Sunday, January 30, 2005

Saturday Night Fun

Saturday night's fun spilled into Sunday morning, and I'm still recovering, but the lost sleep is definitely worth it.

It all started with Dave's winter party, which I was fashionably late to (it started at 6, I got there about 8). I knew it was going to be a long day, and I was tired already, so I took a three hour nap before the party. This left me rather groggy in the early evening. so groggy in fact that I made multiple wrong turns, including getting on a freeway that takes me nowhere near Dave's house, on the way to Dave's house.

There was a fair crowd in Dave's modestly sized house, though there weren't many people that I knew. However, Dave's friends are a very easy going bunch and I was able to talk with many people and have a generally good time.

At one point in the evening some lady stormed out of the house, which was a rather interesting event. At first we weren't sure if she was just in a hurry to leave, or if some sort of "incident" had happened. After a little talking amongst ourselves, we believe it was the latter, some sort of bad feelings over her blog not being mentioned on Dave's blog-roll. Huh? We're guessing she was drunk at the time. I'm thinking, "Damn, that's an unhappy drunk."

I left the party, which was winding down, but still had some legs, at about 11:30pm so I could go to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This show was put on by the Transvestite Soup organization, which makes sense once you see the movie and listen to the chatter during the pool scene.

My main reasons for going were twofold, one, I had been invited by lovely lady that works in the crew for the show (there are actors that mimic the on screen action, and she crews for them), and two, I had never seen the show but had always wanted to. Plus, there was supposed to be an after party and that seemed like a good place to meet interesting people (the lovely lady being 18 and otherwise involved).

The Show is quite interesting, though I wasn't expecting to be part of it... If you've never been to the Show before, you're considered a "virgin" and must be "initiated". The initiation is to recite the Pledge at the top of your lungs and then having everyone yell "F*ck You!" at you to remove you of your virginity. A few lucky people of age, two men and two women, are brought on stage for further humiliation.

Since I was known by a member of the cast, there was no way I could avoid any of this, and of course was singled out to be brought on stage. Now imagine me, 33 wearing my blue/purple REI fleece jacket with PocketPC on one hip and cell phone on the other, in a crowd of Goth teenagers and 20-somethings. "Out of place" seems to be a bit of an understanding, and even without having had anything but caffeine beverages that night, I'm game and having fun.

Then we're told that we're going to be judged on our ability to fake an orgasm, and I was to go first. Oh boy. Talk about performance anxiety. The only saving grace is that the spot light on you pretty much blinds you to the hundred people in the audience. Being the smart Alec that I am, I tried to stall with witty comments as best I could. I believe I mentioned something about performance anxiety being "a common problem with middle aged men", and "it's been so long, I don't remember". That provoked a lovely lady to come up, straddle me and give me a little something to jog my memory. I grabbed the mic, did some heavy breathing, a little moaning, and a small sigh to end it.

Amazingly, the three teenagers to my left couldn't do any better, and one of the girls couldn't perform at all. The audience clearly gave me the loudest ovation and I won the prize -- dried kelp sushi wrap. I think it means something, but I don't know what.

The Show was very interesting, though renting it is probably a good idea so I can get a better understanding of the dialog without everyone yelling random comments at the screen. It turns out that the after party was canceled, but it should be on again next week. I plan on going back, especially since I'm no longer a "virgin" and things should be far less traumatic next time. Good time. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Days go by

Nothing really interesting has happened lately. The basics are that the weather was oh-my-god warm, somewhere in the mid 40s for two days in a row -- I considered wearing shorts. The snow storm the weekend before passed without much of an incident. The roads were as clean on Saturday afternoon as they had been Friday morning. I was impressed. It makes getting the Focus as a winter car seem even less important. However, I am reminded that this winter is the driest on record for the past 114 years, though I imagine on normal winter days the roads are pretty clear as well. I'm thinking of taking the Lightning out to celebrate.

On the work front, the gnarly problem (that wasn't even mine -- I'm helping a coworker) that I've been banging my head against the wall for the past two weeks is finally solved, and I can breath a sigh of relief. But now there is another, probably even more gnarly problem, waiting in the wings to be solved. I've pushed that one back onto the coworker that was supposed to have been working on the other gnarly problem, but it turns out that I'm still helping him with that one. I can see my roll easily becoming more than just a consultation on that one too.

