Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday Eating Tips

Got this in an eMail today, from someone I don't know. With an attachment. It made it through 2 Spam filters, and 2 Virus filters, but I'm still not opening the attachment. Didn't open the attachment, but I was tempted to, as the rest of the email was kind of funny, and written in a CherkyB kind of way.


    1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

    2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

    3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Or better yet, pour it in a glass and treat it as a beverage.

    4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

    5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

    6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

    7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

    8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

    9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

    10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when y ou leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner

    Remember this motto to live by:

    "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming :
    "WOO HOO what a ride!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Are you somewhere in the middle?

Thanks to SillyHumans for the heads up.

Problem with politics in the United States is the 2 parties are entrenched, and represent their more extreme followers than their majorities. To keep their 3 Sigma vocal minority happy, what WE get is either

    a government which does little, when you have a president from 1 party, and a congress controlled by the other


    a unrepresentative government, when party A controls both the presidency and congress, which does what their "core" (aka 3 sigma vocal minority) want, and ignores the majority.

Big issue is that both the Democrats and the Republicans benefit from this system, since it splits the power somewhat evenly between the two of them, and reduces the amount of pressure to really solve problems, since they can frequently blame it on only controlling 1 part of government.

But what if we break the power base of the 2 parties?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tagging, comments and somteimes it's best to just shut up...

I knew I was going to regret it, when Nava got Blog tagged. I convinced Nava to *not* tag me, but I guess Rhonda ran out of Blog folks in our circle to tag, so she broke down and tagged me.

IMO, tagging is right up there with chain letters and urban legends. I don't pass them on. My choice.

On the good side, Rhonda's tag got me to go visit her blog, and she has a link to a very amazing picture of the Northern Lights (here - click on "Astronomy Picture of the Day")

CherkyB says this is "meta blogging", or doing a blog where all you do is point to other stuff on the net.

Yep. That's what it is. Rhonda - thanks for doing it. It's a great picture.

CherkyB - shut up. This is one of those very simple cases where if you don't like it, don't click on it. Get tagged and don't like it? Don't answer it. Got something better to blog? Just do it.

Speaking of shutting up, CherkyB - when you got Tagged, you did it, but didn't pass it on. Cool. But on the way, you decided to complain about the Blog that Nava tagged you in, saying it was "long, rambling, and difficult to read...". As opposed to your Tag-This. which I'd give a 2 out of 10 on the scale of interesting blogs.

Just slightly higher than all of those Malaysian teenagers talking about where they were hanging out with their friends. Or the stupid Lamborgini info, and the Bestest Blog of All times (link specifically not included, as I really hate that blog, and the way it hijacks the "Next Blog" button).

So, lighten up Francis. I'm sure there are folks who enjoy the Malaysian teenager blogs, the Ferrari sites, and even sometimes my blog. Lots of us enjoy your blogs quite often. When you had a funny day, or your Something Not to Do. When the best thing you've got to blog about is something you don't like on someone else's blog, it's time to just shut up.

And yes, I realize this whole post it a bit hypocritical. Like giving a kid a smack to tell him to stop hitting his brother / sister. But sometimes that's what it takes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spoofs on those Mac vs. PC Ads...

Thanks to Gizmodo for the link. They've got more Best of over there.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Thought I Was Just Twisted But...

How evil are you?

I was shooting for Twisted, like SillyHumans - no hope for Angelic, like blueberry, but hey - if you're going to do something, don't do it half-assed! Or should I say, don't do it like a Republican.

Thanks to SillyHumans and blueberry for the quiz!

Monday, December 11, 2006

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Here's to kids...

This is in the MaxieC-Wise-Guy themed humor... (click once on the picture to activate, and a 2nd time to play it).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

911 Holidays

Click twice on the video below to watch (once to activate, once to start video).

Friday, December 08, 2006

What will we do without DOS?

To clarify the melt down that happened yesterday at our house (see the P.S. at the end of Nava's blog), when Nava's new digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 (need to figure out how to get paid for raving about that camera, like I did in comments on Nava's Who Needs Santa post), wouldn't download photo's for a while...

  1. The problem was created by Nava
  2. The problem had nothing to do with the camera
  3. The length of time Nava spent trying to download is more a reflection of her tech savy than anything else
  4. Scary thing is she's moderately computer literate, compared to her family and friends!

Anyway - turns out that while trying to initially download the pictures, she stopped the process in the middle. And, she wasn't copying the files from the camera to the computer, but did a cut and paste. So - when one file was done copying, and was getting removed from the camera is when she stopped the process, corrupting that file on the memory card.

Nava remembered what picture it was on when she interrupted things, and put check on the camera itself. Camera said "Bad picture - file read error", which is pretty descriptive of the whole problem.

But, then you've come to the wonders of modern technology. To make things to user friendly and idiot proof, the camera refused to allow you to select the picture, as it was corrupted. But, you can't delete the file without selecting it. Only option the camera would give you is to re-format the memory card.

Similar issue with Windows XP. You can't "delete" the file. You can select it - no problems there, but in Windows XP, you no longer really delete files, you just move them from their current folder into a trash folder. But, if you have a file who's pointers in the FAT table are corrupted, how can you move it? And without a true "delete", what can you do?

LexieV was quicker to the solution than I was (I was thinking of what software I might have to allow me to delete files "outside of Windows"), and suggested I try doing it in DOS.

