Thursday, May 31, 2007

Baseless Claims

Today on my airplane flight home I was flipping through the SkyMall catalog Northwest provides. I was actually looking for a silver swim-cap-ish noise-canceling hat that my Dad said he saw in there on their last flight. The plan was to take a picture of it for a future blog post making fun of it. Unfortunately I couldn't find it.

But I did learn the following important facts:

* 1 million predators/pedophiles are stalking our children and teens on the Internet
* 90% of children (ages 11-17) will be accidentally exposed to pornography on the internet while doing homework

That's why Chuck Norris says you should buy MaxProtect for Kids.

Their website adds the following claims (and also removes 'while doing homework' from the accidental pornography exposure claim):

* Provides total Internet protection for ALL (65,000 computer ports)
* Children (ages 12-17) are the single largest group of consumers of Internet pornography
* Other parental controls only filter 2 of the Internet�s 65,000 communication ports

I can only imagine the number fudging and sample size manipulation that was required in some 'study' to find that 12-17 year olds were the single largest group of consumers of Internet pornography.

I wonder if they sell a platinum version of the program that protects the remaining 535 ports, since there are technically 65,535 ports available for a TCP connection. And what about all those UDP ports? Sounds like another 65,535 holes for porn to slip through to me.

I was also amused that the ad in SkyMall specifically called out in a large font that the program does not filter or interfere with Parental Internet access in any way. Because they wouldn't want your porn surfing interfered with.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wrong Way

Yesterday night, after a late dinner at an Italian place in North End, we were taking a taxi back to our hotel in Cambridge. The driver was driving really fast and taking all kinds of crazy back roads.

At one point he shot across a road that I thought I recognized into this small side alley street. Only to realize just as he got across three lanes of traffic that there was a "Do not enter" sign indicating it was a one-way street coming towards us.

The driver was already committed, however, so we bombed down the one-way street. It was only a block-long street, and as we pulled up to the other end, we realized there was actually a "Do not enter" sign facing out at the other end. Basically making it impossible to drive down that road in either direction.

Interestingly, all the cars parked on the road were facing the direction we came in initially. So that must be the 'normal' way to enter the alley. Still illegal, of course, but 'normal'.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

92 out of 230

A popular question from friends lately has been "Do you have to travel often for your job?". I've always responded "No, not really".

I had to make a trip in my first month or so on the job, but then I had a fairly long break before having to go to Boston in February. Then I had to make an quick out-of-the-ordinary trip to Miami to help a customer out.

So at that point, I had traveled three times in roughly six months. Not that bad.

But then over the last two weeks we started having some issues in our Cambridge (Massachusetts) site. So as a result I'm going to be making several trips out there for the next couple weeks, starting today (Tuesday).

In fact, of the next ten days I'll be spending all but 92 hours out in Cambridge (or flying in between). It would probably be more, except that both my boss and I had plans on Thursday evening through the weekend, so I'm coming home only to turn around and head right back first thing on Monday morning.

Hopefully after that, there will be just one more trip either the third or fourth week in June, and this particular fire will be resolved. But you never know. In any case, I'll probably have to adjust my answer to the 'travel' question to be a bit more accurate.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Landscape Arboretum Pictures

As I mentioned previously, yesterday Linzy, her parents and I went over to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to check out the spring plants which are blooming. We got in free thanks to one of the free library passes that Linzy managed to snag.

Today I got around to uploading the pictures, read on if you'd like.

This plant was on the entrance walkway.


Linzy pointing out a trail out in the distance.


Chrysanthemum


Linzy and her Mom


No idea what sort of plant this was, but I thought it was cool looking.


Blurry self-portrait of Linzy and I relaxing in the Japanese garden.


The Peonies were one of the more impressive flowers in bloom.


This plant was in the example greenhouse, and it was notable because these blue flowers grew on the end of a giant two or three-foot long stem.


Linzy and her parents


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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Closed

Linzy, her parents and I were out at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum today checking out the gardens. The arboretum was quite a different place then it was when we went in the fall previously. A whole different section of plants are in bloom. So it was nice to see the other plants, but I thought the arboretum was more interesting later in the summer when more of the plants were growing.

