Thursday, October 28, 2004

More cool tech

After looking at the rat brain article, I saw some other cool stories on CNN.

This one is about a HUD (Heads Up Display) for motorcyclists which is something I've been waiting for a long time. Though what I really want is an all LCD face shield that tracks the position of the sun and darkens right where it is so that I'm not blinded or driving with my hand in front of my face.

This one is about a shirt that can tell if you've fallen down and tell your cell phone to call for help. That would also be useful while out motorcycling. Good piece of mind for if you have a really bad accident and are alone, or if you happen to plunge off the side and into the weeds where no one can see you.

Better living through modern technology.

Rats can fly

My friend Guy's blog had a link to a Discovery channel news story about a rat brain that can fly a F-22 flight simulator. Wow, that's pretty amazing. I think the most amazing thing is it only takes the brain 15 minutes to learn to fly the plane straight and level in any simulated weather condition. I imagine it takes real pilots slightly less time to do the same thing, but damn, 15 minutes for 25000 rat brain cells is impressive in my book.

Guy asks the question of when do future brain-in-a-box machines get to be considered alive? I imagine that they will be purposely kept "dumb" so that this disposable society won't feel to remorseful tossing out a living brain just because the thing it's in is no longer "cool" or was built to wear out in only a year. But it certainly brings up very interesting questions. Much harder questions for me than any human embryo cloning for stem cells ever would.

I can see this raising many interesting questions in the coming years. I hope that the work continues because at a minimum it will tell us important things about our own brains, even if it will lead to very tricky questions that I'm sure people will look to religion to answer (which I'm hoping won't respond with with "Burn them at the stake!").

Blogger is back

The last couple of days it seems that was down, but it hardly cramped my style as I didn't really have anything interesting to say.

Today isn't much different. The weather is rainy, though not too cold. This weather seems to be caused by warm air mixing with the cold we already have, rather than the usual Arctic blast making things interesting. So far no risk of snow as weather people are thinking we might see 70 tomorrow. Still hoping that the weekend will be nice enough for one more ride through the countryside.

My HDTV card is working reasonably well. A couple of issues have popped up, which hopefully will be addressed with a future update. The first issue is that there are two different applications to watch TV, one for HDTV and one for regular TV, including the S-Video input from the ReplayTV. That's just annoying and there's no reason for it. Bad programmer, no biscuit. The second issue is much bigger, which is when watching HDTV with the audio coming out directly via S/P-DIF it will stop after a few minutes. I don't know if this is related to signal quality (or lack there of, I'm using a small antenna resting on top of my TV), or the audio drivers, or the HDTV application. Until a solution is found, I can use the work around of having the HDTV 5.1 audio down mixed to stereo.

Got a cool link, shows you which way to point your antenna, how far away the transmitter is, and what kind of antenna you need to use to get good reception. If you're thinking about HDTV, you should check them out to see what's available in your area and what you'll need to get the most from your HDTV.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Yesterday a coworker forwarded me a link to the new ATI HDTV Wonder PCI card. This is the card I've been waiting for to get HDTV into my PC. The fact that there was a $50 rebate for cards purchased this week (making the card just $150, about half of what other cards cost) meant that I had to buy it right now. I got it over lunch.

It works as a general tuner, as well as a time shifting and DVR device (like a ReplayTV or TiVo). It's made by a company that I can sorta trust to do video right, and it's a single slot solution, which is important because I only had one slot left in my home theater PC.

My HDTV set is my monitor, so the setup is quite simple. Just plug it in, run their app, and watch TV in either a window or full screen. I'm usually watching TV through the picture-in-picture feature of my TV with the computer screen being the main image and the TV being a small image in the corner, so now I have more choices for the location of the TV image, and more options on its size. It also means that I don't have to switch my surround sound decoder from TV to PC when watching DVDs (which I play from my PC) or most HDTV content (still have to switch it when watching HDTV cable), so that means one less remote that I need to have out on the table. Very nice.

The quality seems first rate, and so far I haven't had any issues with the stability of the system, so I'm giving it a big two thumbs up, provisionally, until I have a chance to fully explore its DVR capabilities.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Today I went out motorcycling with a coworker. I was supposed to go out with two coworkers, but one of them had to cancel at the last minute. The weather today was beautiful, mid 60's and clear skies.

