Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Party

On Saturday Linzy and I went to a Halloween costume party at Gerard's new apartment. The party was a combination Halloween party and birthday party for Dan (birthday a few weeks ago), Tony (birthday a few days ago), and Vanessa (birthday in a few days).

As you can see to the right, Linzy and I went as a police officer and convict. For the second year in a row, I was really impressed at how well the costumes came together. Linzy threw my costume together from some random thrift store purchases, a clearance "Special Officer" hat, and a billy club/badge/grenade/walkie-talkie set from the dollar store. Linzy's outfit was store-bought, but required some strategic cuffing and pinning, since the only jumpsuits anyone sold were Big & Tall Men's jumpsuits, none of which Linzy is.

Anyways, the party was a great time, as a number of our friends were there and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was good to see everyone and spend some time playing games and watching movies.

Read on for some of the pictures I took.

The back of Linzy's prison jumpsuit.

Dan's birthday cake (the picture is from one of an unknown person that we found in a book Linzy bought from Half-Priced Books, and Dan and I have traded back and forth for the last couple years).

Me, Linzy and Dan

Felicia was actually willing to have her picture taken

Dan came as a city road worker, complete with shovel to lean on

Brenden was a magic eight-ball

Gerard, Dan, Linzy and Felicia playing cards

Wes showing me how he could stick a bottle cap on his forehead

Brenden cutting out the face of the cake picture

The picture was made out of something that looked less-then edible (but was edible in theory)

Gerard followed the tradition of the host doing the most damage to the new abode during the inaugural party by walking through the screen door while it was shut.

We all thought it was pretty hilarious

Jim showing me the 'creepy eyebrow' look

Linzy (doing some sort of hand-dance) and Gerard (obviously tired at this point)



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Local ducks crossing the road - August 2005


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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gophers Football Game

Brenden was nice enough to take Linzy and I to the Minnesota Gophers' football game against Ohio State on Saturday. The Gophers came into the game with the number one ranked rushing offense, with the Buckeyes sporting the top run defense.

We had pretty decent seats, on the 11th row of the second level in one of the end-zones (the one near the student section and band, FWIW). Linzy had never been to a Gophers game, and I hadn't been to one for quite a few years, so it was a fun experience. Unfortunately the Gophers didn't manage to pull out a win.

The game was quite a shoot-out, with both team's driving up and down the field more-or-less with impunity during the first half. Ohio State had jumped out to an early lead, but the Gophers made a come back to tie things up at the half. The Buckeyes came out strong in the second half, and by the middle of the third quarter, they started pulling away from Minnesota. By the fourth quarter, it was turning into a blowout with a score of 45-24. The Gophers managed a late touchdown to get the score back to a slightly more respectable 45-31, but they were never really back in the game.

The crowd was really into the game until things fell apart in the second half, so it was a lot of fun being at the game. The announced attendance was like 54,000, but I guessed it to be more like 35,000 people who actually came. It was enough to keep the place loud, but not enough to clog up concessions and the restrooms.

There were a number of really exciting plays we saw, including a long pass to Logan Paine (I think on a 3rd and like 24), a kickoff return for a touchdown by Ted Ginn of Ohio State (he is ridiculously fast), and a number of long runs by both teams. The Ohio State kicker also put on a kickoff clinic, booting every single kickoff (of which there were a lot) out of the back of the end zone, several through the uprights just to show off even more.

The game was a lot of fun, even if the Gophers didn't win. I was glad we got to go.


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Mondavi Winery - June 2003

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

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Fall Colors - October 2005

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Sounds of the South

A few days ago, when I was in Wal-Mart picking up a new car battery, I was amused that when I noticed the background music playing the store it was Sweet Home Alabama. Somehow that struck me as entirely fitting.

Unfortunately we weren't there long enough to hear if they were going to follow it up with Freebird.

[ And yes, I know Wal-Mart is actually headquartered in Arkansas, It's all the south when you're sitting in Minnesota. ]


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Installing ceramic tiles in the entryway - November 2003


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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Triplets

Remember a few days ago when I was complaining that several things had been malfunctioning lately? I listed off the two most egregious offenders, the dishwasher and the DVD burner. At the time I was writing it, I was thinking "Hmm, bad things come in threes. I wonder what the third will be?". Yesterday I found out when Linzy called me at work around 1:00pm.

After eating lunch with her friend Laura, Linzy went out to start the Pathfinder only to have it go "click, click, click, click" and not start. Plus the radio had lost all it's settings and the electrically adjustable seats were all screwed up. Not a good sign for the five year-old battery.

The car happened to be parked right across the parking lot from a Sam's Club, so the initial plan was to see if they would just come out and replace the battery for us. They wouldn't leave the facility, so I left work to come get Linzy.

The backup plan was to jump-start the truck, so we could just drive it over to somewhere and have them replace the battery. I figured why do it myself when they'll do it for free. Unfortunately we weren't able to get the battery charged up enough to be able to start the truck.

My next theory was the short-lived Plan C, to tow the truck across the parking lot using the tow strap in the Altima's trunk. Linzy vetoed that idea, so it was onto Plan D which involved me replacing the battery myself.