Anyway, while I was standing around in the main building, waiting for everyone else to find the water fountains, I overhead this conversation at the front desk:

Guest(with Husband and son in tow): Hi. Can you tell me where the Maze Garden is?
Lady at desk: Well, errr, it's not open yet.
Guest: Yeah, I know. I want to go walk around in it.
Lady at desk: But...it's not open yet. It will be open on the 16th.
Guest: Ok. But we won't be here then. Can't we just walk through the exhibit?
Lady at desk: Uhh. No, because it is under construction.
Guest: Oh, we'll be careful.
Lady at desk: Uhh, that's not really the point.


Now, I saw the Maze Garden while we were walking around (from the road, of course, it is still closed after all) and it did look nice. But seriously, did the lady really think she was going to get special permission to go roam through the construction zone?

Apparently.


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Saturday, May 26, 2007

New Glasses

It took 4 separate trips to the eye doctor's shop, but I finally got new glasses today. My former frames were over 8 years old, so it was definitely time for them to be replaced.

Nothing drastic in the change, just a slightly slimmer shape, and the new lens are much thiner then the old ones thanks to 'advances in lens technology'.

Old Glasses


New Glasses


I'm not sure why the new frames look so crooked on my head, they don't seem to look that way normally. But anyway, I'm happy with the new glasses.


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back on the Grid

Well, we've got Internet access back again. Sort of. Its actually via a temporary bright-orange cable that is just laying on the ground all the way around our house, pending more thorough repairs next week. The bright-orange cord draped in plain sight is a nice touch, because the torn up yard was clearing making the place look too nice.

It was a good thing Linzy was able to be home to explain what happened to the repairman, because he, like the guy who 'marked' the cable the first time, was thrown off by strange second cable loop going around the back of the house. His plan would have been to just repair the first run of cable, which would not have fixed the problem.

Anyway, it is nice to have Internet access back, and Linzy is enjoying being able to watch her shows again.

Read on for some pictures that I can finally upload.

The morning of the first day a guy came with a pneumatic hammer and ran a tube under the sidewalk. At that point no power/water/gas lines were marked so he did it blind. Turned out he was less then a foot from the gas line. Whoops.


That's a lot of flags for future sprinkler heads.


A trench for the initial valve gang box. Unfortunately these three pictures show the sum total of the work accomplished on the first day.


The vibratory yard-destroyer plow.


Did I mention they cut our cable line?


Remember all those flags? This is what the aftermath of putting all those heads in looks like. You can't really get a true appreciation for the lumpyness afterwards, but each head install results in a square foot of lawn that is two inches higher then all the surrounding lawn. Its nice.


Before


After


This section of yard was somewhat thin before the installation, so it didn't hold up well at all.


The system does work, though. And in theory the grass should grow back. In theory.



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Doomed

I saw in the paper this morning an article about Ditech's new Ad campaign:

Ditech’s new marketing campaign centers on the slogan “People are smart.”

Sounds like a campaign destined for failure to me.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Math, it's Hard

I was on the phone tonight with Charter because, shockingly, our cable line is still not fixed. The bad news was that giving the sprinkler company the benefit of the doubt that they could/would actually call for a repair cost me the entire weekend, as the earliest available appointment now isn't until Tuesday. I did get them to mark the repair as a 'Must Do', so that in theory they will try to squeeze us in on Friday as they have time. But given that it is a Friday before a holiday weekend I won't hold my breath.

Anyway, after we were done setting up the repair appointment the customer service lady goes "Now, if you have a minute, I'd like to review your services". To which my thought was "Here comes the sales pitch".

Predictably, she did start the sales pitch about how they offer telephone service now. Just in case I had missed the 20 flyers they've sent since the service debuted. Apparently not taking the hint when I said "Yeah, because if we had that then I'd be totally out of the water now", she launched into an extensive explanation of how great their service was and what a good deal it was.

Ignoring, of course, the fact that their bundled service is more then we pay now to separate companies. That's not exactly how I would envision a bundle 'deal' working. At least a bundle deal that I actually sign up for.

Anyway, I explained that we paid only $20 a month for our phone now, that their service is $30, and that we don't use long distance (on the land line) so having that bundled in provided no benefit or cost savings.

She was still going strong though and explained that the $30 a month was only an introductory offer and that after a year the cost would go up to $35 a month. BUT, she said, then you'll save $5 per month on each of your other services. so it will be a better deal in the long run and save you money.

