Saturday, December 31, 2005

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The world's greatest white elephant gift: Full Throttle Cologne - December 2005

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Christmas: Pictures

We made it back safe and sound from our Christmas trip to Duluth. The whole Christmas holiday was great.

I tried to limit the number of likely-interesting-only-to-my-family pictures compared to previous years, but the selection is still longer then I originally intended.

Linzy and I exchange only price-limited stockings, but it still ends up to be quite the pile of gifts (Hers on the left, mine on the right).

Sometime during the year Pippen apparently learned to open her own packages versus just ripping up the paper from already opened packages.. She would sniff out the ones that smelled like dog treats and toys, carry them away and rip them open. It was pretty amusing.

John and Dad playing (what else?) Guitar Hero.

Mom and Linzy having a friendly battle.

Interrupt an Eck-child hard at work on a mind puzzle at your own risk.


Linzy and Mom at work sauteeing mushrooms.

The fancy-looking Christmas Eve dinner table.

John, Dad, and I cleaning up all the dishes after the delicious dinner.

Linzy and I ready to head to church.

Linzy's Mom

Grandpa Tex opening his package.

Grandma Eileen keeping Pippen contained.

Larry opening up his new blaze-orange coveralls.


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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Linzy and I will be spending Christmas Eve with my family, and then heading to Duluth for the rest of the week. So there won't be any updates to the blog for quite a while.

I hope your holiday is safe and happy!


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Friday, December 23, 2005

Movies: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This afternoon, I went with Linzy, my parents and my sister and brother-in-law to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The movie was very faithful to the book, and I enjoyed most of it.

When I was a kid, I loved the books and read all seven several times. I also liked the BBC series of movies (which now I find pretty much intolerable). Thus I was probably predisposed to enjoy the movie, as long as it hewed at least reasonably closely to the story from the book.

The special effects in the movie were outstanding, Aslan the Lion looked extremely realistic (at least to the extent that a talking lion can look realistic), and almost all the creatures were very well done. The only creatures I was a little disappointed by were mostly in the horde of evil monsters during Aslan's sacrifice. They looked a lot like cast-offs from a Lord of the Rings film. Also, I thought the wolves were less scary then I envisioned when I was a kid.

Since the movie followed the book closely, I can't complain about the plot too much. It certainly isn't one of the fastest moving stories on the planet though. There is a lot of time spent just getting the characters all into Narnia, so the rest of the movie can take place. At the same time, if they had changed the sequence of events where they all end up in Narnia I probably would have been pretty disappointed.

I did think the movie left out a bit of the back-story to some of the characters (I suppose in the interest of time). I'm not sure if that would have made things seem rather random if you didn't already have at least some familiarity with the characters.

Overall I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It was somewhat slow moving at the start, but I was expecting that and once everyone got into Narnia I through the movie moved along quite nicely. I would recommend it, if you enjoyed the book(s).

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The Great Salt Lake - June 2005

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Party Casualty

Our party attendees on Saturday was surprisingly well behaved. Other then the empty Sam Adams carton being hurled across the garage (in rage at it being empty? I have no idea), there weren't any spills, broken knickknacks, etc. Or so I thought.

On Monday evening, when I went downstairs to watch some recorded shows and run on the treadmill, the media center couldn't find the PC upstairs. Unfortunately that isn't all that uncommon, but when I went to reboot the DWL-G820 wireless bridge didn't have the usual flashing link light. That isn't very normal.

After some troubleshooting, it turned out that the DLink was totally dead. The power light comes on, but it doesn't even attempt to connect to the network, and can't be connected to directly from the network port. I took the whole thing apart to see if there was anything obviously damaged inside, but it is just one circuit board with a few attachments, and nothing looks out of place or burned up.

In fitting luck, the stupid thing was almost precisely 1 year and 1 month old with a one-year warranty. I tried calling India D-Link, hoping they had some top-secret hardware jumper reset mechanism, but they asked if I had tried using a different ethernet cable and then sent me to some website with instructions on RMAing it if it was still under warranty.

So now I'll have to buy a new bridge, and I'll probably end up buying exactly the same item despite its less-then-stellar reliability since it is the only one compatible with the enhanced 802.11g router I have. With all the videos I stream through it, I am convinced the extra speed is helpful.

