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My first experience with Capital Bikeshare

Posted: October 01, 2015 in Misc | Add Comment

Last week I had SQL Server training.  It was a 5-day class, and I had two choices of class locations - one in the middle of DC the week before the Pope's visit, and one near Union Station during the Pope's visit. Since I already commute to the latter location every day, I decided to brave the Pope to get the better location. Unfortunately, I took the training from a place called ONLC Training, and because they are a bunch of colosal anuses, they waited until I paid for the class, then bait & switched the location to put me right in the middle of DC. During the Pope's fucking visit.  Lovely.

Note to self.  Avoid ONLC at all costs.  Anyway, back to the topic.

I had three options for getting from Union Station to the middle of DC.  They are, from worst to best:

  1. The shitty DC Metro. (motto: Almost better than walking),
  2. Walk (approximately 19 blocks),
  3. The Circulator bus,
  4. Capital Bikeshare.

Now, normally the Bikeshare would be more expensive than the Circulator (which is a buck per trip), but in this case I was able to borrow my friend Jonathan's fob, so the bike was free.  Err, monetarily free.  I was in fact not free if you count my lost wits.

I figured, "Hey, I ride a LOT! I'll have NO problem on a bike! I'll just have to deal with a little traffic and I'll be good."  It turns out actually that the traffic was the least of my problems.  Despite all the douchebag drivers in the DC area, I had not a single problem while on the bike.  Most of them were probably flabergasted to see a bike actually stop at a light. (in DC, pretty much all bikes roll red lights and completely blow stop signs, but that's a separate rant).

My problem on the bike was both the bike itself, and the situation.  First off, there's no warm-up when you swing your leg over a bike in the city.  You're on it, full, right from the get go.  After two or three blocks of twirling the pedals at around 110rpms (the thing has no gear range to speak of), my heart rate was somewhere around 199, only to shoot up to 299 when I grabbed both brakes and.... nothing.

I think the brakes are some kind of attempt at being lawsuit proof or something, because you really have to throttle the crap out of them to get the thing to stop.  And the fact that the bike weights about the same as an aforementioned Circulator bus probably doesn't help.  Fortunately, subsequent bikes I tried had slightly better brakes, but it's my luck to get the dodgy one on my first pick.

So you're spinning the pedals frantically, but you're doing it with an enema.  That's because the seat is way too wide at the back, so the downward motion of your legs pushes you off the front. Plus, the nose of the saddle is tilted down too much. This, combined with what feels like a crazy steep seat tube angle, puts you "on the rivet" for the entire ride.  Which in this case means the nose of the saddle is jammed deep into your rectum.  Not comfy.

Eventually you arrive at your destination, sore assed and heart pounding, and yep - you guessed it! No open docks for your bike.  To be fair, this only happened to me a few times out of the week.  There was one day I decided to walk, one day I had to walk because there were no bikes at Union Station, and one day where I found a bike at the next station a few blocks away.  On the other end, I had one day where there were no docks at my class location, and one where there were no open docks at Union Station.  Each of the no dock times I was able to find one at the next closest station, but had I been rushing to catch a train, eh.

So there you have it.  Not a horrible experience, but there's room for improvements.  But no matter how bad it is, it's still a thousand times better than Metro.


Not many posts, eh?

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Misc | Add Comment

No, I haven't been making many posts recently.  Actually, I have. They're just not here.  The primary reason for this is because whenever I try to make a new post, Firefox figures out a way of either crashing or closing the browser window before I'm done, thus losing the post.  And I don't retype things, ever, for any reason.

So you'll have to use your imagination for a while. ;)


Getting active again

Posted: January 12, 2014 in Misc | Add Comment

Every year I end the summer in decent shape, and then the holidays come and I eat too much, move too little, and in the springtime I have 10-15 lbs to lose and I've lost most of my cardio.  I get on the bike and I feel like a slug.  It sucks, but it's the same every year.  You think I'd learn.

This time around I have another plan.  A few months ago I picked up a home gym machine on Craigslist for a song, and got it set up in the basement.  I've been at it between 3 and 5 times a week, so hopefully I'll be able to at least neutralize the weight gain between now and spring, or at least maintain some sort of physical conditioning.

It's a decent machine, and I can do 95% of what I used to do at the gym, so I have no excuse.  I can even get Pandora playing on the TV in the next room for some music.

The hard part will be getting the junk food out of my diet, which I've resolved to do, but I really like to eat, and I REALLY like anything that's chocolate, so I have my work cut out for me.  Maybe if I could translate a chocolate cookie into a number of reps I'd me more successful.  Or maybe I'd just never leave the basement. :P


Fire Steak

Posted: November 15, 2013 in Misc | Add Comment

While I'm certainly no cook, I do occasionally come up with a bizarre idea for a food recipie that I think would make a yummy dish.  Usually I'm wrong and trainwreck the dish, but every once in a while I get lucky, like I did recently with my "Fire Steak" marinade.  It goes something like this:

(serves two)

Take two single serving size sirloins, 6-8oz each.  Pound them flat (to around 3/4" thickness) with a meat tenderizing hammer.  Place them into a ziplock bag.

The marinade.

  • 1 Large lemon
  • 1 oz rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper (like from a pepper mill)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (optional)
  • 1oz - 1-1/2 oz Sriracha chili sauce

Juice the lemon into a mixing cup and combine the other ingredients into it.  Whisk it, then pour it into the ziplock bag with the two steaks.  Shake, knead, whatever to get them coated, then place in fridge for around 3 hrs.

Preheat grill to approx 450-500 degrees.

Remove steaks from ziplock bag and dust each side with salt and (I know this sounds weird) table sugar.

Grilling times seem to vary by grill.  I grill on one side for around 6 minutes, then flip and grill opposite side for 4-5 minutes (for medium).  A friend with another grill reported that he went 5min/4min for medium, so you may have to adjust your times to suit your taste.

You can add or remove the cayenne poweder to adjust the heat, but not the Sriracha (the heat of that pretty much cooks off, leaving just the flavor).  The result should be a tender and very tasty steak, and sirloins are pretty lean, so you should be getting away with less than 500 cal per steak.

