Sunday, October 31, 2004

Happy Halloween

Mario and the Princess
Linzy and I went to a friend's costume - required Halloween party last night, as Mario and Princess Peach.

It was one of those awkward parties where you don't know anybody but the host, and everyone else knows each other. Still it was nice to see our friends, and we had an OK time. Amazingly we won 'best costume', so that was kind of cool.

The costumes were cobbled together the week before the party. Linzy's dress is borrowed, and my costume was a combination of garage sale polo-shirt, and the cheapest overalls that could be found. Actually even the cheapest overalls were surprising expensive. Apparently no one makes cheap bib overalls these days. They are all heavy-duty denim, geared towards someone who will be working in them, rather then someone who is only planning on wearing them once.

I originally tried to die a painters cap for my hat, but it came out sort-of orangey-pink, while the laundry tub came out distinctly pink. So we ended up getting a $1 Wall-mart hat instead. Linzy made the 'M' for the hat, and the mustache after a failed attempt on my part.

Overall I thought the costumes came out pretty good, although I felt bad for having stolen Gerard's idea. But it was an original idea as far as the people at this party were concerned.

Have a good Halloween!
Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

What about that restaurant?

My parents were over last night, and my Dad mentioned a funny story that I had forgotten about.

Several years ago my sister and her husband spent a year at Holden Village, a remote Lutheran retreat in the Cascade Mountains.

The village is pretty remote, the only way to get there is to take a several hour boat ride from Chelan to a drop-off for Holden. Then you take 6 miles of switchback trails through the mountains to get to the village. The boat only runs a few days a week (during the winter), and only at particular times, so you have to plan your trip somewhat carefully in order to make it out to Holden.

While Sarah and John were at Holden, my parents and I took a trip out for a week in November to visit them. We flew into Seattle, rented a car, drove to Chelan, and stayed overnight to catch the boat the next morning.

We got to Chelan somewhat late in the evening due to timings of flight, and the couple hour trip from Seattle to Chelan. So, after dropping off our bags at the house we were staying at, we went off in search of a restaurant to eat at.

Chelan is a pretty small town, especially during the winter. In fact, by the time we got into town virtual nothing was open. We drove around a bit and found a few resort restaurants that were already closed, and saw signs for a local family-owned Mexican restaurant, but that was about it. So we stopped at a local grocery store to ask about where to eat.

Us: Say, we are from out of town, we were wondering where we could get dinner around here?

Local: Hmm, I usually eat in Wenatchee [a somewhat bigger town about 30 minutes to the south]

Us: Oh...Do you live in Wenatchee?

Local: Nope, I've lived in Chelan for 26 years.

Us: Oh...But you drive to Wenatchee to eat? Ok. Well, what about that Mexican restaurant we saw signs for?

Local: Oh, I don't know, I've never eaten there.

So, this person lived in a town with approximately 6 restaurants (3 of which were closed all winter long), but they still wouldn't eat at the Mexican place. Instead, they would drive 30 minutes out of their way to Wenatchee for meals.

I have no idea what could possibly be so bad about the place, that in 26 years you never once would go "Maybe we should try that Mexican place today".

We weren't brave enough to tempt fate and find out; we drove to Wenatchee for dinner.

Read the whole post.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Warmer than Phoenix

It got to 77F here today, while it was about 67F in Phoenix, Arizona. Pretty insane for the end of October. Too bad it was all overcast, misty, and humid so you couldn't enjoy the warm weather.

A far cry from 1991, when we got 28.4 inches of snow on Halloween.

Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/29

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

Pink FloydThe Dark Side Of The Moon (7 tracks)
Pink FloydThe Division Bell (11 tracks)
Pink FloydThe Final Cut (12 tracks)
Pink FloydIs There Anybody Out There? (disc 1) (11 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Natural Gas Billing

It has been my experience that companies rarely do things out of the goodness of their hearts. That seems to particularly apply to any company that wants my money on a regular basis. Take for example, our natural gas company.

We use natural gas for heat, like most other suburban homes built (at least in this area) since the 70s. Since its Minnesota, and really cold during the winter, heating costs are rather expensive. You can choose to pay your bill a number of ways.

First, you could pay month-to-month based on your usage. This, of course, means you'll be paying hundreds of dollars a month during the winter and not much (if anything) during the summer. But you'll be paying exactly the amount you owe each month.

Or, you can choose the 'budget' plan which means that you pay a set amount each month, for 10 months a year (September-June) and then whatever is required to balance out your account in July and August. In the fall the gas company calculates what they think a good 'budget' amount is, and you pay that amount during the winter. In February or so, they recalculate to see if things look like they will be close and either increase or decrease the amount.

