Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween

It has been a very quiet Halloween this year. We were too busy to be able to go to any parties, I didn't dress up for our Halloween party at work, and we didn't even carve a pumpkin. The main issue with the pumpkin is that I don't really like carving pumpkins (particularly touching the insides), and Linzy breaks out horribly on her arms from touching them. We didn't even get many kids stopping by this year.

There were two common comments from the kids who did stop by though:

1) You have a big house!
2) I like your dog!

The first is amusing because while our house is bigger then houses were 50 years ago, we actually have one of the smallest houses in the neighborhood. It does, however, have a large vaulted entry way that probably makes it seem big. The kids were apparently impressed this year, since at least 6 commented on it.

The second is good since Pippen likes kids too! But it is also interesting because if you've ever been over to our house, you know full well how insanely Pippen acts whenever anyone comes to the door. So just imagine her when all sorts of random kids (who she likes anyways) coming trooping up to the door over and over, and she isn't allowed to greet any of them. Frantic might be a fair adjective. But apparently even with the limb flailing and whining that goes on when she is being held, she's still not threatening.

The good news is that with not many kids stopping by, there is lots of candy leftover for me to eat!




Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Expensive Toys

On Thursday I finally broke down and bought an elliptical exercise machine to replace my treadmill. After I fixed the power cord, the treadmill was working fine but my knees were hurting just thinking about running on the treadmill 4 times a week for another winter. So I spent the last month and a half watching Craigslist for a specific model used elliptical.

An Octane Q37e had come through a few weeks ago, but the seller was not interested in actually selling it. He wanted just $100 less then new, wouldn't bargain at all, and was a huge jerk about it. Then two weekends ago, another one came through with a more serious seller. Amusingly, shortly after I bought the elliptical, the original guy re-posted with a lower price (which was still higher then what I paid). Linzy wouldn't let me send him a mocking e-mail about that.

Anyway, I rounded up Brenden and Paul to help me pick up the elliptical on Thursday night. It was a good there were three of us, because the elliptical turned out to be quite a beast to move. It weighs around 260 pounds, with all of the weight in the front foot or two. We managed to get it out of the seller's house, onto the trailer, and into my house without too much trouble, but it was definitely a three person job.

The elliptical appears to be nearly new. The previous owners said they bought it in Feb 2007 (though I didn't ask for proof), and it doesn't look like it was used virtually at all. The seller claimed it 'hurt his ankles'.

I tried out the machine for the first workout this weekend, and have been very happy with it. It is much quieter then the treadmill, doesn't hurt my knees (or ankles) at all, and seems to give me a very strenuous workout.

Octane ellipticals are really nice, it feels like the quality of elliptical you would use at a health club. The main knock on Octanes is typically that they are too expensive and there may be others that are a better value. I also considered a Sole elliptical, but thought the Octane's build quality was light-years better, and the Octane's height to get on and off and during operation was a lot more user-friendly. I also liked the fact that the Octane seemed to be more compact then some of the other higher-end ellipticals, particularly anything that wasn't front-drive.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase. My knee's dislike of the treadmill was beginning to get in the way of me actually using it as often as I should, so I am anticipating the switch to the elliptical will be better.


Read the whole post.

Monday, October 29, 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood

On Thursday afternoon after my flight home from Boston, I took Pippen for a walk. Down the street there is a house on the local pond with a huge flock of ducks that live in the backyard (basically). The house has some bird feeders and easy access to the pond, so we have gone from a handful of ducks to a monster flock of more then 50 ducks in the past couple years. The living is probably easy, so each successive generation keeps coming back (and telling their friends).

Anyway, on Thursday I noticed all the ducks were camped on in the yard across the street, which was pretty odd. Normally they stay near the feeders, in the yard between the feeders and the pond, or in the water. As I got closer, the reason became clear: The normal area had been taken over by a giant flock of migrating Canadian Geese.

The geese were everywhere, in the yard, in the pond, on the deck, and generally making themselves at home. I guess they chased the ducks away when they moved in. The ducks were clearly biding their time on the other side of the road, I assume thinking nasty thoughts about Canadian Geese.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Long Ride

On Monday I had to wait a bit for a cab to take me to my hotel, mainly because the guy running the taxi stand was being a taxi nazi.

He made the first cab that came around go back out because the cabbie popped his trunk while coming around the circle to the pickup area. The taxi stand guy came running out charged up to the guys window and started yelling at him, gesticulating wildly. I have no idea what was said, but in the end the cabbie drove away and we proceeded to wait some more.

Eventually some more cabs came, and they were clearly more in tune with the behavior the taxi stand guy demanded. There was still quite a bit of yelling and making cabs move forward and back, but eventually I got a cab.

While I was standing there wondering when I was going to get a cab, I was looking at the official 'flat rate' poster on the taxi stand. The majority of the sign was dominated with lists of various towns in the Boston vicinity and what it costs for a ride there. However on the side there was a smaller list of towns in other states.

