Random Thoughts and Musings

Welcome to my collection of random thoughts and musings, as I happen to decide to spew them.

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higher standards in education[14Mar2008, 18:11 PDT (-0700)]
(It's been a long time since I posted, but this bugged me enough...)

All these arguments for higher standards in education (especially K-12), such as Bill Gates' recent speech to the House Science Committee (12Mar), are missing the fundamental issue.

It isn't about standards. It's about inspiration.

If a child finds inspiration, whether from a person, event, or whatever, he or she is very likely to enthusiastically delve deeply into the subject, whether mathematical, socialogical, or historical. Children are amazingly and energetically curious, and just need to have that curiosity encouraged and directed.

I don't pretend to know what kids are directing their curiosity at these days, since I don't have any, but the ones I talk to (like neighbors' kids) all have that curiosity and intelligence which can lead to real results and real learning. When they hear new stuff from people outside their normal circles, it often fascinates them. That's the perfect opportunity to get them to learn new things and open their minds more without them even realizing it. They're teaching themselves.

Indirect teaching like that is perhaps the most lasting learning. Teach them statistics and math through sports statistics. Teach them history through horrible current events -- how did things get to be that way. Teach them a bit about science through figuring out why they are sick, or how things heal themselves by explaining how and why they need to help their body heal when they get injured.

Most importantly, encourage them to not be afraid to fail. Fear of failure keeps people from trying. They only take the seemingly "safe" options, and entrepreneurship, invention, and imagination die. Today, parents are paranoid and kids don't fall out of trees, or fall off swings, or crash their bikes. The kids don't get the chance to know what it means to pick themselves back up, dust themselves off, and learn that they tried going too far.

Most kids don't dislike learning. Most seem to love it. It is that they need to be learning because they want to, rather than having it shoved down their throats that makes the difference. We need to inspire them to care about the various subjects, whether math, science, history, literature, or politics. Not just in an academic world, but seeing how it matters in real life, the intricacies of why things happen, how they got that way.

Bring in real world speakers who can encourage kids to explore ideas and concepts. Have events, beyond just science fairs or book reports, that encourage kids to really learn -- with their own efforts -- and proudly present the information to their classmates. Take more field trips to see how people actually use their knowledge and skills in life. Yes, only a few kids will get intrigued by any given event, but that's more than will be inspired by classroom teaching. And the more events you have (up to a point, of course) the more chance of inspiring the remaining kids.

I'm not saying it is simple, or will change things overnight. But whenever you find someone who has changed a bad (or just unremarkable) group of kids to something good, it is always about how that person inspired them and challenged them, forcing them to become engaged and involved. Every successful person can point to someone or something that inspired them, that made them strive that extra bit harder or that directed their interest and efforts to their great success.

I think we insult the capabilities of the kids when we pin it all to standards and academics. If we really want leaders and inventors, and the innovation for which the US is renowned, we need to inspire again.

ThinkPad delays[16Jul2007, 20:09 PDT (-0700)]
After waffling for about a month on a new laptop to get for b-school, Lenovo came out with a newer and supposedly sturdier version of the one I had settled on, the Z61p. I was just waiting for the price to drop on the Z, when they drop the Z line and come out with the T61p, which seems to be basically the Z61p with a full rollcage.

So, after checking for gotchas online and with a couple of repair shops, I happily order it this morning. The site was saying "ships in 1-2 weeks" but that's fine. There were some older posts on forums about long delays, but they sounded like that was fixed now.

Apparently not.

After actually placing the order, I go and check the Order Status page, and it shows a ship date of a month from now!?! What the heck is up with that? Lots of companies have been doing the whole "build to order" for years, why can't Lenovo get it even halfway right? Even the 1-2 weeks was long, but I figured, "hey, it's a new model, and they're just finishing catching up on the previous snafu, so okay". But a month? And that's just the "estimated" ship date. Will I get this thing in time for school? Should I just bite the bullet and pay about $400 more to buy an in-stock Z61p from Newegg? I'm going to have think about this...

building a new server...[14Jul2007, 02:43 PDT (-0700)]
My trusty old RAID server, arachne, has been having issues the past year (it's almost 7 years old). So, I've been looking into what I can put together with today's technology that will be as solid and reliable. Unfortunately, it seems we are back to the days of having to know what revision your chipsets and such are, and carefully select specific models and variants in order to not have things literally blow up... I thought we had long since gotten past all that!

I've got an order in to Newegg for
* Antec 900 case (had a "weekend special" promo email arrive just seconds before I hit the "buy" button)
* Intel DG965WH motherboard (6xSATA 3Gb ports, and RAID)
* Kingston KVR800D2N5K2/2G RAM (pretty much the only RAM that works with the G965 chipset, apparently)
* 4xHitachi 320GB SATA 300 drives

and will pick up an Antec Basiq 500 PSU tomorrow at Circuit City (on sale, seems to be doing well in my old server).

Hope it all works out! Of course, there's always that extra wrench into the works that I run FreeBSD (Samba, Apache, NFS, ssh, DNS, named, etc.) on it, not Windows. (And, I'll be going from FreeBSD 4.2 on my current machine to the more up to date version, 6.2, from January of this year. So, that should be interesting.) But, assuming I can get it all working under BSD, I shouldn't have to touch the system for years after that other than to upgrade the drives later.

If it goes well, I may forget to mention it here. If it goes poorly, however, I am sure it will show up here. :)

Finally sold the SUV!!![18Jun2007, 22:32 PDT (-0700)]
After nearly two years of trying to sell our SUV, we finally found it a happy new home.


