Monday, July 31, 2006

Entertainment

When I was riding up and down the shore of Lake Superior a few weeks ago, I stopped in Knife River twice to turn around. In the parking lot of Emily's Diner was a small sign talking a bit about Knife River. It mostly focused on what the river was used for (fish spawning primarily), where the water for it came from (pretty much everywhere inland), etc.

But one section of the sign caught my eye:

If you can't make it out in the picture, the sign says:

Fish watching was a spectator sport in the 1970s

And proves it by showing nine hardy souls crouched on the edge of the river ostensibly watching the fish try to swim upstream.

I say 'ostensibly' because at least one has a fishing net on his back, and a number of the others are carrying fishing poles. I guess the plan would be to swipe those fish out of the calm upper section of the river after they spend a day expending all their energy trying to leap upstream. Nice.

Apparently the 1970s in Knife River were a dark time, if fish watching was considered a form of entertainment.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Video Games: Kingdom Hearts

As I mentioned before, when we were in Duluth for vacation a few weeks ago, we didn't have many planned activities. That left quite a bit of free time for me to amuse myself, and I took advantage of that time to play a bunch of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts is a game that has been sitting in my stack of unopened games for a long, long time. I had always been intending to play it, but had just never got around to it. As it turns out, the game was really fun and definitely worth playing.

For those of you not familiar with Kingdom Hearts, it is an action RPG game made through a partnership with Squaresoft (makers of Final Fantasy) and Disney. The game features all sorts of Final Fantasy characters, enemies, and items, along with Disney-themed worlds and characters. If that sounds like a weird combination, you're right, it is. But at the same time there is something kind of fun about having Donald and Goofy or some random Disney character in your party while you explore Agrabah or fight Maleficent (the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty).

The game was fairly well put together, with a story explaining (as much as any Square RPG 'explains' things) why you had to travel to all these different worlds and why all these characters were around. There were lots of cutscenes building the story and characters and advancing the plot. The levels were very fun, for the most part, and definitely looked like the Disney worlds they were supposed to be.

The battle system in Kingdom Hearts was fairly good. Sword play was straight forward and easy to manage. It was easy to fight your way out of a big group of enemies. Casting magic was easy if it was a spell you setup a shortcut for, but cumbersome it wasn't one of your selected spells. Similarly using items in the middle of a frenetic battle was nearly impossible due to the clumsy in-battle menu system and the need to have items pre-selected before a battle for possible use.

I didn't have too many complaints about the game, my primary one was probably the aforementioned menu system during battle. Since everything happened real time, and you couldn't defend yourself while manipulating the menu system, it was very hard to do much of anything beyond attacking with your sword, choosing a follow-up combo, or casting a spell through shortcuts.

My other complaints were minor. I didn't like that the enemies dropped health and items as little balls that flew all over the world and had to go be individually collected. Especially since they disappeared after a short length of time, this made it hard because in the middle of battle I would find myself running around collecting money balls before they disappeared. This problem was somewhat mitigated later in the game, when the characters learned the 'Treasure Magnet' skill, which pulled the health and money to them from a short distance away. I was also sometimes annoyed at the unskippable cut-scenes, particularly when they prefaced a tough boss fight that I had to attempt multiple times and would have to watch a multi-minute cutscene every single time.

The game turned out to be pretty long as well, at least when played at my pace. I didn't quite finish everything, I left the four optional 'super-bosses' unchallenged, but I did complete enough of the rest of the optional portions to unlock the secret ending.

All-in-all, the game was definitely a lot of fun. I enjoyed the easy combat system, and exploring the Disney worlds, and it was also cool to see some of the Final Fantasy characters make an appearance. The only problem is that now I'm going to have to pick up Kingdom Hearts 2 when it goes cheap, so that I can continue the story.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Magnum

Today Linzy and I were driving over to my parent's house for dinner. On the way, we were following a Dodge Magnum wagon slowly up Cedar Ave. To pass the time we started talking about the Magnum, how Linzy didn't like them but her father did, etc.

After a bit, we realized that there were actually three Magnums in front of us, one in each lane inspiring this conversation:

Linzy: Oh, there's actually three in front of us. See that?