I was expecting those towns to primarily be ones just over the border into nearby states, though those are still a ways away, and that was what a lot were. But there were some other towns that were really pretty far away. Like Burlington Vermont for the low, low fare of $596, or New York, New York for $575.

Can you imagine riding in a mostly broken down cab for the hours it takes to get from Boston to Burlington or New York? That would be miserable. I've been in a lot of cabs over the past few months, and not one of them was anything I would want to spend 4 hours in. Let alone pay almost $600 for the privilege.


Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Meatloaf

On Tuesday night I was at the office later then normal, so I decided not to go out anywhere for dinner, but rather just go down to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant is actually pretty good, and I've eaten there a number of time. Usually I get a New York strip steak with bearnaise sauce, which is tasty.

That night the menu looked a little different, most importantly the steak I normally get didn't seem to be on the menu anymore, instead there was only an Angus Flatiron steak. That steak had always been there, but I had never ordered it. However, since the New York strip wasn't available, I decided to order the Angus steak.

After waiting for a bit (and talking to a crazy dude from the Contender reality show who was in town for the World Series) my meal came. It didn't look anything like what I was expecting. Instead of a normal steak with sauce and mashed potatoes on the side, this was some sort of meat on top of potatoes with fried string onions on top.

The meat was nothing like steak, but was more like a hamburger with mushrooms and sauteed onions on top. The meal was OK, and I ate most of it, but it wasn't really what I was expecting at all.

The bartender came to take my plate away we had this conversation:

Him: How was it?
Me: OK I guess, just not what I was expecting.
Him: ....
Me: You used to serve it as a steak, with the sauce on top...this was more like a hamburger.
Him: .... You ate most of it
Me: Yeah, like I said it just wasn't what I was expecting
Him: Do you want something else?
Me: No, it's fine, don't worry.

And so he took my plate away and rang up the check. When he came back:

Him: Can I buy you a desert or something?
Me: No, really, it's all right
Him: Well, it was my fault....that was the meatloaf.

Well, that explains a lot.

He didn't charge me with the meal, and gave me a free beer, but it was a little weird.


Read the whole post.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Recent Media - 10/26

Explanation - Previous List

TV: Heroes Season 1 - I've watched another 8 episodes in the past week (thats what going on a business trip by yourself will do for you...lots of time to watch TV), and am loving it. The infamous "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" plot has happened, and I am enjoying the successive episodes. Its still a cheap rip off of X-Men, but well worth watching.

Books: The Black Raven - I finished the previous book in the Deverry cycle just before leaving for Boston on Monday, so checked this book out from the library for the trip. It's been forgettable thus far, a disappointment since The Red Wyvern was pretty decent.

Movies: Zodiac - Good but somewhat frustrating. I knew full well what the ending was going to be (Shawn spoiled it months ago), and it took a long time to get there. It was good, but I would much rather have had a tidy ending.

Video Games (Portable): Elite Beat Agents - I'm stuck on the last song on the hardest level, and it is frustratingly difficult. I can get roughly 2/3rds of the way through the song before failing, so judging from the previous difficulty level I probably have a solid several days left of practicing before I finally finish the game. And that is annoying, so on the plane flight home I put the DS away and watched Heroes instead (did I mention I like that show? :)

Video Games (Home): Nothing of note, just a couple minutes spent trying the last few weeks worth of new XBox Live Arcade games.

Music: None, I don't have any music on my work laptop nor do I have a working mp3 player so there's no music on travel weeks.


Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pretzels and Diet Sprite

On Monday when I got back to my hotel room after work, instead of the usual water and terribly dry organic cookies there was a jumbo-sized bag of pretzels and two 20oz bottles of Diet Sprite chilling in a bucket of ice.

You see, over the weekend, the hotel had e-mailed me and asked if I had any favorite snacks or beverages, and if I had any hobbies. I replied and lo-and-behold they went out and got what I liked, right down to getting mini twist pretzels rather then the normal full-sized ones.

I have to admit, I was impressed that they would go out and buy something special and put it in my room just because I said I liked it. I was also impressed that it wasn't just a little one-serving bag of pretzels, but rather a 24 oz bag that would last me for weeks worth of snacks.

It does make me wonder about the infamous Mr. Johnson though. Is his favorite snack beverage really chilled white wine? It would be one thing if that was the 'default' inner circle welcome gift, but if it was specifically what he requested...interesting.

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Sox!

My hotel room just shook when the Green Mountain Boys from the Vermont Air National Guard flew over on their way to Fenway park.

As you might imagine, the only thing anyone talked about this week at the Cambridge office and on the news was the Red Sox in the World Series.

