Saturday, September 29, 2007

Representative Sample

We spent the day today exploring Montréal, mostly Vieux-Montréal (awesome) and the underground city (pretty much a bust). I took a lot of pictures during the day, especially inside the various cathedrals out of fear most weren't going to turn out. Fortunately the new camera seems much more reliable in low-light then the previous camera (whose annoying and never-ceasing black smudges finally broke me), so I ended up with a camera filled with mostly-reasonable shots.

So while I was cleaning off the memory card, I thought I would upload a few representative pictures of what we've been up to the last few days:

The view from Robert Frost's former home in Franconia, NH


The path leading down to the Old Man of the Mountain viewing area.


The interior of Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica


The Montréal skyline looking back from the river



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Junk Pile Picture

I found a transfer cable for my camera, to be able to get pictures off of it mid-trip. So today, I can bring you photographic evidence of just how large a pile of junk we cleaned out at the Cambridge office:


The pile continues up to the door at the far end of the hall, although the shelf blocks the view of those boxes.


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Monday, September 24, 2007

Dumpster Diving

This weekend at the office, in addition to a whole bunch of scheduled one of the things we wanted to accomplish was to clean up the 'IT room'. There is a large area in the back of the building that has about 12 cubes, two offices, a workbench and a connected room with space for 4 server racks in it. The room was used by the former IT support staff, but now that they've mostly left (just two remain), the room is not really occupied.

The catch to moving in was that the room is an absolute pigsty. Imagine if you worked somewhere for 8 years, never threw a single thing away, had a separately locked room so the cleaning crew couldn't get in, and you just piled stuff on all over the place. Basically the whole room was filled with piles of crap.

We spent two whole days cleaning the room up, sorting stuff, throwing things out, moving cabinets around, emptying desks, etc. My boss and one of my co-workers did a majority of the cleaning, but the rest of us rotated through with assistance as schedules allowed. In the end, the hallway outside was lined with boxes of junk, out-dated software, random papers, skunky beer, broken hardware, etc stacked three high from one end to the other.

Since the cleaning crew doesn't work over the weekends, the hallway was still filled with boxes when people came into work. Then the scavengers started arriving. At first it was just a few, predictable people, but over the course of the day news of the piles spread and more and more people stopped by.

At points it looked like a horribly arranged yard sale, with people rifling through stuff, pulling things out, throwing stuff to the side, etc. One lady was actually going through the piles sorting things. Another was trying to guilt everyone who took something to take a power cable too (?).

It was crazy. This was all junk. Stuff that had so little value we didn't even have to do anything to record what it was, just throw it out. There was a whole nother room stacked with old PCs and monitors that had some minor value and so had to be recorded and sent to a reclamation company. The junk in the hallway was just that.

Who needs 7 copies of software from 1997? Even if it was still shrink-wrapped, its not anything anyone will ever use. And people were taking cases of beer. The stuff was three years old, with crap floating in it.

In the end, they actually delayed having the boxes brought out to the dumpster just to give everyone another day to go through the pile and look for 'treasures'. Mind-boggling.


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Friday, September 21, 2007

What Steve is Up To - 9/21

Explanation - Last Week's List

Books: Days of Air and Darkness - I just finished Days of Blood and Fire on Wednesday night. It picked up a bit at the end, but was decidedly mundane. Hopefully the next book in the series gets back on track.

TV: House Season 3 & Rome Season 2 - I'm almost done with the third season of House (two episodes left). I still like the show, but they certainly went out of their way to remove any redeeming qualities House-the-character had in the first two seasons.

Movies: None - All of the Netflix films I've gotten lately are Rome Season 2, or Entourage Season 3 discs.

Video Games (Portable): Elite Beat Agents - Very fun and entertaining, I love the campy 'stories' that setup the performances, and the silly dancing the characters do in the background. It is a pretty tough game though. I'm almost done with all the songs on the second difficulty level, but I am scared of trying (what are basically) Hard and Expert difficulty.

Video Games (Home): I didn't play anything this week. Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix (XBox 360) and Zuma (XBox 360) would probably still be the games I would have played had I had free time.

