Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vegetables

On Friday afternoon Linzy and I went to the Home & Garden show downtown. It wasn't quite as directly useful as we were expecting, but we did get a lot of names and information for contractors that we might need this spring/summer.

By the time we left it was getting late and so we were going to eat dinner out. After much discussion over where would be a good place, we eventually decided on a whim to go to Cracker Barrel. Primarily because it is always packed, Linzy had never been there and was curious as to what would draw such crowds.

The menu was exactly what I remembered it being: absolutely ridiculous comfort food. I was joking with Linzy on the way over that they would have chicken-fried anything, such as chicken-fried lasagna. While they didn't have that, exactly, they certainly had biscuits and anything. Linzy got roast beef which came with three sides and when she asked for one side to be a corn muffin the waitress goes "Oh honey, everything comes with bread here, you don't have to use a side for that". The waitress then recommended the cheesy hashbrown bake.

Probably the most telling note about the menu I could make is that the vegetable of the day on Friday was "Brown rice". Yes, seriously.

Now, despite the fact that we spent most of our meal laughing over the menu, and joking about how almost everyone in the place was over 65, I should say that our meal was actually quite tasty. I mean, how can you go wrong with a meal like four buttermilk biscuits and country sausage patties, along with steak fries for under $7?

I don't have a burning desire to go back anytime soon, but it was fun for something different.


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Video Games: Ninja Gaiden DS

About two weeks ago I finished 120 hours of playing Disgaea DS. After that much turn-based strategy gaming, I thought it was time to move to something a little more action oriented: Ninja Gaiden DS. I've had the game waiting in the wings since last summer, but since I was enjoying Disgaea it never made the cut.

The game turned out to be about what I was expecting, a ninja fighting game. It had an interesting control scheme that was totally stylus based with only a block button, and the DS held vertically. You tapped the screen to move or shot a ranged weapon, slashed the screen to attack, and did combinations of slashes to pull off special moves.

The gameplay had lots of fighting enemies and a few magic-based puzzles. Unfortunately the DS limited the number of enemies on the screen, so you typically were fighting two or three enemies and when you killed one a new one spawned to replace it. There were about 20 enemies or perhaps slightly more, most that were somewhat indistinguishable or different looking guys who did exactly the same thing that some previous enemy did.

The game was definitely a Ninja Gaiden game of the new fighting-game variety that has been the norm since Ninja Gaiden on the XBox. It was reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden 2 on XBox 360 but without the depth of weapon variety, and unique strategies required for various enemy types.

My biggest complaint with the game is the fact that I am writing a review after only a couple weeks, and 6.5 hours of game playing. That's short by any standard, and while the game was very polished, it didn't really feel like a good value. Especially after I just spent 120 hours playing the game right before it. No admittedly there are more difficulty levels that I could play through, but there are no new levels or enemies, just less forgiving damage systems. That's not quite enough to make me particularly want to play through it again.

I don't want to sound like I didn't enjoy the game, it was indeed fun, but it was also short. I definitely was hoping for a longer game with more variety. Unfortunately that wasn't to be, so it is back to strategy games with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Movies

Over the past month, Linzy and/or I have watched quite a few movies. I suppose it is a combination of the cold weather outside and finding any excuse not to work on unpacking things.

9: I'm not exactly sure how I ended up with this movie on the Netflix queue, as I had never recalled hearing about it. It turned out to be pretty interesting, with a unique animation style, a cool world and story.

Confessions of a Shopoholic: We streamed this movie shortly after moving in, as a break from unpacking and it bored me. Linzy enjoyed it, and I found it amusing at times, but also predictable and slow moving.

(500) Days of Summer: I watched this while exercising, and found it to be pretty boring. I was expecting something humorous, though I am not sure why. It was occasionally funny, but not enough to keep me interested.

Sunshine Cleaning: We watched this with Linzy's parents. I thought it was OK, though no one else seemed to enjoy it.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist: This movie was another with some funny moments but also another one that bored me. Linzy enjoyed it.

Gamer: This was also a movie for exercising, and it was not slow moving by any means. The story was rudimentary and predictable, and the movie really wasn't very good, but it was good enough to watch while working out.

