Tuesday, August 31, 2004

One of those days (Pt 2)

[ This is a continuation of One of those days (Pt 1), where I had one of those days where nothing seems to go right ]

After waxing and washing the car, there was one other thing I wanted to get accomplished on my day off: Fixing the wiring mess that I had made of the home theater/video game cabinet.

Now there wasn't anything wrong with the wiring per-se, it was more a problem with the TV.

You see, my TV is nice enough, but it is 5-6 years old now. And one of the things I skimped on when picking it out was the number of inputs. I got a bigger TV (32", back when 32-36" was as big as TVs got unless you wanted to plunk down 5,000), but it only has 2 composite inputs and a single S-video input. The theory was that soon I would be buying a fancy receiver with dozens of inputs, which could switch all the various connectors and I would only need one thing connected to the TV (well, maybe two if the receiver didn't upconvert from composite to S-video).

6 years later, that fancy receiver is nowhere to be found. So we've been limping by with an 8-year old Dolby Pro-logic Aiwa receiver (it used to play CDs but like everyone's Aiwa of that era the CD player broke about 91 days after purchase). Anyways, the few inputs on the TV have been enough to hook all seven consoles, a DVD player, a VCR, and the cable box up with some judicious use of a switch box and the various pass-through inputs on other equipment. Except that lately the TV started acting up a bit.

In theory, the manual says not to use the S-Video plug at the same time as the second composite video input. In my mind (and need for as many inputs as I could get) that meant, just don't have signal coming into both at the same time. And this worked just fine for a long time (except for some minor color banding on the video games, but nothing noticable to anyone but me).

However, for about the last month, the TV started acting up whenever both plugs were even just attached, regardless of if the DVD/video games were on. If the S-video was playing and the compsite was attached, everything was black&white. If it was the other way around, everything was orange. Yes, I know, bizarre.

We were able to get by, by disconnecting the not-in-use plug, but this was a big pain . Not to mention that S-video cables are impossible to get lined up and plugged in when reaching around a TV and not really being able to see what you are doing.

So when I went to Best Buy on Monday, it was with the intention of picking up the XBox S-video output cable, and DVD remote. The theory being that I could then get rid of the old DVD player (which is making an annoying whirring sound that apparently only I can hear), and reduce the number of inputs I need on the TV.

The S-video cable for the XBox turned out to be a full-on AV break out box. It included a digital optical output connector. Looking at this, I excitedly recalled that my crappy old receiver had optical connectors as well. I've never used it, but there is a little black plastic dust cap on the back of the receiver that falls off everytime you move it. Then I pick it up and go "WTF is this thing", followed shortly by "Oh yeah, that is for the optical connector.

So now I was excited, not only could I reduce the number of inputs I needed on my TV, but I could improve the audio while I was at it.

After picking out an outrageously priced 6' optical cable ($25) and the XBox AV kit and XBox DVD Remote, I was all set to fix up the home theater wiring.

I shuffled the various consoles around, re-snaked all the wires to the correct places, hooked up the XBox AV kit, and ran the optical cable over to the receiver.

Everything was going well to this point. Until I pulled out the receiver and looked at the optical connection only to realize it was labeled 'CD Digital Out'.

Yep, that's right, the only optical connection on the receiver is in fact, an output, not an input. Thus completely and totally worthless to anyone who has ever owned this receiver.

Looking in the manual, the optical output is explained as being for 'hooking up your DAT recorder'. As if anyone has ever hooked up a fricking DAT recorder to a Pro-Logic Aiwa receiver with like 1% THD.

Now, as Brenden can tell you, I never get bitter.

But I will admit that I might have been a bit bitter as I re-did half the wiring to accomodate the fact that I didn't need to have the XBox wasn't going to be separately connected to the receiver via optical. It's a bit hard to explain why this was necessary, and this post is plenty long enough, so rest assured it was necessary.

Eventually I did get everything hooked up, and I think the XBox is minor improvement over the 5-year old Sony DVD player we were using, even with out any fancy audio connections (it is progressive scan, if nothing else).

So the whole project wasn't a total loss, but it took about 3x as long as I thought it was going to.
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One of those days (Pt 1)

Ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right?

I had yesterday off from work, because I had worked the weekend. I had a few things on my list to accomplish, a few errands to run and the semi-annual washing and waxing of the car.

So in the morning after taking Pippen for her morning walk, I went off to run some errands. I made a few stops, picked up some stuff at Best Buy and then stopped at a gas station to fill up and get a car wash to clean the car up for waxing.

I headed back home and parked the car in the garage to dry/cool off and went inside for lunch.

After lunch I started gathering up all the things I would need and hauling them out to the garage. CD Player (it takes me a couple hours to wax and wash the car, so I need some tunes), step stool (for reaching the roof), wax applicator pad, etc.

Eventually I was all set to start, walked over to my new shelves to get the car wax.

Except there isn't any. Not even a crusty old dried up bottle that I might have saved thinking "I'll need this some day".

After thinking about it, I recalled dropping the wax bottle last spring and cracking the bottom. So while I was able to finish that round of waxing, I threw out the bottle. Thinking "Oh, sometime in the next 6 months when I am at Target, I'll have to remember to get some wax".

And then I promptly forgot about it. I can't imagine how many times I've been to Target in the interveining months, but its a lot. And I was just there that morning on my errands.

So I had to get back in the car, drive all the way back to Target to get a $14 bottle of wax, and then drive all the way back home. A few hours later, the car was waxed, re-washed by hand, and the interior all cleaned out and dusted.

Task completed, but later then expected. It was time to move on to the other thing I wanted to get done yesterday...

[ I started typing up the other thing that went frustratingly wrong yesterday, but this post got obscenely long. So you'll just have to wait till tomorrow for Part 2 ]
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Conspiracy Theory

Okay, I promise this will be the only meta-blogging that I do for a while. I don't want to have to issue an apology like Brenden. :)

So I noticed today in my referral logs that one of the recent site visits came from search.msn.com on a search for 'Steve Eck'.

Not all that surprising, after all, who could pass up literary gems like Why I liked Soul Calibur 2, or An estimate of what a local comedy act might be making a year. Fascinating reading I'm sure, for my one reader not named Steve or Linzy.

However, what was weird about this search was that it came from a .gov address. Apparently Big Brother is on to me.

Soon you'll probably hear about how I was hunted down in the streets like an animal. There will surely be a cover-up, but you, my loyal reader will know the truth.
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Monday, August 30, 2004

Video Games: Soul Calibur 2

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was playing Soul Calibur 2. I've pretty much finished it, at least as much as I probably will take the time to complete.

I unlocked everything except Lizardman, who you have to beat every mission in Weapon Master mode to unlock. I have about 4 missions left in Weapon Master mode, but they are of the insanely difficult/frustrating variety. For example, in one you have to fight through all the female characters (7) in a row, with no (or very little) health regeneration between fights. And I did that once, but then the 'extra' version of the same mission all the enemies regenerate health the whole time. Which pretty much makes it impossible for somone of my skill level.

It really was quite a fun game, even for someone playing only single-player mode. Until the very-very end, the variety of fights and scenarios was good and kept things fresh. The graphics were good, and the difficulty level scaled nicley through out the game (excepting the 4 or so missions I just haven't been able to beat).

My only complaint would probably be the 'dungeons', which are not really mazes or anything, they are usually just a single path (maybe two) of fights that have to be won in order to reach a 'boss'. Except the boss is just another normal character who you have to fight in the same way as everyone else. So its really just like being forced into 45 minutes of fights with no way to save (and stop) in the middle. And you usually don't get any experience for the intermediate fights, so it is much more time effective to play the one-off missions and skip the dungeons once you have beat them once.

Overall it was a very good game, and the first 'fighting' game that I've enjoyed in a long time.

Now it's on to Knights of the Old Republic.
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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Puke & Snot = Rich

After I wrote up my Renaissance Festival entry, I was browsing Puke & Snot's website

This quote caught my eye:

Crowds number over 2500 at most shows.

That was based off 1991 attendance numbers at the MN Ren Fest, when they first moved to the biggest stage where they have played ever since (minus 2002-2003 it sounds like from the website).

Anyways, they do 5 shows a day when they are performing. The MN Ren Fest runs 7 weekends each year. They also play at a bunch of other festivals other places during the year. From their schedule this year they play another 37 days from March - October.

So lets assume they don't do a single other show the rest of the year. That means they play 255 shows a year.

Now with crowds of over 2500, I would assume you bring in at least $2,000 a show, probably more then that if people like your show (which they do).

That means for 51 days of work a year, Puke & Snot are raking in somewhere over $500,000 a year.