We met at work, and then headed south along the banks of the St. Croix river, first in Minnesota and then in Wisconsin. We followed the St. Croix and then the Mississippi for about an hour and a half through nicely winding two lane roads. There were plenty of other motorcycles to wave to, and the scenery is more like art than real life. The trees are in full color with an explosion of reds, yellows, and browns. I wish I could have taken some pictures, it was fantastic scenery.

The roads are curvy enough to keep them interesting, but they're nothing like a California mountain road. There are some good corners, but not the wave after wave after wave of interesting corners like I'm used to. It looks like getting off the main two lane roads and driving by the farms gives a more interesting experience, but most farms have gravel driveways, which means there's a lot of gravel on those back roads. I'll have to try a few more back roads to see if I can find some that have the right combination of wide open straight-a-ways and interesting curvy bits -- minus the gravel, of course.

The weather man is saying that things are likely to be warm for another week or so. Maybe we'll be able to go for ride again next weekend. With warmer gloves and something to keep the wind off my neck, I'll probably be able to ride well into November and maybe December, assuming it doesn't snow.

I can see why most people have Harleys out here (and boy, were they all out today) since most of the roads lend themselves to easy driving. Things don't get interesting on a bike until you're well into triple digit speeds on most of the roads out here. I think my Strom is a perfect Midwest bike. I can get hard bags for those long interstate cruises, it's sporty enough to be plenty of fun on the back roads, and it can easily deal with the occasional dirt roads for when you really want to get off the beaten path.

Things just keep getting better. I'm loving it out here.


Last night I went out to dinner with my realtor Dan, and his wife, to sign the few remaining papers on the purchase of the house. We met a local chain restaurant and chatted over dinner. It was very convenient that we were meeting because only a few minutes after they arrived my loan officer called me to ask for some more information. I gave the phone to Dan and let the two talk directly.

During dinner Dan and his wife started brainstorming regarding the single women that they know and thought I might like to meet. Dan explains that he does the same thing for his two sons, but I was far from offended. On the contrary, I can use all the help I can get since I know so few people out here.

After a nice dinner with Dan and his wife, I drove to Minneapolis to meet up with my ex-Apple coworker, and friend, Dave for beers and trivia at a local (to Dave) bar. Dave was there with a half dozen other friends and I joined in and bought a pitcher. We had a good time playing TV trivia and chatting about random things. A couple of people decided that they wanted to go to a karaoke bar in downtown, and I decided that would be fun. Watching karaoke is fun. The couple of times I've watched I've had a seriously fun time.

Six of us headed down to the bar, which was very small, being stuck in the middle of two streets intersecting at narrow angle. There was barely enough room for a bumper pool table at the back of the bar. Some of the singers were good, some weren't, but it looked like everyone was having a good time and many were singing along (including yours truly). Somewhere during the night a bachelorette party came in and the bar was suddenly very full. A few more groups of women came in and the bar was packed. Too bad most of them had large rocks on their left hands. But none the less, this was clearly a target rich environment. I wasn't in the right mindset to go up to any of them, but clearly a karaoke bar is a much better location than any of the other bars/restaurants I've been to around here.

Towards the end of the evening my compatriots convinced me to go up and join the chorus for the country song "Friends In Low Places". I wasn't drunk, but somehow I found myself with a microphone -- apparently the only working microphone of the three that were up there. Luckily, the two people up there with me were singing at the top of their lungs, as was much of the crowd, so I didn't feel quite so conspicuous. It also helped that there wasn't a stage, just a monitor and microphone stand at the narrow end of the bar. The worst part of the whole thing was that they played the CD version of the song, not the radio version, so about half way into the song I had to start paying attention to the monitor. Reading and singing in time to the text as it slowing changed color is quite difficult. Oh well, I had fun, and no one threw anything; so it was a win in my book.

I'll definitely go again, though I'm not so sure about singing again. It did, however, get me thinking about taking singing lessons. If you ask me, karaoke is definitely is a team sport though, so I probably won't be going again until I can get some friends to join me, but that's a goal to work towards too. Lots of fun, definitely worth doing again.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Not much to say

Not a whole lot has been going on lately. Work is progressing normally, and the house buying process has settled into its anticipated calmness. Home owner's insurance is a bit outrageous though, at $975 a year. I guess that's what you get for having two structures. I'll have to look into getting them to lower the coverage or something.