The unanimous opinion around here in Boston is, obviously, that the Red Sox will win easily. The only question being whether it is in 4, 5, or 6 games. The best line of the day was from a TV reporter interviewing a Boston Globe baseball columnist. He had 10 mostly-humorous questions, one of which was:

Which is the bigger accomplishment: winning 21 of your last 22 in the NL, or finishing above .500 in the AL?


I was going to go over to Fenway and hang out with the mob outside of Fenway, but the 50 degree temperatures and rain persuaded me not to. I guess that's how you can tell that I'm not a true Red Sox fan.

Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hindsight

The other night I was reading stock news and came across this article at the Motley Fool which was a thinly-veiled advertisement for their stock recommendation service, but ostensibly about how much mutual fund fees cost over the long term.

The article starts out with this premise:

For my portfolio, I chose these three stocks, but any number of former highfliers could have done the trick:

1. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT)
2. Dell (NYSE: DELL)
3. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL)

The idea was to show how a modest $10,000 investment could have ballooned to more than $3.3 million in 10 short years. But there's a catch.

In those 10 short years, you'd have paid your mutual fund manager nearly $130,000 in fees and surrendered nearly $600,000 in lost profits (money not earned on those fees). So, instead of $3.3 million, you'd be sitting on a lot less.
From there, the article continues on about fees, lost compounding interest and other facts-of-mutual fund life. Ending with this conclusion:
But even if we go back to my optimistic assumption that you can match the remarkable 22.8% per year that Stock Advisor members could have earned since the service started in 2002, you're still forking over $90,000 in intermediation costs every 20 years.

If you sort of resent that, here's a solution a lot of folks are considering: Start managing your own investments.
...
Of course, you'll need some great stocks. Give Stock Advisor some thought. You get a top pick each month from Motley Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner, and you can try the whole service free for a whole month.
Did I mention it was a thinly-veiled ad for their stock recommendation service?

Anyway, while I don't disagree that mutual fund fees, particularly the high fees for a non-index fund, can add up to a big cost even when they are small percentages, the reality is that his example is ridiculously contrived. Of course if you picked three stocks that skyrocketed over ten years any little bit that wasn't invested ended up costing a ton of money.

The same could be said about the $5,000 that you chose to keep in the bank as an emergency fund rather then investing in those three stocks. By his logic, that could have been another $1.5 million in your pocket. Silly of you to try to be practical and not gamble all your money in the stock market.

I also think it is irresponsible to suggest that the average person should be investing directly in individual stocks. These are the same people who have to auto-enrolled in 401ks, and have the number of fund choices reduced so they aren't overwhelmed by the options. The same people who are making target age funds boom, because they can't even find the time to re-balance their accounts once a year.

Too many choices for mutual funds? Try picking from the thousands of stocks, bonds, commodity futures, options and derivatives available in the various markets. Everyone has enough time to pour over quarterly balance sheets, and hedge their option positions, right?

Again, I don't disagree that mutual fund fees make a big difference in the net returns to investors, I just think it is silly to suggest that the average investor is better off trying to beat the market on their own in individual stocks. It seems especially disingenuous when the author clearly has a vested interest in selling those same people a stock recommendation service.


Read the whole post.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall Pictures

I spent a bunch of time this weekend outside doing various chores and getting things ready for winter. I also got a bike ride in on Saturday morning, which was a pleasant surprise. Saturday the weather was quite nice, relative to the 16 out of the last 18 days when it has been cold and rainy. Sunday was not quite as nice, but still not rainy.

Most of my tasks were not exactly fun, things like trimming the bushes out front, bringing in the deck furniture, cleaning out the flower beds, etc. So to amuse myself I took some pictures of the fall trees and plants. The colors are past peak, but the maples are still going strong.

The hostas range from totally green, to totally dead already, and everything in between. This plant was just starting to change.


Our maple in the back is a pretty reddish-orange, and still has some green leaves on it.


Two ladybugs getting to know each other


Terrace Oaks park by my parent's house


The pond at Terrace Oaks park


It was overcast and the colors came out a bit more muted in the pictures.


This little tree was all by itself on the road side of the pond.


A few other similar pictures are in the web album
.
Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Quick Change

For the past couple months the keyboard on my work laptop has been acting up. The laptop is approaching three years old but still a reasonably nice laptop, so starting to random hardware problems isn't totally unexpected.

The problem with the keyboard is sort of strange, the 'N' key has become extremely oversensitive. If you even lightly graze it...bam..2 or 3 Ns are inserted into whatever you were typing. Sometimes just touching the keys around that area (say the space bar) will cause a couple miscellaneous Ns to be added to whatever you were trying to say. Its pretty annoying, since I end up constantly going back to edit what I was typing, or having spell-checker freak out if I don't catch some of them.

But, since I really only use the laptop for any extended period of time when I am in Cambridge, it hasn't been that big of a deal. But since I was going to have a little break after my last trip, I decided to buck up and put in a help ticket to see if someone could find someway to fix the keyboard.