If you try it, leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it!


The summer (and back to coding)

Posted: August 30, 2013 in Misc | Add Comment

I said I wasn't going to do it, but I did it anyway.  I said I wasn't going to let this blog rot after working hard to create it, yet here I am at the end of August with no posts since June.  But to be fair, it was a busy summer.

July started off a bit hectic, starting off with Cruise #2 (for me) aboard the Queen Mary 2.  It was both better and worse than my first time out on the QM2, but it was still a good time (who can have a bad time aboard a cruise ship?).  I took mom this time, and I think she had a blast.  Here we are in Halifax.

Me and mom in Halifax, NS

The food on board was decent, and I managed to catch high tea pretty much every day.  Mom got to see the Planetarium show, and she did a bit of senseless gambling.  And I got my ice cream ;)

After the cruise, I was back for a week, a week in which my work PC was completely uncooperative, so the work I had planned to get done didn't, putting me behind.

The following week began our annual three-week holiday to Temagami.  This time we had two weeks with my mother-in-law, and one week with friends from Frederick, MD.  I finally got to climb the Temagami Fire Tower.  The view was amazing.

View from Temagami Fire Tower

This was our first year having a permanent solar power system, and it worked flawlessly.  Even though we only have a 40-watt panel (which will be upgraded to 75-watt by next summer), it was able to handle all of our water pumping needs, as well as charging laptops, phones, and my battery drill.  My goal is to have a collection of 18v power tools and only have to run extension cords from the generator when I have to do some really heavy-duty work.

By the time I got back to work at the beginning of August, I had a ton of work to do.  To be honest, it took me a couple of weeks to get my coding head back on, but fortunately I had a fun project to get me back into the swing of things - a web tool that I had to reverse engineer using only the database, a results page on a remote server, and nothing else.  It actually went really well, and I think the new version of the tool is a lot nicer than the one it replaced.

That's one huge project out of five that's behind me.  The rest might not be so much fun, but I plan to get the rest of my webteam involved.  Afer all, what fun is it if you can't spread the misery, right?


Climbing out of the hole that is winter

Posted: March 02, 2013 in Misc | Add Comment

It's finally March, which means in a few weeks we should have decent weather.  I always look forward to springtime because it marks the beginning of cycling season, car detailing season, watermelon season, Formula One season, and the season of not freezing my ass off when I step out of the shower.  It's not all roses of course.  Pretty soon the stink bugs will start coming out of the woodwork, and I'll have to start mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and replacing fence posts.

But I definitely need cycling season to get here.  I've finally shut up the creaking horst link on my Jamis, and I'm itching to get back on the trail.  My last ride of consequence was (gasp!) the MoCo Epic last October.  Is it any wonder I feel like a sack of play dough?  My legs need the cobwebs blown out, and I need to get my ass back in shape.

This will also be the summer that Jess and I finally get to use the new tent we bought sometime before the last ice age.  It's a lovely tent, and we both love to camp (as long as it's not on a bed of gravel, like the last campground we tried), so we'll definitely be making a concerted effort to find a decent spot to pitch the tent.  And maybe if we're lucky, we won't end up in a deluge like the last 200 times I've been camping.

Next month, Jess's car will turn one year old.  I never got around to blogging about it, but we picked her up a new Jetta Sportwagen TDI last April.  There are a few pics of it in the gallery.  It's the perfect car for her business, and the mileage is pretty excellent.  We usually get around 42mpg, with a max of 48.  It has a good bit of pull too, which Jess seems to take advantage of at every opportunity.

After missing pretty much all of last year on the blog, I'm going to try to keep the posts coming on a more regular basis.  As summer rolls around, they should get more interesting.


Now THIS is fantastic customer service

Posted: December 10, 2010 in Misc | Add Comment

I have what most people would call a long-ish commute to work. A 10 minute drive to the train station, followed by an hour long train ride, followed by a 20 minute walk. Add in the 10 minutes spend waiting for the train at the station, and you have a 100-minute door-to-door commute. In each direction. Needless to say, this presents quite the opportunity to listen to music, especially considering that my new phone has Pandora Internet radio. Last.fm, and a Democracy Now news app.

 

A key ingredient in listening to music is a good set of headphones. I prefer the on-ear designs, as the over-ear models are usually a bit too hot in the summer. I prefer a pleather earpad to a foam one, because I don't want my music leaking out and bothering others, and they're also better at keeping noise out. I can't wear the traditional iPod style earbuds, because my ears oddly lack the little "shelf" that they rest in. And in-ear styles usually fall out to easily. The earbuds that clip around behind your ears are usually the iPod style buds, and with no little "shelf" they tend to swing away from my ears like little barn doors.

So an on-ear design it is, and I've been a long-time user of the Sony MDR-V150 headphone. The sound is good, they stay in place, and they're usually fairly cheap ($20 average). There's only one problem. Like lots of headphones, they break after only a few months of use.

Usually headphones die on me when the cord fails at the jack, and you lose one channel. On the V150s, they've reinforced the jack considerably, so instead the cord just fails right where it connects to the earpiece. I've tried opening them up and soldering it, but either I'm changing the resistance of the wire or screwing something else up, because they sound like CRAP afterwards.

So after my last pair of V150s died, I decided to try a pair of Skullcandy Lowriders. These are similar to the V150s, except they fold up and get really small, so they're a lot easier to stow when you don't need them. They also have cool logos on them that a teenager would like (hah). Unfortunately, they come in a sealed plastic container, so there's no way to try them on before you buy.

On my first day of using them, I noticed that the sound wasn't as good as the V150s, and it's because they don't press to your ear very well. With all the hinges that make them foldable, they really are flimsy to wear, and a stiff breeze (or tree branch, or just the act of looking down) will cause them to fall off. And after around 8 months... you guessed it... the jack failed.

I went online to leave a scathing review, and noticed many of the other reviewers bragging about the warranty, so I decided to check it out. Turns out, if you own a pair of Skullcandy headphones, and they fail due to normal usage, they replace them, FREE. And even better, if you don't want the same ones, you can get the amount in credit toward any new pair from their website. You don't need a receipt, you don't need to know where or exactly when you bought them (a guess will do), and you don't have to wait long.