We loved the car, but we had four vehicles and only two drivers, and it was the only one worth any significant amount (and least mileage-friendly, although not horrible).

Glad to have the extra cash, and to save on our auto insurance bills!


taking it to the next level[28May2007, 23:10 PDT (-0700)]
Went shopping for business casual stuff today, to try to take advantage of any sales. While there, I popped into a Brooks Brothers factory outlet, where I could not pass up the big sale which let me buy two good quality suits for the price I had expected to pay for just one.

Which led to a momentous (to me) historical moment. For the first time in my life, I own a suit. I had a nice jacket, slacks, and shoes before, and had twice worn a rented tuxedo (my high school prom, and my wedding) but never the whole hog of a suit. I've finally moved past my aversion to such clothing, which has limited me and caused me to miss out on opportunities along the way.

And I even like the suit. :)

6 and 8 years...[20May2007, 04:54 PDT (-0700)]
Back from marking a happy sixth anniversary for Brooke and myself, as well as eight years since engagement. Add about another four months, and we're almost pushing nine years together!

Milestones in Yaletown was delicious and welcoming, as always, and I even managed to snag some of my favorite cookies from the Muffin Granny (although didn't call ahead, so only got what they had on hand). And the usual shout out to the folks at Dragonspace and Escents.

(Need to find a good honey kruller donut shop near home, or have a Dunkin' Donuts or Tim Horton's open nearby... Or maybe it is just as well I haven't found a good donut shop here?)

Here's looking forward to pushing *90* happy years together!!! :)
Eli Stone[15May2007, 17:10 PDT (-0700)]
Congrats to my old friend from high school, Marc Guggenheim, on having his new show Eli Stone picked up by ABC!

1500 Books in the news[12May2007, 17:16 PDT (-0700)]
Finally, my brother's publishing company, 1500 Books, is starting to get some recognition!

Shameless plug: Gavin and Eileen are great folks. If you have any interest in these kind of books, there are links on the website to buy them right away to support them and help their young company maybe actually turn a profit. :-)

(Read the article at Publishers Weekly)

And feel free to pop over and check out their web site (full disclosure: I built it) at http://www.1500books.com/

which is worse?[09May2007, 14:01 PDT (-0700)]
So, all this carbon footprint stuff has me wondering...

Which is worse/better? Keep using my 1976 and 1993 diesel sedans, which pollute somewhat (but get 25 and 31-45 mpg, respectively), or junk them and buy a new hybrid or electric car, with all the carbon expense and environmental waste involved with producing the new car (and disposing of the old), but with lower emissions?

And that is before I consider the use of biodiesel (especially if it is biodiesel which is produced from recycling frying oil, and not from fresh-grown crops).

Seems like a slam dunk to me that keeping the old ones running would have the lesser impact on the environment. But, I'm just going from my sense of degree from articles, so I'm open to discussion. (I'm not likely to junk my old cars, since I am attached to them, especially the 1976 one, but I am keenly interested in the relative carbon footprint issues.)

For gas-powered cars, especially gas guzzlers, or if I needed a new car anyway (although I would buy a used instead of new car and pocket the depreciation), not so much of an issue. But what about reliable, existing vehicles?

Just a sanity check on all the folks I've been running into who promote dumping yuour existing car and getting a hybrid...

Woo-hoo! Going back to school![03May2007, 20:33 PDT (-0700)]
The Business School at University of Washington called today. I've been accepted for Fall 2007!!! Whoo-hoo!!!

No more limbo as I try to guess whether I'll be going to school, or need to dive into job hunting. Now I know what my (overall) career path and plan are for the next 2 1/2 years.


puzzling[24Apr2007, 01:58 PDT (-0700)]
Really not quite sure why, but Brooke seems to be unusually curious regarding one of my two former romantic interests for whom I still have minor hangups. (Well, okay, there's a third one I have hangups about, but those are really, really negative hangups, not wistful or what-if hangups.)

Brooke already knows one well, but that one has been a friend for years and I can unreservedly call her a former girlfriend. She attended our wedding, and we attended hers. All those bridges were repaired long ago.

This other one though, I can't really call a former girlfriend, since we only went on a couple of dates back in college and then I screwed things up (I was way too naive and intense, probably came across as "stalker-ish"). I haven't been in touch with her since college, and am not really sure contact would be welcome.

The only thing I can think of for triggering Brooke's curiosity is mentioning that this one is still pretty much the only "environmentalist" type I've met who seemed to have a firm grasp of the realities of trying to fix the environment issues, as opposed to being too naive or pie-in-the-sky about it (her dream was to eventually become the president of the Sierra Club). Of course, that was many, many moons ago. But she appears to have continued her interests in environmental issues over the years. Good for her!

Ironically, given our interest in the recycling aspects of biodiesel, and her apparent involvement in farm waste issues (which in biodiesel terms would be "biomass" as a fuel source), Brooke is tempted to contact her. Not sure about this...

The Ultimate Star Wars Personality Test[17Apr2007, 23:07 PDT (-0700)]
Heh. Saw this on Digg. Ended up as my favorite character, even thoughI answered truthfully to the questions (would have tried gaming the questions depending on who I ended up as, but hey, my first, honest try worked like a charm!).

