Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slip & Slide

When I was in high school, my car was a 1986 Chevy Nova. It sported four doors and a hatchback and had a tiny little engine, but it was reliable, got good gas mileage and could fit a bunch of friends for driving around. It certainly wasn't as flashy or sporty as I might have wanted, but it got the job done.

I took the car with to college starting with the second or third quarter of my freshman year (after my parents realized that driving back and forth to pick me up and drop me off 2.5 hours away several times in the span of a few months sucked). It again did a very serviceable job, especially at hauling my meager possessions back and forth in the fall/summer.

My last year in college the car got broken into and the cd player was stolen. It also started to develop some reliability problems (it was 12 years old at that point). My dad was driving a 1988 Mazda 626 at that point, but a few miles a day and so he was generous enough to trade cars with me.

The 626, despite being only two years newer, was light years better then the Nova. For one thing it had a more sporty engine then the Nova, had a nicer ride, and because it was a slightly larger hatchback even had a bit more room for stuff.

The only problem was that the tires were totally bald and the brakes were shot. Which, in Duluth during the winter was not really ideal. In fact, you could even call it dangerous. Stopping in snow was quite an adventure, and the only reason I didn't have any accidents was from being very conscious about it and through liberal use of engine braking with the manual transmission.

The car was still great, and I liked it, but you definitely took your life in your hands during a snowstorm.

This came to mind today because we got 8 inches of sloppy snow during the day, and I happened to have driven into work in my truck with ridiculously bald tires. So the drive home was a bit of an adventure. Luckily I was able to lean on my months of experience with the 626.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Price of Ugly

On Sunday evening Linzy and I went over to our friend's Paul and Laura's house for dinner. We had a good time catching up with them, playing with the kids, and hanging out. One of the major topics of conversation during the course of the night was this house nearby.

You see the house got foreclosed on and is now for sale (MLS listing). The interesting thing is that if you look at the Dakota County information the house was last sold in November 2006 for $732,000, and is now listing for just under $480,000. Ouch.

Depending on what you think the housing market will do over the next few years, that may or may not be a 'good deal', but a 35% price drop certainly made it worthy of some discussion. The house also appears, at least from pictures to be miraculously clean for a foreclosure (though I did notice that the appliances appear to have made their way onto Craigslist).

The thing is, neither Linzy nor I liked the house from the pictures. For one thing the yard, while a premium lot, is much too small. It also sports a stucco exterior, or what I like to call a mold breeding ground in Minnesota. But more importantly, oddly enough, is the fact that I think it is kind of ugly. Specifically the flooring/cabinet combination and the deck on the back of the house (which probably cost a fortune).

Which brought up an interesting discussion about exactly how much money a 'pretty' house was worth, and the difference between a house that just has bad paint/carpet combinations (and is thus 'fixable') and one that has major difficult-to-replace components that are deemed ugly.

In this case, since the house isn't one we could afford anyways, and we aren't seriously thinking about moving, it was a moot point. But I did think it was an interesting discussion.


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Monday, February 23, 2009

Robots!

I was surprised this weekend to see the front page of the Variety section of the paper sporting a giant article on the technological singularity. That seems a bit complicated of a topic to make for good Saturday morning reading with the general public.

The ironic thing, of course, was that the article about this incredible rate of technological change was in one of the oldest forms for getting your news. And one that is dying out ungracefully, after failing to adapt to change. Predictably the wikipedia article was more interesting, even if it does lean more heavily to the sci-fi aspects.

I find the whole question of increasing rate of change interesting, and not just because of the prevalence of self-aware human-made machines as a plot device for movies and books, but rather because the date predictions for a singularity are basically within my lifetime. And at least anecdotally it certainly seems plausible that humans could create something if not 'better' at designing things, at least more efficient. And from there, you just sit back and wait for Skynet.

At least we know the paper is still run by humans, because it seems premature for the robot writers to be advertising their eventual dominance.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Accusatory

On Saturday afternoon Brenden, Dan, Chris, Jon and Dave came over to do some strategy boardgaming. Brenden and I had been talking about getting together to play the Battlestar Galactica boardgame (the new one, not my old 1978 one) since he got it several months ago, but our schedules didn't work out until this weekend.

The game was a lot of fun, and very similar to what I was expecting based on the write-ups I had read on it. The game is based on the current re-imagined series where you don't know who is a cylon. So while everyone is supposedly working towards the same goal, some amount of the players at any given time are secretly cyclons and are doing their best to sabotage the efforts of the humans.

In the end, Brenden, Dave and I made up the human team, and got soundly thrashed by the Cylons. We were doing well through the first two-thirds of the game, when there was only one active Cylon, but when the other two players ended up being Cylons things turned into a disaster almost immediately.