You basically fill out a form on their website, get an RMA number on the spot, mail them back at the post office, and 7-10 days later you get a credit to your account on the website for full MSRP, plus the $7 you paid to ship the old ones back. On top of this, they were having a 20% off sale on everything on their site, so after I applied my credit and the discount code, I got a better pair of $50 headphones, plus a toque (I needed to order something else to not have a negative total, although I probably could have just left a credit on the site) for $2.59. Yes, two dollars and fifty nine cents. This is especially awesome because I actually paid around $26 for the Lowriders, but they still credited me the $39.99 MSRP.

This is awesome customer service to say the least! You basically buy a pair of headphones and you have them for life! Even if you break them and it's your fault, they'll still give you 50% credit.

I can't wait to get my new headphones! Unlike the old pair, the new ones get great reviews, and they even have a built-in mic so I can talk on my phone. And I needed a new hat for the winter, especially after Jessica shrunk my old one in the dryer. I'll definitely be washing the new one myself!


An open letter to all Democratic candidates

Posted: November 04, 2010 in Misc | Add Comment

When given the choice between voting for an actual Republican or a Democrat disguised as a Republican, the majority of American people will always vote for the former.

A lot of Democrats seem to have this misguided impression that they somehow need to run a centrist platform. Unfortunately, this causes a few problems. One is that you lose Democratic votes. This is because you've now become indistinguishable from the Republican you're running against. Your core supporters will either not vote, or throw a vote to the Green party. You won't pick up any more centrist votes, because they won't be able to tell the difference between you and the actual Republican either. And don't even think about picking up any Republican votes. That "D" after your name will be like a crucifix to a vampire. They'd sooner eat nails than vote for you no matter how far right you veer.

As if all this wasn't enough, your efforts will be negated further by the fact that no matter how far right you move, the Republicans will still point at you and call you an extreme left-wing commie liberal (and the media won't do anything to refute that). By moving to the right, you effectively allow the right to re-define what's considered the center, and you make it even harder for yourselves in the next election.

So do us all a favor please. Stop trying to emulate your competition, grow a spine, and run a proper, progressive platform. Your core voters will thank you.


Triplets!

Posted: July 09, 2010 in Misc | Add Comment

Today we had three baby deer in our back yard. A few minutes later, the mom showed up. I took some pics!

baby deer

doe with fauns

doe with fauns

doe with fauns

playful fauns


Big Oil, Accidents, and Price Gouging

Posted: June 05, 2010 in Misc | Add Comment

I had a bit of an epiphany today.

Has anyone else noticed the price at the pump? Usually, whenever there is ANY sort of "mistake" (refinery fire, pipeline leak, butterfly landing on an oil rig) the price of gas at the pump shoots up instantly, then takes months, sometimes years, to recover.

But during this debacle, the price at the pump hasn't budged. I think it's because they're doing everything they can to keep this out of the news, so a price spike at the pump due to the Gulf spill would just shine more light on the thing.

This means that they can control the price at the pump regardless of any disaster (since arguably, this is the biggest one of all). It's also an admission that all the other times we had a price spike, it was nothing more than gouging.

Think about it.


Talk about lazy!

Posted: February 04, 2009 in Misc | Add Comment

Today after lunch I got a bit of a chocolate craving. I have a thing for Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, and they sell them in a 3-pack for 25 cents downstairs at Idiot Central (a.k.a. our in-building convenience store). Since I can never decide between the milk or dark variety, I usually just get a pack of each and save one for tomorrow.

So I walk up to the register, and one of the two girls is leaning back. She looks really bored, and she's actually too lazy to even shut the register drawer from the last sale. It's toward the end of their business day, so the drawer is stuffed with cash and coins. I hold up my two packs of peanut chews, and she lethargically rings me up at a snail's pace.

"Fiddy cen"

I hand her a $10 bill, which is all I have, other than the dime in my pocket.

"Awww, you ain't got fiddy cen?"

"No, all I have is this ten, and..." rummaging around in my pocket... "this dime"

"Ok then, I'll take that" she says, holding out her hand for the dime.

So I got 50 cents worth of chocolate for ten cents. I guess she must not have to reconcile her drawer as the end of her shift.


Dysfunctional DC Public Transit

Posted: January 15, 2009 in Misc | Add Comment

A lot of people who are not from the DC area assume that being the nation's capitol means we must have a great public transportation system. Between the Metro (subway), the bus system, and commuter rail (VRE in Virginia and MARC in Maryland), we sure have the infrastructure to get people around. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Or in this case, the management.

The DC Metro is likely one of the worst subway systems in the country, and maybe even the world. It just takes one trip to Toronto to see how a proper subway system is run, and then you start to realize just how bad it is in DC. The Metro is not only very costly (close to $5 per trip, each way, plus almost $5 to park your car at the subway station), it also has a dismal reliability record. Unlike the subway systems of other cities, Metro only has two tracks (one in each direction) available to subway trains. A track problem, broken down train, or anything like that causes massive delays as trains have to be single-tracked around the problem. There are no pull-off spots for disabled trains. You are also not allowed to eat or drink on Metro, which is supposed to keep the place clean, but it's no cleaner than the Toronto subway, which allows you to eat or drink anything you like. The trains never run on time, and there are always track problems (including floods and fires) to screw up your commute.

And I might as well mention that if you get to the subway station any later than 8:30, there are no spaces left. But you still have to pay to get out of the lot.

The commuter trains aren't much better. The MARC service in Maryland, while better than Metro, isn't THAT much better. At the beginning of 2009 they implemented a 25% fare increase by eliminating a popular 10-trip discount ticket. With ridership at an all-time high, you think they would be happy, but greed is greed and they couldn't resist squeezing every last drop of blood out of its customers. As if the 25% fare increase wasn't enough, they've also started wasting 10x the amount of paper, because each single-trip ticket is the exact same size as the old 10-trip, so you waste 10x more paper. Multiply this by the MARC ridership and you get a significant amount of waste.