You are Han Solo! You can be a bit cocky and reckless at times, but at the end of the day you're just plain old courageous! If anybody ever asks you if you like doing the 'Han Solo' just punch him in the face. They were making a masturbation joke and that crap's just old.
(Click on the image to jump to the test)

near head-on[15Apr2007, 00:51 PDT (-0700)]
So, I'm driving around Edmonds, WA this afternoon, checking out potential nice areas to go for walks to keep fit. I'm driving down a wide, nearly empty street, and there is a sedan heading towards me, swerving nearly to the oppositie side of the road to go around one of the few parked cars. Then I realize the car is not swerving back. At the last moment, I lean on my horn and they suddenly jerk their car back over to their side. The driver had been too busy looking into the visor mirror while still toodling along the road (flipped it up and looked startled when I honked)!

When did they start permitting visor mirrors on the driver's side? That used to be illegal, I thought, for obvious safety reasons (like this). And what kind of moron has to use it while driving? Sure it was a low traffic road, but kids could have been out, too.

no longer square[09Apr2007, 13:24 PDT (-0700)]
So, today I am no longer square. I'm now prime!

Lots of good things have happened for me in prime years. Got engaged, got married (and yes, still consider that a good thing, all jokes aside), had perfect tourism timing for our month in Europe honeymoon, worked at my ideal (for the time) job, met my longtime friend and former girlfriend (my wife and she get along great), cashed in my Yahoo stock (although the gov't got about 75% of it...), graduated college (late), got into Princeton, and lots more. Not all that much in the way of major bad things that I can recall.

Let's hope this year turns out to be a prime one for me. Could use the good luck financially, in getting into my targeted MBA program, in finally selling our SUV, in resolving Brooke's medical issues, and generally getting back on our feet, instead of just getting by.

little gifts...[09Apr2007, 01:34 PDT (-0700)]
Cool. Guess I can take it as little birthday presents from the net that a couple of sites that only occasionally open up for new members did so within the past day or so, and I managed to notice in time! Signed on to Whedonesque and Demonoid. :)

It lives!!![07Apr2007, 02:02 PDT (-0700)]
Picked up a replacement power pack/cord for my trusty (10 year old) WinBook XL 233MMX laptop (yes, that's a 233 MHz CPU). Still going strong. They definitely don't build 'em like they used to. Wonder whether I'll still be using it another 10 years from now...?

(I know I sure won't be using my Dell Inspiron! What a piece of junk!)

historical moment[03Apr2007, 19:09 PDT (-0700)]
So, today marked an historical moment. I actually went to the gym on my own, without Brooke dragging me there. Just told myself I'd bring a book and spend 15-30 minutes on the elliptical machines.

I had always found the easy excuse that I wanted to have a book or something to distract me on the elliptical but then I would have to haul the book around and not forget it (the more key part) for the rest of the gym circuit. (I hate the treadmill, and the cycles don't do much for me, either -- actually, they and the leg-only ellipticals tend to hurt my knees if they're the powered ones, but the ellipticals with the swinging arm poles work fine.) So, I just went for the elliptical this time. Weights and such would be a separate trip.

First 10 minutes were painful, as expected, but then I hit my stride, loosened up, and was comfortable until my legs began to get stiff and wobbly (since it's been a while from my last time on this). So, only 20 minutes this time. But the important thing is that, other than needing a better way to hold the book open, it all worked, so I have little excuse not to continue going on my own (we'll see how regularly...).

Brooke was finishing up teaching a class at the gym and was stunned when she came out of the locker rooms to see me there. :) :)

April Fool's snow and hail?!?[01Apr2007, 20:00 PDT (-0700)]
Brooke and I went out for some ice cream at Spotted Cow. It was a bit chilly, but not too bad. Then it started to drizzle and the wind picked up. By the time we finished our ice cream, it was raining fairly heavily.

We walked over to Central Market in the rain. When we came out, it was hailing! In the short time it took to walk to Brooke's car, the hail went from soft and tiny to bean sized and icy hard. Before we even got out of the parking lot, there was a thick blanket covering her car, like it had been rolled in a "breading" of glistening styrofoam balls!

Some friends just a little further north got 2-3 inches of snow, slush, and/or hail.

Mother Nature's little April Fool's joke on us?

shaky and tired[06Mar2007, 00:21 PST (-0800)]

Arms and legs are very shaky and tired. Went through the full-scale exercise to complete my CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training tonight. Had about 20 high school students made up to be of various degrees of injury or death, all scattered through an abandoned lumber yard store (being called "high school" for our purposes). Much carrying out of victims, triage, "electrocution" of CERT members (as part of the exercise, after a distraught "mother" turned the circuit breakers back on to try to get more light to find her "daughter" and some team members came too close to water and wiring).

So completes a several week hands-on course. But now I am certified and, more importantly, better prepared for myself, Brooke, and my neighbors in case of a disaster. We'll see whether I am up to helping beyond the immediate neighborhood, but hopefully that will never be tested for real.

back online[16Feb2007, 01:06 PST (-0800)]
So, back online again after about a day of our landline (and attached DSL) being down.

We had been noticing increasing static and interference problems with our calls over the past month or so, but thought it had started around the same time I accidentally yanked part of the POTS wiring inside the attic. I had been meaning to get around to checking it, but hadn't yet.

Turns out, it had nothing to do with that. Someone apparently shot the wire, nearly severing it, leaving the paper-based insulation exposed over a damaged line. When the weather got wetter, especially with rain, the problem increased, according to the lineman who came out and fixed it. Not that we caught that correlation, since we do live near Seattle (which, while nowhere near as rainy as common myth has it, nevertheless does get a fair share of rain, particularly in the winter, along with most of the West Coast from just above LA on up).