I just added the SVT Focus to my list of cars and that bumped my rate considerably. I'm now paying $920 for 6 months. I don't think I should be paying that much. It's not like one person can be driving 3 cars at once, but what do I know. I'm not ready to get rid of the truck or Miata, but it might be worth looking into insuring them separately so that they can each have different levels of coverage. Though that might not make up for the multi-car discount. Why do they make it so difficult?

Things of note include the possibility that the current owners of my new house might not be able to move out on the scheduled date (Nov 19th), but that doesn't really matter to me. As long as they get out by the middle of December, things are fine. I have to pay rent at my townhouse until the end of December (in addition to the $1800 I gave them to break my lease). I'm out of town for Thanksgiving, so moving on the 20th, or any time that week, wasn't my plan. I might be able to move some stuff into the detached garage, and if that's the case, that's good enough for me.

Last night I had the second of my leaded stained glass class. I started assembling my piece, and it's looking good. It's about 14x10 to give you idea of scale. The only bummer last night was that I seemed to have lost my lead cutters which I got the week before. I don't know where it could have gone. I'll search the car this weekend, but if it's not there, I'll have to get a new one. Not a biggie, just annoying.

The SVT Focus is a great little car. I'm getting about 24mpg driving it to and from work and out to lunch. That's a lot better than the 13-14mpg I was getting with the SVT Lightning, and I'm definitely having more fun driving it. It's lot of fun to flog. It's gearbox is a joy to row. It rewards you every time you throw it into a corner. Oh yeah, the heated seats aren't bad either. Luckily, driving it hard can still be done at sane speeds, unlike the Lightning.

The two biggest issues with the Focus are that it follows the ruts and grooves in the road and when the engine is cold, it surges. Following the road is pretty normal for a small car with 17" wheels and low profile tires. I was expecting that. But I wasn't expecting a surging from the engine when it's cold. It's not going to stall, but it doesn't want to do a steady state at a reasonable RPM. The issue is really that I don't want to drive around at 4000 RPM when the engine is cold. It's not a big issue; it feels like a racehorse that's chomping at the bit, ready to go running but you're holding it back. That's pretty much what my Miata does in the same situation. The Focus is going to fit right in.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Cooking some more

Last night I had class one of two of the "Cooking for Singles" class. It was billed as a class to teach you how to prepare simple dishes for one with the stuff on hand, and to mingle while you learn.

I wasn't expecting too much mingling, and that was good because of the four others there, no one was in my age range, height/weight proportion, or preferred gender.

What I was disappointed about was the food. It was designed more along the lines of how to impress a date. Certainly not the day to day cooking ideas that I was hoping would be useful.

My biggest issue with cooking is leftovers and monotony. I hate leftovers, and they pretty much go hand and hand with monotony. But what I hate more is throwing away perfectly good food, and that seems to happen quite a bit when I try to cook for myself. I've nicknamed the refrigerator's crisper the "rotter" since it's more like an oubliette that I put perfectly good vegetables into to be forgotten and die.

It's not that the food I make is bad, it's just that I can't seem to find bachelor packs of food. Everything seems to be family packs, and that's just way too much food. I never know what I want early enough in the day to defrost stuff before I go to work, and I'm usually too disinterested to wait for it to defrost in the evening. And as much as they'd like you to believe otherwise, Hungryman Dinners just aren't the same as a home cooked meal. I frequently find it easier to just go hungry, and that seems just a little too sad. Need to work on that.

Monday, October 18, 2004


Yesterday afternoon was a little cold. It didn't really seem that cold, but it started to snow. Not really snow mind you, more like the occasional tiny pellet of ice falling out of sky, which then immediately melted once it landed.

One thing I didn't understand is why I had a collection of crushed ice at the base of the windshield that evening since it didn't seem like it was snowing in the evening. Oh well, one of life's little mysteries.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Meeting the owners

Yesterday I met with the current owners of the house that I'm buying. They seem like very nice people. Very friendly. I was worried that this might be a little awkward, but it was very pleasant. They were very happy to have sold the house so quickly and there were no issues with me knocking $5000 off the price.

The house has a 9 zone sprinkler system, with very well hidden heads as I've still only seen two of them. He's got a big 80 gallon air tank with a two stage compressor, probably in the 170psi range. He says this is all that's needed to blow out the sprinkler system for winter, so I guess I'll be upgrading my compressor before next winter. Any excuse to buy a new tool!