Now that's based off attendance numbers from 1991, people being stingy and giving less then a dollar per person for the show, and absolutely no merchandise sales. I bet these days with merchandising, we are talking closer to $750,000 or $1,000,000 a year.

No wonder their act doesn't change much, who would mess with a cash cow like that!
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Renaissance Festival

I've been running about a week behind on all my posts lately, so it is fitting that today I finally get around to writing something about our trip to the Renaissance Festival last weekend.

On Saturday the 21st, we went made our yearly trek to the Renaissance Festival. We went with a pretty good sized group: Gerard, Vanessa, Kendra, Bryan, Thomas, Tony, Mike, Dan & Kelli, and Carl.

Gerard made the executive decision that they were meeting at and leaving from his place at 8am (so as to arrive by 9). That was a bit early for Linzy and I, so we made our way out to Shakopee later, getting there around 10:30 or so.

The festival was lots of fun, as always. We mostly just walked around and checked out the various shops and exhibits. Although the shows are fun, they don't change a whole lot from year-to-year. Its actually a running joke that Puke & Snot haven't changed their show since the first year they were there. Not that it isn't funny (it is), but it hasn't changed much.

I did watch some of the Tortuga Twins while waiting for someone or other to get some food, and it was funny (although pretty much the same as last years).

The only bad thing that happened was that most everyone got sunburnt. It happened to be cold that morning, so no one was thinking sunscreen as we ventured off to the Ren Fest. By mid-morning the sun had come out and it was a gorgeous sunny day. With lots of Sun. Linzy, Dan, Kelli and Thomas got it the worst as they have really fair skin.

One weird thing I saw while we were leaving was a guy in full Stormtrooper gear walking in. Now, I'm as big of a Star Wars fan as the next nerd, but that seemed wierd. Its not like we were at Convergence or something, where lots of people would be dressed up in various Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Anime costumes. This was a Renaissance Festival. Lots of people were dressed up, yes, but they were following a particular theme: Renaissance.

We ended up leaving in the later afternoon, once people started to get uncomfortably sunburnt, and we had seen most everything. That night most of the group met back up to go see Without A Paddle.
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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Vikings Pre-season Game

Linzy and I went to the Vikings 3rd Pre-season game last night. It was a blast, as expected.

For one thing, the first-string Vikes were kicking ass and taking names. They were up 16-0 at the half, and looked pretty dominant. Well, I should take that back. Everyone looked dominant except for Aaron Elling (our second year kicker). He sucks, a lot.

For the record: Elling was 1-3 on field goals, missing a 44 yarder, and a 32 yarder (!). He also missed a freaking extra point. He needs to be cut, now.

Our seats were quite good I thought, on about the 35-yard line halfway up the second level. Being close to the middle, you can see great. And even though they are borderline nosebleed seats, we weren’t so high that you couldn’t easily read player’s numbers or see the action.

We took the new light-rail downtown, which worked out really, really smoothly. The light-rail is new to MN, it just opened this year. They are still working on extending it all the way to the Mall of America, but its current endpoint is not very far from where Linzy and I work (different business, but close to each other).

So after eating a quick dinner, we drove up to Fort Snelling, and found a parking place. The parking is a bit of a problem, because Fort Snelling isn’t really intended to be a major stopping point going forward. So they haven’t built a big ramp for Park & Ride or anything.

After parking we waited in line about 15 minutes to buy event tickets for the light, which not only make things a bit cheaper, but also make it so you don’t have to bother with buying a return ticket (it ends up to be $3 a person). After that we got right on a waiting train. It takes 23 minutes to get up to the Metrodome, and the train drops you off right at the Metrodome Plaza. The plaza happens to be in front of gate H and our seats are at gate G. So we walked over one gate and right into our section. You can’t ask for much easier then that.

The trip home on the light rail was also smooth; we had to wait through one train because of the crowds, so it took about 15 minutes before we were on a train and headed home.

All-in-all the light rail worked out really well. Once they finish the track all the way out to the Mall of America, and they get a few more trains running, with more parking, it should work really well for getting downtown. Especially if someday they add another line coming across the river to Burnsville/Apple Valley/Lakeville with express trains to downtown.

Anyways, back to the football game. The starters played exactly as much as expected, the whole first half and the first series in the third quarter. Then the substitutions started, but it still wasn’t bad. Until the 4th quarter it was largely 2nd string players, who also looked pretty good. The 4th quarter was kind of ugly as the towel boy, water boy, and whoever else they were throwing into the game got a fair amount of penalties.

Brock Lesnar got in for the last two defensive series, and made a nice play on the final tackle of the game. He’s pretty dang fast.

Ryan Hoag (who’s mom my dad works with) didn’t look quite as good, which was kind of disappointing. He’s ostensibly a receiver, but he didn’t get any snaps at WR. He did play on the second team kickoff return team, and did some punt returning at the end of the game. Punt returning was where he made a huge mental mistake and tried to make a full-speed shoestring catch of a really short punt. He fumbled that, and the 49ers should recovered it (although they didn’t). Between the mental mistake, the fact that he didn’t have any spectacular returns, and the fact that the other 3rd-4th string receivers looked pretty good, he’s not looking good for making the roster (in my mind at least).

The final score was Vikings 23, San Francisco 10.

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Vikings Game Friday

We are headed to the Vikings game tomorrow evening. The game is sold out (other then 400 returned tickets from the 49ers), but my work has a number of season tickets that employees can buy individual tickets from.

The regular season tickets are sold in a lottery, because so many people want them and a few special games are auctioned off in the United Way fund raiser each year. But preseason tickets are first-come first-server, and aren't too hard to get a hold of.

The nice thing is that they sell the preseason tickets for a discount off face value. $40 a piece is still a bit steep, but its better then $60. I wonder if that is just the normal price, because my work isn't known for absorbing part of the cost and not passing it on.

We try to go to the third preseason game if it is played at home, because that tends to be the one where the first-stringers play the most. Hopefully it will be a good game.

I'd say look for us on TV, but they don't usually pan the cameras across the nosebleed seats.
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Movies: Starsky & Hutch

On Sunday, Linzy and I watched Starsky & Hutch. I was pleasantly suprised. It's not the best movie ever, but it amused me.

I really enjoyed Owen Wilson playing the sort-of slacker copy Hutchinson. Ben Stiller (as Starsky, obviously) put in a typical performance. At times a bit too over-the-top and annoying, but sometimes right on and really funny. Vince Vaughn was right on as the bumbling drug lord.

It was suprisingly long for a buddy cop/comedy movie (about 2 hours). It only dragged at the very end, when there was a lot of plot to be had and not as many laughs as the beginning of the movie.

One thing that I didn't realize going into the movie was how big a part Snoop Dogg had. I assumed it was just a cameo appearance, but he actually had a part in the plot and some decently funny lines.

One related thing that I learned is that Snoop Dogg's steady diet of weed and pimping is not putting any meat on his bones. He looks ridiculously skinny.

The only issue I had with the movie had nothing to do with the content, only the presentation. We watched the movie on pay-per-view, because we had a free voucher (due to some cable problems). Pay-per-view on Charter sucks. A lot.

First off, its not video-on-demand, so you can't just start watching whenever you want, you have to find a movie that begins near the time you want and then sit around waiting for it to start. The other side effect is that you can't pause the movie, so god help you if you have to say take the dog outside, or you get a phone call.

Also, you can't get the movies in widescreen, so we had to watch Pan & Scan. Which isn't the end of the world in a comedy movie, but I would much prefer letterbox format.

Finally, we couldn't just order through the cable box for some reason, I had to call up and wait through a phone queue in order to be able to get the movie. Which made us miss the start of the movie at the time we wanted to watch. So we had to sit around another 30 minutes for the next one to start. Good thing we didn't want to see a movie that only starts every hour.

I mean, it is 2004. Why can I not just say "I want to see Starsky & Hutch" and have it playing on my TV in the format I want, 5 minutes later. In the 30 minutes we waited around for the movie to start, I could easily have left, gotten a DVD, and been back. And then we get it in letterbox format, and can pause the movie all we want.

Anyways, overall Starsky & Hutch was well worth watching for free.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Color-changing paint

I was reading Brenden's car-related story and it reminded me of a blog entry I had been meaning to write for a while.

Each day when the weather is decent I take Pippen (our dog) for a walk through the neighborhood. Several weeks ago, I noticed some strange activity at a house a couple of streets away.

One day they were busy moving everything out of the garage.
The next, they had one vehicle in the center of the garage, parked all sideways with newspaper covering the windows.
Things stayed like that for a few days (as near as I could tell as I walked by, trying not to stare).
Several days later, the vehicle was back in the driveway and they were moving everything back into the garage.

