Thursday, March 31, 2005

Hip Hop Ice

The Hip Hop Ice site makes me laugh, as does their section of Amazon.

I mean, they sell things with names like "G Unit Floating 50 Cent Iced Out Red Mens Watch Bling" and "D Initial Rose Gold Look Pendant w/30" Chain Bling" all for $25.59.

And, for extra amusment, according to their company info they are located in the heart of Hip-Hop: Omaha, Nebraska.

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The Florida Trip: Universal Studios

Last week, after we spent two days at Disney World, we moved on to the Universal Studios parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.


Universal Studios

It has been a long time since I was at Universal Studios, probably close to 12 years. The Universal Studios section of the park seemed very similar to what I remembered, other then the entrance was completely reworked to include a massive four level parking ramp and "City Walk" area that is a lot like Downtown Disney (shops, restaurants and nightclubs). The core rides were still present, but they have added or replaced a surprising number of the rides. One nice thing about Universal is the near ubiquitous Express Pass, which makes getting on most of the rides a cinch. Especially because they don't have the crowds of a Disney park.

We rode basically everything at Universal Studios, including: The Mummy, Earthquake, Twister, Men in Black, Back to the Future, Jaws, as well as watching the Terminator 2 movie.

The Mummy is the newest ride, and was my favorite of the day. The building and lead-up to the ride was elaborate, and the ride itself was pretty decent. It was a strange sort of combination simulation ride with a hint of a rollercoaster, with some 'scare you' stuff thrown in for good measure. The brochure calls it the world's first psychological thrill ride. That's marketing for you, I guess.

The Back to the Future ride, which was my favorite ride the last time I was there is dangerously close to showing its age. The massive screen technique for a simulator ride was OK, but not nearly as impressive as it was 12 years ago when there wasn't anything else like it. Now it seemed to be eclipsed by even more elaborate rides like Mission to Mars at Disney, or even the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure. It was still fun, but it probably won't be the next time I go to Universal.

The worst ride in my opinion was probably a tie between Twister and Earthquake. I've been on Earthquake before, so I knew full well what to expect. The bigger disappointment was the Twister ride, which isn't much a ride, more of a 'stand there and watch a staged fake tornado' thing. The various warning signs built it up to be this intense action sequence, but it really didn't do much for me. It was just too detatched to be standing there watching something happen on a sound stage in front of me. On the other hand, my Mom really liked it, so your mileage might vary.

One disappointment was that the Shrek 4D movie didn't have Express Pass, and sported stupidly long 90 minute waits pretty much all day long when we were there. I would have liked to see it, but wasn't willing to wait that long. We were even planning to go back early one morning and wait if the line was closer to 45 minutes, but were dissuaded by huge crowds stampeding into Islands of Adventure, making us nervous about missing out on rides there.

Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is a more traditional amusement park, along the lines of a Six Flags/Great America, featuring mostly roller coasters, flume rides, power towers and the like. The walking area of IoA is about the size of walking area at Six Flags in Chicago, but the park doesn't feature quite as many rides as Six Flags over Chicago. It has two or three roller coasters depending on how you count (The Dueling Dragons coaster has two separate and distinct tracks). IoA also has two flume rides, a power tower (Dr. Doom's Fear Fall), a river raft ride, a simulator ride (Spiderman), and a host of miscellaneous rides.

We rode The Hulk coaster, the 'Fire' side of the Dueling Dragons, the Spiderman ride, the Fear Fall, the Jurrasic Park flume ride, and went on Poseidon's Fury.

The Fear Fall ride was a bit of a disappointment, as it wasn't as tall as the power tower ride at the local Valleyfair amusement park, and other then the initial launch didn't even get you moving very fast.

The Spiderman ride was a long wait to get on, but was very well done. It uses a giant screen and open-top car technique like Back to the Future, but is much more smoothly done. Plus the car actually moves through the ride from screen to screen, and they use 3D movie effects, so it is very convincing.

The two coasters we went on were very cool. The Hulk coaster was one of the best above-the-track coasters I have been on, with a lot of exciting twists, turns and loops. The 'Fire' coaster was an under-the-track variety which are probably my favorite type. There is just something about having your feet flying out into the clear blue sky on a loop that I think is cool.

Poseidon's Fury win the dubious honor of being the worst attraction I have ever seen at any major amusement park. It was mind bogglingly bad, and completely unexpected because the building and surrounding architecture was extremely elaborate and impressive looking. Once we got inside, Poseidon's Fury turned out not to be any sort of ride, but an acted play that made the Great Movie ride look like an oscar winner. After the first couple rooms, and a walk through a kind of cool water tunnel I kept expecting that now we would get into a car and go on the actual ride. Instead, they just kept throwing more and more terrible acting and silly movie clips at us. The absolute worst moment was the climactic 'battle' between Poseidon and Darkanon, which turned out to be two blurry guys in terrible costumes projected onto big movie screens.

Overall, the Universal parks are clearly second-tier theme parks, at least as the ones in Orlando go. They just can't compete with the seamless experience provided by Disney World. As an example, at Universal they make you rent lockers outside of each ride to store any backpacks you might have with. They don't charge for the lockers, but they make you go through a clumsy fingerprint reader interface to reserve a locker. When you get out of the ride, then you have remember your four digit locker code and go through another set of screens to unlock it again. The catch is that one screen controls about 25 lockers, and no others. So when it is crowded those screens get long lines of people trying to figure out how to scan their finger twice, how to get their locker unlocked, trying to remember which one they used, etc. The end result is that you spend a significant amount of time in line just to store and retrieve your stuff. Disney just builds storage areas into each car and saves all the hassle. Obviously that isn't possible for the rollercoasters, but there was no excuse for it on the simulator rides.

Another example is the pricing at Universal. While their tickets are a bit cheaper then Disney World (~$50 a day versus ~$60), everything else is gouged to make up the difference. For example, parking is a dollar more, and food is a lot more. While they have more food choices, it was around 5-7 dollars more per lunch meal for 2 people. Similarly a 20oz bottle of pop that was $2 a Disney was $2.66 at Universal because they price it 49 cents more plus charge tax.

All in all it just combined to give me the impression of a tourist trap, that tries to lure you in with their lower prices only to stick it to you once you are in the door.

That is not to say that we didn't have fun there, we certainly did. I particularly liked the newer rides at Islands of Adventure, and the latest ride at Universal Studios. Both parks could probably be done in a single long day, if the crowds were just a little lighter then when we were there. The day we were at Universal Studios, we had ridden basically everything by about 2pm, and were done with Islands of Adventure by 3:30pm. A little lighter crowds, and better knowledge of which rides could have been skipped and we easily could have seen both parks.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Easy to Please

Some days it doesn't take much to keep me happy.

