Happy Hour at ABC Tavern

These Brief Reviews of Brief Meals posts focus on the after-work food available on the near West side of Cleveland.

ABC Tavern (1872 W 25th Street) is an example, like Happy Dog, of a once-ordinary establishment brought into new glory by good management. I'm told that until a few years ago, ABC was a dive bar. But with well-executed food and attentive service, ABC is now a great place to be a regular. At around the same time, the rest of West 25th shook off its scales and started dishing up happening Friday and Saturday nights. The area is poised to become a paradise for beer lovers soon, with several bars specializing in craft beers, the Great Lakes Brewing Company bar, and the Market Garden brewpub opening Monday the 27th.
ABC's happy hour specials are usually written on a chalkboard at the bar.  They used to offer several food specials, but now it looks like it's only one per day.  I'm not sure why they narrowed it down, it's not like the place is jammed when I go there at 5:30. Isn't the point of happy hour to attract people that either wouldn't be there at that time, or haven't checked the place out yet?  Fahrenheit scaled back their happy hour food offerings once they had a good sized crowd coming in.

My first experience at ABC was a birthday party for my friend Brian Asquith a couple years ago. Brian is one of those guys who seems to know everyone, and just about everyone shows up for these parties. The bar was probably at its Fire Department-mandated occupancy limit, but the servers were highly organized. At almost any other bar, you'd have had to shoulder your way to the bar to get a drink, and getting food would have been out of the question. Not so: at ABC, they managed to get out and work their stations, and keep everybody satisfied. We were amazed.

Which brings me to my one minor complaint: like a sled dog without a sled tied to it, service at ABC seems to get twitchy when the place isn't busy. They're not relaxed, which makes it difficult for me to relax. But I can hardly complain; they're knowledgeable and they offer a great after-work meal for cheap.

Happy Hour at Fahrenheit

These Brief Reviews of Brief Meals posts focus on the after-work food available on the near West side of Cleveland.

Fahrenheit (2417 Professor Ave.) isn't the sort of place you'd think to go to for happy hour - it's a well-regarded upscale restaurant, not a local watering hole.  But Fahrenheit has made it comfortable and inviting, and it works.

For a while I went on a cheeseburger kick.  Wherever there was promise of a well made basic cheeseburger, I tried it.  Here's a picture of me having trouble containing my ecstacy at the gigantic $5 double cheeseburger they used to offer:
Yes, that is a ray of light shining down from the heavens onto my dinner.  I ate the whole thing, including the light.

Did I mention I'm in a Happy Hour Meetup Group?  Yeah.  This was one of those meetups.  (BTW, how did Cleveland's happy hour meetup group get that URL?  Meetup.com really works here.)

Since that picture was taken, the fabulous basic cheeseburger was scaled down and made a bit more interesting.  In their current happy hour menu, it's listed as a goat cheese and sweet pickle cheeseburger.  I've had it - it's really tasty though smaller than the old one.  No more rays of light, but a good dinner, and the goat cheese goes unexpectedly well with a tight young red wine.

Happy Hour at Happy Dog

This is the first post for a new category here:  Happy Hours.  I'll call these posts Brief Reviews of Brief Meals.  They focus on the after-work food available on the near West side of Cleveland.

Happy Dog, at 5801 Detroit Ave

I remember being deeply suspicious of Happy Dog as I looked at it from the bar across the street, Roseangel (or maybe it was La Boca at the time).  But on the advice of a friend, I checked it out, and I've been coming back every couple weeks ever since.

The menu is a skinny strip of paper with checkboxes.  Hot dog, $5.  Or vegetarian dog.  Tater tots, $2.50.  Or fries.  But after "hot dog" there are fifty more checkboxes.  House made ketchup; brie; kimchee.  Yes, there are fifty things you can put on your hot dog, they're all free, and some of them are pretty strange.  Get them all if you want.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, they have several "recommended combinations" of four or five toppings that are tried-and-true.  Some of the toppings are from Momocho, a nearby modern-mexican eatery.

The tater tots are sublime.  They must have used the scientific method to determine the precise optimum time and temperature to deep-fry those little bastards.  Now I'm hungry.  There are a few dozen dippings and toppings you can get with them too. 

