Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Flickering

Way back in November, when Linzy and I went to Duluth for Thanksgiving, I brought the PS2 along with because Linzy's parents wanted to see Guitar Hero. I didn't actually play the game a whole lot, but did show Larry just how difficult some of the songs are. Anyway, on the way home I lazily left video cord plugged into the machine and just wrapped the cord around the console for the ride home.

Not a smart move. Ever since then, the PS2's video output has been extremely suspect. It will be fine for a while, and then slowly start getting darker and then start flickering, and eventually will go completely out. Sometimes after a bit it will come back by itself. Other times it will come back if I jiggle the cord, or it might not come back at all.

Ever since then, I've basically written the PS2 off as broken since it is unreliable in the extreme. It managed to put together a few solid hours on New Years eve, but since then its been nearly unusable (particularly when Kendra and I were trying to use it and ended up having to give up and play original XBox games instead).

Normally I'd take an opportunity like this to vaguely justify buying a PS3 for its backwards compatibility and then never even try any of my many, many unopened PS2 RPGs cluttering up the basement. But since as far as I know the PS3 still doesn't work with Guitar Hero, that seems a bit silly even for me.

Last night Linzy and I happened to be near Best Buy and the broken PS2 happened to be on my mind, so I finally got around to buying a new video cable for the system on the off chance that it was a cable problem rather then a console problem.

Amazingly enough, after playing with the PS2 tonight for a bit, the cable actually appears to have fixed the problem.

The only downside is that the cable I bought happened to be a component cable which for a complicated set of reasons I don't have enough inputs for anymore. But in the interest of testing the problem I used it anyway. And the picture improvement was shocking. So much so that GH2 practically looked like a different game.

So now I will probably end up having to buy a component switch controllable with my universal remote in order to keep everything hooked up with component cables. Which means the total outlay for 'fxing' the PS2 will end up being almost as much as if I had just given up and bought a new slim PS2.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Felicia and Mike's Birthday Party

On Saturday night Linzy and I braved the snow storm to venture over to Gerard's apartment for a birthday party for Felicia and Mike. The turnout was fairly light due to the fact that the roads were not particularly conducive to traveling more then half-a-dozen miles. Still, it was a good time hanging out with everyone and catching up.

Gerard went all out and had a spread of food so large you would have thought Linzy helped plan it, including a homemade birthday cake. The cake was easily the densest, fudgiest chocolate cake I've ever had. I certainly like cake, but even I couldn't finish the slab I cut for myself.

Read on for some pictures.

If you're the birthday boy you're allowed to drink straight from the bottle. Or so I am told.


Me and Felicia.


Gerard perhaps thinking about starting a fight.


Linzy adjusting her cards just-so, while the discard pile wonders why cards are facing two different directions.



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Monday, February 26, 2007

Deductions

One of the things I got accomplished last weekend was filing our tax return. I once again wimped out and used TaxCut to do all the heavy lifting for me. The reason I didn't do everything by hand can be summed up in a single interaction with the program:

At the start of filing a return TaxCut has a splash screen that talks about how they've got all the new tax laws covered and asks if you want an overview of the changes this year. I quickly answered 'No', because that's exactly why I buy the program: so they can keep up with tax laws and I don't have to.

Anyway, I'm always amused by looking through the 'other adjustments' section of the federal and state calculations. That's where you find all the really crazy credits. Things like 'Intangible Drilling Costs', or 'Depletion', or if you sold a farm to a same state buyer on a Friday when the moon was waxing, etc. This year I noticed a new member of the state section: the Bovine Tuberculosis Testing Credit.

I guess I didn't realize cattle needed to be tested for tuberculosis, or that they could even get it. But on the other hand, I guess I'd rather not have a side of TB with my glass of milk, so I suppose I'm all for testing for it.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Similar To...

Last week when I was exercising my inner culinary adventurer by eating at an Afghanistan restaurant in Cambridge, we were discussing what sort of food to expect. None of the people from my office had ever been to an Afghanistan restaurant before, so we weren't exactly sure what we would be in for. The prevailing theory was perhaps something like Indian food, which everyone was familiar with.

