Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Silver-Haired Senility

Linzy and I were out at Chilli's for dinner tonight, and there happened to be a booth full of Grandma-aged women sitting behind me. I couldn't help but overhear pretty much their entire conversation because they were yelling at each other.

One of the ladies was either not paying much attention, or was having a tough time following the conversation because she kept interrupting to ask "Who is that again?". The crowning moment was this exchange (which should be read in an 80-year-old grandma voice, as if you were talking to another 80-year-old grandma who is going hard-of-hearing):

Grandma 1: ....so then Dan said...

Grandma 2: Who's Dan again?

Grandma 1: Susan's husband.

Grandma 2: ...And who's Susan again? Your son?

Grandma 1: ...My Daughter!!

Grandma 2: Oh.

I almost laughed out loud, I couldn't help it. Now there are certainly names where you can't tell if the person is male or female. I don't really consider Susan to be one of those. And that coupled with the "Susan's Husband" comment pretty much should have been a good clue that Susan wasn't a man.

Regardless I'm still not sure whether Grandma 1 was more upset because Grandma 2 had forgotten that Susan was her daughter, or because she was thinking Susan was a man.

Either way it was fairly amusing.


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Linzy, Vanessa, and Dan - July 2004

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Monday, January 30, 2006

New Scanner

Well, tonight I broke down and bought the new scanner I talked about last week (an Epson 3490). So far it has been pretty nice.

The Epson is significantly faster at scanning photos then the other one. It takes about 30 seconds or so to scan three photos at 600 DPI, compared with almost 2 minutes. The software is much more streamlined, cutting down the time spent messing with various settings and scanning the pictures. The scan quality is at least as good as the other scanner, and the color reproduction also seems better.

The only problem is that the Epson 3490 has an annoying unreadable area just like the HP scanner, so you still have to float the pictures in the middle of the document tray. Why don't they just make the tray smaller, so you can nestle the items right up against edge? They even reference the problem in the documentation, first telling you to put the photo against the edge and then telling you to push it back and in 5mm.

Anyway, the new scanner is definitely nicer in a lot of ways and much faster. I'm just not sure if it is $100 faster...


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The other side of the Los Angeles river in Long Beach - January 2006

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Books: Fool's Errand

Last week I finished reading Fool's Errand, the first book in a reasonably new trilogy by Robin Hobb. This book continues the adventures of the characters from the Farseer trilogy that I read quite a while ago (as opposed to the characters in the Liveship Traders Trilogy).

I enjoyed the book, but found the beginning somewhat slow-moving.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pages of the opening of the book are spent explaining exactly how FitzChivalry is drawn back into the events of the world (after exiling himself at the end of the earlier trilogy). That's a lot of pages to spend hemming and hawing about doing something. In Robin Hobb's defense, there was a fair amount of new material in that section, detailing some events that were glossed over in the first books, showing events from a different angle, and generally filling in the 15 years between the two trilogies. But it certainly wasn't a quick moving part of the book.

Once we got all the characters where they were supposed to be to follow along with the adventure that formed the main portion of the plot, things picked up. In fact, the rest of the book moved along pretty quickly, becoming a fairly straight-forward kidnapping plot. I was a bit disappointed in the rather mundane nature of the 'mystery', there were not really any twists to the plot.

There was definitely good aspects to the book, particularly the characters. They are just as interesting as they were in the first trilogy and Robin Hobb does a spectacular job building them even further. Also, the world has been nicely fleshed out in the previous six books, and provides an excellent backdrop for the story.

All-in-all the book was more like an extended prologue to the real action of the trilogy that (I assume) will be coming in books two and three. It certainly did a serviceable job in that capacity, filling in the gaps in the storylines of the two trilogies and setting up all the necessary backstory. I'm reading the next book, The Golden Fool now.


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Sarah demonstrating how to make a snow angel in two inches of snow - Winter 2000

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Gaming

What little weekend entertainment my job allows these days has all been gaming related.

Last weekend on Saturday I went to Scooter's house for a few hours of strategy board gaming. Last night Linzy and I joined Brenden over at Paul and Laura's house for a nice dinner and some video party games (Guitar Hero, Karaoke Revolution, and DDR Extreme 2). Tonight we are headed over to Gerard's for our almost monthly board game night.

So far they've all been fun and all different types of games. I just hope work will leave me alone tonight, something that didn't happen last night at all.


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Die toilet paper, Die! - October 2003

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Movies: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

A few nights ago I watched Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the documentary film made during the 2+ year process of producing their St. Anger album.

