Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Record

As anyone who has tried to stream Netflix videos knows, even though they offer HD quality levels on many movies if your network speed supports it, there is roughly a 0% chance that you will actually succeed in watching the whole show at that level. At least I've never seen it happen. Tonight Linzy and I were watching an episode of Dollhouse via streaming and the 360 spent a lot of time on video startup buffering HD quality for the show. Which lasted all of 16 seconds, before it adjusted back to SD quality.

Normally our router/cable modem are able to eke out at least a few minutes of high quality before falling back to normal mode, but today apparently we didn't even make it out of the first buffer. Linzy and I had been playing a game of trying to guess how long the HD would last whenever the shows switch back and forth, but 16 seconds was far below even our most pessimistic estimates.

Since many evenings I have to release/renew the DHCP address on our router in order to be able to do much of anything, I assume that is at least part of the problem, but it still seems funny that each time we start a show it is 'sure' that this time HD is going to work.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Work With Me Here

The Altima is in currently in the shop for a minor, but expensive repair to the exhaust system. That car will be turning eight this September, and up to this point has had only one other repair we had to pay for (an O2 sensor). That kind of reliability, however, doesn't buy loyalty in this household, as Linzy talks regularly about replacing it with something more to her liking.

The problem, other then that pesky 'paying for it' issue, is that the other car will be 10 years old in September and so should have first dibs on any replacement plans. Fortunately that car has also been super reliable, with just one repair we had to pay for (again, an O2 sensor).

So while neither car really deserves immediate plans for replacement, as they creep up in age and miles we've been trying to figure out what the right course of action is that will keep us with reliable cars but not break the bank. While also struggling with my innate preference to refuse to replace a working and reliable vehicle. The lack of a clear plan means we just keep doing what we're doing, which is...nothing: Linzy talks about new cars a few times a week and I keep more-or-less doing nothing.

Anyways, when Linzy took the car in for the exhaust repair, they didn't have the parts and so gave her a loaner car for the evening. That loaner turned out to be a Nissan Rogue, one of the top cars on Linzy's list of replacements. So Linzy's spent the day tooling around in a shiny new dream car, checking out the spacious trunk and testing the AWD handling.

Which I'm sure will end up costing us money, over and above whatever the repair costs. No word yet on whether the sales people walked her around the lot past all of the cars until they found one that made her eyes dilate with new car frenzy.


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Sunday, June 27, 2010

TV Shuffle

For the past three weeks, since the TV in the basement burnt up, I've been watching videos on my ipod while exercising. This worked OK in a pinch, enough to watch several episodes of House, the last half of Dodgeball, and all of Juno, but it didn't work all that great. For one thing my 160GB iPod Classic has a pretty small screen, especially when sitting on the display of the elliptical. Also my headphones and cord didn't cooperate all that well with the elliptical motion so I was always worried they were going to get caught on something and yank the ipod off the machine.

So while it was definitely workable, by this weekend I had had enough and on Saturday agreed that it was finally time to replace the TV. Except what we actually ended up replacing was the bedroom TV, and that one was relegated to the basement. That TV is a 32" 16x9 LCD and so works fine in the basement. It's virtually exactly the same size as the 32" 4x3 tube TV that broke when displaying a DVD. Plus the picture is substantially better.

After spending a while looking at all the various options at Best Buy, we settled on a 40" Samsung 1080p LCD. My original plan was to buy a cheap 42" Insignia, but after looking at it side by side with the Samsung there was no way I could buy it. It wasn't that the colors were brighter on the Samsung (though in typical 'store demo' mode they were), but they were just wrong. Then we spent a while trying to figure out whether we should actually get the same TV in a 46" for a little bit more, since the sitting room is quite a bit further away from the TV then the bed is. But in the end we decided that since we don't watch TV in the sitting room it was silly to spend extra money on a larger TV. So we went with the 40" Samsung, and its impressive 65k:1 contrast ratio.

Of course, the money that we saved by going with the smaller TV, I promptly got suckered into spending on something else: a Blu-ray player. You see they had a table full of open-box Blu-ray players that were $100 with the purchase of a TV, including a Sony BDP-S560 player that normally sells for over $200. How could I pass that up?