We drove home, changed clothes, and I threw just about every socket and wrench I owned into the trunk of the car (didn't want to get halfway through only to have to go home for the one wrench I didn't bring).

I had never changed a battery myself, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. It turned out to be almost disappointingly easy, as in so easy I can't even claim to have increased my knowledge of car repair by much. There were exactly four nuts that needed to be loosened, all easy to access and all 10mm. There was only one real critical instruction, to remove the negative cable first, and only one complication, that two of the nuts were on long rods so I couldn't use my 10mm socket on them (I had, of course, left the deep metric sockets at home). So I had to switch to a 10mm wrench. That slowed me down by about 30 seconds, and the battery was out.

With the old battery in hand, we drove over to Wal-Mart and picked out a new similarly sized battery. Then we drove back to the truck, threw the new battery in, reattached everything (negative cable last) and the ordeal was finished.

The whole thing took about 3 hours from the time Linzy discovered the battery was dead, to the point we pulled both cars back into the garage. But an hour of that was spent waiting for me to be able to extricate myself from work. If I had arrived with a 10mm wrench in hand, the actual battery replacement would have taken much less then an hour (including picking out the new one).

Assuming the battery isn't dead in a day from a bad alternator, it didn't turn out to be a very big deal. Certainly better then my original fear that the third broken thing was going to be the furnace (which we hadn't yet turned on when I wrote the first post).


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Duluth - February 2003

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dishwashing

When I was in college, getting the dishes washed on a regular basis was always a challenge. Over the years of living with different people we tried all sorts of different systems to try to distribute the workload across all housemates. None really worked all that well.

My sophomore year, when I lived with Bill and two random people (Gregg and Jeff, for the record) we tried a rotating week schedule. Each person had responsibility for washing all the dishes generated during the week. They could wash the dishes as many or as few times as they wanted, as long as the dishes were all washed by, say, Tuesday evening, or whatever day of the week we 'switched'.

That system worked OK as long as people remembered who's week it was, but more then one time there was someone out in the kitchen at 11pm on Tuesday night frantically washing the huge pile of dishes that had accumulated during the week they thought someone else was supposed to be doing them.

Another year, we tried an even lazier rotation system. We cycled through everyone in the house after each time someone washed all the dishes. The only requirement was that you had to go at least three days before washing the dishes, so as to prevent someone from using one cup, washing it, and having their 'turn' be up.

The problem with that method was that there was not really an upper bound on how long you could go without washing the dishes. We had tried to account for this by instituting a rule that if it was more then a week between the dishes being washed, you owed the house a case of beer as a penalty.

That didn't really work because once you had hit 7 days and bought the case of beer, there wasn't any further incentive for actually ever doing the dishes. At least in the mind of a young male college student.

Even worse, at some point we would start running out of dishes; everything would be dirty. So leaving the dishes for anything beyond about 7-10 days was all basically the same, because every single item was already dirty. In fact, it might even have been better, if someone had gotten frustrated and washed a few things by hand.

My friend Ben held the record for longest procrastination that year, at somewhere north of 2 weeks. I don't recall the actual length of time, it might even have been more then 3 weeks. He dutifully bought the case of beer at a week, and then settled in to see if he could outlast the rest of the house in not actually doing the dishes. Eventually I think he got a girl to come over and help with the dishes (now that's a talent).

Gross? Yes, but kind of funny at the same time (mainly to everyone who came over and heard the story, but didn't have to live there).

All I know is that when I finished college and moved back to the Twin Cities and was looking for apartments with Brenden, my strictest requirement was "Must Have a Dishwasher".


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Married less then 15 hours, and already thinking about the insurance money - June 2003

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Puppy Laps

One of Pippen's favorite activities when she is really wound up is doing "Puppy Laps".

A Puppy Lap happens when Pippen is so excited she doesn't know what to do with herself and just needs to run. So she'll turn away from you and take off full-speed tearing around the room, nails making scratching noises against the carpet, back all hunched up as the back legs try to overtake the front ones, in a big circle, until eventually she comes buzzing back by you (or through your legs). It's a bit hard to describe, you probably have to experience it to get the full effect.

The term "Puppy Lap" was coined by Sarah, though I'm not sure anymore if it was in regards to Pippen or Sarah and John's foster dog Tristan. It fits perfectly with the state of mind Pippen appears to be in while racing around the room for no reason, so the name stuck.

The more excited Pippen is, the more Puppy Laps she'll do in a row. So, for example, when Linzy or I come home in the afternoon everyday, she might do one or two laps. When Mom and Dad Eck come over for a visit, she'll probably squeeze a half-dozen or so laps in between laying on her back at Dad's feet. When Mom and Dad Sironen come by, it is usually quite a few laps if she doesn't just dissolve into a peeing mess.

Last night after bringing Pippen back in from a trip outside, she was pretty wound up for who-knows-what reason. So excited that she did 24 laps around the basement while I just stood in one place occasionally stomping my feet like I was going to chase her.