And you can forget taking the bus too. Most of the Montgomery County Ride-On buses stop running at 7:30. Since it takes an hour to even get to the bus (with no Metro delays, which is rare), you are easily put in the position of having no way home if you work late.

I don't understand why DC doesn't just bite the bullet and run a proper public transportation system, rather than a 100% for-profit system. Actually, I do understand why. It's all about the bottom line.


There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said, but...

Posted: November 07, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

I am extremely encouraged by Tuesday's election results. There's a long, hard road ahead for sure, but this is the first step toward making things right.

I thought both speeches - Obama's and McCain's - were very well done. I think that McCain's time was back in 2000, when the Republicans insisted upon having Bush. I think we would not be nearly so bad off had we had McCain these past eight years. But one never knows.

But it's all soon to be behind us, and while the damage will no doubt take a long time to repair, at least we're on the right track.

History has been made, and let's hope it'll be made again soon.


What a slow, dreary Halloween

Posted: November 01, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

It's almost 9pm, and so far I've had only three rings of the doorbell, and one of them was teenagers.

 

At this rate, I'll have quite a bit of candy to take to work next week.

Whoops! There's the doorbell. Make that four rings.


Cautiously optimistic

Posted: October 16, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

When Obama got picked as the dem candidate, no one was more convinced than I that by this time, just weeks before the election, he would be ground to a pulp by the press, and McCain would be ahead by double digits in the polls.

 

While nothing is certain yet, it's looking more and more like we might actually get someone who isn't "four more years" of the last eight. It's not going to be easy, mind you. The current administration has left a horrifying mess for the next president to deal with, but at least we'll be dealing with it rather than adding to it for another four (or eight) years.

I can already see the headlines in ten years. The repubs will be telling us all about how Bush's looting of the treasury and tax cuts for the super-rich would have saved us, if only Obama hadn't been elected and thrown a wrench into the whole thing. Politics is all about blaming the other guy.

So I will sit back and watch, cautiously optimistic, with my fingers crossed that the polls are right, that the Wilder effect doesn't rear it's ugly head, that Diebold doesn't fiddle with the results, and that the "tie" doesn't go to the loser again. I don't want to read about how minorities were turned away at the polls, or how recounts in blue areas were blocked while those in red areas were allowed.

I don't want anymore bullshit. I just want the election to be done with.


I just had a gun pointed at me

Posted: October 06, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Posting this from the Mini dealership while my car is serviced.

 

On the way here for my service, while driving down I-70, I look across the median and see a car stopped dead in the middle lane. As I pass, I notice that it's a couple of really old people, and they're just sitting there. It's right after an overpass too, so cars are coming over the rise and swerving madly to miss them, along with the numerous tractor trailers. Right before I go by, I notice the drivers door open and the old guy looks like he's starting to get out.

Cell phone battery's dead.

Around 2 miles up the road, I notice a state police car pulled over on the right. Looks maybe like he just gave someone a ticket. Anyway, I pull over in front of him, and I get out and start to walk up to tell him what's going on. He bursts out of the car, gun drawn, pointing it at me, screaming "GET BACK IN THE CAR!!! GET BACK IN THE CAR!!" over and over.

So of course I get back in the car. And so does he. Meanwhile these poor people are back there, maybe dead by now. So I dig around in the glove box to see if I've left the car charger in this car or the other one, and finally I see him strolling up, hand on his gun.

He finally gets to my passenger window, and I tell him what's going on. He gives me a "We'll handle it." and strolls slowly back to his car, gets in and keeps writing whatever he was writing.

Yanno, whatever. That's the last time I ever go out of my way if it involved approaching a police person in any manner. I'm not going to have a gun pointed at me for trying to do the right thing.


Are you voting your wallet?

Posted: September 11, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

We sure are.

I think Jess and I do pretty well, but we'd need to do a whole hell of a lot better to see a bigger benefit from McCain's tax plan rather than Obama's.

Keep in mind, this cut for the rich is on top of the hueueueuge cuts they've already gotten under Bush.

So the next time you hear McCain say that Obama is going to raise taxes, you'll know who his intended audience is.


Finally done

Posted: September 04, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

After a long wait, some bill haggling with one of our contractors, and a lot of patience, we finally have two remodeled and working bathrooms. They both look really nice, and I expect to have pictures very soon, once I finish up some baseboard molding work on the master bath.

 

The hallway bathroom looks phenomenal - almost like a bathroom in an upscale hotel penthouse. The master bath also looks pretty good, and although I was worried the dark slate tile would make it look to small, that doesn't seem to be the case.

The best part I think is not having shower curtains to get moldy, and no more puddles outside the shower stall. I still need to add a light over Jess's tub, but that's small potatoes. The lion's share of the work is FINISHED! Woohoo!


It's so hard to find good help these days

Posted: August 14, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Ever since springtime, our house has been "under construction" in some manner or another. One of the major projects that's getting done is a bathroom remodel of both upstairs bathrooms. The tub in the hallway bathroom was way too shallow to have a good soak, so we decided to replace it, as well as re-tiling the floor and tub cove, and adding a bypass shower door. In the master bath needed a new floor, so we decided to tile the shower stall, and add a hinged shower door.

 

We got an estimate back in April, and told the contractors to go ahead. Work didn't start until June, and it was slow at that. By the time our vacation rolled around, the hallway bathroom was 95% done, and the master bath had not even been started. I figured that they would need one day to demo the old tile in there, one day to redo the plumbing, and two to three days to lay the tile. Toss in another day for installing the faucets and door, and you have six (6) days.

I told the contractors that they would have the house to themselves for the entire two weeks that Jess and I were on vacation up in Temagami, (15 days in all) and that the work absolutely MUST be done when we got back.

When returned home, we found the following:

  • Hall bathroom is 99% done, but usable. Only some cosmetic finishing needs to be done.
  •  Master bath 20% done, and not usable.
  •  Part of that 20% is done wrong and needs to be done over.
  •  Electricity in powder room (downstairs) is out, for no apparent reason. It's possible that a wire could have been cut during the master bath work, which is directly above it.
  •  There was no hot water in the house. I hit the reset switch on the water heater, which restored the hot water, but so far I've had to reset it three times in the last three days. I suspect that the contractors left the water turned off for days on end, causing the upper element to burn out.

