Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ample Warning

The new fridge arrived today, and it definitely fits the 'bigger' criteria relative to our old fridge. I assume in time I will get use to it, but for now it throws me off every time I walk into the kitchen.

I always think it is interesting to look at the various instruction manuals and flyers that come with new products. Very prevalent these days are the "don't return to the store!" flyers. I suppose because that costs the manufacturer money when Best Buy (or whoever) charges them back for the faulty product. The fact that it is far more convenient for the customer just to take it back and exchange it rather then call up the manufacturer doesn't really quite balance out.

Anyways, the refrigerator was no different then any major purchase and came with no less then four separate warning sheets about not returning to the store. Interestingly each one of those warnings accompanied instructions on proper setup of the ice maker. Every single one. "Make sure you run it 24 hours before trying to dispense ice". "You must follow these instructions to properly setup the ice maker". "Your ice maker is not broken just because no ice is coming out, it takes 48 hours to prepare ice to full capacity". Etc. Etc.

Think they've identified the source of all those store returns? I'm also amused to imagine all those people (apparently) cussing out their new fridge when it won't dispense ice immediately after hooking up the water.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Subtle Syntax

This year I've been undecided as to exactly how I am going to go about filing our taxes. This is typical for January, I spend the month eventually working up to the fact that it is just easier to buy some software rather then risk a shady-looking free site or mail our returns in. This year, however, there is a legitimate free option, which is the new online fillable forms that the IRS is offering to taxpayers of all incomes, complete with free federal e-filing.

Having free online e-filing with support for automatic math calculations makes far too much sense, so clearly I never thought it would actually happen. Unfortunately the free forms don't really help with the state filing, I would still have to mail that in or buy a program.

While I was sitting around complaining about tax-filing utopia still being a ways off, Linzy just went out and bought me TaxCut since it was on sale. Now what was interesting there was that we bought "TaxCut Premium Federal + e-file + State". Which sure sounds like it would cover everything right? Wrong.

What it doesn't actually include is support to e-file your State return. That according to the fine print on the back is an additional cost. And not like a $5 cost, but a full $20. Just to file a state return with a program that already costs $45.

Last year, the same product was called "TaxCut Premium Federal + State + e-file" and did include State e-file in the base price of the product. Apparently moving e-file to before the +State was intended to clearly call out the fact that state e-file was no longer included.

Obvious, right?

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Worst

On Friday Linzy and I were over at Brenden and Allison's to pick up the new refrigerator cabinet. After a tasty dinner we played a game of Power Grid.

I've been trying to convince Brenden for months that Power Grid was a good game to pick up. Since I've never played it, I am not sure what made me decide that it was such a great game. But regardless, eventually he ended up with it and so we gave it a try.

The game was a lot of fun, although I was terrible at it. I made mistakes, miscounted money, placed cities in the wrong spots and generally spent the bulk of the game in last place (which the game designers refer to as 'worst', sparing no ego). Linzy on the other hand picked up the game immediately and whooped us.

The balancing of a four-person Power Grid game was pretty good, as the game came down to the last turn with us all bunched up within one or two cities of each other. I thought the continual march of progress in the improvements of the power stations over the course of the game was interesting and kept you constantly trying to scramble to balance expanding cities, getting resources for your power plants, and getting bigger and better power stations.

The only bad thing about Power Grid was being referred to on the quick reference card as 'worst'. Which for some reason seemed much crueler then just referring to it as last. On the other hand, at least I got all my losing ways out of my system on Friday night, so I could win both Agricola and Aquadukt the next day at Scooter's house.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Soon to Be Replaced

DSC_3231On Thursday our new refrigerator should be delivered, to replace our noisy twelve year old one. It was more of a production then you might think to get a new one as in order to get one that we liked we needed a bit more vertical space. So first we had to have the upper cabinet cut down slightly (a few inches).

Reinstalling the cabinet after it was cut down is turning out to be a bit harder then I was anticipating, so that will have to wait until next week when I hopefully will have a second set of hands. I'll also probably be running the new water line at the same time, since we'll be joining the rest of the world with an automatic icemaker and water dispenser.

Regardless changing the cabinet provided a bit more flexibility in choosing the new fridge, rather then being constrained to either ones the same size as our existing one or the single model that was only slightly larger and cost way more then a fridge that size should have.

