Thursday, October 30, 2008

Worst of Both?

I got a marketing e-mail last night from Delta announcing that they had officially eaten Northwest. The gist of the e-mail was 'business continues as usual', and I assume everyone with a frequent flyer account got the same e-mail.

This morning the paper of course had an article as well, and listed some of the things that will change with the merger over the next year:

  • Switching to Delta food (what flights even offer food anymore?)
  • Flight Attendant uniform changes
  • Paint-job changes to Delta color scheme for planes
  • Delta to start charging extra for window and aisle seats in coach

Not an impressive list, considering those are the 'good' changes that they are willing to disclose already. I assume things like 'closing the Minneapolis and Memphis hubs' will come later.

At least they could drop the silly charge for the first checked bag that was instituted back when oil was $150 a barrel. Now that it is $60 I imagine we won't see those savings passed on to the consumer.

I guess I should get used to flying through Atlanta, Detroit, or Salt Lake City.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One More Turn

Since my XBox 360 is currently winging its way to a Microsoft repair center, I was unable to spend some time playing Rock Band 2 when I had a few minutes of free time. I could have played some of the many games I have sitting around unopened, but instead I went back to a classic and borrowed Civilization 4 from my Dad. I played the game back in 2005, but haven't for a number of years since. I forgot how enjoyable it was.

My proficiency at it has clearly taken a turn for the worse, as the first game I tried I got wiped out midway through (after spending all my time building wonders and no armies). My second game has been going much better, and I'm well in the lead roughly 2/3rds of the way through.

The trouble with the game is the same that all Civilization games have had: they are addictive time-sinks. It is amazing how quickly time goes by if I fire the game up late at night, as I go "just a few more turns". There always seems to be just a couple turns until I've built some major building, or moved a few more units into attack position, or just researched some crucial technology.

That is clearly the mark of a good, engrossing game, but I must admit that it is really interfering with my ability to get enough sleep. I'll start the game up at 9:30, thinking I'll just play for a little while, and then the next moment it is way past when I should be up wasting time with video games.

It's fun though, even if I do have to play on one of the easier difficulty levels.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Racing Stripes

Pippen's racing stripesPippen had her biannual haircut today, and it is always interesting to see how different she looks after six months of silky fur is cut off.

In particular, she has curious color changes around her back legs that only are visible right after her hair is cut. The brown coloring lines in the midst of the black fur have been nicknamed her racing stripes. A few weeks from now you won't be able to see them, but they are immediately obvious in person right after a hair cut.

In theory Silky Terriers are supposed to have coats that are allowed to reach the floor. Which seems absolutely silly. Pippen is a giant mess when her fur is allowed to grow a few inches long after 6 months. I can't imagine the disaster she would be with her fur dragging through the muck when she is outside.


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Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Hour

When I got into the elevator to head home today, it smelled vaguely of booze. That reminded me of the two guys who work in my building who, at least whenever I see them in the elevator at the end of the day, always reek of booze and are obviously drunk. And usually pretty early in the afternoon (at least as far as being drunk in a work elvator goes).

Which is sort of mind boggling when you think about it, because they are leaving the building yet are already drunk. As opposed to coming back to the building after happy hour or something.

I guess being able to have already hit a happy hour, get drunk, come back to the office to pick up your stuff, and head out prior to five is a good job...if you can keep it.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Skin of my Teeth

One of the agreements I made when convincing Linzy that I should take over the garage for three months to build bookshelves for the extra bedroom was that the cars had to be back in the garage by the time the snow flew. That seemed completely reasonable at the time.

Today I brought the last of the equipment back to my Dad's house, and put the downstairs bedroom back into shape officially ending the project. And not a moment too soon since as we were unloading the table saw the snow started flying.

It wasn't really snow, exactly. More like messy rain mixed with some flakes, and it certainly isn't going to stick around. But it was still snow, and was strangely coincidental with finally being able to get both cars back into the garage.

[ As a side-note I should mention that 40 mph winds and 40 degree temperatures, with rain/snow coming down was pretty depressing today. A good day for staying inside, but I'm just not ready for winter quite yet. ]

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reward Zone

A little less then a year ago, I posted about how my RewardZone account had been mistakenly attached to someone else, and all of the points lost. Unfortunately it is no better today.

I had been ignoring it up until May of this year when I spent a bit of precious time to take the account back (which was disturbingly easy, and I assume the reason it got lost in the first place). I was even able to talk them into combining the new and old accounts together, so I got a few of the old points back.

At that point I thought everything was good to go, and bought a number of things over the summer racking up a ridiculous amount of points. Those were all banked in the account and after periodically checking in to see if Steve Zeck's purchases were showing up again I decided everything had been resolved.