Shot, huh? That's a new one...

At least we have a nice clean connection again, and my download rates have nearly tripled without the interference. :)

Footloose[17Jan2007, 18:02 PST (-0800)]
Wow. Just watched Footloose (via Netflix) and have mixed memories of seeing it back when it was new and seeing it now and laughing at lots of parts of it. I did still enjoy it quite a bit, though.

(John Lithgow had a lot more hair back then...)

Something significantly different besides just aging, though, is that when I saw it way back when, I didn't think anywhere in the modern world actually did things like ban dancing or music. Then I met my wife, who had had to deal with some of that even when she was in high school near San Francisco! Wow. Talk about worlds apart. I'm a lot less naive now, although I am sure there are plenty of such freedoms I still take for granted, having grown up just outside New York City.

Carfax[30Dec2006, 17:56 PST (-0800)]
Argh! I hate Carfax. I finally found out why I may not have been getting any bites on trying to sell my ML. I had someone all set to buy it yesterday and they did a Carfax report on it, and it claims there is a second owner (as of March 2006) and that it was in a collision.

I bought the car new, and the only accident it ever had was a minor bumper scrape in a parking lot, which isn't even what the CarFax report is referring to -- the date corresponds with when the back panel was repainted due to vandalism (keying). Of course, being a modern Mercedes, even that minor scrape cost plenty to fix (under insurance).

Oh yeah, and the location of the alleged accident is "front left" which has never had any issues whatsoever.

The guy wants me to drop an additional $2000 off the price (in addition to the $1500 below book I was already selling it for) due to his concerns regarding resale value. And, of course, he won't show me the Carfax report itself, because he claims it has a policy stated on it that he is not to share it with anyone. So, I am going to have to pay Carfax for the report they are screwing up. :/

(I figure this buyer is a lost cause -- by the time I can get any Carfax stuff fixed, on the off chance I actually manage to convince them, it will be too long from now).

wisdom[14Dec2006, 21:57 PST (-0800)]
So, did my wisdom increase or decrease by finally having two of my wisdom teeth removed?

For the first time since I realized I had some dental problems (back around 1994), I have finally found a dentist who is treating the holistic problem, rather than just putting patches on the results of the problem. From the first appointment, Dr. Megan Flinn has been so incredibly thorough and insightful, my scientist wife decided to switch in an instant, too.

Let's hope it all works out and my mouth and teeth get all back in alignment and stop getting damaged from bite and gum problems, and I will have happy use of my own teeth for my whole life (and may that be long!).

Wisdom teeth, orthodontia, jaw surgery... Hope it all is worth it!

wind and trees[11Dec2006, 21:17 PST (-0800)]
Wow. Good thing I spent all that time working on that broken tree yesterday. Today we had one heck of a windstorm. Power was on and off all over the place for hours. (Was a good excuse to just light up the fireplace and some candles and read a book.)

I don't think that tree would have survived the heavy rain and gusty wind. Probably would have cracked right down the trunk and crashed across either my driveway or the road (hopefully missing any people or vehicles at the time!). Glad we missed out on that...

splitting tree aches[10Dec2006, 17:25 PST (-0800)]
So, got home, nearly had to "duck" going into the driveway (not that that would actually have helped -- at least it seemed to miss the car).

We have a cherry tree at the base of our driveway. I knew it had been getting a bit too big for my tastes, but apparently it was getting a bit too big for its own good, too. A good two-thirds of the entire mass of tree trunks was on the side over the driveway. Big, size of my thigh branches.

With the recent heavy, wet snow, the uneven weight of the branches was too much for the tree, and it cracked. After I parked, I grabbed some lopping shears and headed back down to the tree to trim what I expected to be just overgrown twigs and such. Saw that the trunk, where the various branches, well, branch off, was gaping wide, with a good foot of space between the two halves! Ended up going back and getting my regular saw (hand saw, I don't own any power saws yet) and cut down three huge branches, leaving just a medium one on that side (and even trimmed that one a bit, maybe more when I look at it again in daylight this week).

Got a lot of aerobic exercise, at least! Spent a little over two hours cutting it all up, tossing the smaller stuff into a mulch pile, and sawing the larger parts into logs to season for next year in the fireplace. Glad it didn't fall into the road and hit anyone or anyone's cars.

swamped[22Nov2006, 05:07 PST (-0800)]
Got a couple of new web clients, so I'm building their sites.

Apple Store is prepping for Black Friday, so my hours are shooting up there.

Brooke has been ill for about a week (seems to be getting better now) -- not surprising given her 140% teaching load (Chemistry at two community colleges) plus the classes she is teaching at 24hr Fitness, plus her band stuff.

And, of course, especially with Brooke so busy herself, there is all the basic household work: laundry, dishes, yard, cleaning up after massive rainstorms and hail storms, dishes, trying to slowly clean up the house and get rid of junk, dishes, and other mundane needs. Did I mention dishes?

Looking forward to the Christmas-ish holiday time, just because I might actually have some time to rest. After all, this is the first Thanksgiving period Brooke and I have been in the country for several years. We usually avoid the whole shopping insanity completely and stay up in Vancouver, BC that week, but with my retail stuff, can't do that.

