Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies: Hitch

Last Sunday, Linzy and I watched Hitch, that romantic comedy with Will Smith and Kevin James. I'm not normally a huge fan of romantic comedies, but I actually thought Hitch wasn't too bad.

I don't really have a whole lot to say about it. It was pretty much what I was expecting. Will Smith was the confident (imagine that) 'Date Doctor' helping guys meet the women of their dreams. Kevin James was the awkward white guy wanting to date the unatainable rich heiress (you know she's rich because she drives around in a Maybach). Throw in Eva Mendes as a love interest for Will Smith, and you've got yourself a movie!

Seriously though, I thought it was reasonable well done. The dialog was fairly witty, and the story wasn't quite as predictable as I thought it was going to be. There were certainly parts where I was rolling my eyes, but for the most part it was OK.

Not a glowing review I guess, but I did end up enjoying the movie overall.


Read the whole post.

Weekly Biking Update: 7/31

Earlier this week my sister sent me a link to this New York Times article, on whether recreational athletes are becoming data obsessed when analyzing their training. The implication, I assume, was that anyone keeping track of the wind speed on each of their bikes rides was perhaps over analyzing things. Ironically, this was coming from the same woman who ran up and down a specific length hill 8 times as part of her planned training.

Regardless, denial is not just a river in Egypt, so the biking statistics continue unabated.

DateDistMinutesMPHRouteTempWind
25-Jul12.8755.7213.9871-816
27-Jul14.1662.8713.59746
29-Jul14.2361.4813.94809
Total41.26180.0413.8   


As I mentioned last week, this week I tried routes (8 & 9) heading South from my house instead of the usual North. They worked pretty well, as there is very little traffic down there and many less cross-streets, so I didn't get stopped near as often as when I ride through Apple Valley. The only downside was that it is hillier then my normal routes, and there aren't many options of where to go and the loop is shorter then I would like. Oh, and the highway down there must go right near a hog farm, because it stinks like Pig for a mile or two. Still, the lack of traffic interruptions means I'll probably start using the southern routes more often.

On the subject of statistics, this week I did discover that apparently my bike computer is incapable of doing simple division, and reports rather incorrect average speeds.

For example, for 7/25 and 7/29 it was claiming an average of 13.8 versus a calculated speed of 13.86 or 13.89. Reasonable I suppose if it was just blindly rounding everything down. But on 7/27 it claimed 13.4 versus 13.51, which isn't right even if it was using a floor function. So I changed to calculating the average speed instead of blindly copying the bike computer's value.

This discovery casts some doubt on the credibility of the bike computer, since I was already questioning it's reported distances versus what I calculate on Google Maps. But I'm too lazy to enter every single slightly different route that I take into GMap Pedometer, so for now I'll have to stick with the bike computer's mileage values.

Regardless of how I calculate the average speed, it was significantly faster this week compared to previous weeks. I'm pleased with that. Hopefully it was at least partially due to improved conditioning, and not just the lower temperatures and much more pleasant humidity levels (which Shawn already pointed out in relation to his biking).

Starting on Friday, I was also trying to increase my cadence on the advice of my boss (who is an avid cyclist). Previously I was trying to pedal at around 60-65 cycles per minute, based on some article I read in a magazine. My boss was saying I should be up around 90, even if it means I have to use a lower gear. I tried that, but it pretty much just felt like I was trying to ride faster then normal. I'll keep working at it, but I found it hard to use a low enough gear where I could pedal that fast without destroying my legs.


[ Update 8/28: These mileage and average speed numbers turned out to be slighly low as my cyclometer was set incorrectly. ]

Read the whole post.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Video Games: The Minish Cap

Way back before I left for Salt Lake City, I decided that I needed some entertainment for the flights back and forth.

Normally this would be the type of situation where I would suddenly decide I needed one of those shiny new portable game systems like the Nintendo DS or even better, the PSP. However, since it was just a few days before my birthday, I figured running out and buying myself a brand-new game system would be a bit tacky. Instead I settled for getting a new game for my GBA SP, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.

I was pretty excited to try the game, as it was getting spectacular reviews and I am a big fan of the Zelda series. I've played all the Zelda games except the two Gameboy Color ones (because I never owned a GBC). While I thoroughly enjoy Ocarina of Time and the two NES Zelda games, and merely tolerated the Wind Waker (too much sailing) and Majora's Mask (too much repetition), my favorite Zelda game of all time was the SNES Zelda game A Link to the Past. The biggest selling point for the Minish Cap for me was that it looked similar to a Link to the Past.

As things turned out, during the trip I didn't spend nearly as much of my free time stuck in a hotel room as I thought I might, so I didn't play the game a whole lot. When I got back though, I ended up spending quite a bit of time sitting in waiting rooms, chilling in hospital rooms, or just hanging around the house in general, so I got to spend a while playing the game. Several weeks ago I finally got back to it and finished the game.

Since then an empty post with this title has sat in my Blogger queue waiting for me to figure out what I wanted to say about the game.

First I should mention that I enjoyed the game.

It featured classic Zelda gameplay in a fun overhead view world. The dungeons were complex and sported not-completely-obvious puzzles and traps. For the most part the enemies were interesting and challenging, and a lot of the bosses were fun to fight.

The game also introduced some interesting new twists, including an item that gives you the ability to jump and they took out 'magic power', letting you use magic items as much as you wanted. I liked the removal of magic power, which let you use items like the lantern as much as necessary without having to tote around bottles full of magic potion just to replenish your magic meter after solving 800 'light all the lanterns' puzzles.

At the same time I was fairly disappointed with the game.

For one thing, the game is short. Very short. A Link to the Past featured at least 9 major dungeons, and two overhead maps to explore. The Minish Cap barely scraped together 6 dungeons and a single overhead map. Even though it took me a few weeks to beat the game, I wasn't playing much at a time, so in gameplay hours it wasn't very long.

Similarly, the exploration aspect of previous Zelda games was almost completely gone in the Minish Cap. The single overhead map felt small, and there were very few secrets that could be directly discovered in the map. Instead, they forced you to play a stupid mini-game of collecting Kinstone pieces and then trying to find the character in the game looking for the matching Kinstone Piece. Once you matched pieces, something would happen (treasure chest dropping from the sky, cave opening, path appearing, etc). It took all the motivation to explore the world away, because you wouldn't be able to get anything until you matched an arbitrary Kinstone piece to some character (who might not even offer to match until a later point in the game).

Another annoyance was that a number of items were basically totally optional and could only be procured through Kinstone fusion with multiple characters in the game. In the ultimate ridiculousness one item (the mirror shield) couldn't even be acquired until after you beat the whole game. WTF? What do you need a new shield for after you beat the last guy in the last dungeon. It didn't make any sense.

The new jump item was sort of a bust. Although it did open up new dungeon areas, it was extremely limited in what it actually allowed you to do. You could only really jump areas without a floor, and to specifically marked vertical areas. It ended up feeling like a last minute addition as you got it at the very end of the game, and then couldn't use it hardly anywhere, even to jump an inch high barrier. Also, because of the angle of the overhead view and the fact that it was principally a 2D game, I frequently found it difficult to line up jumps to vertical areas. You had to be in exactly the right place or the engine couldn't figure out what you were trying to do, and would treat the jump as just being within the current 2D area, not a jump to the next vertical area.