Music: Muse, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Atreyu - How's that for a strange combination?


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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lots of Clothes

Twelve days of clothes is a lot of clothes. That's what I found out on Wednesday night when I was packing for my next trip out East. I'll be working Thursday-Tuesday in Cambridge (including all weekend for a planned outage), and then on Wednesday Linzy and I are going to visit my sister and brother-in-law for a few days, and then head up to Montreal for the weekend, before heading back to Boston for a flight home.

The end result is needing to pack twelve days of clothes, plus work clothes, work-out clothes, undershirts, and various extra clothes to account for the 80 degrees in Boston to 60s in Montreal temperature plunge I'm expecting. Throw in a few things I am taking in my bag for Linzy and you end up with an extremely full suitcase.

I eventually had to give in and bring an extra carry-on to hold a few things that just wouldn't fit in my main bag. At least not with some sort of pulley system to lift it afterwards.

I suppose it could have been worse, I could be going in the dead of winter again. Then I would have needed bulkier clothes and would have had no hope of fitting everything into my suitcase.

I'm really looking forward to the trip. Not the work so much, but the vacation afterwards. I do have a huge list of things that need to be done for work and it will be nice to be able to concentrate on them and cross a bunch off the list, but it will be even nicer to spend time with Linzy and my sister and brother, and get to see Montreal to boot.


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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Divots

On Monday night I went to the dentist for first time in quite a while. I was due for my yearly cleaning around the time I switched jobs, and then just kept putting it off month after month. The end result was I hadn't been to the dentist for close to two years. No good, I know.

Because I had a new dentist I had to have a full set of X-rays taken (new insurance = new dentist). I don't normally mind X-rays, but having twenty taken in a row was sort of annoying. Everything else was pretty much like normal, I even had the usual conversation with the hygentist about never flossing. She was actually sensible enough to admit that "while she didn't want to encourage me not to floss, things looked pretty good".

However, when the dentist came in for his quick check, he actually found something new and interesting with my teeth. I've apparently started clenching my jaw hard enough to start putting divots in the enamel on my teeth. I'm not sure if I do it unconsciously during the day (job stress perhaps), or if it is while I am sleeping.

It's a bit strange since, unless I wear some sort of mouth guard, I'm not sure there is much I can do about unconsciously clenching my jaw during my (apparently) stressful dreams. Thus there was no real action plan from the dentist other then to 'keep an eye on it'. Which I guess means trying to watch myself for getting stressed-out and clenching my jaw during the day, and hope anything sleep-related works itself out. I'd much prefer having some sort of concrete plan of action, but there isn't much I can do about that. Except clench my jaw, perhaps.


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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tattoo Removal

I'm shocked, shocked I say to hear that tattoo removal is a booming business:

... Karempelis says that in spite of the drawbacks, "business is booming." He and three other dermatologists in his office see more than 30 patients a day who want tattoos removed by laser.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports tattoo regret is common in the United States. Among a group of 18- to 50-year-olds surveyed in 2004, 24 percent reported having a tattoo and 17 percent of those considered getting their tattoo removed.

Who would have thought those easily visible tattoos that seemed like such a good idea when you were 19 are not so cool at 29? Oh, wait, probably anyone who was 29 at the time.


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Monday, September 17, 2007

Renaissance Festival 2007

On Sunday, Linzy and I joined Gerard, Wes, Felicia and Angel at the Renaissance Festival. It was a really nice day out, and I had a great time seeing friends I haven't seen for quite a while and wandering around the festival.

We didn't do a whole lot noteworthy, just wandered around and checked out the shops and food. The only show we watched from start to finish was Vilification Tennis (basically an insult contest) which was funny at times, and not-so-funny at others. The other shows I saw were just bits and pieces while we were walking around or waiting for people to get food/check something out/catch up/etc.