It feels a little strange to be switching fridges before the current one has actually officially given up the ghost, but it seemed silly to wait and lose a whole refrigerator worth of food just because we wanted to eek a few more months out.

It will be nice to have something that is not quite so obnoxiously loud. I'm also looking forward to a larger freezer.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unplayable

Lately on the bus I've been listening to my relatively new iPod quite a bit. This results in an embarrassing excess of technology usage, since I invariably am also playing my DS. Originally I was trying to not, but after experiencing the loveliness of not having to listen to the coughing, rustling, talking, and other sounds that accompany us on the bus I find myself unable to resist.

Anyways, the other day I found an album of mp3s that will not play on the iPod. No errors or anything, it just skips through all the songs. Which is strange, since they play fine in iTunes and Windows Media Player, but I assume there is some sort of header problem or something about their encoding that the iPod won't cooperate with.

The amusing thing was that the day this happened I just stumbled upon it randomly. But since then every time I am picking out some music it pops into my head that "Oh, I'd really like to listen to Vena Sera" except of course that's the one album out of the bazillions I have that won't play. I even have other albums by the same artist that I could listen too (though not as good), but no, I mentally skip over to a second choice.

Then at home, when I could listen to the album, of course I don't. It doesn't even cross my mind. I guess it is just another example of wanting only what you can't have.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All Good Things

While we were running errands tonight, Linzy mentioned that the Dakota County Recycling center is no longer accepting electronics for free.

I guess that it was inevitable, since electronics recycling is normally expensive and the fact that the Dakota County site was free made it hugely popular. Throw in the whole air pollution problem, and I assume they decided that charging a fee would help throttle the influx of broken-down electronic junk.

Still the timing is a bit awkward, since they are charging by the pound and I happen to have the old 100+ pound Trinitron monitor collecting dust in the corner of the office. I had plenty of time to get rid of it, but laziness won out and now that is looking like it will cost me money. Which serves me right, I guess.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Netflix Streaming

I've mentioned before how much I like Netflix streaming to my XBox 360. Over the past two months since it has come out, we've watched at least twice as many things via streaming as we have from Netflix DVDs. If the instant watch selection was better (and that wouldn't be hard), I almost certainly would have watched a few more things via streaming and less via a DVD.

Since I am a sucker for streamable video, especially when Linzy is out of town and the only DVDs at the house are things she wanted to see too, I end up watching some pretty random stuff just because it is streamable. For example, last night I watched Man on a Wire, a documentary about a guy who tightrope walked between the World Trade Center towers. And a few weeks ago I watched Breaking Away, a 70s coming-of-age movie that I thought was a bicycling movie (and it was...kind of). There have been several other oddball choices that make the cut to the queue merely on account of their "Save to my Instant Queue" button.

One thing I do think is interesting is that as far as I can recall I have yet to successfully watch anything in HD all the way through. The system invariably detects my network connection as being HD capable, but then some unpredictable amount of time after the video starts going it stutters and then readjusts itself (to what I assume is non-HD). And everything is fine after that. I would imagine that is some sort of throttling being done by Charter, which is disappointing but since even the non-HD stuff is tolerable I guess it is OK.

I suppose it is inevitable that eventually they will scale back on the unlimited streaming and start offering plans with reduced simultaneous DVDs and broader streaming selection. Which will be a sad day, because I'll totally end up signing up.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Rodeos

On occasion I've been known to do adopt a new favorite phrase that annoys Linzy to no end. In some cases it's my favorite phrase because she gets all upset when I smoothly work it into a completely unrelated conversation.

Among the crowning achievements was the phrase "This isn't my first rodeo". I'm not even completely sure what I was talking about the first time I used it (probably sales guys), but Linzy got inordinately upset at my using the silly saying and then persisting in repeatedly working it into conversations for a whole week afterwards.

Imagine my glee this week, then, when on the front page of the Business section there was a quote from Wells Fargo's CEO saying (in reference to the Wachovia merger) "This isn't our first rodeo". Like a good husband, I made sure to call her later in the morning after she got up to make sure she didn't miss the important story. Then, to top it off, today on TV she was watching when a reporter talking about the inauguration also used the phrase.

I guess it is like one of those things where you hear about something new, and then suddenly see it all over the place. Except in this case it drives Linzy nuts and amuses me.