Steve: Yeah.

Linzy: Maybe it is a Magnum club or something.

Steve: I guess it could be, but I doubt it.

Linzy: Well you don't normally see three all in one place.

Steve: Yeah, I think there are laws against that sort of thing.

Linzy: I was thinking it was because they hadn't sold three.

And that, I guess, is proof that an Eck sense of humor is slowly but surely rubbing off on Linzy.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Books: Splinter Cell

Today I'll be performing a public service and warning you that despite the fact the Splinter Cell was a fun XBox game, that should in no way be considered a reflection on how well it would translate into a spy novel.

Actually, the book wasn't that bad, but I didn't think it was all that good either. It certainly wasn't as good of a spy book as any of the Robert Ludlum books I've read (which are the only spy books I have for reference).

My main issue with the book was not the action/adventure, there was plenty of interesting spy work that the author has Sam Fisher do, but with the plot. It was ridiculously simplistic. That, plus the rather abrupt ending resulted in me not really liking the book.

Overall the book was OK, and I certainly wasn't expecting it to be good, so from that perspective I guess it met my expectations.


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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Black Smudges

Last week after we returned from vacation, I went to download the pictures I took of Lake Superior from our digital camera. Much to my dismay, over half were ruined by strange black smudges all over the pictures.



My initial thought was that the lens was dirty, so I spent some time trying to thoroughly clean it. After taking a few indoor pictures everything looked OK, so I thought everything was taken care of. A little later I started thinking more about how not all the pictures were distorted, and it wasn't just all the pictures after a certain point but rather a mixture.

Looking more closely, it seemed like the pictures with the worst smudges featured a lot of sky and/or water. So I went outside with the camera and took some sky shots. After downloading the pictures, the problem had returned (or more specifically had never really gone away).



I wasted a lot more time that afternoon trying to clean the lens, but eventually concluded it was either some other problem or that I just didn't have the right equipmentt for cleaning the lens (which seemed unlikely).

Since the camera is only about a year and three months old, I decided to call up Sony to see what they would do for me. According to the first customer service lady: nothing. No troubleshooting, no workaround suggestions, just told that I would have to pay $181 and ship the camera to Connecticut for repairs. Ouch.

Considering the camera was less then $400 new, and these days can be had for less then $250 (if you can find it), almost $200 for a repair seemed a bit steep to me. And I expressed that feeling.

I got passed around a bit and eventually got handed off to some other level of customer service where I convinced a lady to go halvsies. Actually, they are paying $92 and I am paying $89, but close enough.

That seemed a little more reasonable, as I like our camera and don't really want to have to buy a new one. Particularly because then we would have to switch from Sony to some other brand and would have to invest in all new memory cards and batteries. So I agreed to send the camera in.

That turned out to be a bit of a hassle since Sony sent not one but two e-mails with 'further instructions' that differed between mails. Then the UPS store, which was supposed to have a 'deal' with Sony for cheap shipping, was deceptive in quoting prices and ended up charging us over $15 to ship a 1.5 pound camera via UPS super-slow freight (project delivery time is a full week after shipping).

Hopefully they will be able to fix the camera and return it promptly. I would rather not have to buy a new camera and have paid $104 for nothing.


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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Movies: Manchurian Candidate

While in Duluth last week, I watched the remake of the Manchurian Candidate with my father and mother-in-law. Larry had seen the original, but it was a completely new movie for me and Sandy. Everyone seemed to enjoy the movie, me included.

One thing I liked was how convoluted the plot was. It bordered on nearly incomprehensible at times, but I enjoyed trying to follow along. For reference on just how confusing the movie was initially, Sandy skipped the first 30 minutes of so of the movie and really didn't miss a beat in terms of understanding things from there on out.

I thought both Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber did a great job in their roles, as did Meryl Streep as Liev's overbearing Senator mother. In fact, Streep's mother character was definitely the creepiest character in a movie filled with fairly creepy characters. The tension between her and her grown-but-still-bossed-around son was really well done.

All-in-all I enjoyed the movie a bit more then I was expecting too. It was definitely worth seeing.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stay Hungry

The three bike rides I took while in Duluth last week went fairly well with one exception.