Once I got a good look at the car when it was back outside, it became apparent what was going on. The guy repainted it himself in color-changing paint, like what you would see on Pimp My Ride or Cribs (that is, paint that looks like different colors depending on the angle you look at it fromt).

The thing that makes this bizarre is that it was a minivan.

Why would you do that?

It's not even like it is a new minivan, but instead maybe a 1996-1997 Dodge Caravan. And it's what looks like a base model (it has plastic bumpers). Oh, and from what I can tell the guy is married, with kids.

Hopefully he isn't rolling around the clubs trying to pick up the ladies with his spanky paint job. But even if he were, I can't imagine the type of lady who would be impressed with your pimp'd out ride would find it quite as HAWT when your ride is a 1996 Dodge Caravan.

It boggles the mind, and I didn't even discuss how he could paint the car in a non-ventilated garage.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Let sleeping dogs lie

As I mentioned earlier, I was off work all last week.

Normally our dog Pippen spends the work day in her crate. She doesn't necessarily like getting in the crate, but at the same time about 10 minutes after the last person leaves the house she is sound asleep for the rest of the day. This is evident on the weekends when by Sunday she spends all day following people around the house waiting for them to settle in somewhere, so she can catch a nap.

Last week Pippen was a bit out of sorts at someone being home with her all day. In the early morning she was content to follow me around until I took her for a walk. As the day progressed, she would slowly but surely decide that her time was best spent napping.

However, this was tough to accomplish with me making all kinds of noise outside, and coming in and out of the house for various tools.

The first few times I would come in, she would leap up, sure that I had come back in side for the sole purpose of playing with her. As the trips in and out continued, she would start to realize that perhaps I wasn't as exciting as she initially thought. By the end of each day Pippen had pretty much given up and would be passed out on the floor somewhere, barely moving when I would come in and disturb her nap:

It's a bit hard to tell from the picture (since I had to take it quick before she fully woke up), just how bleary her eyes looked when I woke her up this time. You can kinda see how rumpled her beard is, from being mushed into her side as she snoozed the afternoon away.

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NBA players are TALL.

I'm not a huge basketball fan, but I do watch some of the Timberwolves games occasionally.

Last week I was reading Mark Cuban's blog. He is the internet-billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Sometimes he strikes me as obnoxious, but I also respect him because he says whatever he thinks, even when it costs him lots of money.

Anyways, One thing that I always seem to forget it just how tall the players are. When you only see them on the court with other players, or coaches (who tend to be former players), everyone looks relatively normal sized.

While reading Mark's blog, I stumbled across this great picture of him with Shawn Bradley and Pavel Podkolzin.

[ And for the record, I was reading Mark's blog, before it started making the front page at slashdot and pvrblog ]

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Monday, August 23, 2004

Eck Construction & Landscaping (Part 1)

I had the whole week of 8/16-8/20 off from work, so I amused myself working around the house. I managed to finish the last of my 'summer' jobs that I had wanted to get done, and start in on a 'winter' job.

The first thing I did was finish putting rock around the front->right side of the house, connecting the front gardens to the rock I put under the deck last fall. The front gardens previously had a semblance of woodchips in them, that I replaced with rock earlier this summer.

I forgot to take a picture before I got started, but the below picture was pretty early in the process. Before I started, the edger stones took a 90 degree turn straight into the side of the house, right before the fireplace.

Then after I finished, the side looked like this:

Next spring, we will put in some bushes of some sort. For now I was more interested in trying to use up the last of the rock. Sadly, I wasn't totally successful since there is still a bit of rock left (you can see the vague outline of the pile under the deck).

Overall the landscaping went smoother then I expected, although ripping up the old grass was a bit of a pain.

The only problem I encountered was that I couldn't find edgers that completely matched the old stones (which are probably as old as the house, 6 years old). The place (Home Depot) that had the same color stones didn't have ones that matched the dimensions of my stones. The place (Menard's) that had the same dimension stones only sold a 'Tan' stone, not a 'grey'.

I didn't have much choice at that point, so you can see in the first picture that the color of the edger stones doesn't really match. I'll continue the search for grey matching stones, but if I can't find any we'll just have to plant some Hostas close to the edge and cover up the stones.

[ Part 2 of this post (the Construction referred to in the title), continues here ]
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Eck Construction & Landscaping (Part 2)

[ This is follows a previous post on some construction and landscaping I did last week. ]

After finishing the landscaping on Monday, I moved on to the last job I had flippantly put on my list of things to work on this summer: Better/More Shelves in the garage.

We have pretty much the world's smallest 2-car garage. Most of the neighbors with a garage the size of ours park one car in the driveway. Heck, I have neighbors who have a 3-car garage, a pad on the side of the garage, and a shed, and they still park a car in the driveway. However, we battle through and park both cars in the garage, along with all the assorted crap that gets stored in a garage. The price I pay for this is that I can't figure out how to squeeze a snowblower in.

So the plan (as I envisioned it this spring) was to build such mind-bogglingly amazing shelves that I could free up enough floor space to get a snowblower this winter.

To this end, early last week I began mentally designing some shelves to replace crappy adjustable shelves that were on one partial wall of the garage, and wrap around to provide shelving on the back wall (which had no shelves).

What I really wanted was shelves that wouldn't eat up any floor space, so I eventually decided that the best way to accomplish this was by suspending the shelves from the ceiling, high enough that the cars could pull in underneath them (or stuff could be stored below them, say a snowblower).

Tuesday morning off I went to Menard's to pick up the wood I thought I would need. Normally I would rather buy my wood from Home Depot, because it is usually much nicer. But these fell into the 'who cares' category (being garage shelves and all), so cheap warped plywood it was. I did spring for real plywood, as opposed to OSB or something cheaper but not as sturdy.

Garage in early stages of putting up shelves. There used to be cheap adjustable shelves on the right-hand corner, but they were forever falling down and I didn't trust them to hold anything heavy (the former owner installed them, if you can call it that).

Shelves partially constructed.

Shelves done and loaded with crap.

The shelves are approximately 15' 3" across the back, and the right-hand L portion is 5' 2" from the back wall. The shelves across the back are 19 inches deep, while the right-hand portion is 12 inches deep.

The shelf surface is plywood, and the supports are all 1x2s, excepting the vertical supports which are 2x2s, and the crossbeams on the ceiling which are 2x4s.

Construction went well considering I was building them by myself. It was a bit of struggle to get 8 feet of wood attached and level when I was holding the wood, level, drill, etc. But I persevered, and the shelves turned out really good (if I do say so myself). They are much sturdier then I thought they were going to be while they were being constructed. Even with all that stuff loaded on them, and me pulling on them, they don't sag at all.

It remains to be seen if I can get a snowblower in the garage though.
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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Movies: Without a Paddle

Linzy, Gerard, Tony, and I went to go see Without a Paddle on Saturday night, along with Dan & Kelli who were in town for the weekend.

We settled on Without a Paddle through a process of elimination of movies other people had already seen. After having seen the previews, I didn't think WaP looked like it deserved any more then a rental. So I went into the movie with low expectations.

That was probably a good thing, because it wasn't a great movie. Oh, it wasn't terrible either; it did have a few funny parts. I probably appreciated the story more since I am probably in the target audience in terms of who it was written for.

The story revolves around 3 friends who are turning 30 and decide to take a trip planned out by a recently deseased mutual friend. All three of the friends are doing different things with their lives, and have underlying concerns over the choices they've made. So the trip becomes sort of a bonding/finding yourself/making peace with your choices kinda thing.

Since it is a comedy, while there is a plot, the 'trip' is largely a mechanism to take the characters from one improbable situation to the next.

Still, if you sit back and enjoy it for what it is (a mostly mindless movie), there are some good chuckles in the early part.

Everyone who went to see it thought it was good, probably liking it more then me. But keep in mind we are all in roughly the target audience. Your milage may vary.

It's worth a rental, probably not a full-priced ticket.

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Saturday, August 21, 2004

CliffyB also needs to lay off the drugs

If you aren't familiar with who Cliff Bleszinski (aka CliffyB), don't worry, most people aren't.

Cliff is one of the game designers at Epic Games, where he has been involved with Jazz the Jackrabbit, Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003/2004, etc. He's relatively flamboyant, as computer game makers go at least. So I generally find his interviews interesting to read.

The most recent one is a bit crazy though. I sure hope it is one of those things that would make more sense if you hear it and see the body language, then if you just strictly read the text. Because reading just the text sure makes him seem like a whacked-out looney. Case-in-point:

GI: Obviously, there’s a lot of games that have a very large mod community. Obviously Quake’s out there, Unreal obviously. What do you think makes the Unreal mod community different from the others?