Shortly thereafter, the last member of our dinner party arrived who was local to the area and had eaten at the restaurant before. So while we were waiting for menus, one of my co-workers had this conversation with him:

Co-worker 1: So, you've been here before, right?
Co-worker 2: Yep
Co-worker 1: So, what sort of food is Afghanistan cuisine like?
Co-worker 2: Hmm. Well, it is fairly unique. But I guess I would say that it is most similar to Persian.

Which, of course was absolutely no help, since none of us had any idea what Persian food would be like. After a little bit more prodding, and with no more mainstream comparison forthcoming, we just sort of let the topic drop.


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Saturday, February 24, 2007

English Mansion

I was reading the paper this morning and noticed an article on the front page of the "Homes' section about the old Victorian house that was used in the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore show. The house is up for sale (for a cool $3.62 million) and the article was talking about all the restoration that was done by the current owner.

The strange thing was that the current owner is Don Gerlach, who happened to be one of my High School English teachers, as well as the school's quiz bowl coach. It seemed pretty random to see his name associated with owning a gigantic mansion in Minneapolis.


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Friday, February 23, 2007

Incommunicado

The strangest part about my business trips is usually how out of touch I end up. While I still talk to Linzy most days (although not always for very long), other then that it's like I dropped off the face of the earth.

Case in point, on this most recent trip I got exactly two personal e-mails the entire week. And one was from my Grandma, who likely had no idea I was out of town. The lack of talking to anyone coupled with the fact that I don't typically have time to read more then the front page headlines on the paper, watch the news, or even surf the (horrible) Star Tribune website I end up coming home with absolutely no idea what is going on.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal I suppose, but it was pretty strange to go multiple days at a time with no e-mail. Although, for the record, I never sunk to checking the spam folder in the misguided hope that everything was getting incorrectly classified.


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Safe and Sound

I returned from my business trip to Boston safe and sound, without any major travel problems except a packed plane on the way out. Unlike my boss, who was supposed to fly in the day before me but due to the snow storm ended up taking the err, scenic, Minneapolis->Atlanta->3 hours sleep->Memphis->Boston side tour.

The trip was very successful, although extremely busy. We spent pretty long hours at the office, and those hours tended to be packed with meetings and/or scrambling to get information together in time for those meetings. Still, we accomplished a whole lot, enough that hopefully I won't have to make another trip out there for at least a couple months.

We did find a little bit of time for some fun between work and fancy dinners.

On Thursday I worked a full day and then took a 7pm flight to Boston, arriving at about 10:45pm. By the time we got to the hotel and met up with my boss for a drink and strategy meeting, I didn't get to bed until after midnight.

On Friday night we all went to North End to a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant for a fantastic, if crowded, dinner. Then we went out to some of the bars nearby, ending the night at Dick's Last Resort. We had a ton of fun there, listening to the Dean Martin impersonator, laughing at the paper hats with offensive sayings they put on everyone, and drinking large, large beers (anything in a can was 24 oz, anything in a bottle was 32 oz). By the end of the night, my sysadmin co-worker was taking all comers on in arm wrestling (he's a former North Dakota state-champion), including the gigantic bouncer at the behest of the owner. After taking the bouncer down in about one second, my co-worker let out a scream and head butted the table hard enough to bounce all the bottles on it about a foot into the air. It was hilarious. We closed the place down and each walked out with a 24-oz pilsner glass as a souvenir, while my arm-wrestling co-worker had to promise to come back in two weeks for a rematch.

On Saturday morning, we discovered that we're all much, much too old to be drinking 24-oz beers and doing Jaggermeister shots in between. We still put in close to a full day at the office, and then went out to Flemming's for a fancy steak dinner. No one ordered anything to drink, however. Before bed, I watched Invincible, which was entertaining.

On Sunday night after finishing up work at about 9pm, we decided to order pizza and play some poker. I did pretty well considering I have played poker only twice and I am generally an extremely unconvincing liar. I busted two people and was the M&M leader (we had no chips so were creative) going into the final heads-up play. Unfortunately the ever increasing blinds and my refusal to play bad cards lead me to eventually lose out to my boss. It was still fun, and I did manage to get someone to go all-in against my royal flush.