On Monday it was like 65 and sunny out, and since I had the day off work I decided to wash my car. Despite this seeming burst of inspiration, I am still a lazy car washer at heart, and decided that I wanted to be able to use a spray attachment on the hose to rinse down the car. Alas our $2 plastic spray nozzle went to the big lawn in the sky last year, so I decided I would head over to Target and get a new one.

On the way there, I invented needs for two other car-washing items: a new sponge that would be much softer then the current one, and some car washing soap since I had a lot of salt on the car.

Upon arriving at Target (and making a quick check of their bargain video games), I went back to the car section.

Since it was still March, and this is Minnesota, a good percentage of the product in the car wash aisle was on clearance. Amazingly enough, this included the same spray nozzles which just two aisles over they had started stocking at full price in preparation for spring.

So I got a fancy-lad spray nozzle with a textured rubber handle and ten unnecessary spray types, along with a super jumbo jug of very nice car wash soap for around half price. Throw in the fact that chenille car washing sponges were only $3 and I walked out of there spending a lot less then I was planning on having to spend.

After spending a week at Orlando theme parks, it made me pretty happy to feel like I was getting a deal on something.

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The Florida Trip: Walt Disney World (Part 2)

[ Part 1 can be found here ]

On Tuesday during our trip to Orlando we spent the entire day at Epcot Center, my favorite of the Disney parks. The park was definitely the most crowded we were at all week, but we were still able to see most everything by taking careful advantage of FastPass tickets and knowing which rides were unlikely to be crowded.

At Epcot we went on the Test Track, Mission to Mars, and World of Energy rides, saw the O Canada and Impressions de France movies and the American history show. We also ate dinner at the mediocre Italian restaurant and wasted several hours in the morning waiting in line for Test Track only to have it break down over and over, making us eventually get out of line in disgust.

Mission to Mars was a new ride, and quite cool. It featured a crazy space simulator ride where you felt the G-forces of a takeoff and landing (well, likely reduced G-forces compared to the real thing) and get a thrown all over the place during the course of the rest of the ride. Anything that warns you about 5 or 6 times that if you suffer from motion sickness you should opt out of the ride is going to be cool, in my book.

The World of Energy ride is definitely showing its age. The various movie parts recorded with Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy are funny, but the animatronic dinosaurs are looking pretty bad. Still, it was my favorite ride when I was a kid (I loved dinosaurs), so it has a soft spot in my heart.

What is amazing about the fairly bad animatronics of the World of Energy ride is that the American History show (which was built approximately at the same time as far as I am aware) has such amazing animatronics. The historical figures look and move pretty realistically, but yet the best they could manage for most of the dinosaurs was to wiggle the head around a bit, letting the rubber skin bunch up and look silly on the neck.

Still, the Test Track ride won out for 'worst ride of the day' honors, mostly due to its completely unreliable operation and the resultant stupid-long lines. When we got in line in the morning, they were claiming a 35 minute wait in the regular (non-FastPass) line. That seemed very reasonable, and the FastPasses were for several hours later so we just got right in line. An hour and a half of wait in the extremely annoyingly loud queue line later, and we gave up hope. The worst part was that each time the ride would break down and they would announce "..your wait may have increased slightly", the FastPass line would get all backed up. Then to try to make up for it, they would take only from the FastPass line, leaving the rest of us schmucks to stand there and watch people stream through as our line stayed in the same place. By the time we left in disgust and got FastPass tickets, they were for many hours later (4:10pm I think). By the time we actually got on the ride, it seemed pretty mediocre, at least considering all the hassle we went through to get on it.

The sad thing was that while we were waiting for the first breakdown, we all recalled waiting in line 4 years ago, when the ride was nearly brand new and having it break down twice while waiting in line. I can't believe Disney spent all the millions on a fancy new ride like that, only to have it break down 40 times a day. I suppose they are stuck with it now, but the moral of the story is don't ever get in the regular line, always get FastPasses for Test Track.

In a somewhat unrelated, but interesting Disney side-note, on Wednesday night, we went to Downtown Disney (their shopping and nightclub area) to find some gift souvenir for various people. They have what they call the world's largest character store there, which is basically a ridiculously large Disney store filled with everything you could imagine emblazoned with Disney characters. Want a coffee pitcher and eight coffee cups shaped together like a castle with Mickey's likeness on each piece? They have it. Want a thousand dollar necklace encrusted with gems and silhouettes of Disney characters? They have it. Want to choose from a literal wall of Disney "Trade 'Em" pins at $7.00 a piece? They've got them. They also have more mundane stuff like all the varieties of Disney souvenirs from all of the parks.

This place was the size of a mall. It was crazy, so big and confusingly laid-out that you couldn't even see all the rooms. At one point I thought I had seen it all, only to get directions to the bathroom taking me through no less then three rooms I didn't even know existed (including the 'princess room', a huge room containing only stuff for little girls). The scary thing was that as huge as the place was, it still didn't hold everything, they had separate stores specializing in baby stuff, Pooh character stuff, and even a whole store devoted to Disney stuff for your pets. All containing items not in the biggest store (AFAICT).

Amazingly the biggest store was completely and utterly packed. As in, you were surprised they were still letting people in because of fire codes. I've never seen so many people mobbing a place and carrying armfuls of stuff around, even at Christmas time. I talked with one of the cashiers about it, and she said the crowd was pretty typical of spring break time, but even during 'dead' weeks anyone except an employee would consider the store very crowded. Disney certainly knows how to market their characters and character related products.

Overall, the two days we spent at Disney were extremely fun, and the rides were generally well worth any hassle we went through to get on them. The Disney World parks are clearly the top-tier of Orlando theme parks.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Florida Trip: Pictures (Part 2)

These are the second half of the pictures I uploaded from our trip to Florida last week. They are primarily from MGM Studios and Epcot at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, and the Island of Adventure. The first set of pictures is here.

Linzy, with the Tower of Terror at MGM Studios in the background.

Dad, Mom and Linzy in front of the replica Mann Chinese Theater at MGM.

Our day at Epcot was by far the most sunny, it got to 87 that day.

The horde of people in front of the Test Track ride (which is just to the right).

Linzy, Mom and Dad eating lunch at Epcot beneath the speaker screeching fake hawk sounds to scare away the birds.

The Mission to Mars building.

Linzy and I at the Epcot world showcase.

The Epcot ball lit up at night.

The entrance to Universal Studios Florida.

Linzy and I in front of the Universal globe.

Mom and Dad, thinking about joining the group picture to their left.