I then made my first ever trip to the Mall of America and its Sears store to pick up a new Craftsman all aluminum 2 ton floor jack in preparation for putting on my new snow tires. I wandered around the Mall for a few minutes, thinking it was smaller than I expected, especially considering the eight story parking garage I parked in. I only saw an eighth of the mall before I found the food court and had lunch, so maybe it would appear bigger if I'd seen more of it.

At Sears I looked at washers and dryers, since the new house won't have them, and they had a couple of floor models that had really great deals on them, but I decided that having them delivered to the townhouse just wouldn't be a good idea. Oh well, hopefully there will be good deals in six weeks once I've moved. I also looked at lawn mowers and snow blowers.

The guy I'm buying the house from said that he would charge $40 a time to mow my new lawn, and for that kind of money, it wouldn't take long to pay back the cost of even a moderately expensive lawn mower. The snow blowers were interesting. They even have models with headlights on them. There was a $150 electric mini blower, good for a townhouse or something I suppose. The next cheapest model was a $300 gas model that's probably what I'll need to do my sidewalk and driveway. I'll start with a shovel and see how that goes first though.

I then did a quick trip to the local Checkers Auto Parts (Kragens are called Checkers out here for some reason) and the first thing I noticed is they had a Powerbuilt aluminum 2 ton floor jack for $70 less than the Craftsman jack I'd just bought. My first thought was that I didn't want to return the one I'd bought since it was heavy (44 pounds) and getting it back to Sears wouldn't be easy, but $70 would almost make it worth it. Then I remembered the few Powerbuilt tools that I've bought were clearly not made to the same standard as the Craftsman tools. So I'll console myself with the thought that my jack is better than their jack even though they look very much alike. However, it's the innards of a jack that do the most work, and those you can't see on the showroom floor, so there is a very real possibility that the Craftsman jack is better than the Powerbuilt jack.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Busy busy busy

This week has been rather hectic with lots going on due to the house and community education classes.

Wednesday I left work early to meet the home inspector and hear his comments on the house I'm buying. Everything looks good. The biggest thing is one tab missing on one shingle of the roof. No evidence of any water damage or infiltration, which the inspector said is very unusual for Minnesota. There was a brief ballyhoo regarding that missing tab, with my realtor not wanting to kill the deal if we pointed it out and made a big fuss. I didn't want to kill the deal either, but since the roof was replaced a year after the house was built, I wanted to know what might be going on with that missing tab. Is it an isolated incident, or is that how the whole thing started the first time? Lots of phone calls later, things are fine. I didn't ask for the shingle to be replaced, but the owner is going to have it done anyway. Very nice.

The next biggest issue with the house is that it only has a 40 gallon water heater. This seems small for a family of 5 and such a big house. This probably explains why they have it set on extra-high heat, and that probably explains why the burner looks like it's been driven hard. Not an issue though, I can turn down the heat, and replacing it with a tankless unit is a serious possibility.

I've got pictures of the house here. Sorry I don't have any thumbnails or explanations to go with the pictures. The first ones are of the outside of the house and then we went to the second garage and into it's loft/storage area. Then on to the storage above the attached garage, the attached garage, and then into the house. I'll try for better pictures later, but the camera phone didn't do too badly, though the purple sky effect on the outside pictures is interesting.

Yesterday night I had my first of six stained glass classes. We got our patterns, which I modified slightly, and then began to cut out the patterns with funky scissors that actually cut out the line instead of cutting on the line (so you can trace them onto the glass after removing the space needed for the lead) and then cut out the glass. Cutting the glass was both easier than I expected, and harder than I expected. The tool that you use requires far more force than I was expecting, and my thumb is still sore this morning. The breaking of the glass was far easier than I expected. Most of my scores resulted in clean breaks, and I didn't have any problems with cutting out long pieces, unlike some of the other students. I had a couple of blowouts, where the glass didn't break vertically but kinda broke at an angle, taking some of the top of the glass with it. Shouldn't be a problem, it might be covered by the lead, and if it's not, I can cut a new piece. I've got plenty of extra glass. It looks like it will be a pretty nice piece when I'm done, so I'm already getting excited about. Look for updates in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

New look

On Sunday I got a new look. The guys at work were thinking that I was an old fogy. Some of them thinking that I was 40 something! I'm not even 33 yet! I told them that I was going to get my hair bleached blonde and then get dark tips put on. That would get rid of the grey (of which I seem to have way too much of) and make me look "hip" and fresh.