I guess that will teach me to keep the poor little wireless bridge on the floor in front of the TV, when people are rocking out to Guitar Hero.


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Some Mondavi grapes - June 2003

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Out of Touch

I was looking through the Shacknews Game of the Year poll today, when it dawned on me just how few of these games I've actually played: One (Civilization 4).

That's pretty sad for a self-professed video game nerd, and a good indication of just how little time I've had to play games this year.

The games I did play were:



I also started Half-Life 2 but quit in disgust after being pissed off by its myriad technical problems one too many times, played Tales of Symphonia for a while before I realized I had no hope of having enough time to finish it, played quite a bit of Civilization 4 (which is outstanding), and of course played Guitar Hero.

That is a fairly average number of games for me to play in the course of a year these days. As I've gotten older, I've slowly been getting less up-to-date with the latest and greatest games. Back in the Day, I would have played almost all of those games. For the Game of the Year poll last year, I hadn't played many of the games, but I had at least played a couple from many categories. Now, I look through the games and have only played a single one.

Not that I am upset about the quantity of video game playing this year (except when it was ridiculous 80 hour weeks at work causing the death of my free time). I certainly had the opportunity to choose what activities I wanted to fill my free-time with (biking, for example). I just thought it was interesting.


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The console cabinet - June 2004

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nickel and Dime

I noticed on my latest TCF Bank statement that they were notifying me of a new fee starting next year.

Now, they already charge an arm and a leg for just about everything associated with their 'free' checking: using out-of-state ATMs, using in-state ATMs from other banks, overdrafts, withdrawing cash deposits too soon, extra statements, wiring money into or out of the account, breathing the bank's air, etc. But the newest fee seemed ridiculous even for them:

Effective February 15, 2006, the fee for returned mail will be $3.

When we moved from our apartment to the house several years ago, I dutifully updated my address with TCF. A few months later I was wondering why I wasn't getting statements anymore. When I called TCF, it turned out they had inputted the wrong address so the mail was getting bounced back.

Starting in February that would have cost me $3 a statement. And then, they probably would have sent me a letter informing me of the charges. Oops! That got returned too. Ka-Ching.

What does returned mail cost them? The cost of a 39 cent stamp (if that, at bulk rates)? So they are making over 700% profit on that returned mail. Except they would have had to send that statement anyways, whether my address was right or not. So who (besides me) cares if it actually gets to me, or gets returned?

It seems stupid, especially when around here mail gets returned to sender all the time for no apparent reason. A number of people I know have had mail that they sent to us with the right address kicked back saying 'no such address'. I guess the mailman was aggravated with us those days or something. Or maybe the mail got dropped in the wrong mailbox, and the recipient kicked it back instead of putting it in the right one.

Whatever the reason, it seems utterly ridiculous to charge a $3 fee for it. It certainly isn't like those outrageous fees (which they don't even have the guts to post on their website) are making it back to me in the form of good interest rates on my savings account.

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October 2005

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Linzy Graduation Party

As I mentioned when I posted pictures earlier, on Saturday evening we had a party at our house to celebrate Linzy's graduation from school. We had a pretty good turnout, with Laura and Andy, Dan, Shawn, Andrea and Megan, Gerard, Vanessa, Felicia, Katie, Brittany and Tony, Anita, Mike, and Brenden in attendance.

The party was a big success, I think, as everyone seemed like they were having a good time.

The assortment of food for the party was originally planned to be scaled back from our usual shindigs. It was only supposed to be some snacks and a cake. However once we got done adding in some of this, and a little of that, it got be a pretty huge collection of food. We had potato chips, tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole (homemade by Tony), half a dozen kinds of crackers, two huge bricks of sliced cheese, 4 pounds of summer sausage, and three kinds of spreadable cheese all for the crackers, a veggie tray, a shrimp tray, candy, peanuts, seafood dip, pickles, and cake. On top of that, we had a ton of pop, beer, and various things for mixed drinks.

I was pretty sure that we were going to have way too much of everything, especially as people who we were thinking were coming started canceling on Thursday/Friday. Instead, everyone rose to the challenge and almost the entire spread of food got eaten and we went through two full cases of beer, leaving only a 12 pack leftover.

At this party we tried a new strategy to keep people from congregating in the kitchen (as in here and here), we took all the chairs out and put them in other rooms. That actually worked pretty well, although the chairs kept wanting to make their way back upstairs.