Beautiful thing - launch the "Command Prompt" (aka DOS shell for people who started using computers after Windows came around), CD to the memory card and picture folder, DIR to list the file names so I can get it right, and then DEL P0000123.JPG. Gone in 1 second.

Camera was happy, and we could copy the other 200 pictures off memory card and onto the computer.

What did I learn?

  1. Nava's stubborn. She thinks it's more efficient to Cut & Paste the pictures from the camera to the computer. Even after the incident, when I tried telling her it was more dangerous (since if you interrupt it while copying, you may corrupt the copy of the picture, but shouldn't harm the original), she wasn't thrilled about changing her ways.
  2. Nava's stubborn. She can spend 4-5hrs trying to copy the pictures over and over the same way.
  3. Nava's stubborn. She considers herself computer literate, and a bit of a hacker. Mostly because she can help her computer illiterate family and friends out. So when she runs into bigger problems, she keeps plugging away at what she knows. Which explains how she can spend 4hrs doing the same thing.

And, probably more importantly - what will we do if / when Microsoft finally removes all vestiges of DOS.

Oh yeah - there's Linux.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Butt Horn

Scooter had a funny comment while he was doing his "death-watch" and sitting outside in the Smokers Patio, talking to me as I got my nicotene fix.

Being a svelt fella, he said maybe I need a "Butt-Horn" to help me into the seat.

Could have a travel version, to help people get into airplane seats.

Then I said it's a good thing CherkyB isn't here, or he'd say there something like "That's not what you use a butt horn for. Like a shoe horn - you don't use it to get a shoe into something, you use it for getting your foot into the shoe. So a butt horn is used for...". But, CherkyB wasn't there, so I had to be the funny guy. Scooter has his moments, but needs a prop or two.

I Google'd "Butt Horn", and saw this cute cartoon, which brings up the 3rd option for Butt Horn - tooting out a song. Of course, the song is just a bonus.

It's amazing how many Google hits you get for "Butt Horn" OR "Butt-horn" OR "Butthorn" - I got 1750, including a lot where it's used as an insult. Don't ask me, but Butt Head seems like a better insult than Butt Horn. Call me a Butt Horn and I'll just wonder what exactly you're trying to say.

And a few random words for the crawlers - blue icicle lights, random orbital sander, give peas a chance.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

My first blogger Work Rant...

I work for one of those high tech companies, doing chip design. Same unnamed place as CherkyB. Which probably explains us knowing each other, and his frequent digs about me (CherkyB - FYI - today's was Color Blind LumberJack day).

Unfortunately, I work for a team that took over a project from another team, which not only had their own way of doing things (one of the banes of chip design is having multiple teams doing similar things with different tool suites), but then decided to "play nice" with the rest of us, and start to converge on a standard tool suite. Except they knew how to do things better, so they bolted on some of their tools with some of the lead projects tools. But then didn't get very far along before a reorg got them to work on something else, and for us to take over that project.

I've been working on integrating one block from the lead project for the last 4 weeks. Why 4 weeks? About 1.5 of those weeks were waiting for this "better" tool suite to compile my code. Between the tools bogging down, trying to handle the load of a large team, and the tools being so complex and confusing, no one really understands what's going on and the documentation is either (a) non-existent, (b) explains only what the switches are, or (c) goes into gory detail on why they chose to do this or that, but absolutely zero detail on what the frack you need to do when you get this type of failure. So when something doesn't work, you have to find a co-worker who's either bumped into it before, or has seen something similar enough they can guess what's going on.

2.5 of those weeks were in ripping out large chunks of the original design, as one of the basic interface systems it uses doesn't exist in our design. (Guess who choose this? And guess what else? Our "better" version has 2x the signals, but is used for test only. Nope, can't have system A, that costs to much, but you can have system B, that's twice as expensive, and not nearly as useful. Great.) And then trying to replace it with what we can use. And then re-doing parts of it, as I learn more about how the original design was intended to work, and have to re-work our version. And then doing it a 3rd time, when I find out that one assumption I was told was wrong, and I need to cram more data crap down this new system in the same amount of time. And then a fourth time to clean it all back up into something that'll be easy enough to modify the original design to, and still fit onto system B interface.

Finally get all that done, and go to turn it in for the next full chip integration on Tuesday. 1st time I've done this on this project. Stupid tool #1 chokes just before finishing, and sits there. I was told that the process would take half a day minimum, so I didn't worry about it. After 4 hours, and no signs of progress, ask a coworker, and find out "Oh - that should have finished in 1 hour, and auto-submitted itself to the next step, so it's not working." Kill it, and do it again. 1 hour later, it finishes happy, and auto-submits to the next step. 4 hours after that, I find out that my turn-in was rejected, because there was a "merge conflict" with a co-workers change.

Which goes back to the beauty of the "better" tool suite. One of it's major features is to enable multiple people to work on the same code simultaneously, and auto-merge as part of the turn-in / build process. Except that the auto-merge only handles half of the simple merging, and pukes on anything simple, like changing the number of spaces on a line of code to make it read easier, even if you're not changing that piece of code. Seems that everyone else on the project has learned to live with ugly looking code. I thought they were just "less visually annoyed" than I was. So - first turnin was rejected, and I have to merge 1 file (out of 16) who's conflicts the tool couldn't figure out. Do this, save it. Go to sanity check it before it get's turned in, and it wasn't right. Fix it, and turn it in.

