Monday, March 31, 2008

Powered Off

Tonight I braved the slushy roads and enormous snowflakes to make a trip over to Best Buy. My primary task was to pick up a renewal card for my XBox Live subscription (even though I rarely use it, in theory it might come in handy and it is reasonably cheap). I also wanted to take a look at the cameras.

We're still limping along with our defective Sony camera, but it is getting pretty ridiculous as the smudging is getting worse, so it needs to be replaced soon. A few weeks ago we happened to be in the Apple Valley Best Buy and tried to look at their cameras. The problem was that most of them were not operational. Not due to a lack of memory cards or anything, but they literally would not turn on. We asked the salesgirl what was going on and she said matter-of-factly "oh yeah, most of them don't work". Because that is certainly a good way to sell cameras.

Anyways, tonight I decided to go over to the Lakeville Best Buy as that one is infinitely nicer then Apple Valley's Best Buy and hopefully their cameras would work. Except, of course, they didn't. Oh, a few of the $149 ones were still working, but all of the mid-to-high range ones I was interested in were broken.

Early in my visit I was accosted by sales people constantly (mostly because the store was deserted due to the weather). But when I was looking at the cameras there was no one to be found. So I played with the 40D for a bit (still working) and then decided that today just wasn't destined the day where I just buy a mid-level point-and-shoot to be done with the whole fiasco.

At the register, they of course asked if I found everything OK, and honestly I just wanted to be done so didn't complain. But then on my way out of the door there was a group of employees standing around chatting and two of them asked again if I had found everything OK.

So I couldn't resist, and bit.

Me: Actually, no. I'm annoyed that none of your cameras work.
Dude: Blank Stare.
Me: How am I supposed to buy one if none of them will even turn on for me to try out?
Dude: Blank Stare.
Me: This is the second Best Buy I've been in where no cameras worked, its silly.
Dude: Blank Stare.


At that point I gave up and turned around and left. Out of the group of three or four employees not a single one said anything. Nothing. Not even "Sorry" or "Screw You, go to National Camera Exchange if you expect to try out a camera". Not a word.

And I guess that was an answer in and of itself.


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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Puerto Rico

On Saturday, Linzy threw a baby shower for Nikki at our house. While the girls were opening gifts and enjoying the party, Brenden, Dan P, Dan O, and I arranged at the last minute to get together for a strategy gaming session.

And I am not exaggerating about the last minute part. Plans were still in flux at 1:00 when people were being dropped off for the party, and at the same time Brenden was literally out purchasing the game we were going to play: Puerto Rico.

Last year around this time, while Linzy was throwing a party for a different friend, the same group of us got together to try Twilight Imperium. That was a lot of fun, though perhaps a bigger investment of time then some people were expecting. None of us had played Puerto Rico before, but Brenden and I had been talking about it for quite a while, since it has been the top-rated game on BoardGameGeeks for years. The hope was that it would have a slightly gentler learning curve and quicker play time.

It took about an hour to get the game setup and the rules digested but after just a couple turns everyone got in the swing of things and we only rarely had to look up rule clarifications. Hands down the best thing about the game was that it was extremely balanced. It is largely every player for themselves, so you didn't get the ganging up on one player that we've seen in the past with other games, and no one ended up so far out of completion that they lost interest part way through.

There are a number of ways to try to secure victory, so we all took slightly different approaches to it which kept things interesting. In the end, the final scores were extremely close. Dan P and I tied for the most victory points 'in hand' at the end of the game, but when buildings and other items were tallied Brenden shot way ahead (primarily due to an extremely astute large building selection). In the end the scores represented just how close things were, with Brenden wining at 61 points and the rest of us sitting at 50,49, and 48 points.

About the only bad thing about Puerto Rico is that it only allows a maximum of 5 players, excluding it from being played with larger groups. Regardless, I think everyone had a good time and enjoyed the game. It was definitely fun to spend some time with friends and try out a new strategy game.


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Friday, March 28, 2008

Recent Media - 3/28

Explanation - Previous Lists

TV: The Wire: Season 1 & Nip/Tuck Season 3 - Linzy and I watched one episode of the Wire, and I enjoyed it. They made quite a bit of progress on the plot and things have been interesting, if very deliberately paced. While exercising I've moved on to the third season of Nip/Tuck. That picked up right where season 2 left off, which was a nice surprise. I forgot how much of a cliff-hanger that season ended with, since its been a year since I watched any of it. Anyways, I jumped right back into the series and am enjoying it.

Books: Garden of the Moon - I'm about 70% through the book and am fully in the swing of it now. I made it through the first few chapters where there are new characters to learn every few paragraphs and am really enjoying the story. I'm looking forward to seeing how the book ends up (currently it is in the tension building stage) and checking out the next books in the series.