Oh well. Things could definitely be a lot worse (looking around at all the misfortune in the world and feeling a lot better about where I am in life...)

what's the point of the new James Bond?[07Nov2006, 15:05 PST (-0800)]
After reading a Reuters article on Yahoo, New James Bond trades womanizing for love, I just had to rant.

What is the point of the new James Bond movie?

I can keep an open mind about a blond Bond.

I can understand wanting to tie in to current fads with Texas Hold 'em instead of the traditional casino games like Baccarat.

I am willing to consider the idea of the villain simply financing the terrorists, rather than actually leading the terrorists. Fair enough, since financing them is being one of them.

I can accept reducing the womanizing, in favor of finding love. That happened in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. No problem as long as it doesn't become an ongoing thing through the movies to drag him down (although if they did it humorously and well, it might be able to work).

Even dropping the gadgets for the most part is fine. They've been using them as a crutch, rather than demonstrating Bond's resourcefulness in adapting items designed for another use to the situation at hand, for far too long.

But when they proudly state that the puns and campy jokes are gone, and that the movie will be grittier and more realistic, I really have to ask why they are even bothering to make the movie. I'll just go watch the Bourne movies instead.

And when Daniel Craig claims he doesn't "think it is interesting unless you see character development" it just shows he is missing the point of Bond movies.

James Bond is all about over the top villains and jokes. It is not about "growing" as a character. This is like Seinfeld or most comic strips -- no character growth, no ongoing storylines, just fun and entertainment. Pure escapism fun. If it isn't filled with spoofable moments, it's not a Bond movie.

What's the point?

didn't lose my tape measure[25Oct2006, 01:04 PDT (-0700)]
Put my tape measure on the corner of my car's bumper on the way out to work, intending to measure the dimensions of the trunk, so I could plan whether the pallet and shelves being discarded at the Apple Store would fit.

But, I got distracted bringing in the trash and recycling bins (pick up was this morning) plus getting the mail, and completely forgot. Drove off to work, driving my normal, New Yorker way, and didn't remember the tape measure until I was pulling into the parking lot at work...

"Argh. Oh well, at least it was only the 25 foot one, not the big one," I thought. And, perhaps since there is a bit of a bounce at the bottom of our driveway (one of those rounded curbs combined with water runoff gutter dips), I was hoping that, best case, I would find it on the ground when I got back home.

But, just because I tend to be an optimist, I checked the back bumper when I got out of my car, anyway. And the tape measure was still there. It had slid about two feet, but was still right there on the bumper. Man, but that car drives smooth! (ye olde '76 Benz)

Next time anyone complains about my driving, I'll just tell them about the tape measure!!!

expansion tank, part 3[16Oct2006, 20:21 PDT (-0700)]
So far, all seems good. Might need to adjust the pressure in the tank bladder, since I'm not certain, but we may be getting some hot water backflowing into our cold water. I think the only lasting damage is that Brooke's boombox died (it was directly under the stream of water, so not too surprising). We've gotten years of good use out of it, so we can't complain too much. Just hope the new one serves as well.

And I must say, with the various problems we've had in the house, we have somehow always found it quickly and been able to fix it fairly cheaply (and usually by me, not having to hire someone). I do often feel like the house "nudges" us mentally, somehow, to "just happen" to wander into the right part of the house to notice the problem before it becomes serious.

Whatever is causing this, whether something mystical or just good luck, I am happy to have it. I like to think that it is the house liking us and wanting to help us be happy with it. :)

boating to Langley[15Oct2006, 22:28 PDT (-0700)]
Had a great time yesterday on our friends' boat. Dean and Jenny have a wonderful cozy trawler they live in (along with their Shelty, Michelle), and we all motored over to Langley for lunch and wandering the little shops. Was a cool, calm, overcast day.

A great time was had, and we even got to pick up some fresh-caught Dungeness crab on the docks when we got back to Everett. Bought two 1-1/2 pound ones each. Now I know how to shell and get out all the meat from a crab. Never actually did that before. Got the hang of it by the second one. :)

expansion tank, part 2[18Sep2006, 11:14 PDT (-0700)]
So, finally got things cleaned up and the tank drained and depressurized (since I was half-asleep, it took me a while to realize that Brooke had closed the garage door all the way, not just partway, so the hose draining the tank was clamped shut by the garage door -- therefor not doing much in the way of draining). Found what seems to be a suitable new expansion tank, installed it (nice, simple screw-on mount, just clean out the old crud, wrap it with teflon tape, and go), and relit the burner. Seems to be heating up nicely, without any apparent problems.

Hopefully there won't be an "expansion tank, part 3" post...

thermal expansion tank[18Sep2006, 08:08 PDT (-0700)]
Man, what is it with this sudden surge in problems in this house?

Woke up today to my wife frantically telling me that water was spraying from a pipe in the garage. When I got down there, I found that there is a pinhole rupture in the thermal expansion tank on the water heater, and a thin stream of water is spraying halfway across the garage.

Fortunately, the actual volume of water spraying doesn't seem to be too much, so most of the stuff in the garage should be okay once it dries out. But what a mess!

I've already replaced the gas regulator and the emergency relief valve (that broke in the open position the day before the movign trucks were due to arrive and led to a fun time of flooding the (fortunately empty) garage back then.

Hopefully, I can just pop out to Lowe's (I prefer Home Depot, but HD is 10 miles away via highway and Lowe's is just down a couple of streets) and get a new expansion tank. I think the water heater is probably okay, it is just that the "path of least resistance" is out that pinhole, rather than out the water piping. So, with a new expansion tank (wonder how much that will cost?) the pinhole should be gone, and hopefully the hot water will be back to normal.