I've just about had it with this shoddy work. I think we're going to have to find ourselves some new contractors for future projects. If something's going to be done wrong, I might as well do it wrong myself, for free rather than paying to have our house screwed up.

We're both rather irked.


The jury is in

Posted: July 15, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

After extensive side-by-side testing, I have decided that I prefer the milk chocolate variety of Goldenberg's Peanut Chews to the dark chocolate variety.

That is all.


I'd like to know how Best Buy stays in business

Posted: June 09, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

We're having half of the basement remodeled in order to have a nice place to watch movies. We could watch movies before, but there was a ghastly drop-tile ceiling, and the walls were a mess. Ugly color, hideous wallpaper border, and since the previous owners had a dart board down there, the wall looked like the back-drop of a firing squad. There were horrible, industrial 2x4 fluorescent lights, and I won't even go into what the carpet was like.

A few months ago we bought a plasma TV for down there, and once the remodeling was done, I needed to hook up all the equipment. Since the new stuff uses something called component video cables (a 3-wire cable with red, blue, and green bands) I needed to head to the store. I also needed a USB extension cable for one of the computers, so I decided to combine trips.

My first stop was Best Buy. They had a 4' component video cable, made by some fancy-shmancy sounding brand I'd never heard of, and it was... $69.99. So I looked around and found their in-house brand (Dynex), and it was $49.99. Fifty bucks for a 4' cable? That's over a buck a foot. Their USB extension cable (also Dynex) was $29.99. I needed the cable to extend a mouse, and for $29.99, I could buy a whole new mouse with a longer cable!

So I left empty-handed, and walked over to Target (it's like 100 yards away). I went to their audio/video section, where I found a 6' component video cable for $19.99, made by Sony. Yeah, longer than what I needed, but I wasn't going to pay $30 just to lose the 2'. They also had a 6' USB extension cable for the everyday low price of $7.99.

I've noticed more and more things like this at Best Buy. For the past 5 years, there have been no good prices there on anything. Last Xmas, I bought a Nuvi 650 GPS for Jessica. I got it at Costco for $299. Best Buy's price on the same exact item? $599, which is more than it was directly from Garmin.

With prices like these, how do they get any business at all?


What the hell is up with chewing gum flavors these days?

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

I've been chewing a lot of gum lately, much to the chagrin of my dentist (who hasn't had anything much to do in my mouth at all these days), both because I like it, and to keep me from eating as much. It seems to help with the appetite control (and the oral hygiene), but I'll tell you what, either someone is getting paid too much to come up with these new gum flavors, or they aren't getting paid enough.

Strawberry Lime?

Raspberry Mint??

And the worst one of all, which I stumbled across today...

Citrus Mint (barf)

All I can think of is drinking orange juice right after I brush my teeth. Not something I'd like to experience again even by accident, much less deliberately.

I mean there just comes a time when you have to accept the fact that there's just not many more things you can do with chewing gum flavor.


Well it's no wonder so many Americans are overweight

Posted: March 27, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Last weekend, Jess and I swung by my mom's house, both to see how she was doing (she had recently had an emergency room visit after suffering a dizzy spell at work) and to take care of a few repairs that needed doing.

After doing the quick fixes, we decided to go out to dinner. Mom was in the mood for either Greek or Chinese, but as we headed out to the restaurants we passed a PF Chang's. Jess and I love this place, and have been meaning to go for some time, and mom loves it too, so we pulled in. They seated us right away (very unusual) and we started to browse the menu.

Being somewhat of a creature of habit, I tend to stick with what I like at chains, so I ordered my usual; Spicy Lettuce Wraps as a starter, and the Mongolian Beef for the entree. We all prefer the brown rice to the white, so they brought that with the main courses.

After dinner, Jess and I both had a taste for chocolate, and they have a dessert called the "Great Wall of Chocolate" which is a 4-layer cake with raspberry sauce. This it a bit much for one person, so Jess suggested we order one and split it. This is always a bad idea with Jess, because she tends to take two bites and say, "the rest is for you" and you end up either eating waaaay more than you wanted, or having to lug it home and eat it later, once it's gone all dry and stale.

But this particular PF Chang's had what they called "Mini" desserts. They're basically like a tall shot glass filled with the dessert of your choice, and they're two bucks instead of the $8 that the full portion is. Perfect! We each got one.

On the way home, I said, "Hmmm, I wonder if they offer nutritional info on their website. We both figured the answer was probably no, but we checked anyway, because we both log all of our food. Well, sure enough, they do!

So I looked up what I'd eaten, and I was aghast...

Lettuce wraps: 510 cal
Mongolian beef: 1180 cal, 73g of fat, and this is NOT including the rice!

but what took the cake (pun intended) was the dessert. It's a GOOD THING we didn't opt for the full portion...

Great wall of chocolate: 2240 cal, 89g of fat.

Holy cow!

Now, here's the scary part. How many people go to that place, order the appetizer, the entree, and the whole slice of cake? If you count the rice, that's over 4000 cal, and that's with water as the drink, and I'm sure some people get soda or alcohol. And that's ONE MEAL.

Imagine a typical weekend. Denny's for breakfast, burgers & fries for lunch, and the above for dinner, and maybe a snack or two sprinkled in. That's easily a 10,000 calorie day folks.

At least the information is available to those who care about what they eat. But I think it should be right there on the menu along with the price. Might make people think twice before they order that cake, and it might make restaurants think about how they prepare food. After all, if no one orders the cake once they see how many calories are in it, the restaurant might start to offer something less lethal.


Another Friday, another weigh-in

Posted: March 21, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

I was worried about this weigh-in because of some indulging I/we did last weekend. First there was a St. Paddy's day party at my friend Ryan's house, and we dropped in after we had a nice Prime Rib dinner at Damon's Grill. Let me tell you, Prime Rib has a lot of calories, and so does a buttered baked potato. So do buttered dinner rolls, of which we indulged two of each.

