Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dozen Years

Our house was built in 1996, making it 12 years old earlier this year. Apparently 12 years is the magic point at which random things start to give up the ghost.

For example, a week ago our garage opener stopped working. Or at least stopped raising and lowering the door. Instead it was content to just 'hum' and turn on the light indicating it should have been doing something. After opening it up and going "Yep, motor is still there, plastic gears appear fine" I had exhausted my garage opener troubleshooting skills and we ordered up a new one. (Which was put in today and is infinitely quieter then the previous one).

Similarly our refrigerator has been rather suspect for quite a while but in the past month or so it has developed a whole new repertoire of concerning noises. The ultimate is one that Linzy describes are "burping". I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that isn't a good sign.

My only hope is that we avoid the whole "bad (expensive) things come in threes", or that the computer failing counts as the third. I'd rather not have to also replace the water heater, washing machine, or something even more expensive.


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Monday, December 29, 2008

Punched in the Eye

I was highly amused today at this story about a couple who got in a fight over getting a Wii for Christmas:

Blom was disappointed when he did not receive the $1,000 airplane he had asked for from his grandparents, and was underwhelmed by the gift he received from Young: a Nintendo Wii video game console.
...
Blom admitted to the paper that he had disparaged the Wii, angering his girlfriend
...
An argument ensued, and Young allegedly hid the gift and began packing her bags. Insults flew, and a fist fight between the two allegedly ended in a two-story tumble down the stairs.

“He dragged me down two flights of stairs, by the hair,” Young claimed on Friday.

But Blom said, “I stood in the doorway trying to block her. She punched me in the eye. She punched me three times. I said ‘That’s it.’ And I pulled her hair.”
I wonder what exactly he said to disparage the Wii. I can attest to the fact that mine sits unused 90% of the time, so there is certainly room for criticism. Although perhaps immediately following having received one as a gift from your girlfriend is not the optimal time. Unless your eye is itching for some punching that is.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to Work

And just like that, Christmas has come and gone.

It was nice to have 5 days off from work in a row, and being able to spend a bunch of time with both my parents and Linzy's parents was great. It's also pretty hard to get tired of fancy, delicious meals along with tasty cookies and treats just in case you get hungry in between.

The gifts I got this year were skewed heavily towards videos games, including Chrono Trigger DS, Gears of War 2, and Ninja Gaiden 2. I'm looking forward to trying all of them, and have already started NG2. It's living up to its ego-killing reputation as I flail on the buttons like an uncoordinated five year-old (a six year-old would probably be better). But it is fun.

Still, nothing last forever and tomorrow it will be back to the real world and work. At least for three days, until the next holiday.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

DSC_3150Merry Christmas!

The holiday this year really snuck up on Linzy and I, so we've been very busy the past few weeks. But now everything is finally complete, the baking is done, presents are bought and wrapped, plans are in place. All that remains is enjoying the holiday.

I spent the morning working, but now it is time to go over to my parent's house for the traditional Christmas Eve festivities. Then we'll have a Christmas Day dinner tomorrow, followed by Linzy's parents coming down from Duluth for the weekend. It should all add up to several days of family and relaxation. I'm looking forward to it.

Enjoy the holiday.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Crowded

This weekend I was out doing the last of my Christmas shopping and heading out I was a bit concerned that it was going to be a disaster. First of all because we were in the middle of a snowstorm and secondly because it was the last Saturday prior to Christmas, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Part of these concerns were well-founded, as the roads were a mess, and while the places I went were crowded none was all that ridiculously busy. On the other hand I thought that all of the stores 'felt' really crowded.

But it wasn't really people. While there were people there, it wasn't a frenzy of people grabbing things off the shelves. Instead, after thinking about it a bit I decided it was the fact that they all insisted on having a million island displays in the middle of the aisles, piled with product. That made the paths through the store even more narrow, especially when filled with people, and made the store seem more crowded.

To some extent island displays are just a normal part of business, but this seemed even more prevalent then past years and I started to wonder whether it was actually a sign of something else: excess product. It seemed plausible that the real issue was the generally terrible sales figures for the holiday season which left merchandisers with piles of excess inventory.

Which then, for lack of a better place, ended up in the middle of the aisles. Admittedly very anecdotal evidence, but it certainly seemed to be consistent with how bad the sales numbers have been reported to be.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Movies: Quantum of Solace

Linzy and I found time in amongst our busy weekend to go see the new Bond movie on Saturday evening. We both enjoyed it quite a bit.

I really like Daniel Craig's ruthless James Bond. It fit perfectly with this movie being a revenge film, and it will be interesting to see how things adapt for the next movie. If they continue with the ice-cold aspect of try to bring things more back in line with some of the previous Bonds.

I've seen a number of complaints from various people that Bond should not be an action hero. And if that is your stance, you'll have serious issues with Quantum of Solace. But I found the action scenes exciting and entertaining (especially the opening car chase and the chase/scaffolding fight).