The Hulk coaster at Islands of Adventure, easily one of the best coasters I've been on.

Linzy and Mom on the Hurl-o-Matic at Islands of Adventure.

It was looking like rain on Friday at Island of Adventure, but it held off until after we left the park for the day. You can just make out the Jurrassic Park building across the lake.

Linzy standing in front of the worst attractions I have ever been to at any theme park, anywhere, Poseidon's Fury. Avoid it like the plague.

I'm on vacation, what are we doing up before 5am? (flying home). This was actually taken after I had already showered, dressed and packed up. So just think how early the alarm went off. Eck vacations are not for those looking to sleep in.


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The Florida Trip: Walt Disney World (Part 1)

On Monday during our trip to Orlando we took advantage of one day Disney park-hopper tickets we each had left over from our last trip to Orlando four years ago, visiting Animal Kingdom in the morning/early afternoon and then visiting MGM studios in the afternoon/evening. That ended up to be a pretty full day as we arrived around 8:30 am, and left a little after 8pm, but we were able to do nearly every major attraction in both parks. It helped that the Animal Kingdom is the least popular Disney park so it wasn't crowded at all on Monday morning.

At the Animal Kingdom we went to the Bug's Life 3D movie, saw the bird show, walked through the gorilla and African animal zoo area, and rode the Dinosaur, Safari, and Kali River Rapid rides.

That pretty much finished everything available at the Animal Kingdom (at least that we wanted to see), so we went over to the MGM Studios. MGM was quite a bit more crowded than Animal Kingdom, although the crowds were pretty much only bad around the Tower of Terror and Aerosmith Rollercoaster rides which is typical in my experience.

At MGM we went on the Aerosmith roller coaster, the Tower of Terror, the Star Tours and Great Movie rides, and saw the 3D Muppets movie (which always makes me chuckle even though I've seen it a million times).

Overall I was somewhat disappointed with the Animal Kingdom. I had never been there, and was expecting something a bit more then just an elaborate zoo. The Bug's Life movie was pretty good, and the Dinosaur ride was OK, but not spectacular. The rest of the stuff was not all that great, and the Safari ride felt exactly like the Jungle Adventure ride at the Magic Kingdom, except with real animals instead of animatronics. The lack of any sort of crowd at Animal Kingdom probably means other people feel this way too. There is a giant rollercoaster under construction that looked pretty cool, but construction still looked like it had a long way to go (opening very late this year, or next year perhaps?)

On the other hand, MGM Studios was a lot of fun as always. The Aerosmith rollercoaster was easily my favorite ride on Monday. The initial acceleration from 0-60 in just a few seconds is always impressive. The only complaint is that it is so short, but I guess that is to be expected when you lose the long, slow ascent up a first hill. And they certainly pack a lot of turns and loops into what ride time you do have.

The worst ride of the day was easily the Great Movie Ride, which is just so cheesy and pointless that we don't usually go on it. The only reason we did ride it was that it is a relatively long ride with no wait and we had some time to kill before our FastPasses for Aerosmith became active and not many other choices of rides.

The only thing we weren't able to see that I would have liked to was the Indiana Jones stunt show, which I always enjoy even though I have seen it many times. But since we were tight on time during our visit to MGM, we couldn't fit it in.

All in all it was a very fun, if slightly long day.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

The Florida Trip: Pictures (Part 1)

Blogger is misbehaving today, so here are the first half of the pictures from our trip to Florida that I am going to upload. These are of our hotel and some from our time at the Animal Kingdom on Monday of last week.

The courtyard of our hotel.

Our room was on the top floor, facing out towards Seaworld.

The view from the sixth floor of the courtyard.

Linzy and my room, complete with sleeper sofa and our own balcony.

The kitchen, dining and sitting area.

The TV featuring an extra fuzzy picture, and the bigger porch looking over the Seaworld park.

My parent's room with private bathroom, and jacuzi tub. Down the hall you can see the third room, the third bathroom was between the two bedrooms.

Linzy and I in front of the "Tree of Life", also the first of many pictures where eyes are closed.

An African bird they were feeding whole mice too from the fence. It was scarfing one down right now.

The new Everest-themed rollercoaster they are building in the Animal Kingdom.

Hippos apparently don't do much besides lay in big hippo-piles underwater.

Crikey!

Elephants and baby Elephants.

Warthogs are ugly, ugly creatures.

There was a huge pool filled with incredibly colorful fish. This was just a small portion.

A gorilla hanging out in the shade. The gorillas were rumored to be 'active' this morning. Could have fooled me.

One of the monkeys outside of the Kali River Rapids ride.


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The Florida Trip (Part 1)

[ Update: Pictures here and here, Disney detail: here and here, Universal detail: here ]

We made it back yesterday safe and sound from our vacation to Orlando. The trip was a great time, and the weather actually turned out to be pretty nice. Although it was overcast with a threat of rain most days it didn't actually do anything more then lightly sprinkle for a few minutes any day we were out and about. The various theme parks were crowded, as expected, but we still managed to get on almost all of the rides we wanted to.

We flew down to Orlando late on Sunday afternoon, and after picking up our bags, renting a car, etc didn't end up getting to the hotel until around 9:30 pm. The hotel (the Hilton Grand Vacation Club at Seaworld) was very nice. Our room was gargantuan, it was a roughly 1,300 sq foot three bedroom/three bathroom with a kitchen that could sleep 12 (if 4 people were willing to sleep on sleeper-sofas). There were also two screened-in balconies if you wanted to sit outside and enjoy the weather and/or view of the Seaworld park.

The main sitting room had an old and fairly fuzzy big-screen TV that for some reason let us watch (what probably were intended to be) pay-per-view movies for free at night. That was pretty cool, although they weren't on-demand and we didn't know when anything would be showing so mostly we just watched random parts of National Treasure, Troy, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Ocean's Twelve, and The Incredibles.

The rest of the week we largely spent going to theme parks.

Despite Easter week being the busiest week of the year (at least at Disney World), the parks really weren't too bad crowd-wise. Guessing the crowds would only get worse as the week went on, and knowing that Tuesday was traditionally the lightest crowd day at Disney World, we decided on a plan of theme parks like this: Monday - Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios, Tuesday - Epcot, Wednesday - Universal Studios, Thursday - Universal Islands of Adventure, Friday - Sea World. We ended up changing that plan a little, because on Thursday and Saturday first I and then Linzy caught a horrible violently gut-churning 24-hour flu. The type where you spend an entire night awake in the bathroom wishing you would just die because you can't even keep down the water your ravaged throat screams for.