We use the budget plan. It helps even out the payments, and it doesn't really cost us anything. If the gas company miscalculates the budget amount and gives us a value too small, then they are eating the 'float' until we catch up during the summer. If they calculate and give us too high a value, then they have a little bit extra of our money, but we make up for it when things are recalculated in Feb and/or June. And in the past three years, we haven't had a too-small budget amount (that probably has more to do with the rising cost of natural gas, rather then the gas company trying to be nice).

Today we got a letter advertising the new 'No Surprise' plan. It might as well be called the 'Roll the Dice' plan. Basically, the gas company uses their magic powers of prognostication (perhaps polling Punxsutawney Phil?) to calculate a bill amount. You then pay this bill amount every month for 12 months. That's it. No recalculation, no nothing. If they 'calculated' too high, then you just paid extra. If they 'calculated' too low, then you saved money.

Now, what are the chances that I can guess better then the gas company how much the price of gas is going to fluctuate during the winter? Or how cold it is going to be in a given winter? What are the chances that they are going to round their estimates up, rather then down, when calculating the budget amount.

Sounds like some executive's plan for increasing profits, if you ask me.

An interesting thing is that the 'Roll the Dice' plan amount looks very close to our budget plan amount. Except that you have to pay for 12 months in the new plan, versus only 10 months in the old.

As it so happens, my budget plan was just calculated in September to be $61 a month (or ~$610 annually). The flyer a month later wants us to subscribe for 12 months at $64.58, or ~$775 annually). Those numbers aren't even close, its a 27% markup for the 'No Surprises' plan.

So, did they miscalculate in September, or in October? Interesting that the plan where they make out better if they overcharge is the one that costs 165 more a year.

For even more fun, I looked up our past bills. In 2001-2002, it cost $393 for heat from Nov-Apr (no budget plan because we moved in too late). In 2002-2003 it cost $580 for a year of heat. In 2003-2004, it cost $622 for a year of heat.

Sure looks like $610 is pretty close. I guess I'm not really surprised. I didn't figure that the gas company was trying to even out my monthly bill because they thought it would be nice for me to always pay the same amount.

Who is this plan a good deal for? Why, people who have invested all their spare cash into Campaign Dollars, of course.

Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/28

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

A Perfect CircleMer de Noms (6 tracks)
A Perfect CircleThirteenth Step (12 tracks)
Pink FloydAnimals (5 tracks)
Pink FloydThe Dark Side Of The Moon (3 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

10 minutes in the life of a dog toy

Showing the new toy who is boss.

Pippen's brand-new toy after ~5 minutes.

Get away, it is mine.

I'm just licking it, honest.

Pippen's new toy after ~10 minutes, on its way to the garbage. Money well spent.

Read the whole post.

Fantasy Football: 10/23

After the miraculous come-from-behind victory last week against the #3 team in the league, the Arena Football All-Stars were feeling pretty confident going into a game against Brenden's 7th place ZeroPoints fantasy football squad.

There's nothing like a 'sure-win' game to really let your team embarres itself.

In their single worst performance all season, the AFAS put a disgustingly small 62.2 points, losing by a full 27 points. Brenden was kind enough to wait till Tuesday to send the requisite gloating e-mail.

In my defense (and it is a feeble defense at best), It would have been much closer if Priest Holmes had produced a more typical 15-20 points, rather then 40 (!) points.

On the other hand, if he hadn't of left the game in the third quarter with a tweaked ankle, it could have been even more of a blood-bath (his backup also scored 4 rushing touchdowns).

The long slide into mediocrity has begun.

Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Deals for Suckers

So, a little follow up to my post a few days back about the United States Monetary Exchange rip-off dollar bill deal. Amazingly enough, I underestimated the amount of greed involved for whoever is running the thing.

Aparently there was an actual 'first order' of the bills, as I found this article from back in September talking about basically the same ad I saw on Sunday.

Except the deal now is actually worse (if you can be worse then paying more then face value for money, just because it has a picture of a presidential candidate glued to it). The original time it ran, it was for $2 bills, not $1 bills. The price however, is the same. So now you are paying $9 for 5 $1 bills, instead of for 5 $2 bills.

Ahh, I can hear what you are thinking.

Aren't those 5 two-dollar bills worth $10? So wouldn't I actually be coming out ahead?

Before you sign that check, consider that little 'processing fee' tacked on to each order to compensate our friends at the non-government-affiliated USME for all their hard work with glue sticks and black and white pictures. The shipping & handling fee is an outrageous $5.58, bringing your total bill to $14.58 for $5 worth of bills.