She'd do a couple laps around the table and me in a giant circle. Then she might throw in a figure-eight just for good measure. Then she'd turn the corner on the far side of the coffee table, take a look at me and maybe reverse the direction of the laps.

Twice she got going so fast around the corners that she had to swing wide, leap up onto the couch and run down it's length before leaping back to the ground to continue the lap.

She finished off the performance with the grand finale: two 'ultra-laps'. Those involved running around me, around the coffee table, up the stairs to the living room, around the coffee table and ottoman there (I assume) and back down the stairs. After the second ultra-lap, she did one more loop around me, ran up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, glugged down some water, went into the bedroom and plopped down on the bed.

I guess I can't blame her, I was tired just from watching. It appears to be a lot of work being a Silky Terrier.

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Bemidji - May 2003


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Monday, October 24, 2005

Broken Again

It hasn't been a particularly good week for things not breaking down around the Eck abode.

Among other things, our not-so-trusty dishwasher decided that it was no longer necessary to add soap when washing dishes. For some reason the little compartment that holds in the soap started occasionally not opening during the wash cycle a few weeks ago.

At first it was intermittent and we blamed the problem on new dishwasher soap tablets we had switched to (which I was already blaming for etching my favorite glasses). But then it continued happening even after switching back to regular powdered soap, and started happening more consistently.

The real bad part was that when the problem was intermittent, it was always a crapshoot as to whether anyone would notice that the soap hadn't released before unloading part (or all) of the dishes. Since we tend to rinse everything pretty well before putting it in the dishwasher (because it might sit in there for several days), everything looks pretty clean even without soap. But once you've dumped a fistful of silverware into the drawer, how do you figure out which ones were the somewhat dirty ones? Yuck.

Sears is coming to fix the problem on Thursday, although after my last experience I'm not holding my breathe for it to be fixed on the first visit. At this point, they'd probably be better off just giving me a new dishwasher, since the Thursday visit will be the fifth time they've had to make a service call (one recall and 4 repairs). All those warranty-covered repairs have to be making them lose money. The thing only cost like $400 in the first place.

On a different note, my thought-to-be-fixed DVD burner started burning discs it can't read again. Not as often as before, but often enough to piss me off for the last time. So I ordered a shiny new BenQ DW1640 drive, which according to the reviews I read is one of the best drives at burning readable discs on any sort of media you can dig up. Plus it is twice as fast as my current drive as well as a 16x Dual-Layer burner. And, most importantly, it was a mere $38 on sale at NewEgg. How could I afford not to get one at for that bargain price?


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Night Sky - July 2005

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Movies: Flight of the Phoenix

Last weekend, against my better judgment, I watched Flight of the Phoenix with Linzy. I didn't think it was particularly good. In fact, it was pretty bad.

The movie is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1965 about a plane that crashes in the middle of a desert (in '65 the Sahara, in '04 some crazy desert between Mongolia and China). For a variety of flimsy reasons, there is little to no hope of rescue so the passengers decide they can just rebuild the wreckage into a new plane and fly out of the desert. Throw in some crew tensions and some desert nomad attacks and you have yourself a movie. Or at least you do if you're a lazy Hollywood script writer.

The highlight of the movie came about 15-20 minutes into the film when the actual plane crash happened. That was sort of cool. Otherwise there wasn't a whole lot too the film.

My biggest complaint with the movie (other then the completely insane 'plot') was the rather sub-par acting. In particular I didn't like Dennis Quaid and his attempt at a cocky pilot who really does care deep down. He basically just came off as a jerk most of the time. After all, he was the one who decided to fly into the sandstorm rather then losing an hour of time by stopping somewhere and refueling.

However, I did like Giovanni Ribisi's performance as Elliott. He was the plane designer who determines that they can rebuild the plane and fly out. He was convincingly weird and cold-hearted.

The other obvious issue with the movie is the totally unbelievable plot. If you watch the movie, you pretty much have to accept the fact that nothing after the opening credits is even mildly believable. Because of that, I won't waste much time nit-picking the plot. But I do have to mention that one of the highlights of ridiculousness for me was at the very end when it becomes apparent that in order to fly out of the desert pretty much everyone is going to have to lay on top of the wings and hang onto two little bars behind a slanted Plexiglas shield, during takeoff and landing, and the duration of a 200 mile flight. Umm. Yep.

Now, it could be that I was expecting too much from the film. I knew the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were not good, but Linzy's dad talked up the original significantly so I was thinking that the base story had to be at least somewhat decent. So maybe if you go in with really rock bottom expectations you'd be able to enjoy the film. But I didn't really like it.


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Camping - July 2000

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Game Night

Last night my friend Gerard (of Convergence Pictures fame) invited Linzy and I, as well as Dan, Felicia and Vanessa over to his new apartment for a boardgame night. It was a good time. We played several games over the course of the evening, including Uno Attack, Apples to Apples, and Cranium.

Uno Attack was a new game for Linzy and I, and was fairly amusing. It is basically Uno, but instead of drawing cards you hit a button on the card launcher and it shoots anywhere from zero to a fistfull of cards out at you. There are also some new cards added, like trade hands with any other player, discard all cards of a certain color in your hand, and an all draw card.