Movies: No Country for Old Men - I thought this movie was interesting. I was enjoying it as the plot built and twisted a little, but I was decidedly disappointed in the ending. It was worth watching, but I would have liked something a little more wrapped up. I've read that the ending was left unresolved on purpose, but that doesn't stop me from being a little annoyed.

Video Games (Portable): Advance Wars: Dual Strike - I had almost had enough of this game early this week when I was thoroughly burned out on the one-off battle maps. But then I had a whole bus ride home and so I started the Hard campaign, and that sucked me right back in. The Hard campaign is definitely a lot trickier then the regular campaign. I've made it through 6 or so missions, but they keep ramping up the difficulty.

Video Games (Home): None - Amazingly I haven't bought the Boston 6-song pack for Rock Band yet, despite really liking a number of those songs. It is only a matter of time, I'm sure.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bruxism

The other day I was at the dentist for a cleaning and was talking with the dentist about the divots that the previous dentist had brought to my attention.

This dentist confirmed most of what the other dentist had told me, though he blamed grinding rather then clenching. What he was saying was that when you grind your teeth, it wears down your canine teeth first and then eventually you start wearing all the teeth nearby.

He said the problem appeared to be getting worse, and that once my canines were worn down I would probably need to get a splint to help stop the grinding before grinding down any more teeth. The thing that I couldn't (and still can't) understand is why I would wait until I've permanently worn two teeth down to nubs before getting the splint. Wouldn't it make sense to get one now before any more damage is done?

He was like "well, yeah, that's true". I'm not sure if he didn't want to seem like he was pushing the splint on me, or what. It wasn't due to price, because he didn't even know how much one would cost (no one there did, actually) and he claimed not to 'do treatment plans based on price'. It just seemed strange.

Now after some research, it appears the splints are relatively controversial as to whether they actually stop teeth grinding (or just protect the teeth and still leave you with the jaw/ear/neck problems that come from the muscle clenching). But they don't appear all that expensive ($400-500, and I assume insurance will cover at least some of that). In the grand scheme of things that seems like a small price to pay to continue to have canine teeth.

So unless the dentist comes back with some exorbitant multi-thousand dollar price tag, I'm planning to go ahead and get a custom splint. Hopefully it will stop the grinding, but even if it doesn't at least it will protect my teeth from further damage.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter

On Sunday we had my parents and Paul, Laura, and Evan over for Easter dinner.

In the morning we went to my parent's church, where I randomly ran into my former boss's boss (the same one I ran into back in December). After church, Linzy and I had brunch at home and then worked on cleaning up the house and getting ready for guests.

We had fun catching up with everyone, watching Evan entertain himself with the plastic eggs that were used in decorative baskets down in the living room, and enjoying a tasty meal that Linzy put together. There was even apple pie from Linzy and homemade lemon muffins from Laura for dessert.

It was a fun time.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Leather Pants

I was waiting at a long stoplight on the way home from the bus station tonight and my mind was wandering. For some reason I started considering the dilemma of Rock Stars and Leather Pants.

That is, when exactly does a guy in a band decide that what he Really Needs is leather pants? Clearly this does not happen immediately. If you go to a random club and see an discovered local band, typically they are dressed just like everyone else. Jeans, t-shirts, perhaps some sort of dress shirt, it depends on what their 'look' is. But rarely do you see a guy sporting leather pants.

So, after what kind of concert does that guy wake up and go "You know what would help this band take off....Leather Pants"? At that point, of course the pants are just for performances.

But then, eventually you reach the next stage: the point at which you start wearing leather pants as a normal outfit. When does that happen? The first time you party so hard the night before that when you wake up at 2pm in a haze you figure "I'll just leave the pants on for the show tonight"? When you are on tour and your luggage gets lost, and the leather pants are the only thing that make it?

Important questions, clearly. And ones I will probably never know the answers to.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Tipping Point

I'd just like to note that if, hypothetically, in one sitting you were to eat:

  • Two fistfuls of Easter M&Ms
  • Four bite-sized Milky Way candies
  • Two bite-sized Snickers candies
  • Five Dove milk chocolate eggs
The best plan would have been to stop at four chocolate eggs. That fifth one, while still tasting good, could theoretically be the point at which your stomach says "Hmm...too much candy, buddy".

Not that I would know from personal experience, of course.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Smoking Roads

The weather here has been extremely strange lately. Last weekend there was virtually no snow left on the ground. Then Monday it snowed and almost immediately melted away. Tuesday there was more snow, and finally Friday we got quite a bit (around 4-6 inches in Lakeville). It's been snowing off and on since.