Since I got a new red sport compact car on Saturday, I decided that I should get fire-truck red tips instead of the black tips.

So, what do you think? Click on the picture for a bigger image.

New me

Monday, October 11, 2004

I got it!

This evening, approximately in the middle of my second and final gourmet cooking class, I got a call from my realtor letting me know that they had accepted my offer on their house! Yea! We put closing for Nov 17 to give people time to move before Thanksgiving. I don't have to be out of my apartment any time soon, so I can take my time and probably won't really be moved in until early December. They seem to be in a hurry, however, so I was confused when they failed to take me up on my offer for them to set the closing date.

So that's a new, bright red, sports car on Saturday, a new bleached blond hairdo on Sunday (yeah, I forgot to mention that, but I'll post pictures sometime soon), and a new house on Monday. Wow, someone might think I was going through a midlife crisis. But I don't think I am. Really. Though I suppose if I end up with a 20 something blond on Tuesday, the circumstantial evidence would be enough to convict in any court.

To that end, a funny thing happened while shopping around for a better mortgage rate (so far best 30 year fixed is 5.5, with, I think, 0 points). The screener lady asked if I was single because her friend in the Woodbury area was looking for a good man. I guess if you're buying a $385k house in Minnesota they figure you can't be all that bad. However flattered I might have been, I'm pretty sure she could see my deer in the headlights look over the phone. What do you say to something like that? I almost told her to pass along my number, but I chickened out. Next time. Next time.

Found a house

Yesterday my realtor and I went out and looked at two houses with big garages. The first one was an old thing, very small, and the 4 car garage was barely usable. No need to jump on that one.

The second house was fabulous. The original owner built it to his spec 8 years ago, and he's a fellow car guy. The attached 3 car garage is oversized, and the detached (and heated) 3 car garage is setup as a shop and paint booth with storage in the attic. It's on a corner lot and in a decent part of town, a bit south of where I'm currently living. Shouldn't add more than 5 minutes to my morning commute.

It's only been on the market 3 days. Need to jump on this one, it's not going to last long.

I'm putting an offer in today. Hopefully they'll take it. They had an open house yesterday and at least one other person was interested... I'm not going to get into a bidding war, but a couple grand over asking wouldn't be too bad for a counter.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Getting ready for snow

Yesterday I decided that I'd better get ready for snow, because November marks the beginning of the snowy season. My thoughts bounced from getting snow tires for the Lightning, to getting a beater car, to getting a new cheap car.

I kept thinking that snow tires on the truck would be the cheapest thing to do, but probably wouldn't really help due to the 450lb/ft of torque coming from the Lightning's engine, combined with the not so helpful 55/45 weight distribution. It's a simple matter to get it sideways in the rain, even when being gentle on the gas. I could only imagine what would happen in the snow, especially trying to go up a hill, of which there are a fair number around here.

Buying a beater car just left me with thoughts of being stranded with no heat in the middle of nowhere. And, let's face it, it's just not me.

I've been seeing a bunch of Ford Focuses (Foci?) around here, and I really like the shape of the 3 door. It was also the winner of Motortrend's test of $20k sport compact cars. If only they hadn't canceled the SVT Focus in 2005. That was what I was thinking I'd really like. It's small, relatively cheap, gets decent gas mileage (even though it requires 91+ octane gas), and definitely has a high "tossable" factor, making it a fun little car. Plus my Ford Lightning has never given me any grief, so another Ford seemed to be a no-brainer. I was thinking that if they still had an SVT Focus, that would be what I would get, but had already decided that I needed to get something else because I didn't believe I could get a SVT Focus.

I found the addresses of the local (if 10+ miles away counts as local) Ford, Subaru, and Dodge dealers so that I could look at the Focus, WRX, and SRT-4 (respectively). I started at the Ford dealer, and to my great surprise, they had two SVT Focuses! A black 5 door model outside, and a red 3 door model on the showroom floor. I liked the fact that the black one was about $800 cheaper than the red one, had 7 spoke wheels instead of 15 spoke wheels, and had cloth seats with leather side bolsters instead of all leather seats. But it was a 5 door. After waiting about 20 minutes for a customer to leave so we could get the black one out of its parking space, we took it for a spin.