Another work issue that popped up yesterday has to do with a problem that probably can't be solved in software (and I'm a software writer). When I wrote up my findings for our VP, he completely missed the facts and decided to ask another developer, that had solved a problem with similar symptoms but a completely different root cause, for his input on the problem. He too completely missed the facts and started referring to the solution that he had implemented for a completely different problem. We had already tried and rejected that months ago.

What bugs me most about the situation is that no one above me is believing the facts. They want their wonder-boy developer to swoop in and save the day when all the evidence says that it can't be done in software. I have no problem no longer being "wonder-boy", but I'm not chopped turkey either, and after having spent a month researching this problem and gathering hard data, to have all that ignored for someone else's baseless opinion is just a little hard to take.

I suppose when the facts point toward you having to toss the hardware and do it all over, differently, that they are entitled to their second opinions. I just wish they would actually look at the facts instead of speculating about what the facts might be. I get the impression that finding the root cause of problems is less important than ameliorating the symptoms. However, as anyone familiar with herpes will tell you, just because the symptoms are not obvious doesn't mean you're cured.

Monday, January 24, 2005

How does that work?

An interesting conversation distracted my coworkers for a few minutes and I this evening and has left me unable to fall asleep.

We got to talking about words, made up words that everyone uses (like irrespective, a non-word since 1927 that so far hasn't gained favor, and those that use it are looked down upon -- use regardless instead), and words that are internally redundant. The example being ravel and unravel.

Ravel and unravel mean the same thing. It's one of those situations where people didn't know what they were saying, but they said it enough that it became its own word, which was a synonym for the word that they should have been using in the first place. Confusing? Well, yeah a little, but nothing we can't handle, especially since it's been in the lexicon for quite some time now.

I suppose that's all fine and good -- that's how languages evolve. But what's keeping up tonight is why the thesaurus lists ravel and unravel as having synonyms that are completely different, in fact contradictory of each other, if the two words are actually synonyms for each other. That's like saying A equals B, but B does not equal A. If you're not a Zen monk, it leaves you scratching your head. English is weird.

And that's what's keeping me up tonight.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Fun, fun, fun

Last night I decided to go driving around because, let's face it, I was bored, and it seemed like it would be fun. Not many people out, so it would be a good time to practice my snow driving.

On the way home from work, there were a few people off on the side of the road, but I guess most of the crashed cars people talked about were rescued before I left work. My trip home took close to three times as long as it normally does (taking close to an hour) because everyone was driving slowly, but it was lots of fun. On the plus side, you get to drive wherever you want to on the road because apparently, without lane markers, no one knows where they should be and they just take their bit out the middle. Which reminds me, never follow the tracks in the snow in front of you, they may be crashing.

The Focus is fun to drive in the snow. The traction control works at all speeds, which is handy. When you're going 40mph in 5th gear and it kicks in, you know you're in some slippery stuff. But, even in the slippery stuff, the Focus basically just wants to go straight (which is great, right up until you want to turn). As long as you don't do anything stupid, the Focus isn't likely to bite you.

As the night progressed I was getting more skilled at the use of the parking brake while cornering, which is actually quite useful for making 90 degree turns, as well as pulling into parking spaces. There was only one point, at about 12:30 am when I was returning home from a restaurant/bar, when I had to throw the Focus sideways to stop in time for the intersection. Basically I was going about 40-45mph in a 55 zone that was reasonably well plowed (about 4 inches of snow on the road, with about 8 in the unplowed/untraveled sections) when the light a long ways up turned red to let a snow blowing pickup across. I was on the brakes the whole way as soon as the light turned red. When it got obvious that I was going to stop in the middle of the intersection, I decided to just throw the Focus sideways into the untraveled bit of high snow that accumulated between the people going straight and the people turning right. I stopped, the pickup went on, and all was good. I probably could have just run the light, as it seems that's another thing people like to do, but I wanted to see what I was in for should I actually need to stop quickly.

I need to get more practice driving in the snow, but I can see that my practice with rally driving simulators is coming in handy. I just wish I had more practice with the real thing. To get optimal speed and control in the snow, you need to work the brakes, the gas, the hand brake, and the steering wheel all at the same time. I'm OK at working the brakes, gas, and steering; that's pretty typical for running around the track at maximum velocity. It's just working the parking brake into the mix and getting the Scandinavian Flick down is what I need real practice with.