It was pretty much what I was expecting: Crazy middle-aged rock stars struggling with various interpersonal issues. Watching the band members, producer and therapist interact, I couldn't help thinking "How do these guys ever manage to get anything done"?. Granted this chronicled a two year period where all they managed to produce was one of my most hated albums ever, but I was somewhat surprised that they didn't just end up breaking up the band. After all, it isn't like they need the money.

Still, I enjoyed the film. In someways it was like Behind the Music on steriods, in terms of really showing what things are like while they create an album. On the other hand, rather then just interviewing people about it after the fact, this was just showing you it as it happened without much 'spin' on events.

All of the members of Metallica clearly have issues, and that is what made the movie work. Lars and James Hetfield spend most of the movie fighting with each other, while Kirk sits by and looks uncomfortable being in the middle. Even their performance enhancement coach (i.e. therapist) is fairly crazy, leaving weird signs all over the rehearsal space and generally acting like he is in the band. At one point I think he even tried to contribute lyrics to a song. (Which later prompted one of the funnier comments in the movie from Lars: "So, are you playing drums today? You've tried to do pretty much everything else")

The movie was somewhat uncomfortable at times, as the guys fought with each other over stupid things. But hands down the most uncomfortable part of the film was the meeting Lars has with Dave Mustaine. Mustaine admits how much he thinks his whole life has been a failure after he got kicked out of Metallica way back when. It was really sad to see a guy who has sold multiple millions of albums and had all kinds of hits end up basically in tears and calling his whole life a failure.

My only real complaint with the movie was that it was a bit long at 2.5 hours. Eventually I was starting to think "Ok, you've proven you're all a bunch of crazy dudes with (clearly) too much money, finish up the album already". Still, that was only at the very end and considering how much arguing you can fit in 2.5 hours, I thought the filmakers did a pretty good job keeping things interesting.

The movie was worth watching, but certainly something I only watched thanks to the wonders of Netflix.


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Me and Linzy - October 2003

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pancakes

On Wednesday, I went with Linzy to see a second specialist about her back. He ended up recommending similar conservative treatments like the previous specialist, including an Epidural Steroid injection.

An Epidural Steroid injection is not a particularly fun procedure. Basically they lay you down, line up approximately where they want to stab you, jab a 4 or 5 inch needle in your back and inject anti-inflammatory drugs right into a specific spot in your back. Linzy had a series of three (each a week or two apart) back in 2002 shortly after her first discectomy.

While Linzy and I were talking about the procedure that night at dinner, I was reminded about the "Pancake" story from the last time she had an epidural. I am not sure how much of the humor relied on you actually being there, but I'll do my best to retell the story.

Now, because the doctor is trying to stick a very large and long needle into an exact spot in your back, they usually give you a sedative and local anesthetic before the big stick. Then they make you lay around for 30 or 40 minutes after the injection before someone can drive you home.

On this particularly day Linzy was pretty out of it after the injection, and was sitting in a reclining chair in a little section of the bigger operating prep room where they did the injections. Next to us was a patient who was recuperating from some sort of outpatient surgery and was apparently planning on heading to Perkins for pancakes after they were released. The patient and her family kept talking about how they were going to get pancakes, they couldn't wait to get some breakfast, etc.

Linzy must have overheard them while dozing off and on, because we had a conversation that went something like this (in between Linzy falling asleep):

Linzy: Pancakes? They're bringing me pancakes?!

Me: No hon, they aren't bringing any pancakes, we're going home after this.

Linzy: Pancakes would be so good. I'd really like some pancakes.

Me: I'm sorry, you can't get pancakes here. I'll make you some toast or something when we get home.

Linzy: I don't want toast! I want pancakes. I want to go to Perkins. They have pancakes there.

Me: Honey, you can't even stay awake for more then a minute, I can't take you to Perkins.

Linzy: ...I love pancakes. Where am I going to get pancakes if we don't go to Perkins?

And so on. I spent the next hour (30 minutes in the recovery room, and the 30 minute drive home) listening to a slow-speed monologue about Linzy's true love of pancakes, how tasty they would be, etc.

We finally got home and I helped Linzy into bed, and went into the kitchen to check on whether we had any pancake mix. By the time I had found some and went back to tell Linzy that she would be getting her pancakes, she was sound asleep.

She never did get her pancakes.


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San Francisco - June 2003

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thirty Minutes of Silky Humiliation

First, have your favorite housemember betray your trust, take away your favorite collar and dog tags, and hand you over for grooming.

Then, have someone trim the hair around certain delicate areas of your body, and deposit you in a little tiny sink.