Until the next thing breaks... :/

smoke and headaches[17Sep2006, 01:09 PDT (-0700)]
So, first, the hard drive in my primary computer seems to have died rather suddenly and without apparent warning. This is why I dislike ATA/IDE disks. They don't last very long. My SCSI disks haven't failed yet (knock on wood) and some of them are well over a decade old. And when I've had the rare occasion of a SCSI disk dying on work computers, I've gotten plenty of warning.

Then, just about an hour after all this happened, we suddenly smelled and saw smoke throughout the house! After many frantic minutes of trying to track it down, and being paranoid that it might be in the walls (some of the original wiring is prety questionable -- I've been slowly going through and rewiring a lot of stuff in the house), we finally traced it to the clothes washer.

We didn't suspect it at first, because it was working fine, still spinning and agitating, etc. But, I guess something must have gotten stuck or wrapped around the agitator for a short period of time, just enough to make the motor smoke and give off that horrible, sickly sweet smell of burnt plastic. Have it unplugged for now, and will sit by it tomorrow night when I have to use it again, so I can be ready to leap into action if need be...

Hope I don't need a new washer. Really don't need that kind of expense right now. :(

back from Hawaii[15Sep2006, 20:10 PDT (-0700)]
Got back yesterday from about a week in Hawaii (Oahu).

Too short a trip, but fun, overall. Brooke and I invited her mother along, since she had never been to Hawaii before. We rented a split room in a house in Waimanalo, about a 5 minute walk from a nearly deserted beach (whoo-hoo!).

My how Hawaii has changed over the years. I've been going since before I can remember, since I have relatives there, so I remember when even Waikiki was manageable and locals would go there. Not quite as empty as Waimanalo was, but more along those lines: quiet, leisurely, utterly relaxing.

Dropped by Ala Moana to see how much of it still fits with my childhood memories -- not much, but enough to still pick out some favorite thoughts, like the now-gone playground by one of the main entrances (I think the food court is where that used to be).

Spent lots of time with relatives, especially Uncle Bob, who generously took us around to lots of places so Sharon could get a better feel for the non-tourist aspects of the island. He also refused to let us pay for any meals we had with him and Aunt Winnie, so between them, my cousins Chris and Yuko, our friend Puanani, my cousin Arnold (who, as a retired Colonel, gets to show us all the non-public WW2 sites), and the family gathering for the 25th anniversary of my grandfather's passing, we barely paid for any meals at all the whole trip.

We also found a coupon that let us get a convertible (Chrysler Sebring) for about the same price as the base economy car, so we got to drive around in a convertible in all that sun, too. (Brooke and I had never driven a convertible before. Was a bit strange to not have more structure wrapping around us, but once we got used to it, it was great!)

We also used our miles to upgrade to First Class all the way there and back, so we got great service, yummy (and included) food, and alcoholic beverages (free) even though we only paid about $350 roundtrip for each of us. Not too shabby. Lots of other folks don't like United, but we have rarely been disappointed.

Unfortunately, we had horrendous delays on the flight home (apparently due to something going on all the way over in Newark, NJ), so we didn't actually get home until around 4:30am... :/ Oh, well. I guess if we had to have flight problems, I'd rather have them on the way home, so we aren't losing any of our vacationing time.

All in all, I still enjoy going there, although I think I would have trouble living there for any extended period of time, due to its seclusion.

first ruby program[31Aug2006, 16:00 PDT (-0700)]
Finally got around to writing my first working Ruby script (as opposed to poking around with examples and such from the book). Only took a couple dozen lines, and I had a CGI for uploading and listing files for a downloads section of a site. Took me about 3 (highly interrupted) hours to complete. Not bad!

Probably could be even cleaner (and quicker to write) once I have a more experienced understanding and style for Ruby stuff.

Definitely will be transitioning from perl, sed, and sh scripts for future projects, unless I start hitting showstoppers.

yellowjacket housing development[19Jul2006, 15:23 PDT (-0700)]
Noticed a yellowjacket crawling up under the handrail of our front steps a few minutes ago. Thought, hmmm... better check on that.

Yikes! There's a whole housing development worth of yellowjackets going in under there!!! There were nearly a dozen golf ball sized nests in between the supports.

Thoroughly soaked all of them with spray stuff. Hopefully now the front walk won't be so dangerous anymore (had long since purged the under-eaves nests, but was mystified as to where they kept coming from).

Heh. Even the yellowjackets are trying to get in on the house building boom before it ends...

On a related note, got quite the adrenaline rush earlier today, too. Was clearing out some bushes and stuff by the front bay window and ended up with my branch lopper impaled on a softball sized wasps' nest! Fortunately, it looked long since abandoned... Whew!

the growth of dings[18Jul2006, 19:06 PDT (-0700)]
It's sad. When we moved here about three years ago, I could name every one of the dings on my now 30-year old car -- where and why they were there. (The one from when the RV wrapped itself around the car in Redwood City, the one where Mrs. Goodry wrecked her car against it in the Sousa Jr. High parking lot, the one where some woman came blazing out of Cambridge Avenue in Manorhaven before there was a stop sign there and broadsided us, and so on -- none of which resulted in more than a ding on the tough hide of this car).

Recently, I was looking over my freshly washed car and was dismayed to discover dozens of new dings, all roughly where people would be opening their doors in a parking lot.