Hmm. I'm no human calculator, but I'm pretty sure that paying effectively $25 a month for a service which I only pay $20 for right now is not going to save me money. You might even argue it would cost me money.

But I was being polite, since I am still hoping to get my repair fast-tracked, so I just laughed and said thanks but no thanks.


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Inevitable

Our long-awaited sprinkler system was scheduled to be installed on Monday. Originally Monday morning, but later moved to the afternoon.

Everything was looking good, until the weekend before when our yard still hadn't been marked for underground cables. After a conversation with the sprinkler company, they assured me it would be taken care of first thing Monday morning. In plenty of time for their install that afternoon.

Thus it was completely unsurprising to me when by 11am on Monday morning no lines had been marked.

By about 2:00 pm when the installation crew had shown up and gotten started with what they could, all of the lines had been marked except for Cable. After some discussion, they concluded they couldn't proceed until all of the lines were marked, and so rescheduled for Tuesday morning. Assuring me that by 6:00 pm the Cable line would be marked.

I'm sure you are shocked to hear that 6:00 pm came and went, and the Cable company had been nowhere to be seen. We re-scheduled the sprinkler installation yet again, to Tuesday afternoon, and I pressed pretty hard that the sprinkler company had better get their act together and get on whoever was supposed to mark the lines to get things done.

By 8:30 this morning I had decided I had to take matters into my own hands, and spent 45 minutes on hold with three different numbers: Gopher State One Call, Charter North (not the right Charter office, and terrible about actually answering the phone), and Charter Rosemount (the right Charter office). Charter Rosemount didn't even have an operator, so I randomly picked a name off the directory and relayed my tale of woe. Amazingly, the person was able to help me and a few hours later someone showed up to mark the Cable err cable.

So finally, three reschedulings later all systems were go for installation and things were looking good. Until, of course, they cut the Cable line anyway.

[ Today's post brought to you by the Burnsville YMCA's complimentary wifi access, since while we may have a nice sprinkler system at Chez Eck, we have no Cable television nor internet access. And Lord knows how long that will take to get fixed. ]

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Wasteful

While I was waiting in line to donate items at Goodwill, I was watching all the things being pulled out of the Durango in front of me. They had that vehicle packed to the gills with stuff, most of it still in boxes marked for a garage sale (which seemed lame to me).

The majority of the items were fairly normal and not worthy of note. However about a third of the way through the car, they pulled out a copy of the Civilization strategy board game.

I was horrified to watch them take the game, nonchalantly toss it to the bottom of a huge cart, and then proceed to lob heavy items on top of it. I would gladly have paid either the lady or Goodwill to take that off their hands.

Alas I didn't want to jump out of the car screaming 'Hey! Don't wreck that, sell it to me' so that copy is probably gone forever and or damaged beyond repair. All of the donations go right onto semi-trailers and are taken to some sort of distribution center for sorting and re-dispersal.

Oh well. I'd probably rather own the Game of Thrones board game anyway.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Long Lines

Late Saturday afternoon after we finished cleaning up after the garage sale the plan was to go try and donate the unsold items to Goodwill. The line for donations was long, and while waiting in it the clock ticked over to 5pm and they closed down and made everyone in line leave.

So today after a few morning activities, it was my task to go drop off the donations. When I got to Goodwill, the line for donations was out of the parking lot again. So I decided to go have some lunch and then hope the line would be down a little by the time I got back.

I didn't really honestly expect it to be any shorter, but it seemed like a reasonable attempt. As it turns out the line was actually longer when I got back. Several cars longer. I bit the bullet and waited, and about 40 minutes later I had dropped off my truckload of items. When I left the line was still out of the parking lot.

Then later this evening I was out walking Pippen and a neighbor's dog got away and ran over to greet us. As I was waiting for her to come get the dog, the lady came up still on the phone and I overhead her conversation. It was about how they had tried to go to Goodwill twice and the lines were always too long.

So apparently the lines at Goodwill were that long basically all day. And we aren't talking about cars with one or two bags of clothes to donate. Most of the line was vehicles packed with stuff. Now granted it is garage sale season, but there must be serious amounts of donations going through that place.


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Garage Sale

After spending the past week doing very little besides preparing for the garage sale, it is finally over. I wouldn't call it a smashing success, but it wasn't a total failure either.

The main issue was that we got very little traffic. Most people who did stop by bought something so there didn't appear to be a problem with how we priced things. But there just weren't that many people who came through.