Sure, you could argue we don't even own a single Blu-ray movie. Or, that I'm probably far too cheap to spend $4 a month extra to add them to our Netflix plan (when did they get so expensive, BTW, I was thinking $2/month). Or that, that particular Sony model doesn't actually do much of anything other then play movies. But, 50% off? Even if we only use it as a fancy 1080p upconvert DVD player it seemed like a deal at $100.

So, we're now once again fully stocked on TVs and have one more somewhat unnecessary electrical gadget filling up the empty places in our TV stand. Sounds like a successful weekend to me!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Little Dab Will Do Ya

DSC_5298Last weekend when we were over at my parent's house for father's day my parent's gave me a bottle of Naga Jolokia ghost pepper hot sauce. They had apparently seen it at the Minneapolis farmer's market and picked it up for me after remembering me telling them about the ghost pepper.

The bottle lists the heat rating as "insane++" and says the sauce is good on many types of ethnic foods as well as being an excellent industrial cleaner. I assume that last part is a joke, but the sauce does contain pure hot pepper extract as well, so in a pinch it could probably double for mace.

Anyways, my Dad, Mom and I all decided to try the sauce on a little piece of tortilla. We went cautious, using a toothpick to get one drop per piece. The bottle does not have a flow regulator, so there was no other real way to limit the amount. Even with just a drop, I could definitely feel the heat, as both my tongue and lips were tingling. The sauce actually had a better flavor then some other ones I've had, much less tabasco-y. And the heat stayed with you for a long time. It was actually amazing how long considering how little we put on.

Using a drop at a time, it is going to take me a long time to go through 5oz of the sauce, but I definitely will be trying it some more.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Any Explanation Will Do

For the past several weeks, my hybrid bike has been sitting in the garage unloved and unused after getting his third flat tire this year in the same number of bike rides. Eventually I relented and let it be taken over to the bike shop for repairs, specifically requesting a new rear wheel, new rear tire and new tube. That is, having anything on that rear wheel that could possibly be causing all of these flat tires replaced.

After inspecting it, the bike shop insisted that there was nothing wrong with the wheel and that the latest flat had come from a failure on my part to install the tube correctly. They also replaced the rim tape and called it fixed.

So this weekend I was excited to have it back and operational and went for a bike ride on Saturday. On Sunday I went out to use it again, only to find the tire flat. Again. Making it four flat rear tires in as many rides this season.

I brought it back to the shop again with, I will admit, a bit of an attitude since they had just previously impugned my tube installation ability, to see what possible explanation they had this time. At first the guy claimed the tube was fine, and that it was a beading problem. But then realized there was a small puncture in the tire, and so claimed it had been under inflated due to the heat causing tires to deflate (don't even try to work out the physics there). Except that I always pump up the tires before each ride. So then he said it was probably that I hadn't let the air out when it was stored in the winter. Which I did actually do, not that the reasoning on how that would affect the third tube this year made any sense. Then he said that the bike was too dirty and needed a tuneup.

Really? Dirt? Why not sunspots? Or aliens?

In the end I left with a free new tube, but no satisfactory explanation. I haven't decided if the bike is dead to me, yet, but at this point it is pretty close to going to a new home where I am sure it will be perfectly cooperative. I'm not even sure why I didn't demand they allow me to pay for a full rear wheel replacement, whether they thought it was required or not.

For reference, the official theories on the four flats:
1) First ride of the year - some sort of problem with the tube from being stored over the winter.
2) A really old tube that had developed a flaw
3) Poor installation of the tube by yours truly
4) Under inflated tube

If you are a fan of coincidence, I believe you could sum it up as 'monumentally bad luck'. If that is the case, I should add, I have a lovely, if apparently somewhat dirty, hybrid bike that I would be willing to part with for cheap.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Landscaping

DSC_5280On Friday, three weeks and two days shy of when we signed the purchase agreement on the new house we finally received the last of the outstanding items to complete our home: a lawn!