On Monday I rode from Brighton Beach (at the very beginning of Scenic Highway 61) up to Knife River and back. It was a nice, fairly flat ride around 26 miles long. The biggest problem was that the wind shifted roughly halfway into my ride so that I ended up going into the wind both ways. That sucked, but I battled through.

On Wednesday, fresh from my success at the 26 mile distance, I made plans for a longer ride. I didn't really want to do the entire Scenic 61 route, as I was thinking it was over 25 miles one way, so Linzy suggested going from the Lakeview Castle to Two Harbors.

From my vague recollection on Monday, there was a sign saying 17 miles to Two Harbors within a few miles past the Castle, making it a 35-40 mile round trip. That sounded about perfect, so my plan was to start later in the morning, ride up to Two Harbors, stop there for lunch and a rest, and then ride back to the Castle.

The first thing I noticed when I got on the road was there was a stiff breeze at my back. That was a nice change from Monday, so I was sailing along on my way to Two Harbors.

The next thing I noticed was that the '17 miles to Two Harbors' sign was not a couple miles past the Castle like I was thinking; It was practically outside the parking lot. So the ride was going to be a bit shorter then I was planning.

The final thing I learned was that the 17-mile sign was totally wrong, and the distance from the parking lot of the Castle to the start of Two Harbors was a mere 14 miles.

Between the wind, the shorter distance and my enthusiastic pedaling I was in Two Harbors way earlier then I was planning. Which meant it was way too early to eat.

I rode all the way to the far end of Two Harbors to eek 15.6 miles out of the trip and then stopped in the McDonald's parking lot to try and figure out what to do. Eventually I decided that it was going to be difficult and/or impossible for me to waste 45 minutes in Two Harbors while sweaty and saddled with a camelbak, bike and no bike lock. So I decided just to head back right away and then eat at Linzy's parent's house.

The theory was that it wouldn't take much longer to get back then the amount of time I wanted to kill, and then I could avoid being all sweaty in public. What I failed to realize was just how strong the wind at my back had been, which unfortunately hadn't shifted during the ride and so I was riding right back into it.

It took all of about 5 miles before I was starting to think about how I was starting to get hungry. Another 5 miles and I was wondering why in the world I hadn't thought to bring a snack along or at leas buy one in Two Harbors, and how my arm was starting to look pretty tasty.

The last 5 miles were not much fun. I spent most of those last miles spinning in really low gears, plotting exactly what the fastest way to order some nachos at the Castle would be.

In the end, when I finally did roll into the parking lot, my sweatiness and cheapness won out and I loaded the bike onto the rack and headed back to home instead of eating at the Castle. So I never did get those nachos I had drooled over in my mind for 20 minutes.


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Monday, July 24, 2006

How to Not Sell Me A Book

Last week while we were in Duluth, Linzy and I decided to head into town. We had a few errands to run and I wanted to use the Internet to look up a few things and to VPN into work since I had missed a somewhat important conference call on Monday due to the time being moved.

So our first stop was at the local Barnes and Nobles, to use their wireless. On the way into the store you practically tripped over Phantom, the latest book by Terry Goodkind.

I enjoy Terry Goodkind's books (though more so his earlier Sword of Truth novels, rather then the most recent ones). Strangely, I had stumbled across Terry's previous book randomly the same week it was released and now I had run into his latest book on the day it was released. How could I not buy it?

So I carried my book and laptop over to the Starbucks area, bought a small cup of coffee to ease my guilt over using their free wireless, and sat down to get my work done. Only to discover that their wireless wasn't free.

In retrospect I am not sure why I was convinced it would be free. I guess I was just figuring that free wifi was a standard coffee shop offering these days. Not so, apparently.

In protest over the fairly outrageous fees they wanted for even a quick connection and the over-priced coffee I had bought in preparation for guilt that didn't actually occur, there was only one recourse: not buying Phantom, of course.

