Phil vs. the Russian Language

Here is your advance warning of my next, entirely too brief, trip: from November 9-14th, I will be going to visit Kiev, Pripyat and Chernobyl. This is a somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a very long time so I’m treating this as a slightly belated birthday present to myself as I collect one of the crown jewels of atomic tourism. Oh yes, there will be pictures.

However this is decidedly out of my comfort zone and let me tell you why. Most of my survival skills are related to my ability to speak to people and read postings. I am seriously more comfortable with the idea of wandering around a nuclear accident site than trying to get from the airport to my hostel in Kiev with my complete lack of Ukranian language. Like most Americans, I’m only fluent in one language, English. Because I’m me and I love linguistics and history I have fragmentary knowledge a dozen or so others, mostly at the word root levels, because this is the kind of thing that makes me a Cliff Clavin-grade trivia monster. English, being the Jello fruit medley of languages, gives you the benefit of some familiarity with Greek, Latin, German, and French even if you don’t really know where a given word came from.

Where it gets ugly for me is no longer having the Roman alphabet to work with anymore. I have a physics degree which means I learned the Greek alphabet one ugly equation at a time and how to transliterate from the Greek letters to Roman. When you realize you actually know a lot of Greek word roots and can combine it with the Greek alphabet, you suddenly realize you can kind of read some Greek words. Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a minute try to pretend I actually understand Greek but I can sorta figure things out. This brings us to Cyrillic.

St. Cyril slapped something similar to the Greek alphabet, with some important additions, on top of a Slavic language. The phonemes between Greek and Russian didn’t quite match so some extra letters were necessary to cover the missing sounds and give pronounciation aids. The important thing to remember is that despite using a kind of, ish, Greek alphabet that Russian is decidedly Not Greek.

With all that established, let’s go through “Phil’s Extremely Back Assward Way To Read Russian Words in Cyrillic!”

STEP 1: Change all the Cyrillic letters to the Greek alphabet.

STEP 2: Change all the Greek letters to the Roman alphabet.

STEP 3: Now that the word is in Roman letters, see if you recognize any word roots, usually German.

STEP 4: Translate to English if possible as best as you can.

Now that we enjoyed that little excursion into how Phil’s brain works, I want to note how this method to translate Russian is ENTIRELY NOT HELPFUL IN KIEV. Ukrainian is not Russian. It’s in the same linguistic neighborhood but I hope you now understand my hesitation.

Let’s work an example problem! Starting word: шпильхалле

Step 1: Hmm, that looks weird, don’t quite recognize Greek equivalents to all those letters. The first one kinda looks like a sigma that fell over, so let’s go with ΣΠΝΛΧΑΛΛΕ

Step 2: I hope those missing letters don’t matter too much. SPILCHALLE

Step 3: Okay, “halle” I recognize, though the “h” I have identified came from a chi, which is a ch sound. “Spil”? That kinda looks like a word I remember from my game collection, speil.

Step 4: Game place? Did I find a game store, a stadium, or what? Only one way to find out…

(The actual answer is “casino”. This word is from the 1990s German/Russian hybrid times. These are the kinds of misunderstanding that lead to ADVENTURE!)

[EDIT: I’ve been told I got lucky with my transliteration, because I screwed up in a way that still worked. See? ADVENTURE!]

With that, I’m going to go back to the current cross-country train adventure while preparing for this next adventure.

Concerning Asskicker Coffee

I have JUST the coffee mug for such occasions. (mug courtesy of Topatoco, Sopwith Camel courtesy of LEGO)

Ooooookay, the milestone where I have a deep sigh and decide to comment on someone else’s product is 50 messages. When I’ve gotten that many emails, texts, IMs, DMs, tweets, phone calls, etc., I have to breakdown and actually make words in reply.

TL;DR version: No, they aren’t ripping me off. No one making cold brew coffee is ripping me off, they’re just doing their own thing. When someone does something I think is as good as BBotE and finds a way to do it cheaper, I’ll let you know because I’ll be buying it too.