On Monday night we went out for a late dinner and then to see the 10pm showing of Smokin' Aces. That was a strange, strange movie. It wasn't terrible, but not something I would feel a major urge to see again.

On Tuesday night we worked late and then went out for a really late dinner at a local Afghanistan restaurant. That was an interesting experience. The group of five of us split two appetizers (some sort of pasta dish and an eggplant dish) and four entrees (sea bass, lamb kabobs, beef something-or-other, and a chicken curry dish). There was no lack of spices/flavor in the dishes. Everything was an explosion of new (for me) tastes in your mouth.

On Wednesday we worked basically a full day and then caught a 5:55pm flight back home.

So while it was a good trip, it was really busy and by the end, I was definitely ready to be back home sleeping in my own bed.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blizzard Here I Come

Tomorrow after work, hopefully I'll be headed back out to Cambridge, MA for a business trip. I say 'hopefully', because the east coast is currently in the midst of a big-time blizzard. Although Boston has moved on to 40 mph windws and freezing drizzle, they also got 12 inches of snow yesterday and today. So I'm guessing the flights into Logan airport will be a bit backed up. In theory I'll be flying out tomorrow and then returning next Wednesday night.

That makes it a pretty long trip, versus a normal trip flying-out Monday and back on Friday. There is a ton of stuff to accomplish on the trip though, so the extra time is justified. Hopefully we can get everything done, although Linzy insisted I pack a few extra of various things, because she is convinced I'll be staying longer then planned.

I just wish we had an office somewhere a little more pleasant to visit in February. Like Florida, or Hawaii.



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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Automatic Checks

You know how you can be going through a day and all of the sudden an unexpected, minor thing can totally make your day? One day last week, that happened.

I came home from work and looked through the mail, only to find $345 worth of checks in amongst the junk mail and bills. The checks were from our flex plan company, sending us back money from our healthcare flexible spending account. Now, normally that wouldn't be of any note, except that in this case we hadn't filed any sort of paperwork or receipt copies.

Up until that moment I had totally forgotten about a little miscellaneous checkbox that I had selected during annual enrollment that said "automatically submit uncovered expenses to flex plan". So now my insurance automatically tracks co-pays, prescription payments, etc and magically sends out checks to us once a month.

That's a huge improvement over trying to keep track of receipts, photocopying them, labeling who they were for and the date of service, and mailing them all in to the flex plan. Which, for obvious reasons, would play not-so-amusing tricks like changing their address every year and not forwarding mail, or processing 8 out of 10 receipts and claiming not to have gotten the other two.

The idea makes so much sense, I can totally understand why this is the first time I've seen anything like it. Or not.


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Monday, February 12, 2007

Button Mashing

One day towards the end of last week, I encountered two new entries for the 'strange elevator behavior' annuals.

The first was on the way back from lunch with a mostly-empty elevator heading up. A guy got on at floor three and pushed no buttons (there were only two pressed) and didn't even appear to glance at the selections. Then he waited until we got up to floor 11 (with a stop in-between), only to loudly exclaim "Why didn't we stop at floor 9?". Umm, because you didn't press the button for it?

That same day, on the way out of the building for the night, a guy got in at the floor below me. He pressed a button for a few floors down. When we stopped there, he pressed a button for a few floors further down. When we got there, he didn't get off. Instead he rode down the rest of the way and got off on the first floor with me.

Apparently bizarre elevator behavior only happens in twos.


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Daylight Savings Time

On Saturday I spent all day (as in 7:30-5:00) at work, patching basically any computer environment ever setup. Why? Because some genius decided to change the beginning and end of daylight savings time in the US starting in a few weeks.

This meant that any piece of software or hardware that might do any sort of timezone, time or date conversion had to be updated. The main culprit being Java which, likely in its efforts to be cross-platform, does not use the OS to do timezone calculations and so has to be updated. Unfortunately just about every app server known to man includes a JVM and so has to be separately patched. And no vendor can agree on how to represent timezone information, so each has their own unique patching tool (or worse, has no tool and leaves you to fend for yourself).

It was fun. Or not. But at least we got nearly everything patched. Heaven forbid we have systems reporting the wrong times for three weeks until DST time syncs back up.


