Thursday, July 29, 2010

No Roads!

Tonight there was a public meeting regarding some changes that the developer is trying to push through to the third phase of development in our neighborhood. Specifically, to go along with the lower priced houses, they rezoned a bunch of the lots and managed to squeeze three more in (34 instead of 31). That represents a nice chunk of change for the developer, so they are certainly interested in pushing this through.

The Lakeville planning commission on the other hand most likely doesn't care since the lots still meet the minimum size requirements for this density of housing and so just asked that they hold a public meeting to make sure the neighborhood was OK with it. Linzy and I assumed the meeting would be people from the neighborhood upset with the smaller lots.

Instead, there was no one from our neighborhood there, other then us. However there were about 15 people from the next street over who were pissed about plans to connect a stub road to their street.

When we first got the notice I didn't think much of the comment that they would be connecting to the next road over, thinking "well of course you would, why leave a road going nowhere when there is a street to connect to". What I didn't realize at the time was that the next street over is unpaved. And the people from that neighborhood are super concerned with just about everything happening and whether it will mean sewer, water and paved road assessments for them.

The interesting thing was that the road connection has been planned forever because the plan is to some day convert the main arterial road into a four-lane divided road at which point you won't be able to turn one direction off their street. So without the road connection to our neighborhood they would have to go the wrong way and do a U-turn if they wanted to make a left turn. So it was inevitable that this would have to happen eventually.

The good deal for them is that more-or-less the city is making the developer pay for the road stub. Oh, they are charging back a nominal fee but I assume it is minuscule in the hopes of sweetening the deal. But the residents can decline the offer of a road and instead gamble on when they will be forced to connect that road. At which point, of course, they will be assessed for it.

Explaining this at the meeting took much, much longer then you might image. One lady, as far as I could tell, pretty much insisted in yelling "We don't need a road! I don't want a four-lane divided highway!" regardless of how many times the city engineer patiently explained that pretty much was as far from what was being proposed as possible.

I asked my question in the first three minutes (the average size of lots in the new plan versus the old plan), was completely unsurprised to hear they were unprepared to actually discuss facts, and then we spent the rest of the time listening in amusement to the vehemence over not wanting their road connected to the rest of city in any way shape or form. So while it was exactly what I was expecting in terms of irrationally angry citizens, the topic of their wrath was not at all what I was expecting.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Busy, Busy

Things have been quiet around the blog lately, and it is likely to continue for at least a bit. I was traveling parts of the previous two weeks and will be gone most of next week as well. On top of that, things have been pretty bad at the office so that isn't helping matters either.

On the other hand, things could be far worse. We got to do fun things last weekend, finally found more-or-less matching chairs to add to our kitchen table, and I even found time this weekend to play through about 10 of the 64 endgame missions in Final Fantasy 13. Eventually the rest of the stuff will work itself out one way or another.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

All Good Things

Back in 2008 I had written about the trouble with Microsoft Money's uncertain future. At the time I decided to go with the ostrich technique and ignore the fact that 2008 was effectively the end of the line for the product and hope that in two years the troubles with personal finance software had been resolved. Well last week we started getting a pop-up in Money saying that the two year grace period for online services was finally coming to an end next month.

That leaves us in more-or-less the same place as 2008, trying to decide what to do when the software expires. I've used Microsoft Money since about 1994 and my current database file goes back to 1996. It's also what we use for online bill pay and generally after 16 years of use the whole process of doing the finances with Microsoft Money is pretty streamlined. Not perfect, certainly, but plenty close enough for what little I need it to do.

I looked at taking the cowards way out and getting Quicken but integrated bill pay costs a ridiculous $10 a month, and the software is $90 all of which seems outrageous.

Mint.com seems better, it finally tracks investments which is a major improvement over 2008, I'm still not a huge fan of their limited selection of graphs or the fact that I apparently have to login somewhat regularly in order to have it able to download all the transactions. Why can't it just check that stuff out in the background and have it ready for when I log in? Also the single minded focus on read-only means no hope of integrated ability to pay bills or transfer money which is too bad. That is more then just the inconvenience of having to use two separate programs, as you can't get a projected future view of balances against bills that need to be paid, so there is a bigger chance of me messing something up and/or having to keep more of a buffer in accounts that earn no interest.

On the bill pay front, TCF now offers online bill pay for free, which seems to fill that gap. Our credit card does as well though that is through a very cumbersome system that requires you to also register online with the merchant. Still either seems likely to work.

