Thursday, June 27, 2013

Geocoin Update: Free State Movers

As I mentioned last summer, one of the geocoins I dropped off abroad with the goal of returning to Maryland made it back near the Sligo Creek Trail. Well, in April, Christina and I left the kids with the sitter, and took a little bike ride down the trail. After some digging through the woods, I emerged with Free State Mover #3, five years and 13,229 miles after I placed it in a cache in Banff, Alberta. In that time, it has been to Sweden, Germany, British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon, Virginia, and then finally back to Maryland. It's currently decorating my biking keychain.

Sadly, the other coins I had dropped off over the years seemed to have vanished. However, in May, Free State Mover #1 (which started off in the UK in 2007) had this note from the user who had last seen it in January 2009:
We originally grabbed this in Florida. While we had it in our possession we lost it. Recently we stumbled upon it and delivered it to a new home in Washington DC.
DC! Great. Almost back to Maryland. But it never got logged into a DC cache. Instead two days later, someone grabbed it with the note:
Found this in Elm Tree #1 in Washington DC and will get it on the road again.
Last week they dropped it off in Massachusetts. Oh, well. At least it's back in the game.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1)Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, three stars or four stars? It started a bit weakly, but improved. I was leaning towards four stars until I realized that I have little interest in reading the sequel. Just a gut feeling, but enough to knock it down to three.

Let's start with the negative. Sometimes the book seems too...straightforward. One way this is true is where the author tells you something where he could have showed you. An example from early in the book:
"You should not contemn poetry, my friend. There's wisdom in these lines. About life, death, one's own fate."
"No doubt!" Yehyeh aped the act of reading a non-existent book in the air before him, running a finger over the imaginary words and speaking in a grumble that was an imitation of Adoulla's own. "O, how hard it is to be so fat! O, how hard it is to have such a large nose! O Beneficent God, why do the children run a-screaming when I come a-walking?"
Before Adoulla could come up with a rejoinder on the fear Yehyeh's own crossed eyes inspired in children, the teahouse owner limped off, chuckling obscenities to himself.

I thought the paragraph where Yehyeh pretends to read poetry is a nice, subtle characterization -- which is ruined in the next line, which explicitly mentions his ugliness.

Also, at times in the book, the protagonists run into a problem, and then somebody says, "I know somebody who can help," and the next chapter or so involves going to that person for help. It's particularly jarring when the assistance comes from someone who hasn't been mentioned before in the book. Sort of like, "Hey, where does the plot need to go next?"

The positives: it's a richly-imagined "second world" that leans more heavily on Muslim and Arabic traditions than you usually see in a sword-and-sorcery novel. (I learned the term "Second World" recently -- to refer to fantasy not set on Earth, and I feel erudite using it.)

The adventures are entertaining, and by the end of the book, the five protagonists have been more subtly characterized than I initially expected.

All in all, a good book, but not one I fell in love with.

Hugo Update

This is the third of the five nominees for Best Novel Hugo that I have read. I liked it more than Redshirts, but not as much as 2312, so I have my ballot partially ranked. I seem unlikely to finish the earlier books in series with the other two nominees (Blackout and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance) before the deadline, so what should I do -- not give consideration to all of the books, or violate my rule of not reading books in series out of order?

For now, I'm sort of ducking the question. When I realized how substantial the nominees for Best Novella are -- one is 192 pages in print, I decided to look there. One advantage to that is that one nominee is part of the Newsflesh series (as is Blackout). It's not entirely fair to judge a book by its prequel, but I am pretty sure I'm not going to like this zombie series, and I at least will probably be OK not giving Blackout a chance if I don't fall in love with the prequel novella.