Because everyone knows there are players working against the team, but there isn't really anyway to determine who is doing what, a lot of the game revolves around being highly suspicious of the motives of other players. There are many opportunities in the game where people could be not telling the truth about why they 'had' to do something, or whether they could or could not help resolve a particular crisis. So as long as you enjoy the suspicious ambiance that brings to the game, it is a lot of fun.

After Battlestar Galactica we played a partial game of Arkham Horror, which was also quite a bit of fun. That game was new to everyone buy Dave, and so we all had fun learning it. The game is more a boardgame based RPG (think HeroQuest or the like), but set in the Cthulhu mythos. Since it is a cooperative game, it went well in soothing tensions after the contentious BSG game. Unfortunately Arkham Horror is really, really hard (not to learn, but in difficulty to win) and demonstrated that in a big way as players died or went insane left and right. That bogged us down a bit and since we didn't start playing until 8:30 and were still going at 2am we ended up having to cut the game a bit short. It was still a lot of fun.

The whole evening was a good time, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I'm definitely hoping to get to play both games again.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

RV Insurance

Today I received junk mail from Geico offering "Important Information for RV enthusiasts". It was, of course, an ad for buying RV insurance through Geico. It talked about the glory of loading up your RV and heading out on the road for parts unknown, and how Geico could help protect you and your investment.

Among the offerings was insurance covering people hurt while riding in your RV, covering people injured while on vacationing with your RV, and offering housing allowances for when you RV is in an accident (I assume while you are on vacation, this isn't a mobile home after all). Apparently they are pretty sure you might be injured around an RV, or that by owning an RV you are concerned about coverage for that.

The only trouble is that I don't own an RV. And I can't figure out is what I did to get myself on a list as an RV enthusiast. I mean we are talking targeted advertising here, it wasn't just advertising all the great insurance options Geico offers (including RV insurance), or talking about their brand-new RV insurance program. This was meant to be sent to someone with a 26-foot expensive RV.

Strange.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two Dozen

Over the weekend Linzy ordered me some Olive Garden takeout because she saw an ad for the new Mezzaluna with Sausage dish and thought I would like it (which I did, it was delicious). She also knows how much I like bread, so she had seen that the takeout only came with two breadsticks and asked whether they sold individual breadsticks, and ordered an extra two for me.

Given that it was Valentine's day weekend the restaurant was absolutely busting at the seams when we arrived to pick up the meal. I ended up going in by myself and spent five minutes literally fighting my way through the crowd to get to the take-out register, and then five minutes standing in line there. When my turn finall came the guy pulled out our bag of food and was reading the receipt: One Mezzaluna with Sausage and Two dozen Breadsticks.

Two Dozen?

I had already handed over the gift card we were using, but I was standing there thinking "What in the world did Linzy order two dozen breadsticks for?". But at that point I was just ready to go, and I wasn't positive what Linzy had ordered anyways, so I fought my way back through the mob and out to the car.

Where I immediately demanded to know what we were supposed to do with 26 breadsticks (remember the two that came with it), when I was the only one eating the meal. Linzy was all upset, since she had specifically asked about individual breadsticks and had been reassured that this was no problem. But I refused to set foot back in the restaurant (despite the fact that the two dozen breadsticks basically doubled the cost of the meal), and so we went home with one dinner and breadsticks for an army.

Luckily the breadsticks freeze well. But I've already had them four times this week/weekend and have no doubt I'll be thoroughly sick of them.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cascade

This morning for breakfast I had Rice Krispies and added some blueberries to the bowl. While in the process of washing the blueberries off I accidentally dropped a whole handful of berries on the floor, where they promptly rolled all over the kitchen. I picked them up, re-washed them and went on with my breakfast.

While I was moving around the kitchen making my lunch and getting ready for work, I noticed a few blueberries still around on the floor. I didn't think too much of it, assuming that I had missed them the first time around.

Eventually I was heading downstairs to leave and there were suddenly four or five blueberries flying down the stairs, bouncing on each step all the way down. It was like something out of a superball commercial.

It turned out that when I had dropped the blueberries on the floor, some had gotten caught in the cuffs of my pants and were dropping out as I went down the stairs. Luckily none broke, so there was no mess to clean up, just a few stray berries to grab up. But since I was still half asleep, it was pretty surprising.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

The Wire: Season 4

This weekend I finished watching the fourth season of the Wire. I was initially apprehensive about this season as it appeared to be much more an ensemble effort then the previous seasons, and a bit more focused on aspects outside of police work. And it was, but I still enjoyed it.