So even though I would be glad to pay an exorbitant rate just to extend the use of my copy of Microsoft Money, it appears Microsoft doesn't want our money and we'll have to move on. At this point I'm inclined to use mint.com for viewing balances, the credit card bill pay for the bills and TCF's bill pay to pay the credit card. That seems overly complicated compared with the one program we have now, but we'll see. Maybe I should just go back to a manual check register method.

If anyone has suggestions I'd be happy to hear them.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Flugtag!

IMG_1740On Saturday Linzy, Brenden, Allison and I, along with 90,000 of our closest friends went to the Red Bull Flugtag event in St. Paul. I was really surprised at the number of people who showed up for the Flugtag. I had originally seen an ad on one of the buildings downtown, but Linzy said they were also advertising on TV and the radio.

The first sign of the crowds was when we spent an hour stopped on the highway waiting to exit at Kellogg. There appeared to be little to no assistance from the St. Paul police to direct traffic or try to manage 90,000 people heading to a 40,000 capacity island. After spending a bit trying to find a parking ramp that wasn't already full, we walked over toward Harriet Island. We never made it to the actual island as that looked even more packed then side closest to the Science Museum and Xcel Center. We did walk down to the river edge, but could actually see better from a little ways back so that you could see over the people in front. Unfortunately we didn't see the world record breaking flight from Major Trouble and the Dirty Dixies.

IMG_1732

The Flugtag was fun, the weather was really nice, and it was amusing to watch the crafts try to fly. Certainly if you were a college kid, it was the place to be. We couldn't hear or see much of the skits/dancing before launching crafts but we could see the takeoffs pretty well. I think it would have been even more fun to see it up close, but it was still a good time even across the river. If they have another one in the Twin Cities some day, hopefully they'll be a little more prepared for the crowds, but I would definitely go again.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Video Games: Final Fantasy 13

A month or so ago, I finally completed Final Fantasy 13 after about 45-50 hours of play time (across three or four months). Overall I enjoyed the game. I am well aware of the negative reviews, and while I can certainly agree with the complaints about the linear nature of the storyline, I had fun playing through the main quest anyways.

On the good side, I liked the paradigm battle system, and the incremental leveling system (lots of little improvements to your characters rather then major jumps). I also appreciated that all of the characters gained experience at the same rate regardless of whether they were in your party at any given time, even if that did mean that I mostly played with the same characters for the second half of the game. Most of the areas were interesting in terms of the visual style, and the story was at least somewhat interesting.

On the bad side, the game featured an upgrade system for weapons that was completely silly. It basically made collecting weapons after you started upgrading things pointless, which in turn largely marginalized treasure chests from that point on as they either contained weapons you didn't want, potions you likely wouldn't use, or components for upgrading weapons that needed to be collected in huge quantities to make any difference. Also some of the larger areas that had many, many enemies got very repetitive as you fought them over and over with the same party (because those were the only characters with upgraded weapons). Finally towards the very end of the game, the difficulty level ramped up such that any given enemy could wipe your party with just a couple unlucky combinations of attacks or debuffs. Most of that is par for a FF game, of course, but still annoyed me at times. Especially the broken weapon system.

I haven't played much of the end game since, in an interesting design decision, you have to beat the game to open up most of the high level content. That's apparently directly aimed at people like me who sometimes don't even finish the main game because we get side tracked trying to collect every super weapon (I'm looking at you FF6 and FF7).

Overall Final Fantasy 13 was an enjoyable diversion. I can understand the complaints about the game, but at the same time I didn't think it was that much worse then some of the other games in the series. I'll likely play some of the end game content, at least until my party is strong enough to take down the giant turtles.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Traitor

 On Saturday last weekend I had some free time in Appleton and so my co-worker and I went up to Green Bay and took a tour of Lambeau Field. The tour was a bit expensive ($11 a person) but took you through a 49 person suite, through the Packer's tunnel onto the field and on the field itself (more-or-less, you couldn't go on the grass).

We were outed almost immediately as non-Packer fans, likely in part because we were nearly the only people on the tour without some form of Packers apparel, and the tour guide and other tourists harassed us mercilessly for the rest of the tour. The stadium seemed nice, the new atrium and suites that were added a few years ago are definitely top end. The 'bowl' of the stadium was left alone during the last renovation and the aluminum benches look like they would be awfully cold during those late season games.

I was disappointed that we didn't get to see the locker rooms, that seemed like it would have been a good addition to the tour. The claim was that they were open to players year round and so they couldn't have random people in there. Which is likely true, but still would have added some more value to the tour. Going through the tunnel, however, was pretty cool. As was standing on the field and listening to the Packers fans yell "Go Pack Go" across the field and having it echo back.