Happy Dog is, of course, a bar.  Later there's live music.  They serve beer - many excellent beers on tap and many more in bottles.  Mixed drinks, too, I guess; there are liquor bottles back there, but that's not what I come for.  Nope:  a typical tab for me is a hot dog, tater tots, and two beers, and it costs in the mid-teens.  And that, my friends, is a bargain.

So now you know what you could learn by stopping by for a meal and a beer.  But what makes Happy Dog thrive?  It's not a full-service restaurant - the closest the kitchen gets to "cooking" is the fried egg you can check a box for; all the other toppings are prepared ahead.  As a bar, it's good, but is it really better than other bars? Here's what I think:  other bars have happy hour food specials; some of them are cheap, some of them are good, a few are even both.  But none of them actually involve you like the Happy Dog does.  Ordering food elsewhere is like clicking a choice on a drop-down menu.  To order at Happy Dog is to create an original work of edible art out of fifty variables.  And with all art comes risk:  it might suck.  It really might.  But it's on you.  If it does, you'll shrug and laugh, and you'll come back in a couple weeks and try again.

Plain English

I consider it a virtue to speak in plain English, as opposed to whatever specialized diction is relevant to the topic.  It's hard work--buzzwords are easier--but I think I'm doing a favor to the people I'm talking to.

Every trade has its own terminology.  Acronyms like "HTML" are obvious, but it becomes quite maddening when terms like "quality" and "merit" take on unexpected meanings in manufacturing and human resources.  This trade talk is a convenient shorthand, but it also acts, for better or worse, as a group identifier and that makes it exclusive.

You don't have to be in a trade for its lingo to rub off on you, either.  For example, people who have received a lot of counseling sometimes engage in "therapy-speak".  In one highly personal conversation, my mind raced to fill in whole paragraphs of meaning behind terms a friend was tossing off by reflex - terms that have other, simpler meanings in plain English, but it was clear my friend meant more.  And I may have been wrong.  I may not have known all the associations and implications of their shorthand.

I don't want to be misunderstood.  Not when I'm excited about the topic, and certainly not when it's highly personal.  I discipline myself to speak in plain English, using the meanings of words that everybody knows.  If you read this blog (for example, the "recommended posts" at the bottom of the right column), I hope you'll agree that I've talked about some pretty abstract material in understandable ways.  It might surprise you that I do the same thing at work, replacing the shorthand of project names with their concrete goals.  Why?  My boss has four other employees like me, all working on radically different technologies; the last thing I need is for him to recall an outdated meaning of a term I've just used.
(Emily Dickinson famously grounded a difficult subject by saying that she knew she was reading poetry when "I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off".)
Buzzwords are tempting.  They make you look smart, like you're in touch with how the experts define every aspect of your field.  They're also faster.  But when you go to all the effort of learning them, are you really better at solving problems in your field? 

Sometimes it's difficult or it takes longer for me to speak in plain English, because I have to think about what my audience knows and explain in detail in terms they'll understand.  In personal matters it's about being aware of, and honest about, my physiological and emotional responses (like Dickinson was), instead of packaging sets of them into code words that may not reflect my reality.  It's about knowing my audience, respecting their time, and giving them a chance to benefit from what I'm saying.  Otherwise, why bother?

Earth at the Grog Shop, 6/12/11

On Sunday night I went to the Grog Shop with a friend to see the band Earth (video). They've been around for about 20 years, spawned at least one subgenre, and probably inspired many of my favorite bands like Low and Morphine.

Low, for example, plays loud, distorted rock music at maybe 60 beats per minute. That's half the pace of a typical rock song (Ben Folds Five "Song For The Dumped": 108bpm). Low's album The Great Destroyer is bleak, soul-wrenching, beautiful, and placid. And Earth makes them sound like the Minutemen.

The subgenre Earth inspired was called "drone metal" or "drone doom" or "doom metal", with rich harmonies and song structures from drone music executed as if they were heavy metal. It was pretty strange to watch the drummer slowly lift her arms in the air and bring the sticks down onto her kit as if she was at the bottom of a pool.