The landscaping in the front yard was completed at the beginning of the month, and then last week was a frenzy of activity with tree delivery for seven trees and sprinkler system installation on Wednesday, garage door painting, and finally sod installation on Friday afternoon. It is hard to describe how annoying it is to live for four months in spring and summer with just a dirt yard. Everything seems to always be dusty and muddy no matter how diligently we try to keep it clean. But now we have sod and in three weeks or so I'll be back to complaining about having to mow the lawn all the time.

It takes a lot of sod to do an entire lawn.
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Closer look at some of the landscaping in front.
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A fully sodded backyard
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The three new 10' River Birch clumps.
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I'm really excited to have the lawn rooted in and able to be used in a few weeks.


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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Split Rock Lighthouse

IMG_0325On Monday to celebrate our seventh anniversary, Linzy and I took a trip up to Split Rock Lighthouse which is about 20 miles north of Two Harbors. The drive from Linzy's parent's house was pretty quick and so we got their shortly after it opened. That turned out to be a good plan because even though it was a Monday as the day wore on the crowds definitely picked up.

I had never been to the lighthouse and Linzy had not been for quite a while, so we both had a good time. There was a pretty interesting movie that we started with, and then we went on the 45 minute guided tour. After that we spent some time wandering around the grounds, hiking down to the shore to check out the 150 foot cliff the light house sits on, and generally enjoying the views of the lake.

The whole facility was pretty interesting, with costumed guides in the keeper's house and the lighthouse, lots of vintage equipment to look at, and interesting information on how the lighthouse beacon worked. We ended up spending almost three hours there, and had a really good time.

The foghorn building and the lighthouse.
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The lighthouse keeper's house, as well as the first and second assistant's houses. They were quite fancy by 1910 standards, with running water and indoor toilets, although no electricity until the 19402.
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The shoreline to the south.
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There are more pictures in the Flickr set.


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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Will it Run?

IMG_0272On Sunday during the birthday party at Linzy's parents place, the conversation turned to the 1972 Winnebago Brave that is sunk into the ground out near their garage. There is some debate as to exactly when it was last operational, but all parties put the date somewhere around 15 years ago. At one point Larry was talking about doing something with the Winnie, and I was teasing him that it wouldn't even start anymore.

He, and the other people in the room, insisted that in fact it would. Being a carbureted vehicle and all, if nothing else pouring gas directly into the carburetor would be sufficient to get it running. I scoffed and stood my ground, and eventually a bet was proposed. One dollar from me that it wouldn't start, even with a new battery and gas straight in the carb. I offered the deal to all comers, but no one would take me up on it.

Later that night, I had put my dollar on the TV stand to try to drum up some takers, and I got Lonny's interest piqued as well. He was also confident it would start. Eventually despite no one wanting to take my money, Lonny and I went out to try to get it started.
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The engine turned out to be basically inside the cab, covered by a thin carpet and plastic cover. The hole in the roof was blocked by the bunk bed, so the engine was actually in much better shape then I was expecting. So we hooked up Grandma's Oldsmobile Cutlass that is parked right next to the Winnie to give it a jump.

After a while Larry couldn't resist either, and came to help. Eventually we decided the Olds' battery wasn't up to snuff, and so switched it out for Larry's truck. That got things closer and the Winnie's engine started turning over, but never quite caught. In the end we had to stop because all of the attempted starts were melting the jumper cables, which must not have had a good connection.
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No one had been willing to take me up on the bet, but Lonny and I declared it a draw regardless, since while the engine was clearly close to starting it never actually got going long enough for us to say 'it's going'. It turned out to be kind of fun, if a bit pointless.

The dead jumper cable, melted to the negative battery cable
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The effort wasn't a total loss, as Lonny found a usable strainer abandoned in the Winnie.
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Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend

Linzy and I were up in Duluth this weekend and came back today. It was a full weekend of family activities, with a cousin's graduation party on Saturday and then family birthdays on Sunday. We also had some time to spent catching up with Linzy's parents and grandparents.

Today Linzy and I celebrated our 7th anniversary, and instead of making a day trip to a specific town like in the past, we drove up to Split Rock Lighthouse and spent several hours touring the site. It was more interesting then either of us was expecting, and on the way back we stopped for a nice lunch at a little cafe along highway 61 before heading back to Duluth and then home.