The crowds were definitely getting worse as the week went on, as by Thursday my parents noticed that some of the Disney water parks were actually being closed to new visitors because of crowds. Can you imagine how many people have to be crammed into one of those places before they start turning people away? My parents have been to the Magic Kingdom once when they closed that due to crowds, and it didn't sound pleasant. I can only imagine how bad things were when even Typhoon Lagoon had more visitors then it could handle. Even Downtown Disney was a mob scene on Wednesday night when we went to the world's largest Disney character store (which was even more isanely huge then I was expecting).

Finally, so early on Sunday that it was practically Saturday night, we flew back to Minneapolis. Easter Sunday turned out to be a really bad day to arrive home from a week-long vacation because it turns out all the grocery stores were closed. Since we had done an extremely thorough job of making sure every last perishable was finished before we left, we came home to a completely empty fridge and no easy way to refill it.

Overall the trip was fantastic, even with the illness interruptions. The only disappointment was a relatively minor one that was only discovered once we got home: the pictures I took suck. You'd think the camera didn't have an LCD screen on it, with the number of otherwise good pictures ruined by people's eyes being closed. But that is a minor thing, as it certainly didn't make the trip itself any less fun.

I'm planning to try to post some of the salvageable pictures and some more detailed stuff on the various parks soon.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunny Florida

We are heading out for a week in sunny Florida.

Well, okay, so maybe the forecast is saying it will be more like 'Partly-Cloudy and occasionally Rainy Florida', but it should be a lot warmer than Minnesota.

I don't expect to have Internet access, and/or to be taking the time to post much if anything while we are down there. So you'll just have to wait until next week to see any thrilling pictures or to read any hilarious and fascinating stories.

And even then, if you are seriously expecting thrilling, hilarious or fascinating, you are probably reading the wrong blog. :)

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Warranties (Or: It Doesn't Cover That)

On Friday while Linzy was driving my car home from Duluth, the check engine light came on. The car seemed to be working just fine and made it home. I have to admit, my first thought was that something had gone with the parts I replaced a while back.

The trouble with the check engine light is that you can't tell what is causing it. In older Pathfinders (2000 and earlier according to my Haynes book) you can stand on your head, twirl half a turn for each day of the waxing moon and then press two buttons on opposite sides of the car at the same time in order to get a light on the dash to blink out the diagnostic code. Since my car is newer then that, it doesn't have any way to view the trouble codes unless you have an OBD2 scanner. So, off to the dealer we went to see what the problem was.

It turns out the problem was the rear oxygen sensor which was, amazingly enough, covered under my extended warranty. Except that replacing the O2 sensor means the computer has to be recalibrated, which takes an hour and was not covered under the warranty.

Say What? How can the computer recalibration not be covered, when it is part of replacing the Oxygen sensor?

The service guy said that 'Nissan considers it to be an adjustment', which isn't covered. He offered to cover half of the hour of labor ($45). My arguments about the coverage went nowhere, it sounded like he'd had this conversation before (although, he did a good job of sounding legitimately embarrassed over the penny-pinching of his employer). He said the only option was to call the Nissan warranty line, complain about the coverage and see if they would cover it for me. Of course the warranty line is only open during weekday business hours, so that will have to wait till we get back from vacation.

It seems like a pretty fine distinction to call the computer recalibration an adjustment, when it was a warranty repair in the first place.

Regardless, the good part was that:

1) It wasn't related to anything I did.
2) Even with the half-hour of labor, the repair only cost $95 (the warranty has a $50 deductible)
3) While digging out the extended warranty, I discovered that I actually bought a 6-year/75,000 mile warranty not the 5-year/60,000 mile one I've always been thinking I had. That was like getting an extra year free, at this point.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Call me Fishmeal

Long ago, back when I was in high school, I had to write a paper on the beginning portion of Moby Dick. It wasn't a normal paper, it was supposed to be reaction paper written with someone else.

I don't recall all the specifics, but it basically came down to the first person writing a few page paper, the second person writing a few pages and then each person writing an additional few pages of reaction to what the other person had said.

I had finagled my way into writing the paper with one of my best friends, Jay. Except we had decided that all that waiting for the other person to complete their portion before writing the second part would take too long. Most likely because we were finally writing the paper the day before it was due.

So our plan was instead for me (the first person) to write both my portion and my reaction at the same time. Then I would hand both off to Jay, and he would concoct sections that fit in with what I implied he had written (through my reaction to a non-existent paper).

I dutifully sat down and cranked out 4 or 5 pages worth of stuff on Ishmael, Ahab and the other usual Moby Dick topics. I was pretty happy with what I had come up with, all things considered and sneaker-netted the paper over to Jay on a floppy disk.

The next day in school Jay gave me a hard time about all the 'work' he had to do on my paper to get it presentable.

Why? Because just before I saved for the last time, I ran spell check on my paper. That particular version of Word (6.0 perhaps) didn't like 'Ishmael'. Except where I thought I had pressed 'Ignore All', I actually had hit 'Replace All'.

So my entire paper referred to Ishmael as Fishmeal.

I distinctly remember thinking it was odd that the spell check was hitting so many pages with no apparent spelling mistakes found. But I wasn't paying that much attention and blew it off.

The most embarrassing part was that the title had been changed to something like "Reaction to: Call me Fishmeal" and I didn't even notice.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Movies: Robots

On Sunday Linzy and I really felt like going to a movie. There was only one problem, we didn't really have much interest in seeing anything that was out at the time. After much hemming and hawing (actually starting on Saturday), we eventually settled on seeing Robots.

It really wasn't very good.

Somewhat surprisingly the theater was packed, it had to be about as close to a sell-out as a stadium seating theater gets (all stadium seats and most of the floor level seats filled). The crowd was almost exclusively young kids and their parents, probably not a good sign for us. In fact, this leads directly to my main issue with the movie, it wasn't funny. What passed for jokes in the thing were sight gags, overacting by Robin Williams, or bodily function humor. Not exactly what I was looking for.

The other issue was that the plot just plain didn't make sense. Now, I am usually pretty tolerant of a threadbare plot, but it has to at least make an attempt at being coherent. I'm sorry to say Robot's plot doesn't.

As an example, the core plot revolves around the only company making robot parts being taken over by an evil guy who stops making parts. Then the characters go on a hunt to find the former owner of the company who has disappeared. Well, at the cost of spoiling the so-called plot, they find the former owner in, of all places, his house. Setting up dominoes. No explanation of why he was there, or why he ceded control to the evil robot or anything. Then, 30 seconds after the characters leave discouraged because Big Wedge won't help them with their cause, he has a change of mind and shows up to join their cause. Say what?

Or there is the whole issue of the company not making parts anymore. This means all the robots will be out-moded and destroyed because they can't be fixed. Except that the main character can fix robots. Apparently without those supposedly necessary parts that aren't being made anymore. It just didn't make any sense.