There was one new thing at the Renaissance Festival this year, the King's Dungeon. It turned out to be extra cost ($1) and really, really lame. They basically had mannequins setup to show off various torture devices. There were about a dozen different torture devices, from things like the rack or tying weights to someone's tongue, to a chastity belt and a dunking stool. There were recorded voices explaining some of the devices, but creepily they all sounded like peppy children. Which isn't exactly what you want to hear explaining how the really hot charcoal caused rats in a cage below the charcoal to burrow into someone's chest.

Regardless the weather and time with friends made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

A rare shot of the whole group together, normally at least one person was off doing their own thing for one reason or another.


We had an argument over whether this was a momma crocodile, or a crocodile protecting its future snack. (we were kidding obviously)


The tortoise making his slow trek through the festival.


I swear these bagpipes followed us around the festival all afternoon. I don't necessarily dislike bagpipes, but these guys only seemed to know one song and weren't even that good at play it. Poorly played bagpipes are extremely annoying.


English dancing


Who are those masked women?


Wes trying on a horsehair 'vert-plume' helmet


The dual-horned helmet is a striking fashion statement


Full Picasa Web Album


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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Como Park & Conservatory

On Saturday Linzy and I decided to visit the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. It had been almost exactly 3 years since we last were at the Conservatory, and much, much longer then that since I had been to the Zoo.

The Conservatory was pretty similar to previous visits. It was fun to visit, but we actually had more fun at the Zoo. I haven't been to the Como Zoo for years and years. So long that I can't even remember the last time I would have gone there, probably when Linzy first moved here from Duluth 7 years ago. They've actually added on to the Zoo a bit over the years and cleaned it up somewhat.

There is an entire new area called Tropical Encounters with tropical fish and plants, some snakes, and on this day a sloth that was out in the open climbing a tree. The sloth was pretty cool, because you could be just a few feet away from him, and watch his glacial pace at climbing the tree. At one point he threw away at least 5 minutes worth of work in positioning his feet when his leg got a scratch and he stopped and took two limbs off the tree to take care of the itch.

The rest of the Zoo was fairly similar to previous visits, most notably the primate building still stinks to high-hell. But since we were there are the end of the afternoon the animals were very active, so we got to see the monkeys playing and a bunch of the other animals moving around their pens. One thing that was surprising was that the polar bear was not swimming his usual pattern.

The day turned out to be really fun, and we actually spent a lot more time there then we had originally planned. It was nice to see some other animals that aren't at the Minnesota Zoo.

All of the lilies had been taken out of the sunken garden, which was disappointing.


The roses were nicely in bloom.


The star fruit tree actually had fruit growing on it, which I had never seen before.


Another tree nearby had these crazy knobs growing off of it.


I always enjoy looking at the bonsai trees.


This was one strange-looking fish.


The sloth slowly, and I mean slowly climbing the tree in Tropical Encouters.


The lemurs were out and moving about.


The gorilla on the other hand was not.


These cages seemed ridiculously small to me even as a kid, I can't believe they ever thought it was appropriate to keep animals in something that small, even in 1936 when the building was built.


However some of the cages still seemed awfully small. The Mountain Lion and the Snow Leopard in particular.


By the time we left the park area was hopping, with no fewer then 4 separate weddings taking place. Nothing says 'meaningful non-rushed ceremony' like having three other wedding parties hanging out 25 feet on the road, waiting their turn.


The full Picasa Web Album


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Robert Jordan Passed Away

Brenden sent me an e-mail forwarding the news on that Robert Jordan passed away today:

It is with great sadness that I tell you that the Dragon is gone. RJ left us today at 2:45 PM. He fought a valiant fight against this most horrid disease. In the end, he left peacefully and in no pain.

It was not unexpected, considering he had primary amyloidosis with cardiomyapathy, but still too bad. I am sorry for his family and loved ones.

Unfortunately, it looks like I was right a year and a half ago when I predicted that Robert Jordan would not live to see his epic Wheel of Time series completed. Hopefully someone else will be allowed to complete the final book.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

What Steve is Up To

For several weeks recently, I've been at a loss of things to post on Friday evenings. We haven't started weekend activities, and I've usually used up my store of miscellaneous topics from the week.