While it wasn't a particularly lazy weekend, it was fun to see everyone and Linzy and I had a good time seeing the lighthouse. It's nice to be home now, and staying here for the next few weeks.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Movies

All of the flying around the last three weeks gave me plenty of time to watch TV episodes on my iPod, and Linzy and I watched a few movies as well.

Deja Vu - I can look beyond time travel in a movie, and in this particular case it was at least an interesting premise for how a crime mystery would be solved. I wouldn't have any need to watch it again, but it was moderately entertaining the first time.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 - Finally after close to two years, Linzy and I finally finished watching the Battlestar Galactica series. I had been prepped by just about everyone to expect serious disappointment over the ending, so surprisingly I didn't think it was nearly as bad as everyone was making it out to be. In fact in some ways I liked the tidy wrap-up. I will say that the mutiny episodes from the final season were some of the best.

The Blind Side - What can I say, I'm a sucker for feel-good football movies, I liked it. Linzy did as well. Very entertaining.

Legion - Holy crap was this movie bad. There is no reason to watch it, ever.

Daybreakers - We watched this on the same weekend as Legion, and so perhaps it was just by comparison but I thought this was interesting. It wasn't the best movie, but I liked the look of the film and enjoyed the plot.

House Season 4 - I watched the first three seasons very regularly, but then for some reason got sidetracked with other shows. I forgot how much I enjoy a good House episode. This season was the one where he has a survivor-style competition for the open positions on his staff and I thought that was entertaining. Once they wrapped that up, things got somewhat less interesting but I still watched the whole season in less then a month (on planes and while exercising).

Lost Season 4 - All of the hype for the series finale made me remember that I had stopped watching the show regularly several years ago. I'm only a few episodes into the season but it has been entertaining so far. Linzy hates it.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Snap, Crackle, Pop

This weekend one morning I went down to the basement to do my exercising. I got everything all set and started off on the elliptical watching the second-to-the-last episode of 24 Season 1. About 5 minutes into it, all of the sudden the TV made a snapping sound and turned off. The second I smelled an electrical burning small I knew that things were not good.

After unplugging it and plugging it back in, when I tried to turn it back on all it did was make crackling and popping sounds over and over. Looking in the back, you could see the electricity arcing inside the TV. I quickly unplugged the TV.

I've looked a bit on the Internet, but can't find much about how to repair a 1999-era Magnavox 32" tube TV. There also appears to be no easy-to-remove panel on the back that would even allow me access to replace or repair parts. The TV has survived several moves, being dropped on it's face, and quite a bit of use between 1999-2006.

But regardless, it looks like another TV purchase is in my future. The current debate is whether I buy one for the basement directly, or if I replace the one in the bedroom with something more appropriate for the larger room we have now. I'm actually quite disappointed as it felt like I was being fiscally responsible by using the old TV in the basement for the four hours a week I am down there, rather then buying some shiny new toy. I guess it wasn't meant to be.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Supervising

The flight from Minneapolis to Appleton, WI takes about an hour via turboprop plane. Coming back takes less time (not sure why as that seems opposite of the jetstream), only about 55 minutes or so. On Friday when I flew back it was on a regional jet, which cut the time even further, down to about 44 minutes.

On the hour, and the 55 minute flight they make an attempt to have a beverage service, but between take off, getting to cruising altitude, descending, and landing the actual time for serving drinks is pretty short. They basically run up the aisle serving drinks and then almost instantly turn around and collect the empty cups. On the larger, and fast regional jet, however they didn't even make that effort. They just announced no drink service due to the length of the flight and left it at that.

Interestingly, however, the flight still had a stewardess. Her sole job appeared to be sitting in her jumpseat facing the back of the plane, keeping an eye on the passengers. She read a paper and would periodically look up and make sure everyone was behaving, and then would go back to reading. It looked like an extremely boring way to spend 8-10 hours flying back and forth to Appleton.