I really showed them. :)


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Almost Famous

[ At the risk of even more navel-gazing than normal, I can't resist mentioning this. ]

While bringing in the paper this morning, I was surprised to see my name prominently featured on a front page article. In an article on Minnesota's Blogs, John Reinan lead off with:

Steve Eck bought a TV on his lunch hour. Allison Tripp-Russo is going to a karaoke bar. And Andrew Mogendorff's son found a booger.

John had actually e-mailed me last week to see if I wanted to be interviewed for the article, but since I was sans-email all last week, it never happened. Still, my eccentric TV purchasing style managed to garner top billing.

I was even more surprised today at the number of people at work (and over e-mail or IM) who saw the article and mentioned it to me. Frequently to give me a hard time, like my boss about using company time to make personal purchases (which for the record I did not do), or my parents and several friends about my 'fame' or lack-there-of, but it was still kind of cool.


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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Duluth Trip

Linzy and I made it back safe and sound from our week-long trip to Duluth. For a variety of reasons, Larry and I weren't able to work on installing the laminate floor in his kitchen. So it was a pretty laid back week; not your typical Eck vacation.

We drove up to Duluth on Sunday, and spent the day celebrating my father-in-law's birthday. My brother-in-law came over for dinner, and Linzy's grandparents stopped by for dessert. The rest of the week was spent doing a variety of activities, mostly just spending time with the family or visiting with friends.

I did manage to get out for three long bike rides up and down the shore of Lake Superior. That was a lot of fun, as the weather was pretty decent (although a bit hot & humid on Monday) and since I had lots of free time on my hands, I could go on much longer (26-31 mile) rides then I normally do. Linzy also rode with me for a little part of the ride on Monday, which was fantastic since her back hasn't allowed her to ride a bike for over a year.

All-in-all it was a good, fairly uneventful vacation, but it is nice to be back home.


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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Off the Grid

Linzy and I will be in Duluth for the next week, spending some time with Linzy's parents. My pager doesn't work up there (thank god), nor does my cell phone work at their house, and there is no Internet access.

Originally the plan was for Larry and I to install a new wood floor in the kitchen/dining room, but Sandy just had surgery on Tuesday so I don't know that we will be able to rip up the main traffic area of their house.

Should be an interesting week.


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Cable Pricing

When I bought the new TV earlier this week, one of the promotions was $100 off if I signed up for HDTV cable service. Since we had analog cable, and I was already worried about how that was going to look when blown up to relatively gargantuan proportions, it seemed like a good deal.

The strange part was that you couldn't really buy anything in the store. You just picked out what you thought looked good and then Charter would call and set everything up for real. Today they finally called when I was around, and so I spent about 30 minutes on the phone haggling over exactly what was going to be the best deal.

Having been well-versed in the craziness that is cable pricing, I was prepared that this would be more complicated then saying "Please add HDTV service to my existing service". First of all, there was confusion over whether I already had cable service, or had just gotten it installed yesterday (?). Then we started talking over exactly what the different options were and things started going downhill. Fast.

First of all there were two separate HD pacakges, a $3.00 HD Box rental and a mysterious $6.99 a month "HD Tier". Initially it sounded like you had to get both in order to get HD service (i.e. the $3 was for the rental of the box, and the $6.99 was for the actual programming). The sales lady had no idea and referred me to their website, which was confusing but implied that the $3.00 fee included a box AND programming, and made no mention of an HD Tier. Eventually the lady concluded that you got 'some movie options' with the HD Tier, but couldn't elaborate. So I tossed that from the list of things to buy.

Things only got worse from there, as we started talking about the actual programming bundles available. There were several options available, each that included different options for different prices, and only some of which were available to me as an existing customer and internet subscriber. The one that was notably not applicable to me (but available according to the internet site) was one that included digital cable and internet for $69.98 a month. With HD service thrown in, it would have been $72.98, versus the $74.99 we pay now for just analog and internet.

But they wouldn't sell me that one, and were pushing the 'biggest value' package which was $39.99 a month for 6 months. When they actually added everything up though, it turned out to be only $71.99 a month for cable, internet, and HD because they were still honoring a 20-month promotion on Internet service that I signed up for back in 2005 (which I assumed would be canceled as part of the new deal)

So, if you followed all that, we will be paying $3 a month less then we do now (and a dollar less then the lesser package I originally wanted). Except now we'll be getting every movie channel available (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, Encore, etc), HD service, and 3mps Internet. I would have been perfectly happy to pay another $3 a month on top of what we were paying, just for HD service. But I guess if they don't want my money, who am I to argue?