Pandorum: If you stuck your hand into a bag filled with Sci-Fi cliches, pulled out a dozen or so and then wrote a movie incorporating them all, your chances of writing Pandorum or something similar would be good. It wasn't terrible, of course, because there was a cool ship, the mystery of 'what happened', some fighting, etc. But it wasn't exactly good either.

Zombieland: Already mentioned here. Perfectly suited for watching while working out.

Surrogates: It was puppet master week at the Eck household, with Gamer followed by Surrogates. Surrogates fortunately had a murder-mystery story to keep things more interesting. It wasn't great, but both Linzy and I decided afterwards that it was entertaining.

The Guild Season 1: Very amusing, at least if you can appreciate a good MMORPG reference. Linzy even laughed at some of the jokes. We didn't have a chance to watch season 2, but I am looking forward to that.


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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Organization System: Piles

DSC_5055I've never had a three-car garage. Our old house had a two-car garage that was most likely the mathematical minimum for a garage to be called "two-car". Through careful planning, custom shelves, and generally trying to avoid having to put anything extra in the garage, we could fit both cars, the lawn mower, snow blower and the bikes.

The new house has a three-car garage that, compared with the old one, feels pretty spacious. Unfortunately I haven't had the time yet to build some shelves and actually arrange things in a reasonable manner. The result being the haphazard piles pictured above.

The good part is that as unorganized as everything is, it still fits very comfortably in the extra space, so no one has to park a car outside. Linzy is an understanding wife, but that seems like it would get me in trouble.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Limber Up

This week Zombieland arrived from Netflix and so I started watching it again while I was exercising. I am enjoying it again quite a bit. I was concerned initially that it wouldn't hold up to a second viewing, but it did. On the other hand, I remain convinced that Linzy would hate it, if for no other reason then the gore-level.

But how can you not love the survival rules?


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Exercise like it's 2001

DSC_5048One of the results of moving to the new house was that my exercise equipment got relegated to the basement. Now, it has always been in the basement, but our old house was a split level so the basement was finished and more-or-less intended to be fully livable. That also happened to be where our good TV and all of the electronics were setup. So as I acquired new entertainment toys like an HDTV, streamable Netflix, media centers, etc, all of it was available to use while I exercised.

At the new house there is a family room that gets the comfy furniture, good TV, and stereo system. The basement, on the other hand, is home to misfits like the old family room couch, my parent's old brown recliner, the garage sale furniture we acquired over the years, the old SDTV, the 2000-era DVD player, PS2, and my elliptical.

It's sort of like going back in time since almost everything dates back to around the time when we bought the old house, and was what we had in the basement nearly as long as we were there. I will admit that it is a bit annoying to go back to watching letterbox DVDs on a 4x3 TV again, but it works well enough for now.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roger Ebert

I stumbled upon Esquire's story on Roger Ebert and was fascinated tonight. I didn't realize that he had a bunch of surgeries for cancer in his throat and lost his lower jaw, can't speak or eat:

It has been nearly four years since Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. Now television's most famous movie critic is rarely seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.

It was a pretty interesting article.

I still remember when I got a VCR player when I was a kid. It came with a copy of a jumbo book of Roger Ebert movie review. I disagreed with many of them, of course, but it was still fun to read through and see what his explanation of the ratings was.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Convenience

Several weeks ago Linzy and I went over to the DMV to update our licenses. The process was reasonably easy, even with the almost cliche crabby attendants running the counter.

So last week my new license showed up in the mail and life was good. Until I was inspecting it for errors and realized the zip code was incorrect. It was still showing our old zip code which made me assume that I had written it down wrong, but after checking it was a mistake on their end.

Thinking about how to arrange time to go to the DMV during their business hours made me sad. While I was trying to figure out how I would work that out, I noticed on the pamphlet an e-mail address where it said to e-mail if you had problems.

On a whim I decided to e-mail them and see if I could avoid a trip back to the DMV. A day later I got a reply looking for my drivers license number, and a day after I sent them that, I got another reply saying that they found the error and a new license was on its way.

No trip to the DMV required, no arguing with angry DMV employees about how the wrong zip code got on the license, just a couple e-mails and everything is fixed. It was probably the way the system was 'supposed' to work. I was quite happy. I even promise not to sell the unclipped license to a bald 19-year old.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Piecemeal

The new family room didn't end up being arranged quite the way that I was originally thinking it would be. Well, it is arranged the way I was expecting, but there wasn't quite as much room where the TV is and so that meant that the speakers wouldn't fit the way I wanted. And that was as much of an excuse as I needed to buy new speakers, which have been long overdue.