In fact, I actually think that I probably enjoyed it more then the second season (for example), though I don't think it was as powerful as the first season. I found myself enjoying the school storylines, watching Prez and Colvin struggle with their teaching and the kids struggling with their home lives.

Another aspect that I liked was the increased screen time Omar got, as he is probably my favorite non-primary character. I'm not convinced that he is going to manage to make it through the last season, but his antics still makes me laugh.

I'm really looking forward to the final season.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Absurd Extravegance

On Saturday Linzy and I were going to go to the Mall of America to walk around for a bit, but the place was so crowded the entrance ramps were backed up onto the highway. Instead we went downtown and spent the afternoon wandering around looking at shops and people watching.

At one point we were in Macys and Linzy was looking in the Louis Vuitton store at their purses. I was wandering around looking at all the overpriced stuff. On one wall they had the shoes, many of which were priced north of $1,000. But the single most ridiculous thing in the store was the Louis Vuitton branded shoe trees.

I have no doubt that they can sell those shoe trees for big bucks, probably to the guy who just spend $1,030 on a pair of dress shoes, but it seems pretty absurd. I mean, it's a couple pieces of cedar with a leather Louis Vuitton strap. Is it really that much better then a $20 Woodlore one?

My hope is that they come free with the shoes, since I can't find the shoe trees listed on the LV website. But at the same time I could totally see them selling 3 bucks in cedar and metal for $100 a piece.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slideshow

Part of the default Windows Vista desktop is a little sidebar thing that has a clock, the current temperature, headlines, and a rotating picture display. Intially I thought this was more-or-less useless and was going to turn it off. But I left it on, eventually configured the picture slideshow to point at our picture folder, and come to really like the slideshow.

Not because it really does anything particularly useful, but it is kind of fun to see random old pictures pop-up. I don't see every one, of course, but every now and then one will catch my eye, and make me laugh or smile remembering what was going on then.

Clearly I'm getting old and sentimental.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Free Money

I was reading an article in the paper on Tuesday morning that was talking about the new really, really expensive economic stimulus bill that Congress is working on passing. What caught my eye was a section where they were talking about the portion of the bill that dealt with the homebuyer's tax credit.

Last year they passed a law that gave a 15,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers, subject to be paid back over ten years. For this stimulus bill apparently they are looking to enhance that. The House version of the bill offers a 15,000 tax credit subject to phase out based on income over 150,000 but with no repayment requirements. The Senate bill sees that offer and raises, giving up 15,000 tax credit with no repayment, no income limits and no restriction on being a first-time homebuyer.

Meaning, effectively, that they are offering 15 grand straight up if you buy a house, any house. Which is pretty crazy, and virtually guaranteed to inspire a temporary bubble in home prices. I've read a number of articles that are talking about the difficulty in incenting people to continue buying homes in a disastrous economy and home market, with many different suggestions. But 15,000 seems like enough money that it would certainly make people even remotely considering moving give it a second thought.

I am not sure what will end up in the final version of the bill, but it is probably worth paying attention to.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Habanero Hot Sauce Day

Today at work was Habanero Hot Sauce day. A group of four of my co-workers and I all went down to the local Taco Johns for Taco Tuesday (69 cent beef tacos) and then tried out a new hot sauce that Ryan had brought into work.

Spicy foods have been the subject of conversation at work after some 'naughty almonds' that a co-worker brought in that were almonds coated in cayenne pepper. From there of course there was a discussion about whether they were truly 'spicy', and things escalated from there. That resulted in the same co-worker bringing in the hot sauce, a few people trying it on things and raving about its ridiculous firey taste. And from there, things escalated into a group of us deciding to try it on tacos.

The interesting thing about this particular hot sauce was the ingredient list. The "Hurtin' Habanero" hot sauce that I have in my fridge has ingredients of "Water, Habanero, ...". This sauce's ingredients list went "Habaneros, Water, ..., Scotch Bonnet Peppers". Note that water was not the primary ingredient, rather Habaneros were.

That made me a bit nervous, given my suddenly delicate stomach, but I agreed to join in anyways.

So we went and got our tacos (and potato oles, in case we needed something to dull the pain), and brought them back up to the office. Where we stood around my co-workers cube and ate our tacos and drops of hot sauce.

The sauce was hot, really hot. On my three tacos I had four drops of sauce, then 7 drops, then 10. And by the end I was sweating a bit, my nose was running a little, and my lips burned a bit (mostly from where I licked a drop of sauce straight off my finger). But it was tolerable, at least in the quantities I ate. In fact, it was probably less hot then the blazin' wings at BW3s if for no other reason then the Blazin' wings always come just dripping in crazy sauce. And there, we were sticking to small drops.