Since Uno Attack is still more-or-less Uno there isn't a whole lot of strategy involved, but the machine shooting stacks of cards at you does add a bit of humor and randomness to how many cards you were going to end up with. The new cards also added some new twists to the game. Of course, I lost bad on points over the four or five hands we played, so maybe there is some strategy involved that I'm just missing.

After Uno Attack we played two games of Apples to Apples. Everyone had fun playing that game again (or for the first time, in the case of Gerard and Tony). Dan won the first game fairly handily. In the second game, I finally got cards that made sense to my logical brain and was able to pick up a win.

The games of Apples to Apples went pretty quick, so we still had time to play a game of Cranium. I hadn't played that for quite a while, but it was as much fun as I recalled it being. The team of Linzy, Felicia and Vanessa trounced Me and Sean as well as Gerard and Tony. It would have been a complete embarrassment except for a run of really difficult Data Head cards at the final stop in the center of the board that held the girls up long enough for the rest of us to get back to within a respectable distance.

I had a good time, it was fun hanging out with everyone. We'll be getting together again next weekend for a Halloween party, and I'm looking forward to it.


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Duluth - October 2004

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Books: Journey Into the Void

Way back before I left for the East Coast Trip, I hurriedly finished Journey into the Void, the third book in the Sovereign Stone trilogy. I didn't rush through the book because I wasn't enjoying it, but rather because the copy Brenden gave me was a hardcover and thus not really something I wanted to haul around for two weeks in my carry-on bag.

The book takes place immediately following the second book, Guardians of the Lost, which was good since that one ended with a cliffhanger and I was anxious to find out what happened next.

All my favorite characters were back in the third book, including Baron Shadamehr and the now delightfully evil Lord of the Void, Dagnarus. The character groups were interesting, because the characters were almost all together until the very end of the second book. Then they scattered to the winds and spent the first part of the third book traveling in different directions, only to get pulled back together just in time for the end of the book.

One disappointment with the third book was that there wasn't quite as much plot as there had been in the second book. There was still more then in the rather plotless first book, but not as many twists and turns as you might expect in the final book of a trilogy.

The book provided a satisfactory ending to the trilogy. Weis and Hickman did leave a few things unresolved and left a lot of room for future stories in the world of Lorem. But that is to be expected in the inaugural series in a world they are trying to launch.

All in all I enjoyed the Sovereign Stone trilogy. It really picked up the pace in Wells of Darkness, and introduced several interesting characters. The world was fairly cool and I liked the overall plot of the series. The trilogy wasn't Weis and Hickman's best work, but it certainly wasn't their worst (I'm looking at you Darksword Trilogy). It is worth reading if you enjoy their work.

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Lake Mille Lacs - February 2004

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dinner Conversation

Linzy and I went out for pizza last night, and ended up ordering a different kind then we normally do, because it was on special. It happened that the pizza we ordered was an all-meat one, including two of my least favorite pizza toppings: Hamburger and Canadian (Back) Bacon.

For some reason I really wasn't enjoying the taste of the pizza and couldn't figure out why. Then Linzy hit on the answer:

Me - I don't like the hamburger on the pizza.

Linzy - It tastes like meatloaf.

Me - Ohh, Yuck. You're right. I don't even like regular meatloaf, it's terrible on pizza.


It only got worse after that, as I couldn't get the idea of meatloaf out of my head during each bite. We should have just spent a couple bucks more and gotten a sausage and mushroom like we always do.

That's what I get for branching out, I guess.


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My grill's temperature gauge - October 2005

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Game of Kings

Brenden mentioned to me yesterday that the US Chess Federation website allows you to lookup the rating information on members and former members. That means you can view the slow progression of my sub-1200 rating. You could also check out Brenden's rating, Dan's rating, or my High School co-author's rating.

On the other hand, if you were looking for some light reading, you could try to make it through the extremely thorough explanation of the USCF clock rules, but you probably will lose enthusiasm pretty quickly. Certainly by the FAQ section.

Back in my day, we didn't need digital clocks only mechanical ones. I'm not even sure that digital clocks were allowed.

Oh, and for the record, no chess player I've ever seen at a tournament has had nails like this.


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Evening Pictures

Moonrise

Sunset



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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TV: House

Contrary to what you might think after looking at my other posts about TV shows (all of which were about animated shows) I do watch a few regular TV shows. Not a whole lot, but I do occasionally watch The Sopranos (when they deign to actually produce new episodes), CSI: Las Vegas (with Linzy, so we are only halfway through season 2 after a year), 24 (the only show I watch nearly at the time the episodes come out), and recently Lost (I'm only 4 episodes into the first season).

In addition, sometime last spring after the season of 24 ended, I started watching House. When I first saw the previews (which played incessantly during 24), I didn't think it looked all that good. However after watching the first few episodes, I found that I really enjoyed the show.