Bleszinski: Well I think our stuff’s easier to use than most other people’s so the barrier to entry is slightly lower. And I think, you know, Quake fans generally tend to be like “Grrr, Arrrg,” you know? So the Quake fans tend to be kind of like having that kind of old school like, “Oh I’m a badass,” kind of Internet… It’s like the Unreal fans think that they… How do I explain it? I don’t know. Maybe Unreal fans are more like guys. You know, it’s like, “Hey buddy how’s it going?” (gruff, low voice). Whereas women are all so competitive with each other. I’m totally, like, digging my own hole with these comments. Be careful with how you edit this.

GI: Word for word.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that it wouldn't matter how GameInformer edited that quote, it would have made more sense then printing it word-for-word.

I imagine the interview was taken at G4Phoria, a video game awards show on G4-TechTV. There is an amusing video here, of Cliffy hosting the pre-show for the same awards show. Interestingly enough, the video was originally posted on one of the G4-TechTV talent's personal websites, but taken down shortly afterwards. Maybe they got a nasty phone call.

On a boring side-note, I actually have the first Nintendo Power magazine that Cliffy refers to in the interview, as having his name listed in the high score section. I never knew who he was at the time (obviously), but in one of his very first interviews after Unreal came out he mentioned having his name in the first Nintendo Power. So of course I had to check it out the next time I was at my parents house, with access to the magazine.

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Friday, August 20, 2004

Lay off the weed!

First there was Ricky Williams, retiring for various reasons but also admitting that he would have been suspended to start the season, after failing 3 drug tests for marijuana.

Now Onterrio Smith (second string running back for the Vikings), who will be suspended for the first 4 games of this season, for failing a drug test for, you guessed it: marijuana.

Onterrio Smith fell to the fourth round of last year's draft, due to questions about his character. Why would you question his character?

Oh, because he was kicked out of Tenessee for marijuana use. Lord knows how many times you have to be caught before you are full-on kicked out of Tenessee for pot use. I'm guessing its more then once. So then Onterrio transfers to Oregon and...gets picked up for an underage DUI. But we aren't finished yet. Smith also acted as the host for a 17-year old devout Christian Orgeon football recruit. What did he think might be a good idea to do, to show the kid a good time? Why, take him to a party for some drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Onterrio claimed to have cleaned his act up, or at least that was his story last year. Ricky on the other hand, wasn't so worried about cleaning up his act, because he found a masking agent that worked.

You might be saying "Well Steve, it is asking an awful lot to have these young millionaires give up their precious drugs all year long." But, then if you look at the actual NFL drug policy:

NFL players with no drug violations are tested once a year, between April 20 and Aug. 9.
So you don't even have to be drug free the whole year. Just Jan 20th - Aug 9th. Then you can bring your hooka pipe right on the team bus.

For 3 million a year, it seems like you should be able to lay off the weed for 7 months a year.

[ Update: I completely forgot about Nate Newton. I believe he failed some drug tests back in the day, but he is more famous for getting arrested with a van-full of pot. How much pot is a van-full? Why, 213 pounds of course. ]

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Books: The Dark Remains

I mentioned in the comments that I was nearly done with The Dark Remains, the third book in Mark Anthony's Last Rune series. I did manage to finish it during the trip to Chicago. The abnormally large gap between finishing The Dark Remains, and finishing Keep of Fire (the previous book) should give you a strong hint as to what I thought of it.

I've been thinking about how to describe what I thought of the book, and so far the best I can come up with is 'Mehh'. That would be the technical term for 'pretty darn average'.

The book was OK, but it really didn't grab me. For one thing, Anthony doesn't seem to be doing a good job of portraying any sort of danger to the characters. They basically just bumble their way through solving whatever the mystery of the book is.

At least in Keep of Fire a couple of characters died (albeit minor ones introduced for the sole purpose of providing body-count). Certainly nothing like a Storm of Swords, where a major character was chopped down every third chapter (seemingly).

In some ways Anthony has written himself into a corner with the characters and any sort of danger to them, as one has been revealed (in what was quite possibly the worst kept secret since Fizban) to be a god/former god. There isn't much you can do plot wise to that will present a legitimate threat when you are talking about a god.

Anyways, despite the relatively poor rating, I started in on Blood of Mystery, and also picked up books 5 and 6 tonight from Barnes and Noble. Thankfully book 6 is advertised as the 'thrilling conclusion' to the Last Rune series, so maybe I'll be able to move on to a new set of books eventually.

[ If you are so inclined, check out the editorial review of the Dark Remains on Amazon. Its a wordy version of my 'Mehh' rating. My favorite quote: 'Hopefully book 4 finds Anthony back on track.' ]

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Windows Media Player

Once upon a time, long before Napster, or MP3s were 'cool', I was a hard-core Winamp kinda guy. Of course back then, that was pretty much the only player around. But it did the job well, and didn't take a lot of CPU or memory. In those days I had more MP3s then anyone I knew (thanks to a college ethernet connection), and my collection totaled maybe a hundred or two MP3s. It was easy to organize the MP3s in folders, I had a strict scheme for naming the files, and where they should be stored (in folders by genre).

Flash-forward 4 or 5 years. I decided to bite the bullet and start ripping each and every one of my 100+ CDs to MP3 files. This added a whole separate categorization of MP3 files on my hard drive, the full CD collections. Complemented by (at that time) 1,000 or so individual MP3s. Some duplicating what I had on CD, some duplicating each other at new and better bitrates (since the 96k modem sized MP3s suddenly sounded pretty bad compared to a 256k vbr MP3).

Over the next few years my filing system started getting more and more creaky with age. Not only did I have full CDs, and individual files sorted somewhat sporadically in genres, but I also had a whole second subdirectory of files that hadn't been written out to CD yet and thus couldn't be 'sorted' with the first set of files. (That was so that I could make sure I had backups of everything). Even worse, the naming started to get more and more diverse, as I crumbled under the weight of way to many files to manage, and just stopped worrying about getting them organized and named correctly.

It was pretty much impossible to manage all these files in Winamp, since it had no concept of a media library. All you had were playlists. Which were fine, but almost instantly out of date. And trying to find where a particular song was stored (across 2 drives, and several different directory structures) was difficult for me, and neigh impossible for anyone else.

Around this time, I finally caved and tried out Windows Media Player. Previously I had only tolerated Windows Media Player for its ability to play video files, but scorned its memory hungry, relatively clunky setup for anything like playing songs on a daily basis. But Windows Media Player 8 was a huge step in the right direction, and Windows Media Player 9 is pretty dang good.

It was still somewhat painful to use WMP on my old computer, as loading a media library the size of mine took quite a bit of my relatively scarce memory. But, oh the joy of being able to find an MP3 file regardless of where it might be stored on the hard drive. And to be able to get dynamic lists of songs in a particular genre at the click of a button. Or all the Paul Oakenfold MP3s, or all the MP3s making up the two versions of The Wall that I have.

It did make me realize what a mess the ID3 tags in my files were. Especially the older files that didn't even have anything, let alone incorrect, or misspelled information. Eventually I had to write a couple perl scripts to populate the files that were completely missing information based off my known naming scheme. And I also had to make good use of WMP's snappy ability to bulk-edit the information of files.

Now, when I said earlier WMP is pretty dang good, that should perhaps be qualified as 'pretty dang good, relative to the alternatives'. Because WMP certainly has its problems.

For one, the cd-burning interface is completely useless. As far as I can tell, when you have Nero installed, there isn't a way to burn an audio cd from inside WMP. All I can do is copy files onto a data disc. Which is rarely what I want to do. So instead I am reduced to hunting through 33.5GB of files for the particular ones, and dragging them into Nero to burn onto a mixed cd. It feels like 1999 all over again.

And while WMP's auto playlists are cool, they aren't nearly as useful as you might think. For example, I like single MP3 mixed trance concerts (say from Oakenfold). If I am feeling lazy about picking music, I can queue up one of these, and be choice free for the next hour and 15 minutes (or more). But how do I find these in Windows Media Player? I have to know what artist they are under, or finding in a genre by sorting the list by length and then picking them out.

Ah-ha, I said to myself tonight, I'll just make an auto-playlist of songs that are longer then an hour. So then whenever I want to listen to a long string of techno, I can just queue up the playlist and put it on shuffle. But the only playlist criteria for Duration is a drop-down list of seconds: 30,60,120,180, 240, 300, 360. WTF? I have (apparently) 921 songs in my library that are longer then 6 minutes. Exactly what benefit am I getting from having to select from a hard-coded list of numbers of seconds? Even worse is the option to find songs whose duration IS X seconds. When was the last time you saw a song that totaled out at exactly 6 minutes?