Rather then continue to just skip Fridays, I thought maybe I would try a simple consistent theme post. I started down that direction with the "Winter is Coming" posts (here and here), but now that we are getting frost overnight and the grass was crunchy underfoot this morning any further posts seemed a bit banal.

So I thought I would try short updates on things I am amusing myself with outside of work and normal bloggable activities. Since I'm pretty boring, and haven't started any home improvement projects for quite a while, that effectively means a fairly limited range of books, old TV shows on DVD, and video games.

But, that is what I do, so I thought I would give it a try. With my next trip to Cambridge and a vacation shortly thereafter, it might not work out, but here goes:

Books: Days of Blood and Fire - The seventh book in the Westlands series, it has been OK. The books settled down after initially jumping all over in time to many different characters, and now follow a fairly linear path with only a handful of characters. I liked them better before, actually.

TV: Rome Season 2 - I'm only two episodes in but enjoying it. Not quite as much as the first season, but it is good.

Movies: TMNT last weekend - Very disappointing. My expectations were, perhaps too high, but I thought it was pretty simplistic, predictable, and thus a bit boring.

Video Games (Portable): Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy - Very bad, a rip off even at $20, especially since I already finished it in a mere week. Puzzle Quest was the game I was playing before that, and it was a lot of fun. Although after 4 weeks I got a bit bored with the gameplay. But at least it lasted 4 weeks.

Video Games (Home): Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix (XBox 360) - I'm terrible at it, but it is fun and a nice change of pace after finishing BioShock last week (which was great).


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Not Competitive

I went to the Eagan Lifetime Fitness with Paul to play some racquetball on Thursday night. It was a fun time, but I was not good, not good at all.

I haven't really played much racquetball. I played maybe a half-dozen times with my Dad when I was a kid and we belonged to a health club. It was always a lot of fun, and I don't remember being too terribly horrible at it.

Clearly that was just fuzziness of memory because Paul whipped me in every game we played. In the ~80 minutes or so we played, I lost at least 6 games most by margins like 15-3, 15-1, etc. I think the closest game was maybe 15-6.

Basically I had no chance of returning any of Paul's serves unless he purposely hit it 'easier'. Not necessarily slow, but not bouncing off three walls and hitting the floor near the back corner. So all of those scores could just as easily have been 15-0 if he didn't take it easy on me.

I'm sure I'll be sore tomorrow as what I lacked in skill I tried to make up in effort, chasing down shots, crashing into walls, and of course still generally missing the return shot. Still, it was a good time, and it was nice to do something different for exercise. I was just surprised at exactly how terrible I was.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tight Fit

I wasn't in Cambridge this week (I'll be there next week) but my co-worker who travels there even more often then I do was there. On Wednesday afternoon, a truck was supposed to come to pick up some server racks we are shipping to another facility.

While the truck was backing into the dock, it turned out to be too tight of a fit and the top of the truck hit this:


If you can't tell, that's water raining down from the ceiling after the truck clipped a sprinkler head. Even better, there was no shut-off valve and so the fire alarm went off and the building was evacuated. Twice.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Are We Talking About the Same Thing?

I had to laugh on Monday when I was reading this article on The Big Picture. it had this quote:

* Whose struggling? Full priced department stores. Sales fell 4% at J. C. Penney, 5% at Dillard’s and 0.6% at Kohl’s.

Emphasis added by me. That has to be the first time "full-priced" and Kohl's appeared in the same sentence.

Everyone knows you never buy anything at full-price in Kohl's, just wait a week and it will be 40% off. Wait another week and you'll have a 15% off coupon to use too.

Kohl's is, after all, the place where Linzy got her favorite pair of name-brand sneakers for three dollars.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Based on Your Interest

As Linzy and I have moved through our second full year of subscribing to Netflix, we've built up quite the array of rated movies. 188 to be exact. The ratings are somewhat suspect since we have two people effectively sharing the ratings on one account. While we like a lot of the same movies, that isn't always the case.

Regardless, in theory by now Netflix should be getting good at recommending things to us. And sometimes they do make surprisingly accurate suggestions. Other times the choices are....less astute.