It didn't seem to have the claimed 170hp, especially off the line. It completely lacked any sort of usable low end. I was expecting more, but chalked it up to having driven the Lightning for so long. It handled well, and rode well over the pockmarked Minnesota streets. It was a contender at about $17,600.

I went off to look at WRXes but couldn't find a salesman to help me out, and kept thinking about how great the Focus felt. It's shifter is fantastic, and its gearbox is as smooth as silk, even when selecting first at 5mph. Plus it's a 6-speed. So after walking around the Subaru lot for 15 minutes, all the while thinking about the Focus, I decided to not even look for an SRT-4 (let's face, Dodge doesn't have the best reliability reputation, and the SRT-4's engine has to be pushed to its limits) and to get the red 3 door Focus.

Before buying it, they got it out of the showroom so I could test drive it. Too bad I couldn't drive it out of there. I've always wanted to drive a car inside a building and around cubicles. We took it on the same route as before, but I could tell as I was pulling out of the parking lot that this one was much closer to its claimed 170hp. And it had decent low end grunt. Much better. This little guy will chirp the tires going into second gear and seems to pull much more urgently than the 5 door. Something was definitely wrong with the 5 door, and't is not because the 5 door weighs much more. My guess is a mouse in the intake. :-)

Since I was paying cash, and this was a no-haggle dealership, the only thing I had to do was fend off the undercoating guy and decline the extended warranty (which you can usually buy later, before the original warranty is up, if you change your mind). They quoted me just under $2k for genuine SVT wheels ($300 each) and Bridgestone's Blizzak WS 50 snow tires mounted and balanced. They claimed that they sell the wheels and tires without any markup and that this would be the price anywhere. That seemed a bit high for the tires, especially since I'd been looking at snow tires for the truck and they weren't even close to the $169 a tire that the dealership wanted. I passed on the tires and wheels since the price wouldn't change if I decided to get them later. Later that night I checked on prices of wheels and tires on I found that TireRack carries the same Ford SVT wheels, and sells them for only $125! No markup my ass. Blizzaks are only $127 at TireRack as well, with free mounting, balancing, and valve stems. Total price with shipping is just over $1k. Much better.

I left the dealership driving the Focus, following my salesman driving my Lightning. I told him he shouldn't go easy on the Lightning; that this was probably going to be the only time someone let him drive their Lightning hard. He was hesitant, but I promised to yell at him if he didn't at least try to drive it quickly. Even with him being gentle, when leaving the parking lot I had to flog the little Focus like a rented mule to stay on the tail of the Lightning (he knew the way to the freeway, I'm still trying to build up my mental map of the area). At a light near the house (on a 50mph 4 lane road) we did a little drag race. I got off the line faster, but I could hear the Lightning's supercharger whining just outside my window, and when I was a little gentle on the 1-2 shift, he blew on by. Nice. :-)

I drove him back to the dealership, shook everyone's hand multiple times and then left, wondering where I was going to park the Lightning and the Focus. I drove to Hudson, the town where I work, to see if a coworker was in the office. I was going to show off the Focus and see if he would be up for helping me move the Lightning to the storage yard where I have my trailer. He wasn't in, and just before I left to walk down to get some dinner at a local restaurant, my phone rang. It was the salesman calling to say that they had forgotten to switch the alarm from dealer mode to consumer mode. The car was going to become a pumpkin at 9pm. Ooops.

The dealership had closed at 6pm, and it was now 6:50. They're not open on Sundays. They were going to stay late, waiting for me to get back there so they could fix the alarm. I hightailed it back there, and once there it took them only a couple of minutes to reset the alarm. I got a free soda and future oil change out of the inconvenience, not that it mattered to me, I was driving around anyway.

Turns out that my driveway is just long enough to fit the Lightning and the Focus end to end, so maybe that's how I'll leave things for a while. That saves $10 a month in storage fees at least. Hopefully the apartment managers won't care (they better not, this place has woefully inadequate parking).

Pictures of my new Focus are here (served on my local PC so they're a bit slow, and taken with my phone's camera, so they're not the best quality).

Friday, October 08, 2004

Coke Soda Pop

For trivia buffs, I got this image from of the county-wide breakdown of what word is used to represent generic soda.