Who thought it would be user-friendly to make a drop down list for something like 'length of song'? I can't believe a Program Manager actually tried this feature out and was like 'Hey look, I can finally find all my songs that are 2 minutes long, customers are going to love this!'

Along the same lines, are the auto-playlists that are 'favorites - one audio cd worth', or 'favorites - one data cd worth'. That sounds awesome, right? I mean, you want some mixed CDs, just burn that playlist. Except that (as I mentioned before), you can't burn audio discs in WMP directly. So after you struggle through tracking all those files down and get the CD burned, then what? The playlist never changes. So you can't say 'OK, now give me another CD of favorites'. You are stuck with the same list you already burned. And that list isn't exactly 'random'. In my case, the audio cd (which is only 59:05 minutes BTW, hardly a full CD) has 15 songs; from only 7 artists. Including a ridiculous 7 songs from one artist, and 3 from another.

Obviously the intention was there to have that be an incredible feature. But the responsibility for getting it implemented must have fallen to the same PM who had a hard drive full of 120 second songs.

And then there is the rating system. In theory, that sounds like an ├╝ber-feature: The ability to automatically rank your songs by how much they are played (or by manual ratings). But implementation leaves quite a bit to be desired.

First off, you only have 5 rating choices. A bit coarse for a media library of 7,679 songs, you think? All songs start out at 3 stars. And when you play a song once it becomes a 4 star song. If you play it a time or two more, it becomes a 5 star song. That seems to be ramping up a bit fast, but I could probably deal. The problem is nothing ever loses rating when it isn't played (AFAICT). So I have songs I've never played the entire time I've had my new computer, that are still rated at 3 stars. And then there are songs I listened to once, and haven't touched again, that are now 4 star-rated. So then they make all the auto-playlists of 'favorites'. I played it once, 6 months ago, its not exactly a favorite!

WMP would be so much better if it used a 1-10 rating system (or at least the option to use that instead of 5 stars). And if it would auto-reduce the rating of songs are they aren't played. Then if you throw in a usable cd-burning feature, and better auto-playlists, you could have a super program.

Maybe Microsoft needs another PM for WMP. :)

[ On a side note - Rumor has it Windows Media Player 10 is supposed to address some of these issues, at least some of the cd-burning issues (although they have been talking more about its integration with MP3 players/portable devices, then CD burning). ]

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Why I love cars

I know next to nothing about cars.

Oh, I know in theory how they work, and vaguely the types of things that go wrong and what symptoms might be exhibited with certain problems. But I can't do any maintenance more strenuous then changing the air filter, wiper blades, or currently playing CD. It usually takes about 3 sentences from a mechanic before my eyes start to glaze over and I start to wonder if I really know what I think I know.

Since I don't know anything specific about how things work, and I can't verify anything myself, I have a very hard time trusting what I hear from mechanics. Oh, I'm sure there are honest mechanics out there. I just haven't had good luck finding them. And its hard to get a feel for if someone is honest, when I have absolutely no way of verifying what they are telling me, myself. At best I can get a second opinion. Or get some 'how a car works' theory from a friend who knows a ton about how cars work (but nothing specific about mine).

Today I had the perfect example of why I hate dealing with anything car related.

After the trip to Chicago this weekend, I was about 100 miles overdue for an oil change. Now, a bit of background. Normally I go to Precision Auto Tune in Eagan (the Nichols Road location). They are always very helpful and seem to be good about explaining what is going on, and/or why something needs or does not need to be done.

Today however, I was in a hurry so I went over to the newly opened Goodyear store just a mile from my house (Precision Auto Tune is like a 10-15 minute drive).

After a bit of waiting while they changed the oil, the service guy came out.
Service Guy: Have you noticed squeaking?
Me: From what? There is a squeak that I've noticed from the rear, that sounds like one time when I had a leaking strut.
Service Guy: Well this is from the left, you brake pad is very worn, and I think the wear indicator is rubbing making the squeak. You have less then 10% left on your pad.
Me: Well, that is weird, I just had a brake inspection done a month ago, and they said the pads had 4mm left out of 9mm. And that they should be good for another 6 months.
Service Guy: Well, I think they are worn, <blah, blah, insert standard comments on not changing pads quick enough and hosing your rotors>. Do you want me to do a brake inspection?
Me: Nope, I'm comfortable with what I was told a month ago.

So I go back to waiting for the oil change. While I am waiting, some other lady came in to pick up her car and I overheard the (different) service guy telling her that her brake pads were very worn and had 'less then 10% left'. Along with the assorted normal comments related to getting pads changed promptly.

Eventually my car was done, and as I was paying the service guy brought up the pads again. He said he 'had to disagree with whoever did the previous inspection, because the left side is very worn.'. And to make sure that I get the pads changed right away if I hear any squeaking. He even wrote down some comments on my receipt about the brakes being worn.

At that point I was all done, so I left, pretty confused.

Now, I really did had a brake inspection done a month ago, at Precision Auto Tune. In fact, they did it for free (even though they quoted the price at $20 over the phone), and basically talked me out of getting the pads replaced. I was going to have them replaced, to the tune of ~$200 since my car uses outrageously expensive ceramic pads. But they were like 'Well, you can replace them. But our recommendation is to just leave them, you have at least 6 months left in them'.

There seems to be a few possibilities:

1) Precision Auto Tune was lying when they said the pads looked good for at least 6 months.
2) Goodyear was lying when they said the pads looked worn
3) The pads suffered ridiculous amounts of wear in the past month, shearing off 3mm of pad in 1/48th of the amount of time I've owned the car.
4) Some other bizarre circumstance such that both Precision Auto Tune and Goodyear are telling the truth.

I have trouble believing that #1 is the case, because Precision Auto Tune had no reason to lie to me. In fact, by telling me the pads were fine, they gave up $200 in business (and from what I can tell, that location needs all the business it can get).

I could see #2 being the case, especially since I question how the heck the service guy was even checking the brake pads. That's not exactly easy without taking the tires off, and why in the world would you take the tires off while you are doing an oil change?

Except that it makes no sense why the guy would bring up the brake pads again at checkout. I mean, if you were just trying to drum up business, then try the brake pad sale early on. But once I have pointed out that I just had an inspection, and it is clear that I'm not buying any additional services today, wouldn't you just drop it?

I don't think #3 is the case, because I haven't driven hardly at all in the last month, except to Chicago and back.

That leaves us with #4. The best I can think of is that Precision Tune actually only checked 2 of the brake pads, one front and one rear. Since in theory the front/rear pads should all wear exactly the same, if you were in a hurry, I could see checking just one side. If they happened to check only the right side, and Goodyear happened to check only the left side and the brake pads were wearing unevenly then they could both be telling the truth.

The problem with this of course is that I have no way to know what Precision Tune did. My receipt says only 'Brake Inspection'. And I wasn't watching closely enough to know if he took all four tires off (or only two). I do recall that Precision Tune had the right side tires off at one point.

I could call Precision Tune and ask what they did, but I'm sure they will be rather vague since it probably depends on the mechanic. And they might be supposed to check all four tires, but that doesn't mean they actually did.

All in all it leaves me with no idea what to do.

I don't hear any horrible wear-indicator type brake squeaking; all I hear is the normal brake squeaking that my brakes have always done on the first few stops since the day I bought the car.

On the other hand, my brake pads are plenty expensive without adding new rotors to the deal (if I wait too long in replacing them).

This is precisely why I've had newish cars after college (when I had to deal with repairs), and why Linzy has a relatively new car.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Chicago Trip (Saturday/Sunday)

[This follows yesterday's long-winded description of the first day of our trip to Chicago]

Saturday morning we had plans to meet my parents, sister and her husband, and my Grandma for breakfast. We drove down to Arlington Heights, IL to meet everyone at my Grandma's apartment. Then we caravaned over to The Egg Factory for breakfast. Their food was OK, nothing special, although the service was very good. In the Egg Factory's defense, the previous day everyone other then us had eaten there and said that their skillets were very good, but too big.

After breakfast we hung out and laughed at old stories, and contemplated the disappearance of 5-character boggle (apparently now known as Super Boggle, and nearly impossible to find). This odd topic came up when my Grandma was talking about one of her friends who is something of a Boggle-shark, and only plays Boggle using the 5x5 grid.

By that point, it was time to change and head off to my Aunt & Uncle's house, who live in Cary, IL. Linzy and I had to make an emergency stop at Target for some dress socks for me, and then we started the hour trek out to Cary. The drive wouldn't have been so bad, except that most of the trip was in stop & go traffic on US Route 12. It wasn't stop and go because it was a jammed up highway, it was stop and go because there is a stoplight every block and we hit every single one.