In case you’ve missed out on the content hungry media flurry, there’s a cafe in Adelaide, South Australia called Vicious Coffee that has a product on its menu called Asskicker Coffee. People from Australia have been telling me about this for a while, but the social media thirstlords blew it up at the end of August. You can read the original news story from the Australian Sunday Mail Advertiser under the link, but I want you to pay close attention to this statement:

The Asskicker is a complex concoction made of quad espresso (four shots), four 48-hour brewed cold drip ice cubes, 120ml of 10-day brewed cold drip and is finished with four more 48-hour brewed cold drip ice cubes.

My most important take away from all the various articles I’ve been sent about this is “many journalists aren’t good at math”. Please read that previous quote again and think about how much coffee that is.

Think about it some more.

Okay, let’s do some conversions. The traditional espresso shot is 30ml, so four of those is 120ml. It’s hard for me to guess at ice cube volume since ice cube trays are so variable, but let’s say for the sake of simplicity that they’re 30ml apiece also, that’s another 240ml. Add the 120ml for the 10-day brewed cold drip and you’re looking at a total 480ml (~16 fluid ounces of cold brew coffee and espresso). Now, for those of you that have purchased BBotE, you’ve seen my recommendation to keep BBotE consumption under 100ml per day. I’m not going to make any assumptions on flavor or caffeine content here, but if comparable to BBotE as claimed in the many, many articles I’ve been sent you’re exceeding my recommended dose by almost a factor of five. I disobey my own recommendations now and then, but I tend to put a six hour gap between cups and even then it’s usually 75ml in the morning and 75ml in the afternoon. You are asking for trouble consuming 480ml worth of concentrated coffee all in one go, much as I don’t recommend having a mug full of uncut BBotE.

In fact, from the same article, I want to reiterate that their product isn’t meant to be consumed all in one go. This is meant to be consumed over a time span of hours so that it lasts you for entire shifts. The original inspiration for this was an ER nurse that had a surprise double shift.

The Asskicker is available in three sizes: small is $10 (recommend one to two hour consumption for six to nine hours “up time”; medium is $13 (recommend two to three hours consumption for nine-12 hours “up time”; and large is $16 (recommend three to four hours consumption for 12 to 18 hours “up time”).

My take: This is a coffee shop owner that has done right by his customers and quit trying to tear them down for doing it. Someone had a shitty day in front of them and Steve Bennington made them something special to help make it better. That was so much fun it became part of the regular menu. Hell, I bet all of you have been into a bar or a restaurant that has something on their menu that got there they exact same way, and it’ll be there until the closing day of the establishment.

When I make my next trip to Australia, whenever that may be, I hope Vicious Coffee is still serving it so I can try some. When I tourist, I tourist HARD. 😉

BBotE Vacation Alert, Big Trees, Bad Air, and Camping TheoryBEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it’s dwarfing are ~150-200′ tall.

Scheduling information first: the short ordering window that closes on September 19th, before I get on a plane to Boston, is now open for most items. After the 19th, another ordering window will open so you can continue to place orders, but nothing for that one will ship until after I return on October 5th. So, if you need ultracoffee, now is your time to jump in line.

Moving on to more fun things: national parks & regulator humor

BEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it’s dwarfing are ~150-200′ tall.

In honor of the National Park System 100th Anniversary, and because I really needed some time camping, my Lovely Assistant and I headed to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks last week. I give these parks my wholehearted endorsement for hermitage purposes. With the exception of open wifi at the two lodges, there is no signal to the outside world. Much like Burney Falls State Park, you’re free. They can’t get at you unless you make an effort to reconnect. This also meant that my steady stream of terrible tweets was also nipped in the bud. Less pretty pictures in your life (bad) but less high quality poop jokes as well (also bad), so I had to save them up. Let’s start with the General Grant Tree, for which this corner of Kings Canyon was original named as it’s own separate national park.

Giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) are big. Very large. Some folks might say gargantuan. I wouldn’t because I grew up surrounded by coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) and 200′ tall second growth trees just seem normal to me. What giant sequoias are is “girthy”. The old growth monarch trees top out in height around 250′ and then start getting wiiiiiiide. When you walk around them and get winded from the effort, because you just came from sea level to 7000′ of elevation, because it was just that long a walk to get all the around the tree you say “Damn. That’s a big tree.” And then you want to go back to the camp to sit down and have a beer to really appreciate all that majesty.

We stayed in the Grant Grove Village cabins because my Lovely Assistant grew up in Alaska. She had this very important Alaskan wisdom to share with me when I first tried to convince her to go camping 8 years ago which I will paraphrase here:

“Alaskans go hunting and we may build shelter while out in the bush.

Alaskans go fishing and we may build a bivouac near the smoker.

Alaskans go prospecting & logging and we may make a lean-to out on the claim.

Californians come to Alaska to go camping [emphasis for disgust] and are eaten by bears.”

The perfect camping breakfast, Kings Canyon Nat’l Park edition.

To be fair, she’s got a point but I convinced her of the value of letting me play in the woods because that helps me not go axe happy after being exposed to intense MBA bullshit field over a protracted period. (I believe the unspoken part of the famous John Muir quote is “The mountains are calling and I must go, or I may start shanking people.”) So we came to the understanding that “camping” could happen together if a cabin was involved. Didn’t have to be fancy, but it need to at least give the bear some pause before it tore the door off. Also, I am required to make all food/cooking happen while camping. Which brings us to our next picture, the ideal camping breakfast: a nice stout or porter and Poptarts. You may not agree that this is the best breakfast, but I have learned there’s nothing quite like a nice strong, dark beer as pain reliever for the previous day’s hiking and to get you ready for what’s yet to come. Poptarts, on the other hand, are breakfast that needs no cooking which is important in situations where cookfires may be forbidden (something you used to not find out until you showed up in the park).

The other reason you might want a nice sit down at altitude is because of the air quality up there. I’m not speaking ill of these parks, as they freely admit it with resignation, but Kings Canyon & Sequoia have the worst air quality of all the parks in California. At a vista overlook, there is a side by side picture from that location into the canyon of good & bad air quality days asking  how it looks to you today. The prevailing winds off the Pacific blowing eastward run into big goddamn wall of granite called the Sierra Nevada, and Kings Canyon is a low point for things to try to funnel through. This brings us to regulators.

When I first started work in Silicon Valley, one of my many “other duties as necessary” tasks was wrangling our airborne discharge permits with the California Air Resources Board’s local representative, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, AKA BAAQMD (normally, pronounced Back Mad, not to be confused with Strong Mad). My local regulator shared that every AQMD or APCD (Air Pollution Control District) had its own special duties to take care of that reflected the particular local challenges of their district. For example, BAAQMD had the unenviable task of trying to wrangle several large research universities, three national laboratories, and the constantly changing high tech industries. Accordingly, the joke view of BAAQMD was that their purpose was to impede research and development and hold back the progress of humanity itself. Whereas the joke for the San Joaquin Unified APCD’s purpose was to put corks in cow asses and sue the Greater Los Angeles AQMDs into doing their job.

You see, that prevailing wind is blowing everything from Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Fresno, etc. into the park. All the smoke from their wildfires, not that the Sierras lack their own, ends up trapped in the Kings Canyon. That smell of campfire may not be from the your neighbors making smores, it may be the forests ablaze outside Hearst Castle.

Kings Canyon from Zumwalt Meadow (I believe the mountain cliff on the right is The Sentinel)

Now that I’ve taken the time to tell you what’s wrong with, let me tell you what is best: everything you love about Yosemite with maybe, at most, 1% of the crowds. You want giant trees? Got ’em. Staggeringly beautiful glacier carved granite U-valleys? A+. Waterfalls, canyons trails, giant boulders, and stories about John Muir being a dick? Check, check, check, check, and ohhhh man check.

But now, I must go have all the fun with playing with radiation, making BBotE & steins, and generally getting ready for a trip to Boston with a cross-country train ride home afterward. ADVENTURE!