Given what I see in the parking lots around here, I have to assume that most of the cars which would have been doing the dinging are likely new or nearly new. Do people really care that little about their own cars? Or are they truly that oblivious? Or just that incompetent?

It had less than a dozen dings on it for its first 27+ years, including 17 years just outside NYC, 10 years in the SF Bay Area with its drivers, me learning to drive in it, and so on. Now it has scores of dings since moving to the Seattle area.


4 cars, 3.5 working[08Jul2006, 01:28 PDT (-0700)]
So, after several more days of the car stalling out on inclines when waiting too long for traffic lights, I finally determined that, indeed, the dealership had sold me the wrong filters. At least now I don't need to feel stupid about not being able to figure out where they went. What I had thought were the actual filters, really were the filters. 240D is running much happier now, and I have done my first real maintenance job on my own! Slowly I shall learn how to take care of the car myself, instead of having to rely on shops for everything. The goal is to only need them for the big stuff.

300D is still being worked on at the shop (did I mention he was really behind?). Is perfectly drivable as is, but leaks about a gallon a week of fuel even when just sitting there (only got 32 mpg our last Vancouver trip, instead of the more usual 40+ mpg).

Found a copy of the Toyota key which is working, for now. Still need to get it in and get the tumblers adjusted before this key stops working...

And the ML had snapped a cheap plastic piece holding the rod that lifts the wind deflector, and the rod had gotten jammed into the track. I just removed the rods from both sides, since we didn't actually get the wind deflector package, so it is a useless piece, anyway. Sunroof slides fine, now.

So, getting much more handy at these things, and at least so far none of it has turned out to be a hit to the wallet. (240D filters came to $20, and not expecting a huge bill for the 300D. Hopefully not too bad for the Toyota when we get to it.)


4 cars. 0 working[03Jul2006, 01:13 PDT (-0700)]
Wow. Talk about a bad convergence of car problems...

'76 MB 240D (my daily driver)
- suddenly started stalling/dying on Friday (might be fuel? need to find where the fuel filters are -- already have new filters on hand)

(Or at least I think I have the right filters. Got them from the Lynnwood MB parts dept, but I can't see anything that looks remotely like the parts they sold me...)

'93 MB 300D 2.5 Turbo ("E-Class" off of eBay)
- in the shop for a fuel leak and possible front brakes problems (Jim Startup is unfortunately running way behind due to employee problems)

'92 Toyota Celica GT (wife's car)
- tumblers in ignition and driver's door seem to have stopped recognizing the key (tried spare copies too, in case the master had just gotten too worn out-- my mother-in-law's '99 Camry recently had the same problem)

'00 MB ML320 (to be sold, hopefully)
- wife just called from a gig to alert me that she couldn't close the sunroof anymore (she's still out, so that might just be a stick or other simple jam up, I hope)

Four cars, and all of a sudden none are reliably available. Except for the fuel leak on the 300D, all are sudden, new problems. And, of course, it is a holiday weekend. :/


pie server[21Jun2006, 21:57 PDT (-0700)]
Brooke and I went for a drive over to the Olympic Peninsula today. Took the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, drove on up to Port Townsend, over to Sequim, and back down and around through Tacoma and back on home. The current fuel leak in the car didn't seem to affect much, other than smelling it--mileage still came out to high 30's.

(The ride on the ferry, however, resulted in a ton of bird crap on the car. So a car wash is an additonal cost for taking the ferry, apparently!)

The road leading to Port Townsend is pretty unremarkable, once you're already used to tree-lined roads (like I grew up with, and like we have all over the place around here). But Port Townsend itself, while somewhat touristy, was actually quite cute and had a bit of Old West and Northwest frontier or mining town feel to it, with its Victorian-ish buildings and pedestrian friendly downtown. Quite a nice surprise.

Anyway, wandering around, we popped in to a kitchenwares kitsch kind of store. Browsing the stuff in there, I ran across a pie server which has a built-in little slider mechanism to push the slice off the serving blade, without any need for fingers or other utensil, yet still easily cleaned and simple.

My mother has been looking for one of these servers for years, now, ever since she saw one a friend of hers has (and couldn't remember where she had gotten it). My mom will be thrilled when this shows up at her house!

oil change[20Jun2006, 00:16 PDT (-0700)]
Whee! Changed the oil in my car for the first time today. Had learned about it in driver's ed back in high school, and re-learned it in an adult ed class years ago, but had never had the chance (time, space, etc) to do it myself until now.

Slowly making progress towards being able to take care of basic maintenance and repairs myself, both for house and car.

Now if only Brooke and I could learn how to fix our bodies... (her: feet, knees, etc; me: teeth)

The Lime Limo turns 30![13Jun2006, 01:27 PDT (-0700)]
Had a great party this past weekend to celebrate the 30th birthday of my 1976 Mercedes 240D sedan. I've been driving it for over 20 years, and my parents let me pick the color when they bought it, so it definitely is a member of the family.

Lots of folks we have only recently been getting to know, plus many neighbors and existing friends all came together to help celebrate. One friend even brought a Perrier bottle filled with biodiesel for it as a gift, while a neighbor made a cute little card for it.

They also all got to see the ongoing renovations of our house (particularly the kitchen), and liked what we are doing with the place.