Luckily it turned out the laptop was still (barely) in warranty, so after days of having the ticket languish at our helpdesk eventually someone contacted Dell, who contacted me and the next day a tech was coming out to replace the keyboard.

Having never had a laptop keyboard replaced, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I was envisioning a fairly involved process. So when the receptionist called to say the guy was here, I went down to get him and take him back to my desk so he could perform the repair.

When I got downstairs, he went "Oh...you want me to come upstairs? *sigh*". My thinking had been that he wasn't going to want to sit in the lobby and dismantle things. But whatever, so, I went back upstairs, grabbed the laptop and returned back to the lobby.

At that point he took the laptop, laid it on the receptionist's desk, removed the battery, popped off a little cover on the top, removed two small screws, popped out the keyboard module, disconnected a ribbon cable, reversed the process with a new keyboard module and was done. Total repair time, maybe 45 seconds. Max.

It probably took at least 3 times as long for me to go back up and get the laptop then it did to actually do the repair. I had no idea it was going to be that easy. I guess it makes sense in retrospect, since the keyboard is a likely thing to have to replace, but I was just thinking there would be more to it.


Read the whole post.

Friday, October 19, 2007

E-Mail Scams

This story about Supervalu losing $10 million to an e-mail scam just cracks me up:

Supervalu Inc., the Eden Prairie-based grocer, fell prey to an e-mail scam this year, sending more than $10 million to two fraudulent bank accounts, according to federal court filings.
....
The company said it received two e-mails -- one from someone purporting to be an employee of American Greetings Corp. and another from someone claiming to be with Frito-Lay, according to the documents. Both e-mails claimed that the companies wanted payments sent to new bank account numbers.

It's just so ridiculous. "Hey, I'm Mr. Frito-Lay we've got a new bank account so why don't you just send the money over there instead.", why would anyone believe that?

Clearly there must have been inside information at work, so that someone knew what e-mail address to spoof, and who to send the e-mails to. But still....

Read the whole post.

Recent Media - 10/19

Explanation - Previous List

Books: The Red Wyvern - I'm almost finished with this book. Or at least close enough that I will have a serious issue deciding what to bring with to Cambridge next week, lest I finish it 15 minutes into the flight. The book just finished up a large flashback to other characters, which was pretty decent. Now it looks like it will just finish up by advancing the main plot a little and setup for the next book.

TV: Heroes Season 1 - I've only watched 4 episodes so far, but I am enjoying it. I keep hoping they put an adamantium skeleton inside the cheerleader just to admit that they are straight-up copying X-Men. It's still a good show, but at times it seems like they could at least have come up with more original super powers.

Movies: None, unless you count "A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor that I watched with Larry when he and Sandy were down visiting last week. It was not good. Not good at all.

Video Games (Portable): Elite Beat Agents - I unlocked the final bonus song and finished that plus all but the last two songs on the hardest difficulty level, although it has been a struggle at times. The only question now is whether I will make it through two plane flights before completing the game, or if I will be buying a new game in the Best Buy attached to my hotel for the trip home.

Video Games (Home): None, things have been busy.

Music: Nothing of interest, I've been frustrated with the song selection at work, it's probably time to bring in some new mp3s from home.


Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

And Then There Was One

Two years ago last week, I wrote about Copper Bleu, a new restaurant that was built in the middle of a strip mall parking lot to the tune of $5 million dollars. The whole building is covered in copper panels and features a wavey roof and an oddly-shaped cramped dining room. At the time, I gave it a year before going under because of the combination of its ridiculous construction cost and poor location.

Back in March, a friend whose parents own a restaurant said he had heard it was closing. That didn't come to pass, but then on Wednesday Linzy IM'd me to say that it had finally closed. Their website carries this short message:

To all valued Copper Bleu guests

We are deeply saddened to inform you that Copper Bleu in Lakeville has closed it's operations.

Thank you for your support. It has been a pleasure serving you.

Copper Bleu Management-

And thus ends that experiment I guess. The restaurant wasn't really all that bad or anything. We ate there a few times, but I wasn't a big fan of much of their original menu and I never went back after they changed things up to see if it was much better.

It's sad to see a non-chain restuarant go out of business, but anyone with a pulse could see it coming from a mile away after reading the projections of what sort of revenue they were going to have to do in order to recoup the costs of Scott Winer's construction choices.

Amusingly El Patio, the restaurant that did precisely what I suggested two years ago, buy the defunct Davinci's Pizza location for pennies on the dollar, is still going strong. We've eaten at there numerous times over the past few years and generally enjoyed it (I like their chicken burrito with green tomatillo sauce). Obviously they are not aimed at the same market as Copper Bleu was, but they must be doing something right.

[ Incidentally, it was actually Andrea who tipped Linzy to the closing yesterday, and Bill Roehl also posted about it this morning. ]


Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Twitching

The other evening for the bus ride home I was in the sardine row at the back of the bus. Everyone had pretty wide shoulders, and the guy on my left had a computer bag between his feet, so there wasn't much room.