Yesterday in particular was weird because it was snowing lightly all day, but the sun was out melting all the snow on the roads at the same time. That made all the roads look as if they were smoking, as the steam from melting snow rose off them.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Recent Media - 3/21

Explanation - Previous Lists

TV: Carnivale, and The Wire: Season 1 - I actually quit watching Carnivale this week. It was just too unevenly paced for me to watch it while exercising. I was over halfway through the first season, but I just didn't care about what happened. Linzy and I watched one episode of The Wire (the fourth) and are still enjoying that series in general, if not the fourth episode in particular.


Books: Garden of the Moon - This is the first book in the ten book Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erickson. Fred has been enthusiastically recommending the series every time Brenden and I are over there and this time I took his advice. I'm about one quarter of the way through the book and enjoying it thoroughly. I wouldn't classify it as on the same level as my favorite series at this point, but I am still early in the books. Rumor has it they just get better. Plus the author has been cranking out a book a year and only has two books left in the series, so that bodes well for it actually being completed.

Movies: Michael Clayton - I watched this by myself over the weekend while Linzy was out with friends. I thought it was interesting, but not quite as good as I was expecting. It was good, and I enjoyed George Clooney's performance. I must admit I was expecting a little more 'thiller' aspect to it, though.

Video Games (Portable): Advance Wars: Dual Strike - It's pretty amazing that I am still playing this, but the one-off battle maps are pretty addicting. I start one and then want to see it all the way through for the satisfaction of winning. Then, inevitably, I am in the middle of a bus ride and so start 'just one more'. I also figured out how to purchase unlockable content including more maps and a 'Hard' campaign. So it is entirely possible I will give that a shot.

Video Games (Home): Rock Band - My Endless Setlist extravaganza on Saturday was probably about 6 times more home video game time then I usually have in an entire week. I also went back on Sunday and finished the remaining performance in Moscow. The new patch supposedly lifts the fan cap for Hard to at least a million, so I should have an easier time regaining all those fans that left after watching the Uno Hombre Endless Setlist performance.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vacations

Linzy and I have been spending some time lately trying to figure out where to go on vacation for our anniversary in June. Recently we've been doing day trips to small towns nearby, which has been enjoyable, but this year is 5 years so we wanted to do something a little more momentous.

We were originally considering going all out, and taking a trip to Hawaii (where neither of us have been) or perhaps to somewhere in Europe (where Linzy has never been). Unfortunately both of those are ridiculously expensive. Europe because of both the plane tickets and the exchange rates, and Hawaii because, well it's Hawaii.

You would think after all the traveling I did last summer that I would have plenty of frequent flyer miles to burn, but it turns out to just not be very far to Boston. And so far this year I've only had to take one trip.

So, we've been trying to come up with somewhere a little more budget-friendly to go. At this point the current front-runner is some sort of trip out west to the Rockies (which Linzy has not seen) or perhaps the Grand Canyon (which neither of us has seen). If you have any suggestions, let me know.

[ Incidentally, if your 'suggestion' is that you've been to Hawaii and it is awesome...duly noted. ]

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dad's Birthday 2008

On Sunday Linzy and I went over to my parent's house to celebrate my Dad's birthday. We spent the afternoon talking about recent events, watching Dad open his presents, and being amused while Pippen reached new heights of laziness (laying on her side while eating kibble that had been spread on the floor).

Dad got a brand-new Nike Sumo 2 driver for golfing from my Mom. The Sumo 2 has been on his wish-list since last year when he tried someone else's for a single long straight drive. Coincidentally Linzy and I got him a new book and a gift certificate to a place that has those golf simulators where you can play a famous course with real clubs and balls indoors. It was a golf-filled birthday.

Mom made spaghetti for dinner, and then we had a tasty cake for dessert. It was a good time.




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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm Sorry, We've Moved

On Friday night, Linzy, Allison and I went to eat at Safari, a restaurant in Loring park near downtown. None of us had been there before, but the place had been recommended by a co-worker so we gave it a try.

Safari specializes in east African food. That was new for everyone, but we all found dishes that we liked. I had the Burketti, which was thin sliced beef sauteed in oil and spices, over basmatti rice. The meal was very flavorful, and tasty.

Anyways, it just so happened that we had a coupon for Safari for buy one get one free entree. The prices were actually extremely reasonable, but since we had the coupon we used it.

After a short delay our waiter came back over to say that he was sorry but they no longer accepted that coupon. He explained that they had moved "three doors down" and so the coupon was no longer valid. He also mentioned that they had a sign up near the entrance explaining that the coupons were no longer valid.

The meal was pretty inexpensive for downtown ($8-10 entrees) so we didn't argue or anything and just paid our bill and left. On the way out, I confirmed that they did indeed have a little sign taped to a corner window saying that the coupon was no longer accepted (though it neglected to mention the whole 'moving' thing).