Finally, the graphical style was a bit bizarre. For the most part the game looked similar to A Link to the Past's style overhead graphics. Buildings, walls, characters, the world map, etc all looked like they were cut from the same cloth as the old Super NES game. Enemies and item effects (bomb explosions for example) were all done in the cel-shaded Wind Waker style. It made the game feel rather disjointed, and seemed bizarre given that Nintendo has since backed away from the silly cel-shaded style of the Wind Waker. Never under estimate the stubbornness of Shigeru Miyamoto I guess.

Overall I think that I enjoyed the game, but that I just had too high of expectations for it. I was hoping for a spiritual sequel to A Link to the Past, complete with a broad world to explore, and lots of dungeons to fight through. Instead I got a rather a game that looked graphically similar, but was much more linear.

Still, the dungeon design was good (for what dungeons there were), and The Minish Cap did a good job of bringing some of the newer Zelda items and enemies into a 2D environment. I enjoyed the game, just not as much as I thought I was going to.


Read the whole post.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Everything on the Internet is True

This summer Linzy is taking an online class at her college on professional writing. One of their recent assignments was designed to show the students how you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.

Specifically, they were supposed to do an online search for "Whales in Mankato, MN", or "Submarines in Mankato, MN".

The intention, I assume, was for them to find pages on this site, which is a mirror of a site from way back in 1997 setup by a Mankato State University professor. The site was a spoof travel site, featuring made-up pages about the Mankato Submarine Docks, and the summer migration of whales up the Minnesota river. I assume the professor made the pages to demonstrate the same "Don't trust everything on the Internet" lesson to his students back in the late 90s.

Part of Linzy's assignment was to do the search, and then comment on the online forum about whether the resulting sites were 'credible' or not. They had a few other things to do as well, and then they also had to reply to someone else's original comment on the forum.

Apparently several (many?) of the students were not familiar with the concept that not everything you read is true. Below is a sample of the kind of posts that were being made.

The first post was:

I don't see whales being on any river. They live in the ocean. If anyone see's a whale in a river they need to take a picture of it because no one will believe that there was one there.


The reply from someone else:
I agree with you [Student A] that whales are supposed to live in the oceans but maybe someone took one out of the ocean and placed it in the Minnesota river for awhile. Hopefully this person is taking care of this whale especially since the river doesn't have much salt.


Personally, I'm hoping that some afternoon I am out in the backyard when suddenly a huge shadow falls over the deck. When I look up, there in a sling under a helicopter high above the earth is a whale, being carefully transported from its natural habitat into the totally freshwater Minnesota River.

On second thought, maybe it would be easier just to turn the cargo hold into a giant saltwater tank (using transparent aluminum, of course).


Read the whole post.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Don't Kick That

A few days ago Linzy and I were on our afternoon walk with the dog and we walked by a house down the street where new owners were moving in. They had hired a moving company to assist with shoehorning their possessions into their new abode.

Just as we walked by, one of the movers walked around the side of the truck, spit on the ground, wound up, and kicked one of the tires on the cab portion of the truck.

I didn't think too much of it at the time (other then: 'that was weird').

Later, we were driving home after running an errand, and we passed the same moving truck pulled over on the side of the road just a few houses down from where they were moving. All 5 movers were standing around, hands on hips, staring at the same tire the guy had kicked earlier.

Whoops.


Read the whole post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Portable Music

Well, on Monday Linzy and I finally joined the rest of the world in 2003, and bought an MP3 player. A 6GB Rio Carbon, to be exact. No forced iTunes usage in this house.

Oddly, despite the fact that I've had mp3s of all of my cds since at least 1997, I've never owned an MP3 player. Initially the capacities were just too small (anyone remember the 32MB Rio player?). By the time they started making hard drive based players, the prices got too expensive for me to justify. Meanwhile, my sister has had at least one player and my parents have had three different ones.

I was doing well at resisting the urge to buy still more electronics that I don't need. But then I started listening to This Week in Tech (well it was RoTSS at the time), and I found myself wishing I could listen to it in the car. For some reason, I have a hard time writing (email/blogs/documentation/whatever) while listening to people yammer in my ears, where as I enjoy having people rambling on while I am driving to and from work.

I had been hoarding a healthy amount of birthday money and gift cards for the last month, trying to decide on exactly what I wanted to get with it. I was seriously considering a PSP (for Lumines), or a Nintendo DS (for Meteos), but after debating burning yet another whole CD for a podcast that I was only going to listen to once, I finally admitted defeat and went out and bought the Rio Carbon.

So far it has been working well, although admittedly I haven't had it that long. The biggest hassle so far has been trying to find the perfect (read: cheap but still functional) FM transmitter so I can play music through the car stereo and/or the boombox in my garage.

The sound quality is, as expected, very good. Certainly as good as any modern walkman cd player, and being able to play my high bitrate VBR files without having to transcode them is a nice plus.

6GB might actually end up being a little small on the storage side of things. Without too much tweaking to the automatic synch settings, I was able to fit almost all my 4 and 5 star rated songs as well as everything new in the last month on the player. But I haven't rated even a fifth of my songs, so it won't be long before everything won't fit. And we'll probably have to synch files by hand for long car trips so Linzy gets at least a few cds she really likes. Still, it fit well over 900 songs (including several full-concert-in-a-single-mp3 files), which is more then enough music for quite a while.

One dangerous bundle-in was a free month of Audible (Downloadable Audio Books). I am leery of trying that for the same reason I don't try MMORPGs, I'm afraid of getting hooked. All we need is another monthly fee just so I can be so lazy as to not even read my own books but instead listen to people read them to me.

The other dangerous aspect of this is that I can see our collection of MP3 players multiplying rapidly. Already Linzy was looking for the Carbon while I had it at work, and talking about how she wanted something to listen to on walks. And I was thinking I should get a 512M-1GB flash player for biking with (can't jostle those hard drive heads). After 8 years of resisting, next thing you know we'll have his, hers, and exercise players.


Read the whole post.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mystery Puzzles

I've mentioned a couple times before that I like to do the occasional puzzle. Normally that is a winter activity in these parts, as you start to run out of things to do in the house on the third straight week of below freezing temperatures in February.

But, I got a new puzzle from my parents for my birthday last month, and since it was reverse puzzle weather a couple weeks ago (i.e. so hot outside that they had heat warnings, and you couldn't do anything but sweat out there anyways), I decided to give the puzzle a shot.

The birthday puzzle was interesting because it wasn't like any I had seen before. It was called "C is for Chocolate" and was a 'Mystery Puzzle Game'. The gimmick was that there was an enclosed pamphlet telling a mini-murder mystery, and then you would do the puzzles to figure out the solution to the mystery. How they manage to not be sued by Sue Grafton, I don't know.

Regardless, It sounds straight forward, right?

The catch was that there were two puzzles (a before and an after picture), and both were mixed in the same bag. Oh, and since it was a mystery, there were no pictures of either puzzle.

That seemed pretty difficult at first. Not as hard as the one I saw where it was two different puzzles printed on either side of same pieces, but pretty dang difficult.

And when I started with the edge, it was looking pretty hard. The pieces were the crazy variety, using all sorts of strange shapes including some pieces that just rested against each other, rather then interlocking. Throw in the fact that I had no idea what the pictures looked like nor what orientation/shape/size the overall puzzles were, and I struggled a bit getting the edge done first.