The next day was unlikely to be outdone, when our friends Bobby and Liv had me over (Jess had dance rehearsal) for a sort of springtime open house. There was a lot of good food there that I was able to keep track of, but that was only until the brownies, baklava, and cake came out. I managed to stay away from the cake, but I had to have a square of baklava, and of course I never could resist brownies - I had three.

Needless to say, I didn't expect much from today's weigh-in. The numbers on the scale bounced between 181.8 and 182.0, finally settling on the latter. That's over 1.5 lbs for the week, so I was very pleased. I am now officially the lightest I've been since age 30. And with prime cycling season rolling up as we slide farther into this month, that's good news.

So, 2 lbs to go before my "official" goal, and I probably won't stop there (I haven't been 175 since I was in my early 20's, so that might be fun to try.

Now I need to go find a belt hole punch. I'm on my last one, and it's getting pretty loose.


Weight check

Posted: March 13, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Last weigh in was at 183.6, so another pound gone. It's been slow going the last few weeks, so I've made some dietary alterations. It seems to be helping, and I seem to be back on track.

It seems like when you don't have much to lose (the lightest I could conceivably get barring sickness or injury is probably 175), it doesn't come off so easily. Each pound is a fight, and even with a 500-750 daily calorie deficit, it's just a nickel and dime deal when it comes to the weight. Granted, I've gained some muscle mass from my weight training, but if the calories aren't there, you'd thing the weight would come off.

Oh well, 12.6 lbs in 10 weeks isn't so bad. It's over a pound a week, which was my goal. I have 3.6 more to go to reach my original goal, and I was thinking about shooting for 175 but at this rate that may take all summer.


11.6 lbs total weigh lost

Posted: February 29, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

For the past couple of weeks, my weight loss has sort of stalled, with only a quarter pound lost here and there. So I made a few small dietary changes, reduced my daily calorie intake a little more, and bumped up the weights I've been working with. This morning the result was around a pound and a half of weight lost this past week.

I'm happy to be back on track, but Jess is even happier, as she finally got some big numbers with nearly 4 lbs lost since last weigh-in.

So my average weight loss is 1.4 lbs per week, and I've gone down a notch in the belt I wear with my dress pants. I'm hoping that by the end of March (and the start of cycling season) I'll be close to (or under) 180.


Whee! Another pound gone

Posted: January 30, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

187.6 this morning.

There is, however, a drawback to losing weight. Two in fact. The first drawback is that the more weight you lose, the less calories you burn for the same amount of exercise. Jessica found out about this last night after logging her treadmill workout. I was reminded of it this morning, when my daily walk to work used 8 fewer calories than it did last week. That's one less Hershey's kiss, so that's a big deal to me!

The other, more ominous drawback is that the lighter you are, the less food you need, so my daily calorie allowance has been steadily dwindling since we started this whole thing. So the less I eat, the less I'm allowed to eat. It's like punishment for being successful!

But I suppose I'll get used to it, since it's happening in such small increments. Besides, cycling season will be here soon, and I'll be back to gorging for 60+ mile rides. That's the good life!


Stalling on my next weigh-in

Posted: January 26, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

I haven't posted a weigh-in lately because for right now, my weight loss is a bit stalled. The problem isn't that I'm not losing weigh, but that I can't tell how much I'm losing.

Over the past week, we had three straight days where I was way, way over on my sodium intake. We're talking 275-350% of what I should be having. This makes you retain water and shoots your body weight up. The reason for the sodium overages was simply because we ended up eating out two nights in a row, and both times had something that was incredibly salty (blackened Tuna steak - yum!). Then the following night, Jess made vegan stir fry, which swam in soy sauce.

So until I can get this salt flushed out, I think I'm going to be heavy on the scale. My last weigh-in was 188.4, so I'm down 7.6 lbs overall, but I plan to weigh again either tomorrow or Monday morning.


Weigh-in time again!

Posted: January 16, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Lost another pound last week, making the total 5.4

Things are right on track, and I should be at 180 before schedule, meaning I might even shoot for 175.

Yeah, I know. I don't look like I need to lose weight, but once you hop on that bicycle, the first 15% grade climb tells you otherwise.

Nothing wrong with trimming down. I got down to 184 the year before last, and I felt fantastic on the bike. I want to feel fantastic again.


First weigh-in today

Posted: January 07, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Down 4.4 lbs. So far so good. Hopefully the trend continues.

Next weigh-in, Monday the 14th.

This week:
Avg. Daily Intake: 2344 cal
Quota: 2452 (after subtracting 500 for weight loss)

Don't want to slide too far below 2400, otherwise I'll feel like I'm starving myself.

Anyway, so far so good.


Time to shed some of the extra baggage

Posted: January 06, 2008 in Misc | Add Comment

Now that the holidays are behind us, and now that the office parties (on one day we even had two!) are over, it's time for Jess and I to buckle down and get serious about our weight. We've both started logging our food on a website called nutridiary.com (free) and it's allowed us to monitor our calorie intake, as well as our levels of vitamins and minerals.

I started off on Jan 2 at a weight of 196 lbs, and with a goal weight of 180. While my "official" weigh-in day is tomorrow, I snuck a peek at the scale this morning. 192 so far, and that was after breakfast (if only I could remember to weigh in BEFORE eating). I think it's working well, and oddly enough, I'm actually having trouble making my calorie minimums for each day. I often find myself having a pre-bedtime snack, just so I'm not too far under (if you eat too little, you can actually slow down your metabolism and it becomes even harder to lose weight).

The cool thing about nutridiary is that if you are below your minimum, you can look at the graphs and see exactly what you're behind on for that day. Two days ago, I was around 300 cal below my minimum, but I was also behind on calcium and fiber. A bowl of cereal was the perfect answer, as the cereal had the fiber, and the soy milk had the calcium. After the bowl, I was 10% over on fiber and 20% over on cal.

Pretty cool, eh?


Boy has this year flown by

Posted: December 10, 2007 in Misc | Add Comment

It's been two months since I've written anything here, which has no doubt made a pretty boring blog. Not that it wouldn't be boring in any case, but it makes it even more boring, I'm sure.