For example, today the front page had this to say:

The following movies were chosen based on your interest in:
I Am Legend
Entourage: Season 3: Part 1 (3-Disc Series)
Hot Fuzz

The top suggestion was "Wild Wild West". Yes, that movie Will Smith did the cowboy music video for.

Now, Will Smith is certainly the star of both I Am Legend and Wild Wild West. But any relation between Entourage and Hot Fuzz and Wild Wild West is tenuous at best.

The other suggestions in the list were a bit strange as well, as you might guess from having those particular three movies used as a basis for recommendations. Everything from Reno 911: Miami, to The Host.

I don't mind the attempt at suggesting other movies for me to add to our ever-growing queue. Hopefully the Netflix Prize will produce a ranking engine a touch more accurate, though.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Depreciation

A guy down the street is trying to sell his John Deere lawn tractor via the time-honored 'park it in the front lawn with a sign on it' for the past few weeks. The other day as I walked by with Pippen, I actually took the time to look at the sign on it and discovered that its not a normal riding lawn mower.

Its actually a 1977 John Deere 210. Which must have come with a solid gold cutting deck, because my neighbor is asking $1800 for it. That seemed like an awful lot for a 30-year old tractor.

I'm sure its fantastic and all, and 1977 was a pretty good year, but...its 30 years old. I find it hard to believe it even cost $1,800 30 years ago when the average yearly salary was $13,572. You can get a brand-spanking-new John Deere (albeit bottom of the line) for less money, and for just a little more get what looks like a pretty nice tractor.

Is there such a thing as a collectors market for lawn tractors? Judging from the fact that the tractor has been sitting in front of the house for over two weeks, perhaps not. Or maybe both of those guys already own a 1977 JD210.


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Sunday, September 09, 2007

St Paul Bike Classic

Today I rode in the St. Paul Bike Classic for the third time (2005, 2006). It was a lot of fun as always, and a good opportunity to spend time with friends.

This year, I was the only veteran rider in my group, and my Dad and Brenden and Allison joined for their first ever ride. The weather at the start was pretty cold (particularly in the wind on the initial downhill), but after the Indian Mounds rest stop the sun came out and it was really pleasant for the rest of the ride. We rode at a comfortable pace for everyone, since the point (in my mind) is enjoyment not obsession.

The ride felt a lot more crowded then it has in the past. I'm not sure if that was because we rode as part of the bigger, more average speed pack, or if there were just more riders then previous years. It wasn't a problem really, but was noticeable.

Regardless, I had a really good time, and I think everyone else did as well. Read on for some pictures.

The complete album is here.

Dad getting ready for the ride


The first big hill


Brenden after the ascent


Allison on the hill. She was about to give me the thumbs-up. Honest.


The crowd at the Indian Mounds rest area


By the time we had left the Indian Mounds stop, the sun had come out and the weather was great.


The Como Park rest stop. Did I mention it was a bit crowded?


Dad & I


Brenden & Allison


I didn't get pictures of the Bison or Narwhal bikes. But I did get a picture of this crazy group.


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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Glacial Pace

You may recall that one of my neighbors has been working on his landscaping all summer. Back in June he spent several weeks sifting landscaping rock out of his dirt. He actually continued that all summer. Then in July, before finishing the landscaping, he broke up his concrete walkway. Afterwards he continued sifting.

A week or two ago I thought we were finally on the home stretch, as he started working on putting some paver stones in as a border for the future landscaping area. But then he went back to sifting.

Today I really thought we were going to see some planting, when my neighbor was carrying three hostas over to the landscaping area and setting them down this morning. Instead, we came home late this afternoon to find him still sifting the dirt. Tonight the hostas sit in exactly the same place they were placed earlier today. Perhaps tomorrow, after 3 months, he'll move on to actual planting.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Nosy Notice

There is a house a few streets away from ours that I walk by twice a day during the summer while walking Pippen. For several years it has been sliding further and further into disrepair. In the past 9 months it has really taken a turn for the worse.