I will probably have to cave on Captain Vorpatril's Alliance since there are so darn many books in the series that I would have to read to catch up, but the quality of the two I have read is high enough that I should give it a chance for my vote.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bowie Restaurant Project: (68) Hibachi Bowl

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Hibachi Bowl, 3856 Town Center Blvd.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 6/25/2013
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

I have a rule that I have to visit a restaurant twice before writing a review. It's a bad sign when your lunch companions try to talk you into breaking that rule after your first visit. But if I hadn't, I would have given this place 0 stars, instead of the coveted half-star. One of our complaints was that "Hibachi" implies Japanese grill, and none of the foods on offer for that first visit were remotely Japanese, nor grilled. They advertised "Teriyaki Chicken," but none was in sight.

On my second visit, the guy who operates the grill had shown up, so I had some teriyaki chicken. It wasn't awful. It wasn't good, either. It had nothing to do with an actual hibachi, and there were no bowls in sight.

On my first visit, I was offered toothpick samples of all three types of chicken and immediately dreaded ordering a full portion of any of them. If you go, try the Teriyaki Chicken; it doesn't inspire feelings of dread.

Even the rice didn't taste very good, though. One colleague said that her vegetables somehow managed to be flavorless without being overcooked. The other colleague declined to eat at Hibachi Bowl and went across the street to Five Guys for a hot dog. She was the day's winner.

I don't understand this restaurant's purpose. If you really want bad Asian food, you could just go next door to Asian Chao. But you'd be better off walking across the street to Five Guys for a hot dog.

Bowie Restaurant News

While making my second visit to Hibachi Bowl, I noticed another restaurant is on its way to joining the food court. "Carolyn Quinns" will apparently feature fresh fish, candied yams, fried chicken, BBQ, macaroni & cheese, turkey wings and collard greens. Some sort of Southern theme? A Google search was fruitless, so I suspect it's not a chain -- there may even be a real "Carolyn Quinn."

New restaurants are breaking out all over. The Olive Grove restaurant will be occupying the space in Hilltop Plaza where Outback used to be before it moved. I gather it's like an Olive Garden.

Also, Bang Bang Mongolian Grille is changing its name and format.  It will be called "Soyomobo." I'm not sure if this will constitute a new restaurant, but I'm leaning towards "yes."

Further, Irie Cafe a few weeks ago posted electrical permits. That's further along than the Muffin Man ever got, so I guess that's a good sign.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Longest Bike Ride Yet

Bettertown/Chestertown Loop at EveryTrail

If things had gone according to plan, this might have been my third-longest bike ride rather than the longest. In September 2009, I biked 29 miles in Switzerland, and in August 2009, I biked 28 miles in and around Santa Barbara. So when I decided to sign up for the 28th Annual Bay to Bay Ride, I chose the 27-mile (shortest) route.

Some background: the Bay to Bay Ride is a charity ride organized by the Chestertown (Maryland) Lions Club. Riders (some of them) ride from the Chesapeake Bay (Betterton, MD) to the Delaware Bay and back. Even the 50-mile ride doesn't get you out of Maryland; that requires 78 miles. For those who want a loop rather than out-and-back, the 86-mile ride take you back through Chestertown, and the 104-mile ride gives you an extra detour if you want to claim a "century" (hundred-mile bike ride).

As I parked a little before 8:00 and started stretching, I noticed that not only did most of the other riders have road bikes, but nobody else sported the type of large saddlebag that I had (most had backpacks). I think that if I do something like this again, I'll try to pack lighter -- rely more on the food stops versus packing my own extra food and water, and maybe replace my U-lock with a cable lock (I didn't even need a lock on this ride, but it's nice to have one just in case).

I headed to registration to pick up a cue sheet (turn-by-turn directions) and my t-shirt. Looking at the cue sheet, I realized another mistake (besides overpacking). I hadn't brought my handy Garmin GPS unit that had accompanied me on my other trips. I figured I would track the trip with my phone, which has some fairly nice GPS features.

Well, 1) I didn't get data service in Betterton, and 2) I don't have a bike mount for my phone, so I can't stare at the "odometer" and know when to turn. (We'll get to #3 later.) But I figured that since the route was marked with arrows, I'd be OK. Unfortunately the green (27-mile) arrows pointed away from all the other arrows, so I didn't have masses of bike riders to reassure me I was headed in the right direction.