Somehow my fixes don't make the turnin, so it fails again overnight. Fix it again, and double check that it made it in. Compile. Failure. Why? This whole "simplified" process has wasted a day of my time, so I tried to do some work in another area to not fall behind. Except this better tool suite tries to understand so much of what you're doing, you can't just make another work area, you have to jump through hoops to tell it that it's really not related at all to your other work area, and yes, trust me, don't try to keep track of both of them together. And no thank you, please don't try to share the files between. And then frack, missed something - need to blast this work area, and try to set it up again.

But back to the turnin. Finally get everything cleaned up - merged code is done. 2 files that got updated with newer code from the other work area cleaned up. Compile again, and another failure. Code that hasn't been touched in days, but now won't compile. Some new checker must have been turned on. Compile again - phew, it finally finishes. Now, all the code in this area has either been regression tested in my original area, or in the area of the co-worker who did the orthogonal change. So, I could, with clear conscience turn it in.

But, I decide to the right thing and just regress it anyway, should just take an hour or so. After 4 hours, cause someone else put some long running tests into the regression, I have about 20% of the tests failing. All for the same reason, all for code that is in the changes I'm turning in, but that I haven't touched. Aka same code has been working for months on the lead project, and for the last 4 weeks in my local areas, until today. Now it complains about some runtime checker. Something else must have been turned on in the last day. Error message is cryptic, but as the logic is only used in 2 places, and 1 of them is to just feed back the existing state into the next state calculation, it's probably the other place. Take a quick look - yep, a multiple case statement without a default. Not the end of the world - easy to add the default, but annoying that it worked fine for months until the day after I tried to turn it in.

Compile it again - it passed. Regress it - twice this time. Once in a new area, so all the tests will pass, but it'll take 4 hours, and a second time, with only the failures form the first time, but if they'll give me pass / fail in less than 1 hour.

Double check that (a) all the files I want to turn in are in the right area, (b) that area was used for compile, (c) that compile was used for regression, and (d) nothing else is changed in that area. Should be smooth sailing. Of course not. Remember those "other work area problems"? Well, that was happening as I was getting this code cleaned up, so there's some little flag in some file that says I still have one file edited, and I have to either check it in, or break the lock. Go to my area, diff it - no diffs. Go to check it in, to clear the flag - no diffs, so I can't check it in. Try to turnin again, no - it's out for editing, so you can't turn in. Cross my fingers and just break the lock.

Yes, turnin works, but will the auto-merge and compile? Which brings us back to the beauty of the system. I won't know until tomorrow. The automated system to make all this parallel work and auto-merge possible, and allows the design to have full-chip models built and released multiple times through-out the day, vs. 1 or 2 times a week when we did it all manually only lets you get 1 or 2 changes in per week. Now, instead of all the changes going in on the same 1 or 2 days a week, they get spread out over the week, but for any one person, the through-put is the same. And it sucks, because the overhead of this system is much higher than the old system.

So - output is same, overhead is higher. That's called progress by some teams.

Think I'll go have some beer.

Funny Ads...

Over at Nava's blog, she's got a tall "Jesus Ad" on the left side, where you can find Masterworks of Religious Art. Funny thing is, if you're one of Nava's friends, the picture they show there is about the last thing you'd want.

Wonder how many people will click through just to see what other stuff they have that you can be amused by? I did, and found out it's for a "Family Art" place, and they has an "LDS Welcome" section. Wonder if CherkyB can finally get his magic underwear there? Or am I not supposed to talk about that fantasy of his?

Best Ads I've had, over on my purely political ranting site - What Part Of... (which I should probably just merge with this one) were for "Nude Lebanese Women" or "Nude Israeli Women", when I was blogging about the Israeli / Hezbollah war in the summer. Bummer that neither ad seemed to work. Or so I heard.

CherkyB has been getting some boring ads - including one for "American Girl", which, for those of you without daughters, or nieces, or outside the US, is a US doll manufacturing that has the whole merchandising thing down - dolls, tons of accessories, stories about your particular doll, etc. Good thing CherkyB's got a daughter, or we'd all be worried. After his "I love animals too" blog, you tend to get wonder where these things are going!

Nava just told me she had a really funny one - something about memory loss, but she can't quite remember. Then she said "I don' t know why they picked it." Maybe blogger watches how long it takes you to blog, and decided it was a memory problem, sweetie!

I wonder what the blog crawlers pull out to target ads for, or do they just pull everything, and then look for unique words. Like fascist, chrome, fighter jet, windows vista, Fred Flinstone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I read that and understand right away what it means ("Did you eat yet?", which boils down to "Jeet Yet?" for Minnesotans).

Found this US Accent Quiz on the blogosphere (over at SillyHumans), took it, and it hit the nail on the hammer -

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: North Central

"North Central" is what professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. If you saw "Fargo" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot.

The Midland
The West
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

I though Fargo was one of the funniest movies out there. Yep. U Betcha. Lotta guys thought so. Not to bad.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Insanity next door...

Belmont, CA's proposed smoking ban is not law yet, but is setting a dangerous precedent.

This time, it appears to be the CA Democrats that are losing their minds. First it was disagree with the Bush Whitehouse, go to jail. Now it's do something I don't like, go to jail.