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dedication

It was really cold today, particularly because of a stiff wind. When I was coming home weather.com was reporting it 'feeling like' -34 outside.

Anyways while on my way to the bus stop I was waiting for a light to change and I saw a guy sitting in his 2009 BMW with the window all the way down and an ungloved hand sticking out into the cold weather to keep his cigarette out of the car. Now that's dedication.

Both to keeping your car less smoke-infested, and to killing your lungs despite the brutally cold temperatures.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thomas' Baptism

IMG_0938Last weekend Linzy and I were in Chicago for my cousin Thomas' baptism. We stayed with my cousin's Jon and Nicole and so got to spend quite a bit of time seeing them and the three kids as well as my Grandma.

We flew down this time rather then driving as I was concerned about the weather not cooperating. That turned out to be prescient as it snowed all day Friday (we flew in on Thursday after work), Saturday, and then again on Monday (I flew out on Sunday, Linzy on Tuesday). So we just skirted the bad weather and were in an nice position to enjoy the snow without any stress about it affecting travel plans.

The baptism ceremony was nice, and capped off a nice time spent visiting family. In particular Linzy and I had fun playing with my little cousins Katie and Ellie and visiting with my Grandma. She was eager to hear about our trip to Sweden and she shared some interesting stories about her trips to Norway to visit family.

I uploaded a few pictures of the weekend after the break.

Thomas is a big boy, 97th percentile for size. He has a huge smile all the time, except when he is hungry.
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Wearing their fancy Christmas dresses didn't stop Katie and Ellie from demonstrating how to jump on the couch (or levitate in Ellie's case).
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My goddaughter Ellie watching Sesame Street
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The baptism
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More pictures are in the set.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Where the Bodies are Buried

IMG_0908The other night after I was done reading my book and had turned off the light to go to bed while I was laying there falling asleep, I suddenly heard this persistent scratching sound along with Pippen's tags jingling incessantly. After this went on-and-on, I finally turned on the light to see what the heck was going on, and was greeted by the sight in the picture.

Pippen had managed to roll her blanket up like a log and move it all the way across the room (once it got log shaped it just kept rolling along). For some reason it struck me as looking exactly like she had wrapped up a dead body and was trying to roll it out of the room.

This seemed hilarious at the time and I woke Linzy up with my laughing about our dog secretly hauling dead bodies out of the room wrapped in her bed blanket. Guess I'll have to make sure not to cross her, lest I end up wrapped in a blanket.


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Planning Ahead

Tonight I had to pick something up for Linzy by 7:00pm, which normally would not be a problem (you know, cause my normal arrival home at 6:30 is way before 7:00). However in this case it was snowing like crazy while I was at work and so I was concerned about being able to make it all the way home by 7:00. I learned my lesson multiple times in December just how bad traffic can be. So I left the earliest I've left in who-knows-how-long, around 4:15 or 4:20. Which ended up getting me home by about 6:00pm. So definitely not even close to the worst commute I've had recently.

Although I have to admit that at this point I'm wishing we could have just gotten like 15 inches of snow in one giant state-halting blizzard, and then been done.


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Uncle Steve

On Thursday, just after noon my sister gave birth to Evelyn Margaret:



Evie May is the first grandchild for both sides of their family, and the first niece for Linzy and I. We are really excited and were glad that both the baby and Sarah came through the birth healthy and safe.


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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nothing to Report

Linzy and I are headed to Chicago this weekend for her godson Thomas's baptism. Thomas' parents are my cousins and they are also the parents of my goddaughter Ellie. I'm excited to see everyone there and be able to spend some time with my cousins. We saw them this fall, but it was right after Thomas' birth so there were ample distractions.

But due to the travel I'm taking a day off work this week which, of course, means that I end up working late to get all the things done that I need to. So no time to think up a more informative post today.

Although at dinner tonight Linzy, my Dad, Linzy's dad and I concluded that all would be well in Vikings land if they just sign Matt Cassel in the off-season (assuming he isn't franchised) and then draft a good solid route-running receiver with good hands. After 2009 they have far too many free agents, so they have basically a one-year window and need to build a winner now.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Much Travel?

The post last week on my travel for work in 2008 reminded me of a story that I don't believe I've mentioned here before.