Next, have someone hose you down, and spend extra time getting those little paws relatively stink-free.


Then, they'll make an embarrassing situation worse, by doing silly things with your hair while you are just trying to look dignified.


Next, instead of letting you run around the house, shaking water all willy-nilly and rubbing your face on the carpet, your owners haul you into the bathroom for a blow-drying.


Despite your best efforts, they don't leave you alone long enough to get more then a few really good shakes in.


Now, just when you think the worst is over, it's time for brushing!


And they just won't leave you alone, despite your repeated escape attempts.


But, don't worry too much. An hour later you'll look like nothing ever happened.



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Chris and some pigeons - February 2000

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Brisk Jog

I was out in the backyard the other night with Pippen, for our last trip around the yard before bed. That night it was pretty cold, a chilly 9F (-12C). Pippen and I were over on the far side of the yard checking out the tree when I noticed a fairly amusing scene across the street:

My neighbor came out his front door, jogged down the driveway and went out to his car parked on the street. He did something (locked it perhaps?), and then started jogging back towards the house.

Now, normally this wouldn't warrant comment, except that he wasn't wearing anything except for a pair of boxer shorts. No shirt, no shoes, no socks, no pants.

I don't think he realized how cold it was outside until he was about halfway to the car. At that point the pace noticably picked up, the feet were picked further off the ground with each stride, and his breath started coming out in smaller puffs which I could only assume were "Woah. Cold. Huh. Cold."

The run back to the house was more like an all-out sprint.


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No one can resist Guitar Hero, even at a Swanky Mansion Party - January 2006

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Monday, January 23, 2006

TV: Cowboy Bebop

On Friday night I finished watching all 26 episodes of Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop was an anime series I had been wanting to watch for quite a while, but had never gotten around to watching. In fact, I watched and enjoyed the movie several years ago, without having seen any of the TV episodes.

I ended up enjoying the series quite a bit. It was more-or-less what I expected, after having seen the movie, but since the movie is mostly separate entity taking place between two of the later episodes (22 and 23 I think), there wasn't much about the series that was spoiled by having seen the movie. In fact, having seen the movie made the beginning of the series possibly more interesting, because I got to see how all the various characters ended up meeting and joining forces.

The premise of Cowboy Bebop is a bit strange, which is pretty much par for the course for the anime TV series that I watch. Basically, it takes place in the future, when almost everyone has migrated off of Earth and into space. The series follows a group of bounty hunters as they travel around from planet to planet trying to track down criminals and get money.

One of my favorite aspects of the show was how the characters were extremely competent, but yet something would always go horribly wrong while they were trying to apprehend the criminal and somehow they would miss out on getting the money (despite usually catching the person). So even though they are probably some of the best bounty hunters in the world, they end up scraping by with no food, on a fairly junky spaceship, etc.

I enjoyed the general presentation of the episodes, the artistic style was cool and the music fits the episodes and action perfectly. My favorite episodes were probably "Ballad of a Fallen Angel", "Mushroom Samba", and the final two-parter "The Real Folk Blues".

My only complaint about the series was that it couldn't decide if it wanted to have one unified show with the overarching plot being Spike's backstory, or if it wanted to be a collection of random one-off episodes just focusing on the characters catching bounties. For the most part, they chose the later, which disappointed me since I thought that Spike's backstory seemed interesting. On the plus side, what story there was made sense all the way to the end, which is more then I can say for most of the other series I've watched.

All in all, I enjoyed the series, and will probably have to re-watch the movie now to pick up on the sure-to-be many things I didn't catch the first time around.

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Office Buildings in Long Beach - January 2006

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Picture Scanning

While we were at my parents house for Christmas, one of the things I took home other then my presents was my Dad's scanner. He has a not-too-old scanner (maybe a year and a half old) that can scan at pretty decent resolutions and was nice enough to let me borrow it, despite the fact that he was in the middle of scanning pictures. My plan was to scan in all the pictures I took over the years with my old film cameras. Unfortunately I vastly underestimated the amount of work it was going to take to accomplish that.

Originally I planned to start by just doing the photos that were readily available, primarily in two photo albums that sit on a bookshelf near my desk. These albums were not particularly old and some of the pictures were even labeled, so it was fairly easy to determine what the pictures were of, or where the pictures were taken.

The first warning sign came when in order to get the scanner to work I had to download and install a 219 Megabyte package of crapware from HP. All I wanted was the driver. But there was no option to install just the driver, so I acquiesced and installed the whole mess.

Then came the real problem. The scanner is slow. It could be termed glacial if you try to use the junky HP scanning software, but running it through Photoshop speeds things up to merely painfully slow.