There must be gold in them thar glue sticks. Or at least some powerful fumes.

I still can't believe anyone would buy these things. But I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, is ordering up a different colored Porsche for each day of the week with his profits from this deal.

Read the whole post.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Video Games: Castlvania SoTN

I finished Castlevania: Symphony of the Night a couple days ago. It was quite a fun game, I enjoyed it a lot.

... ...

The graphics were decent enough, they were nothing special (being a PSOne game and all), but there was a definite 'feel' to the graphics and they lent a nice atmosphere to the castle.

The game play was the tried and true Castlevania gameplay. That is, run around slashing at candles and enemiess, picking up hearts and special weapons along the way. You do have an inventory system, and a number of different types of armour and swords you can use. So that added a bit of strategy to the game, although for the most part you just equip whatever gives you the highest stats.

There is also a relic system where you pick up special items through-out the course of the game which give you special powers (like being able to turn into a bat, or a mist cloud, or do a double jump). For the most part the relics are there to grant you abilities so that you can get to different parts of the castle which were previously inaccessible. Very standard Castlevania.

In a lot of ways the game reminded me of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for Gameboy Advance. Which technically came out after SoTN, but I played it first. There was no silly card magic system in SoTN however, which was a good thing.

Initially I thought the music score was very good, but by the end of the game I was a bit tired of it. There are different songs for each area, so initially there is a lot of variety. But, by the end of the game, on your 40th trip through the marble gallery, you're kind of sick of that song.

I finished the game with 194.6%, out of a possible 200.6% (according to GameFaqs). So I saw pretty much everything there was to see, including 3 of the 4 endings (I skipped only the one where you have to beat the game with less then 176% complete). And there-in lies my main complaints with the game.

First, it was pretty short. It only took about 2 weeks to finish the game, taking time to get every little thing and leveling up my guy all the time. My total gameplay time was like 9.5 hours or something. So really not very long. Now in my case, I only paid $12 bucks for it used, so its not that big of a deal. But I was hoping for something a bit longer.

My second complaint was lack of variety. The whole >100% completion is because you play through the first castle, and assuming you finish the last battle correctly, you go on to a second 'dark' castle. I was all excited to be able to explore another castle and I was hoping for lots of new abilities, items, and enemies. Instead, the second castle is just the first castle upside down. Literally. And while there are new enemies, there are not any significant special ability items.

So basically you are free to go wherever you want in the second castle right from the get go, and you have no purpose except to level up your guy and collect 5 items to open the door to the last battle. It seemed like a cheap way to lengthen the game. I would rather have seen some more original gameplay.

Anyways, the game was still lots of fun, and well worth playing. I was just disapointed it was over so quickly.

Now I am playing Grand Theft Auto III, which has been in my stack of unplayed games for quite a while. When it originally came out, I didn't own a PS2, so I only ever played it for short periods at other people's houses. By the time I got a PS2, GTA: Vice City was just coming out, so I got that instead. I've played Vice City a lot, and enjoyed it. So I thought it would be fun to go back to the original GTA for the PS2 and play that. Especially given that I won't be playing GTA: San Andreas any time soon.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Today's Sign Of The Apocalypse

Today in the Star Tribune's comics section there was a half-page ad for Campaign Dollars. What are Campaign Dollars, you might ask?

Well, they are $1 dollar bills with either George Bush or John Kerry's picture pasted over George Washington's face. Its not even a novelty bill, its an actual dollar bill.

The ad goes on and on about how collectible these stupid things are. Comparing them to a Teddy Roosevelt campaign button worth a supposed $3,000.

In fact, demand for these dollars is 'jamming' National Hot Line phones, and the United States Monetary Exchange (note, that is the company name, not the actual US Government) was forced to issue a second release to accommodate all the requests for these hot items. To prevent hoarding, dealers must submit in writing requests for 10 or more banded packs of dollars. The ad makes special mention that even items for 'losing candidates' become valuable, pointing out the 'Dewey Wins' papers of old. It, not surprisingly, doesn't mention that those papers are valuable because they were actually printed with the wrong results.

How much do these terrific collectors items cost? Well, they are sold in packs of 5 dollars, for $9 plus shipping & handling. Yep, apparently people are stupid enough to pay $13 (assuming $4 shipping, it doesn't say) for $5.

Even funnier is that it gives supposed percentages of requests for the various candidate dollars. So you can judge for yourself whose supporters are in fact dumber.

Bush - 53.1%
Kerry - 46.9%

Of course, it might be skewed by people buying against who they like, to try and buy the 'loser' dollars. But then again, would a person spending $13 for 5 dollar bills think that through?

People will buy anything, I guess.