Lots of snow

Yesterday and last night we got lots of snow. I think I got about 8 inches at my house, and that doesn't count drifts from the 30mph+ winds or what the snow plows conveniently leave at your driveway.

My little snow thrower did an excellent job. It's able to deal with snow levels as tall as it, and you can drive it up snow banks and have it slowly work its way down them. However, the winds were still blowing this morning, and they were changing direction, which makes throwing the snow a real pain. I start on one side of the driveway, do a couple of passes, and then the wind changes directions and I have to switch to the other side and blow snow over the bit that I just cleared. This happened once again, when I was close to finishing, and I decided to just take the snow bath instead. I ended up leaving about a quarter of an inch of snow all over the driveway because of this, but hopefully the sun will take care of it. I should get some salt though, just to be sure.

I decided to be a nice neighbor and do my neighbor's sidewalk and driveway apron as well. His other neighbor took care of the other side of his sidewalk.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Let it snow!

Today we are set to get 6 to 8 inches of snow, and the leading edge of the storm is just beginning to drop some of the white stuff. The first real snowfall of the season. However, this will barely make a dent in our 24 inch deficit. This is driest winter in the last 114 years!

I'm looking forward to it. I've got the snow wipers (which as far as I can tell are normal wipers with rubber surrounding the metal spring part, presumably to keep the snow from getting inside the wiper and freezing it to your cowl), I've got the de-icing fluid and a little scraper if the fluid isn't enough. I still need to get some salt, and maybe a collapsible shovel, but I'm probably safe as it is.

Yesterday we got an inch or so, just enough of a reason to get the snow thrower out. I'm getting better with it. It usually only takes me one pass to figure out which direction the wind is blowing, and I didn't have to go over any spots more than once. We'll see how it handles the real snow tomorrow, but I'm sure it will do fine.

I want to practice my snow driving, and hopefully I'll get a chance tomorrow. I tried yesterday while out for lunch and found that the back end of the Focus just doesn't want to rotate. That's not unexpected, but what was is the fact that if you use the parking brake to try to rotate the back, if you even touch the brake pedal the ABS will kick in. This was unexpected, but I'm sure it's an edge case for the ABS computer. I want a "hey, I know what I'm doing button", but the only such button disables the traction control, not the ABS. Oh well, I'm sure I can work around it, and maybe it's not even an issue. I need a bigger parking lot to find out. :-)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

You've got to be kidding

Today was the first day I actually yelled at one of my coworkers. It was mainly for effect, but I was kinda mad at the time too.

We were talking about how the Janet Jackson "incident" during last year's Superbowl was a "terrible" thing. I, obviously, argued the con position.

Just for reference, here are some pictures (moving and still) of Janet so you can refresh your memory of what all the fuss is about. The initial picture is a quite large HDTV still of her breast, be warned. Farther down on the page is a screen shot from a TiVo which accurately reflects what 99% of viewers would have seen, had they had the ability to freeze frame and frame by frame advance until her breast was maximally visible. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I've seen more skin in a host of TV commercials.

My contention is that if you have no problem with 3+ hours of man-on-man violence and a seemingly unending stream of erectile dysfunction commercials, but are shocked by one woman's mostly covered breast seen from 100 yards away on TV, then there's something wrong with you and your so called morals.

I was expecting that my Catholic coworker would have an issue with violence, since after all, Jesus preached love, not war. Football is a game of war. It's all about defending your home (end zone) and attacking your opponent's home territory. Yes, it's a watered down version of war, but it still has "bombs". Instead, he says that he has a problem with the female form, but not erectile dysfunction commercials or massive amounts of violence.

Just for the record, I don't have a problem with any of it, but if I had to choose between violence or nudity on TV, I'd choose nudity every time. I can't believe that a father of three would rather show his children an unending stream of violence rather than the human body or two people expressing their love for each other. Shooting, beating, stabbing, or killing each other is fine, but heaven forbid we show two people actually loving each other.

And basically that's what all the yelling was about.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

When it rains...

Normally I don't like to talk about personal things in my blog (well, not super-personal things), but what the heck, it's not like someone died...

So, along with turning over a new leaf out here in Minnesota, I thought I should try harder to find that "special someone". So far I'm not having much luck. Actually, I guess that's the normal state of affairs when it comes to finding a woman, so maybe I'm actually doing just fine... Here's my story, you can be the judge.