When I was interviewing for a job at my current company during the interview process I talked with quite a few people. I had a set of somewhat predictable questions that I was asking during the interview cycle, one of which was "Is there much travel involved".

Honestly as long as the amount wasn't ridiculous I wasn't too concerned about it. But since another job I was looking at around the same time, had a really significant amount of travel associated with a specific project that I would have been leading. Plus I had taken a few trips for my old job, and so I was trying to compare.

Anyways, my question got an almost universal response of "No". Or things like "Well, not really, I've traveled a couple times in the past few years", all the way to "Never traveled for work, not once".

Eventually things worked out and I started at the new job and less then a month later I already had my first trip scheduled. Followed by close to 20% travel the following year. Now, no one was being dishonest or anything, things just changed in unforeseeable ways and I ended up getting good experience building a team from scratch. I find it amusing, and it was a fun way to give my old boss a hard time "Remember when I specifically asked how much travel this position involved?".


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Monday, January 05, 2009

Advertising

Over the Holidays I've been doing my duty to make sure that we get through all the candy at our house. It's a tall task, as we got a huge amount of new candy for Christmas, but I'm doing my best.

Of late I've been working my way through Lifesaver's sweet storybooks that are old enough that I don't really even want to know exactly when they were from. Sugar can't go bad, right?

Anyways, tonight I just noticed that each roll has a little section of advertising on it, right below the ingredients section. Which seemed a little odd, but even more strange is the fact that every roll in this box contains a little ad for candystand.com.

Which turns out to be an online casual game portal unaffiliated, as far as I can tell, with Wrigleys candy company. I was expecting some sort of kid-friendly site where you can run a virtual candy stand or something filled with only Wrigley candy, but instead you can play Fashion Star. What that has to do with Lifesavers, or candy in general, I am not sure.


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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Too Expensive

As you may have heard the Vikings playoff game today was surprisingly not instantly sold out. In fact it just barely was a technical sell-out, and I suspect there were plenty of tickets to be had even after they sold enough to get it on TV.

Linzy and I seriously considered going to the game. Partly due to Linzy's grave concern that it wouldn't be on TV and also because, well, it was a home playoff game and we just don't get those too often here.

In the end though, after looking at the prices and tickets we decided it was just too expensive. Sure there were cheap-ish tickets available, but the bulk of those were in the end zones or corner of the end zone and many in nosebleed territory. The better seats were admittedly really good seats, but also really expensive.

And considering we just had Christmas and several upcoming unexpected expenses, dropping another $400 on lower-level seats on the 30 yard line was a bit tough to swallow. So in the end we watched the game from the comfort of the downstairs couch with the added convenience of the DVR as the commercials were driving me nuts through the first quarter.

Clearly I am not a true fan.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

29 Nights

In 2007 I spent a big portion of the year traveling for work. In total it amounted to 44 nights away from home, with 40 in the same place (Cambridge, MA). Thankfully the bulk of those days were related to address a specific situation that was largely taken care of that year.

As a result my travel last year was significantly reduced. I only made three trips to Boston, one to Austin, TX, one to Las Vegas and then a long trip to Stockholm, Sweden. That resulted in the total amount of nights spent away from home being 29, and that was mostly a result of the two-and-a-half week Stockholm trip.

DatesNights
1/15 - 1/183
4/28 - 5/13
6/2 - 6/53
6/9 - 6/203 *
9/30 - 10/33
11/8 - 11/2214


Note: The June 9th through the 20th trip was 4 days for work, followed by a week-long vacation which is why I only counted it as 3 nights.

I am not positive what the next year will bring as far as travel, but this amount feels about like what I would expect given what I am responsible for. Certainly the Stockholm trip is abnormal, but there was also no India trip. So while that might indicate that the overall number may go down a bit, there is almost always something that comes up that I wouldn't have expected at the start of the year.


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Friday, January 02, 2009

Shades of Gray

DSC_3230What did I do with my New Year's Day Holiday? Well, a number of things, but you're looking at a significant part of it: I started and completed the New York panorama puzzle I got for Christmas.

The puzzle is only 750 pieces, and because of the large border parts of it were pretty easy. But it is in black & white, and filled with mostly similar looking areas (buildings, more buildings, and tons of water). So it did take a significant effort.

It is pretty amazing how sensitive you can become to the shade of gray and degree of focus after working on the puzzle for a couple hours.

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