The party at Bob & Jan's house was a lot of fun. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 people there, encompassing four generations (Grandma, on down to some great-grandkids). Some of Grandma's relatives came in from as far away as Texas and California.

Grandma didn't want any gifts, so all of Grandma's children had organized a cooperative scrapbook for her. Each person who was invited was sent a page, to fill with some memory of Grandma, or pictures, or letters, or whatever they wanted. Cooperative scrapbooking is apparently all the rage right now. Anyways, the book turned out fantastic, with a lot of cool pages/pictures/stories.

In addition, my Dad and Mom made a video using scanned in slides that my Grandfather took from 1953-1971 (I think). So there were lots of crazy old pictures of Grandma's children as little kids, and pictures of my Grandfather (who passed away before I was born). The video turned out really well, and everyone liked it a lot.

[I posted it earlier, but here is a picture of Grandma with her cake]

Eventually the party started winding down, and we made the trek back to Jon & Nicole's (which wasn't nearly as bad as the drive from grandma to care, IL).

Sunday was pretty much exclusively a travel day. The trip back home was uneventful, other then it took less then 7 hours (including a sit down lunch in Mauston).
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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Chicago Trip (Friday)

We made it to Chicago and back, just fine. Grandma's 90th birthday party was a huge success, and it was a lot of fun to see all the family gathered together. There were some cousins/relatives who came to the party that I haven't never even met (my parents had only met them once).

We left for Chicago on Friday at about 12:10pm, after a minor debacle when Linzy's cell phone charger was making the turn signal blink super-extra fast. We discovered the crazy turn-signal behavior on the first turn, so immediately turned around to figure out what was going on. After a bit of checking light bulb status, the fuse situation, the towing hitch plug-in (which was not being used, of course), we eventually discovered that the ultra-blinker syndrome only happened when the car was actually started, not when it was just 'On'. At that point, Linzy disconnected the phone because she was afraid of having it connected while the car was being started and stopped a bunch of times. The problem immediately went away, so all was good. Oddly, connecting the phone to a different outlet made the problem go away. Pretty strange.

Anyways, the next minor panic came when we were driving down the hill towards Lacrosse, WI. Linzy was planning on taking some pictures of the descent, as it overlooks the Mississippi and is pretty picturesque. Except the camera was making horrible grinding noises and wouldn't let the lens pop-out of the case. It was at that point I recalled that I had dropped the camera a few days earlier when carrying it into my parents house to transfer some pictures to my Dad's computer. After dropping it, I hadn't really checked it out, other then to inspect the case and, after seeing only a few minor scratches, went 'Oh, looks OK to me'. Whoops.

We stopped in Lacrosse to switch drivers so I could look at it. The backup plan being that we would have to stop in Madison at Best Buy and make an unplanned purchase of a new digital camera, or at least a disposable one of some sort. Instead, it turned out that the impact of the drop had bent the exterior casing a bit, so it was impeding the lens mechanism's extension from the case. A bit of not-so-gentle prying with a tweezers popped the lens back in front of the case ring and the camera started working just fine again. I'll add Digital Camera Repairman to my resume as soon as I post this.

There wasn't much other excitement until we stopped for dinner in Brookfield, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee (I think). We drove around a bit trying to decide on a restaurant to eat at, also planning on stopping at the Target to pick up a gift for my newest cousin (once removed), Katherine Rose. She is 7 months old and the daughter of my cousins Jon and Nicole, who we were staying with. As luck would have it, we decided on Marty's Pizza which happened to be right across the street from Target. We figured 'Why not try somewhere we couldn't eat at, at home' (as opposed to the Perkins). Marty's Pizza was awesome. We were really pleasantly surprised. They had square, thin-crust pizza, that was very good. The crust was crispy (like woodfired brick oven pizza), and the sausage was from a local Wisconsin place so very good. It was a good dinner.

Shortly after we left Marty's, we hit some traffic heading into downtown Milwaukee for the Wisconsin State Fair. Among the traffic was a big delivery truck that had Bimbo written on it in huge letters. As we got closer, we could see more of the truck, and it had a sort-of imitation Pillsbury Doughboy character, a teddy bear in a baker's cap. Finally when we pulled along side the truck, you could see in small print in the lower righthand corner Bimbo Bakeries, USA. A very strange artwork scheme. I was kind of afraid to try searching for 'Bimbo Bakery', I didn't really want to find a bunch of links to barely-legal naked ladies in baker's caps.

The rest of the drive breezed by, and we made it out to Gurnee, IL in a pretty reasonable amount of time. The whole trip on Friday took about 8 hours, counting a couple stops for gas and snacks, and at least an hour stop for dinner and Target. That was much sorter then I was expecting, but since Gurnee is very much on the North side of Chicago I guess it shouldn't have been a big surprise.

That night, Katherine Rose (Katie) was already sleeping, so we didn't get to see her. We did, however, get to meet 'Josie', Jon and Nicole's Greater Swiss Mountain dog. Think small pony. Josie is around 120 pounds, and about 2 feet tall at the shoulder, and maybe 3 or 4 feet tall at the top of her head. And she's..uh..energetic (she's less then 1.5 years old). Actually, she reminded me a lot of Pippen in terms of her wild enthusiastic greeting. Except of course, that she is 15 times the size of Pippen. So when Josie jumps at you, you better have good footing.

We spent the rest of Friday night talking with Jon and Nicole, and watching the Olympic opening ceremonies in the background (what was with the woman and her glowing pregnant stomach? That was pretty weird, especially without any sound).

That pretty much covers Friday, Saturday and Sunday are posted here.
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Grandma and her 90th Birthday cake

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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Traveling to Chicago

Well, we are off to the Windy City tomorrow morning, to attend my Grandma Eck's 90th birthday party. Her birthday is actually in November, but since she worries about...well...everything these days, she only wanted a party if it was during the summer.

Keeping with the whole Windy City theme, we will be breezing through town. Linzy is working a half-day tomorrow, so we won't leave until around noon on Friday. Then we go to the party on Saturday, and leave early on Sunday morning. It ends up to be an awful lot of driving, but I am looking forward to seeing everyone.

Anyways, Mixed CDs have been burned, clothes have been packed, entertainment procured (in the form of magazines for Linzy and GBA SP games and books for me), and we are all set to go.

No posts till Sunday or more likely, Monday.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Ancient E-mails part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been amusing myself by reading old e-mails I found imported into Thunderbird from Outlook Express/Eudora/Mulberry/etc.

I stumbled on a set of e-mails sent to all my various friends describing a particularly crazy night. This was long before blogs, back when I had to cut&paste stories into e-mails to separate people. Anyways, the reason this set of stories caught my eye was that I had completely forgotten about this adventure, until I read the e-mails. Reading through them brought it all back, and I spent a few minutes laughing at the memory.

I thought I would re-produce the story here. The original e-mail was in a giant stream-of-consciousness paragraph, but I broke it up to make it a bit more readable. As far as dates, let's leave it at 'while I was in college' (before 2/1999) for the same reason that I've changed the name. To protect the...well...guilty.

Okay, Thursday of last week I got home at like 11:00pm, and at like 11:15 my roomate Fred got home from work. Well he came down and was trying to talk me into going out to the bars, but I didn't really want to go. So then he was just gonna drink by himself. I was like "thats wrong, I'll come have one drink with you".

So we started drinking and pretty quick it got out of hand; especially after another of my roomates came back from a party just completely hammered, and he started drinking with Fred.

About 2:00am or so we decided to go to perkins and get some food. We were sitting there eating and Fred was like "Uhh, I don't feel very good" and went off to the bathroom. He came back like 5 mins later and claimed he didn't puke. So then he was sitting there and 5 mins later he was like "ohhhh, my stomach hurts".

He leaned over on the bench seat and puked under the table. Like 4 times, it was all over. I slid out of my seat cause it was so gross and I didn't want to get any on me.

At that point I was like "come on Fred, we are leaving right now" (cause I suddenly wasn't hungry anymore, and he had already eaten) so we left in a hurry with a pile of puke under our table.

It was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. We decided the next day it had to have been food poisoning or something because really we hadn't had that much to drink and he was sick the whole next day.

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Fall is in the air

I mentioned earlier this year the crazy weather we've been having in Minnesota. Well, the insanity continues; Yesterday we set a new record and tied a record.

We set the record for coldest 'high' temperature, with a high temperature of 59 degrees Farenheight (the old record was 62). We also tied the record for the coldest 'low' temperature, with a low temp of 47F.

It felt exactly like an October day, as it was overcast, windy and pretty dang cold. With football season cranking up, it sure felt like fall.