Before the tour we ate at Curly's Pub (named after Curly Lambeau). They had Curly's Ale, made by Leinenkugel's especially for Lambeau Field which tasted a lot like Leine's Red. They also played perfectly into the Wisconsin cliches with a half-pound burger that came with a quarter-pound sausage on top of it, and sauerkraut. I was too chicken to order it, but my co-worker did and said it was awesome.

We also stopped at the Packers pro shop where I was disappointed in the lack of loony Packers gear. Given the fervor of their fans, I was expecting some over-the-top items but mostly they were very run of the mill. Apparently the NFL has clamped down on just what you can put your logo on.

Overall the tour was fun, even for a non Packers fan. I talked to several people at our customer's site who described it as a near 'religious experience' and I could see that if you were a Packers fanatic.


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rules, Rules

 I'm back from Appleton, safe and sound. Things went well enough that I could move up my flight today by a few hours. Appleton is a nice enough town, but I don't particularly like extended business travel, so I was ready to be back at home.

On Sunday night after all the work was completed, my co-worker and I went out for a drink. The bar area in Appleton is clearly a college-driven affair as during the summer all of the bars on main street (college ave) are filled with only half-a-dozen or so people. On Sunday most weren't even open. We eventually found one with an outdoor seating area on the sidewalk, and sat down to wait for a waitress. After a while I went in to find out how to get service and quite a bit later I came out empty handed. My co-worker was confused and asked "what just happened".

Here were the rules for that particular establishment, deduced through trial-and-error and being scolded:
* You did not have to go inside to order however, if you did not no waitress would come outside.
* You could order inside but you could not carry drinks outside yourself.
* The bouncer could carry drinks for you, but clearly didn't want to.
* The waitress didn't either, since you had ordered from the bartender instead of her.

When I first tried carrying my drinks outside and the bouncer stopped me and said I couldn't bring them outside, I honestly thought he was joking. Eventually we were able to navigate the gauntlet of beverage-related restrictions to legally get two beers into the outdoor seating area, but it was amusing in a 'really?' sort of way?

In the end we left after our one beer, partly because it had been a long day, and partly because I didn't want to go through the work of trying to get another drink. Now that's customer service.


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pastries

I'm in Appleton for the next six days, on a business trip. I'm hopeful this trip will be the one where we turn the corner. While we'll be working all day on Sunday, it looks like Saturday will be mostly free. Which begs the question: what does one do in Appleton for entertainment?

The obvious candidate was originally a tour of Lambeau Field, but then today when we were walking through downtown I saw a sign for a pastry museum. And so the competition for my entertainment dollar was on.

The Internet reports many Harry Houdini-related items, in addition to some place with the world's foremost collection of glass paperweights. Then tonight we were walking around town and stumbled on a concert in the park drawing a good crowd with the Fat Bass.

So from a plethora of options, I'll end up having to choose only a few. If anyone has suggestions, let me know.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Guild: Season 3

During my movie write-up yesterday, one show slipped my mind (mostly because I cheat and mostly just look at our Netflix history to come up with the shows to mention). The missed show was the second half of the third season of The Guild.

I've mentioned The Guild here a couple times before, and both Linzy and I enjoy it. The episodes are short so you can zip through a whole season in not too long. Both Season 1 and Season 2 were funny, and Season 3 definitely had some very amusing moments. Probably the one we laughed the hardest at was the episode in which the guild accepts video submissions for a new member. They were both hilarious and exactly what I instantly envisioned when one of the characters said "I put out a call for video applications for the guild".

Wil Wheaton was awesome as the enemy guild leader, of course, and the season was overall quite good. It was convenient timing that we finished the season since season 4 came out this week, and so we can watch that over the next few months as the episodes come out.

If you haven't watched The Guild yet and you can appreciate a good MMORPG reference (or even just appreciate nerdy video game playing characters) the show is definitely worth watching. It's far less mainstream then Big Bang Theory, but still accessible enough for Linzy to enjoy it.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movies

I didn't have anything amusing to mention here tonight, and since its been about a month since the last time I consolidated quick reviews of the movies I've been watching, that's what you get today.

Clerks 2 - Oh, Kevin Smith how you break my heart. I really want to like your movies again, but they've been so bad for so long. I really liked Clerks back in the day, Clerks 2 on the other hand has very few redeeming qualities. A few funny parts, sure, but overall it was not very good. Almost too dull to make it through while exercising.