The only lady at my work (who's about 10 years older than me) set me up with a friend of hers (who is about 7 years older than me). We met once, before Christmas, and while we both seemed to enjoy the meeting and she said that she wanted to meet up again, she never had the time. After more than a month of trying to dinner (or anything) again, we were set to meet for dinner and a movie with her friends on Saturday. I got an e-mail Thursday morning saying she said she was too busy to hang out with her old friends, let alone make new ones. Instead of being angry, I actually felt quite sorry for her. If she doesn't have time for a simple dinner at least once in over a month, she's working far too hard.

Friday evening I met up with a friend of an internet friend for drinks and a movie. Well, drinks didn't work out because she was running late, got a little lost, and movies out here start closer to 7pm, rather than 8pm. We were able to make it to theater with plenty of time, however, because there's like 10 minutes of previews. We saw Aviator, which was as long as it was boring. After the movie we go back to TGIF, where we had met, for a light dinner and drinks. We talked for about an hour and things seemed to be going well. However, she lives about 50 miles from where I do, so ultimately I think we both knew it wasn't going to work. However, having a movie-or-something buddy would be nice, and I think that's about what she was expecting too.

Well, on Monday she wrote me to say that she has been seeing another guy, and on Saturday they decided to make it "exclusive". She wasn't going to be able to hang out with me anymore. Ah, easy come, easy go.

Now it's time to start putting some serious effort into


This weekend I laid down a serious amount of wire.

A coworker came over on Saturday to help me fish the wire into the living room (2 cat-5e, 2 cat-6, and 2 coax 3GHz RG-6 which is actually cat-5 coax), which took about 20 minutes once I got out the saws-all and cut a hand sized hole into the I-beam that was blocking my view of the drill bit.

On Sunday I fished more of the same into my master bedroom so that every room will have the same capacity. I'm currently using one coax for cable and one cat-5e line for ethernet. I have no idea what I'll do with all that wire, but fishing cat-6 wires seemed to make more sense than fiber-optical, and it should future-proof my house for quite some time. Well, if I ever switch to DSS, I'll be able to have dual channels in every room. DirecTiVo everywhere!

I wish I had floor trusses rather than I-beams. Pulling wires through the randomly spaced punch out holes in the I-beams is painfully slow. You can't pull a large quantity of wire from point A to point B. You have to pull it in lots of little runs because the friction is just too great, and the wires have a tendency to knot up. This makes pulling the wire take about four times longer than it otherwise should.

I also ran a coax line and a cat-5e cable out to the cable box to replace the original cable coming into the house and the cat-5e means that I'll be able to support 4 phone lines -- should I ever actually call the phone company and get phone service. If you're going to go into the attic when it's -5F up there to run one wire, you might as well run as many as you can! I couldn't come up with a reason to run cat-6 to the garage or attic though, so I didn't.

Well, that's two rooms down, and five left. Unfortunately three of those rooms will require me to go back into the attic. I'll probably wait to do them until spring when temps in the attic will be more pleasant.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Found it

Last night I decided to take another crack at trying to find the drill bit in the basement. After 20 minutes of searching, I decided that I needed to cut a bigger hole in the I-beam so I could get more of my hand in to search for it. I got out the Rotozip, but the only bit I had (for plaster & lath) wouldn't go through the OSB of the I-beam.

I decided that the sawsall was the way to go and went out to the detached garage to get it. It was then that I found the drill bit. It was poking out the side of the house. Doh!

Those 54" long flexible drill bits have a habit of going off in a direction you don't want them to go, but I'm pretty good at keeping them under control. Not this time though.

Having a 1" hole in the outside of the house when it's going to be -20F to -5F for the next few days isn't a great thing, but the insulation in the wall is doing a decent job of keeping the drafts out. I'll get some insulating foam to fill up the hole as soon as it gets a little warmer. In the mean time, I'm not too worried.

I pulled the drill bit back out of the wall and made a second attempt at getting it into the basement, and this time I think I've done it. When poking around with my coat hanger I hear a little "clink" that I didn't hear before, so I'm pretty sure that's the drill bit. However, I still can't grab the stupid thing. A friend from work is going to help me Saturday, so I hope to have this whole ugly episode over and done with by Saturday afternoon.