After the edge was done however, things got a bit easier. You could tell from the edge that the two pictures had slightly different tints, and because the pictures turned out to be of the same room with slightly different objects in it, once I got something major placed in one puzzle, I knew how the other should probably go.

Still, there was a lot of 'empty space' filled with patterned wallpaper, bed spreads, and curtains where the color differentiation between the puzzles was pretty difficult to determine. That meant a lot of trial and error, and piece hunting. But with only 1,000 pieces between the two puzzles it wasn't too bad.

In the end, the 'solving the mystery' aspect of the puzzle didn't really come to fruition. Based off the two pictures, I didn't think there was enough information to definitively 'solve' the mystery. Oh, the explanation they gave in the pamphlet fit with what was pictured, but it didn't really explain how you could rule out the other suspects.

So while I think I prefer larger puzzles that have pictures of what you are putting together, the dual mystery puzzle was definitely a fun experience.

Some pictures, if you are interested:

The puzzle box.


The edges I found on the first search through the pieces.


After a bit of struggling, the edge was mostly finished.


These sections of the interior went really quick compared to the edges.


The completed puzzles (the 'after' picture is on the left)



Read the whole post.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Quiet Overkill

The Northbridge fan on my motherboard has been acting up again. With the heat lately, the fan seems to be louder then ever (it's probably just running at higher RPMs and more often). Today I finally got fed up and ordered the Zalman fan-less replacement heatsink I've been eyeing since January.

Then I started thinking that the other fans in the case were pretty dang loud too. And I didn't want to order one $5 heatsink and pay $7 shipping, only to find out that one of the other fans was contributing to the problem too and have to pay another outrageous shipping charge for additional fans. So I ordered a noiseless CPU fan, and three replacement case fans.

So my $12 order blossomed into a $61 order. But that computer should be much quieter.

I almost ordered a new noiseless power supply too, but eventually decided it was too expensive and to wait and see how things are after the new fans get installed. Plus since the power supplies are (relatively) expensive the $5-7 shipping charge doesn't seem as outrageous of a percentage.


Read the whole post.

Movies: Anchorman

Two weekends ago Linzy and I watched Anchorman. I was very disappointed; I didn't really like it at all.

I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't enjoy it. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood, or maybe my expectations were too high since a number of people have told me that they liked it.

But while the film had its moments, for the most part I didn't think it was particularly funny. I thought most of the glass ceiling humor was just sad, so that pretty much hurt my chances of enjoying the movie.


Read the whole post.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Weekly Biking Update: 7/24

This week of biking was pretty similar to the previous weeks. I rode a bit further, but the average speed was almost identical to what I've been doing since I started keeping track. The temperature was quite a bit lower then last week, so I was expecting faster times, but the wind was really a problem two of the days (particularly yesterday when I rode right before a huge storm rolled in, so the wind was gusting pretty bad).

DateDistMinutesMPHRouteTempWind
18-Jul14.2566.0412.9477-7312
20-Jul13.5659.1113.6685-833
23-Jul14.1863.513.4777-7810-19
Total41.99188.6513.35   


I tried a totally different route (#6) on Wednesday that turned out to be a huge bust. Not only did I narrowly avoid getting arrested, but the second half of the route was a disaster of steep hills peppered with busy intersections. That totally killed any momentum I built up (in either direction, up or down). The only reason the speeds were even close to reasonable was that I spent most of the ride stewing over the whole 'pulled over for running a stop sign' debacle.

Initially I thought yesterday's ride was going to be quite fast. I felt good, it was overcast so the temperature was reasonable, and I was out early enough there wasn't much traffic. But as the storm rolled in, the wind steadily got to be more of a problem. Riding directly into the wind up the last three hills was a killer.

I'm not sure what happened on Monday's ride, I assume the wind wasn't helping matters.

Next week I am planning on trying at least a couple routes heading South from our house instead of North. That may make the wind worse (since there is literally nothing to the South but farms), but should hopefully help the traffic problems.

Incidentally, I should point out that the temperature numbers are just from our thermometer, which I usually try to check before and after the ride (thus the two numbers). I get the wind numbers off weather.com when I get home.

[ Update 8/28: These mileage and average speed numbers turned out to be slighly low as my cyclometer was set incorrectly. ]

Read the whole post.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Zoinks: Pictures

Remember way back when I saw a full-sized van painted to look like the Mystery Machine?

Well, my buddy Moen got a picture of it while at the Art Car Parade here in town. It looks just like...well...the Mystery Machine.


Read the whole post.

Natural Gas Billing: Update

So, remember last fall when I scoffed at the 'No Surprises' natural gas billing plan proposed by my natural gas company?

It's OK not too, I barely remember it, and I wrote it.

The gist was that the gas company was trying to pass off a fixed price plan as being a good deal for customers because it made their bill consistent regardless of the weather and gas prices. The catch was, if you overpaid you didn't get the money back, it was just tough luck.

In my case, they proposed a 'No Surprises' amount of $775 a year.

Well yesterday we got our final bill of the 2004-2005 period. Being the nerd I am, I of course had to look up the actual amount we spent to compare with the 'deal' the gas company was offering. Last year it cost ~$584 to heat the house/water.

Meaning if I had been concerned about paying exactly the same amount each month I would have paid the gas company an extra $191. Or a staggering 32.7% premium versus allowing the bill to vary slightly over the course of the year.

I guess I wasn't surprised, but it still seems pretty ridiculous. I don't know how the inventor of the plan can sleep at night knowing they are bilking customers out of almost $200 a year. I suppose they probably take comfort in the huge bonus they got for increasing revenues by 30%.

Read the whole post.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Training Bucks

Today I went to an Oracle Performance Tuning seminar featuring a pretty well-known Oracle expert. It was arranged by a local guy and promoted through the local users group.

Regular instructor-led Oracle training is expensive. Taking a 5 day class from Oracle education runs you around $3,000 assuming you didn't get your sales guy to throw in any discounted training credits. Seminars tend to be a better deal, because they usually arrange for someone who was already here for the users group meeting to stay an extra day and earn some additional money giving a more in-depth seminar.

What struck me today was the fact that 67 people showed up for the seminar. At $200 a head, that is $13,400. That's a lot of money.

I have no idea what an Oracle expert charges to put on a one-day seminar, but I would guess $5,000. If you assume renting the room and buying all the food costs another $2,000, that leaves $6,400 in profit for the guy arranging the seminar.

Pretty impressive for setting up a seminar. As is the 5K for presenting for 8 hours, especially since the travel was probably covered by the user group. And I wouldn't be surprised if the fee was more then $5,000 considering the abnormally high turnout (although even the fairly egotistical Don Burleson doesn't charge that much for a single day).

I guess that is what happens when companies routinely spend millions of dollars buying the product you are an expert in. They don't bat an eye at a couple grand for training on it.

Have I mentioned I'm really good at administrating Oracle databases? ;)

[ Incidentally the seminar wasn't even all that terrific. The speaker was engaging and enthusiastic, but the material was the same old, same old Oracle Wait Interface/10046 trace analysis tuning method that people have been using for 5 years now.

I don't mind hearing about it again (because it is extremely effective), but it's probably time to stop beating the dead horse of 'Tuning via ratios is a bad way to tune', or using the phrase 'A radical approach to Oracle tuning' in the title of your seminar.