Someone's smoke bothers you - ban it. Yes, 2nd hand smoke causes cancer, and kills some people. So does obesity and heart disease. Next up, are we going to ban fatty foods and demand everyone get so much exercise per week? Is that enough? What if I eat a lot, and follow the minimum rules for exercise, so am still overweight. Will they mandate exactly how much anyone can weigh?

Smoking inside buildings can be very annoying - I'll grant that. But banning smoking in all outside public areas as well? Don't like the smell, walk your ass 10' away.

I wonder how long it is before Belmont bans Republicans (war causes death, and Republicans cause war, right?), poor people (a majority of criminals are from poor families, so get rid of poor families, and you'll get rid of criminals). How about contact with other people? If one person's smoking bothers you, or their political believes, their music, art, etc., let's just ban having people physically able to see / smell / hear / touch each other.

That'll solve all of their problems for the short term. Bonus for the rest of us is that they wouldn't have many kids, not being able to touch anyone else. They could do some thru AI (artificial insemination), but that would still require some interaction between people, wouldn't it?

PS Came back to do some spell checking - Blogger Beta's spellchecker doesn't like Whitehouse - it recomments "White house", "White horse", "Whorehouse" and "Wodehouse". Gotta love it!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Leonard doesn't have much to say

The Tongue Splitter has been bottled for ~3 weeks today, but the b-trip to Bangalore got in the way of me labelling it previously, but less than 2 days after my return (see "The f... you at the drive thru..."), the labels are done, and passed the creative review of Nava. Of course, it helps that:
(a) I'm using one of her paintings as the main component
(b) I mention her on the label
(c) I got Avery Labels, so it's a heck of a lot easier to put on, so it's funner to do, so I spend a bunch more time on this one than I had previously.
(d) I think it's pretty good

Having the first two is a good idea, like throwing a bone to CherkyB, whose been in blog-purgatory for a while, and was Banned from Blogging.

So - one a good note, the Tongue Splitter is ready to drink, and I've had 2 already, and am working on the 3rd now. Slow down, big fella, you might say. But hey, I'm at home, I got jet lag, and the bedroom is only 25-30' away.

On a bad note I just found out that I'm not a true Hophead (scroll down ~1 page). I really enjoy hops and bitterness, but there's got to be enough malt flavor to balance it out.

Which reminds me of some of the food at Samarkand, in Bangalore. We had about 20 people there, and ate for about 2 hours, leaving food on the table when we crept away. Overall, very tasty food - kebabs were very good (but I've had better here), and the tandoori style chicken was amazing - succulent, and loaded with more flavor than I've had anywhere, even in the now closed Empress of India, in Sunnyvale.

But back to the point - one of the kebabs was "spicy", and the guys I was visiting were a little curious to know if I could handle it. It was spicy - not "grab a glass of anything to wash it down hot", but it had kick. But it had 5x more kick than anything else, so all you got was spicy w/ the texture of kebab, and a slightly oily feel. Aka spicy delivery device.

TexieD's "Dry Sauted Jalapeno's on Papadi" are hotter, more flavorfull, and caused much more painful memories the next day. But when it comes to spicy and tasty, TexieD beat Samarkand hands down.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

They f... you at the drive thru

Got back from India this morning (about 2:15am Sunnyvale time), after a 24 hour (door-to-door) trip home that turned into 36 hours. And why? Is Joe Pesci said it best -

"Don't ever go up to the drive-thru, ok? Always walk up to the counter. You know why? Ok, ok, ok, ok. They fuck you at the drive-thru, ok? They fuck you at the drive-thru. They know you gonna be miles away before you find out you got fucked, ok? They know you're not gonna turn around and go back. So, they don't care."

The flight from Bangalore to London was delayed in taking off, but the captain promised to try to make up for lost time. Then we sat on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting our chance to dart across the runways and make it to Terminal 4 . It's supposed to take 75 minutes to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 (further rant on LHR and terminal changing later) and I have 20 minutes to make the flight. The lead flight attendant comes on and says "For our passengers carrying on to SFO, don't worry - please meet the agent at the bottom of the stairs, where they'll have a bus waiting to take you directly to your gate." Sounds great. Since they had a bus for us, not just a little car, and I was just a few rows behind business class, I stayed calm, and waited the few minutes to get off. I'm on the top of the stairs, when the regular bus to the arrival gate pulls off, and the agent at the bottom of the stairs, with a sign saying "Passengers to San Francisco", starts walking 2 people over to second bus waiting on the side. No worries, she's just taking them over in groups or something. Heck no - 2 people get on the bus, and off it goes. Get down to the bottom of the stairs and the agent w/ the little sign says "You've missed your connection - see the flight connections agent inside to get re-routed."

Why come on the intercom and tell us not to worry, if you're going to have the bus take off in 2 minutes, when 90% of the people connecting to SFO aren't on it? It's like there's 2 sets of people at BA - those that are trying to make things run smoothly, and those that are just doing their time. What am I going to do, come back and complain to the person? Once I'm off the plane, I'm gone. So - bus idea, great. Bus needs to leave in X minutes to keep the other flight on time, fine - just don't come tell everyone to relax, and make them suddenly expect that things are OK. I was already sure I was doomed, so getting my hopes up was unfair.