Hopefully the remaining cable runs won't be nearly so frustrating.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Snow Thrower

I don't know what I was expecting from my new snow thrower, so I'm not sure if I'm happy, disappointed, or just dealing with quiet resignation. Not it though, it's damn loud (141 cc's of two stroke noise and fury). It's definitely easier on the arms though. Dealing with the snow can no longer be considered exercise, so I'm not sure that's an improvement since it means I have to wake up early to exercise, then "mow" the pavement.

The one thing that I expected was that it wouldn't break up the ice on the driveway, and I was correct. The salt and sun helped to soften some of it up, and the snow thrower got rid of those soft bits, but there wasn't anything impressive going on. I doubt the metal snow throwers would have done much better as they don't get super close to ground, so they probably would have driven right over the ice (though it is about a quarter of an inch thick). I came back with the shovel and was able to get a little bit more, maybe two shovels' worth. So, I can't really fault it there.

It does a good job of clearing down to the pavement, but it's far from perfect. Definitely good enough though. It loves heavy wet snow, throwing that close to 30 feet in a very impressive arc. The dry, loose, powder it only throws a few feet. I don't imagine that a bigger unit would be any better, there's just no mass for the surface area of dry powdery snow.

You need to be aware of the wind direction, and where you want the snow to land. Since it can't throw the snow all the way across my driveway, I was going sideways back and forth my driveway blowing the snow in front of me. That worked OK when I was up wind. But, when the driveway gets steep, it's very hard to keep the snow thrower from heading downhill, so I switched to a more normal up and down motion. It pulls itself up the driveway no problem, and it doesn't run away going down hill. However, that means that you have to go over the same snow multiple times to actually get it off the driveway. Also, I think starting in the middle, rather than a side, is the way to go so that you're always throwing new snow with already thrown snow.

I met another neighbor last night too. Seems like a nice guy, a car guy. We had a good chat and I hope to be able to make friends with him, even though he's not a Ford guy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Over Christmas I made the strategic mistake of not clearing all of my driveway the first time it snowed, and now I have about half (down from three quarters) of it covered with ice and/or hard pack snow. Over the past few days, morning and night, I've been spending about 45 minutes chipping away at it, and that's caused my elbow's tendinitis to majorly flare up.

I cried uncle today, and over lunch went out and bought a new snow thrower. A snazzy Toro CCR 3650 GTS single stage snow thrower. My arm (and not being in crippling pain) is worth way more than $700 to me.

I decided on a single stage snow thrower because they have rubber paddles that will get down to the pavement/sidewalk, and that's really what I need to clear. I need it clear for walking on, not driving on. Toro's web site says that this model should be all that I need, even if we get occasional dumps of 8" of wet snow. Hopefully they weren't exaggerating.

I don't need one of those monster two stage snow throwers, which are only a hundred or so more than what I just bought. Even though I have a large driveway, you could probably get 6 cars parked on it, and about 100' of sidewalk to clear, what I really want is the pavement clean. It doesn't seem that we get any serious amount of snow (at least not for the past few years), like in the mountains or up north, so being able to clear down to the concrete is more of a need than removing huge quantities of snow.

It's suppose to snow an inch or so tonight, so I'll report back on how well it works tomorrow.

Next up, dealing with gutters full of ice and half melted snow...

Where did it go?

Last night I started to run the Cat 5e cable from the living room down into the basement. That process begins with cutting out a hole in the drywall to put a box into to mount the face plate the connectors will connect to. That hole also allows you to put a drill down into it to make a hole for the cables. I should have known things were going to be bad when I started making that hole and hit a stud.

I put my hand-dandy 54" long drill bit into the hole, making sure to keep it out of vapor barrier of the insulation in the wall (it's an exterior wall), got it roughly vertical and began to drill. All was good, and I stopped when I punched through the wood and hit something that sounded and felt like concrete. Since this is an exterior wall, that makes sense, the foundation walls are poured concrete. Great run into the basement, and find the drill bit, attach the Cat 5e to it, pull the drill bit back out of the hole and I'm in business. Except... Where's the drill bit?