The movie definitely did not spend any time brushing you up on what exactly happened in Casino Royale and in some ways I wish I had re-watched that first. I could still follow along with what was happening, but there were a few names bandied about early on that I had trouble remember exactly what they did in the previous film.

Depending on what you like in James Bond movies, Quantum of Solace may or may not fit with what you like. But all in all I found it very entertaining and continue to have Daniel Craig among the top two Bonds of all time.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dazzled by Technology

The new computer came preloaded with Windows Vista 64-bit as an OS. Which is just fine from my perspective, as Vista works great for what limited things I do with the computer. Unfortunately one of the few things that I actually use the computer for regularly is VPN access to work, which does not work on 64-bit Vista.

Cisco apparently has decided that they don't have an interest in selling client software to companies with employees with new computers and amazingly no one else seems to want to either (except some German company that wanted $144 a copy for generic IPSec VPN software). Seriously, I've written 64-bit software, it's not rocket science.

That raised a bit of a problem, as only e-mail access to work is OK 85% of the time, but I didn't really want to bring home my laptop every single day on the off chance I needed to VPN for one reason or another.

Anyways, what I ended up doing was channeling my inner nerd and using a pre-made Linux virtual machine image that my company provides, along with VMWare Player. This lets me run the VM on the computer simultaneously with Vista and the Linux machine has full VPN access to the company along with all the software I need preloaded.

It sounds complicated but in reality it was ridiculously easy to setup (I downloaded the image and VM Player and was up and running <10 minutes later). And in many ways it is probably better then having the real VPN client polluting my PC. Plus with this I can access the Internet and other networks from Windows while still accessing work networks via the VM.

I even got a flashback to back in high-school when I was editing the X server configuration file tonight to change the resolution of the desktop. It was just like trying to get X configured on Slackware (installed from 250M tapes) back in 1994. Which is both amusing and sad at the same time.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slight Delay

Today Linzy and I had the time to sit down and watch a Battlestar Galactica episode from Season 2. For quite a while we've been slowly (really slowly) making our way through the second season via Netflix.

Anyways, when I pulled out the disc to play I discovered that it was cracked and unplayable. Which was a bummer because we were looking forward to seeing what happened next. Instead we watched something over the xbox 360 streaming (which would be the greatest thing ever if the selection of instant play titles was a bit better).

Anyways, so later tonight I went to report a problem on the DVD, and felt a little silly because we had the disc for a little while and I hadn't even bothered to check it out until now. When I actually went to report a problem, however, it showed exactly when that disc was sent to us: 10/28/08. Or, dangerously close to two months ago.

Whoops.

Now there are many reasons for this, not the least of which was the fact that I was gone more-or-less the entire month of November. But regardless it has gotten to the point where I don't even pretend to claim that Netflix is somehow saving us money, it's pure convenience at this point.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crazy Axl

I was amused today when a 'what's related' type link to some completely unrelated story came up with an article about Axl Rose now commenting on GNR message boards.

In particular, the article was talking about this 4,000 word rambling crazy-man post about why exactly he is entitled to own the GNR name despite being the only original member left, how Slash is the devil, etc.

That's what too much free time and money after finishing a 13 year-long album will get you I guess.

[ For the record, in what should not be a surprise: Chinese Democracy is not good. ]

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Frostbite

It was ridiculously cold here this morning, about -10 by our thermometer. With the wind chill it felt much, much colder. How cold?

Well, last night we got several inches of snow. I'm not exactly sure how much specifically, since with the wind the snow was drifted up to 4-5 inches or more in some places. So this morning I bundled up and went outside to shovel off the drive.

Which was not particularly pleasant, what with the cold and wind and blowing snow. Eventually I persevered and finished the driveway, only to realize that my hands were tingling. And not a "hey it's cold out here, but we're doing fine" tingling. Instead it was a painful "Hey it's like -30 wind chill out here and we've been gripping a cold shovel for the last half an hour" tingling.

I ended up running them under hot water when I got inside to warm them up, which is crazy when you think about how short of a time I was outside. Now granted, it wasn't real frostbite or even dangerous, but I was surprised none the less.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Archives

DSC_3144The new computer came this weekend, and is up and running. Technically it came on Friday but since Dell didn't provide any tracking information or a solid shipping date we weren't expecting it that quickly and no one was home to accept delivery. Anyways, in between other activities this weekend I've been diligently to get it setup.

Since the transfer to a new computer was unexpected, resetting up all our programs is a bit more complicated it needs to be. Instead of an orderly export of all the information to the backup drive, and import into the new computer, I'm swapping hard drives in and out, and then sifting through directories trying to find all the right files to copy to their new home. At this point almost everything that can be made to work is working, which is pretty good for the limited amount of time I've spent with things.