Until Monday, when I logged in to print out some certificates for Linzy to use on an iPod, only to find 7,000 points (about $140 in certificates) had gone missing. After calling Best Buy they explained that somehow (again) points had gotten moved to one of the two additional accounts that are attached to my e-mail but are not visible on the website. So back we went through the exercise of trying to combine the accounts.

It is stunning how ridiculously poorly they are managing something that should be about the easiest process in the world. How hard is it to track my purchases, and occasionally let me print out a gift certificate? Apparently along the order of getting to and from Mars.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hunting Stories

When we were in Chicago last weekend, I spent some time talking with my Uncle. He's always interesting to have a conversation with, since he is never at a loss for interesting stories to tell. My particular favorites are usually hunting stories, since he really likes the outdoors, hunting and fishing and for some reason ends up in strange and interesting situations.

This time he was telling us about how they went for an early deer hunt in Kansas on someone's land who had a bunch of dead junker cars out on the back forty. When they asked about it, the land owner started going down the list of all of the family members whose vehicles were collecting dust back there. Going all the way back to Great-Grandfather. Plus a few where people had come over with the car for a regular visit, the car had died so they just pushed it out back to the field and left it there.

My favorite story was one time he was telling us about the guide that his hunting party had hired to take them on a mountain goat* bow hunt. At some point my uncle had shot a goat and it had run away through the woods and for some reason they couldn't track it as a party. So the guide went off by himself to track down the animal. But then it ended up being nightfall and the guide was stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a bleeding dead animal corpse for the evening. At some point wolves started circling, and so the guide decided to bury himself and the corpse in loose shale.

The guide survived the night and made it back to the rest of the hunting party. Apparently my uncle write a check for the guide's tip and it not having been cashed for a year. And when my uncle asked about it, he found out that shortly thereafter the guide went to prison and so wasn't able to cash the check.

The crazy thing is that when my Uncle tells the story he gets more worked up about how the guide went to prison, then the whole 'circling wolves, burying yourself in shale, and hauling a dead animal miles through the woods'. Which always amuses me since the rest is just par for the hunting experience I guess. At least for my Uncle.

[ * I can't actually remember if they were hunting mountain goats or some other sort of shifty, hard to track mountain animal ]

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Abs of Steel

This weekend the hotel we were staying at did not have an exercise room, but instead offered free passes to a Gold's Gym that was nearby. The deal was pretty good, as both my parents and I took them up on the offer on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday while I was using the elliptical machine (an even fancier one then we have, with adjustable incline settings), I was amusing myself during commercials by watching people use the various weight machines. There was one guy in particular who caught my eye because he looked to be in his late 60s, and he was doing all kinds of machines, pull-ups, etc during his workout.

After doing his other work, I noticed him over at a crunch machine where he went absolutely all-out, doing one crunch per second for at least seven minutes straight. It was an insane performance of at least 400 straight crunches, and might have been more since he had already been going long enough to catch my eye when I looked at the time.

So what did he do after 400 ab crunches? Go over to another ab machine and do some reps on it, of course.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Red Ring of Death

IMG_0789

Sigh. The console was not quite two years old, and it's coffin is in the mail.

At least the new one should be here by the time Netflix streaming starts in November.

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Chicago Trip

IMG_0773This weekend Linzy and I went to Chicago to visit family, especially Sarah and John who were in Chicago for the weekend as well. It was a whirlwind trip.

We drove down on Friday since airline tickets were ridiculously expensive, and went to visit my Grandma on Saturday morning. Then we found out that my cousin's Jon and Nicole had their third child (and Linzy's godchild) overnight Friday-Saturday so stopped by the hospital to see Thomas Pierce, before heading all the way out to Algonquin to my cousin's child's first birthday party. On Sunday Linzy threw a baby shower for my sister at my Aunt's house, so we had round two of family gatherings, before heading back to Minnesota today.

As a longer explanation my previous post, Lake Forest hospital is where my cousin delivered her child. I had never been there before, and it looks more like some sort of crazy ivy league school then a hospital. Both inside as well as out. To give you an idea of the craziness, apparently you can order lobster as your dinner, the rooms are enormous (for hospital rooms) and have built-in oak cabinets, crown molding, etc. It was unlike anything I have ever seen, but fits right in with that area of greater Chicago.

It was nice to see everyone, even if the trip did seem a bit on the hectic side.


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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lake Forest Hospital

Fanciest hospital ever!