Anyway, the guy next to me started out reading a magazine, but then ended up taking a nap. About halfway through the ride, his arm (which was touching me) started twitching. Sort of like a dog running in its dreams.

I don't really like random people touching me in the first place, but having someone twitching in their sleep in close quarters next to me was kind of creepy. The twitching continued for quite a while, long enough for me to start considering whether I should "accidentally" elbow him. I decided not to, but I did give it serious thought.


Read the whole post.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Currency Conversion

We got our credit card bill the other day which had all of the charges from our trip out east a few weeks ago. The bill was more-or-less what I was expecting, except for a charge at the very end for "FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE*FINANCE CHARGE" to the tune of ~$24.

I was surprised to see an extra fee added on, on top of whatever they are already taking as a premium to the exchange rate. After some quick research, it looks pretty common for credit card companies to charge you 3% for foreign transactions. Apparently Visa (and Mastercard) tacks on a 1% charge, and then the banks bleed off another 2%. From what I can tell, pretty much every bank passes on at least the Visa charge (except Capital One) and most follow the usual-and-customary 2%.

What is weird is that I don't remember any extra charges at all from when I went to Dublin/London/Edinburgh for 2 weeks in 2000. In fact I looked back in Microsoft Money and didn't record any additional charges, and my payment wasn't for more then I had recorded I owed. So I don't believe there was any charge back then. In fact, I distinctly remember reading an article before I went that was touting using a credit card as the way to get the best exchange rate.

In this case, while I'm sure I got a better exchange rate on the card then I might have at some shady money exchanger or even at the hotel desk, with the extra 3% added on I am not so sure. Now, the actual fee didn't end up to be all that expensive, but it would have been much more annoying if we had gone on a more expensive vacation.


Read the whole post.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Black Smudge

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we got a new Sony DSC-W200 camera to replace the problematic DSC-P200 that had developed incurable black smudges. We had the camera 'fixed' twice, but the problem kept coming back and this last time it was after the 90-day warrenty on the previous repair attempt.

So, rather then risk having a bunch of pictures from our trip to Montreal ruined with black smudges I bit the bullet and bought a new camera. The DSC-W200 seemed to work pretty well. It seemed to be taking good pictures, particularly in lower-light like the Bascilica of Notre Dame.

However, when we got home I noticed that a number of the pictures had a visible black smudge on them. Already. The camera wasn't even a week old at that point.

So, back the camera and memory card went, and since the black smudge was easily demonstratable we didn't even get a hassle about a restocking fee or anything. So no more Sony cameras for me. I've always liked their relatively small size, but I like smudge-free pictures more.

I'm not sure what I'll buy instead. I should probably buck up and buy a DSLR, but it is more likely I'll just end up with a Panasonic point-and-shoot.

[ Note: The spot is somewhat hard to see depending on your contrast settings. It's easier to pick out against a white-backdrop, but I didn't save any of those pictures. ]

Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Last Bike Ride?

I went for a nice long bike ride on Saturday morning. That would be unremarkable, except for how late in the season it was. By the end of September, each time I get out for a ride I think to myself 'well, this will probably be the last one for the year'. And normally that is the case, but this year I've gone on three separate rides that I was sure would be my final one.

Now realistically, I could always be riding this late, except that I'm not really a cold weather biker. If the air is too cold, it wrecks havoc with my asthma, and since I have no desire for any emergency room visits once it starts to get cold outside I stop riding.

My ride on Saturday started out a bit cold, since it was relatively early in the morning, but I put in enough effort to warm myself up, and by the end of the ride it was really pleasant out. The unexpected pleasure of getting another ride in, plus the complete lack of wind made for a very pleasant experience.

Too bad it was likely my last ride for 6 months....or was it?

Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Wonder of the Bundle

For the past two weeks I've been meaning to call up our cable company and wrangle myself a better deal. I figured it had been 7.5 months since we were last on a promotion, and we weren't at the top level package anymore, so there would be some wiggle room for getting a better deal. Ideally, my goal was to get HBO included, so I could watch Entourage Season 4 re-runs. Barring that, saving a bit of money per month would have been fine as well.

After calling them up and immediately laying the ground rule that I was not buying phone service from them regardless, we got down to business. The sales lady was actually really pretty good about working to get me a better bundle, actually suggesting things we could do to qualify for upgrade criteria and giving me all of the different options.

After all was said and done, I traded 3MB Internet for 5MB Internet, and a handful of digital channels above 100 that I've never watched for 16 movie channels. The new price? $27 less then what we were paying each month, plus the associated decrease in
taxes and fees. The bad news was that I couldn't get HBO thrown in, nor would they let me trade the crap movie channels for it.

The trick this time was that I managed to qualify as an 'upgrading customer' because I was moving from regular digital channels to digital movie channels, despite the fact that the price was the same. That will be crucial, since it leaves me room to 'upgrade' again in 6 months when our new deal expires.