Although every time I hear a case-study of a performance problem, I start wonder why it took a 500 dollar an hour consultant to set an event and run the resultant tracefile through tkprof. But then I remember things like this. ]


Read the whole post.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Breakin' the Law

The other night I was out on one of my bike rides, and was riding through a little residential neighborhood. One of the ones with 30 mile an hour speed limits and just local traffic.

I came up on a 4-way stop, slowed down and looked in all directions. A car was coming the other way and slowing to a stop. Since I was already at the stop sign (and thus had gotten there first), I went across the intersection.

A little ways up the road I heard a police siren squawk. I made sure I was over near the side of the road, and kept going. Then I noticed he was pulling up, apparently interested in me.

So I stopped and got off my bike. The conversation went like this:

Officer: Do you have a drivers license?
Me: What? No.
Officer: Any identification?
Me: No.

Officer: Are you aware of the rules of the road you need to follow on a bike?
Me: I thought I was. What did I do?
Officer: You need to stop at stop signs.
Me: Uhh?

Officer: <long-winded lecture about coming to a complete stop.>
Officer: I'm not going to give you a ticket. You can go.

Me: Thanks.


Note that I managed to avoid letting the conversation devolve into an argument over exactly what constituted a stop. I also avoided any ticket-getting comments like:

  • Slow day on the Lakeville Police force?
  • Does it look like I am driving a car, why would I need to have a drivers license on me?
  • Don't you have anything better to do then pull people on bikes over for rolling through a non-busy intersection?
  • Maybe you should try catching the people who speed through the neighborhood and run the stop sign in cars rather then hassling me about only slowing down when there were no cars running the stop sign. (Part of the lecture involved 'crazies' running stop signs).


I realize he was only looking out for my safety, but it still seemed sort of silly to be pulled over for running a stop sign on a bike at like 5 mph in a random neighborhood.

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Biking

I've been trying to make an effort to do more biking lately. It has been hard though since the weather has been ridiculously warm.

For example, last Saturday morning I went out at what I thought was a fairly safe early morning hour, 9 am. When I left it was 80F outside. By the time I got back a bit after 10, it was already 93F (in the sun at least).

Still I've managed to put in about 35 miles a week, which I didn't think was too shabby. Certainly that is not Tour de France amounts, or even serious bicyclist levels, but on top of all the walking I do, I am pleased with the amount.

The only problem, other then remembering to drink enough water to deal with the heat, has been coming up with new routes that are roughly the right length and don't involve crossing too many major intersections where I end up stopped for a significant amount of time.

The last two weeks I've started tracking my mileage and average speed to see if I am improving at all. But so far nearly every route I've taken has been different, which makes it difficult to compare. About the only change I've noticed so far is a disturbing "biker's tan" (tops of the arms only) which coupled with my normal farmer's tan is pretty silly looking.

I'm not really sure if the mileage I am going, and the speed that I ride it at is reasonable or slacker-slow. With all the hills in the area and the usually noticeable breeze, I can't seem to average more then about 13-13.5 mph over my 14 mile routes. On flat areas I can go much faster (I try for 15), but on larger hills I end up slowing down to around 10-11. That seems slow, but I have no idea.

Anyways, if you are interested, here is the information I've logged from the past two weeks:

DateDistMinutesMPHRoute
7/414.163.313.362
7/58.6539.913 
7/713.160.2133
Total35.85163.4  


DateDistMinutesMPHRouteTempWind
7/106.8532.112.81917
7/1214.1962.0913.6488-833
7/1614.1864.0113.2580-936
Total35.22158.2    


Incidentally I checked my favorite route (4, for reference) using the GMap Pedometer, and it came out to be 14.79 miles versus 14.1 miles on my bike computer. So it is possible the distances and speeds are a bit understated.


[ Update 8/28: These mileage and average speed numbers did turn out to be slighly low as my cyclometer was set incorrectly. ]


Read the whole post.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Movies: Batman Begins

On Friday night Dan and Kelli were in town, so Linzy, Gerard, and I went out to dinner with them. After a fairly long dinner Linzy's back started hurting, so she had to leave. But not before she worked her master plan to get me to go see Batman Begins in the theater, and sent the rest of us on our way to the Carmike.

You see, I've been wanting to see Batman Begins since the first time I saw a preview for it, but since Linzy's back problems happened just before it came out, I haven't had a chance to go. Ever since Linzy started feeling better and could stay home alone, she's been trying to set me up with someone to go see Batman Begins with, while I protested that I would just wait until it came out on DVD. The stars happened to align on Friday so that a group of us could go, and I was pretty excited to get to see the movie.

Normally this would be a recipe for disaster, as I would be expecting the Best Movie Ever, only to be disappointed when it turned out to be only average. However in this case it wasn't a problem, because I really enjoyed the movie.

The story was very interesting, at least partly because they took the storyline from the first Batman movie and threw it out the window. Part of me whimpered a bit at this, but the new storyline was well done and fairly believable, so I could live with the change. I enjoyed the slow transformation into Batman, as Bruce Wayne trained with the League of Shadows and developed the Batman persona.

The acting was top-notch for the most part (other then a few lame one-liners that didn't really fit). Christian Bale was terrific, both as the tortured-by-guilt pre-Batman Bruce Wayne and as a re-focused Bruce Wayne fighting crime as Batman. I also really liked the villains, Ra's Al Ghul and Dr. Jonathan Crane. Both were fun to watch, and fit into the story well. Morgan Freeman played the exact same character he plays in every movie, which I happen to like, so I enjoyed him in Batman Begins too.

The action in the movie was entertaining. The fight scenes were well coordinated, particularly the cool last training fight between Ducard and Bruce Wayne in a sea of ninjas. The new Batmobile turned out to be just as cool as it looked from the previews. And a number of Batman's gadgets were put to good use.

The atmosphere of Gotham City was emersive. Anytime they descended under the city or into a bad part of town, it just oozed corruption and you really got the feeling this was a town being run by the criminals. The architecture of the buildings and the interiors really lent a run-down, gothic feeling to the city that was just perfect for what I would expect from the Batman universe.

There wasn't much I disliked about the film. As I mentioned before, a few one-liners felt out of place. And there was definitely a period of the movie after Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham, where he is getting ready to eventually become Batman where I felt myself thinking "Come on, get your self a black suit and get on with it". But the pace picked up shortly thereafter, so it is a minor complaint at best.

Overall I really liked the movie, and highly recommended it.

Read the whole post.

Monday, July 18, 2005

10-year Reunion

Saturday night was my 10-year high school reunion. Strangely (considering I graduated from Burnsville) it was held at Tuttle's Bowling Bar and Grill in Hopkins. Tuttle's turned out to be pretty much a bowling alley with a little bar tacked onto the back. When we got the initial flyer for the reunion I was envisioning something more like Bryant Lake Bowl, that is more of a restaurant/bar then a..well..bowling alley.

Initially the bowling alley bar aspect felt a little weird. When we arrived (about an hour after the start) there were really not that many people there, only a few that I even knew. So Linzy and I pretty much just hung out, waiting for more arrivals. At that point I was pretty sure this post was going to end up being something like "10-year reunion = TEH SUCK".