[ Update: More information here ]
Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Axl Rose + GTA: San Andreas

I saw here (via Blabbermouth) that apparently Axl Rose was able to find time to tear himself away from the 13 year saga of recording Chinese Democracy to record the voice of one of the DJs in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

I listened to the sample in the soundtracks section (button 4). It sounds like Axl, I guess. But it is hard to tell.

On a side note, I'm sort of disapointed with myself that I couldn't resist going over to the site and seeing if it was really him. I mean, I shouldn't care, but it just sounded too wierd to be true.

So why would Axl do it? I suppose he heard LT and Jenna in GTA: Vice City and was jealous that he wasn't in a hip video game.
Read the whole post.

Books: Cosmos

Well, I finally battled my way through Cosmos. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting.

I knew full well that it was a science book, rather then any sort of fiction book. But I guess I was expecting something a bit more challenging. On my book, this was one of the quotes on the back copy:

Brilliant in its scope and provocative in its suggestions. It shimmers with a sense of wonder....I seriously doubt if anyone can casually pick up this book without being riveted by it and then humbled by it. Miami Herald

The other quotes are similar. So I was kind of expecting a hard core science book talking about all sorts of things so that I would feel like I really learned a lot by battling through it. Sort of what I imagine A Brief History of Time to be like.

Anyways, Cosmos was certainly a science book, but it wasn't as deep as I was expecting. Instead it touched on the surface of a lot of topics, and spent a lot of time giving history of various things. That was interesting, just not quite what I was expecting.

The writing style was fine, pretty good when you consider what a dry subject it could have been. My main complaints numbered two.

First, Carl Sagan spent a lot of time whining about how it was only a matter of time before we blew up the whole world with our nuclear weapons. Now, granted the book was written when the cold war was much closer to its peak (although by 1980, I would think it was starting to thaw a bit). But page after page was devoted to the horror of nuclear weapons and calculating the odds that we destroy ourselves before being able to serious explore other planets, etc, etc. Eventually I felt like he was repeating himself.

Second, Carl Sagan was (apparently) a devout Atheist. I guess that isn't too suprising for a high profile scientist. And granted the Big Bang theory doesn't lend itself to spiritual creation theories. But there was some religion stuff that I thought could have been skipped over.

Still, the book was interesting and worth reading. I was just dissapointed that I didn't feel like I learned all that much after taking the time to read a 'real' book instead of the usual fiction.

Next, I'm headed back to the usual type of book, with Ship of Magic.

Read the whole post.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Video Games: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I try not to get too excited about games that are coming out way in the future. For one thing, I refuse to pay full-price for brand new games. So, if I have to wait to get it when it hits the bargain bin, there isn't much reason to sit at the computer drooling and compulsively reloading the game's website looking for new information.

Another reason is that lots of games look good in screenshots. Fewer actually translate those shiny graphics into fun gameplay. And a lot of times, publishers promise the world, and then can't quite deliver by the time the game comes out.

However, today I was checking out the pictures of the latest game in the Elder Scrolls series. They look pretty dang good. I can just imagine traipsing through that forest on some quest, and getting attacked by some vicious creature. Or approaching that huge cathedral, to explore it.

One thing Morrowind certainly did right, was provide a huge sense of scale. The world was immense, and you could do whatever you dang well pleased. Oh, it certainly had it's issues (the journal/quest system, and the sometimes endless journeys from one part of the world to another), but it was a very fun game.

I hope Elder Scrolls IV lives up to its hype.
Read the whole post.

A good job, if you can get it

Did you see that the outgoing K-Mart CEO is getting $90 million in stock options? He was CEO for all of 10 months.

But the compensation is fair because he got them out of bankruptcy, says the corporate shill Ulysses Yannas.

Except when you look at what actually happened, Julius Day just closed the poorest performing 600 stores and kicked 57,000 employees to the curb. Of course that was going to stop the hemorraging.

How hard was it to look at a list of stores, and pick out the ones that made the least profit last year? If there was any midnight oil being burned, it was just in planning how to build a Scrooge McDuck piggy bank, so he could swim through his bonus money.

A good job, if you can get it, I guess...
Read the whole post.

Fun Fact For The Day

So, you are probably aware that George Steinbrenner is the owner of the Yankees. He fronted a group of people who bought the Yankees in 1973 for $10 million.

But, did you know that his original cash outlay was only $157,000?

Now that team (plus its associated cable deals and merchandizing rights) is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Pretty amazing that you can invest $157,000 and turn it into a billion.

Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Ricky Williams

I was amused today to read this article on Ricky Williams and his new found desire to play football again.