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Friday, February 09, 2007

A Day in Pictures - 2007

Once a year, I've been posting miscellaneous pictures of the mundane things going on in my life on February 8th. This year, we actually had something interesting going on, so I forgot to take any pictures. How's that for irony?

Anyway, since I had nothing better on deck for today's post, I decided to take the pictures of what was (or was not) going on today instead.

It was ridiculously cold this morning when I got up. My quick jaunt to get the paper was miserable thanks to a -25 wind chill.


My breakfast ended up being really tasty, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the grapefruit was despite being many days old.


A blurry picture of the bus station on the way home (this was intended to be taken in the morning when the crowd is all queued up inside, but I was running late).


12 hours later, I'm back home but the weather hasn't gotten much better.


Linzy was at a seminar tonight so I was on my own for dinner. If you call pouring leftover salad in a bowl and heating up leftover pizza 'on my own'. Note that I still managed to screw up putting the cheese on the salad, so I ended up with quite a lot.


After dinner, I played with Pippen a bit although she was less interested then normal.


Then Linzy decided to try and clip one paw worth of her nails, and wild, frothing Pippen made her appearance. Even with two of us trying to hold her down, we still only managed three nails on one foot before giving up. An eight pound skilky terrier is surprisingly strong.


Gerard loaned me three XBox 360 games, so I decided to try out Call of Duty 2. After playing for an hour or so, I am positive that I never want to go to war in Russia in winter with crappy 1940s era weapons. I would be quite dead.


So there you have it, pictures of my day today except the 10.5 hours I spent at work so busy that I never got more then 20 feet from my cube all day long.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Electricty Usage

I continue to be mystified with the amount of energy we use at the house. According to our latest bill we used an average of 22.4 KWH per day last month. That's over 5 KWH more per day then last January, and more electricity then we used during any single month in 2004, although it is only 2KWH per day more then January 2005.

As far as I can tell, we aren't doing all that much different then we have for the last few years. We keep the house a little warmer during the day (since Linzy is home), but we have gas heat so the electric bill should only increase in relation to the increased time the house fan is on. We try and keep the lights off in rooms we aren't in, turn the computer off at night, don't use the giant power-sucking TV all that often, etc.

The really strange thing is that it doesn't seem to matter what we do, the electricity usage fluctuates randomly regardless. For example, our usage was increasing in 2004, but then during 2005 it actually declined year-over-year every month except two summer months (which looking back coincides with an extra-hot summer). But then the following year it jumped back up by even more, except the summer months. Then we were holding fairly steady in 2006, until this year when there was a huge jump.

Who knows.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Double-Dipping

I was walking through the downtown Macy's today after lunch with Paul, and I saw a former co-worker checking out the bargain racks in the middle of the walkway. I stopped to say hi, and see how he was doing.

The awkward thing about the conversation happened when I assumed he had left my former company. You see, I knew he was one of the people fingered to be laid off later this spring, and he was downtown in the middle of the day, dressed up in business casual. Plus, he had what looked like an employee badge on his belt with his picture on it.

Based on that, I asked where he was working now. He replied that it was still the same company, and after I stumbled through a few follow-up questions he clarified that he wasn't being laid off until April 20th. Meanwhile, he attempted to stealthily remove his badge from his belt and put it in his pocket.

The really strange thing is, at least at the time I left, he worked a rotating second and third shift job with 100% telecommuting. So assuming he was still working that schedule, he wouldn't even have been double-dipping by having another job during the day. It would just have been a second job.

Thus he didn't really have any reason to hide anything from me. In fact, he could have just told me he had left and was working somewhere else, even if he hadn't and I wouldn't have batted an eye. Instead, trying to cover it up it only drew my suspicion.

The trouble is, I'll likely never know what the heck was going on since I have no one to ask without getting him in trouble if he is doing something untoward.


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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Incorporation

I was looking for something on Oracle's website today, related to things going on at work and happened to see something talking about how Oracle was celebrating their 30th anniversary as a company this year. Intrigued as to exactly when they were founded, I started looking a little closer and found this information:

Q: When did Oracle's Incorporation/Reincorporation occur?
       Oracle Corporation incorporated in California on June 16, 1977

That puts them a mere one day shy of having been incorporated on the Greatest Day in the history of the world. And if I hadn't been so stubborn about being born, it would have been the same day. :)


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Monday, February 05, 2007

A long, long time

Last weekend, Linzy had a bunch of friends over to work on planning a wedding. As it happened, Felicia and Gerard's little sister Kendra came over as well, with Anita.