Cable pricing never ceases to amaze me. Not that I don't appreciate them going Crazy Eddie with my bill and slashing it by almost $30 a month, but it is bizarre to call up and spend 15 minutes talking with someone and end up with more TV/Internet for less money.

All in all I was pretty happy with my work. It wasn't my best effort (that was my $20 a month locked in for 20 months for top-of-their-line cable modem service), but it was up there.


Read the whole post.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Recent Media - 10/12

Explanation - Previous List

Books: The Red Wyvern - So far so good. It finally adds some new characters, although it looks like it might just be a third of the book flashback. We'll see.

TV: Entourage Season 3: Part 2 & Heroes Season 1 - I've been not-so-patiently waiting for the final part of season 3 for Entourage to come out on DVD so I could watch it. Unfortunately it was only 8 25 minute episodes, so it came and went in a flash. It also felt tacked on. They wrapped up the main plot line from the first half of the season, but the rest largely just set things up for season 4. Which I am now impatiently waiting for. Ah the life of not having HBO.

Movies: Devil Wears Prada - I watched the first hour of this on the elliptical one morning in Cambridge, and then got it from Netflix because I thought Linzy would enjoy it. It amused me, and Linzy did like it a lot.

Video Games (Portable): Elite Beat Agents - After a week and a half of practice, I finally completed the final song on the third level of difficulty. It was pure luck, and likely never to be repeated. Thus I was disheartened at the step-up in difficulty for the final level of songs. So I likely have several more weeks of Elite Beat Agents ahead of me. Then it will be on to the new Zelda game.

Video Games (Home): Pac Man CE on XBox Live Arcade - Only one more achievement and I'll have all 200 points. A very fun game, if a bit frustrating when you die with only 3 seconds left on a 10 minute timed level.

Music: Chevelle, old DMX, and Muse - I just keep coming back to Black Holes & Revelations.


Read the whole post.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Template Changes

A few days ago I 'converted' the blog's template from the old blogger format to the new blogger format. The conversion more-or-less just overwrote any changes in the template and dumped me back at a default. Getting the full/short post links to work with the new template was a hassle, but I think I've got it all working now. If you notice any issues, let me know.

On a separate note, I changed the default feed over to full posts so if you've been annoyed at having to click through in an RSS reader, that should be fixed too. I was thinking the shorter feed entries were better given the number of photos I dump in a post sometimes, but I decided to let people fend for themselves. If you fear change, the shorter feed is still available here.


Read the whole post.

New Mechanic, Same as the Old Mechanic

On Monday, we finally got the Altima back from the repair shop, over a month after the accident that sent it there. The car was originally supposed to be done before I left for Cambridge last month. Then it was supposed to be done before Linzy left. Then it was supposed to be done the Tuesday while we were gone. In the end, they finally left a message on Thursday that it was done.

So, the following Wednesday when we were back in town we went to go pick up the car, only to find some problems with the repairs (there was a huge gap between the bumper and the hood). So we left the car for another day while they worked on fixing that.

On Thursday we went back to pick up the car, and I got two stoplights away before I noticed a minor problem with the dash buttons and turned around to head back. As I was pulling into the parking lot, I started to smell burning coolant and noticed smoke coming from the engine compartment. While I was waiting for a mechanic to come out, the puddle pictured above formed beneath the car.

It turned out a coolant hose had a slit in it and so was dumping coolant on the engine. Fixing that and cleaning the engine was easy, but fixing the interior problem took a bit. So the end result was that we didn't get the car back until Monday.

It was amusing that we switched mechanics for this repair after the last one left an idler pulley loose, causing the belts to fall off the Pathfinder when Linzy was driving it home, and then on this one I didn't even get more then a mile away before coolant was pouring all over the engine compartment.

On the other hand, considering all the things that had to be disconnected/re-connected during the repair, I'm kind of amazed they only missed one thing.


Read the whole post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Wiggle Room

On Monday night I was going to run on the treadmill. I mentioned this spring that it was acting up, and unfortunately I was never able to figure out what the problem was. I tried waxing under the belt, vacuuming the motor compartment and circuit boards, different power outlets, etc but nothing seemed to fix the random error codes it would periodically throw.

Luckily it made it through the worst of the cold weather, and I was able to do most of my exercising on the bike outside during the summer, or on the elliptical at the Marlowe when I was in Cambridge.

Now however, the days are getting shorter and it is much harder to get out for a bike ride, so it is back to the treadmill. I'd like to buy an elliptical at some point, but as anyone who has known me for a while knows, major purchases take time. Sometimes lots of time.

Meanwhile, I was hoping the treadmill would limp along for a few more months. Instead, it wouldn't even start the other night. Frustrated, I started disassembling everything again, trying to figure out what could be going wrong. After a lot of troubleshooting, I noticed that if I knelt on a specific part of the treadmill deck a little light would come on on the circuit board and a clicking noise would happen.