In addition to the normal, easy, things like letting the lawn die and become a weed-infested mess, they've raised the bar. About a year ago, the outer pane of the basement window got shot by a paintball pellet or something that put a little hole in it along with a mess of dripping substance around it. They never did anything with it, and sometime last winter the entire window pane cracked and fell in on itself.

Then last spring they had some sort of garage fire. For a long time the half-burned garbage can sat in the middle of the driveway, while the singed garage door was tossed in the front yard. They covered the opening to the garage with plywood, and still haven't done anything with it. The soot stains are still on the siding.

As near as I can tell, the house has been completely abandoned for months. After the fire I would occasionally see one of the owners cars in the driveway, but that stopped early this summer. Now the house sits (apparently) empty and getting steadily more likely to just be burned down, if not also require some sort of environmental cleanup.

Anyway, a week or so ago as I was walking by I noticed that there is now a notice of some sort taped to the front door. I really want to go see what it says.

My theory is that it was a notice from the city saying they had cut the lawn due to various violations in code and a charge would be included on their next utility bill. But it could be more interesting then that. Foreclosure? Condemned due to never having fixed the burned out garage? A note from an angry neighbor? Who knows.

Unfortunately, I'm too chicken (or at least don't want to appear that nosy) to go up and read a notice on someone else's house. Particularly a house that isn't even very close to mine. I've been trying to convince Linzy to go do it for me, but thus far she is resisting. So we'll probably never know what it is for.


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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

An Audience

Tonight, for the second time in recent memory, my neighbor in the back of the house came out and watched me mow my entire backyard. He sat in a chair on his concrete patio facing towards my house the whole time.

Now, his daughter was in the backyard, but he wasn't watching her; She was off to the side playing on the swings. He also wasn't just facing me while doing something else (reading a book, watching the sunset, etc) but was just sitting there watching me. I also wasn't cutting his lawn or doing anything even remotely damaging to his yard that would require supervision.

Perhaps he was thinking deep thoughts, but I found it kind of creepy.


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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Backsliding

On Monday morning I finally had the time and weather to do my traditional 25-mile ride in preparation for the St. Paul Bike Classic. The weather was actually nearly perfect, as it was not very windy at all and the temperature was pleasant.

I did the ride solo primarily because of my lack of planning as to when I was actually going to be able to get the ride in. While the first year I did the double-loop it was mostly to determine if I could even ride that far, this year and last year being able to complete the ride was not at issue. Instead it provides a good opportunity to compare my fitness improvement over the years. Or in the case of this year, my lack of improvement.

The route I take is a modification of a route I ride normally. It goes from my house to Apple Valley, and then I go twice around a loop I normally do once and then head back home. The end result is about 25.5 miles of mildly rolling terrain.

The first year, I did the route in 1:37:04. Last year I did the same route in 1:34:14 (for an improvement of about .3 miles per hour average). This year I did the route in 1:35:10. Thus, 'improvement' is not necessarily a particularly accurate description of my fitness progress this year.

On the positive side, I only lost 20 seconds on my split times between the first and second half of the trip. That was an improvement over last year, where I faded significantly during the second loop. And I was happy that the average speed was still over 16 mph (on my heavy and slow comfort bike).

The interesting thing is that I was pretty happy with my ride after I finished it and realized I had kept the split times so close, until I looked at the previous year's times. That's what over-analysis gets you I guess.


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Monday, September 03, 2007

Outwitted by Efficiency

On Thursday morning Linzy was in a car accident. She's fine, the Altima not so much. After the accident, the car ended up being towed to a random place in south Lakeville and while they were willing to bring it to the place I wanted the car repaired at, they would not do so until someone had come in and signed for it. Since I also had to sign some papers at the repair shop, the plan on Friday morning was to go down, sign for the Altima at the towing place then head up to the repair place and sign the necessary documents there.

Friday morning I was working from home, and had a lot of things on my plate to get done, so I was hoping to make this exercise quick. I had a little bit of trouble finding the towing place, because of a rather vague explanation of where they were located I was given the previous evening on the phone. But I persevered, signed the necessary documents and told them where to send the car.