As the night progressed, more people started showing up and we discovered a few other friends who had been there the whole time but that we hadn't bumped into. There turned out to be more people in attendance that I knew then I thought there would be (most of my friends in high school went to a different school). After the initially awkward reconnecting stage, I started having a good time catching up with everyone.

One nice thing about Tuttle's actually turned out to be the thing I was concerned about, the bowling alley. A group of us (Brenden, Tina, Gabe, Teri, Adam N. and I) finished out the night with two games of bowling, which was a lot of fun. It was an easy way to spend some time together.

The most pathetic moment of the evening was when a group of about 20-30 "cool" kids from high school all showed up enmasse about 10:30 (the reunion started at 7). Obviously having all met up somewhere else first, so they could show up late and let everyone know that they were still so cool they had better things to do for the first part of the night. I'm sure everyone was real impressed.

I was a little disappointed that more people I knew didn't come, as several of my really good friends from high school that I haven't seen hardly at all since didn't come. But at the same time, I had a lot of fun spending time with the people who did come. It was definitely fun to get to see Gabe, Adam N, Mike, Teri, Jake, and John, who I haven't seen for 5 or 10 years (in the case of Adam, Teri and John), and Tina who I haven't seen since my wedding two years ago.

All in all, just like the 5 year reunion, I had a lot more fun then I thought I was going too.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

High-Priority

Does anyone else think that sometimes Microsoft's priority ratings for patches might overstate things a bit?

High-priority updates
Microsoft Corporation Office 2003

Update for Office 2003 (KB887980)
Download size: 213 KB , less than 1 minute

This Microsoft Office 2003 update allows Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003 to display the value of the Turkish Lira in both the old and the new Lira formats.


Certainly that is High-Priority. I've been waiting for years to be able to make webpages that correctly display Turkish Lira values.


Read the whole post.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Nostalgia

A very fitting post on the day of my 10-year high school reunion. This picture was front page on the Metro section of the Star Tribune today. Proof that everything comes back in style eventually, including hot pink shorts and finger-less gloves.



I was disappointed to not see any leg-warmers.

Incidentally, Star Tribune is apparently too good to actually post all their stories on their craphole registration-required website, explaining the poor-man's scanner method I had to use to post the picture.

[ Also, the original picture is by Jeff Wheeler, and the text below was credited to Megan Chan ]


Read the whole post.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Is it Stinky?

Last night I was out front watering the plants, and a group of three kids came tearing down the sidewalk on their bikes excitedly talking amongst themselves:

Kid 1: Wow, that was the coolest thing I've ever seen.
Kid 3: I know, I've never seen anything like it.

Kid 2: Hey there's Kid 4. Hey Kid 4, we found a dead bunny!
Kid 3: Yeah, it is super cool!
Kid 4: Really? Is it stinky?
Kid 1: Yeah! And it looks really weird too!

Kid 4: Hey Kid 5, come here.
Kid 5: What?
Kid 1: We found a dead rabbit!
Kid 5: Where?
Kid 2: Right over there, let's go back!

Kid 3: This is going to be so cool...

And the 5 rode off to see it again. A short while later they all came back, chattering excitedly again. They run into Kid 6 and 7:

Kid 6: What's going on?
Kid 1: We found a dead rabbit!
Kid 4: It's really stinky!
Kid 2: You have to come see it.
Kid 7: Let's go!

Kid 3: I'm going to touch it!

Dad (who overhears this): Don't touch it!

Kids: Awwwww.

And then I overhead as they rode away:

Kid 3: I'm going to touch it anyways!

Coming next week - Crazy Disease Thursday.


Read the whole post.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Movies: House of Flying Daggers

This weekend Linzy and I watched House of Flying Daggers. It was pretty much exactly what the reviews make it out to be: an absolutely beuatiful movie with a sub-par story.

The visuals of the movie were pretty stunning, so stunning that some of the landscapes looked like they may have been computer enhanced. Regardless the forests and bamboo field were very cool looking, and were great settings for the action of the movie. Also the final fight in the field, in the middle of a sudden blizzard, was really cool.

The fighting in the movie was interesting, but not up the the standards of, say, a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or even Kung Fu Hustle (which admittedly was way over-the-top and thus a totally different style). Still, it was good and very entertaining.

The acting was good. Zhang Ziyi was superb as the blind Mei. The actor who plays Jin also did a pretty good job I thought.

The downside of the movie was that the plot was pretty slow moving. There was basically a single plot line that was followed through out the whole movie. That line had some interesting twists and turns but for the most part I thought it moved too slowly until near the very end of the movie.

I am fairly torn about my overall feelings about the movie. On one hand it was very impressive visually, and the end of the movie was really good, but the middle section of the movie was kind of boring. On the other hand, if you cut out some of the middle of the movie, several of the later plot elements wouldn't have been very believable.

I think most of my issue with the slow-moving love-story aspect of the movie was the result of misplaced expectations (like always). I was expecting a more action packed movie, so when we instead spent an hour or so watching a glacial love story, I got a bit bored.

I guess I would say overall I enjoyed the movie, I was just expecting something a bit different.

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Trailer Crashers

Have you seen the Wedding Crashers website? They have a thing where you can 'crash' the trailer by photoshopping heads into it.

I hadn't seen it before my buddy Dan sent two links to a bunch of us. The first one stars Gerard and I, the second one stars Dan and Gerard. My sister then made one of her husband and their friend Adam.

I find them pretty amusing.

Pretty impressive marketing, it is certainly making me watch the trailer a bunch.


Read the whole post.

Dead Spruce Disease

Do you hear that? That is the sound of inevitability.

The first time I mowed the lawn after we moved into our house years ago, my ankle painfully discovered a line of trecherous depressions at the far edge of the backyard. They line up perfectly along the back lot line, but the grass grows in such a way that I didn't notice them until the first time I stepped into one.

The holes aren't particularly deep, and they lined up with a lone Spruce tree that was on the same lot line. The conclusion I came to was that originally a whole row of trees must have been planted back there (to form a nice wall), except all but one tree died. The dead trees were removed, leaving the row of deadly ankle twisters.

The last tree standing has actually been doing really well since we've moved in. It's grown significantly each year (particularly this year and the previous year), and it requires virtually no attention.

A few weeks ago I noticed that the very top tip of the tree looked a little brown. I didn't think much of it until a few days later when the brown looked like it was moving further down the tree. Now, several of the top branches are totally brown, and appear to be getting worse.

I'm thinking the tree finally gave in to whatever disease killed the other trees in the row. Calling on my vast horticultural knowledge, when Linzy asked what disease I thought it was, I dubbed it Dead Spruce Disease.

I don't really hold out much hope for the tree bouncing back. Even if the bulk of the tree survives, I'm not really sure how it will continue to grow without a living center branch on top. I did try giving the tree a good soaking a while back, on the off chance the problem is drought related.

It's really too bad...



Read the whole post.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Books: Ringworld Throne

After finishing the second book in the Ringworld series, Ringworld Engineers, a few weeks ago, I moved on to the last book in the series that I have, The Ringworld Throne. This book picks up basically right where Ringworld Engineers left off, featuring most of the same characters.

It was inevitable, and somewhat expected after Ringworld Engineers, but I'm sorry to report that the Ringworld Throne is not a very good book.

Pretty much everything I disliked about Ringworld Engineers was a main plot point in Ringworld Throne. Rishathra, check. Vampires, check.