Upon further investigation I found what I think was the root of the problem. The power cable connector has gotten loose over the past 5 years. The issue is that the way the cable is designed, it runs right in front of the the power switch on the base of the treadmill. So each time you go to shut off the treadmill, the cable gets bumped.

Over the years the pins have gotten loose enough that even very, very light jostling causes the power cable to move and cut out power for a split second. Like the jostling that might happen if you were lumbering along after 40 minutes of running.

Now that I've identified the problem, and temporarily bent the pins slightly so the cable is more secure, the only issue will be trying to get a new part from Horizon. They have parts diagrams on their website, but no way for a random person to order new parts via the site as far as I can tell. So I'm going to try the old fashioned way tomorrow and give them a call directly. I don't have a lot of hope that they will still stock parts from a 5 year old treadmill, but there's always a chance.

If not, there's always duct tape.

Read the whole post.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Exchange Rate

When I was a kid, one summer my family took a two-week driving trip out East during summer. It was a great trip, we went to Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and then swung back through upstate New York and stopped at Niagara Falls on the way home. It was my first trip to Canada, and while I remember the Falls, I don't remember much about the town.

What I do remember is that at the hotel I thought it was so cool that you could trade in a US dollar and get 1.25 back in Canadian change. At the same time, their arcade took only a single Canadian quarter per game, meaning that you could effectively get one free game per US dollar. That was a steal in my mind, even if the hotel's arcade was a bit lacking in any really cool games.

I've been back to Canada several times since, and was too preoccupied at the time to pay much further attention to the exchange rate other then to note that it was always in the US dollar's favor.

So, did you happen to notice in late September that the Canadian dollar reached a 30-year high versus the US dollar? For the first time since 1976, it achieved parity with the US dollar, and even peaked above the US dollar (by 4 hundreths of a cent or something). That, of course, was perfect timing for our trip to Montréal. At least if you are a fan of expensive trips.

It certainly simplified most of the usual issues about just how much money to exchange and where to exchange, since we could pretty much just pay in US dollars anywhere and get Canadian money back. Normally a bad deal...except for last week.

In reality it didn't really have any impact on any decisions as to whether we would go, or even what we did when we got there. After all, we were supposed to be having a fun time on vacation, not worrying about whether the meal was going to exchange to $16.95 or $17.02 a person. About the only thing it was noticeable for was the hotel room, where the night we pre-paid for in early September exchanged to 5% cheaper then versus now.

But still, I thought the timing was funny that for my first trip to Canada in probably 9-10 years it just so happened that the US dollar hit an all-time low (for my lifetime at least).


Read the whole post.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Montreal Day 3: Pictures

After a full day exploring Old Montréal and the Underground City, Linzy and I decided to spend our last day in Montréal visiting the Olympic Park and the surrounding area. Our first stop was the Biodome, the former velodrome for the 1976 olympics now turned into a zoo.

The Biodome is split into four different sections, each with a different ecosystem: tropical forest, Laurentian forest, St. Lawrence Marine, and Arctic/Antarctic. The zoo was pretty small, but we still had a good time.

Apparently Narwhals can have two horns, which seems to fly the face of them being nicknamed the Unicorn whale. (They did claim it was 'rare').


Two parrots in the tropical forest


This duck was just hanging out on the log completely still. Two kids decided that meant it was fair game for spitting on, despite the fact that a park guide was standing right next to them talking to them at that moment. They, and their parents, got a long talking-to.


A turtle with a really long neck, which in this case came in handy because he could avoid moving to get to his lunch.


This puffin spent the whole time we were in the Arctic/Antarctic zone trying to swim into a spray jet. I guess he was exercising.


What Antarctic exhibit would be complete without penguins?


After the Biodome, we went next door to the Olympic Tower to look out from it's observation deck. This is looking back towards downtown.


Behind the Olympic park, they are building a new soccer stadium. The sloped buildings in the background were the former Olympic village, now subsidized senior housing.


Linzy jokingly getting ready for the ride back down.


After the Olympic Tower, we went across the street to the Botanical Garden and Insectarium.


The garden was amazingly huge. We weren't even able to see any of the indoor gardens, and only about half of the outdoor gardens before running out of time. Two of the more elaborate gardens were the Chinese and Japanese gardens.

The Chinese garden has a nightly "Magic of Lanterns" show.


The Chinese garden was apparently fully built in China and then shipped over in a couple thousand containers along with a host of Chinese gardeners to re-assemble it.


Unfortunately at this point, the camera's battery went dead. Apparently taking 300-some pictures over three days and transferring them to the laptop each night was more then it could handle. So I was only able to get a few more pictures of the gardens.


A cool waterfall in the Alpine garden. That garden was pretty cool as each little hill was covered with plants from a different mountainous region from around the world.