About 20 folks from my flight missed their connections (JFK and SFO being the major 2). I was near the front of the this group (but still about 25 people back in the line), so 2 hours later, when I finally made it to an agent, I did still have a slim hope of making it out of London to the states that day. No more direct flights to SFO, but I could either fly through JFK or Vancouver, and then Vegas, to SFO. I got the Vancouver route (figured it'd be less busy / risky than JFK), and the guy next to me got JFK. Even got an upgrade from normal Economy (World Traveler in BA terms) to Economy Plus (World Traveler Plus). Not business class, but it was better a bit better than economy, so I didn't complain. But, I didn't get told that if I my bags didn't make it, or if I chose to have my bags sent the next day, that in Vancouver I had a chance to catch a direct flight to SFO, and cut almost 5 hours off my schedule.

Nice thing about LHR is that they have a few smoking sections, so I had a few cigarettes, in between phoning Nava, emailing her my updated itinerary from a crap pay-per-use Internet connection with sticky keys, so I it took me 5 minutes to type a 5 line email. Why didn't I switch to another one? This was the third one I tried - first two just took my money and refused to connect, and the others were all full. Flight to Vancouver was OK - arrived on time, and then had to wait a few minutes to park. Rush off the plane, through immigration, and down to baggage claim. Bags start to roll-off as I hear my name paged, so I go over to the BA baggage office to be told my bags didn't make it. Bad news is I now have no car keys to drive my car home, but I they did save me 30 minutes of waiting and not having my bags turn up. BA baggage folks give me a form to get through customs (since I don't have my luggage now), so it's out thru customs, and into the US Departures clearing.

Get to US Departures (poorly signed, so I had to stop 3 times and study all the small signs to find my way), and find out that I need a boarding pass (Vancouver to Vegas is on Alaska, Vegas to SFO is on US Airways), so get sent back out front. Alaskan ticket counter is the furthest away from US Departures, but has no line, so I get my boarding pass, fill out the US customs form, and back in. US Departures guy ask how I'm returning from an overseas trip w/ no luggage, and then sympathizes with my delayed baggage story. Get through that, and then security (for the 3rd time that day), and head to my gate. It's 7:25 - plane is supposed to board at 7:35. Hit the rest room, and wait. 7:35 rolls around and no boarding. 7:45 rolls up, and suddenly people are walking out. Yep - plane just landed, so we'll be leaving late.

If I had known that, and had known that there was a 7:40 direct to SFO (at the other end of the terminal), I would have had time to try stand-by on it, and still get back to this gate in time. Plane takes off 15 minutes late to Vegas, but has a good tail wind, so we make up the time en route, and land on time. And then wait - first to let another plane out of the "alley", and then more for them to find us ground staff to park the plane. Rush off, and then find that I have to go from Terminal D, where Alaskan is, to Terminal B, where US Airways is. Wait 10 minutes for the train (and then 2 arrive), rush up to check in, and am told no exit seats, but I can upgrade to 1st class for $50. Pay that, and head off to security for the 4th time that day. Through security, and off to the gate, where they're about half way through boarding. Get on, settle in, and then wonder where everyone else is. The plane was only 1/3rd full, so I would have had room back in steerage, but who knew (well, I didn't - the ticket agent did).

Get to SFO OK, minus car keys, so head to the taxi rank. One guy about 10 taxis back asks if I need a taxi, to which I reply yes, but keep walking, as I thought he was trying to jump the queue. He starts following me, and as I approach the front car, I realized that it has no driver, so I turn to look, and there's the guy from the middle of queue, following me. He was first, but was hanging out back there, chatting w/ friends. Tax ride home is over $100 ($67.35 plus 50% "late-night" surcharge), but as I'm chatting with guy and tell him my car is at SFO, and my keys are in London, he says he can drop me back at long term parking, for free, since he's going back that way anyway. I decide I'm too tired to drive home again, so I just thank him for his offer.

Get up this morning, and call BA to find out the status of my bags, only to find out that I need a lost/delayed bag tracking number, which I can only get at the airport. Agent on the phone asks me why I didn't fill one out, to which I reply first, BA told me my bags didn't make it on the plane, so they knew, second I had to rush to get to the next plane, and 3rd, they'd already told me my bags weren't there, so why should I head over to BA international to find out again. And why do I need to fill out a form to tell them they still have my bags, when they know that they still have my bags...

Overall, about 1/3rd of the people were helpful, and helped get me back home on time, but not necessarily good at it (like not telling me to try the Vancouver / SFO direct flight, if I had time), or honest (like US Airways pushing the upgrade to 1st, when the flight was only 1/3rd full).

So - they don't always f* you at the drive thru, but they do it way to often.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dedicated to CherkyB

My friend Alex sent me this one - don't enough know if he reads my blogs!

If he doesn't, the timing is impeccable.

His note:

"Life in England… Exciting venues to explore!!! ;-)

Warning! Not for individuals with a sensitive disposition."

Picture here.

I'll try to see if I can get some pictures of the original disturbing image in India :)

How do you know you've actually arrived in India...

All the Indians working at the airport would be 1 clue.

All the guys hanging out at baggage claim to help you find your bad would be another.