Bear + Trampoline * Tranq = Comedy

I got this video forwarded to me, and it's just too funny not to share.

Black bear climbs tree, gets shot with tranquilizer dart, falls out of tree onto to strategically placed trampoline, bounces 10+ feet into the air, misses trampoline on way back down and lands on his face. They say the bear was fine. Good thing it was asleep at the time because if not, it looked quite painful.

Sorry it's a Windows Media file. If you have a Mac, you can download the Microsoft player here, or VLC, an open source player here.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Roomba is back!

My Roomba had been out of commission for a while, and the apartment showed it.

The Roomba worked great for a few days, and then I noticed that its spinning side brush didn't spin. I didn't think anything of it, imagining that anything smart enough to vacuum my apartment unsupervised knew when it did and didn't need to use its spinning side brush. Wrong. But my real concern was that the battery life was getting very short. I didn't link the two issues, but the Roomba tech support did and told me to send the unit back, though without the battery.

I sent it back, expecting a quick turn around, but it took them a week to notice that they had received it (gotta love FedEx's tracking) and then it turns out that they didn't actually have a new one to send me, and they don't repair them either. It would be a few weeks before they got a new shipment from China.

In the mean time, dust bunnies reproduced like, well, bunnies. And then came their bigger cousins, sock bunnies. And like a creeping fungus, the recyclables started to spread out. Seems that one of the greatest cleaning jobs the Roomba does is training its owner to keep the floor tidy.

A couple of weeks later, to my great surprise, they sent me a whole new retail package, plus an additional virtual wall unit! I don't know how that happened, but I imagine that since it's the oldest unit they sell, that they're trying to clear them out, and the second virtual wall unit was a purchase incentive.

That would have been great news, except in the mean time, I had ordered one of their new longer lasting batteries and second virtual wall unit. I now have three batteries (though one is questionable) and four virtual wall units! Well, if and when I move, I'm sure the extra virtual wall units will come in handy. But now I think I need to get a battery charger to keep all my batteries charged up (the Roomba will charge them, but it takes 12+ hours to charge one, and only an hour to empty one).

I took it in to work to show the guys (wow, our floor is dirty), and they were suitably impressed. Then, as engineers do, we talked about how we'd write the algorithm to clean your floor (and the simple algorithms that bugs seem to have to move their legs), wondered about edge conditions -- literally, like stairs and balconies, and stopped just short of totally taking it apart. In general we marveled over the possibly greatest ever accoutrement to bachelor living.

Roomba is back home and has whipped it's master into straightening up and has done a good job at thinning the heard of the accumulated bunnies. Much better.

Investing club

A few coworkers and I have decided to start an investing club, or at least try to start one.

Last night was supposed to be the first meeting, where we were to figure out what we're really after so that everyone's expectations are lined up. It didn't start out too well, with me all alone and continuing to work on work stuff. Eventually, about 40 minutes after the meeting should have started, one other person showed up (out of the possible 4). Hardly a quorum, but we started with the simple things; like what won't people invest in (nothing that kills baby dolphins), and what do we want to invest in -- stocks, bonds, mutual funds, DRIPs, etc.

Eventually we decided that we should get some guidance on the whole club thing and found at least one useful how-to site.

Based on that, it seems that we're on track with our four member club. Now we need to think up a name, become a registered company (limited partnership seems to be the way to go), and get a checking account. At least the other person at the meeting said that they like to do administrivia like that.

Hopefully this will become an entertaining way to spend $25-$50 a month, maybe meet at a friend's house once or twice a month, do a pot-luck and general chit-chat and maybe make a buck or two. No one's going to get rich on $50 a month (at least not right away), but the knowledge learned is the true reward. Time with friends isn't bad either.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gourmet Cooking

Last night I had a really fun cooking class, an intro to gourmet cooking. The instructor "chef Dave" was a vibrant and enthusiastic little guy. He was great fun to be around. There was never a quiet moment in the class, with either a funny story (like how his buddy in cooking school used too much corn starch and turned their soup into Jell-O) or with interesting information (like Eggplant is a close relative to the tobacco plant).

It's a two night class, and I can't wait to go back for a second night, even though we'll be cooking fish, broccoli, a cheese sauce, and something else that didn't sound good. The food is almost second to the experience. However, I'm going to give whatever he has us make a try, since the mushrooms he made yesterday actually weren't all that bad (not that I'm going to start eating them any time soon).