The Japanese garden was very cool, with a big exhibit on Sake and an elaborate pond with immense goldfish swimming in it and plants all around. They also had a banzai exhibit with some really old trees. This was the oldest, at 270 years old.


The insectarium was pretty interesting as well, as they had all kinds of beetles and strange insects you don't ever see. They even had some scorpions, a variety of tarantulas, and lots of African beetles.

After having our fill of creepy-looking insects, we headed back downtown and had a tasty dinner at an Asian Fusion restaurant.

All-in-all, Linzy and I had a good time visiting Montréal. There was plenty of stuff to see to fill the 2-and-a-half days we were there. I would have liked to climb Mont-Royal to see the view from there, and visit some of the museums, but for the most part we were able to hit everything we wanted too. I don't think I'll be in a rush to go back, but it was definitely fun to visit once.

Read the whole post.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Montreal Day 2: Pictures

Last week, on our first full day in Montréal, we had a few things in mind to see: Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal) and the Underground City. Our first top was Old Montréal, and after a nice breakfast at a small sidewalk restaurant we started exploring.

For those who don't know, Old Montréal is basically where the city was founded. It is a smaller former island where the oldest part of the city is located. Up until the late 60s it was just treated as a normal part of the town and so was pretty run down, but then it was designated a historic area and is now more-or-less preserved. So the whole area is an interesting mix of new and very old buildings, with winding roads and not much traffic. We had a good time walking around and seeing everything.

Here you can see the remnants of wall that originally circled Montréal, way back in the day.


Old Montréal City Hall


The statue in the middle of the Place d'Armes


The Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica. The two towers are called Perseverance and Temprence.


The Basilica was easily my favorite thing we in Montréal. The interior was just amazing, immense and covered in crazy woods and intricate details.


A closer view of the front, which was incredibly detailed (even relative to the standard of the rest of the interior)


The pipe organ, with its 7,000 pipes. They played it every hour, and we were lucky enough to be there when they did.


There was another entire chapel in the back. We couldn't go in because a wedding was scheduled there that day, but it looked pretty amazing as well.


We were going to take a tour of the Basilica, but unfortunately all of the ones that were going on while we were there were in French. There was an English tour we were going to join, but it was a much smaller group and longer tour and so cost $16 a person. The Basilica was cool, but not quite that cool.

Montréal seems to have a ridiculous problem with graffiti, everything was tagged, and Old Montréal was not spared.


Did I mention that they liked random modern art in Montréal?


This was an apartment building supposedly famous for it's architecture. It looked really strange, but supposedly could house more people with a smaller environmental impact.


It turned out to be Blacksmith Day down in Old Port.


These two guys really didn't seem to know what they were doing. All of the other older blacksmiths in the other tent were making horseshoes, pokers, or cutting things out of metal. And it all seemed pretty straight-forward. Whatever these two were trying to make I am not sure, but it sure involved beating the hell out of metal.


The Montréal skyline looking back from the river.


The Bonsecours Market had all kinds of boutique shops in it, including Gogo Glass. Here two glass blowers were at work.


They had all sorts of cool glass items on display that had been made in the shop. I thought these glasses looked cool.


Even the McDonalds had historical displays.


More modern art.


After spending the morning and part of the afternoon in Old Montréal, we decided to head over and check out the Underground City. There was a bit of confusion about what exactly the Underground City was. Linzy was still thinking historical, so was expecting some sort of cool underground catacomb system. It was more like a mall.

Except that it is a really, really spread out mall. As in, you walk for blocks and blocks and see maybe three or four shops. In our case, since it was Saturday, everything was completely deserted.


The walkways between areas were sometimes quite elaborate. This one made me think of some sort of artistic Sci-Fi movie.


A piece of the Berlin Wall that was in one of the shopping areas.


Clearly that Saturday was the day for weddings. Every cathedral we went by had a wedding going on, and we saw wedding parties all over Old Montréal getting their pictures taken. Here we stumbled an extremely fancy and in-progress reception in a fancy restaurant connected to the Underground City.


Eventually we got tired of wandering around in tunnels only to find deserted and closed-up shops, so we went back outside and looked at a few more cathedrals. Along the way, we saw this immense building.


One of the Cathedrals we went in (I think it was St. Patrick's) had this display of holy artifacts. Which basically translated into tiny pieces of bones of saints, and pieces of wood supposedly from Jesus' cross, his crown of thorns, etc. The large case up top held a gold thingy holding a piece of St. Patrick's bones.


After hitting all the nearby sites, we went back to Old Montréal for dinner. We originally wanted to eat at a cool place we had found earlier tucked away in a courtyard inside an old building. But that turned out to be much too expensive, so instead we went to a small French restaurant around the corner. That turned out to be extremely good, and reasonably priced (relatively speaking).


A lot more pictures can be found in the Montreal, Day 2 gallery.

Read the whole post.