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Friday, July 14, 2006

Movies: Fun with Dick and Jane

Last weekend on Sunday, after we got home from Convergence, Linzy and I eventually sat down to watch Fun with Dick and Jane. I added the movie to our Netflix queue a while back after a friend strongly recommended it. I am not a huge Jim Carrey fan, so I was not exactly sure if I would enjoy the movie. The movie turned out to be OK, but not one of my favorites.

The basic storyline is that Dick and Jane are living a typical over-extended American lifestyle. Dick gets a promotion, Jane quits her job, and then Dick loses his job when his employer goes under suddenly (Enron style). Deeply in debt, the two eventually turn to a life of crime to make a living.

I didn't have any issue with the premise, I'm always amused by anything lampooning senior management. My issue was more with the amount of slapstick Jim Carrey humor the movie depended on. Now, I like Ace Ventura as much as the next guy, but in general, I prefer a more "Liar, Liar" level of zany Jim Carrey antics. There's only so many times you can make funny faces or robot arm movements before I start thinking maybe we could keep things moving.

That is not to say there weren't funny parts in the movie, there were. I just kept finding myself wishing they would move things along a little faster. The movie is in a difficult spot, I think. If you were a huge Jim Carrey fan, you would probably have been frustrated that the movie didn't feature more of him demonstrating his flexibility, and if you disliked Jim Carrey there is almost no chance you would enjoy the movie. Since I was somewhere in the middle, I didn't hate the movie, but didn't enjoy it as much as others probably do.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The High Price of Looking Cool

The other day I was driving down one of the local roads and saw a guy riding a Harley. He was wearing jeans, a long-sleeved black shirt and a black stocking cap.

The strange part? It was like 95 and humid outside.

Now, if you are too stupid to wear a helmet while riding your motorcycle, what possible reason could you have for wearing a stocking cap in the middle of summer, other then to look 'cool'. And is looking cool really worth the discomfort of having something designed to keep the heat in on your head during the hottest stretch of the summer?

I suppose it could have been worse for the guy, he could have been wearing all leather and a motorcycle jacket. But the hat still seemed a bit excessive.


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Most Expensive Lunch Ever

Today I was supposed to go out to lunch with my friend Brian. Except he IM'd me this morning to say that he was home sick, so wouldn't be able to go to lunch.

Since I hadn't brought anything to work and the rest of my regular lunch group was out of the office or had already made other lunch plans, I decided to go out myself. And since I was unsupervised, I thought it would be a good idea to go check out the brand new Best Buy in Eagan. Ostensibly to look for cheap video games.

As it happened, I stopped first in the TV section and discovered that the TV I have been eyeing up for quite a while was on sale. On a whim I asked if they had any in stock (expecting that they wouldn't), and much to my surprise they had one in the back.

Thus I was forced, forced I say, to purchase it on the spot.


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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Convergence Con 2006: Saturday

Last weekend, Linzy and I joined a big group of our friends at the Convergence convention (pictures here). The convention was a lot of fun as always, and it was great to be able to hang out with people we don't normally see all that often. I posted about Friday yesterday, so today we pick up with Saturday.

Saturday

We were up relatively early on Saturday, which was surprising considering the late night on Friday. After eating breakfast (completely with a side of Hot & Spicy Barbeque chips, what could be better?), Brenden, Linzy and I went downstairs and wandered the convention for a while.

We checked out the art room which featured the same pictures as always, though slightly more poorly-drawn naked women then last year (which in turn had more nudity then the previous year). There were a couple cool things, like a few pieces of bronze sculptures created using the lost wax method. There was also a guy there who sold painted table-top miniatures, and had some extremely impressive pieces on display. They looked almost as good as the ones I use to paint back in the day. Yeah. Almost the same.