More explanation here

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Winter is Coming

Last night Linzy and I were in Menards so I could pick up some miscellaneous stuff. The trip was depressing from a 'winter is almost here' perspective since:

a) My impulse purchase was a new snow shovel to replace the venerable 7 year-old one my Dad gave me when we bought the house.

b) They had all of their Christmas junk out. That included an inflatable Hummer driven by Santa that moved up and down automatically, and a giant inflatable Menards stock car also driven by Santa. Because, don't you want those in your front yard?

The really strange thing was that my main reason for going to the store in the first place was to get new cord for my weed whacker. But I guess instead the next thing I should be planning is when to swap the lawn mower out for my completely unreliable snowthrower.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Speed Demon

For work today we went to a river boat cruise on the St. Croix river. It was an enjoyable time, even if the weather was a bit cold and windy. The leaves were colorful, and the boat had an enclosed deck that was nice and warm.

It was quite a hike to get from downtown out to Stillwater for the cruise, so we took a number of cars and caravan'd out there. All the cars left at different times, so the group trickled in over ~15 minutes. Eventually most people got on the boat and a few of us with the tickets waited around for the last car to arrive.

They eventually showed up, and it turned out that the reason they were so late was not because they had left last (which they had), but because the driver had gotten a speeding ticket along the way!

Even more embarrassing was the fact that the car was packed with co-workers, who all got to witness the ticket firsthand. Whoops.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cursory

I went to the doctor this morning ostensibly for my annual physical, but more realistically to get new prescriptions for the couple asthma/allergy drugs I take. Since those only last a year, it helps keep everyone in business by forcing me to come back at least every year. As opposed to the eye doctor who, since my contacts last years a time, hasn't found a way to keep the easy money flowing in.

Now, obviously I am being a bit facetious, since I understand the value of preventative doctor check ups. Normally the doctor checks me over, runs various tests, asks pointed questions about whatever the HMO is focusing on improving their care of that year, I get my prescriptions and everyone is happy.

This year, however I caught the doctor by surprise by asking what vaccinations I needed to go to India and so we spent some time checking out the CDC site and ordering up several jabs (as Nikki would call them). So by the time we got through the prescriptions, I think I had gone over my allotted time. Because the doctor listened to my breathing, checked my pulse, felt my liver (or whatever they are doing when they knead your stomach) and called it good.

He was still polite enough to answer a couple questions about my knees afterwards, but that was the extent of the examination. I like my doctor, and since I'm not concerned about any health issues, particularly, it is not a big deal at all. But I did think it was a pretty quick examination.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

More Important

Over the past few months, as gas prices reached the outrageous, there have been noticeably more people on the buses going downtown. This has been particularly apparent in the evenings, particularly on the less frequent later buses where standing is a disturbingly common occurrence. With all of the extra people, you can usually tell the first-timers, as they are the ones getting all confused at the (only) bus stop when everyone else is patiently waiting to file off the bus in an orderly fashion.

Today there was a guy sitting a few rows ahead of me, against the window (so there was a person between him and the aisle). When the bus pulled into the station and people were waiting filing off this guy stood up and demanded that the lady between him and the aisle let him out. Because "he had to go". So the lady let him out and off the bus he went, while the rest of us waited for our turn.

When I got off a minute or two later, I was surprised to see the guy in such a hurry to get off the bus sitting in the transit station waiting for a ride. Clearly, that wouldn't have been possible if he had waited another minute.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Minnesota Zoo

DSC_2587Today Linzy and I went over to the Minnesota Zoo to see the fall colors and enjoy what was likely the last 70-degree day this year.

The zoo was a bit more crowded then I was expecting given that there was a Vikings game on at the same time. The Grizzly Coast exhibits, and the bear exhibit in particular were crowded, which makes sense since they are the newest. The bear exhibit continues to be impressive in getting you right up close to the bears.

I was also able to see the Amur leopards for the first time, as they were still hiding back in June. Now they appear to have adapted to the exhibit and were very active. We got to see them in their den hanging out, playing and wrestling, checking out the trees, and then eventually climbing up to the top of the exhibit to take another nap. It was pretty cool to not only see them but also see them active and doing stuff.

After the Grizzly Coast, Linzy and I walked through the rest of the outside areas and enjoyed the nice weather and reasonably active animals, before heading out. It was a quick trip, but still enjoyable.

The prairie dogs were all bulked up for winter
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Calling out a warning when a plane flew over
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Two of the leopards playing
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Intently watching the movement outside the exhibit
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The bears were quite active, swimming in the pond and digging a big hole in the ground
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The leaves were starting to change. I think next week will be about peak.
DSC_2647


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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Descriptive

Earlier this week, a co-worker and I were discussing with a third co-worker where he was going to be going for dinner. Co-worker B was mentioning how he was on his own for dinner which inevitably leads to dining out, at least for me and many others.