The other thing that helped spread people out to other parts of the house was that we had a big attraction in the family room: Guitar Hero.

I know I've been going on and on and on about the game lately, but it really is a super fun party game. In fact, two people commented almost immediately upon arrival about my rather strange (in their mind) fascination with a video game that uses a toy guitar as a controller. But then we turned on the game, and from then on it was in use straight through till 3:30 am or so. Nearly everyone tried the game, and anyone who did seemed to really enjoy it and played it multiple times.

Guitar Hero was involved in one of the funniest moments of the night as well. Brittany's fiancee Tony had tried the game a few times and was really, enjoying it. After he finished his second or third game, he put down his guitar, and ran up the stairs yelling:

Britt, whatever you got me for Christmas, take it back! I want Guitar Hero instead!

Other then trying the game, everyone pretty much just hung out and chatted, admired Shawn and Andrea's new baby, complained about their respective jobs, etc, and just generally relaxed.

I always enjoy our parties, and this one was no exception. I had a really fun time hanging out and talking with everyone, and it seemed like everyone else was enjoying themselves too. I'm considering it a success!

[ Update 9:30pm: Amusingly, Brittany just called to tell us that Tony went out today and purchased Guitar Hero. I'm glad he liked it. ]


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What seven tons of rock looks like, before I moved it all - September 2003

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Linzy Graduation Party: Pictures

Last night we had a party to celebrate Linzy's graduation from school. A lot of people showed up and I think everyone had a good time. I know I did.

I took some pictures, although most are of people playing Guitar Hero, which was the undisputed hit of the night. Everyone who tried it (and nearly everyone did) loved it.

Linzy's graduation cake

The living room is a far cry from when we first moved in and it was completely devoid of furniture. I thought it looked pretty nice with all the Christmas decorations up.

Vanessa and Dan playing Guitar Hero

Shawn and Megan

Andy and Laura

Katie and Brittany showing off their rock star skills

Anita, Vanessa and Linzy

Felicia

Gerard trying to dethrone Felicia after she had won several games in a row


None of the shots of people playing Guitar Hero really capture all the amusing body english people try to use when playing a really close guitar duel on a rocking song. So, I present these shots showing some of the gyrations Tony and Brenden went through while playing Guitar Hero. You really have to see the full-sized versions to appreciate the faces the two are making while playing.









Waiting for the final verdict of who won


It was a fun night!


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A red pepper and the mutant red pepper that was growing inside it - December 2005

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stating the Obvious

Yesterday night while I was procrastinating about writing a blog post, I was reading this article on CNN. Like most 'How to retire easily' articles it was pretty much nothing but fluff: Save more, spend less, invest your money, etc.

But it did contain one of the most painfully obvious observations I've seen:

... But by raising his contribution from 2 percent of salary to 6 percent, Joe would have tripled his 401(k) balance, nearly an $80,000 increase.


No kidding? By tripling his contributions to the 401k, his balance would have tripled? Who would have guessed that? I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that by increasing his contributions to 8%, Joe could have quadrupled his 401(k) balance!

At least they could have pointed out that the balance probably more than tripled, and segued into a paragraph or two on compound interest or something.


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Bucket O' Heineken - August 2004

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Stickers!

In an effort to make our Guitar Hero guitars faster look cooler, Linzy and I decorated them with stickers. Mostly the ones that come with the game, but one of us added a few extras. I wonder which guitar is which:






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The backyard pine tree - December 2005

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

TV: Lost

Tonight I finally finished watching the first season of Lost and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Originally I was resisting watching the show because I didn't want to get hooked on show where the basis for everything was a giant mystery that would be ever-so-slowly revealed over the course of the next ten years. But then I would hear from all kinds of people how great the show was, and eventually caved.

The show turned out to be really good. Yes it moves at a snail's pace sometimes, in terms of revealing the mystery of the island. But they did do a good telling the stories behind each of the main characters, so that made up for it a bit.

The characters were actually probably my favorite part of the show. For some reason I really enjoyed how everyone interacted (usually not very well) and how everyone had an interesting backstory behind how they got on the plane and what was going on in their life before.

My only real complaint is that now I'm hooked and nearly caught up with the current season. And once I get through the next nine episodes, I'll have to wait weeks between episodes instead of just watching them all at my own pace.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the first season, and highly recommend Lost.