One of the first things I did was copy one of the smaller hard drives wholesale onto the new computer, in a folder called "Old C Drive". What was amusing was that while I was sorting through all the crap that was on the old computer, I found another folder "Old C Drive" inside the new "Old C Drive" folder. Which, of course, was from when I did the same thing 2.5 years ago.

Embarrassingly that folder still had things in it that I had never quite gotten around to finding a real home for, and I still didn't have the ambition to do anything with it this time either.

At least I'm consistent.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fair Warning

The Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon movie is not good. Considering it is a Star Wars movie made after 1983, you probably already suspected that. But in case your curiosity might have gotten the better of you, rest assured it was not good, bordering on painful. For example, did you know that Jabba the Hutt has a gay brother? Or a son nicknamed Stinky?

On the other hand, it was probably better then the Phantom Menance. But that's like comparing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to the Temple of Doom.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Always Something

Long ago, before we all got older and there was a bigger chance for hard feelings, it was not all that uncommon for my group of friends to discuss salaries. Frequently during those discussions someone would make some sort of statement like 'If only I made X a year, then these money problems wouldn't be a concern anymore'. I'm sure everyone has said or thought something similar at one point or another.

And over time, I've become completely convinced that this is pretty much not the case. Except in really abnormal circumstances, there is always something you can't afford that you'd like to, consumption choices that have to be made, another more expensive/better version of something you used to be perfectly happy with, etc.

Unless you succeed where the bulk of the world fails and eventually reach a level where you can consistently live within or below your means, or are lucky/talented enough to become ridiculously wealthy, there will always something to spend the money on.

With that in mind, I was amused by this quote when I read "Profile in Panic":

[...]“Let’s take a guy who makes $5 million a year,” the banker suggests. “He’s paid two and a half million dollars of that in equity compensation”—Lehman Brothers stock. Plus he gets to buy that stock at a 30 percent discount, so he’s really getting $3.25 million in stock. “Plus appreciation? Over five years? That’s $25 to $30 million!

“Then let’s say a guy in that position borrowed $5 million against the $30 million in stock. It would seem a very conservative loan, right? Until the $30 million goes down to zero, which is what happened. So now he’s negative $5 million.”

True, that same Lehman banker got the other half of his compensation in cash. The banker nods. “For five years, he made two and a half million dollars a year in cash. So that’s twelve and a half million dollars. But of course he’s had to pay more or less 50 percent in taxes, so divide that and he’s got six and a quarter million. He’s probably spent that money over those five years—$1 million a year, it’s not so hard to do, right? So he has nothing—and he has to repay that $5 million loan.”

The key point is the claim that spending $1 million a year is not hard. On the surface of course, this is ludicrous. But in some ways I can understand it, at least in the context of the never ending Hedonic Treadmill especially in a position like Wall Street investment banker where there is pressure to live extravagantly.

There's always something to spend your money on.

[ Note that I am not trying to claim that the pressures of trying to balance a budget on 50k versus 25k are the same. This is all assuming we are talking about money over and above whatever is necessary to maintain some minimum standard of living. From there people almost always find a way to use up that discretionary income, and I certainly would not exempt myself from that generalization. ]


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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Delay

Two weeks ago tomorrow, we ordered the new computer. With the holiday, weekends, and the normal business plan of holding money in advance of delivery for as long as possible, the actual ship date of the computer wasn't until today. I've been faithfully keeping an eye on it, hoping that through some miracle the computer would arrive early, or at least on time.

Today I got an e-mail in my inbox from the company, which I happily assumed was a notice the stupid thing finally shipped. Except it wasn't. It was actually a notice saying they had encountered 'unexpected delays' and were delaying the shipment a full week to 12/16. Meaning, of course, that there is a very real chance it won't even arrive prior to Christmas. Pushing the whole process out to more then a month.

Note that this was communicated mid-day on the day that it was supposed to ship. What kind of 'unexpected delay', that you don't know about ahead of time, causes you to slip your delivery by an entire week. Not a day, or two, but a week. And you didn't know about it until the day the computer was supposedly fully assembled and on a pallet ready to go out?

I can't imagine the conversation my boss and I would have at work if my team missed a delivery to a customer by a week and I didn't tell anyone until the day it was supposed to be done. "Oh, by the way, remember how I said we'd be done on Tuesday...yeah...well..I must have meant next Tuesday".

The most frustrating part is surprisingly critical nature of the computer that is currently broken. Over the past few weeks, we've discovered just how many things that, and only that, computer was capable of doing. For example, it happened to be the only place where we have addresses and the list for Christmas Cards. Which is only needed once a year, but that happens to be right now. Not to mention that even if we had Christmas Card addresses, we don't have a word processor or a printer to write a holiday letter. It is also the place where all of the passwords were stored (in Password Safe), meaning that for all the important financial sites with unique generated passwords, we are now more-or-less locked out.