So off I went 15 minutes north to the repair place. They were prepared for me with a stack of papers to sign. One of them was basically signing away any rights to the contents of the car, predicated on me attesting to the fact that I had already removed all personal items from the car. Which, of course, I realized at that moment that I had forgotten to do.

Since I had no idea when the towing place would actually get the car up to the repair place, and because I didn't really want to have to come back to the repair place later that day, I left to head back to the towing place to get our stuff out of the car.

So off I went 15 minutes back south to the towing place. Pulling into the lot, I noticed that the gate to the car area was open and the Altima was nowhere in sight. I went inside and confirmed that they had been extra efficient and loaded up the car immediately after I left.

So off I went 15 minutes back north to the repair place. When I got there, the front desk lady and I had a good laugh over the fact that the Altima had arrived just a few minutes after I had left to head back to the towing place. We probably passed on the highway.

I eventually did get all of our stuff out of the car, but only after an extra 30 minutes of driving around Lakeville.

[ I should note that forgetting to tighten the idler pulley was the last straw for me with our previous repair facility, they aren't getting the business of repairing the Altima. ]

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Overly Secure

I was calling our online bank yesterday morning to try and find out some specifics about fees in regards to account limits. Specifically, I was considering transferring a bunch of extra cash out of our brokerage account into our savings account at the same institution because the savings account earns over 5% interest and the sweep account earns practically nothing.

The whole reason for the excess cash in the brokerage account was to keep the account from having maintenance fees for inactivity, but now that we had the savings account from the terms of service it looked like I wouldn't be subject to those fees anymore since our combined balances were sufficiently above the minimums. Anyway, I didn't even want them to do the transfer for me (I can do that on the web), all I wanted was to know if I was interpreting the fee schedule correctly.

After waiting through the phone tree and answering a bevy of personal questions: account number, userid, password, mother's maiden name, account number (again), password (again), mailing address, birthday, last four digits of social security number, and finally mother's maiden name (again), I thought I was in the clear.

Then the rep said "and finally, the answer to your exercise question; What is your dream occupation?". Uhh. What?

I didn't recall having that question at all. I certainly didn't recall what I would possibly have answered for it. I tried the obvious, the flippant ('your boss', 'independently wealthy'), and the less obvious. Nothing worked.

The rep put me on hold for a few minutes while I looked through our records trying to find if I had made a copy of our paperwork for opening the brokerage account. As near as I can tell that question wasn't on the initial paperwork. So who knows when I had to sign up for it (probably back in 2000), or what I answered for it.

Unfortunately the form on the website (which the rep directed me to) requires that you be able to answer the exercise question before you can change it. The only other way to change the question is with a notarized letter stating you want to change the question and answer.

The only good thing is that I eventually talked the rep into answering my fee question without my being able to fully authenticate. So I got the information I needed. But I will still have to write and get a letter notarized at some point so I could close the account someday if I needed to.

I realize it is all for my own good, but...what a pain.


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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Delayed Response

Today in the mail we got a envelope that appeared to contain a credit card (interesting how by trying to make the envelopes nondescript they make them painfully obvious). That seemed strange, since our cards don't expire for several years.

Opening the envelope revealed not one, but two cards along with an insert that said:

... has learned that your account number as indicated on the attached card carrier may have been compromised/stolen from an outside party and could be at risk of unauthorized use.

Please call the toll-free number on the sticker affixed to the enclosed new plastic(s) a soon as possible so that the account number indicated on the attached card carrier can be closed for your protection and your new plastic(s) activated for immediate use. These steps will reduce your risk of unauthorized credit card use.

Yikes. So I went to log on to their website to see if there were any strange charges, or see what brought this on. Upon logging in, it just showed me a big red warning about the account being closed and said to call customer service.

Well, after getting through the interminable phone tree and talking to someone, it turned out to be basically nothing. Our card number was apparently flagged as being in the TJ Maxx system that was known to be stolen and so as a precaution they were replacing our cards.

Fair enough. Except that TJ Maxx's computer system information was stolen back in January, almost 9 months ago. Way to be on top of things guys.

[ On a side note, replacing the credit card finally completed the last replacement of things chewed up by my friend's dog ]

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