House isn't your typical doctor show. It is more like a cross of the mystery/investigation aspects of CSI with the medical setting of ER, with a good amount of humor thrown in to keep things interesting. It sounds like a strange combination, and it is, but it seems to work.

The basic formula for a House episode entails some guest-star collapsing with a nefarious and mysterious disease. After some cajoling House and his team of three residents take on the case and proceed to run tests, change medical treatments and violate as many ethical and legal rules as they have time to squeeze into an hour. Invariably at least one of the treatments makes the patient worse, and a hasty rethinking of the diagnosis is called for. Eventually by the end of the episode, the obscure source of the problem is discovered, and the patient is healed.

I know that sounds simplistic, but it actually works pretty well. Mainly because the patient illness is just a setting to let House ignore the rules and make witty comments about everything.

The first season really hit it stride when the billionaire CEO Vogler showed up about halfway through to effectively take over the hospital. He gave House a nemesis and added some interesting twists to the series' plot. Also, I thought the last few episodes, dealing with House and his ex-wife/girlfriend were well done.

My favorite thing about House is the humor, as I find Hugh Laurie's dry delivery of the sarcastic lines hilarious. Plus for some reason I get enjoyment out of hearing House tell his patients exactly what they need to hear with no sugar coating.

About my only complaint with the show is its relatively predictable episode structure. What I listed above covers probably 90% of the shows. It would have been nice to see a two-parter, or a bit more variation in how things worked out. But at the same time, I suppose it should be expected since they are using the tried and true mystery-show formula (i.e. CSI).

Anyways, if you are looking for a TV series to watch, that isn't animated and/or from Japan, you might want to check out House.


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Monday, October 17, 2005

Fall Colors





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Web Cleaning

Yesterday afternoon I was over at my parent's house helping my Dad install a new bathroom ceiling fan. Since the new fan was significantly larger then the old one, part of the installation involved expanding the hole in the ceiling. Cutting the hole created the expected cloud of dust and particles raining down in the bathroom. A bit later, while I was holding the unit in place I happened to glance down and notice something unique.

Just below where we were cutting the hole there was a small spider web. Covered in dust and chunks of ceiling made it rather obvious, so it caught my eye. Looking closer I could see movement in the web. It was the spider was moving around the web, extracting each tiny chunk of ceiling from the sticky web, carrying it over to the edge of the web, and dropping it off the side. It did this for each and every piece of junk stuck in the web, until finally everything was cleared out.

I can just imagine the spider being all angry that someone was dumping all this crap in its web, making it obvious to all the insects in the area.

Unfortunately for the spider, the dust that made the web so obvious to any would-be-meals in the area also made it obvious to my Mom who vacuumed it up shortly after I pointed out how cool it was that the spider was cleaning the web.

Such is the life of a spider I guess.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dan's Birthday

Yesterday was my friend Dan's birthday, so He, Linzy and I went out for dinner and some drinks. We started the night with dinner at the newly opened Granite City Food & Brewery in Eagan.

Granite City turned out to be pretty nice, although crowded and smoky. The building feels larger then it did when it was Sidney's, but the large open rooms work against it in terms of noise level and air contamination from the smoking section and bar. The selection of homemade beers was decent, although I didn't care for a couple of them (Linzy tried the sampler). My favorite was the "Double-Pull", which was a half-and-half mixture of their Northern Lights Lager and Mai Bock.

The food was good, although a bit on the expensive side of things. Annoyingly Granite City tries to make everything look reasonably-priced by charging extra for things you would expect to be included in a reasonably upscale restaurant. For example, their sandwiches comes with potato chips and it is $1.25 extra to get fries or garlic mashed potatoes. So suddenly that $8.29 sandwich is closing in on $10. Still, the portions were very generous and the food was really good so it didn't feel like a total rip-off.

The place was packed, which meant we felt kind of rushed by the waiter. But after I mentioned something about it, he left us alone to enjoy our dinner. Overall I liked the place, but it was a little expensive for me to consider going there on a regular basis.

After Granite City, we went over to Bumpers Bar in Burnsville to play some darts.


Linzy's dart motion involves a leg kick


Bumpers was another new place for everyone involved, as the only time we had tried to go there (at their old location) the place was too crowded for us to get a parking spot. Bumpers turned out to be pretty much exactly what we were looking for, a laid-back bar where we could hang out, talk, and play some darts. The bar was busy, but not overly so, so we didn't have any trouble finding a table and an open dart machine.

Eventually it started getting late, so we called it a night. I have a great time, and think everyone else did as well.


Linzy and Dan


Linzy and I


Linzy, Me and Dan



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Saturday, October 15, 2005

TV: Gungrave

A few nights ago I finished watching all the episodes of Gungrave, an anime series from the creator of Trigun. I actually started watching it quite a while ago, but then got sidetracked with other shows (like House, and Ghost in the Shell: SAC).

The series turned out to be OK, but a bit different then what I was expecting. When I started watching, I didn't realize it was by the same guy who did Trigun, so it wasn't that I was expecting something similar to Trigun. But from what I had read on the Internet I was expecting a slightly different story then what was presented. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't quite what I expected.