My guy, I'll call him Ravi-I-think-I'm-the-best-at-finding-a-sucker, picks me, and starts in. What does my bag look like, did I fly business class. Is it this one (no, it's a purple wheely bag - borrowed Nava's at the last minute, so I'd have more room for stuff to bring home, just in case), is it that one (no, it's purple), is it that one (no, that has wheels, but it's like a roll-on bag, just bigger). Off to the back area - it's coming out now. Nothing comes out that's purple. Purple - yes, exactly like the bag you helped the first guy with. Off to window to look at the luggage carts coming in, and then to the back again. Ok - it's really coming out now. Not this one? No, it's a roll-on one. One more trip to the back - I think maybe he's given up on me, as he's gone for 10 minutes, but he comes out smiling. It's really on the way this time - he found the bag w/ the luggage tag that matched my back-pack. Didn't notice him eye-balling that, but my bag comes out, and now he's rolling me out to customs. Stop him, hand him $2 (don't have any rupees yet, and he did make my bag come out a bit faster). Get the look of increduousness. No - $2 is not enough - I had to crawl over 7 baggage carts to find it. I broke down way to easily and gave him another $1, and let him know that was it. First $2 was fine - it was an interesting show, and he did help a bit. I am annoyed that I caved in and gave him another $1, just cause I should have seen it coming.

Out through customs, and into the threshold area, where the guys in suits meet you from the hotel. Guy from my hotel is walking somebody else out, I'm told, so I wait a few minutes. He comes back, and escorts me outside, to where the Taxi driver from my hotel is waiting, and hands me off. I thought the guy from the threshold area was the Taxi driver, so didn't have a tip ready to go, and whiffed it and he got nothing. Taxi driver was fun - not to chatty, but pointed out the highlights on the way. And let me finish my cigarette in the car. Smoking is such a mental thing for me - I can last a 3, 6 or even 12 hour flight without thinking about smoking. But, once the plane touches down, I need a cigarette.

So back to the question "How do you know you've actually arrived in India on your business trip?" Neither of the first 2 were really clicked - especially not the successive tip opportunities. Had a 1 day lay-over in Cairo on a trip once. From the porter hanging out on the floor (1st tip), to the front desk porter (2nd), taxi organizer (3rd), guy who takes your bags from the taxi (4th), guy who pushes your luggage cart to the airport entrance (5th), entrance to security (6th) and finally post security to checkin (7th tip). It's a fact-of-life in countries with high under-employment that the more times someone can get helped, the more chances there are for tips.

For me, it was the first cow walking on the street. Kind of like a teenager hanging out - no plans, no place to go, just there. That was when I got the "Oh - I'm in India" feeling!

And now I have rupees, which is very good, as my supply of $1 bills was out.

Le Meridien in Bangalore is quiet nice - rooms are good (3-4 star), and the service is great (4-5 star).

My room safe refused to accept a new PIN, so on my way to breakfast I stopped by the front desk to mention it. In the US, it'd quite often be "Oh - we'll inform maintenance", and then at some random point later, something might be done about it. Here it was "Are you going back to your room now?" No, I'm goint to breakfast "Ok - can you come by this desk after breakfast, and we'll send someone with you to fix it." Stop back by after breakfast, and "someone" is one of the person you're chatting with. No delays in trying to find someone else. Unfortunately, it wasn't stupid user error, or just a simple reset, so she had to call down to maintenance.

They came up and replaced the battery, but the lock still wouldn't work. So - out comes the safe, and 5 minutes later, I had a new safe installed and working fine. Sunday morning, 9am.

Good thing about visiting a country with under-employment is that they can have a full staff of folks to solve your problems right away.

Things Not To Do (While Travelling) - 1

Howdy from India. I've been here slightly less than 12hrs, but decided I should go ahead and start blogging about it anyway.

On the flight from SFO to LHR (that's "London Heathrow" for you poorly educated republicans who're about to loose both houses of Congress), seems there was one flyer who just wasn't having a good day. And decided to take it out on the flight crew.

After the first yelling and cursing match, about poor seating, food, his prostate, they re-seated the fellow once. Didn't witness the yelling and screaming, but did start to notice that when this guy said something, he immidetiately got the attention of 2-3 flight attendants (sounds better than the unisex stew-persons instead of stewards / stewardesses).

Not sure what was wrong with the second seat, but he was soon escorted by 5 flight attendents to the exit row in front of me, in the next group of chairs over. Things seemed OK then, except most of us wondered why he rated 2-3 attendants whenever he opened his mouth. We were jealous.

So the plane lands, and as we start to taxi to our gate, the captain comes on to say were 25 minutes early, but since some officials need to come on board due to an incident with a passenger, we need to stay seated until this is done.

A British version of a TSA comes on, walks to our section, eyes me and my neighbor, and askes which one us which one of us is Mr. So-and-so. As we're answering no, and suddenly wondering what either one of us could have done, 3 flight attendants who'd been hovering in the back, and 2 more from the front, all point out Mr. Gonna-miss-my-connection-and-maybe-get-that-prostate-examination-after-all. Mr. Airport security walks into the bulkhead space in front of the soon-to-be-very-unhappy-camper, chats with him briefly, and asks the flight attendants to hold onto his baggage. 2 minutes later, 4 bobbies come on board, lead by 2 of the biggest British cops I've ever seen (admittedly, I've only seen a few, but these fellas were big enough to drag my ass off the plane) came in, full gear (bullet proof vests, side-arms, handcuffs), and tell the guy, very politely, he needs to come with them. No handcuffs, no laying of arms, and they even let him lead the way to the back exit of the plane.