It amuses me that it only comes out now, after he lost his case and is on the hook to repay 8.6 million to the Dolphins, that he didn't really want to retire, he just disagreed with the NFLs drug testing.

That is why he was traveling the world, and talking about failing 3 drug tests earlier this year. Because he really wanted to be playing football, he just got confused about his eligibility.

Yeah right.

teammates might put up with the stupidity of the Onterrio Smith's of the world, but he didn't abruptly retire two weeks before the season started. I can't imagine too many players are looking forward to having Ricky join the team.

Not that I am saying no one will pick him up. Teams are always willing to give a star another chance. Just look at Darryl Strawberry
Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Restaurant Watch

At work during lunch, they have the TVs (normally for use in broadcasting rah-rah meetings to employees) tuned to the news. One of the stations has a feature once a week called 'Restaurant Watch'. They pull inspection reports from local restaurants and report on which places have the most violations.

For me, it's one of those things that I probably would be better off not knowing about, but yet I can never stop watching. Normally they stick to restaurants up in the north-west part of the Twin Cities, and the worst offenders tend to be smaller mom and pop shops (particularly Asian buffets for some reason). So usually I can breathe a sigh of relief and say 'Well, I've never eaten there'.

This week, they happened to review the inspection reports for establishments in Dakota County, the county I live and work in. Even worse, I know I have eaten at two of the places, "El Tequila" and the "Mandarin Buffet". Both are in Apple Valley and just a couple miles from my house. El Tequila just opened this summer, but the Mandarin Buffet has been around for longer.

What is really scary is that after the July inspection, Mandarin Buffet didn't bother to fix everything. They still had two of the same violations during a follow-up inspection in August. I mean, wouldn't you take that inspection report and fix up whatever was on it right away? That way when they come back, they might find something else, but at least it won't be the same things. Maybe they don't care? I guess I won't be eating there anymore (I've only been there once that I can recall).

I wish they listed all the violations, because the only one listed for El Tequila is that employees were using a three-compartment sink to wash their hands. I guess that could be worse, because at least people were washing their hands at all. There is no description of the other 8 violations, and usually they like to list the most horrible ones like 'Refrigerators running at 55 degrees, instead of 32', or 'Chicken served at 98 degrees'.

At least I've only been to El Tequila twice, and wasn't all that impressed with their food. The other two local mom & pop Mexican restaurants (Teresa's and El Azteca) were better, and hopefully somewhat less disease ridden. So I don't think I'll have any reason to go back to El Tequila now.

If you want an excuse never to eat out again, check out these other Restaurant Watch articles on the Channel 5 site:

Dakota County
Hennepin County - Including a mixer dripping "toxic greenish-black oil"!
Carver County
Richfield - Including raw eggs stored at 72 degrees, and one place using a single-speed drill for mixing pizza sauce.
Scott County

I couldn't find any of the older ones that they have shown on TV, where places were serving WAY raw chicken, smoking in the kitchen, leaving buffet food out overnight, and just about every other disgusting thing you can imagine.

Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fantasy Football: 10/16

My fantasy football team, the Arena Football All-Stars, continues to hang on by the skin of it's teeth. Despite being decimated by injuries, I've hung onto 2nd place in the league at 5 wins and 1 loss. I'm actually tied for first in wins, but I've scored (significantly) less points overall, so I get bumped to second.

This week was interesting because once again my roster was stretched pretty thin due to bye-weeks and injuries. I played the third place team and had pretty much written off the week as a loss. This was reinforced when I checked on some of my players on Sunday, only to discover some pretty ugly numbers.

Checking back on Monday morning to see the scores had me losing 78.75 to 96.95, with one player on my team in the Monday night game. We play in a 'points-for-everything' league. If your player gets on the field long enough to get a grass stain on his pants, you are probably going to get some points for it. But, an 18.2 point defecit was pretty steep to try and make up with one player (who has been a bit cold the last few weeks).

I jokingly told Linzy that all it would take is two touchdowns and 150 yards receiving, and I would come out ahead. I've told her this any number of times before, and never come out a winner based on Monday night players. This time, I purposely didn't watch the game, because everytime I have ever done that, its like my player has suddenly disappeared.

So I had no idea what to expect this morning when I cracked open the paper to check out the box score. To my shock, Torry Holt tore it up, with 2 touchdowns and 124 yards receiving! That turned out to be 24.4 points, swinging my 18.2 point loss to a 6.2 point win.