Plus the book didn't really introduce anything new. A few new, minor, characters. A few minor questions answered. But the pretty much the whole story took place in areas we had already seen in previous books. There was not much further exploration of the Ringworld, and no new visionary ideas of the Known Space universe were presented.

I own another Larry Niven book on the back that proclaims it 'His best book since Ringworld', and talks about all his other books are basically crap (not a good thing to read on the back of a book where they should be touting his genius), so I knew a drop-off in quality was coming eventually. I was just hoping it would be further into the series then it was.

On the plus side, Ringworld Throne happened to be the last book in the series that I own, so I don't have to feel any guilt about not continuing on with the rest of the books.


Read the whole post.

Impersonation

Brenden mentioned the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yesterday and it reminded me of an observation I made at CONvergence.

A number of people decided to dress up as Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka character, with the crazy bobbed haircut, top hat, big sunglasses, strange trenchcoat, the whole nine yards. They all looked pretty much exactly like what I have seen of Willy Wonka in the previews, it was impressive.

The odd thing was that every single one was a woman.

I'm not sure what that means, but it must mean something.


Read the whole post.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Steamy

You know it's been hot and muggy for a long time when you come back inside from moving the sprinklers around and you say:

You know, a front must have moved in, it's really not so bad out there anymore.


And then you look and it is still 78F outside (with 67% humidity and a 65F dew point).

Read the whole post.

TV: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

A while back, I finally finished watching the first season of the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The show is set in 'a parallel' version of the world where the Ghost in the Shell movie took place. From what I gather, in the 'parallel' world, none of the events from the movie took place (or perhaps have just not happened yet, I've seen both explanations on that Internet thingy).

The TV series follows the exploits of Public Security Section 9, a sort of elite police force/government agency, which works only on cases critical to national security. One interesting thing about the series is that episodes fall into two types, "Standalone" and "Complex". Standalone episodes are just that, one off episodes that don't deal with the overarching storyline. Complex episodes tie together and all deal with the case of the Laughing Man, a criminal no one has ever seen the face of.

I really enjoy the series, particularly most of the Complex episodes. The standalone episodes were sometimes interesting, and sometimes not (it's probably hard to make too interesting of a mystery fit into the ~23 minutes of a single episode). The complex episodes presented an interesting story with intriguing unanswered questions between episodes. The complex episodes got better all the way to the very end, with the final 5 or so being outstanding.

For the most part the characters in the show are interesting. There are a few members of Section 9 that don't get much air time, but I though the main characters were intriguing. There are a number of minor plot lines carried through-out the series, like Motoko's childhood, Togusa not having all the bionic equipment of the other characters, or the Tachikoma Tank's AI, which all help develop the characters beyond just being a member of an elite law enforcement team.

In a big surprise, I even ended up liking the Tachikoma tanks despite their stereotypical Anime shrill child voices. It almost made sense (the child-like aspect, not the shrill yelling all the time aspect) based on the 'evolving and learning AI' storyline they made up for the tanks. I also was highly amused by the tanks in the episode where they are concerned that people think they are getting too highly advanced and so resolve to speak slowly and more like robots.

As you would expect from a Production IG, errr, production, the animation is outstanding. The world of Ghost in the Shell was interesting, although since the original movie the whole futuristic everything-is-a-giant-network world has been done a number of times other places. Still I enjoyed the setting and I thought the futuristic plots of the various episodes fit together well with the world.

The only complaint I have about Ghost in the Shell: SAC was that it was a bit 'talky' at times. One whole episode effectively takes place in an IRC-like chat room, with various people discussing the Laughing Man case. Interesting I suppose from a plot perspective, but a bit light on the action. At other times, I got a bit lost trying to follow the crazy explanations the characters rattled off to each other for technological phenomenon. It could have been because of the subtitles, but some of the things seemed awfully confusing.

Still, I really enjoyed the show, and am looking forward to watching the second season.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Splatter!

I generally try to wash and wax our two cars by hand twice a year (spring and fall). This always turns out to be a huge time sink, since you have to wash the car prior to waxing, and then wash it again afterwards. Plus I usually end up vacuuming them out, armor all'ing the seats and dash, windexing the windows, etc.

Because of the big time commitment, this year I was a bit slow on actually getting around to doing the work. I didn't do my car until the beginning of June (pushing the whole 'spring' timeframe). Linzy hurt her back around the same time, so I just haven't been able to find the time to get around to cleaning her car.

I was complaining about how much time this whole process takes to a friend at work (just like I do every time I go through this ritual) and he mentioned that I should just borrow his dual-head orbiting buffer. He is a big car guy, having 8 cars, so he said the buffer saves him tons of time when he has to wax all the cars.

Always looking for a way to avoid manual labor, I thought that sounded great. On Friday I borrowed it from him, with the plan of finally crossing "Wax Linzy's Car" off my to-do list this weekend.

Things started out just fine. Saturday morning I pulled the car into the driveway and gave the car a good washing (thankfully for the neighbors, wearing a bit more then Paris Hilton does when she washes a car.). Then I put the car in the garage to cool off in the shade while I ate lunch and did a few things around the house. That afternoon there was no more putting it off, it was time to buck up and do the work.

Don's polisher is quite fancy, it has two orbital heads that you attach velcro backed buffer pads to (pretty much the same way an orbital sander works). The nice thing about this particular polisher (from what I understand) is that because of the dual orbital heads and low speed, there isn't much chance of wrecking the paint on the car by using it incorrectly.

When I picked up the polisher on Friday, Don had given me a few instructions on how use it. Pretty much he said to just put a line of cleaner wax on a section of the car and then run the polisher over the wax to work it into a couple foot section of the car. Basically similar to how you would apply the wax by hand (except that I normally put the wax on the pad). He did mention that you have to be careful how you approach the line of wax or it will splatter a bit.

So after picking out the kind of pads I wanted to use, I decided to start with the roof of the car (like I would have if I was doing it by hand). I spread a decent sized line of wax on a section of the roof, turned the polisher on, and tried to set the polisher down carefully so that the wax line was between the heads.

Wax flew everywhere. On me, on the windshield, on the rear window, on both windows on the side of the car.

I panicked.

I tried to lift the polisher off the wax, hoping to stop the disaster in process. Instead, I made things worse. You see, by this time the pads had collected a fair amount of wax on them. Freed from the slowing influence of the roof, they spun like mad shooting wax even further around.

All over the floor, on the hood, on the side of the car, all over the trunk.

Finally I got the beast shut off.

At this point I had no idea what to do. About half the car was covered in rapidly-drying wax droplets, particularly the windows, which I always try to keep wax off of. Don had mentioned splattering, but he didn't describe (or I didn't understand) quite the level of splattering that could occur. And I had no idea what the right way to approach the wax line was, to avoid this just happening again.

I eventually decided that there wasn't much I could do now, I had to go through with it and try to find a way that didn't splatter so bad. I did think that, in retrospect, perhaps the roof wasn't the best place to start, if splattering was going to be such a problem. The hood seemed better, if for no other reason then there was only one window in range.

So I spread some wax on the hood, and tried coming at the wax from the side. Wax sprayed everywhere.

Ok, how about from the other side. The windshield was starting to look like one solid mass of Zymöl.