I did notice that the address of the restaurant has changed relative to the coupon, from 1410 to 1424 Nicollet Ave. But the coupon came out of an '08 coupon book, so I am not exactly sure how it could have already been out of date. Their restaurant certainly looks like it has been in place for a while (and this article from July of last year seems to indicate they've been there at least 9 months).

And even if you did move, assuming the same management is in place why would you renege on the coupon? We all enjoyed Safari, so I would certainly consider going back, but it was just strange.


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Monday, March 17, 2008

Recent Media 3/14 - Addendum

On Friday night, when I wrote last week's Recent Media post I was in a bit of a rush. There was last minute Rock Band practicing to be done, after all. Anyways, somehow I managed to forget the second movie I watched last weekend: 3:10 to Yuma.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie; I thought it was great. That was why it was so mysterious that I forgot all about it when it came time to write the recap, and only recalled the mediocre Disturbia. I did not really have any expectations going into 3:10 to Yuma, so the movie was a pleasant surprise.

I thought the pacing was well done, with plenty of action to keep things interesting, complex characters and interactions, and an superb acting. I'm a fan of Christian Bale, so I was expecting to enjoy his performance, but Russel Crowe's character was much more interesting then I was expecting.

In general I am not a big fan of westerns, but I definitely liked 3:10 to Yuma. Highly Recommended.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Endless Setlist

As I've been talking about for weeks, Saturday was Rock Band Endless Setlist day for Brenden and I. The last, and most difficult challenge in Rock Band's world tour mode is the Endless Setlist, where you play all 58 songs that come with the base game in a row. No breaks (though you can pause), no saving halfway through, just 4-5 hours of solid plastic guitar playing.

You can play the Endless Setlist on Medium, Hard or Expert, and everyone in the band can pick their own difficulty level. However you are only rewarded for finishing based on the lowest difficulty level of anyone in the band. I reached the Endless Setlist playing a one-man band with Expert Guitar and Hard vocals, and the plan was for Brenden to come over to play on Expert Bass while I played Expert Guitar.


This adventure has been in the works for weeks, as I worked on getting the Endless Setlist unlocked, talked Brenden into trying it with me, and tried to track down an XBox memory unit to transfer Brenden's profile on. I eventually had to buy one of the overpriced memory units, as stupidly there appears to be no way to easily sign into your XBox profile remotely.

Although Brenden had never played through the game on Expert Bass, he's played Expert-level Guitar on most of the songs without a problem and the Bass parts are typically a little easier (though not always). Prior to picking a day for the setlist, Brenden said he had played through all the tier 9 Bass songs and reported no problems. For my part, Expert Guitar is no problem on all but a small handful of songs. The only thing I really needed was assistance for the second guitar solo on Green Grass and High Tides, the most difficult guitar song in the game. So we were on.


On Saturday afternoon, we had lunch and then at 1:45pm started into the Endless Setlist. After two hours of playing through the easiest songs, we were almost exactly halfway done with the set list. Up to that point we had been getting almost exclusively 4 and 5 star rankings on songs (5 being basically the highest). We had one bad bonus song, where we got 3 stars, but in general the first two hours were a breeze.

After a quick break and a snack, we started back in. The songs at that point were starting to get more interesting, but not really all that much harder. Eventually we ran into a regular song that was tricky enough to cause us to get only three stars on it, but we were still mostly in 4-5 star range. After another hour or so we finally reached the only song that was questionable in the entire game, Green Grass and High Tides.



Now, on Thursday evening Brenden e-mailed me admitting that he had just realized that previously he had never tried GGaHT on expert bass, and now that he had tried it he couldn't beat it! Since I already knew I could only sometimes beat it by myself, when I could use all of the star power for myself rather then saving a failing Bass player, things were looking very sketchy. After some frantic practicing on both our parts on Thursday night (him) and Friday night (me), we felt more confident.

Unfortunately on Saturday, some of that practice experience wilted under the pressure of competition. Our first attempt at the song resulted in a quick double-failure on bass during the second guitar solo, and shortly thereafter a failure for the band. On our next attempt, I was on fire and managed to carry the whole band to 95% complete, but in the end I couldn't survive the rapidly falling pass/fail meter when Brenden failed out.

The next three or four attempts went very similarly in terms of overall success, though who failed each one varied. Finally, after failing the song at only 60-some percent complete (through a combination of poor star-power use and extremely shoddy lead-guitar playing by me), we decided to take a frustrated break.



Part of the difficulty was that GGaHTs is probably the longest song on the disk, clocking in at over seven minutes long. And our failures were all coming in the middle of the second guitar solo, which is basically 75-85% through the song. On top of the 50 songs we had already played through, after 5-6 attempts at the long song, fatigue was starting to set in.