How slow you ask? Well, lets go through the process.

First, you have to choose the import option in Photoshop, wait for the software to load and let the lamp warm up. That takes just under 90 seconds.

Then, you have to position three photos on the scanning bed. Except the scanner doesn't actually scan all the way to any edge. So you have to float the pictures in the middle of the bed, and try to get them reasonably straight. That takes me around 20-30 seconds, now that I've done a couple hundred pictures.

Then you have to setup the scanning software to the right DPI, scanning area, color mode, etc. You can't change the default settings, but you can save your settings and reload them each time. That takes about 15 seconds or so.

Now we're ready to actually scan the pictures. 112 seconds for three 4x6 prints.

At that point the photos are imported into Photoshop so you can straighten them, crop them, adjust the color and save them out. Now, you can't use the built in 'crop and straighten' automation in Photoshop because the scanner stupidly has an uncovered negative scanning attachment in the lid. That shows up in the scanned area, confusing Photoshop about where exactly the edges of the photos are. Let's say it takes another 3 minutes or so for me to get everything cropped, the color properly adjusted and the files saved with the right names and numbers.

So, just scanning in 3 pictures is a 7+ minute ordeal. And unfortunately the import option of Photoshop is a modal action, so I can't even overlap the scanning and the clean-up work.

Because scanning takes so long, I don't have the time or patience to do very many in a single sitting. And that brings up the next problem, I have a lot more photos to scan then I thought I did.

Originally I was thinking the two albums were small, at least compared to the boxes full of pictures that I have stored away in my parent's basement. I struggled through all 182 pictures in the first album in a little less then a month, but that was with a fairly concerted effort at the start of the project. After finishing that album I was thinking "Well, that wasn't too bad, just one more book to do now".

Except that the next album is twice the size of the first, containing close to 400 pictures. At my pace of 6 photos a day, just scanning the second album is going to be a more than two month project. Even longer if I wanted to try and do more then just photos back through 1999. And all the while I am monopolizing someone else's scanner.

At this point, I'm doubting the intelligence of trying to be cheap and just borrow a scanner. It's probably well worth my time to pick up something like the Epson 3490 scanner for less then a hundred bucks if it will speed up the process. It certainly couldn't make things any slower. It's just too bad the automatic photo feeder attachment is 50% more then the scanner itself.


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Foothills outside Seattle - November 1998

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Whales in the River

I was saddened to see that the whale that swam up the Thames River died during the rescue attempt. I suppose it was just too stressful for the whale after it got turned around and went up into the river.

At the same time, I couldn't help be think of the whole Whales in the Minnesota River post.


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Cribbage - October 2005

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Automated Ego Surfing

Is it a slow day at work? Tired of having type your name into multiple different search engines just to ego surf? Too embarrassed to subscribe to the RSS feed of results from a search for your name? Well, have I got the site for you: egosurf.org

It's a totally pointless yet irresistible site that calculates a 'ranking' for you based on how often the results of a search point to a particular site. I.E. How many results for your name point directly or indirectly to your blog.

You know you want to see what your ranking is. Go ahead, I'll wait here. I won't even tell anyone you did it.


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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Digging a Hole the Sequel

Remember a few months back when my hair stylist (hair cutter?) implied that my beard looked like something that I was still working on 'growing'?

Well, a few days ago I was minding my own business in the kitchen when Linzy came up to me and ruined my day by going "Wow, you have a lot of light hairs on the side of your head".

Ouch.

I said "Umm, I think those would be called Gray Hairs, and thanks for bringing it up.".

I suppose it was inevitable, but it still made me sad.

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A snow covered tree in Duluth - December 2005

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Netflix Queue

Linzy and I have been Netflix subscribers for a little over six months now. I've mentioned it before, but I've been pretty happy with the service. Most of the time the videos get here quickly, and it is really nice to just have them on hand versus having to go out and rent/see them.

I leave most of the queuing up to Linzy, but we both add movies that we want to see. Typically the queue sits at around 40 movies or so (plus some 'saved' ones that aren't out yet), with a mixture of movies Linzy wants to see, ones I want to see, and ones we both want to watch.

Yesterday I went to add a movie to the queue and was surprised to see the message ".. has been added to your queue in position 83." I thought: "83? When did the queue get so long?"

After looking at the queue, I discovered that recently Linzy had added 30 discs of 80s cartoons. He-Man, GI Joe, Jem, and Thundercats. I knew we had been getting a lot of He-Man DVDs lately, I just didn't realize how many 80s cartoon discs were available, I guess.