Interestingly, when we were deciding on what to see, at one point I said "Well, see what Robots has on RottenTomatoes, if it is less then 50% I don't want to go see it". It was 64% (at the time), and so we went. That will teach me to set low requirements.

Sadly, the best thing about the movie was the Star Wars trailer beforehand.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Favorite Meals

While I was driving home today, I started thinking about what I would choose a 'favorite' meal. This came to mind because my dad had chosen ham and scalloped potatoes for his birthday dinner. I was wondering if that was his 'favorite meal', and whether I was a bad son since I couldn't really decide what his favorite meal would be.

But then as I thought about it more, I wasn't sure that I knew what anyone's favorite meal was, including my own. I have lots of meals that I really like (Chicken Tacos, Grilled Brats or Pork Loin, Pizza, Waffles, etc), but I am not sure that I have one that is my clear favorite.

This struck me as totally different then when I was a kid, when I never had to think about what I would want for my birthday dinner or anytime someone asked what I wanted for a meal. Then, the immediate answer would have been Hotdog Pot-Pie, a glorious meal in the eyes of a young kid as it contained nothing but good stuff: hotdogs, eggs, cheese and croissant strips as crust. It was nearly guaranteed to take years off your heart's life-span, but man did it taste good to a 10 year old. Eventually the 'Hotdog Pot-Pie' answer to 'what do you want for your birthday dinner?' became something of a joke because my mom wouldn't make it anymore, but it was still my favorite for a long, long time.

The general consensus from everyone else I talked to about it was that they didn't have a clear favorite either. So I can rest easy that I am not a bad son, at least in terms of not knowing what my Dad's favorite meal is.

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Dad's Birthday

Linzy and I went over to my parents house tonight to celebrate my Dad's birthday (a day early). It was fun, and we had one of the best cakes I have ever had, a Cookies & Cream Ice Cream cake from Coldstone Creamery. It was really good, melding tasty ice cream with devil's food cake and good frosting.

Besides the normal entertainment of amusing each other with Eck-humor jokes, we also did some planning for our trip to Florida next week. Pippen also decided the new carpet needed to be christened, which was embarrassing.

Read on for a few pictures, if you'd like.

Linzy, Mom and Dad chatting in the living room.

The ice cream cake

A blurry close-up of my delicious piece.


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How to Destroy the Earth

This webpage detailing methods to destroy the earth, materials necessary, and how long it will take cracks me up.

I get a kick out of the tone used when describing things like the method 'Blown up by matter/antimatter reaction'

You will need: twelve kilograms of antimatter, magnetic confinement chambers, a very deep hole in the ground.

Method: Choose a good spot. Drill a mine shaft all the way to the centre of the Earth (6,371km down). This is the minimum guaranteed effective depth for your antimatter planetbuster bomb, but roughly 3000km should be sufficient for near-total disintegration. While drilling, manufacture 12 kilograms of antimatter and store it in magnetic confinement chambers for detonation. Place the antimatter at the bottom of the shaft, and switch off the confinement chambers. The resulting release of energy (obeying Einstein's famous mass-energy equation, E=mc2) should be sufficient to, at the very least, split the Earth into a thousand pieces.

Earth's final resting place: A second asteroid belt around the Sun.


[ via Bruce Schneier ]

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Insurance (Or how 80-20 becomes 40-60)

Start with a $101 bill. Subtract a $50 deductible off the top. Insurance then covers 80% of the remaining, or $40.80. Leaving $10.20 as additional patient responsibility.

End result, we pay $60.20, insurance pays $40.80.

Oh how I miss having insurance as an employee of a healthcare company.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Star Wars Trailer

Go watch it (if you can tolerate having Quicktime on your computer).

We saw it in the theater on Sunday and all I have to say is Must. Keep. Expectations. Low.

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Cutting Benefits

Last week I had three days off work, so I came into work today decidedly non-bitter. That lasted all of half-a-day, until they sent out an e-mail saying that the Employee Stock Purchase Plan was being discontinued.

I always thought the ESPP was one of our better benefits, as it was effectively free money. The plan was pretty standard, letting you buy stock at a 15% discount of the lowest price at either the beginning or the end of the quarter. So you were nearly guaranteed a 15% return on your money, and a better return if the stock actually went up. I figured out that over the time I have been with the company the ESPP averaged out to be worth about $1,100 a year.

It seems to me that for the company having the stock purchase plan was a good thing because it helps drive stock ownership in their employees. That gives the employees a vested interest in the stock price and overall company performance. And given that the stock was purchased from escrowed shares specifically designated as being for the plan years in advance, it is debatable how much offering the plan really 'cost' the company.

The company e-mail tried to use shifty wording to make it sound like the new accounting rules on stock purchase plans and stock options would mean offering the plan would suddenly start costing the company money. Except that isn't the case, what is actually happening is that they have to start considering the cost of the plan as an expense.

Now I don't have any issue with the new accounting rules, after all it certainly costs the company something to offer a plan and/or stock options. I just have an issue with using the change in how things are entered in the books as an excuse to cut benefits.

No word on whether the company is discontinuing gifts of stock options to the executives since stock options now have to be treated as expenses as well. I'm not holding my breath.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Painting

The last few days Linzy and I have been painting our bedroom. The room still had it's original paint job from the builders and was starting to show its age.

Up to this point there were other rooms in the house that seemed in more dire need (either because of poorly done original paint jobs, or ridiculous color choices). But we finally caught up and were down to just our bedroom and bathroom remaining of the rooms we hadn't painted since moving in. Since the bathroom needs a lot of work and I have some remodeling plans for it, we decided to tackle the bedroom next.

The old paint color was more or less off-white (the name was Stone White fwiw), and the new color was a greyish-silver color Linzy picked out.

The actual painting went really smoothly, we've really gotten the process down by this point. I did try a couple new things, one which worked really well and one that didn't.

First I wrapped the rollers in blue painters tape before using them to get all the loose fibers off (the suggestion of John Montgomery). That worked very well, I hardly had to pick any fuzz off the wall while rolling.

I also tried a Shur-Line paint edger which caught my eye in Home Depot. Unfortunately it didn't work as well for me in practice as it did in my mind. I found that it left a small gap in what it painted and I had trouble with it putting way too much paint on the wall. It seemed like a good idea, so maybe I will give it another shot.

I did try to take some pictures of the before and after, but had a bit of trouble getting the camera convinced to get accurate color with the flash on. These were the best I could manage.