So we spent a while sitting up in the kitchen, had a beer and complained about the difficulty of the song. Finally we were ready to give it another shot....and failed again. And again. At this point, the game was starting to escalate the number of 'fans' my band lost with each failure. It started at 15,000 per failure, then went up to 18,000, and then 24,000. Finally, nursing our aching wrists and fingers, and rapidly running out of time that was available for wasting an afternoon on video games, we decided to give it one last try.

Amazingly, the pressure of a 'final' try and 8 previous failed attempts was exactly what we needed and on that 9th try we passed the song! There was much celebrating.



The interesting thing about the Endless Setlist is that the songs are ordered by relative difficulty for an entire band (Guitar, Bass, Vocals and Drums). So GGaHTs, since it is only moderately difficult for vocals and drums is actually not the final song on the Endless Setlist. It probably should be, because the guitar and bass is just so much more difficult then any other song, but after our epic battle to complete GGaHTs we still had another seven songs to play in order to complete the Endless Setlist.

The rest of the songs were practically anti-climactic as we five-starred nearly all of them, eventually completing the 58th and last song (Won't be Fooled Again). Thus unlocking "Legendary Status" for our characters, and the three achievements for completing the Endless Setlist on Expert.



In the end, we actually ended up losing fans for my band. I started the setlist with 600,000 fans (the most you can have playing at Expert/Hard) and while we gained 52,000 fans for completing the setlist, we also lost 132,000 failing Green Grass and High Tides. But we did get a bunch of money for instruments and the prestigious "Platinum Artist" emblem for our characters.

In all, it took 6 and a half hours total for the near-debacle, including the breaks for snacks, letting the dog outside, etc. Without the many GGaHTs failures we would have been done in under 5 hours. Despite the frustration with trying to get past the hardest song, it was still a really good time. There was lots of joking and talking about random stuff, especially on songs that were not challenging. It was fun to be able to spend all that time with my friend, and as a bonus to accomplish something that not all that many people have.



[ Incidentally, I also discovered that I am apparently a finely tuned plastic-guitar athlete as, while my wrist was sore when we were playing the last few songs yesterday, I am not even slightly sore today. ]


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Friday, March 14, 2008

Recent Media - 3/14

Explanation - Previous Lists

TV: Carnivale, and The Wire: Season 1 - Linzy and I watched the second and third episode of The Wire this week and the show is definitely improving. After the slow first episode to set the stage, the next two episodes have made a marked improvement in the pacing and action. We are both enjoying it.

Carnivale on the other hand has been very uneven. A couple episodes have been interesting, but then others have made me wish that I had chosen something else to watch while on the elliptical. Overall so far I would rate the show extremely mediocre. I'll certainly try to finish season 1, but I make no promises for slogging through season 2.

Books: Elric at the End of Time - After finishing Sword & the Satchel, I had a few days while I was waiting for Garden of the Moon to come in from the library, so I decided to read the final Elric book. It is actually a single short Elric story, a few non-fiction essays and a collection of serialized stories about Sojan the Swordsman. The book was OK, but was not my favorite. The Elric story was not particularly interesting, and the Sojan stories were all too short to really grab me. The non-fiction essays dealt mostly with Michael Moorcock's magazine publishing history which was not anything I was interested in. I'm glad I read the book, but it was definitely not part of the core 'Elric' saga.


Movies: Disturbia - Very Average. The movie had potential, and definitely had very good moments but in general I found it a little too slow moving. Certainly not a bad movie, but not as good as I was hoping.

Video Games (Portable): Advance Wars: Dual Strike - I've still been amusing myself playing through the one-off maps, but those are starting to bore me a bit. Another week probably, max, before I break down and buy a new game to play on the bus.

Video Games (Home): Rock Band - Tomorrow is the big day. Brenden is coming over for an Expert Bass/Expert Guitar Endless Setlist 58 song marathon. There was a minor scare last night when Brenden realized he had not ever played Green Grass and High Tides on Expert Bass and couldn't pass it at first. Since that is the only song I can't consistently pass on expert guitar, things were looking sketchy. Hopefully we will pull it off tomorrow. Speaking of which, I should probably go do my part and practice the 13 part Solo 2 on GGaHTs.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brain Training

The other day I saw an article talking about how the market for brain training games has grown by a ridiculous amount over the past few years, mostly thanks to the Brain Age games on the Nintendo DS (which apparently the entire country of Japan owns).

As it happens, I don't own any brain training games (though I have been considering getting a math puzzle game for the DS), but I did get two brain training items for Christmas. My sister and brother-in-law got me a big book of brain games, and my parents got me a daily IQ puzzle calendar.