Ambient music was once described as "as ignorable as it is listenable"; it is not meant to be focused on, but rather to create atmosphere (see Harold Budd's early work Abandoned Cities). The super-slow pace of Earth's songs achieved the same trick: they developed too slowly for me to focus on the structures, and my mind drifted. For me, then, the experience of the concert was the unexpected memories it conjured up. That's never happened to me at a concert before - I'm glad I went. And it told me something about myself: that my mind is still not quiet enough to slip into meditation and simply be present.

Facebook is like my grandmother at the dinner table.

You could always tell when my maternal grandmother was enjoying her dinner, because she wouldn't say a word, she'd just eat it.

I always think of this when I read status updates about how much fun people are having.  Come on:  if it was that great, you'd be busy experiencing it, not pecking away at your phone. 

I'm more likely to believe you if you tell me you had fun *yesterday*.

New Blogger feature: mobile versions of your template

Today Blogger announced that you can let mobile users view your blog with a mobile-friendly template.  I've enabled it on this site (follow the directions at the link above) and my template's mobile version is ...minimalist.  But then, "minimalist" was the name of my old template, so I'm OK with that.  This QR code should take your phone to this site so you can see it:
The mobile version does have my tabs (Home, About This Blog, CLEblogs, etc), so it's actually pretty full-featured.  Well done, Blogger!

In other Blogger/mobile news, I'm happy to say that the official Android Blogger app is improving steadily.  Many of my complaints have been addressed.

Say goodbye to the humble light bulb

The history of the light bulb is the history of electricity.  It's the simplest electrical appliance, a resistor that gets hot enough to glow.  And it's had a good run:  1880 to 2012.  What other technology has lasted that long?  But soon you won't be able to buy them any more.

In the early development of the electric grid, buildings weren't given outlets for pronged plugs.  They just installed light fixtures.  The vast majority of electrical devices were light bulbs anyway, and those that weren't simply had the same kind of screw-in base that a light bulb did.  (I read somewhere that the second most common electrical device used in homes in the late 1800s was the vibrator.  Some things never change.)
Edison's bulb.  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incandescent_light_bulb
When I was a kid, you could get 3-way bulbs that would run at 50, 100, or 150 watts.  Those suckers really lit up a room.  But by today's standards of energy efficiency, they're an abominable waste - especially in the summertime, when your air conditioning system then has to then use more power to pump that heat out of your house.  These days, a full-sized laptop computer runs on less than 65 watts when it's working hard. 
(It's estimated that 9% of electricity consumption in US households goes to lighting, so this is one of those little problems that adds up to big money.  This is a national priority, and it's exactly the sort of thing our Department of Energy should be working on.)
Fast foward to late 2006, when I moved into my house in Cleveland and found that the previous owner had lit much of it with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  These are often marketed as giving "60 Watt Equivalent" or similar illumination, for much less power (typically about one-fourth).  They cost more initially than incandescent bulbs, but if they reach their expected lifetime, they cost much less to operate.  I have had a few burn out on me, so I'm not sure how reliably they reach those lifetimes.  Maybe I have noisy electricity.

The next leap will be to LED lighting.  The cousins of those little flashing red and green dots will soon be illuminating your living room, using even less power (though the current generation is about as efficient as CFLs).  Unfortunately they are also prohibitively expensive right now--about $40 for a bulb equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent.  They might last for decades, but at those prices, you might want to bequeathe them to your children in your will.  Their biggest technological challenge right now is heat, which is something of a paradox since they produce so little of it.  The reason it's a problem is because they themselves are so little:  the heat is concentrated in a tiny electronic component.  Heat reduces the LED's lifetime.  My company is busy supplying manufacturers of LED lighting systems with materials for next-generation thermal management.

I'm a realist, so I have to be honest about the drawbacks of technologies as I perceive them.  After moving in, I actually replaced some of those CFLs in my house with incandescents, for a couple of reasons.  First, they don't light immediately.  I have a tendency to charge into a room and flick the light switch on my way through the door.  If the light doesn't come on quickly, I could trip on something.  Correction:  I, uh, have tripped on things.  Second, not all CFLs are dimmable.  There are times when you don't want the full searchlight glare, like from your dining room chandelier during a romantic homemade dinner.  Special CFL bulbs and compatible dimmer switches are the answer here.