The silent auction room and space enthusiast rooms were very similar to last year, and the dealer's room didn't seem quite as packed as some previous years. The highlight of the dealer's room was a large display of t-shirts with amusing sayings on them. By far the best was one that had a picture of a guy pointing at an RPG rulebook, and the text "Not only are you wrong, but the rules say you're a dick". Hilarious (at least in nerd humor terms), but I couldn't justify the $20 price tag since I would never wear it.

After a while of wandering, we started trying to track other people down. This turned out to be a lot harder then expected and actually consumed most of the rest of the day.

The previous night, I had arranged with the gaming sub-head for the convention (a former co-worker) to have him teach a group of us to play Twilight Imperium, a complex strategy game legendary for its insanely large 2 foot by 1 foot game box. This sounded like a good plan to everyone who I mentioned it to, at least at the time. When it came time to actually round people up, however, we never managed to get a complete group together.

People were gone, then some were back, then others said they were coming back but didn't, then we weren't sure if we should wait, and then eventually it was just too late to start an 'epic' boardgame.

So instead we spent most of the rest of the day playing multi-player DS (Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Brothers). That was fun, although we didn't really have enough DSs for everyone which presented some challenges. We also probably needed some more variety in games to play as at one point Felicia exclaimed "Don't you ever get tired of winning?". Anyone who knows me can answer that: NO.

Eventually everyone was located and accounted for, and we went out as a group for dinner. That was fun, but then afterwards in the time it took Linzy, Brenden and I to go down four floors and back up, we managed to lose Gerard and Dan. So we ended up doing more waiting.

Once everyone got back we all went down to the convention area and spent the rest of the evening wandering around checking things out. For the most part, it was similar to the previous evening.

Brenden managed, through deceit and the assistance of my wife, to achieve the rank of "Elite Ninja". This got him a cool headband that everyone was jealous of. Gerard was interviewed for a podcast, but that ended up mostly being me making joke answers to the questions. They went over well at the time, but I'm not sure how they will translate into the recording.

All in all, it was quite an enjoyable convention. I would have liked to have done something a bit more involved on Saturday during the day, but having trouble locating people and figuring out what everyone's plans are is pretty much a constant problem at conventions.

Despite my enjoyment of the convention, I am still planning at this point to stick to my claim that this was my final Convergence convention. Everyone else seemed amenable to the idea of doing something different, it's just a matter of coming up with some other fun activity.


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Monday, July 10, 2006

Convergence Con 2006: Friday

Last weekend, Linzy and I joined a big group of our friends at the Convergence convention (pictures here). The convention was a lot of fun as always, and it was great to be able to hang out with people we don't normally see all that often.

Friday

We got to the convention around 4:30 on Friday and spent a few hours waiting for elevators to bring our stuff up to the room, wandering the dealers room with Gerard, and verifying where everyone was, when they were arriving, and whether they wanted to go out to eat. Eventually more people started arriving, and Linzy and I went out to dinner with Brenden. We had one of the best Davanni's pizzas I've ever had (and I've had a lot), which was so good Wes was even raving about the leftover pieces.

After dinner, we re-grouped in one of the hotel rooms for some multiplayer DS entertainment and some drinks before heading down to the convention floor. We spent most of the rest of the night wandering the cabana rooms, checking out what was going on.

There were lots of fun rooms with entertaining people. And I also ran into a few people I knew, some of whom I didn't expect to see at the convention (like Jake).

In the GraveDiggers room, the bartender was serving 'Trust Me's which turned out to be really good (though pretty stiff, and kind of a crapshoot as to whether any individual drink was good). Upstairs there was a room serving some sort of libation, with a pixie stick poured into it. I had to pass on the pixie stick because that was just gross, but everyone else seemed to like it.

Then there was the geisha room, where Brenden and Gerard accepted quests to become ninjas. Brenden was really into doing the quests, and so at one point I was telling the Ninja Master that whatever quest she gave him next had to be a 'secret' so that he was forbidden from talking to us about it.

Dan was a fan of any room with food and discovered that the Bacon room had waffles (and bacon of course). That was a big hit with everyone in the group, so we spent quite a while in there. They also were serving 'Fuzzy Cosmonauts', which turned out to be vodka and Tang, and tasted just as bad as I was expecting.