New In Town - Fred mocked me for having allowed this to grace our doorstep, and in my defense it was a mistake, but it was on our queue so at some level you knew it was going to show up someday. Linzy and I watched it and both thought it was decent enough. I was disappointed that they didn't have a single shot that I could pick out as actually being in New Ulm. But the story was amusing if predictable.

What Doesn't Kill You - This was courtesy of a Netflix recommendation and they were spot on. I watched this while exercising and really enjoyed the based-on-a-true story and characters. The guy who wrote it about his life also directed it, which is pretty amazing when you look back at what he went through. I was glad Netflix pointed it out to me.

Alice in Wonderland - Linzy and I watched this last weekend and...meh. It was visually very cool, even colorful as Tim Burton movies go. The story was OK, but overall I wasn't super thrilled with it. Nothing stands out as particularly annoying or bad, but it just didn't grab me. Helena Bonham Carter did play an awesome Red Queen. "Off with their head!"

Dollhouse Season 1 - Linzy and I started watching this ill-fated Joss Whedon TV show and are both really enjoying it. We're only about 4 episodes into the series, but I like the characters and am interested in seeing where things go. I'm sad that there are only two short seasons to watch. That's more then we got for Firefly though, so I suppose I should be happy with what I can get.

Heat - I started watching this while exercising after having seen it on TV a few weeks ago, but apparently my DVD was a special edition featuring an extra muffled soundtrack because I could only barely hear what was going on even with the volume cranked. So then I got bored and never finished the movie because something better came in the mail.

Burn Notice Season 3 - I was embarrassingly excited to get this disc finally, as I really enjoy Burn Notice. Linzy has been watching episodes when they are on TV, but I was holding out to watching them on DVD. So far I've only had time to watch a single episode while exercising, and it was pretty good. I'm excited to see what this season brings.

Toy Story 3 - Last weekend Linzy and I went to see this in the theater (non-3D) and both enjoyed it. I liked how they acknowledged that the audience from the first two Toy Stories had grown up some and didn't just do another story with all the characters the same age. Linzy claims that I was crying like a girl at the ending, but I believe she was mistaken when trying to look through her own flood of tears.


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Delays

DSC_5319I mentioned in the last post that over the weekend I built moderately temporary stairs to our backyard. The stairs have been in the plans for quite a while, but suffered from many delays. First I was waiting until the backyard dried after the snow melted, but then I decided that I needed to wait for the sod, which then needed to be watered in, etc. The bottom line was there were quite a few reasonable (or what I thought were reasonable) delays.

Finally the weekend before last I was going to build the steps and so on Friday Linzy and I went over to Home Depot to buy the necessary wood. After spending a while trying to find the right kind of hangers for the stairs, decide on the optimal width for the stairs, and finding someone to cut the wood for us, we were finally checking out when I realized that the board we had purchased and had cut into thirds for steps was actually a 2x8 instead of a 2x10. So it was back to the rear of the store to find a 2x10 board and someone to cut it for us (again).

By that point we'd spent a lot longer getting the parts then either Linzy or I had expected, but in theory I would be all set to start construction the next day. Until I brought the boards out back and realized that the drop from patio door to yard was actually going to need four steps not three.

This reached my limit of patience with the project for that weekend, and so it got delayed another weekend, when I worked up the energy to make another trip back to the store, return the three step stairs and get four step pieces, as well as two more 2x10 boards (because you can't buy them in less then 8' lengths).

After all of that, the actual construction time of 60-90 minutes seemed like the easiest part. And the stairs seem much sturdier then I was expecting, although I have my doubts about whether they will sink into the very soft ground in the backyard. But since the master plan involves some sort of more permanent patio/deck/porch, they should be fine in the meantime.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Proper Motivation

On Saturday I was pretty active, getting in a pretty well paced bike ride, mowing and edging the lawn, building steps to the backyard for the patio door, taking the dog for a walk, and spending an hour or so digging up and replacing a sprinkler head in addition to all the normal sedentary things I do on the weekend. So when I went for today's bike ride I was thinking 'boy my legs kind of hurt, better take it easy today'.

Until, that is, there were two bikers in full biking apparel on road bikes with aero bars a very catchable distance in front of me. Just the kind that I can't resist trying to catch when on my comfort bike. And catch and drop them I did, but as I continued my route they took a shorter way that ended up eventually on the same road I was on, once again about 45-60 seconds ahead of me. So once again the chase was on, but up hill and into the wind this time. They left my route fairly quickly and so I was still about 15 seconds behind, but had been gaining despite being fairly exhausted at that point.