Anita has been to our house before for a number of the parties, but that makes it pretty easy to find the house since there are all kinds of cars parked out front, a bunch of lights on, and people milling around in the living room. In the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, however, there's not quite the same crowd hanging out at our house.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Anita was not 100% sure which house was our, and was trying to figure out which house was the right one while driving slowly down the block. Kendra, being a third grader, was exasperated by this delay:

Kendra: It's that one right there.
Anita: Are you sure?
Kendra: Of course. I've been coming here since second grade!


Now, when reading that, you have to pronounce 'second grade' as "practically my entire life" and add a suitably exasperated tone to it.

Of course, Kendra was right about which house it was, and she's actually been coming over for a bit longer then just a year, but I thought it was funny that in her mind she's been coming here forever.

Once they found the right house, Kendra and I had fun playing games while the girls debated centerpieces.


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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Appearance of Collusion

I think it is interesting this year, the drastic change in the pricing for tax software. The past two years, I've been able to get Tax Cut, federal e-filing and a copy of Microsoft Money for free or for money back. And that was pretty common even before two years ago.

This year, I've been watching the ads and the deals aren't even remotely close to as good. Both TurboTax and TaxCut apparently simultaneously decided to change the way they market their products and not provide as big of rebates on the initial software, expecting to make it back on the e-filing charges.

I guess maybe people have gotten better at actually jumping through the hoops of filing rebate forms, or maybe all the bad press about the games companies play with rebates made both Intuit and H&R Block decide just to scrap the rebates. But I think it is interesting that they would both change strategies so drastically the same year, and that would also be accompanied by a lack of bundle deals for money-management software.

Or perhaps it is just a few weeks too early and as the tax season moves on the retailers will go back to deep discounting to try and move units.


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dead to Me

A couple weeks back Linzy bought me a few new dress shirts. After trying them on, it turned out two of them didn't fit as well as the third so I only kept that one and returned the others. Several days later, after the shirt went through its inaugural washing it came out horribly wrinkled.

Not wrinkled in a "looks like it was shoved in the bottom of a bag for a week", but rather it looked all wavy. Being optimistic, I thought it might be because it had only been washed once and would get better over time. So I spent a long, long while ironing it into respectability and wore it.



Today I washed the shirt again and it came out looking just as ridiculous as last time. Unfortunately for the shirt, I'm not willing to have to spend 30 minutes ironing it every time it is washed. So, the shirt went into the closet likely never to be worn again.


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Friday, February 02, 2007

Senseless

Tonight I watched Miami Vice (the movie), it was not good. Actually, it could have been decent, but it just didn't make any sense. And I like my movies confusing.

It wasn't that I couldn't follow who everyone was, it's just that their actions didn't really make much sense. Also Crockett and Tubbs can apparently do whatever they want with no repercussions. Which, I guess is sort of the point, but usually you get at least a token 'captain' breathing down their necks for screwing things up.

The worst part was that it was almost 2.5 hours long.


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Laptop Advertising

Today amongst the rest of the junk mail we got a 20-page flyer for one of the big computer manufacturers. It was mainly flaunting their many varieties of computers as well as the new Windows Vista options on those computers (explaining, I imagine, why it said on the front 'do not deliver before 2/1').

Anyway, what I thought was interesting about the flyer was the way they positioned their products. Specifically, about 2/3 of the flyer was devoted to laptops all of which were either shown being used by women (sometimes along with their young children) or soft, friendly pictures of women on the screens. All of the desktops on the other hand had either pictures of men on the screen, or just fake online-shopping-esque webpages displayed.

That sort of stark gender split seemed strange.

Certainly I know lots of men with laptops, and lots of women who happily use a desktop computer. On the other hand, we have a similar difference of opinion in my house over laptops. Linzy thinks they are awesome, while I view them as unreliable and overpriced.

So maybe there is something to the marketing after all.


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