Eventually I decided that maybe I should just put the wax right on the pads like I would if I was doing it by hand. That worked, sort of. It still splattered a bit, but not as bad. I used that technique for the remainder of the car, but it still made a huge mess, with little wax droplets everywhere.

The worst part of the splattering was not only that it got all over the windows and on sections of the car I had already finished, but that it got on every little piece of plastic/rubber trim and into every hairline crack on the car. I spent way more time just trying to clean everything up then I normally would have doing the whole job by hand. And it didn't help that it was 94 degrees and a de point of 72, so that even in the shaded garage it was still uncomfortably warm.

I never was able to get the windows really clean. When the sun shines through them, they look terrible, which just makes me more frustrated with the whole deal.

I can't imagine I'll be using a dual-action car polisher again any time soon.

Read the whole post.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Idle Speculation

Now that George Lucas has finished ruining the legacy of the original Star Wars movies and is moving on to Indiana Jones 4, here's a question for you:

What are you going to do when he replaces the deceased River Phoenix with Hayden Christensen as "Young Indy"?


Read the whole post.

Friday, July 08, 2005

My Title Is...

Yesterday at work the whole company got an e-mail talking about mid-year reviews (the ridiculousness of our rating system could be the subject of a whole post in itself). The e-mail came from some big executive, whose title was:

vice president, Six Sigma Lean - Human Capital Excellence


What kind of nonsensical title is that? I mean, it has punctuation and eight words in it. That's pretty much a guarentee your title is silly.

And where did the phrase Human Capital come from? I have no idea what that means, but I'm pretty sure I don't like it. It's only a matter of time before the inevitable Freudian slip, where someone addresses us as Human Cattle.

And what exactly is Excellence in Human Capital? Does that mean we are all good little veal calves, stay in our cubes and don't cause trouble?

And what is Six Sigma Lean doing in that title? Do we have less then 3.4 defects per million employees? Does inventing a title like that count as .4 of a defect? I'm thinking yeah.

Here's what I was thinking happened.

The guy used to be 'vice president of Human Resources'. He woke up one morning, decided he wasn't getting enough stock options to afford that new car, and that the surefire way to fix that was, of course, a new modern title filled with buzzwords. Thus followed 6 months of focus groups, straw men, conference room pilots, meetings with stakeholders, and concensus building. Oh, and probably a trip to a world-class 'title invention' conference held somewhere like in Hawaii in Feburary.

Eventually, after three days out in the Hawaii sun, drinking nothing but tropical drinks, they decided just to fill a dart board with buzzwords and title prefixes, threw three darts, and slapped everything together into a title.

At least that is the way I'm figuring it happened. Surely someone didn't sit down and think that was a good, accurate title. I have to have a little faith in humanity.

Read the whole post.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Movies: Spirited Away

On Sunday Linzy and I watched Spirited Away. Spirited Away is a movie I've been meaning to get around to watching forever (well, at least since 2002 when it was released). I recall it being in theaters, but I think I skipped it after being disappointed with Princess Monokoe, another film by Hayao Miyazaki and one I made a point to go see in the theater.

While I thought Princess Monokoe was OK, it didn't really grab me. At the time I was much more interested in animated films along the variety of Ghost in the Shell, that is futuristic sci-fi. For some reason I went into Princess Monokoe expecting a more exciting perhaps martial arts movie, rather then a civilization versus nature movie. That resulted in a pretty big disappointment (although I did enjoy it a bit more after a much later second viewing), but it did help keep my expectations low for Spirited Away.

Anyways, I really enjoyed Spirited Away, and probably didn't even need those low expectations. The movie was very interesting and fun to watch, with cool, fantastic characters and environments. The premise is bizarre, but the world is so convincingly done that you forget about trying to frame anything that is going on in reality.

The animation was, of course, top-notch. I didn't expect anything less, but I wasn't disappointed at all. The many, varied, characters were convincingly drawn and most were very unique. The whole film was pretty dense, with a lot going on in most scenes. Whether it was huge crowds of creatures in the background of shots, or imaginative locations, there was a lot to take in.

We actually watched the dubbed version, something that I wouldn't normally have done, but it turned out to be surprisingly well done. I'd like to watch the Japanese audio track at some point, but I don't feel like I missed a whole lot by watching the English version. The voices fit the characters well, and they all seemed to mesh with the characters looks and emotions.

Amazingly, the film has a 98% rating on RottenTomatoes, and managed to live up to it. I really enjoyed the movie, and would recommend it.

Read the whole post.

Bargain DVDs: Pictures

Apparently my explanation of exactly how Best Buy rearranged their DVDs was not clear enough, because my sister asked that I provide a diagram.

Could you please provide a diagram of that arrangement of DVDs? I think it would clarify things for me :)

Very detailed, BB.


Because I am such a loving brother, I obliged, and drew one up:

The diagram


Read the whole post.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bargain DVDs - Reloaded

I mentioned the ever falling price of DVDs last month, noting how the price of movie DVDs seemed to be sliding further and further away from the $20 that used to be common Back in the Day, while TV series DVDs prices have remained high.

We were in Best Buy tonight, and I noticed they completely rearranged the DVD section. Most notably moving all the TV Show DVDs (of which they carry a ton) to the outer row facing the aisle. Also moved to a more prominent position were the anime DVDs (which are presumably less susceptible to pricing wars).

A New Release section remained on the outer row, but the section is pretty small compared to the TV Show section. The rest of the DVDs were relegated to less desirable retail real-estate, in the rows further away from common traffic paths.

I guess even Best Buy is feeling the pinch to their DVD margins when they have to compete with Target, Wal-Mart, and every gas station in selling cheap movie DVDs.

As a consumer, I'm all for it. Now if those TV Show DVDs would just start coming down in price...

[ Update: A follow-up to this is here ]

Read the whole post.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Convergence 2005: Part 2

This past weekend I went to Convergence for the fifth time. It was a lot of fun, as always. Pictures are here, although I am not sure that the fun necessarily translated well into picture form. This part covers Saturday, part 1 of this story (Friday night) was posted yesterday.

Saturday

Saturday morning brought the second disappointment of the weekend, when I woke up wondering WTF I had been doing drinking libations containing who-knows-what from random cabana rooms. I spent most of the morning feeling sorry for myself, eventually making it out to eat lunch by myself when I couldn't track anybody else down.

After that, I wandered the convention a bit, checking out the dealer's room (devoid of any good used books, the only thing I usually buy), the art room (featuring mostly the same pictures as always, although a bit more pr0n then normal), and the pool area. One cool thing that I did see were some miniature dioramas in the art room. One was a scale model of the giant battering ram from the Helm's Deep battle in The Two Towers, another was a cool temple scene, and the third was a tree with some golems on it. They were ridiculously expensive (starting bid $650), and I felt guilty taking pictures of them. But they were cool, trust me.

After that, I spent a while hanging out in Gerard's room talking with everybody while I waited for Brenden to show up. He did, and we killed some more time wandering the convention and talking with Dan and Kelli. I also chatted for a while with some guy in the science room about the International Space Station, picking up all kinds of cool space station trivia, like how they dissipate heat, how it was assembled, what countries contributed what parts, etc.

Later we headed over to TGI Fridays for dinner. Interestingly our server's name was Pookie. I was claiming it was a common Asian name, but today I can't really find any evidence of that on the web, so maybe it really was odd. Everyone else certainly thought it was.