Towards the end of the night, we stopped by the Dystopia room to get temporary bar code tattoos. Gerard and I started telling Brenden that we were going to get our tattoos on our foreheads, and that he should too. And that he should go first, of course.

So Brenden walks up to the stand and the guy goes 'Where do you want the tattoo?'. And Gerard and I start a chorus of "Forehead, forehead". Brenden goes "Forehead...I mean Forearm. I meant Forearm!". But by then it was too late, as the whole balcony heard and joined Gerard and I in the 'Forehead' chant. Brenden, to his credit, was brave enough to go for it, and spent the rest of the night with a bar code on his forehead. Gerard and I thought that was hilarious and because we're jerks, got our tattoos on the forearm. Wes felt bad and joined Brenden in the forehead club.

The night ended disappointingly, as a couple people in the friend-of-a-friend realm decided they weren't going to get along anymore and dragged a large portion of the rest of the group into the debacle. But it was still a very fun night.


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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Convergence 2006: Pictures

Pictures from this year's Convergence convention.

Gerard, Brenden, Mike and Linzy.


Linzy's glass from the Black Fleet Travel Agency room.


Dan and Gerard singing along to some song.


The Bacon room had waffles!


Brenden crumbled under an onslaught of peer-pressure in the Dystopia room and got his tattoo on his forehead.


After some drama on Friday night that Gerard felt was interfering with his ability to have a good time, he made this T-shirt on Saturday.


Two people didn't think the shirt was very funny, but everyone else sure did.


Brenden reached "Elite Ninja" status and was rewarded with a headband (that I was claiming probably said something insulting since no one could read it).


Dan and The King.


Gerard, Mike, Me and Brenden with mad-cow vaccines.


Linzy and Brenden early in a night when I was still taking non-embarrassing pictures .


Gerard pretending to make out with the scary dummys in the SLA Industries room.


Three suits were required to watch one worker bee measure the length of the rope on the life-preserver at the pool.


Pixie sticks make anything taste better, and add a layer of disturbing sludge to the bottom of the glass.


That necessitated an amusing chant "Drink the sludge, drink the sludge"


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Friday, July 07, 2006

Convergence

There'll be no posts this weekend as Linzy and I make our annual trek to Convergence. There is quite a diverse group of friends going this year so hopefully it will be a lot of fun.

My claim all spring has been that this will be the last time I attend, which is different then my usual claim afterwards each year that I won't be attending the subsequent one. We'll see next year whether I stick to the claim.


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Thursday, July 06, 2006

How to Spend 1 Billion Dollars

Being more-or-less in the market for a new portable mp3 player, I've been keeping an eye on news of the Gigabeat S and not-so-secret Microsoft player. I was impressed with the bold move by Microsoft to attract current Ipod users to switch:

To attract current iPod users Microsoft is going to let you download for free any songs you've already bought from the iTunes Music Store. They'll actually scan iTunes for purchased tracks and then automatically add those to your account.

That is quite possibly the best use of 1 billion dollars for marketing an MP3 player that I've heard of.

All those millions of iPod users with their stacks of DRM'd AAC songs aren't going to switch over to Microsoft's player even if it was better, simply because they won't have anything to play on it.

But for the cost of some of their pocket change, Microsoft can completely erase that Apple advantage. They still have to actually go through with the (at this point merely rumored) plan, come up with credible competition in terms of the mp3 device itself, and deal with the brand juggernaut that is the iPod, but spending somewhere less then 1 billion dollars to help make it easier for people to convert away from iPods seems like a brilliant start.


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Books: Skybowl

Last week I finished the third book in Melanie Rawn's Dragon Star trilogy: Skybowl. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping I would.

I really enjoyed Stronghold, the first book in the trilogy, and was bored with the second book, The Dragon Token. Stronghold turned out to be surprisingly slow-moving at points, which was pretty amazing considering that most of the second book was filler as well.

After several hundred pages of all the characters sitting around waiting for the enemy invader to do something in the second book, I was expecting the third to be a tight narrative picking up the battle and moving the story forward. Instead, the main force of the enemy stay put until the very end of the book, making for a very long, drawn-out book on the preparations for the final battle.

