over by golf courses and time-share condos.

KathmanduCapital city of Nepal.

KeynaA nation in Africa popularly known for having top winners in the New York City Marathon.

Khe SanhA city in the former South Viet Nam. The U.S. had an army base there and, as a show of force, the North Vietnamese Army laid siege to the base, but was unsuccessful at capturing it.

KilimanjaroThe highest mountain in Africa.

KnoxvilleThe third largest city of Tennessee (U.S. state)

KomodoAn island in Indonesia once used as an exile prison, now best known for its komodo dragon, a large, ferocious lizard.

KosovoA region in Serbia that has been trying to gain independence from Serbia.

KyotoA city in Japan where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The Protocol's aim was to fight global warming. The Protocol was ratified by many nations in the world, with the U.S. the sole country with no plan in accepting it.

NairobiCapital city of Kenya.

NepalA small country between India and China, home to Mount Everest and The Himalayas.

NevadaU.S. state perhaps best known for its Las Vegas city.

New BrunswickA province in Canada, home to the Bay of Fundy and other natural wonders.

NigerA landlocked country in Eastern Africa, not to be confused with Nigeria.

NorwayA country in Northern Europe, home of the Vikings.

NurembergGerman city known for the trial of Nazi leaders charged with crimes against humanity.

YonkersThe fourth most populous city in New York State. Just north of New York City, Yonkers is so confusing to New Yorkers that a play called "Lost in Yonkers" was written about the experience. Wink, wink.

YorktownVillage in Virginia (U.S. state) that is best known as the site of the last battle of the U.S. Revolutionary War.

YpresA city in Belgium that was fought over by the two sides of World War I. All together there were three Battles of Ypres. During the Second Battle of Ypres, poison gas was used by the Germans, for the first time on the Western Front.

YucatanA peninsula in Mexico.

YugoslaviaA former country in Eastern Europe that was made up of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and other countries.