This party really made me appreciate how great our yard is, too. Lots of variety ("you have three kinds of rolly-pollies!" exclaimed one of the kids) with the yard being split-level, just like the house (upper backyard, lower backyard, side yard, front yard) and liberally sprinkled with decades-old trees. Far from your typical suburban coiffed grass and scraggly trees kind of yard. After all, there's a reason I mow with a weed-whacker or push rotary mower, not a regular mower... It is a great yard for the friends' kids to run around and play in.

I think this is the first time in the house's history that the deck has ever had a party on it--the original owner certainly didn't use it for that, and we're only the second owners.

Brooke cooked up a storm, and everyone loved pretty much everything she made. From the banana bread with cardamom to the wheat berry salad, to the Korean meatballs, to the key lime birthday cake, the food was great.

Anyway, a good time seemed to be had by all, and now we just have to work our way through all the leftovers and the weight gained...

Here's hoping we and my car will all be around and able to celebrate its 50th birthday, too!

Blade rises![11Jun2006, 00:43 PDT (-0700)]
An old friend from high school, Marc Guggenheim, is in the news again. Marvel has tagged him with bringing back Blade in the comics. I enjoyed the movie (haven't gotten around to seeing the sequels, yet), even though I am generally not much into superheroes or vampires.

Check out some interviews with Marc:

Before this, he wrote for The Practice and Law & Order, amongst others, and his wife left L&O: SVU for Desperate Housewives some time ago.

I've never really been a comic book fan, but with him writing Wolverine and now Blade, I may have to at least take a look at some.

Oh, yeah, and apparently writing for mass entertainment runs in his family: his brother, Eric, wrote the movie, Miracle, about the U.S. Olympic hockey team.

Of course, what is really amazing is how, despite his success, he is so impressed by what Brooke and I have done. He pooh-poohs his accomplishments and admires ours, even as we don't think our stuff was so great and admire his! I guess it is all about being good at something other people find hard or unattainable...

drywalling[11Jun2006, 00:32 PDT (-0700)]
Well, spent a few days this week learning how to drywall part of my kitchen.

In the future, I probably will be fine doing the walls myself, but will likely hire out ceiling work. That's really annoying and a pain, as all the crud falls down on me and in my face (especially during the sanding stage!).

But hey, another useful skill I'm developing...

crawlspaces and plumbing[04Jun2006, 17:07 PDT (-0700)]
Spent most of this weekend under my house, working on plumbing to add a new sink to my kitchen (that way, we have a prep side of the kitchen, a cleanup side, and a cooking side -- plus the wall we can't do anything with because it would block the doors). Also mapped out where I can drill to pull CAT5e, POTS, and CATV cabling to that side of the house, finally...

Had to get the plumbing stuff all done this weekend (many thanks to my neighbor, Bob!) so the drywalling can get done this week, so the cabinets and countertop can get installed by Sunday, the 11th, when we have a little shindig planned in honor of our car turning 30 (hey, it was an excuse for a party).

Of course, it seems like almost everyone we invited has something else to do that day, so we'll see whether it is a party, or just a quiet afternoon/evening with a couple of friends...

Martian gangsters[03Jun2006, 16:14 PDT (-0700)]
Argh. So many people screw up anything "foreign" or "exotic".

It's "mascarpone" not "mars-capone" -- it's a cheese, not a Martian gangster.

It's "chipotle" not chip-poll-tay"

I mean, good grief, even several of the Food Network hosts get it blatantly wrong (although not the Italian ones!).

Say it with me:

maz-car-poan-ay (or maz-car-poan)


firsts![03Jun2006, 16:06 PDT (-0700)]
Wow. Had my first cup of coffee, ever, today, during a break from putting in the plumbing for a new sink (a second, "prep" sink in the kitchen). This was my first time ever in a crawlspace, too. (Been in plenty of attics and basements, but never a crawlspace before.)

Many thanks to my neighbor, Bob, for his tools and experience. I just feel bad whenever he helps me with stuff, since it usually ends up with him doing the vast majority of the work...

coffee?!?[22May2006, 13:35 PDT (-0700)]

I have never liked coffee, in any form. Don't like the flavor at all -- can't even stand "mocha" flavored stuff. Any hint of coffee flavor and I can't eat something. Never had any reason to learn to like coffee, either, since caffeine generally makes me sleepy, not perky. But...

My wife got a coffee drink thingy on Friday, on our way up to Vancouver (nice little coffee shop -- "Woods Coffee" in Lynden). I got bored waiting for her while she hit the bathroom, so I took a sip of the drink, for some odd reason (probably "because it was there"). I liked it!

Hope this doesn't mean I will suddenly be joining the ranks of the fiscally irresponsible who regularly buy these way overpriced coffee drink things...

5 Years![19May2006, 13:01 PDT (-0700)]
Whoo-hoo! Today is our five year anniversary!

And people often still think we're newlyweds! :)

slow going[30Apr2006, 01:39 PDT (-0700)]
I took about 1,200 photos during our recent 2 1/2 week roadtrip. (My first real trip with a digital camera... although I did take about 500 photos with a film camera on our month long honeymoon in Europe five years ago.)

Now, I am trying to tag, index, and organize them into something I can use to display as a gallery. I don't want to just post all the "public" ones and make anyone who is interested page through a thousand images. So, I am building a whole gallery system with a master index database which can be used to pick and choose categories and perhaps dates to browse. Hopefully will have it (and the kitchen renovations... and the biodiesel processor...) done sometime in May (the earlier the better!). Plenty of folks clamoring to see my photos from our trip.

But, that's a LOT of photos to catalog...

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Last modified: Tue, 15 May 2007, 10:13 PM PDT