The series started with an episode set roughly two-thirds of the way through the story arc. Then they flashed back and spent the next 15 episodes getting back to the point of the first episode. Then they showed the events of the first episode again over the course two episodes, and then finished up with a 8 episodes to tie up the story.

The original plot summary I had read talked primarily about the story elements that are featured in the first (and final ten) episodes. And those story elements are totally different then what was in the 15 flashback episodes, so I was pretty surprised after watching the first few episodes. But the flashback story picked up and got interesting, so I ended up enjoying those episodes. Possibly even more then some of the later episodes, where things started getting really weird.

I won't even try to summarize the plot twists and turns, but basically the story follows two characters, Brandon Heat and Harry McDowel, as they go from being young street punks to joining an organized crime group (Millenion) to rising in power within the family to...what happens in the final ten episodes.

One fairly unique thing about the series is that one of the two main characters, Brandon, is "quiet". To the point of having some episodes where he doesn't have a single line. Most 30-minute episodes he uttered around 4 sentences. That makes the dialog painfully slow and one-sided sometimes, but it certainly solidified the 'quiet man of action not words' aspect of Brandon.

I actually thought most of the characters in the series were pretty interesting. My favorite was probably Kugashira Bunji, an assassin hired to kill Harry early in the series. I can't put my finger on exactly why I liked him, but something about his laid-back cool made me enjoy the episodes he was in. I also liked Ballardbird Lee (until his final episode) and Bear Walken.

Gungrave used a fairly distinct graphical style, which I liked for the most part. The city really had a grimy look to it that fit perfectly as a mob-run town. The characters were drawn with a more clean-look, which I thought looked good.

Originally I thought my main complaint about the series was going to be the rather strange genre combining that was done in the story. What started as sci-fi/horror in the first episode, moved to a mob story in the next ten-or-so episodes, and then moved slowly back to sci-fi/horror. But after watching the whole thing I decided that was more a symptom of the bizarre script for the series, rather then having slapped two disparate stories together. The plot was consistently drawn through all the episodes, it just took some sharp turns that resulted in some later episodes having more of a sci-fi/horror feel.

Anyways, I enjoyed watching the series, it had some pretty cool moments. But on the other hand, I don't know that I'll have much of an urge to watch it again real soon.


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Friday, October 14, 2005

The Best House on the Block

Well, as I speculated about a few weeks ago, my neighbors put their house on the market a few days ago. That spurred the inevitable curiosity about how much they are asking.

Talking about that with Linzy made me think of a quote in an article I was reading on MSN Money:

... and everybody thinks their house is better than their neighbor's house.


At first I was thinking that didn't make any sense, but I eventually came around to seeing how it might be true.

It is probably all about what you find important about the house. That important attribute might be raw square-footage, or having a big garage, or maybe having a fancy flooring, or big bedrooms, or lots of not-so-large bedrooms, etc.

Whatever it is, they probably bought the house because of those features, or perhaps added them after the fact. Resulting in everyone being sure that their house is 'better' then the neighbor's.

Anyways, I don't have an amusing anecdote to try to tie in, I just thought it was an interesting statement.


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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Man Witnesses Accident

One of my co-workers forwarded me a link to this file, from a segment that was played on a radio station a while back. It is a recording of a phone call a guy made while witnessing a car accident right in front of him.

I have no idea if it is real or not (and kind of doubt it is), but I thought it was pretty funny.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

And Then There Were None

A month or so ago I noticed that the Divinci's Wood Fire Grill restaurant around the corner from my house closed. It wasn't really unexpected, since they had spent a year blowing through their money just building the place and then opened with overpriced food, bad service and crappy booths. Still, I don't like seeing a big section of the mall sitting empty. If you were so inclined, I'm sure you could get a less then 6-month old restaurant equipped with a fancy brick oven for a pittance.

Or, you could use Scott Winer's method and just spend $5 million building one of most expensive restaurants ever in Minnesota right across the parking lot.

Literally just on the other side of the parking lot from the former Divinci's they are building a rather small, crazy looking building. It is pretty hard to miss because the entire thing is clad in copper panels. Seriously. The building looks about as bad as you might imagine, mostly because it totally clashes with the surrounding buildings, and I can't wait until the edge of each panel starts turning green from the rain. That will be cool. Or Not.

I can't imagine why anyone would think they could build a (small) restaurant less then three blocks from full-on farms and expect to be able to pull in $10 million in revenue. The Star Tribune claims the only restaurant making that around here is The Cheesecake Factory, which not only has really good food, but is much more centrally located, features a huge seating area and is always packed.

I'm sure Copper Bleu is destined to be expensive, since they will have to try to pay for that fancy building somehow. That coupled with their small size and out-of-the-way location probably doom the place unless the food and service are just spectacular. I give it a year, only because the owner obviously has money to burn.

[ Update 2/14: We ate at Copper Bleu last weekend, and I wrote a little about our experience. ]

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Magic Firmware

My computer's DVD burner (a NEC-2500a) has been a problem child since virtually the day we bought it. First, it was mysteriously disappearing as far as the OS was concerned. Then it was refusing to burn anything but data CDs in Windows Media Player 9. When I upgraded to WMP 10, it stopped offering to burn any kind of CDs at all (inside WMP), even after I changed registry settings.