Unfortunately for Linzy, at dinner while talking about all these new videos, I spoiled the entire GI Joe series for Linzy by offhandedly commenting that Destro's plan is almost always good, and would probably work, but Cobra Commander will get involved and ruin everything.

And the queue is only going to get longer, as Linzy informs me that the second set of 6 He-Man discs for season 1 (which featured a mind-boggling 65 episodes) is going to be released on February 14th.

By the Power of Greyskull!

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Summer Party - July 2004

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bad Project

One day last week while I was in Long Beach, I was walking back from the customer site to the hotel with the rest of my co-workers and talking with one of my boss's boss's peers. He is relatively new to the company, so we were talking about where he had worked previously.

At one point he was telling me about a previous company, where he led the project to implement the world's largest (at the time I assume) Oracle ERP implementation. The conversation went like this:

Him: Yeah, it was a fairly brutal project. We were being spun off, so it had to be done by the end date or we wouldn't have had any way to do the financial statements.
Me: That'd be bad.
Him: Yep, but we got it done.
Me: Though with dead bodies littering the way, I imagine.
Him: [Laughing] Yeah, there were a few.

[ ...A bit of a pause... ]

Him: Of course, I'm talking real dead bodies here.
Me: What? I was being figurative.
Him: I was being literal. Three or four people died during the project. One guy died in a hotel room in Venezuela.
Me: What?! Was it someone you sent there? For the project?
Him: Well..yeah, he was there for the project.
Me: Yikes.

Later, I was retelling the story to my boss, and we were laughing a bit about people literally dying during this person's project. He made some comment like "well, aren't you glad you don't work for him." and I rejoined "Yeah well, if I did, I certainly wouldn't be letting him send me to Venezuela".


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Downtown Seattle - November 1998

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Amusements

Ahh, to be a weatherman, and never having to worry about a wrong prediction having any effect on your job.

Today I lunch, I happened to watch the weather forecast rather closely. The guy was showing the sporadic clouds in the area and talking about how he was sure it wouldn't amount to anything, we wouldn't get any snow, how it barely showed up on radar, etc. Then this evening, I walk out to my car and find it covered in half-an-inch of snow. It's still coming down now, amounting to a couple inches.

Obviously not a lot of snow, at least for around here, but it seemed silly to have more than an inch of snowfall just a few hours after the weatherman was swearing up and down that we wouldn't get any snow.

In other, totally unrelated news, this Hitachi flash animation explaining perpendicular storage technology made me laugh this morning. (Via Shacknews)


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A good reason to wash your hands before lunch - January 2006

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

More Than 24 Hours

Lest you think the only reason I have this blog is to talk about how awesome I am and make fun of other people, I'll tell this story..

On Monday of last week my boss came into my cube and we had this conversation:

Boss: Have you ever been to Long Beach?
Me: Nope
Boss: Well, by this time next week you won't be able to say that.
Me: Uh-oh

He went on to explain the details about how we would fly out on Tuesday night after work, stay Wednesday and then fly back on Thursday night. Later, he dropped off his itinerary with flight and hotel information, and I went on our overly-complex travel booking site to make the reservations.

Now, flash-forward a day later, to Tuesday afternoon.

Linzy had a back specialist appointment in the afternoon, so the plan was that I would leave work at 12:30, go to the appointment, and then be back by 3:15-3:30 so we could get all get to the airport in time for the 5:14 flight.

Unfortunately the back doctor was running several hours behind, so I had to leave to get back before we even got out of the waiting room. I made it back to work at 3:15 almost on the nose, and went to find my boss. He was just packing up, and we had to wait for his boss, who was also coming.

In the meantime, I was going to check-in on NWA.com, to save some time. But the website wouldn't let me check-in, it kept giving a weird error message. So, I went to another section where you could verify your reservation. Yep, everything was there, the right flight number, the right departure time, etc. So back I went to the check-in page.

But it was still giving me errors. Looking closer at what it was saying, I realized that what I had taken as a list of possible reasons for a failed check-in was actually fairly specific: I couldn't check in because my flight was more then 24 hours away.

What!? By this time it was like 3:30, so less then 2 hours from the flight time.

So I went back to the reservation page and noticed something I had missed the first time, that the date was wrong. I had booked a ticket for the same flight on Wednesday, not Tuesday.

So I spent the next 20 minutes on the phone with our fufillment center, trying to get my ticket changed to a flight that was rapidly getting closer and closer to leaving. The representative was regaling me with rules and restrictions for changing tickets while I was thinking "I don't care, I need to be on that plane, can you change the ticket or not!?".