There are many theories on why traffic was so low. City-wide garage sales in nearby towns, too many other sales around, advertising in the Star Tribune instead of the local 'thisweek' paper, the weather etc. Who knows, it could have been any or all of those things.

Despite the fact that we didn't have much customer traffic, we did actually have a ton of friends stop by to see how things were going. Felicia and Angel, Laura and Evan, my parents, Uncle, Aunt and two cousins, Shawn and Megan, and Laura, Andy and Dylan all stopped by at one point or another.

In the end we made about $250 which, while not particularly cost-effective for the time invested, is not something we'll turn down. So I wouldn't call it a total bust. We just probably won't have another for a while.

Some pictures:

We had trouble coming up with enough tables to display everything on, and had to get pretty creative. The front 'table' in the middle row is our recycling container, my miter-saw box with two white self boards making the table-top.


Most of the stuff in the garage the night before the sale.


Linzy ensconced in her 'sellers area' on Saturday


After the sale, we still had a truck-full of stuff to donate to Goodwill, as well as two-and-a-half boxes of books.



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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Little Tasks

Tonight was spent trying to finish everything up for the garage sale tomorrow and Saturday. There was a surprising amount of little things that added up to a lot of work left to do.

A big portion of the work was just collecting things in the house and putting prices on it, but then there is all the work involved with creating makeshift tables out of anything that looks vaguely table-like, arranging everything appropriately, making signs and putting them out at various intersections, planning what will be moved out to the driveway tomorrow morning, hanging plastic sheets in the back of the garage to hide things not for sale, etc.

And the stuff I helped with is really just a drop in the bucket, since Linzy has been doing 90% of the work. Now I remember why we've just been donating everything.

But on the good side, everything is pretty much set. All that remains now is haggling with bargain hunters (Linzy's specialty), and cleaning everything up. Hopefully the sale will go smoothly.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Double-Click

The past month or so our computer mouse at home has started showing its venerable age. It has actually started failing in a way I've never seen before, probably because I've never had a mouse last quite as long.

You see, this is the first optical mouse I ever bought, a long, long time ago. If this was a wheeled mouse, it would have given up the ghost years ago. But thanks to fancy laser optics, the mouse soldiered on until now the actual left button pickup broke. This manifests itself in disturbingly unreliable clicking behavior.

As in, 70% of the time when you try to click on something it will actually double click. Sometimes it triple clicks. And sometimes it just clicks when you aren't even touching the button.

You have no idea just how difficult it is to use a computer when you can't control the clicking.

Did you want to open that taskbar window? Whoops, the mouse actually double-clicked on it so it closed right away. Select some text? Good luck, the mouse triple clicked and grabbed the whole line, or perhaps threw in an extra click in the middle deselecting everything. Trying to use a pull-down menu? Good fricking luck.

The bummer is the mouse is otherwise still in good shape except for the button. There's also no apparent way to open the mouse to clean the button contacts. Linzy and I have been suffering with the annoying behavior for several weeks, but in the last few days its gotten really bad. So I imagine it is time to admit defeat and buy a new mouse. It seems like a waste though.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mother's Day

On Sunday, we went over to my parent's house to celebrate Linzy's birthday, Mother's day, and my Mom's birthday (which is later this week). We spent part of the afternoon exchanging gifts and hanging out, went to dinner at PF Chang's China Bistro, and then came back to the house for cake.

No one had been to PF Chang's before, and I think everyone enjoyed it. We tried two appetizers, the crab wontons and the spring rolls. Both were good, although I liked the crab wontons better.

I had Kung Pao Chicken for my main course, which was actually a little bland. The roasted chilli peppers were extremely spicy of course, but there wasn't much flavor to the chicken itself. There was plenty to choose from on the menu, so if I went back again I would probably branch out and try something a little different.

It was fun to spend some time with my parents, and a very enjoyable day.

Linzy, showing her excitement over her gift from my parents (a 'self plus one' years pass to the Minnesota Zoo)


Checking out the enormous planter that was the other part of Linzy's gift.


Mom opening her birthday gift, while Pippen tries to be helpful.


Mom modeling one of the reflexology socks we got her


Linzy and I at PF Chang's.