So, for one week longer, the Arena Football All-Stars are tied for first. Next week, I play Brenden's team, ZeroPoints, currently sitting at 2 and 4. We'll see how it goes.
Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/19

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

Ozzy OsbourneLive & Loud (Disk 1) (6 tracks)
Ozzy OsbourneLive & Loud (Disk 2) (9 tracks)
PanteraVulgar Display Of Power (11 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Monday, October 18, 2004

tlist.exe substitute

This probably falls into the 'Only of interest to me' category, but what the heck.

If you've ever used a Windows NT or 2000 system with the Resource Kit installed, you are probably familiar with a utility called tlist.exe. Its a pretty simple utility that lets you list active processes on a Windows system, list the processes in tree view, and list information specific to a single process (like command-line).

It was removed as of Windows XP, as it was replaced with tasklist.exe. That is all fine and good, except tasklist is missing critical functionality (for me anyway), specifically the heirarchical view of processes and the ability to get the command-line of a process.

This information is available from lots of other tools, which would be fine, except that I haven't found any that work on IA64 systems, and/or from the command line.

So tonight I whipped up a simple replacement in C# that replicates the functionality of tlist.exe that is not available in tasklist. It's nothing special, but works well for me.

Now you can use it too, if you would like. The package is available here.

[ Thanks to this page for instructions on how to target the .Net 1.1 framework from VS Studio 2005 Beta 1. ]
Read the whole post.

Les Miserables

You might be wondering what the heck Les Miserables was doing on the daily music update today.

Regrettably (for you), it's not that exciting of a story, but I'll explain anyways.

Long ago, when Sarah and I were kids, it used to be tradition that my Mom would buy several of the hardest puzzle she could find for us for Christmas. We would always work on these puzzles during Christmas break, when everyone was home (Dad always took those weeks off work).

On year, my dad got that 3 cd Les Mis set for Christmas. Back then, we had just gotten a CD player, so we didn't have very many CDs. Thus we ended up listening to Les Mis, a lot.

Initially, there was lots of whining (mainly from me, not so much Sarah). As the years went by, we always had to listen to Les Mis while doing the puzzles (it was tradition!), and it started to grow on me. So a while back I picked up the same 3-cd set mainly for nostalgia purposes. That set happens to be an international all-star cast, so in terms of Les Mis performances, it's pretty good.

So there you have it, the explanation for having CDs from a musical, in amongst all the Jay-Z and Metallica.
Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/18

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

Oasis(What's The Story) Morning Glory (6 tracks)
The OffspringAmericana (11 tracks)
The OffspringSmash (14 tracks)
VariousLes Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Recording - Disc 1 (12 tracks)
VariousLes Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Recording - Disc 2 (19 tracks)
VariousLes Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Recording - Disc 3 (14 tracks)
Ozzy OsbourneLive & Loud (Disk 1) (4 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Movies: Shaun of the Dead

Linzy, Gerard, Dan O, Kelli, Jim, and I all went to see Shaun of the Dead last night. Gerard and Jim had already seen it, and were talking it up. The rest of us were not all that enthused about it. Myself, I figured that was good, because it meant my expectations would be low.

Regrettably, I was still disappointed. The movie gets amazingly great reviews, and with Gerard going on and on about what a great movie it was, I was starting to think 'Oh, this will be a good movie'. And it wasn't bad, but it really didn't grab me. I think the humor was a little too British, even for me (and I normally like low-key humor).

The movie had its moments, but, as I kind of feared, there weren't enough of them to keep things moving.

Perhaps in a different mood, I would have liked it more, but I think I was looking for something a little more fast paced.

Linzy and Kelli didn't like it at all, so I don't think Gerard will be picking the movie the next time Dan and Kelli come to town..
Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Dan's Birthday Party

Linzy and I went over to Dan P.'s townhouse last night for his birthday party. Actually, it wasn't really a birthday party, per-se, it was more just an excuse to get together. We did bring him a card and a cake though, so I'll call it a birthday party.

I had a good time. There weren't a ton of people, but enough to keep things interesting. Plus Dan O. and Kelli were up visiting from Iowa, so it was cool to see them. Everyone basically just hung out, watched some movies and played a game (Catch Phrase).

The movies we watched were just the ones that happened to be on HBO that night, and were basically just on in the background. The first one was Half Past Dead. It starred a very old-looking Steven Seagal. I'd tell you it was bad, but that would be redundant, given my previous sentence. If you had any doubt as to its suck-level, check out the cast list on imdb: Steven Seagal, Ja Rule and Nina Peeples, and a character whose name is only 'Bad Ass Guard'. I rest my case.

The other movie was Matchstick Men, which I have seen parts of previously. This time I ended up watching just the very end, and was disappointed because I saw the big 'twist' at the end, and now there is no point in watching the whole movie. It looked like it could have been good, too. Oh well.