At that point I had basically declared a truce with the thing after that, as long as it would continue to work with Nero. But then several montsh ago I noticed another problem as it was burning valid DVD data discs that couldn't be re-read. That was strange, since the discs would burn without errors, and could be read fine on other systems (XBox, Dad's computer, etc), but trying to read them on my computer consistently gave CRC errors.

I put up with that problem for a while, mainly by just not burning any data DVDs. But my hard drive that is solely used for storing TV shows started filling up. Actually it wasn't so much filling up as it was completely and totally out of space. That forced me into moving some shows off to DVD and brought the whole 'unable to burn easily readable DVD data discs' problem to the fore-front.

I started looking at dual-layer burners and resigned myself to having to buy a new DVD burner, preferably something a little more reliable. Since the 2500A had aggravated me for the last time, I decided I might as well upgrade the firmware with a warranty-violating hacked firmware from Herrie.

Specifically the firmwares will turn some (most, depending on the particular model) NEC single-layer burners into dual-layer burners. The dual-layer speed isn't particularly good even if the upgrade works, but I figured what the hell. I mean, the drive wasn't any good anyways, so even if it totally ruins the drive (by screwing with the optic settings) I wouldn't be any worse off. After flashing the drive (and making a backup copy of the firmware for, no particular reason), everything looked successful.

After a quick reboot, Windows re-detected the drive. And not only detected the drive, but detected it as a CD-burner! That meant that Windows Media Player 10 would finally deign to acknowledge the existence of the drive and offer to let me burn both data and music CDs with it. That in itself made me (and Linzy for that matter) very happy.

Almost as cool was the fact that Nero detected that the drive now sported Dual-Layer burning capabilities. I haven't actually tried burning a dual-layer disc (I don't have any media), but hopefully it will work.

The drive still wouldn't read the CRC-erroring DVDs it had burned before, but after burning half a dozen DVDs worth of TV series it hasn't burned a single DVD that can't be verified after writing. So that problem seems to have gone away too.

Thus one firmware upgrade fixed both of my drive's problems, and threw in dual-layer capability to boot. The aggravating thing is that I had to go through all this hassle just to get the drive working, including installing hacked firmware. I would have been perfectly happy to install regular NEC firmware for the drive, if they would just offer it (as far as I can tell they don't on the website).

Still, I'm pretty happy that the drive is working again.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Movies: Serenity

This afternoon Linzy and I went to the first movie together since before she had back surgery, when we went to see Serenity. We both really enjoyed the movie, even though we haven't gotten around to watching the TV series yet (I did record it when it was on Sci-Fi).

Normally I wouldn't go see a movie based on a series I know very little about. But the TV series (Firefly) gets rave reviews and so does the movie, the preview looked cool, and I had read a few places that you didn't need to have seen the TV series in order to enjoy the movie. So we decided to give it a shot.

The movie turned out to be great. It was filled with interesting characters and pretty clever dialogue. The world seemed intriguing, although they didn't spend very much time explaining more then the basics about the world (perhaps the TV series covers it in more depth?)

The special effects were not really ground-breaking but were certainly passable and didn't get in the way of the action. The combat was well done, and I enjoyed watching River Tam fight. I also thought the final space battle was really cool.

What really made the movie, however, was the dialogue. For the most part the characters had a fairly witty bantering style of talking with each other which made things fun and interesting. Occasionally lines felt a bit forced, but for the most part the dialogue seemed really well written.

My only complaint would be that the plot was pretty simplistic and predictable. Through most of the movie it was pretty easy to guess what was going to happen. It would have been nice if there had been a twist in there somewhere.

If you have enjoy a good sci-fi movie, you should definitely go check out Serenity. Highly Recommended.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Damn Your Eyes!

Some of that new music I was trying to listen to the other day included Johnny Cash's last album American IV: The Man Comes Around. I find the album really sad, but I still like it a lot (particularly the famous cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt").

Most of the songs are reflective and kind of depressing, except for one, Sam Hall. It's relatively upbeat (for that album) and it amuses me because of every verse ends with "Damn Your Eyes!", whether it makes any sense or not (and in several verses it doesn't make much sense).

Read on for the lyrics.

The lyrics, from this page (which also has a sound sample).

Well, my name it is Sam Hall, Sam Hall.
Yes, my name it is Sam Hall; it is Sam Hall.
My name it is Sam Hall an' I hate you, one and all.
An' I hate you, one and all:
Damn your eyes.

I killed a man, they said; so they said.
I killed a man, they said; so they said.
I killed a man, they said an' I smashed in his head.
An' I left him layin' dead,
Damn his eyes.

But a-swingin', I must go; I must go.
A-swingin', I must go; I must go.
A-swingin', I must go while you critters down below,
Yell up: "Sam, I told you so."
Well, damn your eyes!

Instrumental break.