There is a wood I-beam over the foundation wall, and I was expecting to come in behind it, but with only little 1.5" holes every foot in the I-beam, I can't seem to find the drill bit. It seems that there is 6" of insulation behind that I-beam, which is right for the exterior wall (I was fearing that there might be a second wall cavity behind the one I'm looking at), and I see where the heating duct goes up into the living room, so I'm pretty sure I'm in the right spot (measured and everything). I'm pretty sure the bit is back there, just waiting for me to grab it, but after an hour with a coat hanger bent in various ways, and even a new hole drilled in the I-beam, I still can't find the drill bit.

I gave up, drill still hanging in the living room (I certainly don't want to pull it out and then have to try to fish a 1" bit back through a 1" blind hole). I think this has just become a two man operation. Now to find that second man... I suppose a woman would work too, but that's a completely different problem. :-)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Cat 5e

Today I worked through lunch so that I could leave when the fitness equipment delivery guys called to say they'd be at my place in 30 minutes. By 4:30 they still hadn't called, but I decided that I might be the last delivery of the day, and so I wanted to get home before 5pm. They called about 5 minutes after I got in the car and were waiting at my place when I got home (which was far less than 30 minutes after they called). They set up the home gym in my basement 5th bedroom, so I've now got quite a little setup down there with the bicycle and gym.

They were done a little before 5:30pm, but I decided that it wasn't worth going back to work since it would basically be to turn around and come back home. After dinner at the Bell, I decided to finish what I had started yesterday, running Cat 5e around the house. Well, to the master bedroom at least.

I had cut holes in the drywall in the basement stairwell, and the wall of one of the bedrooms, and had used my 1/2" Milwaukee drill with 54" long 1" wide drill bit to drill some holes down into the basement stairwell wall. I drilled three holes without an issue (going to be running lots of cables through there), but the fourth hole bogged out and stalled the drill.

While a very impressive feat to be able to stall this powerful drill, it also left me quite worried. What the heck did I drill into? There was no metal or plastic on the bit or in the shavings when I pulled it back, no water came rushing out, and no air when the heater ran. I'm guessing that I might have drilled into the top of an LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber, heavy structural beam). No matter what it was, it clearly was not ideal, but I doubt it's done any real damage to the house. I left it at three holes and fished some Cat 5e down one of the holes. Getting the cable over to where I'm thinking of mounting the network panel was easy as the wood I-beams have knock-outs to pass through things like this.

Tonight I completed the job by running the cable through the attic and down to the master bedroom. That was considerably more difficult than it should have been. I got a 54" extension because the drill bit isn't long enough to drill from outlet level into the attic. However, trying to fish 108 inches of 3/8" spring steel into a wall cavity while missing power wires with a 1" auger bit is harder than it sounds. The handle that they make explicitly for bending the bit wasn't up to task -- it's now a pretzel. I wonder if Home Depot will let me return it? I was able to bend the bit with my hands, eventually, but wasn't ever able to get it to bite, so I went for plan B -- find the wall in the attic and drill down from the attic.

Blown in fiberglass sucks. I really have to remember to wear a dust mask. Blown in paper insulation (what I had at my previous house) is far easier on the lungs and throat, though you still want a dust mask (tastes bad as opposed to feeling like bad things are happening in your lungs).

I was able to find the wall through more than a foot of loose fiberglass and use my DeWALT drill to make a hole for the cable. Those quick change drill attachments are great, except when you're in the attic drilling a 1" hole and finally break through; thereby engaging the quick release mechanism and dropping the drill bit into the wall to certain doom. Luckily I was able to fish the bit back out of the hole I had made for the wires I was running. I doubt I will be that lucky a second time.

After that, I wired up the jack in the bedroom and called it quits for the night. There is no sense wiring up the other end in the basement since there is nothing to connect to that wire. I still have to run a cable from the living room down into the basement, and then extend the cable coming into the house so that I can put the cable modem in, or near, the structured wiring box, and then move the Ethernet switch into, or near, the wiring box. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow night after work.

At least none of that work involves being in the attic when it's only 15F degrees up there. I can wait to wire the rest of the house (or at least the upper floor bedrooms) until spring -- we're supposed to have a high of -8F by the end of the week.

Home Depot == Big Brother?

The other day I went to the local Home Depot to return a couple of items that I had bought but didn't need. I have a stack of receipts, but didn't grab the right one for one item (a duplex outlet cover). I was informed of this fact at the return desk. I was thinking, I'd not return it then and would come back when I found the right receipt.