Before



After



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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Outsourcing Drive-Throughs

I saw McDonald's as a corporation is looking at outsourcing their drive-through windows. When I first read about it months ago in the paper, it boggled my mind.

The only obvious benefit that I can see is that you have a dedicated person handling the orders, in a much quieter environment then your average fast food establishment. That probably helps them pay attention a bit more, and get the orders right more often.

What I don't understand is how it can possibly be cost-effective to have all the networking required to send drive-through communications four states away?

Especially since you still have to have a warm body in the window to take money and dispense orders. And it is not like we are talking having 12 PHDs on staff, the people running the drive-up windows are usually minimum wage high-schoolers in my experience.

It really seems like a razor thin profit margin, at least if you keep the jobs in the states where you would have to pay roughly the same wages if not more (because you want someone with those ever elusive communication skills).

So you are depending on economies of scale, having one employee handle the drive-up windows for multiple restaurants. And that is difficult if you want to keep service times consistent with what they are today. After all, the dinner rush is the dinner rush, all those drive-ups are going to be busy at more-or-less the same time.

If I was McDonald's, it certainly seems like it would make sense as long as I can get the outsourcer to guarantee my cost savings. I just wouldn't want to be the guy running the call-center.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Local Restaurant Review

Lately, we've eaten out at quite a few new local restaurants including, the Roasted Pear, Divinci's Pizza, Enjoy, and Terasa's Mexican. If you live in the area, you might be interested to know what I thought of them.

Roasted Pear

For Valentine's Day, Linzy and I went to the Roasted Pear in Burnsville. The place was pretty nice, but there wasn't much seating. I always remembered the Ground Round as being larger, but the way they rearranged things seemed to have cutout a lot of seating. We both thought the food was OK, but not particularly terrific. Linzy had rotisserie chicken, and I had a cajun shrimp pasta dish. We also split a cheescake or some sort of desert.

The main problem I had with the Roasted Pear was that it was pretty expensive. Expensive enough that I would have liked the food to be outstanding, which it was decidedly not.


Divinci's Pizza

Yes, the restaurant that I wrote about last week finally opened shortly thereafter. Linzy and I went there earlier this week for dinner. The restaurant was a study in contrasts. All the fixtures, flooring and overall decorations are very nice, and pretty fancy. The furniture (at least the booths) was crap. The pizza we had was very good, we had a thin crust woodfired sausage and mushroom. The salads on the other hand were not particularly good. Side salads weren't listed on the menu, so it was somewhat of a challenge ordering one.

Which brings up one of the two issues I had with the place, the service was terrible. I'm not sure if they were short-staffed or what, but everyone around us was having the same problems trying to get their waitresses to come back, bring the bill, bring out the right food, bring back the credit card, whatever. Divinci's was fairly expensive, for pizza. It was comparable to Green Mill, which makes it more expensive than what I am willing to pay for pizza on a regular basis.

Finally, FWIW, both Linzy and I couldn't help noticing that Divinci's sausage looked exactly like the sausage on Totino's Party Pizzas. It tasted a lot better though.


Enjoy

Today for lunch my Mom took Linzy and I to Enjoy in Apple Valley. It was just as classy inside as the building looked outside, if not more so. It was also just as expensive as I had heard it was.

Linzy and my Mom both had Four Onion soup and salad (Caesar and Baby Green respectively), I had the turkey club. The Four Onion soup looked and smelled quite good. My turkey club was OK, I wasn't a huge fan of the dressing they put on it (some sort of thousand island dressing), but the fries were quite good.

The service was quite good, and the atmosphere was really nice. But it was quite pricey, the dinner entrees ranged from around $15-30 a piece. Definitely a special occasion place not a 'lets go out on a random night' place in my book.


Teresa's

Now, Teresa's Mexican is not really a new restaurant. In fact, we've been there on three separate occasions over the last 5-6 months. But I get a surprising amount of hits from people searching about it, so I thought I would try to provide something vaguely helpful.

Anyways, we really like Teresa's. Through the various visits, we've tried a number of different entrees and I've only been disappointed once, with a quesadilla combo of some sort. And it wasn't bad, just not exactly what I was looking for. Their salsa is quite good, the chips are average.

The service has always been good, and there has never been a wait for a table when we have been there (although it was randomly closed for a family emergency one time). Plus the price is right, it is not particularly expensive. Certainly cheaper then Don Pablo's.


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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Anti-Plagiarism

I was reading the beginning of a walkthrough for Final Fantasy 2 tonight, and saw a rather bizarre section entitled "Anti-Plagiarism Format":

If you see something that looks completely out of place, it's probably an anti-plagiarism tag. Given, although the system I'm putting in this FAQ/Walk isn't foolproof, it's my own attempt at anti-plagiarism. I'm pretty sure someone will crack the code, but I'm planning on making it harder than hell for them to do so.


The oh-so-hard-to-crack code was that he added [<16 or 17 characters>] tags to the end of most of the paragraphs.

Maybe I am missing something, but I don't see how that stops plagiarism. After all, if I was going to plagiarize his write-up, I can still do it and leave the tags in place. If I was worried about it, I could just take those tags out. In fact, one little 'perl -npe "s/\[\w{16,17}\]//g" < ff2.txt' and I've got a version without his fancy plagarism tags.

Not that I am planning on plagarizing his walkthrough, it just seemed so strange. Is there a big market for plagarized walkthroughs for video games that came out in 1988?

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Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

As much as I try to keep my expectations low, I'm excited to see Revenge of the Sith when it comes out in May. Particularly if it really does end up PG-13 rather then PG.

I am sure that George Lucas will continue to destroy my favorite childhood movie series, but I can't help thinking 'Oh, this time he really means it, he is going to change'.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Close, But Not That Close

Pippen has always been a bit weird about her chew bones. She likes to work on them nearby, but not so nearby that you might be in a position to take them away.

Now, this isn't all the time, just when she is actually chewing on the bone. Otherwise, she likes to just leave it in the middle of the hall or a major walkway. Any place someone might trip on it in the dark, mainly.

But when she is chewing on the bone, her behavior leads to a unintentional game of cat & mouse, as we walk around the house doing normal everyday things, and she spends the whole time moving her bone from one room to another.

Here was the sequence this morning:

When I was in the bedroom and bathroom, it was safe to be in the bedroom, as long as she was near a door for easy escape.

When I moved to the kitchen, she moved down to the living room.

When I came down to the living room, she moved down to the family room.

When I moved to the office, she came back upstairs to the hallway.

Eventually she took a break, to lay in the sun.

Oh, but I must have looked like I was making a move on the bone, so she had to move it to the living room.

But then she heard something outside and forgot all about the bone, and there it sits for the rest of the day (so far).