So over the past couple weeks I've been slowly amassing speakers and speaker-related paraphernalia off the internet to be able to setup the family room. Unfortunately it's been an extremely iterative process, because I can never seem to plan everything I am going to need and order it all at once. There is still one piece on it's way, and that will make a grand total of five separate orders worth of stuff.

First I ordered the five speakers, and separately the subwoofer. This was a long story, but basically they didn't offer the 5.1 version of the speakers that I bought anymore, so I bought what is probably a better subwoofer separately through Amazon. Then a few days later I decided that banana plugs and 5-way binding post plate covers were far too expensive locally and ordered those from monoprice instead.

Later that week the speakers showed up (but not the woofer) and I discovered that they could not be mounted via the keyhole slots in the way that I thought they would be able to. So I had to order mounting kits, again from monoprice. And again wait a while for shipping.

Eventually by this weekend I finally had everything, only to realize that I had miscounted the banana plugs. I soldiered ahead with direct connections in some spots, but then realized that the center channel wiring that I wanted to do was not going to work. So that necessitated the fifth separate order, for a speaker shelf to put on the TV.

At this point we're up and running, but it took a ridiculous amount of ordering and that doesn't even address additional banana plugs if I decide to order more of those. Clearly I needed to do a bit more actual planning, rather then just ordering random stuff and then trying to make it work once it showed up. On the other hand, since I was ordering everything sight-unseen, it was a little hard to figure out how everything would work until I actually saw it. On the plus side the speakers sound good for how little I spent on them.


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

VIdeo Games: Disgaea DS

Back at the end of April I ordered a new DS game: Disgaea DS. I used a Christmas gift card on it, so it ended up costing me only $5. This afternoon on the bus ride home, after ~120 hours I finally 'finished' the game. Pretty good value for my entertainment dollar.

Disgaea is a turn-based strategy RPG, the kind that tend suck me in anyways, but it is particularly notorious for having an insane amount of additional content beyond the main game. There are two completely separate game modes, multiple bonus dungeons, as well as the crowning achievement in time-sink creativity: random dungeons in every item in the game. That is, every sword, helmet, potion, etc that you pick up sports a randomly generated dungeon of between 30-100 levels. Where you pick up tons more items, each with bonus dungeons. Etc.

That means effectively you could play the game forever and not 'finish' everything. Even after 120 hours I didn't have every item in the game, most notably the 'best' weapons in the game which require a frustrating combination of luck and hours and hours per weapon.

Instead I settled for beating both game modes, all of the bonus bosses, recruiting all the extra characters, getting all the unique items, and getting several level 9999 characters. After 120 hours, that seemed like plenty.

Amazingly the game was quite enjoyable nearly that entire time. I had fun building up my characters and working through the progression of being able to get to a bonus boss (let alone defeat it). There were, of course, some points that were monotonous most notably getting from about level 90 to 1000 via grinding on the same board over and over. And a few points that were frustrating, such as going through all 100 levels of a bonus item in one shot without saving (that took 4 consecutive bus rides to complete). But overall the game was surprisingly well balanced regardless of whether you were level 9 or 9000.

I can't think of a more positive thing to say about a game besides that I played and enjoyed the game for over nine months. It was a lot of fun, and I am disappointed none of the other Disgaea games have been ported to the DS.

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Daylight

Yesterday when I was leaving work the fact the sun had not set was particularly notable. It has been a long time since that was the case. Then this morning when I was leaving for work the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. Again, something that hasn't been the case for months.

We're not out of the leaving-in-the-dark-coming-home-in-the-dark woods quite yet, but definitely moving in the right direction!

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Over-Engineered

DSC_5036As I was coming home from work yesterday, thinking about all of the snow that drifted onto the driveway during the day, I realized that my gas can was still sitting in my parent's garage. When we moved in August, there was still a gallon or two of gas left, and I didn't want to put that in the storage unit unsupervised for 5 months so I brought it over to my parent's garage. And then promptly forgot about it when we moved out.

That was going to mean a lot of extra driving around in bad weather on an evening when I was already pressed for time. So in the end I decided to take my co-worker's advice, waste some money and just buy and fill another gas can on my way home. I stopped at a Kwik Trip and braced myself for outrageous pricing. They didn't have a particularly good selection but surprisingly they weren't that expensive.