The lady handling the return asked if I wanted store credit (for 49 cents?, I'd rather find the receipt) or if I had the credit card that I had originally bought the item (at another Home Depot store) with. I had the credit card, but wondered how that would help the situation. She informed me that they can look up all of my receipts based on the credit card I used to buy them (not just if I used a Home Depot credit card) as she swiped my card.

"Yep" she replied, "that's the card you used". And the return was processed and the credit put back on my card.

I replied "Wow, that's a bit Orwellian." Realizing that Home Depot now keeps track of everything I've bought, and which credit card I've bought it with (why?).

To which she replied "Yeah, it's really convenient."


Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Tonight when I was in my bedroom, Lucy was following me as always. She's full of energy in the evenings and was running around like mad, but generally only in the room I was in. That's when it happened. She ran from the closet and ran straight into the leg of my bed. Head on. Big bonk! that resounded throughout the room. She sat back, clearly dazed. It must have really hurt. I'm not normally one to laugh at the suffering of others, and certainly not of animals, but, damn, this was funny.

She likes to run under the bed, so it was only a matter of time before she hit the leg of the bed, but it was really the fault of the dust ruffle disguising where the legs were that was the real cause of the collision. To help her out I tucked more of the dust ruffle under the mattress so that foot is clearly visible. Let's hope that's enough to prevent a repeat performance of tonight's event.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Minivan vs. Bus

Minivan loses, but worse is that a three year old in the back of the minivan is killed. The father, driving, is basically unhurt.

This story caught my eye because it happened in the morning on the road I take to get to work when I stopping by the grocery store to pick up breakfast fruit.

The sad thing is that there is a right lane that the school bus could have used to pass the stopped minivan. I checked it today, it's about 3/4s clear of snow. More than enough to be visible and usable.

The morning news said that the bus was going 45mph at the time of the impact. The speed limit at that point is 55mph, but there is a 4-way stop sign a few hundred yards from the impact point. I'm guessing that means that the school bus driver stopped at the stop sign, and then never stopped accelerating until he hit the minivan. There certainly weren't any skid marks on the road this morning.

If the child had been in the front seat, he might have lived. But that puts him at danger in a head-on collision, which are the more frequent types of collisions. The father should have been watching his rear view mirror (I know I do whenever I'm stopped in a lane of traffic on a 55mph road). Shoulda, woulda, coulda, and a three year old is dead and I have to be reminded by painted outlines on the road as I drive to work.

Salt works

As promised, I checked my sidewalk to see how the salt was working, and if it was going to stay around to keep the water from refreezing.

Yep, it did. Looking at my neighbor's sidewalk shows that his patches of wet sidewalk are ice, whereas my patches of wet sidewalk are just wet. The sun evaporated a little of the water, but not much. When it starts snowing later this week, not having a thin layer of ice below on the sidewalk will really be nice.

However, that melted water caused some issues. I think all of the salt on the driveway ran down with the melted water and is therefore no longer on the driveway. I'll see if that's the case when it starts to snow.

Also, all the water running down the driveway filled in my gutter at the driveway's apron. I have a large block of ice right there. The Blizzak tires didn't have an issue with it last night; I think momentum helped to get me over it, but I think I need to do something about it because I can't alway count on being able to zoom into or out of my driveway.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Cold Weather

I wanted to post a picture last week, but I didn't get around to it, so here it is, better late than never. December 24th I woke and looked at my outside thermometer, and this is what I saw. Notice the negative sign. That was the temperature at 7:30am! The memory function showed that it had been about -20 some time during the night. I think that's the lowest it's been since spring.

The interesting thing is, I can't tell the difference between about 30 and -10 (or anything in between). Yeah, it's cold, but with jeans, a short sleeved shirt, a long sleeved shirt, and a thin jacket, I'm good to go. If I have to drive the car, gloves help because the steering wheel is -10 and holding onto that for any length of time isn't pleasant. So far I haven't felt the need for a hat.

As long as the wind isn't blowing, and there is little moisture in the air, the cold is quite pleasant. When it's windy, however, things feel very cold. The other day there were steady 30mph+ winds blowing, with 40mph gusts. You notice that. Not living a valley means that there is nothing to stop the wind. And we get a lot of wind. Some times I have visions of the roof blowing off; it's that much wind. But, so far, so good, and I'm assuming that this wind thing isn't a new occurrence. I'm guessing they know how to build houses to deal with it.