Moral of the story - if you're having a crappy day, or are just an ass in general, and it's to much bother to keep in mind that other people don't deserve your shit, go ahead and take it out on the flight attendants. They love that stuff.

Or, if you really wanted that rectal exam, maybe schedule it w/ your doctor. I'm sure he/she will use a lubricant, and stop before they loose their wrist-watch. Not these 2 big fellas - looked like they might not stop until they had checked to see if he still had his tonsils.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My 15 minutes of fame...

It started off innocently enough. New printer arrived, and Nava wanted it setup. Nava blogs it here, and posted this pict of me going into the loft in the garage, looking for the old printer box.

CherkyB posted it as Disturbing Image Found On Web, which then got into a minor argument on copyright infringement in the comment section of CherkyB's blog, and then my bragging that CherkyB had inadvertently giving my butt more publicity than it's ever gotten before. Well - except for a couple of times when I went into a gay bar...

And, to top things off, all 3 blogs may hit all time access records, all due to my butt.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What is dust made of?

Haven't blogged in a couple of weeks, mostly because I've had nothing interesting to write about. But, if I use that as an excuse, then maybe I should have never started the blog....

Nava and I are grand-aunt and uncles yet again - her nephew Shai, and his wife Tamar, had a daughter (first grand niece), Yalli. And, her niece Liron, and her husband Yossi, had a second son.

Finally got around to bottling the Tongue Splitter a couple of nights ago - about 2 weeks after I meant to, but it's done. Have the labels mostly designed - just need to tweak it a bit. Here's the working draft of the label - not quite happy with the text positioning / curve, but it'll end up with these basic components. Big changes are moving the HallerBrau name / logo to the left, and adding some art work of Nava's as the main image. I don't know this guy, but he looks like a hop-head to me!

There's other bloggers who've made Northern Brewer's Tongue Splittler, and blogged about it. Thanks to Nava for sending me the URLs:

Flying off to Bangalore, India next Friday (Nov 3rd), for a 1 week b-trip. Had to get my passport renewed, get a business Visa for India, get a few shots, etc. Should be a fun trip, but don't really have anytime for sight seeing.

And we finally got around to getting a new printer. The old HP Office-Jet all-in-1 was finally unable to ever print good looking results (clogged print heads, I think). After a bit of research, we settled on the Canon Pixma MP600 - it's also an all-in-1, but only print / copy / scan, no fax. It's based on the same 'Fine Print' print head (~3.8k inkjet nozzles) and 'ChromaLife' inks (100yr fade resistant) that Consumer Reports rated top notch, but in between (feature and price wise) the two CR highest ratings (the Canon Pixma MP450 and Pixma MP800).

So - what is dust made of? Mostly the detritus of people, kind of like this blog. Bits of this, bits of that.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Hoped to bottle the Tongue Splitter yesterday, but I decided to do some gardening first.

I planted some Trumpet Vine along fence on one side of the house, next too the garden. After 5 or 6 years, it was so thick it needed frequent trimming to get to the garden. Nava and I started a taking it out a month ago, and clipping it into "salad" (Nava's term) to maximize how much we could get in the lawn recycling tote.

We got about half done over 2 weekends, so I decided to do some more yesterday, when I realized that we didn't need to make salad out of all of it, but could also bundle it, and they would also pick it up.

That saved the effort of cutting every branch into small bits, but now I had to bundle it. Process was separate a 3-4' section of vine on the fence by using the hand clippers and electric trimmer cut any branches crossing the edge. Get a bit of rope around it, tighten the rope, and drag the pile onto the front lawn, where I had room to work with it. Wrap rope around more, tighten, tighten, tighten - need to get it down to a 1' diameter. Cut in half to meet 4' length requirement. Tighten rope again, wrap crappy jute twine around the bundle, 2-3 places, about 20 times (as it break it you sneeze at it). Repeat for 2nd half. Repeat for next 3-4' section of vine, and the next.

Almost 4 hours later, the Trumpet Vine was out, the green tote full, and 6 bundles ready to go. If I had to do this again, I'd think about getting a renting a Wood Chipper, like CherkyB has (well, maybe one that doesn't jam all the time :). Or at least invent some contraption to make the bundling / tightening process go faster.

But, I had a nice morning, out in the sun, got some exercise, and got good and tired. And, in retrospect, if I had known it was this tough to get rid of the Shrub, I would have never allowed it to get established. But that's just the liberal in me talking.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Look at that rack...

Why is siphoning beer (or wine) off of the junk in the bottom of the fermenter called "racking"?

Hell if I know, but Bret and I racked the TongueSplitter into the secondary fermenter tonight. Had a few problems w/ the siphoning process last time, since I didn't have a good seal between the Auto-Siphon and the racking hose, so I used some rubber bands as clamps this time, and it worked just like the good old days. Back when men were men, women were bow legged, and CherkyB lived in Silicon Valley. Speaking of proud, here's Bret, smiling away because we didn't screw up this batch!