I saw Molly in the crowd; in the crowd.
I saw Molly in the crowd; in the crowd.
I saw Molly in the crowd an' I hollered, right out loud:
" Hey there Molly, ain't you proud?
" Damn your eyes.

Then the Sheriff, he came to; he came to.
Ah, yeah, the Sheriff, he came to; he came to.
The Sheriff, he come to an he said: "Sam, how are you?"
An I said: "Well, Sheriff, how are you,
" Damn your eyes."

My name is Samuel, Samuel.
My name is Samuel, Samuel.
My name is Samuel, an' I'll see you all in hell.
An' I'll see you all in hell,
Damn your eyes.

[ Incidentally the song looks like a less-sensical variation on this song from 1850. ]


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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Absent Minded

A few nights ago when I got home from work, I specifically brought the MP3 player in from the car so that I could sync some new music and podcasts to it. Then, the next morning I ended up syncing it again because I had downloaded some additional podcasts after the first sync.

So I drove off to work thinking I was in for a nice day filled with new music to listen to.

It was only when I got to work and fired up Windows Media Player on my laptop, ready to copy in the music, that I realized that I had completely forgotten to bring the USB cable necessary to copy any of that music from the player to my laptop.

Whoops.

Sure I could just listen to it directly on the MP3 player, and did, but that wasn't the point. I was frustrated that I had remembered not only to bring the thing in from the car, but also to sync it (twice), but then forgot to bring the stupid cable that I had just had it hooked up to.


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Friday, October 07, 2005

Digging a Hole

A few nights ago I was getting my hair cut at the shop down the street. The stylist was almost done cutting my hair, and we had exhausted all the small talk topics I could think up, so I was just sitting there patiently waiting. Out of the blue while trimming some hair around my ears, the lady said:

So how long have you been growing that?


Growing
what? My Hair? My Ears? I said something like "Ummm, growing what?"

She said "The beard".

Uh oh. I was like:

Uhh, I've had a beard for close to three years now. I did have a little accident with the shaver a while back so it was shorter then normal for a week or so, but otherwise it's been about the same. Why? Does it look like I'm still trying to grow a beard?


Of course, she started hastily backpedaling and was like "Oh. No. Not at all.".

Hehe. Yeah right.


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Vacation Posts Done

If the 4 straight days of vacation photo posts bored you to tears, you're in luck; All the vacation posts are done now. At least related to this trip.


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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sam Adams Brewery: Pictures

Last Friday after visiting the New England Aquarium, and spending a bit of time shopping for souvenirs, Linzy and I headed south of Boston to the Sam Adams Brewery for a tour.

Sam Adams was surprisingly well-preserved after all these years. A little stiff though.


The tour was a lot of fun, and a terrific value at a total cost of free, including all the samples you could drink and a little 7 ounce souvenir glass. They did suggest donations of $2 a person, which were donated to charity (in this case the Red Cross).

The tour guide was funny and engaging, with lots of amusing tidbits and stories to tell while he walked us through a fairly standard explanation of how they make the beer.

After that, we tried samples of the original Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sam Adams Octoberfest, and the special 375 Beer made for the 375th anniversary of Boston (and only available at local Boston bars on tap). We also tried Sam Adams Black after the regular samples were done. Both Linzy and my favorite was the original Boston Lager.

Sam Adams beer has won a lot of awards. To the left, there were amusing pictures of their founder drinking Sam Adams in various places. Including double-fisting Sam Adams on the White House lawn.

More trophies including, amusingly, an award for winning the most awards.


Some of the tanks at the original brewery.

The original brewery is only used as a research and development brewhouse now, but occasionally a keg or two they produce ends up at a local bar.


Linzy sampling the tasty Sam Adams Boston Lager.


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New England Aquarium: Pictures

On Friday morning last week, Linzy and I spent the morning and a bit of the afternoon at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Initially I was a little leary, as the aquarium didn't sound particularly large in some of the write-ups I had read. And while it wasn't particularly large square-footage-wise, it was pretty dense and had some cool exhibits. The main attractions were a three story tank in the center of the aquarium that you could walk around on a spiral ramp, and a very large penguin exhibit featuring three different types of penguins.

We ended up spending a lot more time at the aquarium then I was figuring we would, and having a great time.

The giant sea turtle coming up for air.


Did you know lobsters can be bright blue and/or white? I didn't either. Apparently only 1 in 100 million lobsters are white.


The Aquarium had a large penguin exhibit with three varieties of penguins (African, Rockhopper and Little Blue penguins). These are some of the African penguins, amusingly called Beach Donkeys in their native South Africa.


Making baby penguins involved a lot of slapping each other with flippers, head shaking, and smushing of the female penguin.


All the penguins at the New England Aquarium are hand-fed, and were surprisingly well behaved when the fish came out. As opposed to the Sea Lions which were complete slaves to anyone even remotely looking like they might have fish.


The special exhibit at the aquarium featured jellyfish. It was pretty cool, although very similar what I saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few years ago on my honeymoon.

Pacific Nettle Jellyfish


Our stylish 3D glasses for the Shark 3D IMax movie (which sucked BTW)



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