After dinner we went back to Gerard's room and ended up watching Team America (the theater version, not the unrated directors cut). It wasn't spectacular, but it was pretty humorous at times. If I had been trapped in the theater to watch it, I wouldn't have enjoyed it, but watching it/listening to it while flipping through a White Dwarf magazine was just fine.

Finally it was time to hit the convention again, as it was getting closer to the time the Masquerade (costume contest) would be done. Gerard dressed up as Duck Dodgers this year, and I thought it was pretty well done. It turned out to be really uncomfortable to wear though, so he didn't wear it long.

After that, we spent the rest of the night hitting the cabana room parties and generally having a good time. Most of the same drinks from Friday were still around (although I declined most of them), but a new one showed up, "The Green Monster". It was easily the strongest tasting drink I had all weekend (although 'Deadly' from the Johnny Mnemonic room on Friday might have been stronger, you just couldn't taste anything but the Tahitian Treat).

As the night went on, the group steadily got more dispersed as people went their various ways. At one point, Brenden, Wes and I managed to locate the mythological S&M floor of the convention, something that has long been rumored but never actually found. There was no 'leave your clothes at the elevator' sign, but it was pretty obvious when we found it. Most of the rooms had scary-sounding signs on them saying who was staying there (including Master Someone and Slave Angel), or advertising 'Vacuum Waterbed available, call Marc @ XXX-XXX-XXXX'. No one knew exactly what a Vacuum Waterbed was, but since we found it on the 16th floor, it didn't seem like something I should be searching for while at work. Anyways, I couldn't talk Brenden or Wes into poking their heads into the one open room (and I certainly wasn't going to), so instead we called it a night.

I had a good time on Saturday checking out the various rooms, although there didn't seem to be quite as much going on as there had been the previous night. After talking with a couple people (like the Scotch Fairy), it sounded like everyone was feeling a bit 'tired' after Friday night. On a different note, I also thought there were fewer elaborate costumes then there have been in previous years.

Still, I had a good time and the whole thing provided a good excuse to hang out with friends. Who knows, I might even go again next year.

Read the whole post.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Convergence 2005: Part 1

This past weekend I went to Convergence for the fifth time. It was a lot of fun, as always. Pictures are here, although I am not sure that the fun necessarily translated well into picture form.

This year was spent almost exclusively just hanging out with friends. I did even fewer Con activities then normal, which is saying something. Still it was a great chance to hang out with friends, including Dan and Kelli who had come all the way up from Iowa, and Tristan and Brenden who were both experiencing their first convention.

Friday

Linzy and I got to the Sheraton a little later then everyone else, so we ended up missing out on a group dinner. After eating, picking up our badges, chatting up friends, and walking around a bit, Linzy had to leave because of her back. Dan, Tristan, Gerard and I (along with other people coming and going) spent the rest of the night hitting all the Cabana rooms around the pool area.

Tristan turned out to be a godsend for cabana room visiting, as he is outgoing and friendly. So where as Gerard and I will wander into a cabana room, not see anyone we know, stand around awkwardly for a bit, and then leave; Tristan was in, making friends, introducing people, and generally breaking the ice.

We ended up hanging out in all kinds of rooms, meeting the hosts, and trying whatever concoctions they were serving. Including things with names that should have been warning me away in retrospect, like "The Pink Stuff", "Green Death", "Deadly" (as opposed to the other option "Dangerous"), "Captain Kirk's Two-fisted Punch", etc.

One memorable room was the room where the Chatterbox-sponsored Stormtrooper-ettes were, where I discovered one video game I can actually beat Gerard at handily, Pinball. They had a pretty cool Star Wars: Episode I pinball machine in the Chatterbox room, that was fun to play. That room also amused me with their flyers, all 'recruiting' for the Empire (Star Wars). Things like signs talking about how the Empire pays better, offers Health insurance, etc. Or photoshopped pictures of Emperor Palpatine holding a cigarette and a beer with the words "Have a Cold One on me. Your Buddy, Palpatine" on it.

We also became honorary Space Pirates, after Dan, Tristan and I acted out a naval battle in the middle of a cabana room (Dan was a canon, I was a sailing ship, Tristan was a submarine). Later in the night, Gerard, jealous of our cool eye-patches and pirate tattoos, became an honorary Space Cowboy (the opposing side in a scavenger hunt) after riding the rocketship in the same room.

At one point, Gerard and I had to flee a cabana room after noticing their movie (Johnny Mnemonic) had stopped, and helpfully restarting it. Someone took exception to that, complaining they were supposed to be playing music right now instead, when they went to tattle on us, we decided discretion was the better part of valor and left in a hurry.

Much later in the night, while we were enjoying the chili in the ConSuite, we had fun talking to the Scotch Fairy. He ended up getting in trouble though, for handing out shots of scotch (from his bottle with a wand taped on the end) in the ConSuite. Sorry buddy.

The only disappointment of the night was discovering that the Space Lounge was devoid of the air-hockey table Gerard and I had so much fun playing on the previous year.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Convergence: Pictures

One of the main areas for Convergence. A DDR tournament happened to be going on, on the right.


Jim and Tony dressed up both nights, as SuperBoy and GraveKeeper (?), respectively.

Gerard riding a rocketship to earn membership as a Space Cowboy.

Tristan and Dan flaunting the rules and killing their lungs at the same time. (For the record Dan's shot glass says 'Another Shot Would Hit The Spot')

Jackie and Vanessa.

Gerard and Dan showing how..err..tough their temporary tattoos make them look.

Showing my Space Pirate allegiances. Aaarrr.

Gerard demonstrating what a girly-sized mug I was using.

We met the Scotch Fairy in ConSuite, and promptly got him in trouble for giving out shots.

Duck Dodgers of the 24th and a Half Century!

Tom as Mr Incredible.

Tristan, Dan, Kelli, Mike, Wes, Brenden, and Dan chilling in the pool area.

If the drink is smoking, it has to be good, right?

Wes showing just how strong of a drink it was.

Dan and Brenden

Klingon Elvis

Me and Brenden

Adam West-era Batman

The dance floor was packed on Saturday night.

The Paper Monster showing that anyone can use glowstick nunchucks, even guys in giant paper costumes.


Read the whole post.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Biking Casualty

I was taking a bike ride today to enjoy the nice weather and since it was a little warm I thought I would fill up my water bottle for the first time. After a particularly large and steep hill, I reached down for some water.

A few sips later, I went to replace the bottle in the holder. Somehow I managed to miss the holder or not securely fasten the bottle in, and the bottle fell on the ground. Other then the moment of frustration with myself for being so uncoordinated, it was no big deal, I thought. I'll just stop and pick it up.

Well, I happened to be on a steep downhill. So by the time I got stopped and turned around, the bottle had rolled down the hill a little ways, out a driveway, and into the middle of a 55mph 4-lane divided road.

Cars were streaming by, but somehow the bottle managed to dodge the tires and escape more or less unscathed. Just as I was getting ready to dart out and grab the bottle at the next break in traffic, a huge semi-truck came rolling up the hill.

It shook the ground just enough to roll the bottle directly into its tire path and run right over it. POP!

I managed to retrieve the bottle (which looks like it was...well..run over by a truck), but the cap apparently disintegrated and is lost forever.

Thus perished my new water bottle, after exactly two sips of use.

Read the whole post.