Meanwhile my boss's boss shows up, and has to listen to the tale about what an idiot I am. While I sit there wondering whether it is possible to have a heart-attack from stress at 28.

Eventually, they were able to find a way to change my ticket, but only because of some complex rules about one-way tickets, overall price, and some other explanation that I wasn't really listening to.

Except that the next problem was that my hotel reservation was wrong, since it was tied to my flight dates. And they couldn't find another reservation there. After a while on hold, and some more stress, they eventually found a single-night reservation for Tuesday night, so that I could stay there but just had to change rooms or talk the front desk into combining my reservations.

By this time, it was closing in on four, so only a little more then an hour from our departure time. We rushed over to the airport, and made it to the gate with about 15 minutes to spare. Talk about cutting it close.

I guess I'll have to take 'Able to book own travel arrangements' off the resumé.

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The pitch at Old Trafford - February 2000

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

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The trail of another plane that passed just below us - January 2006

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Elite Status

On my flight home from Los Angeles on Thursday, we were on the last flight back to Minneapolis before the red-eye. So it was even more packed with business travelers then your normal middle afternoon Thursday flight.

Thirty minutes before the flight, they announced that they would begin pre-boarding the plane with any first class passengers, and all the Northwest Airlines Elite members. The entire gate area stood up at once and mobbed the entrance.

The gate agent got flustered and announced they wouldn't be able to pre-board everyone at once. There were so many 'Elite' members that they ended up having to board them by class (Platinum, Gold, Silver) and then by rows.

It turned out that out of an entire planeful of people, there were only thirty passengers who were not elite members.

Us commoners had to stand around while the other two-thirds of the plane packed on, so then we could get on and climb over all the elite members who had taken the aisle seats.

I found it pretty amusing, especially the mad rush to try to pre-board as an 'Elite'.


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Building a bridge in London - February 2000

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Long Beach

I just got back from Long Beach, California.

On Monday I found out that I needed to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday night, stay Wednesday and fly back Thursday night. It was quite the whirlwind of travel, since we didn't get into LA until close to 9:30pm (Central) on Tuesday night, and I didn't get back into Minneapolis until a little after 9:00pm (Central). In between I pretty much didn't see anything except the planes, the hotel, and the customer's site.

I could get used to 70 and sunny in the middle of January though.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Pippen the Annoying Terrier

It's been a while since my last solely Pippen related post, so it's that time again.

Were you wondering just how annoying an 8 pound Silky Terrier can be? Did you read my sister's post about Christmas, where she anthromorphizes for Pippen who is in nearly every single picture trying to get in people's laps, sniffing packages, and generally being a nuisance while we are trying to open presents?

Of late, she's developed yet another annoying habit.

Previously when she wanted to go outside (or to be fed) she would come into wherever I was, and sit on the floor next to me staring up, shifting her weight back and forth from one leg to the other, and whine. It doesn't sound annoying, but it gets pretty annoying real quick, particularly because its kind of creepy to have the dog just staring at you.

At some point over the Holidays, Pippen discovered that she can effect the same result without having to actually be in the same room as us. Now she sits on the rug at the bottom of the stairs to the basement, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, and whines. Or growls.

For some reason I think it is worse, when you hear her jump down from the bed, stroll past the office door without so much as a look in my direction, trot down two flights of stairs, and then proceed to whine like she doesn't have a friend in the world. I mean, she walked right past me! Couldn't she at least come in the room for a little bit to see if I'll jump up and let her out?

Worse still, Pippen has recognized that it is frequently playtime after she goes outside (after all, I've interrupted whatever I was doing, why not play some chasing games). So she has started wanting to go out All The Time. So we end up having to listen to whining, growling, and half-barking from the bottom of the stairs whenever we don't seem to be paying enough attention to her. Like for example when we are eating, or playing cards, or washing dishes. Very nice.

On one hand I am glad she is being more obvious when she wants to go outside (long ago she used to just quietly sit by the sliding glass door in the basement, waiting for someone to notice and let her out), but at the same time I'm not amused by the tenth trip around the backyard in an evening.


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This otter wouldn't share any of the otter toys with his tankmates - June 2003

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hawaii

I've joked here before about high-level business executives and their winter "strategy" meetings that always happen to take place somewhere warm. Thus I was amused (and somewhat saddened) last week when I read these paragraphs from this article about the restructuring going on at Sony:

He said his efforts at cutting costs and reorganizing the company around several core units is progressing slowly but steadily.

Company executives intend to meet next week in Hawaii to assess the restructuring. The company is planning to cut 10,000 jobs.