Things are finally settling down for Jess and I. We're pretty much settled into the new home, with most of the "indoors" stuff done. Next spring will bring all the outdoors projects - landscaping, a new address sign, new mailbox, and maybe a new front walk. The current front walk is a "sidewalk wannabe" and it's not very tasteful. I'm considering just dropping some slate on it and calling it a day. We'll see how that goes.

Xmas is closing in, and it will bring a few firsts. First Xmas in our new home, and our first Xmas without Jessica's dad, who passed away in May. Still, we plan to make the most of it, having Xmas dinner here with our immediate family.

We're cutting our own tree again this year, and it'll be a challenge to keep the cats away from it. I'm thinking about placing a few Scat Mats at the base and seeing how that works. The last thing we need is a cat with an ornament in its tummy. Not to mention a tipped-over tree.

Jessica's job is going well, and mine's the same as always. Poor Jess keeps getting sent on trips to different cities, where she's expected to drive around in a rental car and meet clients. Not small cities either! Places like Boston, Dallas, LA - places that are notoriously difficult to drive in. Poor girls only been driving for around 2 years. Talk about a baptism by fire!

On the political front, I've been keeping a wary eye on things. I think Hillary is the front-runner, which I see as good and bad. Bad because I think she's a middle-of-the-road corporate shill, and good because I think that unlike our past two candidates, she might actually put up a fight if there's some "fuzzy math" on election day. I'm amused by these comments from republicans about how they are looking forward to running against her. They're not, of course, and are in fact shaking in their shoes because they know she'll hand them their asses. But somehow they think the reverse psychology card will work and we'll fall for it and not nominate her. Fat chance.

In a perfect world, I'd have a real progressive on the ticket, like Dennis or Howard Dean. But I don't think the country as a whole is smart enough to know what's best for them, so we have to take baby steps for now. As for me, I'll be "pulling the lever" on the Green candidate. Might as well, eh?


I think one of our kitties is bi-polar

Posted: August 27, 2007 in Misc | Add Comment

I'm starting to give up hope of Sterling ever being "normal". He's so freaking neurotic that I think he spends at least 75% of his time in fear for his life, and I have no idea why.

Even at the old house, he was never totally relaxed. But once we moved here, he went off the deep end. Sometimes in the morning, when I feed them, he'll be eating, but if I walk into the kitchen (which requires walking past the kitty food) he'll bolt away as if I was some huge monster coming at him.

His neurosis seems to increase if we're wearing shoes, but even if I'm barefoot, he still freaks out. It's as if he's certain that we're really here to kill him, and now is finally the time.

A few days ago they were both sitting in the bay window in our home office. I accidentally dropped a pen. Roxie calmly looked over, then looked back out the window. Sterling shot a foot in the air, then glared at the pen, like it was about to grow into a monster and eat him.

It's not consistent though. One minute he'll be totally relaxed, and you can walk right up to him. Then an hour later, just getting up from your chair will send him diving for the closest hiding place.

I think he probably needs kitty Xanax or something, if there is such a thing. I really hope he "grows out of this", but he doesn't seem to be getting any better.


So much for the US healthcare system

Posted: May 14, 2007 in Misc | Add Comment

My mom is currently undergoing knee replacement surgery in Sibley Hospital, in DC. Sibley is supposed to be a "good hospital", but I guess that's relative - i.e., it sucks a little less than all the other hospitals in the area.

She checked in last week, and was booked for the operation, and rehab. Her surgery was on Wednesday, and everything went well. Since then, she's been charged almost $5/day for a tiny 6" TV with around a dozen stations, fed food that is unfit for human consumption, and had to wait an inordinate amount of time to have her bedpan emptied.

Today she phoned me. It seems they've "overbooked" the rehab center (much like a cheap hotel overbooks rooms) and thus, they have no bed for her. This means she's on her own for rehab, and she's been calling frantically to find a physical therapy alternative. Of course, none of the ones she's found in the area accept her insurance, so we're kind of stuck, all because Sibley couldn't keep its books in order.

I mentioned this to Jessica, who rolled her eyes, and understandably so. In Canada, this would never be an issue. My mom could have just gone to any rehab facility, and not worried about whether they take her insurance. But of course, the US is against "socialized" health care, because doctors, hospitals, and big pharma can't get as filthy rich under that system.

Yeah I'm pissed. This isn't some overbooked hotel, or oversold flight. This is my mom's health, and she needs her PT to be able to walk again. It's serious stuff.


How is this my problem?

Posted: February 14, 2007 in Misc | Add Comment

We have neighbors, and they have yappy dogs. VERY yappy dogs. In fact, one of the yappy dogs is the dog that bit at me last summer, but that's another story.

So I get home from work (Federal Gov't closed early due to snow/ice) and I notice that there are some neighborhood kids sledding down the hill in my back yard. This is causing the yappy dogs to go absolutely apeshit in a fit of barking. I shrug, and figure the neighbors must not be home, otherwise they'd bring the dogs inside, rather than let them go apeshit.

About an hour later, my doorbell rings. It's one of my neighbors.

Her: "Hi, did you tell the kids they could sled in your back yard?"
Me: "No, but I didn't tell them not to. It's no big deal really. They can have fun."
Her: "Well, my husband works nights, so he's trying to get some sleep right now, so I'd appreciate it if you'd tell them not to sled, because the barking is keeping my husband awake."

Ok, let me get this straight. Their OWN dogs are keeping them awake, and I'm the one that needs to do something? How about, "Shut your own damn dogs up!" ?

I mean seriously, wtf?


The diet starts... NOW

Posted: January 02, 2007 in Misc | Add Comment

Now that the holiday season is behind us, Jess and I will be putting out noses to the grindstones as far as our eating habits go. Jess isn't feeling very healthy, and I want to get serious about keeping the extra flab off. So today we took all of our measurements and plugged them into the calculator at fittogether.net. We also picked up a Tanita body fat scale with 2-person memory.

According to the Tanita (which is supposed to be pretty accurate) I'm at 12.3% bodyfat right now. Jessica is... well, I won't tell you her percentage, but she wasn't happy about it at all. We both have some work to do, but neither one of us is really obese. Just 5-10 lbs less would be nice.