Really disappointingly bad pictures from the party are available here.

Read the whole post.

Dan's Birthday Party Pictures

Linzy, Dan, Dan, Kelli, and Vanessa.

Tony, Gerard, Mike, Tristan, Dan, Kelli, and Linzy.

Linzy, Dan, and Jackie, setting up Catch Phrase.

Mike, Dan, Me, and Gerard watching the end of Matchstick Men.

Read the whole post.

Friday, October 15, 2004

WMP: CD Burning

The moral of today's story is keep your expectations low.

Today, I thought for sure I had found the solution to my Windows Media Player 10 CD burning woes. While checking out a newsgroup for Windows Media Connect, I stumbled on a post that looked good. It was from someone at Microsoft, it had a number of links pointing to information that looked reasonable, and said that cd-burning was becoming a frequent question for WMP 10 (imagine that, since it doesn't work).

One of the links was to this knowledge base article, that sounded exactly like what I needed. I knew Windows wasn't detecting the drive as a CD burner, and figured that made it unlikely WMP was going to do any better.

When I got a chance tonight, I was all ready to go do some registry editing, and put this cd-burning problem to bed. I followed the instructions, and things looked good at first. Windows showed the drive as a recordable drive, but it only offered up burning options of a blistering 1x, and 'fastest'. Although I suppose it is possible that fastest would somehow magically translate into the 32x my cd-burner is capable of, I was doubting it. Undaunted, I fired up Media Player, expecting to now have the ever elusive 'burn a cd in 80 minutes' option available. No Luck.

Still thinking positively, I thought perhaps I needed to reboot to let it detect the power of this fully-operational dvd burner. A couple minutes later, no luck.

So now I was reduced to searching the Intarweb looking for any potential solution. Looking through the Windows Media newsgroups, it is ridiculous how many people are having cd-burning problems with WMP 10. Why isn't anyone fixing these problems?

The official knowledge base article on 'troubleshooting' cd-burning is laughable. Most of the article basically implies the user is doing something wrong:

1) The recordable CD drive may not be connected.

Uhh, nope, its connected.

2) A blank disk may not be in the recordable CD drive.
Nope, there's one in there.

3) Another program may be using the recordable CD drive.
That might be, since everyone but you can use the drive just fine, but nope, you're the only thing running.

4) You are trying to burn too fast, try a slower speed
Nope, actually, I don't even get the option to burn, and when I do its at 1x. If my 3.2Ghz w/ 1G of ram computer can't keep up with 1x burning we have a problem.

5) You're not using a Microsoft Supported Drive
Nope, actually, its on the hardward compatibility list right here.

7) Try burning other files.
Hmm, yeah, I'm pretty sure the fact you can't detect my drive is because of the files I'm trying to burn. Next.

8) You are using low-quality media (you cheap bastard).
Hey, you aren't even trying to burn, see answer 4. It's not polite to insult media you've never even met.

9) Try uninstalling the driver, and reinstalling it
Tried it, didn't work. Tried looking on Windows Update for new drivers, and it couldn't 'find a better match'.

Personally I didn't see a single option on there that even remotely involved Windows Media Player. Surely there has to be at least a little code in their product related to cd-burning that could, just maybe, be at fault? Why isn't there a -debugdeviceinfo option or something that prints out a list of devices and why they were not chosen for burning.

Is cd-burning so embedded in the OS that WMP has no control whatsoever on it? If so, why does the OS let me burn CDs (at 1x, but still), but WMP doesn't?

The frustrating part about all this is not so much that I can't burn CDs in WMP, after all Nero works just fine, but that I was sure this was going to fix the problem. My expectations were high, I envisioned cd after glorious cd filled with audio perfection rolling out of my drive, All without having to hunt around the hard drives trying to find where I might have chosen to store that one CD I ripped.

Instead, my hopes were dashed.

And that, kids, is why you should always keep your expectations low.

Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/15

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

Nine Inch NailsThe Fragile - Left (10 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsThe Fragile - Right (11 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsFurther Down the Spiral (11 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsHalo 03 - Head Like a Hole (10 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsStill (9 tracks)
No DoubtTragic Kingdom (14 tracks)
Oasis(What's the Story) Morning Glory? (6 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Word of the day - Chisler

I was watching Gangs of New York tonight and there was a scene where Leonardo DeCaprio gets in a fight with another character. The other character (I started watching in the middle, so I don't know what his name was) calls Leonardo something or other that Leo had never heard. Leo goes:

I don't know what that means, so I don't know if I should be insulted or not. Now if you had called me a Chisler, then we would have business. Are you calling me a Chisler?

What the heck is a chisler? Google couldn't tell me exactly, I suppose because it is period slang.