When I was in college I flew back and forth from Minneapolis and Duluth a few times, which is even shorter (~160 miles versus 235). For some reason I remember getting a drink service on one of the flights. So, I was wondering whether 44 minutes with a full regional jet is actually the minimum bar in terms of time or whether it comes down to a cost cutting measure.


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Monday, June 07, 2010

Ritter Farm Park

DSC_5260Over Memorial Day weekend, Linzy and I were looking to get out and enjoy the weather and do some walking with Pippen. After some discussion over where to go, we eventually settled on Ritter Farm Park for a couple reasons. First, because we had never been there (although we tried to go over the winter but it was closed for an event that had a cover charge) and second because it is a less well-known park and so we were hoping it would not be quite as crowded.

The park turned out to be deserted, as far as I could tell we were the only people there. The trails seemed nice, although the one that we picked to walk turned out to not have much protection from the extremely hot afternoon sun. It wasn't long before Pippen was trying to take a break in what little shade she could find if we were taking too long to catch up.

In the end, we ended up not staying as long as we originally planned because it was just too hot. Still, the park seemed pretty nice, especially because it is fairly close by but not nearly as crowded as some of the other local parks. The trails were also longer then many of the other parks. I can also see why it would be crowded in the winter as the trails would be perfect for cross-country skiing. I'm sure we will go back at some point for a longer trip.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

You People

On Thursday evening at 7:15 I was supposed to be flying home on a luxurious turbo-prop from Appleton. Instead, at 6:00 I was dropping off a co-worker at the airport to take that same flight home, and calling our travel agency to extend my trip another day.

Me: Hi, I am supposed to be on a flight in an hour, but something came up and so I have to change flights. Could you please rebook me on tomorrow's flight?
Travel Agent: Okay, no problem.
Me: Great. I'd like the 3pm flight tomorrow.
Travel Agent: Okay. Err. Wait, are you checked in?
Me: Yeah, my plans just changed in the last twenty minutes.
Travel Agent: Oh. Well I can't change your ticket if you are checked in. Go online and cancel the checking
Me: I'm in a car, I can't really do that right now.
Travel Agent: Sigh. Are you sure?
Me: Uh, yeah, I really can't get online right now.
Travel Agent: Sigh.
Me: ...
Travel Agent: Sigh. Now I'll have to call Delta, and that will take 45 minutes.
Me: Hmm, sorry.
Travel Agent: You people are always making it so hard on us, checking in for flights and then wanting to change plans.
Me: Uhh, look, I'm the one who has to stay here an extra day instead of going home. So I'm not doing it on purpose. I'm sorry it makes your job harder.


I can honestly say that I was not expecting to get a lecture from the travel agent. Nor was I particularly in the mood for politely agreeing that I was a cad by having checked in for a flight online, knowing that I was also going to have to call and disappoint Linzy next. Although I can certainly sympathize with her frustration over last minute changes as I imagine having your job be to man the 'departure in less then 4 hours' line on our travel number results in basically 100% of your time spent cleaning up emergency travel reservations for people. And that would pretty much suck. I guess I was one of 'those people' last week, though through no real fault of my own.


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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Boys will be Boys

On Monday night after dinner Linzy and I took Pippen on our normal evening walk around the neighborhood. On the way, we passed one of the neighbor high school boys walking back to his house in football pads and uniform, along with another boy dress in a spandex dress. They tried to play it cool while walking past, but broke down in fits of giggles after passing us but while still in earshot. We laughed about how they were obviously up to something, but didn't think too much else about it.

Several hours later, we were in the family room watching the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, and I noticed the boys standing on boulders in the neighbor's landscaping doing what looked like posing for pictures. The boy in the dress now had a long red haired wig on, and there was a third boy doing something as well. This went on for well over an hour, when all of the sudden a fourth boy wearing nothing but a speedo started doing running laps around the house. Later, all of the boys were running around in the backyard, the one boy still wearing only a speedo.

The big question, of course, was what in the world they were doing. Neither Linzy or I could figure out what was going on. The best guess was some sort of joke graduation pictures, or shooting some sort of video. Or, perhaps it was just high school boys being silly. Who knows, but it was pretty funny.


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