No one had to stop eating a taco due to the sauce, though one person came close, and another was looking like they were in some serious pain. But the general consensus was that the sauce was good, though no one was talking about just pouring it on stuff.

All in all it was pretty entertaining, and gave us something to talk about most of the morning leading up to lunch.


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Monday, February 09, 2009

Iron Stomach

Last Friday morning a co-worker and I went to get some Caribou coffee. While I drink coffee every day I very rarely have anything other then the office swill, but on Friday my co-worker was offering to pay and so I took him up on the offer.

Anyways, so I spent my morning meetings enjoying my large Dark roast of the day coffee. Several hours later I had been done with my drink for quite a while, and recalled that Caribou offers same-cup refills for only 50 cents. It was still a few hours before lunch, so I decided to go get another coffee.

Now normally I have just one cup of coffee in the morning. It is a large cup, but nonetheless I only have the one and then no more during the day. But on Friday I managed to drink down about half that second cup before I discovered my stomach was getting really upset.

I guess two large cups of coffee (or one and a half) was too much for my suddenly delicate constitution. Which is strange considering it isn't all that much more then I normally drink, and I don't think of coffee as being all that likely to upset a stomach. At least in moderation, which apparently does not include two large cups of Caribou coffee.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Day in Pictures - 2009

Every February 8th (or Feb 9th one year) since I started the blog I've been posting pictures of my day or evening. Today was a normal quiet Sunday at the Eck household, so I decided to do some dramatic reenactments of parts of the day.

The morning started out with some coffee, breakfast, and reading the Sunday paper.
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Then it was time for exercising and watching The Wire (Season 3), which was cut short when I had to consult with Dad on the phone about his and Mom's laptop purchasing plans.
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After lunch I found some time to play a little Gears of War 2 and get frustrated at trying to shoot missles out of the air with a chain gun turret.
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While Linzy was at the gym, Pippen and I did a little crime fighting.
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Later in the afternoon Linzy and I took advantage of the nice weather and took Pippen for a walk for the second day in a row.
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Then it was time to watch a movie, Eagle Eye, which was just OK.
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Last weekend Linzy made a full turkey breast, which is looking like it will provide at least 13 servings of various meals. Today she made me homemade turkey pot pie, which was awesome.
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Finally, Pippen helped me write this post, to ensure that I didn't try to minimize her contributions to the day.
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Focused

The past few weeks I've had conference calls with India most nights. Which makes for a very busy evening. Which would seem to correspond to all the missed blog posts that I've had recently. But in actuality the days I've missed posting are usually the ones when I don't have meetings. It's when I'm left to my own devices that apparently I get distracted and never get around to putting something on the site.

I guess it comes from being more focused on those days, or just staying up later, I'm not sure. But it seemed pretty strange.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Paranoia

Today walking around downtown to my bus I got the distinct feeling people were staring at me. As far as I can recall that has never happened to me but on three separate occasions during the few block walk I saw people literally turning to look at me go past.

Once or twice might not have been of note, but by the third time I wanted to stop and ask whether I had my hat on inside out, or had a booger hanging out of my nose or something. Crazy.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Cash4Gold

It seems hard to believe that a company as totally legit sounding as Cash4Gold.com might have an organized way to take advantage of customers hard up for money. But apparently that is the case. Try to contain your shock.

Honestly I find it hard to believe that the company even got big enough to afford a Super Bowl commercial. I mean, seriously, who puts gold jewelery into an envelope and mails it to some sketchy company on the hopes that they will get a fair trade back. Is the lure of not having to leave your house that much better then going to a local pawn shop, who would probably happily rip you off ever-so-slightly less?

I have no doubt that whoever thought up Cash4Gold is filthy rich because of it, but it still lessens my faith in humanity.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Shankapotomus

There were a few amusing commercials this year but the best one of the Super Bowl was one of the last ones:



"So I don't have to subsidize your lack of golfing skills."


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Quiet Times

Lately there just hasn't been much to talk about here. This time of year is almost always difficult to come up with topics to write about, and since lately I've been busier then normal at work and we generally don't do much when it is below freezing virtually an entire month, that doesn't leave me with many anecdotes to tell.

This weekend my Dad helped me with two projects related to the new refrigerator, putting the cut-down cabinet back up and running a water line. Both were pretty straight-forward, especially the water line which was much simpler then I was originally fearing. Other then that Linzy and I have been working our way through Battlestar Galactica seasons 2.5 and looking forward to watching the Super Bowl with friends.

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