Apparently she hasn't quite caught on that I'm not interested in her stinky bone.

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DLink DSM-320 Update

After my trifecta of posts bashing the DSM-320, I feel it is only fair to mention:

The latest firmware update from DLink was automatically applied to my Dad's unit, no FTP Site + IP Address magic required.

That firmware also appeared to fix the most egregious problem, being unable to play most videos without the audio getting out of synch with the video in the first 3 minutes.

With firmware 1.05, everything looked like it was working as it should, with the exception of tracks in albums being played in alphabetical order rather then track order. That can be worked around with playlists, which is annoying but not fatal.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Portable Beverages

I was driving home yesterday (a proven content producing trip) and while stopped at a light happened to look over at the guy next to me.

He was cuddling one of those Franzia Boxed Wines on his lap like it was his child. Not that you should drive your car with a child on your lap, but it just looked precious to him.

For some reason, I was secretly hoping to see him raise it in the air, open the spout and start gluging down cheap, low-quality wine while it splashed off and dribbled down his chin. It even seemed somewhat likely at the time, as he never took both hands off the wine box. Even when reaching over to fiddle with the radio, the other hand protectively steadied the box.

Alas, he didn't, making this story somewhat pointless.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Video Games: Halo 2

After I finished Halo, the next game on my Christmas game stack was Halo 2. This one was a gift from my parents, and a game I was really looking forward to after seeing all the good reviews.

In a lot of ways, the game lived up to my expectations, it was a good game. The gameplay was significantly more varied then Halo 1, which kept things fresh all the way to the very end. The maps also felt much less repetitive, which was a huge improvement to what was my biggest complaint about the first Halo.

The addition of dual-wield weapons makes only being able to have two core weapons at a time much more manageable (because you can have effectively three, but one gets dropped if you switch weapons). Also Halo 2 features quite a few more weapons then Halo 1, and some were even useful, which was nice to see.

Finally, one of the best improvements was the addition of stronger weapons at the end of the game. Specifically, the Brute Shot and Brute Plasma Rifle let you plow through enemies at the end of the game that would have required a charged plasma shot + head shot at the beginning of the game. At the same time, they introduced some more difficult enemies so that you weren't overly powerful, but it was nice to run up on jackals or elites at the end of the game and watch them fall away in no time flat.

That said, I did have a few complaints about the game (have I ever not?)

First up, the graphics. These were a real sore spot with me, and they nearly ruined the game early on. But lets back up. The graphics in Halo 2 are pretty amazing considering the age of the hardware the XBox sports. High Dynamic Range lighting, normal mapping, everything you would expect from a modern graphics engine appears to be here. However, the implementation is frustratingly bad.

The problem is on-demand texture loading, or the lack there of. It's obvious that Halo 2 is pushing the edge of what is possible on an XBox, and what they had to give up to get things working was allowing textures to delay-load when they should have been on screen. This causes visible and disconcerting texture 'popping' into scenes. While you are actually playing the game, it is not that bad (it only seems to happen if you get just the wrong distance away from something or spin around quickly). But during cut-scenes the texture popping really destroys the illusion.

For example, what might happen is that you are listening to some character talk, with a close-up of his head on the screen. Then he says 'Look over at that screen', and the camera pans over to....nothing. Then a second or two later, the 'screen' pops into view.

Sometimes whole vehicles appear to be solid colors and suddenly get a texture+bumpmap all at once. Or a characters face will be a flat texture, only to have a detail map pop in slightly later.

It really annoyed me, especially during the beginning of the game when it is much more cut-scene heavy. Or at least the beginning seemed to have more cut-scenes affected by the problem.

Considering the XBox is a static platform, I don't understand how they could have made the decision to ship the game in the state it was. Actually, I know exactly why they shipped it when they did, had to make Christmas 04, but it still disappoints me. I would have much preferred if they had dialed the graphics back ever so slightly, so that the textures didn't pop in all the time.

My other complaint about the game was it's length. It is really short. Even though it took me a month to beat the game, I didn't play very often at all. In fact, I quickly got the feeling I was racing through the game, and I consciously tried to play for only short periods of time in order to extend the experience somewhat.

I can't put an exact guess on the number of hours it took to beat, but I would guess maybe 10 or 12, and I am a very slow FPS player. I'm sure a better player could finish it in half that time, or perhaps a similar amount of time if they played on 'Legendary' difficulty.

The length issue was readily apparent as I finished the game, and Linzy said 'You didn't really just beat it, did you? That was really short'. Plus the ending is as bad as rumored, basically rubbing your face in the fact that they only gave you half a game.

Since I don't play have XBox Live, or play online, that aspect of the game doesn't offer much to me. And, granted the game was a gift, but it still made me angry that they would deliver such a short game for $50. Especially when other games released around the same time offer many times that much gameplay.

Anyways, despite these two complaints, I really did enjoy the game. I liked that there was more variety in the gameplay (one minute you would be on foot, then in a vehicle, then flying a ship, etc), I liked the new enemies and weapons, and I thought the weapon variety was much improved.

I would just recommend renting it, not buying it.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Continuing Education

I learned a few things today. Some useful, some less so.

60 degrees and sunny in Minnesota in early March feels like heaven.

34 degrees and windy in Duluth on the same day, probably doesn't.

Don't upgrade your media center software by just copying the new files over the top of the existing directory. When they decide to change the music database format, but not include upgrade code you get strange problems. I have it on good authority this can waste several hours of your morning trying to figure out what is the problem.

A two hour Columbo TV movie from 1972 is some of the slowest moving TV I've ever seen. They showed us how the crime was committed in the first 15 minutes, and then made us watch Columbo glacially creep towards solving it.

A wireless network and media center that have been working flawlessly for weeks are almost guaranteed to not work when you have 5 people over specifically to watch shows recorded in a format that can only be seen through it. This is even more likely if I am at work at the time. [ Actually this was last night, but close enough ]

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Larry Ned: Not so Smart

I laughed last night when I saw that Larry Ned, former Vikings superstar running back...errr...special teams contributor, got busted for trying to steal a laptop from airport security.

His clever theft attempt?

Picking up the laptop of the guy behind him, on his way through the security checkpoint, then running and hiding in the bathroom.

The Cardinals promptly cut him.

So, was the $1500 laptop worth losing your ~$400,000 a year salary over? I'm guessing not.

The good news is, of course, that now the Vikings can probably pick him back up for a song. They like the hoodlums anyways.

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Nintendo DS

While I spent my hour wandering Target yesterday, one of the things I tried to fill the time with was a demo Nintendo DS that was on display. That looked like a perfect way to way to waste time. Except not only was the touch-screen a scratched up mess, but it was also broken.