We did some truly amazing things with chuck steak which is pretty much the cheapest steak you can buy (like $2.99 a pound). Looks like I'll be in the market for a cast iron skillet soon. :-)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

New toys

Last night I finally broke down and got a new cell phone. That whole "number portability" thing is a myth. You can only take your number with you if you don't move. And since number portability, they no longer let you choose your phone number (not even from a list of possible choices like the real phone company does). At least the new number is reasonably easy to remember, and now that I have a 651 area code, people around here will stop freaking out. Change is good, right?

I got a Motorola v505 from AT&T Wireless, soon to be bought by and become Cingular. It's a way cool phone with Bluetooth, a 640x480 camera, and the ability to act as a connection for my PowerBook and PocketPC to the Internet. To top off the setup, I also got a Bluetooth headset for that cool hands free experience.

After much fussing around, and rebooting both the phone and PocketPC for seemingly no good reason, I was able to get the PocketPC to talk to the phone so that I could transfer pictures from the phone to PocketPC. I was also able to get PocketPC to command the phone to dial, but that's where I ran into one very large problem. The phone can only connect to one Bluetooth device at a time. This means that as soon as I get the PocketPC to dial the phone, I have to immediately turn off the PocketPC and turn on the headset. Even then, the person on the other end probably thinks I'm a telemarketer since it takes probably 10 seconds for the headset to start working with the phone and the person on the other end to hear me.

I guess I'll have to live with having the PocketPC dial and beginning the conversation with the phone and then switch to the headset. Or, if you happen to get a call from the 651 area code with seemingly no one there, give it a few seconds, won't ya?

To make matters even worse with the new phone, iSync doesn't work with Motorola phones via Bluetooth (though it does work via USB). This isn't the first product that Motorola has made that should work with the Mac but doesn't, and that seems like a shame. Doesn't it? It's things like this where I really value my PC since things like this actually work together much better and with greater functionality. Seems like a shame, but I guess Apple can't do it all.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Someone once said that there is no bad weather, just more or less interesting weather.

California definitely has generally less interesting weather than Minnesota. Last week we had a couple of days of just gorgeous weather, highs in the low 80's, low humidity, everything that you would want from weather. A couple of days later we had a really windy (60mph) day leading up to thunderstorms with some very entertaining lightning. The rain seems to come mostly when I'm working or sleeping, so it's not actually been a bother, which is quite nice.

Yesterday was very interesting. The morning started out 60F, but was quickly dropping, so by the afternoon it was 40F with a freeze warning posted for the night. The temperature outside this morning was a brisk 34F, but it didn't seem to phase me as I walk to the gym. It's a cold, crisp day with no clouds and a beautiful blue sky. The kind of days that I just love and had been missing in California. Today it should warm up nicely to the low 60's.

I'm definitely entertained by the weather out here. I'm looking forward to the snow, though this weekend I should probably get some snow tires for the truck.

Slowing down

These last few days have been nice. Not working so hard, so I've been able to slow down a bit and do some things that I wanted to do.

Thursday night a coworker and I went to a class called "How to invest on $25 a month". We were hoping that we'd learn something, anything, new. They gave out a couple of interesting handouts and explained the difference between Class A, B, & C mutual funds. Which was slightly interesting because I've always invested in Class D funds, which are no load funds.

All in all, it was an OK class, but I don't think I learned much, and my coworker complained that he didn't learn anything new. I can see that, it was really Investing 101 as much as it was Into to Investing, and that's not what we were expecting.

Friday was a fun day. Spent all day at work battling e-mail across a system upgrade. Frustrating, but a light day. I met with the realtor after work for an hour to look for already constructed homes in the Woodbury area and we found five interesting ones, including one geodesic dome. I'll be checking out the dome and a number of other homes this Saturday.

After meeting with the realtor, I buzzed on over to the local movie house to meet up with a coworker and his wife to watch Wimbledon. It was definitely a laugh out loud kind of movie. All three of us enjoyed it, though the young crowd behind us didn't seemed to be laughing quite as much as we were. It was nice to see Kirsten Dunst showing a bit more of her acting skills. She actually showed some range in this movie. It was a lot of range, but it was more than I had seen from her lately, and that was a bonus. I would definitely recommend the movie to anyone looking for a light, fun, not-so-much chick-flick kind of movie.