This whole week has been abnormally cold. By this weekend we are supposed to be back to the average temperature, 82F.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The (soon to be) lost art of VCR taping

In the era of Tivo and PVRs, programming a VCR to tape something is quickly becoming a lost art. Luckily, I won't have to suffer through the pain of discovering I have lost the skill, as I never had it in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I am indeed capable of recording things. I've even done it from time to time, and am usually successful. Especially when it's for something like recording a whole season of 24.

However, with disturbing frequency, I eventually make some sort of mistake with the recording. It might be leaving the tape not-rewound three weeks in a row, and thus only getting part of the fourth 24 episode. Or, setting the start time to 7:58 and the end time to 8:02, instead of 9:02, thus recording only the first two minutes of my show.

So, why suddenly confess my ineptness at the seemingly simple task of programming a VCR to record a show? Well, I discovered some old 'Sent Items' e-mails that I have dutifully been importing into every MUA I've used over the years. One of the e-mails that struck me as funny tonight was from 1999 or 2000, when I had obviously apparently been directed to record something for Brenden:


I used to think that there were three important steps that needed to be completed before you could tape something with your VCR.

1) Insert a recordable tape, rewound to the appropriate position -- Check
2) Program the VCR to record the proper channel at the proper time -- Check
3) Turn off power to VCR before said proper time -- Check

I'm adding a fourth:

4) Make sure VCR actually has a connection to the cable. -- No check

Whoops. It dutifully record 40 minutes of static from 8:55-9:35 on saturday night to my inserted recordable tape. Sorry man. I sat down this morning to watch the episode, and was like "What the hell, why is this just static" "Uh-oh...Brenden's gonna kill me"

The moral of this post is "Don't ask Steve to record anything on the VCR without a suitable backup plan".
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It Works!

[I'm writing this entry from the couch downstairs, enjoying the novelty of wireless networking.]

I finally got my new laptop at work, which came equipped with a fancy 802.11a/b/g wireless card. After a bit of playing around with the card settings I was able to get it to play nice with our new wireless home network.

The laptop is certainly not top-of-the-line, it is more like bottom-quartile of all laptops you could purchase these days. Its a Pentium M 1600 with 512M ram, a 40G hard drive and a DVD/cd-burner combo drive. But it is a huge step up from the previous laptop (pentium III 500Mhz w/256M).

One extra cool feature of the current laptop is it's ability to dual-head between its LCD monitor and an external CRT. Now I'm sure this has been commonplace for laptops for years, but my old laptop didn't do it. So at work I was able to gather up a bunch of old Oracle manuals to prop up my laptop to the same height as my CRT, and I suddenly have a dual-screen system.

Let me just say, dual-screen rocks for getting actual work done. It is so much easier to ignore e-mail when it is relegated to a non-primary screen.

It's too bad work doesn't allow us to buy the old laptops, although it was a pile of crap for doing database administration or programming, it would have been perfectly functional for controlling the streaming media server playlist we will someday have to the Xbox downstairs.

Oh well, maybe I can talk Linzy into getting a Pocket PC or something. Ok, so maybe not.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

Soul Calibur 2

So I've been a bad boy. Instead of slogging through Disc 2 of Xenogears, I've picked up a new game to play. Soul Calibur 2 on Gamecube.

I'm not really much of a fighting games kind of guy. But I played a bit of Soul Calibur on Dreamcast and enjoyed it. So when SC2 hit $15.88 at Target a few weeks back, how could I pass it up?

The thing I like about Sould Calibur 2 is that it has a decent single player game. Linzy doesn't play any video games, and it's not like college anymore where friends stop buy for some multiplayer action. Thus I only have one controller for all my current generation systems, and a game has to have a good single player experience for me to play it.

Soul Calibur 2 has an excellent single-player mode, Weapon Master. That is very rare in a fighting game (at least compared to the state of fighting games when I last played them, Street Fighter 2/Mortal Kombat 2). Not only does the difficulty ramp nicely during Weapon Master, but there is a plethora of little rewards to pick up and a wide range of battles to have to deal with. Fighting against one character, lots of characters in a row, with your health decreasing constantly, only being able to see the enemies weapon, having to use specific moves, etc. It really adds to the interest level for me, and helps force you to move from button-mashing, to actually pulling off combos.

I'm about 2/3rds of the way down with Weapon Master, and have unlocked almost all the playable characters (with exeption of Berserker and Lizardman), and have unlocked most of the extra chapters.

If you have a chance to pick up Soul Calibur 2 for $15, you should. Although you might want to pick it up for some system other then GC, as the GameCube controller leaves a bit to be desired, and fighting Link (the special character exclusive to the GC version of SC2) is not as much fun as I thought it would be. The XBox version with the better graphics and controller, and a playable Spawn character sounds a bit cooler.
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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Movies: The Village

Today Linzy and I went to go see The Village. It was decent, although not anything I would need to see again real soon.

I found it very similiar to M. Night Shyamalan's other movies. It wasn't nearly as scary as the previews made it look. In fact, there were only a handful of 'Make you jump' moments. The story was OK. There was the required M. Night 'twist', in fact it was pretty cool, and I won't say anymore about that; I don't want to spoil anything.

The acting was top notch, as you would expect from the big names in the cast. Bryce Dallas Howard was excellent. Joaquin Phoenix was playing pretty much the same character he has played in all of Shyamalan's movies.

Overall it was OK, but I have the same complaint about it that I do all of Shyamalan's movies. They just don't seem like they will stand up to repeated viewings. I suppose it has to do with depending on a 'twist'.
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Saturday, August 07, 2004


Linzy and I were up at the Mall of America today, to do a bit of shopping. It was pretty crowded, I suppose because its Back to School time. Between all the people, and the construction for the Light Rail extension, it was a mess trying to get in and out.

After we finised at MOA, we had to go over to the brand new Ikea store. Big Mistake. I can only think of one word to describe it. Insanity.

It took 10-15 minutes of driving around just to find a parking spot. Which is crazy, since the store has basically the entire old Met Center parking lot and stadium area for parking. Plus the store is built on stilts so the area underneath is all parking, and there is also a ramp. But nevertheless, there was no parking to be had. Eventually we were able to find a spot at the far end of the lot, which was effectively the whole length of a mega mall away from the store.

Inside, it was no better then you would expect, with people crawling all over the place. We battled our way through the store for a bit, and eventually gave up and headed for the registers to get what we needed. There were 20 registers pumping people through, but about 15-20 people in each line. That is 300-400 people just IN LINE. I estimated there must have been at least 2500 people in the store just at the time we were there.

Complete and total insanity.

I mean, they have nice enough stuff, but it certainly wasn't worth the pain of fighting over a $99 armchair with 2,498 people at the same time.
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Friday, August 06, 2004

Lazy Steve

I couldn't think of anything to exciting to write about today, so you'll have to settle for this link of the top 10 most embarrassing TV/Radio interview momements. It's SI.com, so its all sports related, and I found them to be more funny then embarrassing.

I particularly enjoyed #2 and #7 (which I have seen before, but still amused me again).
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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Pink Floyd: The Wall

I saw on MSNBC (courtesy of AP) that The Wall is being made into a Broadway musical.

The Wall holds a special place in my heart, and not just because I like Pink Floyd and think that album was one of their best. No, it is because of a trip I took.

Long ago in the mists of time (OK it was the summer of 1995), I had just graduated from High School. That summer I did such fun and exciting things like working full-time in a warehouse packing orders, and working part-time at Best Buy. Most of my friends were busy doing similar things (that is, working).

Towards the end of summer, everyone started to get the feeling that the whole summer had practically slipped by and soon we would all be going our separate ways to college. We decided to all take some time-off work and take a road trip down to Gurnee, IL home of Six Flags/Great America, Chicago.

Now Six Flags Chicago is indeed one of the best amusement parks in the country, but it also happened to be just a few miles from my Aunt's house. Poor high school students can't pass up the ability to stay somewhere free.

Anyways, a few weeks later Gerard, Dan and myself were set to take off on a road trip. Now we all had cars of our own, but none that screamed 'Hey, I'm reliable enough to take on a 1,000 mile road trip'. So my mom was nice enough to let us take her 1993 Mitsubishi Galant. It was a pretty nice car for the time, with power everything, a peppy engine (perfect for being driven by 18 year old idiots), and comfy seats.

I think I picked everyone up, and away we went tooling down Hwy 52 on our way to Chicago. Now keep in mind this was a last minute trip. So what had escaped everyone's notice was that as nice as my Mom's car was, it did not have a CD player, only a tape player. Even though back then CD players were not yet standard equipment, it happened that virtually all the music I owned was on CD. With the exception of 2 tapes: Pink Floyd: The Wall and Guns N' Roses: Use Your Illusion 1.