Dad and Mom. The tan 'discs' in Mom's meal were ridiculously rubbery. I assume that was how they were supposed to be, but they definitely gave your chewing muscles a workout.


The joint birthday cake, with candles for each birthday girl.


Singing Happy Birthday. Mom and Linzy were so efficient at blowing out the candles that I didn't even get a picture of it.



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Monday, May 14, 2007

Garage Sale

At the end of this week Linzy is having a garage sale, so now that the party is through, my job was to start collecting up things to sell.

After spending the evening going through old boxes and looking in forgotten corners, I learned that we do, in fact, have a lot of stuff stashed away in this house. Whether anyone will pay for any of it is a whole different issue, of course.

In the past, we've just donated everything to Goodwill or the Disabled Vets, or anyone else who will take things off our hands. This year, Linzy wanted to have a sale to try and force us to get rid of more then we would normally have donated.

To help out I even, for basically the first time ever, went through my vast collection of fantasy books and picked out ~50 that I've already read and likely wouldn't read again. That was a bit painful, because it goes against every pack rat tendency I have. But looking at the grotesque pile of books remaining, I probably won't even miss them.

I imagine the rest of the week will be filled with finding, sorting, and pricing the collection of 'treasures'. It should be interesting to see how much of the stuff actually sells.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Linzy's Birthday Party

On Saturday, we had a party at the house in honor of Linzy's birthday. We had a pretty decent turnout, and it was a really good time. It was definitely fun to get to see everyone and hang out for a while.

Early in the day while we were getting ready, I was worried the weather would take a turn for the worse. As it turned out, the rain pretty much held off until much later in the evening, at which point we had moved inside anyway. It was a bit colder and windier then would have been ideal, but not getting rained on while grilling dinner is always a plus.

All in all I think the party was a big success. I know I had a good time, and it seemed like most everyone else did as well. Linzy said she enjoyed the party, which was the point after all.

Read on for some pictures.

Dan O, Tristan, Dan P, and Aimee hanging out in the kitchen.


Gerard, Dan and Paul on the windy deck


Once at a party long ago, we had bought root beer schnapps for making root beer barrels. These were a pretty big hit that night. But it was the kind of hit that made Felicia never want to see a root beer barrel again.

Earlier in the week I had randomly called her up and 'reassured' her that we would have Root Beer schnapps on hand, so she wouldn't have to worry (which of course she wasn't). Then one night I made up this sign for an old bottle of root beer schnapps we had laying around from the bachelorette party a few months ago.


Gerard thought the sign was pretty funny, so he made one for Brenden's SoCo bottle later in the evening. It says "Single bottle of Southern Comfort looking for love. Owner paid for me, then left me for another".


Evan had a good time playing on the deck. His favorite game was moving ice cubes from the tub of beverages, to the empty cardboard boxes sitting next to the tub. That game wasn't such a big hit with his mother.


The Wii was a big hit. Wii Sports Boxing, Tennis, Bowling, and Baseball all got lots of play time through out the evening. The fact that the Mii characters follow your movements completely during boxing even when your opponent is down leaves a significant amount of room for taunting. Brenden suggests humming the Rocky theme while dancing back and forth.


Linzy's birthday cake. The picture on it was this one.


The unfortunate side-effect of all the root beer schnapps jokes was that peer pressure mounted for Felicia and I to have a root beer barrel.


Linzy showing Nikki and Phillipa other candidates for the cake picture which she had vetoed.


Later in the evening we ended up playing some cards.


Linzy using her psychic powers to keep this Jack in line.


Share the chips? I think not.


Wes had a career day at cards. This was celebrating his second win in a row.


Brenden was nice enough to bring a whole bunch of extra beer from his party. Unfortunately the other snobby beers wouldn't share a tub with Miller Lite in a can. The other beers did make the plunge, but the Miller Lite sat warm and unloved on the counter. This becomes important in a second.


For reasons unfathomable to me, when Gerard and Brenden decided to have a root beer barrel, instead of using tasty ice cold beer from outside, they used those week old, warm cans of Miller Lite. Mmmmm. At least they were excited about it.


Gerard after a particularly stinging loss. Or maybe it was the warm canned beer.


If you can't play that troublesome low card, at least you can keep your hands free while waiting.


Mike couldn't even watch anymore.


What party would be complete without Guitar Hero? Here, Brenden shows off his David Lee Roth leg kicks while playing against Jim.



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