Another concern is color quality.  I'm fairly picky about this; even among GE's incandescent offerings, I prefer the "reveal" bulbs over the standard "soft white" ones, which I think have a yellowish tint.  Fluorescent bulbs, especially the cheap kind used in warehouses, are significantly worse.  I could go into detail about the spectrum--what you see when you put the light through a prism--but suffice it to say that better phosphors will give us better quality light from both CFLs and LEDs.  And better quality light means the colors of your clothes and your wall paints will be more nuanced.  As a worst case scenario, think about yellow sodium streetlights:  they make everything look black and white.

My home has a lot of light bulbs.  In three different rooms, there are arrays of six or eight lights recessed into the ceiling; with 60W bulbs, each array burns 360-480 watts.  I turn them off when I'm not using them, and we often use them dimmed.  These arrays are prime candidates for CFL conversion.

Fighting to acquire more energy is a ham-fisted approach to energy security, in my mind.  Reducing usage in the first place is a better start - and we can all contribute.

Free science books

The National Academy of Sciences has announced that all their books are now available as free PDF downloads.  Cool!

I took a quick look through the materials science section and found several books discussing corrosion.  Then I found this gem, which I'm planning to download:  Assessment of Technologies for Improving Light Duty Vehicle Fuel Economy.  In other words, your car's gas mileage.

Joint blogger meeting: Lake Erie Moose Society and Ohio Blogging Association

On Monday, June 6, the blogging group I co-organize with Heidi Cool will hold a joint meetup with the Ohio Blogging Association.  I went to an OBA meetup in April and had a blast - there are a lot of good people there.  Join us if you're blogging or thinking about blogging or if you'd just like to chat!

Erie Moose (we handle RSVPs on Facebook) has been trundling along nicely since our rise from the ashes of the old meetup group in late 2009; we've held meetings every month (with the exception of the very snowy December of 2010) with attendances ranging from a dozen in winter to two or three dozen in the summertime.  Many of us are in the Cleveland Social Media Club, so we have several members with strong technical and web-design backgrounds. 

I'm less familiar with the OBA, but my first impressions are that it is less technical and more about the content and the fun of writing.  They have blogs about charities, logs of big personal projects, etc - all fueled with enthusiasm.  It's very fresh and exciting, which is why I plan to keep coming back.  Energy!

Our meeting Monday will be at the Barking Spider Tavern and we're leveraging our technical folks to try to solve problems on the spot, so we're encouraging bloggers to bring their laptops.  Right now it looks like it'll be a beautiful day--74 and sunny--so stop on by!

Shaker LaunchHouse Blooms

Last night I attended the grand opening of Shaker LaunchHouse, an incubator of Cleveland-area startup companies.  Why would I care about such a thing - am I trying to start one?  join one?  invest in one?  Nothing like that.  It has energy, and I might be able to contribute to one of the startups in some way, just because.

A startup company begins with nothing but an idea.  The path from that idea to profitability is a gauntlet of problems the entrepreneurs have never seen before.  LaunchHouse connects them with members of the public that might be able to help them solve those problems.  Sometimes all it takes is a conversation, telling them about an option they didn't know existed.  That's the same way everybody solves new problems, from growing vegetables to home improvement:  they ask for advice.

One of the ways LaunchHouse facilitates this is by being open to the public, holding events like last night's.  They've also set up a formal mentoring program where you can provide "office hours" for the startups to talk to you.  You let LaunchHouse know what your areas of expertise are, and the entrepreneurs stop by when you're there.

I have a Ph.D. in materials science, so if any of these companies plans to manufacture a product, I can probably tell them about the materials it's made of.  I also do scaleup of new products from lab prototypes to volume production, I spent seven years as a Federal scientist working on lubrication and wear, and I'm gaining experience in intellectual property in my current job.  Those are the ways I hope to be able to help.  I'm effectively offering my consulting services for free, just for the privilege of being around the energy.

And that's what it's about:  energy.  It's the reason I co-organize a blogging group:  people blog about what they have passion for, so it's always enthusiastic.  Another motivation for me is to contribute, to help both a small company and the region.  I've never done much work for charity, but this feels right, because it's technical and it's personal and it's done out of love, not a sense of obligation.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!