I've been trying to do the calendar every day and have actually been keeping up much better then I usually do with daily calendars. The puzzles in the calendar are pretty varied, both in difficulty and what they want you to do. Anything from mazes, to pattern matching, to hard core math puzzles.

I can get what seems like a respectable amount of the puzzles, but every now and then they throw in a puzzle where the solution just involves noticing a loophole in the rules (or some sort of trick). For example, there is a puzzle that has two boxes one with four coins with 1, 2, 2, and 4 written on them. The other box has a single coin with 9 written on it. The puzzle is to figure out the smallest number of coins that need to be moved so that the coins inside one box total exactly twice the value of those in the other.

The answer is not two (the 1 and 2 coins from one box to the other making 6 and 12), but rather one: moving the entire box containing the 9 into the first box. That solution, while definitely satisfying the rules as written, is not something I got. Maybe if they had added "The answer isn't two" I would have come up with it eventually, but once you've looked at the answer the puzzle is over.

Speaking of eventually, the other ego-deflating aspect of the puzzles is that they put a 'target time' on each puzzle. Presumably so you don't start it and then find out they are expecting it to take 30 minutes, but it also serves to remind you just how stupid you are when you've still scratching your head in minute 6 and the target time was 4 minutes.

But then again, maybe some ego-deflating was the point of the gifts.

[ For reference, the coin puzzle is rated a difficulty level of 8/10, and has a target time of 6 minutes ]


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

People Watching

The other week, I was waiting for Paul outside of our usual lunch spot and was amusing myself by watching the people in the skyways at lunch. This particular day there was a small crowd down in the lobby gathered around an interview taking place.

A guy in a huge bulky parka and stocking cap was running a personal camcorder on a tripod, while a woman in moon boots with a microphone connected to the camera interviewed five middle-aged guys in full cowboy sheriff outfits.

The men were sporting ten gallon hats, duster jackets, chaps, bandannas around the neck, little sheriff star badges on the lapels, the whole nine yards. Apparently they were quite amusing because the woman spent most of the time leaning back and laughing like mad.

I watched for a while but couldn't figure out what was going on.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Good Value

A while back, after Linzy had finished working on her first sewing project, she was trying to figure out what to make next. eventually she took my suggestion of pillow cases, as they seemed reasonably easy to make and we could use a couple additional ones. The new pillow cases turned out really nice, and didn't take long at all to make. They will be replacing two really old pillow cases I had from when I was a kid.

Last weekend we were over at my parent's house visiting one afternoon and I was telling them about the pillow cases and about which old pillow cases we were replacing. It turns out that the old blue and white checked pillow cases were from my parent's original apartment, pre-dating me by several years.



That apartment apparently had a "Red, White and Blue" room, and the pillow cases were from the sheet set for that room. Making them somewhere around 33-36 years old. The sheet set itself was used up until the end of college, but the pillow cases were still in service as an extra set for sheets where we didn't have four pillow cases. They weren't the nicest pillow cases around, but they certainly were soft after 30 plus years of washings.

The funny thing is that my blue bedside lamp is also from that same room, and it is also still going strong despite the fact that I've used it virtually every night since I was allowed to read books before bed. I believe my Dad still has the twin to my lamp, in use in his workshop.



Clearly my parents got good value out of the purchases for that particular room.


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Monday, March 10, 2008

Ketchup

The other day I was leaving work via the elevator and as I stepped into the elevator occupied by one person already, this strong, familiar smell caught me attention. It was definitely familiar, but I couldn't quite place what it was.

As the other occupant and I rode down I spent the ride trying to recall what the smell was. I also confirmed that the smell seemed to be coming directly from my fellow traveler. Finally, just as we reached the bottom floor what the smell was hit me: Ketchup. The person smelled like they had bathed in tomato ketchup.

It wasn't subtle, as if they had spilled a little bit at lunch, or perhaps unknowingly stepped on a packet during the day, but was a full-on ketchup assault on the senses. Which in turn gave me something to ponder on the bus ride home: How exactly does one end up smelling that strongly of a condiment?

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Countrywide Financial

I saw yesterday that Countrywide Financial is under SEC investigation surrounding its massive sub-prime loan debacle. Specifically it sounds like they are investigating exactly how much the executives at the company knew about the precariousness of their mortgage positions and whether they misrepresented the situation in financial filings.

When we were in Chicago last month, I was talking with one of my cousins who works for Countrywide as a mortgage originator about the sub-prime collapse. It was interesting to hear what he thought of the whole situation. While he acknowledged that the loan standards were too loose, he also laid some of the blame on the borrowers who took on far too much debt. For example people with dual $800/month car loans who taking out huge interest-only mortgages, of the infamous NINA loans (no income, no asset loans).