Because, I mean, where else would you plan how to fire 10,000 employees but Hawaii in January? That's the kind of thing that you need to have a good tan for.


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Some rocks - May 2005

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Swanky Mansion Party

On Saturday night, Linzy and I went to Brenden's Swanky Mansion Party. It was a good time.

The party was at Brenden's godparent's mansion (which he was house-sitting) and we were all supposed to get dressed up in fancy clothes and bring an 'unclassy drink' to share. I protested the dress-code aspect by wearing my 1970s suit, but most of the other people were into it.

We basically just hung out in the super fancy house, talking, playing pool, playing games and having fun. Quite a few people showed up, some that I hadn't seen since September and others where it's been much, much longer.

I have a good time, even if we did have to leave earlier then I would have liked since I had to work on Sunday. Read on for a few pictures, if you'd like.

The entry to the temporary Chez Brenden


Brenden making pizzas in the real brick oven


Me in my all brown 1970s suit, with the unclassy beverage we brought: Schlitz Malt Liquor.


Kenneth, Jenny and Matt playing cards.


Linzy and Matt checking out the artwork.


Thad and Rebecca brought Zima XXX (along with an Old E 40oz) as their unclassy beverage. Here Kaari and Suzanne are demonstrating how to drink Zima that tastes like it's already been flavored with a Jolly Rancher.


Brenden, Chey and Magnus


[ Updated 1/10: Added Kaari and Suzanne's names rather then calling them 'Brenden's Friends'. Sorry about that. ]

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A castle outside of Dublin - February 2000

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Movies: Mr and Mrs Smith

One night while I was in Duluth for Christmas, everyone decided to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith. You know, that movie where Brad Pitt discovered that he liked pretending to be married to Angelina Jolie better then actually being married to his real wife.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the movie. I wasn't watching real close, but you didn't really have to be. It was a pretty straight-forward action/comedy movie, with all the comedy coming from the fact that both are assassins and neither knows about the other, and all the action coming from them going on missions to kill people and eventually fighting each other/everyone else.

It certainly wasn't my Favorite Movie of All Time, but I found most of the humor funny, enjoyed the characters (Vince Vaughn's character was pretty amusing), and thought the action was fairly exciting.

The movie dragged a bit in the beginning, as you waited for Mr and Mrs Smith to finally discover the other was also a secret assassin, but it wasn't too bad. Once they found out about each other, things moved pretty quickly.

Overall I thought Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a pretty enjoyable movie.

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Part of the Boston Commons - October 2005

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Books: A Feast For Crows

The book I mentioned finishing yesterday was A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin. It's a book that was 5 full years in the making, as I've complained about many, many times before. I've been impatiently awaiting the book all this time because the previous book (A Storm of Swords) was one of my favorite books in recent years (well not so recent anymore).

Despite my best attempts to keep my expectations low, I couldn't help but be a little excited to start into the book. Even if it was only half the book it should have been. After finishing the latest Robert Jordan book (after all, it did come out first), I couldn't stop myself from immediately starting up A Feast For Crows.

I have mixed feelings about the book. It was certainly a George R.R. Martin book, with a complex cast of characters, rampant political intrigue, battles, and a detailed, intertwined plot. At the same time, I was virtually guaranteed to be disappointed by the book, since I had such high expectations.

Part of my problem with the book is a combination of the horrendously large cast of characters and the ridiculous delay between the books. To get an idea of the number of characters that are involved in the world/story, at the end of Feast For Crows there is a 65(!) page appendix detailing all the various characters in the houses, courts, and historical families that play a part in succession squabbles. Obviously not all those people make an appearance in the books, but a good portion are at least mentioned and many have significant parts in the books.

After 5 years, I was having trouble just remembering what the characters names were, let alone remembering who was backstabbing who, who had secret alliances, how people had ended up where they were, etc. I spent a good fourth of the book somewhat lost and flipping back to the appendix to figure out who everyone was.

I'm sure the next book will be just as bad, since it deals with a nearly entirely different subset of characters. And by the time that comes out, A Storm of Swords will be even further removed from my recollection.

Now, there were certainly good aspects of the book. Once I got a handle on most of the characters, I started enjoying the complexities of the story, one of my favorite things about Martin's books. With the very dense plot and storyline, Martin's books don't feel like fluff fantasy books.

I also like the fact that there are very few (possibly no) outright evil people. There are selfish people, there are unscrupulous people, there are people who will sell you out for a little more power, but there hasn't so far been a typical fantasy 'evil' bad guy. Personally, I think that makes the stories much more interesting and realistic (as much as any fantasy book is 'realistic') then some other series.