The final battle turned out to be somewhat interesting, and there were certainly flickers of action worked into the story during portions of the book, but for the most part I found myself just waiting for the end.

Normally I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to fantasy novels, but for some reason I was annoyed that after such an eventful first book in the series the next two books spent so much time without anyone really doing much of anything.


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Monday, July 03, 2006

Trimming the Garage

On Sunday, my Dad came over to help with my latest home improvement project, replacing the wood trim around my garage with new vinyl fake-wood trim.

My house faces south, so the front trim takes quite a beating from the elements. Luckily most of the trim is sheltered by the front entryway alcove, so the detail trim around the door doesn't need to be painted very often. However the trim around the garage door is afforded no such protection, and so over the years it has really started to weather. To make matters worse, the previous homeowner thought it was a good plan to just paint over the previous years paint each spring, creating an impossible to completely remove quintuple layer of peeling paint.

Last fall, I made the executive decision that the garage trim was going the way of the buffalo, to be replaced with maintenance free vinyl trim. Unfortunately my job didn't afford me enough free time last fall to do the project, so I was just getting around to it a year later.

The replacement of the trim actually went surprisingly smoothly. There were a few moments of head scratching, while we worked to get a piece of jamb cut to exactly match the slope of the garage floor and notched to avoid the cement cut-out for the slightly skinnier former jamb board, or while we made a piece of j-channel flashing to fill in a mistake made by the siding installers, but otherwise it went more-or-less as planned.

The fake-wood was really easy to work with. We were able to use my miter saw to make all of the cuts (except the notches which were done by hand with a drywall saw), and my dad's nail gun made installation a snap.

The worst part of the whole job was the weather, as it was over 100F in the sun on Sunday. Luckily we could work in the shade inside the garage when we were cutting anything, so there was at least brief respites from the sun.

The end result was well worth the work and discomfort, however, as the new trim looks a million times better. Plus in theory it should require little-to-no on-going maintenance. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

The old garage trim.


The very weathered old trim on one side of the garage.


Thanks to no caulking, a rather shoddy install-job, and some strategic gaps in the j-channel, the old trim was collecting water in a few spots and causing the paint to peel away from the inside.


One side of the garage, with jamb boards in place and the first piece of brick moulding.


The same side with the new trim fully installed (except for the nail holes filled).


And the new view of the front of the house.



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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Movies: Super Size Me

Earlier this week I sat down and watched Super Size Me. The movie wasn't quite a disturbing as I was expecting it to be.

It was certainly creepy to watch Morgan's body rebel against his all-McDonald's diet, and see him throw up after eating the super-sized double-cheesburger meal for the first time. But at the same time, I had heard plenty about the film so I was pretty much expecting it. Plus I stopped eating McDonalds many years ago, so it wasn't like I was watching food I eat on a regular basis doing that to a person.

Regardless, I found Super Size Me interesting. If for no other reason then to watch the ridiculous consequences to a person's body if they eat nothing but McDonalds for an entire month.


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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Grandson Smarts

When Linzy and I were in Chicago back in May we spent one of the afternoons visiting my Grandma. One of the things we did with her was go out to eat at one of her favorite restaurants: Max & Erma's.

While we were waiting for our food, Grandma was having some trouble with her glass of water. The napkin kept sticking to the glass, and since she had a broken arm at the time, she was having a hard time getting the napkin off the glass. So I showed her how if she put some salt on the napkin, it would keep the sweating glass from sticking to it. She thought that was a pretty great idea.

A few weeks after Linzy and I were visiting, my parents went down for a visit. They ended up going out to lunch with Grandma as well. While waiting for their meal, my Mom's napkin was sticking to her glass. And my Grandma leaned over and said something to the effect of:

Oh, I'll show you how to fix that, just lift up the glass and put some salt on the napkin. Steve taught me that when he was down here; he's so smart. I've been showing everyone at Luther Village that trick. I wonder where he learned it?

My Mom kind of laughed and said "Oh it was probably during his beer drinking days in college".

To which my Grandma immediately came to my defense and said "Oh, Steve didn't drink beer in college".

And how can you argue with that?

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