The catch is, of course, that while the company shouldn't necessarily protect people from themselves, it is their responsibility to protect themselves and their shareholders from undue risk. And loaning someone 500k for a house without verifying any income or assets seems like undue risk to me. Keep in mind, these are the same companies who were booking negative amortization as profits back in 2006.


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Friday, March 07, 2008

Recent Media - 3/7

Explanation - Previous Lists

TV: 24: Day 6, Carnivale, and The Wire - This week was like a potpourri of TV shows. I watched the last 24 episode on Sunday and thought it was a decent ending for this season. In general I thought that season 6 for 24 was pretty good. Then on Tuesday I watched the Pilot of season 1 for Carnivale and was bored out of my mind. Wednesday I watched the Pilot of The Wire with Linzy, on the recommendation of friends. It was OK, but didn't grab me. Hopefully that is because they had to spend a lot of the first episode introducing characters. Thursday I watched the second episode of Carnivale and was still kind of bored with it, though it was slightly more interesting then the Pilot. I'm planning to continue with both the Wire and Carnivale for at least a few more episodes.

Books: Sword & the Satchel - I went back to this book after finishing Elantris and finished it pretty quick. The book actually turned out OK after starting a little slow. Certainly not on the par with my favorite books, but interesting enough.


Movies: Mr Brooks - Linzy and I watched this last weekend and both enjoyed it. I thought it was nicely paced and had an interesting story. The handling of Kevin Costner's character was pretty well done and engaging. You definitely felt both sorry for him and disgusted with him at the same time. I liked the movie.

Video Games (Portable): Advance Wars: Dual Strike - I beat the campaign mode midweek, as it turned out that the mission I got stuck on was only three missions from the end. I finished with an 'A' rank over all in the campaign, which I was satisfied with (I had mostly S and A ranks, but a few Bs and one C rank slipped in there). Now I've started playing through the standalone missions (of which there appear to be a hundred of, compared with less then 30 campaign missions). Eventually I'll have to get a new game, but for now it is keeping me occupied.

Video Games (Home): Rock Band - Last weekend I practiced the hardest songs on Expert solo guitar in preparation for next weekend when Brenden and I will be tackling the Endless Setlist. I still can't pass Green Grass and High Tides on command, but all of the others should be a piece of cake.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Elevator Pitch

The other day at work when I got in the elevator to head home there were two people in the elevator: one guy with an iPhone and a girl. The guy was staring at his iPhone, periodically jabbing at it with his finger. The girl seemed interested and was trying her best to strike up a conversation about the iPhone with dude.

Her: Hey is that an iPhone!
Him: Yep (not looking up)
Her: Do you like it?
Him: .....Yeah.... (in that drawn out way that says "I don't want to talk to you")
Her: They look cool, I've been thinking about getting one.
Him: .....Mmmm.... (still not looking up)
Her: So, is it pretty easy to use
Him: ......
Her: You know, cause I've heard it is easy to use.
Him: .....
Her: Hmph.

And awkward silence prevailed. Then, suddenly just as we were getting to the first floor the guy puts the phone in his pocket and starts rambling on about how long he's had it for, how he wishes it had 3G network connectivity, how that's how they are going to make people upgrade, etc etc.

Of course by that point it is far too late and the girl hmph'd again and left the elevator. The guy was like "What'd I say?".


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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Metcalf Masters

The Star Tribune South Metro section had a front page article today on the Metcalf Junior High chess team, and their fund raiser to build a life-sized chess board outside the school.

Brian Ribnick, a math teacher at Metcalf Junior High in Burnsville, took over as coach of the school's chess team 25 years ago with the express plan of making it one of the nation's best.

And he has.

"I wanted them to see that if a little junior high in the middle of Minnesota can be the champions of America," he said, "they can do what they want to in life, and know that it's possible."

The team now has more junior national titles than any other team in the country but one. This month, the students are trying to recognize that legacy by raising money to build a giant chess board outside the school, with life-size chess pieces.

Brenden, Fred, Thad, Bill, Jay, and I (along with many others I haven't mentioned on the blog) are all Metcalf Chess Club alums.

I was only a member for a portion of my time at Metcalf, after Mr. Ribnick was still relentlessly recruiting me towards the end of 8th grade. Once I joined I was always frustrated that it had taken so long for me to come around. I did end up going to Nationals with the team in 9th grade despite my late start. Brenden was captain that year, and actually clinched one of those junior national titles the previous year by taking a draw in his final game.

I stayed in chess club the first year of high school and went to nationals again, but it was never quite the same as Metcalf's team. For one thing the club was much more loosely organized at the high school level and was not nearly as popular. After 10th grade I found many other activities to occupy my time and have only rarely played chess since.