The first few miles were a nice ride -- a bit hillier than I expected from the Eastern Shore, though. I was a bit disconcerted when I came to an intersection and encountered some other riders headed the opposite direction from me. On the other hand, they took different paths from there, so clearly some of them were lost, and who was I to say what paths the non-green arrows led people to? I looked down and saw green arrows -- so I had to be headed the right direction.

It was not a good sign, however, when I crested a hill and saw the starting point. Oh. So I had cut back over to the return route and was following those arrows. After a conversation with one of the ride organizers, I realized that I had made a left when I should have made a right. (Hence the five-mile loop at the top of the map.)

From then on, I was able to follow the arrows -- once you know what you're looking for (tiny painted arrows on the pavement at almost every intersection), it's not so bad. But it was somewhat dispiriting to have to start over again knowing that I was now headed towards more than 30 miles of biking.

I retraced my steps, and after 2.5 miles, made the correct turn this time. It was a nice enough ride past farm after farm, and when I got to Still Pond Creek, it seemed like a nice body of water. About 7 miles in (for the rest of the post, when I refer to mileage, it's on the 27-mile route as planned, not counting detours), however, it started to rain.

I had checked the weather on Friday, and no rain was in the forecast. I was worried about the heat, so I wanted to finish before it got too late, but not about the rain. I hadn't packed any rain gear, and my phone didn't really appreciate the rain (disadvantage #3).

Fortunately, Christina had picked out a really snazzy saddlebag for herself -- which unfortunately for her, didn't fit her bike. I inherited it, and it has a snazzy rain cover. So I tucked my phone, my wallet and everything but the cue sheet inside the saddlebag. I was soaked, but my belongings were fine. (I was impressed at how well the phone's GPS continued to track my path.)

As I biked into Chestertown, the rain let up, and I passed various strip malls. I had the feeling driving in that Chestertown had a quaint waterfront, but I didn't end up seeing it. Farther into town, though, I passed Washington College. I was very amused to see signs for "CTY registration." Thirty years ago this summer, I spent the first of four summers at the CTY programs in Pennsylvania, where I studied math, science and other academic pursuits. At the time, there was no Chestertown location, but if there had been, I could have been here!

Fourteen miles into the ride, I was at the turnaround point. I was invited by the cue sheet to take "A Walking Tour of Old Chestertown." What I really wanted was a bite to eat, though, and I saw that a food stop was available at Mile 16.

Food Stop
So I headed back on the return journey, and made a little detour to the food stop, which was in front of an assisted living home. There, I saw a lot more bicyclists than I had the entire trip. So there were other people on the green route. (I think the 86-mile route also passed by here, but it was around 11, and most of those riders had not made it back yet.)

Still Pond
For some reason, I was expecting a more elaborate spread, but there were some bananas, cookies, and the opportunity to refill water bottles. I was pretty happy with those choices, actually. I had overestimated how hungry I'd get and weighted myself down with two boxes of granola bars.

The ride back was nice, though it started to rain again. At the 23 mile point, I passed through the community of Still Pond, which was the first in Maryland to grant women the right to vote. That was one of three historical markers I saw on the ride, but it hadn't been waymarked, so I submitted it.

I made it back to the starting point a little before 1:00, as the clouds started to part and the heat began to bear down. My phone counted it as a 33-mile trip. A little bit of that might have been GPS "jitter", where it thinks I've moved because the reading is off, but looking at that map above, it looks pretty straight.

I'd love to do this again some time, although likely in a different venue. I'm sort of picky about which rides I'll do -- for example, I'm happy to donate a registration fee to charity, but I'm not going to hit friends up to sponsor a ride. I also don't want hills, a long drive to get there (at almost two hours, this one was a bit much) or a ride over 30 miles.

So I've got my eyes set on the Tour du Port in Baltimore in September. The 25-mile ride isn't even the shortest one available, and hopefully I can convince a friend or two to come along.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: Redshirts

Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasRedshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was a struggle to get through this book, though less so as it went along.