While reading the book, I got the feeling that I would get a lot more enjoyment out of the book if I would just sit down and re-read the previous three books again before reading A Feast For Crows. That way everything would be fresh in my mind. But alas I don't have that sort of time on my hands.

In the end, I certainly have to say that I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the next (and following) book in the series. I just hope George picks up the writing pace a bit.


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Edinburgh Castle - February 2000

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Grand Plans

I finished a book the other night, and while procrastinating about writing up a little post on it, I was looking through the list of books I wrote posts on last year. I only wrote posts about 20 books last year, and as far as I can recall I wrote something about every book I read. 20 books in a year isn't too bad, but I would have liked to have averaged a nice even 2-per-month.

Looking through the list was interesting, as it made me recall each book. Unfortunately it also reminded me of my claim in late January that I was going to be adding more variety to what I read. Branching out from the almost exclusively fantasy selection I normally read before turning in for the night.

Let's see how I did...


So, that makes 12 Fantasy books, 2 Auto/biographies, 2 SciFi books, 2 Spy Thrillers, and 2 other books. And 10 of those fantasy books came after I claimed I would be branching out. Not particularly impressive.

In my defense, I read the same number of fantasy books January - June that I did July - December (1 per month), it is just that my reading pace slowed so that I was only reading one book per month (and it happened to almost always be fantasy).

I came to the conclusion that it didn't matter if all I read for entertainment at night was fantasy books, if that is what I enjoy; I read plenty of more diverse things throughout the day.

It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the other books (I did for the most part), it's just that I have so many fantasy books stashed away in the house waiting to be read, it seems silly to go out of my way not to read them. Especially when many are by proven -to-be-entertaining-to-me authors.

Anyway. Basically, this was just a long winded-way of saying "I'll read what I want to read, forget that old January post".


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Victoria Memorial (London) - February 2000

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Kitchen Cabinets

While we were in Duluth over Christmas, I filled up my last two days helping my father-in-law Larry install his new kitchen cabinets. He's had them sitting in the basement for quite a while, but hadn't had anyone to help him install them. Since I didn't have much interest in shopping the post-Christmas sales, I suggested that we install the cabinets.

It turned out to be an interesting little project. I had never installed pre-built cabinets (only helped build custom ones), and it was a little more work then I was originally envisioning. Mostly because the floor was a lot less level then you might think it would be.

The theory isn't really all that complicated, basically you just shim the cabinet until its level and then attach it to the wall. But it gets a bit putzy if you want to get the cabinets really level. And I've never met a task I can't be a perfectionist at.

In the end I think the cabinets turned out pretty good, and I was glad I was able to help out. It certainly isn't a job one guy can do very easily.

The original cabinets (there were only really two, the sink 'cabinet' was just a façade)


Apparently the original installers couldn't be bothered to find the stud by knocking on the wall.


The kitchen with the cabinets removed


We found a calendar that had fallen alongside the cabinets from 1992.


As usual, the son-in-law just standing around taking pictures while Larry works.


The final result (excepting the cutting of the shims, and installation of the bottom panel, a new countertop, etc)


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Dad and me - June 2003
[ Photo by Dan ]


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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cheap DVDs

Since my wireless network downstairs is out of commission, I've been back to watching DVD special features while I lumber on the treadmill.

While I don't enjoy these as much as a recorded TV show, I don't usually mind them too much. Most of the time there are some interesting 'making of' type videos on there, or if nothing else I'll just watch the commentary track. For some reason, while I don't like watching only half of a full-length movie, it doesn't bother me at all to listen to half of a movies' commentary track.

Anyway, the other day I picked out our Batman Begins DVD to watch. Like a disturbing percentage of our DVDs, it had never been out of its protective shrinkwrap. So after opening it and throwing it in the player, I hopped on the treadmill ready to check out some hopefully interesting information on how they did the stunts, what they used for the CG effects, etc.

It turns out that the Batman Begins DVD is probably the most worthless DVD we own in terms of special features. It has only a single one: the theatrical trailer. That's it, no commentary track, no behind the scenes featurette, no deleted scenes, nothing.

I'd expect that from the four-episode Flash Gordon TV Show DVD Larry Santa got me for Christmas, because they didn't do any behind-the-scenes recording back then. But Batman Begins was a major summer movie from a big studio. The DVD didn't even have an insert with chapter titles in it, just an ad for something unrelated (Symantec virus protection).

No wonder they can sell those DVDs so cheap.


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Snow-covered trees in Duluth - December 2005

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