According to a Dublin slang site, it is a 'Child or Boy'.
According to a Brooklyn slang site, it is synonymous with cheat (it's actually used in the definition of Skive).

Either could apply, since Gangs of New York is obviously set in New York, and Leonardo's character is young and Irish.

So I'll go with Chisler being a young cheat.

I bet you can't work it into conversation tomorrow.

[ Update: Sarah pointed out that according to her fancy editor's dictionary 'to chisel someone' means "to swindle or obtain by swindling; cheat.". ]

Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/14

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

The MisfitsThe Misfits (5 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsAnd All That Could Have Been (16 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral (14 tracks)
Nine Inch NailsThe Fragile - Left (2 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

We're doing it for the kids

I was amused today to see this Sam Raimi quote linked on Shacknews. Basically he comes right out and admits about Spiderman 2.5 what people suspect about a lot of the re-releases of movies on DVDs in different editions: That they are just doing it for the money.

I was shocked, shocked I say!

For the record, I enjoyed Spiderman 2, but certainly not enough to buy two versions of it on DVD 6 months apart.
Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/13

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

MetallicaMetallica (Black Album) (10 tracks)
MetallicaRide the Lightning (8 tracks)
MetallicaS&M (Disc 1) (11 tracks)
MetallicaS&M (Disc 2) (10 tracks)
The Mighty Mighty BosstonesLet's Face It (12 tracks)
MinistryPsalm 69 (9 tracks)
The MisfitsLegacy of Brutality (12 tracks)
The MisfitsThe Misfits (15 tracks)

Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Microsoft Money

Linzy and I use Microsoft Money 2004 for balancing the checkbook, paying bills, and keeping track of where all the money goes. Its not the best program in the world, but it works just fine.

I've been using the product since around Money 95 (I don't recall if that is what it was called at that point). I haven't bought every year's upgrade, but I've bought most of them. The really twisted part about the upgrade cycle is that I end up more eager for a new version the worse the present year's version is.

For example Money 2003 was a steaming pile of crap. It crashed all the time, sometimes taking data with it, sometimes not. You couldn't use the 'Internet Updates' button on the main page, or it would crash every time. If you used the 'Internet Updates' button on the Portfolio page, then it would only crash maybe 10% of the time. Whenever you entered a paycheck that differed from the saved 'normal' amounts, it always offered to make the 'normal' amount match what your most recent paycheck was for. God help you if you clicked 'yes', because then suddenly the cash flow forecaster no longer worked, and the bills page would crash whenever you tried to enter it. I even tried filing bugs and support requests for these things. Originally I had a slim hope that I might be able to get a fix, since it was 100% reproducible. But, alas the best I could get was a 'salvage' tool that supposedly fixed bad Money files. Yep, that's right, blame the user for being a loyal customer and converting his file year after year. When the salvage tool didn't work (I was shocked, shocked I say, when it didn't), their solution was to start a new money file. That was hardly a solution, since I had spent 7 years compiling all this information into their program, I didn't want to start over.

So, the next fall there I was, first in line for Money 2004 hoping that if I offered another $40 up to help keep BillG at the top of the Forbes list, I might get a personal finance program that would actually work. Now, before you scoff at why I would continue with a somewhat sub-par software system, I seriously considered switching to Quicken for 2004, but it turned out to be significantly more expensive (I think it was like $60-70 for a similar version). So I stuck with the relatively known (and cheaper) Money line of products. And for the record, Money 2004 seems to be reasonably good. Compared to Money 2003, it is practically bullet-proof. Oh, it still crashes (after all they have to protect next years upgrade), but with much less frequency and regularity then the previous years software.

So, given that the worse their software is the more likely I am to have to upgrade, why must I endure endless pop-up ads using a program I paid good money for?

Since about Money 2002, apparently it has become acceptable to pop-up ads for the next version of Money, or for Tax software, or whatever else they think they can milk me for. I mean, I bought this software! Its not like it is a free ad-supported version I downloaded off the internet. Why should I have be bombarded with ads extolling the somewhat slim-looking list of changes in the next version of Money. If you really want me to upgrade, just stop fixing all those bugs I report.

If anything, all these pop-up ads make me less likely to upgrade. Especially when the current version is working (more or less), and the new version is having problems.

Read the whole post.

Daily Music Update 10/12

What is this? - Yesterday's List - Legend

MetallicaGarage Inc. (Disc 1) (7 tracks)
MetallicaGarage Inc. (Disc 2) (16 tracks)
MetallicaLoad (14 tracks)
MetallicaMaster of Puppets (8 tracks)

Read the whole post.