Way to show off your product's quality construction.

Especially considering that touch-screen durability seems like it would be a core concern of your target market. You are expecting people to be dragging, tapping, and rubbing a sharp plastic object on this screen over and over, after all.

Being able to show that you can hold up in a hostile environment like a Target demo stand would seem to be a good selling point. Even if it is really the case that you replace the unit every two weeks, that seems better then having a broken unit sitting there screaming "unreliable construction".

Nintendo really makes me shake my head these days.

First there is the complete lack of third-party titles and disturbing lack of decent first-party titles for the GameCube. Then there was the ever rotating cast of portable hardware (GB Color, GBA, GBA SP, DS, plus the new one). Then there are all these interviews about the (nearly guaranteed to be) crazy next-gen system and how it is expected to drive away third-party developers.

As much as I like the core Mario and Zelda games, they just aren't enough to get me excited about their systems anymore. You absolutely need to have third-party publishers making games for your system, so if their new system really does scare away third-party developers, they could be in big trouble.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

How to Waste 2 Hours of My Time

First, run 40 minutes late when I show up for my appointment, so I have to sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for you to deign to see me.

Bonus Points available if the only magazine available in the waiting room is People En Espanol

Further bonus points if the magazine in the exam room is Seventeen, and it's at least a year old.

Then, instead of giving me a paper prescription just say you will phone it in to the pharmacy of my choice. Except, don't. So when I show up to pick it up at 4:00, they don't have it.

Then, after waiting through 15 minutes of hold time to speak to the nurse line, notice that it wasn't phoned in, and say "I'll do it right now". Except, don't. So when I go back to the counter after spending 30 minutes wandering the store, they still don't have it.

Then, after another 15 minutes of hold time, sound affronted and rude that I would call back about the prescription that you "just phoned in 5 minutes ago". Except, you didn't, at least not to the only Target in Apple Valley. So after I wait in line at the counter again, they still don't know what is going on.

Then, during the next 15 minutes of hold time, I get to sit there watching the clock tick ever closer to 5:00pm, when your clinic closes. Praying that I get through to someone before they go home for the day, leaving me without a prescription for the weekend.

Bonus points are available if you manage to sound annoyed that I would call back again.

At that point, I'll just give the phone to the pharmacist and you two can work things out. Lord knows where you were actually calling. I'll probably have antibiotics hanging out at pharmacies all over town, but won't care at that point.

Finally, I'll spend 20 minutes waiting for the prescription to be filled, painfully trying to find an aisle in the store I hadn't already walked up and down in the past hour.

Thus putting the total amount of my time you wasted at exactly 2 hours.

They were saying it couldn't be done, but you proved them wrong. Congratulations.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

You want to work with who?

Does it seem a bit ridiculous that 50 Cent dropped Game from G-Unit because he likes someone 50 didn't?

What is this, junior high?

The bad news for Game is, of course, that while The Documentary (written with 50 Cent) is a good album, The Untold Story (written before 50) is not so much.

Bye Game, we hardly knew ya.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sinus Infections

I tend to get sinus infections about once a year during winter, and happen to be in the throes of one now. By far the worst part of a sinus infection is that I have learned (through years of experience) that there is no reason to go to the doctor too early in the process.

Despite the fact that I can almost flawlessly predict when a cold is going to turn into a green-mucus party, it doesn't do any good to see the doctor until I can say it has been going on for at least a week. Ideally two weeks, if I want the best antibiotics right off the bat, but I usually can't wait that long.

So instead I spend a week going through Kleenex like Jay-Z goes through hundred dollar bills, ineffectively trying to relieve the pressure in my face.

This time happens to be quite the doozy; my entire face hurts, including my teeth (sort of a bizarre symptom, I admit, but it is a documented one). In fact, I missed two days of work due to sickness for the first time possibly ever. [ Actually, I guess I ended up putting in around 6 hours from home each day. Probably contributing to the fact that I am not getting much better. ]

Anyways, Friday will be a week, and I'll be marching right into the doctors office. Until then, maybe I'll borrow a tissue from Sarah.

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Books: You Shall Know Our Velocity

Yesterday I finished You Shall Know Our Velocity after a quick couple-day read. It was most definitely not something I would normally have read, but I enjoyed it for the most part.

YSKOV is about two friends who decide to fly around the world giving away $32,000 after they lose a close friend. The book details their somewhat bungled attempts at traveling around the world, and how they try to come to grips with losing a friend.

Initially the book really grabbed me. It was interesting, fast-paced and written in a very unique style. As the book wore on though, I started to lose interest a bit. About halfway through, the situations they get themselves into in the various countries started to seem a bit repetitive. By the time the big 'twist' happened 2/3rds of the way through, I had really gotten bored with it.

Part of the problem was that through the first part of the book, there is a lot of interesting backstory to be slowly doled out, explaining more and more about what is going on and how things came to be this way. But around the time of the 'twist', you've found out basically all the backstory you need to understand everything. That leaves the last third of the book to wrap up the trip. But once I understood everything, I found that I didn't really care anymore, and was just reading to find out how they were going to end things. Not because I had to know.

I guess it is a little hard to explain. If I had written a review at around the halfway point, I would have unequivocally said that I really enjoyed the book. But now I am not sure where my feelings lie.

Overall I guess the book was better then some I have read, and certainly was a change of pace. But I can't heartily recommend it.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Grand Opening....Eventually

In the new strip mall near my house, there was to be an 'upscale anchor restaurant' according to the site plans. The strip mall has been open for close to a year, some of the stores have already turned over, but there is not yet an upscale anchor restaurant. There's not even an anchor restaurant, or a restaurant at all for that matter.

Instead, we've had construction on an upscale anchor restaurant for the past 12 months.

This restaurant isn't that big, it is just a corner of a strip mall after all. No one is quite sure what is taking the construction so long. From what I can tell there are never more then two people in the place, and then only for a few hours a day. I imagine the owner is trying to save money by doing the construction himself.

Back in January, the place finally had a big Grand Opening sign up, and lots of signs in the road advertising an opening date of January 21st. We happened to be going out for dinner that night and thought we would swing buy to see what the lines were like. Instead, the place was completely dark and the parking lot empty.

As we rolled through the parking lot to turn around, a guy came out (the owner I assume) and said they weren't open yet. He said they would be opening by the 1st of February, and gave us a $10 gift certificate.

The 1st of February came and went, then the 21st of February came and went, and still Divinci's Wood Fire Grill is not open.

I can't understand how they can afford to pay a year's worth of rent (in a pretty nice, new building) with absolutely no income coming in. At this point I am starting to think it will be going out of business before it even opens.

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