My main goal is to not gorge myself during meals, and let my body get used to smaller portions. I just think I eat too much per sitting, and I'm getting tired of that uncomfortable post-meal feeling. I'm also going to eat less meat and dairy, and concentrate on eating as much fruit and veggies as possible.

Last year at this time we each managed to drop 10 lbs by spring. This time the trick will be keeping it off.


Rain anyone?

Posted: June 27, 2006 in Misc | Add Comment

So it's been raining. A lot. For the past few days we've had tropical deluges of rain. Not just the light, steady stuff mind you, but those huge cloudbursts that make people pull over and wait under a bridge due to lack of visibility. The kind that are usually over in 5-10 minutes, but these are going on and on and on. Day after day too.

Many of the roads I travel on have standing water. In one point, I had to drive through water that was flowing across the road, from one "lake" (cow field) to another. Some of the backroads that run near creeks are closed completely. Fortunately, I don't know anyone who has been flooded out of their homes, but if the rain keeps up, it's only a matter of time.

Some people haven't been so lucky.

On Friday Jess and I are leaving on a week-long vacation to Canada. No riding, but lots of relaxing. Hopefully the rain won't follow us.


A bad dessert experience

Posted: May 20, 2006 in Misc | Add Comment

Tonight Jessica and I decided to go to one of our favorite places to have dessert - the Double T Diner in Frederick MD. This is the place with all the amazing pies, and they give you the mother of all slices on top of it. Expect to budget around a thousand calories for dessert. And that's not an exaggeration.

So we walk in and get seated, and end up with the slowest walking waitress of all time. I mean she took 5 minutes to get to our table from the front counter, and it was only 20 feet.

Jess started off with a coffee, and I got a glass of water. For dessert, Jess got a piece of baklava (which was the size of around 4 traditional pieces of baklava), but to my horror, they were out of Boston Cream pie - my favorite. Well, against my better judgement, I did not order pie, but instead I decided to try their cake. So I ordered a slice of German chocolate cake, not realizing it was laced with coconut, which I cannot stand (I thought it was the Black Forest cake that had coconut), so I slid that over to Jess.

Not having learned my lesson, I ordered a second slice of cake - chocolate triple layer cake. What I did not expect was for the cake part of this cake to be as dry as Cheops mummy. It was like sticking a fork into a piece of balsa wood. I ate half of it and left the rest for dead. But of course we hate wasting food, so we took it to go.

When the waitress returned, I asked for a "to go" box. 10 minutes later, she finally showed up with it (after all, it was a whole 30 feet away). When she put the box on the table, I started to put my leftover cake in it, but she said, "Oh, let ME do that." At which point she stuck a fork under it and then grabbed it with her FILTHY BARE THUMB. So now I not only had a piece of dry, fossilized cake, but a piece of dry fossilized cake with a BIG NASTY THUMB PRINT right on the icing. Oh well, at least it wasn't her index finger, which she had a BIG OOZING CUT on.

I think I may have to get drunk the first time in my life in order to finish that piece of cake.

On the bright side, the baklava was good, and we ordered 5 pieces to take home (which we were over-charged for) for our dinner party tomorrow night.

Sheesh, the trouble you go through to get a decent dessert sometimes.


Well I got bitten by a dog yesterday

Posted: May 02, 2006 in Misc | Add Comment

Yesterday evening I had a slight altercation with the neighbor's dog, but before I tell you about that, a little history is in order.

I live in a townhouse - end unit. My one adjoining neighbor has two dogs. One's a Jack Russell terrier, and while hyper, seems pretty harmless. The other is a mutt, maybe 40-50 lbs, black and white, medium length hair. This dog does not seem so harmless, and if you spend a little time around this dog, you get the impression that it's just dying to bite someone.

This dog has been an annoyance for the past few years. If you're doing something in the backyard, mowing or yard work, it sits in wait, and the second you get close, it unleashes a nerve-wracking cacophony of barking from behind the fence that startles the crap out of you. Now, I've lived in this house since Jan of 2000, so the dog has had over six years to adjust to my presence. I don't know why it's always so agitated.

In the front yard, it's a different story. There's no fence, so the only thing keeping you from its snapping jaws is the fact that it's tied to a nylon cord that's attached to a stake in the ground. Whenever I leave the house, the dog charges up to me and strains at the end of the leash. You can literally hear the teeth snapping together as it chomps at the air, hoping to get a piece of you.

I've told the owner about it several times, sometimes jokingly like "Cathy, I think your dog wants to kill me" and sometimes seriously; "Cathy, if your dog ever gets to one of the kids in the neighborhood, you're going to have a mess on your hands". Her reply is consistent and predictable. The dog is a "sweetie" and would never hurt anyone. He probably just "sees a squirrel in the distance" and is barking at that, not me. Needless to say, I don't buy it, especially when his teeth are 6" away from my ankles.

Well yesterday it happened. Jess and I were leaving out to get some groceries, and the neighbor's daughter was moving out of the house, so her and her boyfriend were carrying stuff to a U-Haul. The dog was out front, and the second it saw me, it charged. I didn't respond much, because I've resolved to ignore it, but this time... this time... something was different. Either the cord was changed or the stake in the ground was moved, because this time it got to me.

It made it all the way onto my walk, where it bit me on the outside of my thigh. Fortunately, my thighs are quite firm, so the dog was unable to get any real chunk of flesh. All he was able to do was pinch the skin through my shorts, which left a nasty purple-ish bruise, but fortunately did not break the skin.

Well this may have been the wrong thing to do, but considering my history with this dog, I was a bit pissed. I bent over while he was snarling and I smacked him hard across the nose (I do not have even the slightest fear of dogs whatsoever). He seemed surprised at the retaliation, and retreated across the yard. I looked up at the neighbor's daughter's boyfriend, and said, "Nothing personal, but if your dog ever bites me again, it's dead."

Fortunately, they took the incident seriously, and put the dog inside. The neighbor actually seemed shocked that her snarling, snapping dog had actually bitten someone. Let's hope this was a wake-up call and that she does something about it before one of the neighborhood children are next on the menu.

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cydebar...

Notes actually do mean something. They have power. I think of notes as being expensive. You don't just throw them around.

- The Edge


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