The first half of the book comes across as a Star Trek parody, and not a particularly funny one. It's not bad per se; it's just that the observations are on-point without making me laugh. I would have rather read a Galaxy Guest novelization. Wait, there is a Galaxy Quest novelization. I still don't want to read it, although the fact that it's Terry Bisson tempts me a little.

The second half of the book gets a bit meta (a story about the story) in a way that put me off Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books after the first one. Worse, although the plot got more compelling, I realized as I finished the book that I did not actually care about any of the characters.

Of the Hugo Best Novel nominees, I've only managed to read this and 2312, which is miles ahead of it. I'm working on Throne of the Crescent Moon now. Speaking of 2312...

From my review of 2312:
Aside from my Robinson fan-dom, I read this book to get a head start on next year's Nebula nominees. At this point, I'm not sure it'll quite do well enough to get nominated (it looks like KSR hasn't had a Best Novel nominee since 1995), and I'm not sure if it should. On the other hand, I'm not sure what's out there; I'm looking forward to what the voters come up with.
Congratulations to this year's Nebula winner for Best Novel, 2312. So now, I'm up to 40 out of 49 read.

I have not read any of the other nominees. As part of my reading plan, I started The Killing Moon. The problem is that I fall asleep every time I read it. Since I like sleep almost as much as I like reading, this is not a huge problem for me. Given my lack of enthusiasm for most of the other nominees, I'm pretty happy with 2312 as the winner (especially given how much I like Robinson).

I have now revised my reading plan, since I didn't make it to the other Nebula nominees, and the Hugo packet has been released. Further, the Vorkosigan series omnibus books are not uniformly available for Kindle, so I had to adjust my plans there. (I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar when I was looking for something that wouldn't put me to sleep.)
  1. Throne of the Crescent Moon (Nebula and Hugo nominee)
  2. The Warrior's Apprentice (in series with Hugo nominee)
  3. The Vor Game (in series with Hugo nominee)
  4. Cetaganda (in series with Hugo nominee)
  5. Ethan of Athos (in series with Hugo nominee)
  6. Brothers in Arms (in series with Hugo nominee)
  7. Borders of Infinity (in series with Hugo nominee)
  8. Mirror Dance (in series with Hugo nominee)
  9. Memory (in series with Hugo nominee)
  10. Miles in Love (in series with Hugo nominee)
  11. Miles, Mutants and Microbes (in series with Hugo nominee)
  12. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Hugo nominee)
  13. Feed (in series with Hugo nominee)
  14. Deadline (in series with Hugo nominee)
  15. Blackout (Hugo nominee)
And then I'll eventually finish The Killing Moon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bowie Restaurant Project: (67) East Moon Asian Bistro

East Moon Asian Bistro
For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

East Moon Asian Bistro, 6107 High Bridge Rd.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 6/9/2013
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 3
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
East Moon's stylish interior
Somehow Bowie has ended up with three restaurants with "Asian Bistro" in their name. Golden Pavilion Asian Bistro and Ichiban Sushi Asian Bistro are the other two. Having not been to Ichiban since they expanded into an Asian Bistro, I can't yet compare and contrast each of them. But I will say it's tricky to do a review of any of them, since by design they feature a variety of cuisines, which are hard to completely sample in my standard two visits. In addition to one sit-down visit to East Moon and two take-outs, I believe I've had delivery once.

The bottom line is that the mix of cuisines generates a mixed bag, but the best of the food is excellent. My main complaint is that the Thai food -- the only Thai available in Bowie -- is the least spicy Thai food I've ever tasted. Also, if you think because you're having Chinese food, you'll order an egg roll, be aware that you'll end up with a "Vietnamese egg roll," which I don't find nearly as tasty.

That said, their dishes are generally very well-prepared, and the presentation is very nice. The interior decor is head-and-shoulders above what you'd expect from the strip mall interior. The sushi is good, though I've yet to find the definitive area sushi joint. I'd definitely recommend them, with the caveat that your, "Oh, how exciting, they have that" moment may not live up to expectations.