All of which would have been tolerable, had said computer shipped when it was supposed to, so that we had time prior to the holidays to finish up our various tasks. I guess I should have just forgone the tremendous deal and just bought some parts from NewEgg, or been a slave to marketing and paid twice as much for half the computer and ordered a Mac.

[ Amusingly, the morning after I wrote this I got an e-mail saying the computer had shipped. So I guess the unexpected delay was just a day, which is a bit more understandable. ]

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Best Part of the Day

What was the best part of my day?

a) The long day at work
b) The 2 hours I spent waiting/standing on the bus going home in the snow
c) Getting home at 7:45pm and then having conference calls starting at 9pm
d) All of the above


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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sign of the Times

One of the houses next door to us was bought a few years ago by a guy a little younger then me and his fiancee. They lived there for a year or so, then broke up and the fiancee moved out and a couple of the guy's friends moved in. I've been amused lately as the number of people living there has steadily increased over the past year, to the point where last week there were seven cars in the driveway.

I guess when the economic going gets tough, you get some more roommates.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cropping

The bus ride home tonight was crowded (gotta love the influx of winter riders) and so as I stood in the aisle biding my time for the ride home, I was looking at the 'ads' that were posted on the top part of the sides.

Actually, of the 7 ads, there were:

  • 2 ads looking for more bus drivers
  • 2 ads saying to 'Keep an eye out for safety'
  • 1 ad for viewing bus schedules on the metro transit site
  • 2 ads for a eco-awareness website that told you what you could and couldn't recycle

The only real ad, the one for the green website, caught my eye mostly for its low budget nature. It was basically just some white text on a blue background, along with the right third of the advertisement having a little logo for the website. The thing that was strange was that the ad was apparently created straight from a web page because the ad still contained the browser's menu bar on the top. As in, the grey section where it has file, edit, view, favorites, etc.

What I couldn't figure out was why anyone would who was competent enough to do rudimentary graphic design on the ad would not have been smart enough to crop out the menu bar from the screenshot of a web site. And that doesn't even mention the question of why they were even using a screenshot of a website in the first place.

So strange.


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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Freelance

Today was the first significant snowfall of the winter, particularly on the south side of the Twin Cities, and as usual traffic was a snarled mess getting out of Apple Valley. Thus the bus ride into work took longer then normal, though not as long as it sometimes does.

What I think is interesting is the amount of difference in how the various bus drivers react to bad weather. For example, this morning my driver was stubbornly sitting in the middle lane of Cedar even when there was a shoulder available, which defeated a major benefit of the bus. On the other hand, a co-worker who took the bus 10 minutes after me actually ended up arriving first because his bus driver ditched the normal route completely, went up side streets and then when he got back on Cedar used the shoulder aggressively.

One time when there was supposedly some large accident I had a driver who took us down 35W into Burnsville, before cutting back all the way down 42. Which, if you are at all familiar with south metro traffic patterns is an absolutely ludicrous way to get to Apple Valley.

Normally all the buses take the exact same route every single day (which actually changed while I was in Sweden, strangely enough). But when bad weather or something unexpected happens, apparently it is every driver for themselves.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bandits

A while back at work I had all-day meetings with a fairly large group of external people. After we returned from lunch and started the afternoon round of presentations, I noticed one of the attendees reach into his pocket, pull out a tin of chew and pop in a bandit. He then proceeded to gut the spit for the rest of the meeting while leaving the tin laying on the table in front of him.

I can honestly see I've never seen that in any business setting before.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

...and Done

Apparently distraught at having been left home alone while Linzy and I gallivanted across Sweden, our 4.5 year old computer died a few hours after we got home. Unfortunately it didn't decide to fail in some sort of easily repaired way, but instead the motherboard failed rendering the entire PC useless.

The PC has led a troubled and unreliable life in the few short years we've had it, and so in some ways I am not sorry to see it go. On the other hand, you can't really get a socket 478 motherboard any more that will work with my combination of CPU, memory and video card. Oh, you can get one, as long as you are willing to pay ~$100 to a random seller in Hong Kong on EBay for a non-returnable as-is motherboard. I'm not.

So instead we'll be getting an entirely new PC, complete with a quad core CPU, a ridiculous amount of RAM and a 20" LCD widescreen monitor for far, far less then I've ever paid for a computer in my life. That was partly due to careful searching for the absolute best deal, and partly due to shamelessly calling up a real live human and negotiating them into giving me an extra 7% off for a corporate discount, on top of the 30% discount they were already offering, while also throwing in the 20" LCD for $40 (seriously).

I'm still disgruntled that the old computer broke after not even 5 years while the 8 year old computer Linzy claimed as 'hers' is still humming along just fine, as is the computer from before that. But at least we'll end up with a new hopefully more reliable computer.


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