I finished the ride with an unimpressive effort, but still clocked in about 0.75 mph faster on average then the previous days ride that had already felt like it was tough. Proving that it is possible to be needlessly overcompetitive while also being lazy when there is no external motivation.


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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Cracked Mirror

My bus ride this evening took quite a bit longer then normal after we got into an accident. I am not exactly clear on what happened, but I think while driving on the shoulder the bus clipped the side-view mirror on a car. The fact that I didn't even notice it happen probably indicates how minor it was. But we still spent an hour waiting around for the highway patrol/metro transit/whoever to show up and give everyone the OK to continue on their way.

It would have been nice if the next bus that runs 30 minutes later had stopped by to pick us up while they sorted out the details, but that was not to be. The worst part was that I am currently bored with my replay of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, so I spent quite a while bored and surfing the web on my phone.

In September it will have been four years of riding the bus to work, and this is the first time that a bus-company-related problem caused a delay. So I suppose in the grand scheme of things that is pretty good.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Price Matching

Tonight I was looking at buying a couple things online and the price seemed a little expensive. On a whim I checked a direct competitor of the first store, expecting the price to be identical since they both sell the exact same products. Instead there was a difference in price of a little over 12%.

Both places offer free shipping, both sites were reputable, the products are identical, there was no fashion or trend aspect to the items, they were not niche products, etc. Basically there is no reason that the prices shouldn't be the same.

I can understand in a physical retail store you could charge different prices because you are more convenient, provide better service, your store looks nicer, whatever. But online most of that falls away, even the stickiness of "hey I'm already here and its in my hand, I'll just buy it" or "I don't want to drive over there to see if it is cheaper". It took 30 seconds to go check out another site and find out that I could save some money buying it here rather then there.

I will admit to a certain amount of loyalty (read: laziness) in where I purchase from online, and generally won't buy from some place too shady, but beyond that I'll totally go for the lowest (or close to the lowest) price. I assume that most people would.

So why wouldn't the prices be identical, unless one place just straight up can't match that price without losing money on it and decided not have use it as a loss leader for the sake of continuing the appearance of always having the lowest price. Which probably doesn't bode well for one of these two companies, when their whole business is selling items such as I was looking at. Let the death watch begin.


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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

High Flow

Quite a while ago, probably nearing a year by now, one of the faucets in the bathroom at work stopped working. A week or so later, I happened to be in the bathroom when two workers were working on fixing it and I overheard them discussing what to do:

Repair Guy #1: Hmm, I'm not exactly sure what is going on, but it seems related to the flow regulator. [I don't remember the exact name, but it was something like that]
Repair Guy #2: Well, let's remove it then
RG#1: But on these faucets its not really replaceable, we won't be able to get a new one.
RG#2: Sure we will, just remove it.
RG#1: No, the water pressure will be too much, it will make a mess every time someone uses it.
RG#2: Only for a day or two while we wait for the new one, just do it.
RG#1: ..Fine.


You can probably guess where this is going, but of course the flow regulator (or whatever) has not been replaced yet. Apparently RG#1 was correct and, it can not be replaced. So now every time someone uses that faucet in the bathroom, there's water everywhere because it comes out like a fire hose.

Perhaps someday they'll remember and actually replace the faucet, but until then I'm always amused when I see water sprayed on the mirror, counter, floor and everything in between.


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Monday, July 05, 2010

Good Weekend

It's hard to believe the three day weekend is already over, it went by so quickly. Linzy and I had a good weekend, even if we mostly just did things around the house, relaxed and generally took it easy. The house is cleaned up, I got a bunch of exercising in and watched a good movie, the lawn is mowed for the first time ever, and we went for a fair amount of walks even though the weather was uncomfortably hot and muggy most of the weekend.

We had also Fred, Robin and Talia over on Sunday and had a great time with them. Pippen and Talia became BFFs after Tally threw a whole plate filled with cut-up hot dogs on the floor while Pippen was standing within striking distance (Pippen says she's no dummy and has been around kids eating before).

Now I guess it is back to the grind. It's hard to believe it is already July, Summer will be over before I know it.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Long Weekend

I spent all day today thinking it was Friday, which will probably make for a long day tomorrow. Especially since I imagine the office will be empty with people taking off early for the long weekend.

For some reason I am really looking forward to a three-day weekend. Work has been frustrating lately, so it will be nice to relax for a few days, see some friends, and do miscellaneous projects around the house. Hopefully the weather will be nice and we'll get to enjoy the new yard as well.

Have a good Fourth of July!

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