I still have good memories of the Metcalf chess team and going to tournaments (both school and non-school), and the trip to nationals. We played a lot of chess, but we also did a lot of activities outside of the games as well, so a lot of being on the team was just getting to spending time with friends.


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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Items of Interest

Two things that caught my eye in the news today:

First, Brenden let me know that Gary Gygax passed away today at the age of 69. For those who don't know, Gary was the co-creator (and more recognizable name, much to the frustration of the other creator) of Dungeons & Dragons. I've spent a lot of time playing role-playing games, D&D and otherwise, over the years none of which would probably exist without Gary Gygax. Perhaps that time could have been better spent on something else, but I sure had fun at all of those evening and all-night gaming sessions with friends.

Second, this article on the Big Picture, Foreclosure-proof Homeowners, is a must read. The article is light on actual statistics to back up the claims, but the claim is definitely eye opening. It should be interesting to see how the foreclosure mess shakes out. Chances are good it will result in frustration for everyone, the banks, the people being foreclosed on, and the responsible people with safe fixed mortgages who have been paying more every month just to watch others get government bailouts to stay in their too-expensive-to-afford houses.


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Monday, March 03, 2008

Grilling

My neighbor behind our house, the one who watches me mow the yard, grills dinner out back during the summer probably 4 nights a week all summer long. I know this because their schedule happens to align with ours such that when we are washing dishes after dinner, it is just in time to see a bonfire from the Smokey Joe grill before he slaps enormous steaks on the fire. Given the frequency of grilling during the summer, I'm not quite sure what they eat during the winter. Maybe they have an indoor grill or something.

Anyways, today being the first weekday in March, my neighbor must have decided that the starting gun for spring had gone off because when we went to wash dishes tonight there he was firing up the grill.

Now, the snow is definitely melting around here, and spring will be just around the corner, but it was still like 15 degrees and windy today. Hardly comfortable grilling weather, especially in wind pants and a t-shirt like my neighbor.


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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Weekend

Is it Sunday evening already? The weekend went by in a blur.

On Friday night, Linzy and I went over to Paul and Laura's house. We had a tasty dinner, played with Evan, and talked about housing prices, Linzy's sewing machine, the craziness that is going on at my job, and other things of interest. We finished the evening by watching Laura's promo copy of Rendition.

On Saturday night we went over to Fred and Robin's house, along with Brenden and Allison for another tasty dinner, some games, and more interesting conversation. As usual, one of the games we played was Settlers of Catan. It was a rough game for several people (including me, also as usual), but Brenden managed to improbably parlay his three cities on adjacent 12s into his first ever real-life Catan victory. We also played the Wii Zapper training game, which was surprisingly well put together for a pack-in game. Even Linzy gave it a shot.

Today Linzy and I did a lot of chores and some errands, I practiced the impossible-level expert guitar songs in Rock Band (in preparation for the Endless Setlist), and then we watched Mr Brooks this evening.

It was a fun weekend, and it was good to be able to spend time with a bunch of our friends.


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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Recent Media - 3/1

Explanation - Previous Lists

TV: 24: Day 6 - I'm through 23 of the 24 episodes and have in general enjoyed the series. It is some what silly and frequently unbelievable, but that is pretty much the trademark of 24. I'm looking forward to finishing the last episode tomorrow.

Books: Elantris - As I mentioned last week, I've been somewhat disappointed with Elantris. I found the book a bit dull, up until the very end when things got exciting. Based on the end, I would have said the book was very good, but it took entirely too long to get to that point. It certainly wasn't the worst book I've read, but there was nothing left in it that would make me want to read it again.


Movies: Rendition - We watched this movie with friends the other night. It was billed as a thriller, but really turned out to be more of a drama. In fact, calling it a thriller seems a bit ridiculous because the movie moved quite slowly. It was decent, but if you were expecting action and suspense, the movie was going to disappoint you. Still it is probably worth watching if for no other reason, then for its portrayal of extraordinary rendition.

Video Games (Portable): Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and Advance Wars: Dual Strike - I played through the hardest sequence of 10 missions in FF12 to level up a bit more and then managed to beat one of the two remaining missions, but the last was still too difficult. So I eventually gave up and started playing Advance Wars: Dual Strike again.

AW: Dual Strike was one of the first games I ever got for my DS and I made it through 24 missions before getting stuck and sidetracked with other games. It took me a few tries to get back in the swing of the game after not playing it for several years, but I eventually completed the mission. Then I rolled through the missions afterwards and on to what I think is the last mission in the game. That mission looks challenging, so hopefully I'll get a bit of play time out of it.

Video Games (Home): None

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