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Japanese Garden in San Francisco - June 2003

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Movies: The Longest Yard

Last weekend Linzy and I watched The Longest Yard (the 2005 remake, not the original). I can't say I was all that impressed.

For some strange reason when Linzy told me that the Longest Yard was coming next in the mail I was thinking "Oh, that will be funny, so it should be good.". I honestly have no idea what I was basing that on.

The reviews are terrible, and I don't think I know anyone who had seen it (and so would have given me some sort of review). I guess I was just assuming since the original is considered a classic that the remake wouldn't be terrible.

In retrospect that seems like suspect logic.

The biggest problem with the movie, I think, was that it just wasn't all that funny. It certainly had some funny moments, but on the whole most of the jokes were only worth a chuckle or roll of the eyes, not a laugh.

I'm not sure if the original movie was a comedy, but that was what I was expecting from the remake given that it stared Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Instead they had to spend a lot of screen time developing the plot, how he got in jail, how he won over the other inmates, how they prepared for the game, etc. There were jokes worked in, but for some reason most of it didn't really strike me as all that funny.

The cast was littered with cameos/non-actors. You had Nelly, Michael Irvin, Bob Sapp (former Viking), Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldberg, Brian Bozworth, Chris Berman and Bill Romanowski playing various supporting roles. That certainly didn't help the acting.

Anyway, the movie wasn't all bad, as I mentioned there were certainly a few funny moments. Also, most of the football portions were pretty well done, which helped keep things interesting. But on the whole I just didn't enjoy the movie much.

I guess I am just getting too old for Adam Sandler movies.


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Gerard approves - June 2003

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Movies: Vampire Hunter D

Several weeks ago, Linzy and I went all retro and watched Vampire Hunter D. Netflix had recommended it to Linzy, and since she had never seen it, she added it to the queue. I was pretty surprised when it showed up, as it seemed a bit hardcore of an anime movie for Linzy to add out of the blue.

It had been a long time since I'd seen the movie, in fact virtually the only thing I recalled about the whole movie was "Left Hand". That made it kind of nice, as it was like watching it for the first time all over again.

The movie wasn't too bad, but it wasn't spectacular either.

The animation must have been pretty impressive back in 1985, but it is showing its age rather severely 20 years later. The sound effects and music were almost exclusively 80s-era synthesizers, which was cool from a retro flashback standpoint but a bit annoying after a while. Still, the characters were cool, particularly D. And the story was interesting, not terribly complex but deep enough to have support a few twists at the end.

All-in-all it was worth watching, but not something I would rush out to see again. I am planning to add Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust to the old Netflix queue though, as I don't think recall seeing that one.


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The deck stairs - December 2005

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Dichotomy

Tonight we had a rather strange combination of things to do:

  • We stopped and dropped off a gift for friends who just had a brand-new baby.
  • We stopped and dropped off a hot-dish (casserole) for a friend whose mother died unexpectedly in her sleep last week.

It was strange going from the joyful, optimistic house with the new baby to the somber house where my friend was obviously and understandably distressed over the loss of his mother.

To complete the bizarre collection of tasks, afterwards we went to Target and picked out a new shower curtain. The previous one got ruined in the washing machine tonight and we are having people over on Saturday, so we needed a replacement.

It was as if the whole evening was everyday-normal, when it was clearly not. But at the same time, what else are you supposed to do...


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A Bonzai Tree at the Como Conservatory - September 2004

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Holiday Decorating

The paper this morning featured a stack of advertisement flyers at least 2 inches thick which can mean only one thing: It's the Holidays.

Yesterday Linzy and I put up the Christmas tree and set out all the Christmas decorations. Normally we do this the weekend after Thanksgiving (if we are in town), or the weekend after, but this year we hadn't gotten around to it. It certainly feels a lot more like the Holidays once the tree is up and all the decorations are out.

What our Christmas Tree looks like in it's natural form.


Our tree isn't very tall (for reference Linzy is 5-foot 1.5 inches)


It's starting to look a bit more like a tree now.


Still going strong after 28 years, the bell my parents got for my first Christmas. If you look closely, it is engraved with "Stephen Otto Eck".


Linzy's first Christmas ornament.


The tree all decorated and lit up. It doesn't look half bad once we load it up with stuff to hide all the gaps in the branches.



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