Since no one else was aware of the lack of a CD player and/or my own lack of tapes, no one else brought anything to listen to. After the radio started fading out, we decided to listen to GNR, and popped in the tape. The tape player ate it. There went 50% of our music selection in one shot. For a while it actually looked like it might have succeeded in killing 100% of our music, by clogging up in the player and not being able to be removed, but with some persistence (and perhaps a bit of panic) the tape was removed.

That left us with one tape. Pink Floyd: The Wall.

Three things lead to what happened next:

1) If you have ever driven down I90 through rural Wisconsin, you have a good idea of the complete and utter lack of radio stations.

2) The tape player in the car had auto-reverse

3) The Wall is like 84 minutes long, so it barely fits on one extended length tape. There is virtually no silence on the ends of the sides.

The result was that we basically listened to The Wall over and over all the way to Chicago and back.

Since it was auto-reverse, with no silence at the end of a side, you couldn't really tell that the tape had started over. I mean you could, but not really if you weren't paying attention. So over and over, for 8 hours we listened to 'Another Brick in the Wall', 'Hey You', 'Young Lust', and 'Run like Hell'.

After that trip, I think all three of us could recite the full lyrics to The Wall. Even Gerard, who had never heard the album before.

To this day, whenever I hear some of the songs on The Wall, I can't help thinking back to that road trip.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

WiFi Enabled

My DI-624 wireless router arrived today, so I started working on setting up our future wireless network. I've seen quite a bit of muttering on the Internet about how 'tough' it is to get a wireless network setup. So while I wasn't expecting it to take hours, I was expecting to have to putz with it for a while.

To my pleasant suprise, the setup of the D-Link router and the Microsoft Wireless cards was a cinch. Sure it wasn't the most straight forward thing (especially installing the Microsoft card in the old computer, which insisted that the software be installed before the card), but it wasn't bad. The worst thing turned out to be unhooking the monitor and keyboard, so they could be hooked up to the old computer. Gotta have some way to click through the 'Next' buttons on the install. And something to type in the 128-bit shared-key.

Actually, getting the key configured correctly was about as hardcore as things got. Granted it is a shared secret, and they can't just default it to something, but I wasn't really expecting to have to manually invent a 32 character hexadecimal string.

One thing that turned out to be a good idea was that I entered the key into the router, but didn't actually enable security initially. Then I could connect to it with the new wireless card and just cut and paste the key into the client settings and reboot the router. Wah-la, security.

Or at least what passes as 'security' in the wireless protocols. My favorite wireless security quote is from Bruce Schneier:

The people who designed wireless protocols did a horrible job with security, It's something that's not just insecurity, it's robustly insecure.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Duluth Police

While I was in Duluth the week before last, on Thursday night I met up with my friend Bill and his wife Ann.

We stopped by The Reef for what was originally going to be just a drink or two since Bill had to work in the morning, and I had yet more house remodeling to help with. Instead we ended up closing the place down.

I had a great time catching up with them, and playing some darts. Darts was frustrating because I played outstandingly well the first 6 rounds and then couldn't hit a bulls-eye for anything the remaining million-and-a-half rounds, which is much, much more worse then just sucking the whole game.

Anyways, when we walked in there was a big group of huge guys standing around near the bar. We didn't think too much of it while ordering our drinks, although Bill did comment that "It looked like that was a meeting of a group of people who could all kick his ass". Later on talking to the waitress we found out that the group was actually all the off-duty cops from Duluth.

So what I learned that day was that the Duluth cops are suprisingly burly.Normally down here in the 'burbs, the cops tend to be of the Sipowicz variety. In Duluth they all looked like linebackers from some football team.

I'm not sure what the crime rate in Duluth is like, but if it is high, it certainly isn't because the cop is not able to run you down and beat you like a little girl, if necessary.

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Movies: Bourne Supremacy

Linzy and I used our free ticket to go see The Bourne Supremacy this weekend. I really enjoyed it, especially considering that I was looking forward to it and thus my expectations were high.

I thought the pacing was good, with plenty of action (mostly of the car chase variety) and some interesting 'spy work' sections. The car chase in Moscow was particularly well done, I thought. Also, the plot was interesting, and the twists were complicated enough that you didn't figure everything out in 10 minutes. Something Gerard tells me is not the case for The Village.

I did spend a good while staring at Karl Urban trying to figure out where I had seen him before. It took a trip to imdb when we got home to realize that he was Eomer in The Lord of the Rings movies. Then it was like 'Oh, of course...I should have recognized that'.

Anyways, The Bourne Supremacy was very good, I recommend it.
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Monday, August 02, 2004

Tricked Out Ferraris and Building Spaceships

When Brenden and I lived together, we always jokingly said that we should form our own software company. At the time the thinking was that I could easily do the implementing, I just needed a partner who could be the visionary. In trying to sell this position to Brenden, I pointed out that the visionary could really work from anywhere. Say, on a beach in Tahiti. All he (or she) had to do was come up with good ideas for me to write.

However, it turned out neither of us was all that good at coming up with easily implementable revolutionary ideas. So we would jokingly argue about who was the visionary and thus responsible for the all-important first step of coming up with the idea.

A number of years ago, I pointed out the insane numbers of copies that some of the Final Fantasy games had sold. I had calculated it out to be like 50% of every man, woman and child in Japan had a copy of FFX (I think it was?). Anyways, my visionary idea was that we should write a hit Japanese RPG and become rich game developers ala John Carmack.

Alas, no hit game was made.

I was reminded about all this today when I saw that Doom 3 has an insane amount of pre-orders, somewhere north of 2 million.

Using Best Buy's advertised price of $55, that is roughly $110 million in sales, before the game even hits the shelves.

I sent this comment to Brenden about the pre-orders:

That is why Carmack has tricked-out Ferraris and is building spaceships, while we slave for The Man. I blame you, of course. :)

I haven't heard anything back, I assume it is because he is overwhelmed by the guilt of having missed out on implementing my visionary idea of 'Making a hit video game'.
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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Party: Success

Well, the party turned out to be a huge success, it was a ton of fun. Hopefully everybody else had a lot of fun too. I'm pretty sure that was the case, since we ended up having 7 people spending the night.

14 people stopped by for some portion of the night: Mike, Joe & Jen, Shawn & Andrea, Nicky, Gerard, Wes, Tony, Vanessa, Jackie, Felicia, Dan, and Jim.

The food amounts that I had worried about earlier turned out to be almost exactly correct. On the other hand, the amount of beverages turned out to be wofeully inadequate. To the point that it was only about 7:00 and I was running out to go pick up some more beer and margarita mix.

In the past, we have way over-estimated what was needed for beverages for the party. If we needed a half a keg, we bought a full keg. If we needed one case of beer, we bought two. Since a few bottles of beer from our last party were still kicking around nearly a full year later, we decided that less is more and we would make do with one case of beer, one bottle of margarita mix, plus whatever else was laying around the house.

With a number of people showing up, sitting down, and almost immediately breaking out the playing cards (which hasn't happened that early in the night for a long time), the beverages started disappearing at an alarming rate. So out I went to get some more. And even then I was able to reign in the urge to over-buy, so we don't even have too much extra laying around.

One of the more frustrating things that happened was that despite the fact that all week the forecasters insisted that Saturday would be "absolutely gorgeous, without a cloud in the sky", by Saturday morning they were revising their forecasts into "isolated thunderstorms". Sure enough, about 5 minutes after I finished putting all the cushions on the deck furniture, I was back out on the deck taking everything off because it looked like rain (and it did rain about 30 seconds after I finished). Nonetheless, the weather held off long enough and was intermittent enough that we were able to enjoy the deck for grilling and a bit of sitting around.

Anyways, it was a lot of fun and I am glad we were able to see everyone. I put pictures up in the previous post.

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Party Pictures

They said all week it wouldn't rain on Saturday.

(From Left): Gerard, Shawn, Wes, Tony, Felicia, Mike, Jackie. Note that we already have a slightly askew cap on Mike's head, and this was early yet.

(From Left): Mike, Jim, Gerard, Nicky, Dan, Linzy, Tony, Wes

(From Left): Linzy, Vanessa, Dan

(From Left): Dan, Linzy, Tony

The Aftermath:

Food: 16 hamburgers, 12 brats, a whole French Silk pie, a whole Boston Cream Pie, 12 M&M cookies, a veggie tray, 3 bags of chips, a shrimp plate, half the Seven-Layer Salad, and just a bit of Potato Sald

Booze: Two 1.75L Margarita mixes, 1L Bicardi Vanilla, 1L Smirnov Rasberry Vodka, 1L Watermelon Schnapps, ~2 cases of beer, and unknown quantities of miscellaneous booze used for shots.

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