Tuna pizza letdown
Case in point: Christina was amazed to see that they had "tuna pizza" on the menu. We've had a longstanding discussion about the fact that you can get tuna on your pizza anywhere but the United States. Her observation that this is the case has held up very well. I don't think we've ever failed to find it on a trip abroad, and its absence in Puerto Rico was a sure sign we were still in an American territory.

This...was not tuna pizza. It was tasty, but it was some sort of sashimi-on-wonton thing.

So...3.5 stars. It could probably be 4, but the fact that I'm not motivated to drive past Golden Pavilion to get there keeps it at 3.5.

Bowie Restaurant Update

 Hibachi Bowl is open! Review coming later this month once I make it out there.

The full name of the restaurant coming to Free State is apparently "Anthony's NY Pizza & Pasta House". That means it's probably related to this one in Clarksville. My uncle calls that place, "pretty good, but not outstanding."

A colleague has confirmed my suspicions that Ichiban is the same place as the restaurant the City has listed as "Asian Bistro" next door, so that knocks down my to-do list by one. Here are the remaining restaurants to review and complete this Project.

  1. 19th Hole Bar & Gril
  2. Anthony’s NY Pizza & Pasta House (not open yet)
  3. Carrabba’s
  4. Chessie’s
  5. Hibachi Bowl
  6. Ichiban Sushi Asian Bistro
  7. Irie Cafe (not open yet)
  8. Jerry’s Seafood
  9. Longhorn Steakhouse
  10. Penalty Box Cafe
  11. Pizza Hut (There are 3; I have visited 2, and will combine the reviews into one post.)
  12. Sakura
  13. Texas Roadhouse

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Bowie Restaurant Project: (66) T.G.I. Friday's

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

T.G.I. Friday's, 15207 Major Lansdale Blvd.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 5/30/2013
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Probably
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

It's a T.G.I. Friday's. And just like Applebee's, Chili's and Ruby Tuesday's before it, it earns 2.5 stars. The word "adequate" springs to mind.

Impressively enough, it managed to achieve adequate by a mix of good and bad, rather than across-the-board mediocrity. The service was snappy. I got their "2 for $10" deal, which produced a generous amount of food. The "Spinach Florentine Flatbread" appetizer was surprisingly good. The Jack Daniels Burger came with very tasty fries, which I wasn't expecting...either the fact that I'd get fries or how good they'd be. The burger was...otherwise. I ordered it medium-rare, and it was probably medium-well. The taste screamed, "I was ordered from a generic food-supply company." I really regret eating it.

My lunch companions had similarly-mixed experiences. One reported that a surprisingly good avocado was paired with disgusting meat. The other was pleased at the presence of a gluten-free menu, but frustrated that almost everything on the menu was steak. There were other items on the regular menu that appeared likely to be gluten-free, but perhaps the restaurant didn't want to update its gluten-free menu with all of the "new" items on the menu. It certainly was a confusing menu.
Convenient parking for Bowie's Finest.

So, as with the other casual dining chains, I don't see any reason to go there, but if you do go there, you will probably have an OK experience. If someone invites you there, it's probably OK to go...though maybe not late at night.

Most places have reserved spaces out front for take-out orders. The Bowie T.G.I. Friday's has two spaces for cop cars. That's not a good sign. Neither is the fatal shooting last year in the parking lot. You should be fine in the daytime, but it's probably not the best late-night haunt.

Bowie Restaurant News

With the opening of Freestyle Fish 'n' Chicken in January, for the first time since I started this Project, there were no more "coming soon" restaurants. That has since changed. We're now anticipating three new restaurants!
  1. Irie Cafe Jamaican Grille will be opening in Hilltop Plaza, next to Chesapeake Grille (in the location that the Muffin Man Caribbean Cafe never occupied).
  2. Hibachi Bowl is replacing Hibachi Japan in the Bowie Town Center food court.
  3. "Anthony's New York Pizza and Pas"(ta?) is now listed as a tenant in the Free State Shopping Center at the old Peepers address.