Anyways, we were naming off places he could go including BW3s (which lead to a digression on Weck), Chipotle and other staples of 'on your own' dinners. While talking about Chipotle, Co-worker A said "If you go there, are you going to get the double-barrel?". Which I had never heard before, but found instantly recognizable as to what it was referring to: Two burritos.

Unfortunately co-worker B wasn't game, even when I offered to buy the second burrito if he could eat both.

Regardless, the new entertainment at work will be to try to get the saying to catch on, particularly with the co-workers who would actually consider ordering two burritos. Feel free to try it out.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Definition of Bad

I was paying some bills tonight and so happened to take a look at a few of the financial charts Money makes available. Mostly out of a masochistic desire to see how bad our mutual funds are doing. And what I found was almost more depressing then I was expecting, and I was expecting depressing.

Price history for investments over past 12 months:

That is unequivocally and across-the-board bad. So much for diversification I guess. Even the lines at the bottom of the chart that appear to be better are just flattened by the scale of the chart. When the best thing you can say about your investments is to remind yourself that dollar-cost averaging is softening the blow of a ~30% decline, you know things are not going well.

Good thing I'm not looking to retire anytime soon.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bookshelves - Complete

DSC_2519Today the bookshelves were officially assembled. I finished the varnishing this weekend, as I mentioned on Sunday, but it wasn't until today that they were dry and ready to be put together.

I am obviously biased, but I really think they look good and am quite proud of what my Dad and I put together. The shelves really look nice in the spare bedroom, and the three coats of varnish make everything glassy-smooth.

Now just comes to work to figure out the best arrangement of shelves and stuff on the shelves. Linzy and I spent an hour or so collecting books and knickknacks from various parts of the house and putting them on the shelves. There is still some work to do, but putting stuff on the shelves will be much more pleasant then sanding 21 shelves (of which we ended up using 18).

Unfortunately I still have a minor bit of touch-up painting to do before the room can be put together, but for all practical purposes the project is complete. And even though it was enjoyable and produced a satisfying result, I'm looking forward to spending my weekends doing something else.

Before
Bookshelves-7

The plans
Bookshelves-10

The bookshelves in place
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The shelves filled with an assortment of stuff (still in progress)
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Pictures of the entire two-month saga

All the updates:



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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bookshelf Update #8

The bookshelves are so close I can taste it. I spent most of this weekend completing the final steps for 'finishing' the bookshelves. Last weekend was staining, this weekend was all about varnishing. And sanding. Lots of sanding.

I buckled down in a big way and managed to get three coats of varnish applied Saturday and Sunday. Between applying the varnish, letting things dry, sanding, wiping down and repeating, that was virtually my entire weekend.

It is hard to articulate just how demoralizing that first coat of polyurethane is. It takes forever to apply and dry. And while it looks reasonable, when you feel it, its not even remotely smooth. So you sand it, which absolutely destroys any semblance of nice finish that you might have managed to get in place. All the while, remembering the 5 hours of your life you spent applying the first coat.

Luckily the second coat goes on much better. And the third was probably unnecessary, but since I had been planning on it and had all the supplies, I decided to go ahead with a final coat.

Hopefully everything dries satisfactorily and I can move on to clean-up and actually putting stuff on the long-awaited shelves.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Two Cameras

I'm decidedly un-excited about the new Nintendo DSi. I enjoy my DS immensely, playing it virtually every day on the bus to and from work. It replaced a GBA which was equally enjoyable. I'm just not convinced that adding two cameras and slightly increasing the screen-size is anything that results in the device being significantly better, more fun, etc.

Certainly it is possible developers will find ways to utilize the new hardware, in the same way they've found ways to take advantage of dual screens and/or touch screens. The trouble is with approximately six quad-zillion regular DSes in circulation, are they going to be cranking out the games for a brand new device with much less penetration?

On the other hand, when my DS Lite gives up the ghost, I don't see any reason not to replace it with a DSi.


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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

18-inches of Burrito

Today I went to lunch at Cheesecake Factory with co-workers, and one of them ordered the Factory Chicken Burrito. The Cheesecake Factory is known for large portions, but the burrito was absolutely ridiculous.

It took up an entire jumbo-sized elongated plate, totaling a thick 12-18 inches. Just in case that wasn't enough, it comes with a bowl of black beans and sides of sour cream and guacamole.

I guess that is what you get when the Cheesecake Factory describes something as "a monster".


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