Last night was my first introduction to freezing rain. I don't actually think this was freezing rain though. I think of freezing rain as something that falls, then freezes into large blankets of ice, snapping tree limbs and downing power lines. This was more like frozen rain, or small, clear, hail. Basically rain fell, then immediately froze on the ground in the form of little balls, or maybe it just landed as little balls. In any event, the effect is much like a thousand little balls under your feet. Not easy to walk on, and I wasn't even going to attempt driving on it. A few hours later it started to snow, which improves the level of traction immensely, but creates an insulating layer, preventing the frozen rain from melting in the day. I don't think it will be a problem once the plows get out and spread some sand or salt.

So, first thing this morning for me was to go out and shovel the sidewalk (about 150 feet of it -- a good workout), and about a quarter of my driveway (the part I actually drive on), as well as a small path to my front door for when the UPS guy comes. I shovel the gutter in the street too so that ice doesn't build up right in front of the driveway's apron.

While I was shoveling, the town snowplow came down my street. With his angled plow he was throwing up quite a wake of snow onto the grass and sidewalk, so I stepped back up my lawn a bit. He must have seen me because he slowed to about half speed, reducing his wake, and therefore not depositing a large amount of snow onto my driveway apron (or me). I waved to signal my thanks. He waved back.

When I was done shoveling, instead of using a broom to clear the last bits (because I think the sweeping motion bothers my tendinitis), I threw down some of my newly acquired super-salt (good to -25F, normal salt only works to about 20F) using a scoop made from an empty orange juice gallon container. That worked well for traction up and down the driveway, and started to melt the remaining snow on the sidewalk almost immediately. After thinking about turning all the snow to water, and eventually back to ice, on the sidewalk, I wasn't sure I had done the right thing. However, I'm hoping that salt will melt the snow and ice, that the water will evaporate today (rather than becoming a thin sheet of ice), and of course the salt will be left behind to do its magic for the next snowfall. I guess as long as the salt is there, the water should pretty much never freeze, so I think I'll be OK. I'll let you know how that goes tomorrow.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Vacation chores

I had this week off, and so did my mom, so she came out to visit me, help me with some minor house chores, and to check out the area.

The chores were pretty basic, I didn't want to impose too much on her. I installed three new outlets in the bathrooms so that I could plug in two towel warmers (one for each bathroom) and my Toto heated toilet seat. Gotta have that heated toilet seat. It's not like the house is all that cold, but once you've had heated seat, you never want to go back. I even had to buy a new toilet, elliptical in shape, to replace the round bowl, so that I could install the heated seat. But, I digress. She only had to fish the electrical wires out of the wall when I dropped them down from the attic, so I didn't work mom too hard.

She helped me move my big-screen TV around so that I could build a couple of boxes to raise it up enough to get my new Infinity center channel speaker under the TV. That raised the TV about nine inches, which is probably about two inches too far, so I decided to make a shelf that I could hang on the wall behind the TV to hold the speaker (the top of the TV is only about an inch wide, so balancing the speaker on it wasn't what I wanted to do with such an expensive speaker).

We also did a lot of shopping, or at least window shopping (though what I did buy was quite expensive). We looked at lots of different furniture stores. Some speciality stores, like the Amish store, or the bedroom store. Others were general home furnishing stores. I almost bought a Drexel Heritage dining room table, but decided that I didn't need one right away (and it was rather expensive). I did, however, buy a (rather) expensive home gym since I can't use the one at the townhouse complex anymore. That cost about as much as a two year membership at the local club, but I'm hoping I'll get more use out of it (though I loose the personal interaction a gym offers, but I didn't really use that anyway). I also got a setup to turn my mountain bike into a stationary bicycle, so I can do both weights and cardio work in the warmth of my basement bedroom.

Mom was nice enough to buy me birthday/Christmas/house warming present of a Zenith 15" LCD HDTV that I can mount on the wall to watch while working out. Very nice.

All in all, it was a very nice and productive vacation. I got to see mom, didn't work her or myself to death (if you don't count Christmas morning when we shoveled the driveway and sidewalk), and got to actually do some vacationing. It could have been longer, but I think I'll be reasonably rested when I have to go back to work on Monday.