When I got home and tried to use the can though, I realized it is the most overly complex gas can I've ever seen. I was expecting a spout and an air-hole cape and that was about it. Instead, the can came completely with five steps of directions to use it.

It was a good thing they included those directions because otherwise I would never have figured it out. There's a squeeze and twist cap on the spout. Then you have to twist and compress the spring-loaded spout to vent the can. The directions made it look like the spout would lock open at that point, but it doesn't. Instead you have to wedge a little hook over the side of the gas tank opening so that you can compress the spout while simultaneously pouring out the gas. The end result of that first pouring attempt resulted in, predictably, gas all over the place, but very little in the tank.

Talk about over-engineered. I assume the whole contraption is intended to be safer in some way, but seriously, who needs a spring loaded gas can? That just sounds like a bad combination.

Looks like I'll be making sure to pick up the old, simple, can on my next trip to my parent's.


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Monday, February 08, 2010

A Day in Pictures - 2010

Since I started this blog, on February 8th I've posted pictures of my day. There's nothing special about February 8th per-se, but it's become tradition and sometimes even results in an amusing post.

This year we've been so busy I completely forgot about it until I was coming home from a long day at work and noticed the date. Unfortunately to make matters worse we got a bit of snow and so a good portion of my time was eaten up clearing the driveway. So instead of time to spend making masks and capes for Pippen and I, all you get is pictures of what was my evening.

The new house is in on the edge of a development, so there is nothing to stop the wind from building up some good speed and blowing across the yard/driveway. That resulted in huge drifts:
DSC_5020

The biggest drift was right down the middle of the driveway and was about 4 feet tall. There were several other three+ foot drifts.
DSC_5021

I don't think that in all the years that I've owned a house, I've ever had drifts where it was legitimately a problem to throw snow over the piles on the side of the driveway.
DSC_5027

After I was done snowblowing and shoveling, Linzy made a batch of popcorn in the new whirly-pop, and we watched the end of a Criminal Minds episode.
DSC_5029

When that was over, I just barely had enough time to pull the pictures off the camera before my weekly conference calls with India started.
DSC_5031

Unfortunately, that was the extent of my day. Not very exciting, but perhaps next year I will have more time to devote to a detailed post.


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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rusty

On of the things that I found myself missing while we were in between houses was Rock Band. Not regularly, as things were generally pretty busy and I had a few other games to play, but every now and thing I would feel like playing some Rock Band 2 and couldn't.

So last weekend after things had started to get settled in at the house a bit, I found a bit of time to play some Rock Band. I bought some new songs that I had been looking forward to for quite a while and....found that I'm ridiculously rusty. Embarrassingly rusty.

Now I bought a pack of new songs which were all rated in the highest two difficulty levels, so they aren't easy, but most should have been very playable on expert. Except that I didn't pass any of them.

Looks like I'll have some practicing to do before I'm ready for songs from Rust in Peace, which will surely be added to the collection.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Pippen Island

While Linzy and I are thrilled with the new house, our dog Pippen is not as enthusiastic. You might even say she hates it.

The biggest trouble is the hardwood floors, which unfortunately for Pippen cover most of the main level and you can't even get to the stairs to the bedrooms without walking on them. Pippen's refusal to step on the hardwood floors meant that she was more-or-less in self-imposed exile in the (carpeted) great room which we were referring to as Pippen island.

Combined with her refusal to have anything to do with the stairs, Pippen spent several miserable days stubbornly stuck in the family room and having to be carried up and down the stairs. After a few days she started at least going up the stairs (but not down), and would make terrified dashes from rug to carpeted rooms or going out into the dinette (but not around the corner and down the hall).

On Saturday we had plans at night and so left Pippen alone for the evening. At some point she must have worked up the courage to go down the hall and up the stairs, where she ended up being effectively trapped (luckily a bed is up there for her). When we got home, she was laying at the top of the stairs, stuck thanks to her refusal to go down the stairs.

Things have gradually been getting better and on Sunday Pippen finally went down the stairs for the first time by herself. We felt pretty terrible watching the dog work through her neuroses, but helpless at the same time. It still takes a lot of coaxing to get her to go across the floors, but that is getting less each day so there appears to be hope that at some point she'll get used to the new place.

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