Ordered the ingredients to brew up a Belgian Blonde as well. I'm still a happy customer of I got the "Belgian Strong Golden Ale" kit - I started making up my own, but (a) could only order the specialty grains in 1lb increments, and only needed 2-4oz of 4 different ones, (b) it ended up being almost 50% more than the NB kit (probably because I was trying to clone a Belgian ale to much, and even getting European malt extract), which didn't necessarily make much sense.
Now, before CherkyB says none of it makes sense, as I'm just opening a can of condensed beer, adding water and then bottling it. What didn't make sense in this case is I don't want an exact clone of Abbey Leffe Blonde Ale, I just want something like it. I'm not going to (a) brew it exactly the same, (b) I'm don't bother with temperature control while fermenting, and (c) I can't guarantee that I'll let it age enough - if it's pretty tasty in a couple of weeks, it gets drunk.
Kind of like the Peach Ginger Mead adventure. Not my best brew, and I think I can say the oddest thing I fermented, bottled and served to friends and family. Good news is (a) I'm not springing it on as many people as I used to, (b) it may be mellowing some, and (c) if you only try it once a month or so, it's not bad!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tongue Splitter

Brewed up another batch of beer yesterday evening. It's called TongueSplitter, from Northern Brewer Ale Kit's collection. It's called TongueSplitter because it has a lot of hops - bittering hops, flavor hops and aroma hops. And in pretty big quantities - 5 oz vs. the usual 1-2oz. Should be similar to a lot of the IPA

Bret, the neighbor who wanted to see how making homebrew was done, came over @ 6:45pm, and we started up. Despite a few glitches, like filling the brew kettle within 1" of the top, and having to watch for boil overs for the next 5-10 minutes, and not turning the burner onto "High", so it taking almost 2x to come up to boil than it should have, the whole process went well.

I had made a Yeast Starter on Sunday night, and fed it some more wort on Monday evening, so I had ~3-5x the normal amount of yeast. This morning, when I checked on it, the batch was already bubbling away, with about 1 bubble thru the airlock every 4 seconds. Now, almost a day after pitching the yeast (21 hours) it's pretty much continuous bubbles streaming thru, and a nice ~2 inch krausen.

I think it's going to be very tasty!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another fun thing to do while drinking Beer...

Play Poker. Now, many of you might say it can be fun, but you'll loose lots of money. If that's the case, you're playing with the wrong crowd. Sunday night's came was in honor of my brother, James, being in town on a visit. Scooter and RIK came over, from the old poker days with James. Tehas was out of town, on another one of his business trips to save his career (if you don't have a real job, at least have one that keeps you busy, so it looks like you're important). Nava played the 5th seat, and James' old friend from High School, back in Ra-cha-cha, DavidA made up the 6th.

As the homebrew supply is rapidly dwindling, there was no homebrew drinking that evening. But, on the bright side, BevMo opened up less than a half mile from my house, so I picked up some CzechVar (aka BudVar, or the original Budweiser, from Budweis, Czech Republic), Leffe Blonde Ale (of "ever had a Belgian Blonde" fame), Spaten Marzen OktoberFest, and a Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA (Ralph Steadman, and man gets makes money by writing / illustrating books on traveling and drinking, etc. does their labels).

It was a better than average selection of beers to taste, and helped keep the humor flying. David, the only new member to the group, fit right in. Probably because he was a friend of James - anyone who has such low standards generally works in our group!

Why is it that so many poker games have stupid names? Mexican Sweat, Baseball in Chicago, Follow the Ladies, Texas Hold'Em? CherkyB, the master of minutiae, probably knows.

I'm not sure if it's because Scooter's smarter than I am, luckier, or wasn't drinking. But, if it hadn't have been for 1 last round of Ben Franklin, I'd have been up money, and Scooter would have been down. But, we figured $6-$8 of my money went to Scooter on that game, although he may have lost some of it to someone else. I curse you, Scooter! But, on the bright side, we didn't have any In Between games go out of control, and end up costing me $80.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Best Thing About Fall is.... BEER

All of you who know me know that beer is pretty much my religion. I love to drink it, brew it, think about it, and sometimes blog about it.

Drinking your own tasty beer is fantastic. Getting to the end of summer, when you haven't brewed in 3-4 months, and are running out of it is always a time of concern. But, the weather has been cooling off a bit, so the nesting instinct is kicking in again, and I feel like lining my nest with BEER.

Last thing I brewed was an Oatmeal Stout - it was a little weird for the first few weeks, with an almost soy aroma and initial taste, but that cleared up after a few more weeks in the bottle. The Stout and some of the fruit flavored beers (Apricot Bitter and Cherry Amber) are most of what I have left, other than the ill fated Peach Ginger Mead. Finally found some people who don't gag and run to spit it out when they taste it - Bret from across the street, who said it was better than the Apricot Bitter, and Rita and Richard, Rita is one of Nava's painting friends, who said it was like dessert beer, and went home with 3 bottles of it in appreciation!

Even I'm not that fond of drinking it. And worse, from what I know, it's the only alcohol that my brother James has ever (a) refused to drink more of, and (b) spat out the mouth-full he had. This from a guy who asked the Budwiser tour guide if they were just going to throw out the sample of skunked beer if he could finish it.

So - what's next? I've been thinking of doing a Belgian Blonde, but those are higher gravity beers, and should get 4-6 months aging before they're "at their best", so I don't want to do that first, and then have to restrain myself. Maybe I'll do just a new American Pale Ale, with lots of hops. Well, lots of hops for an extract brewer who only boils 2.5 gallons (limits how much bitterness the wort will get from the hops before it's saturated). Pretty simple recipe, not high gravity, so ferments pretty easy and is ready to drink in just 3-4 weeks.

Back to the Belgian Blonde - I tried to find a "clone" recipe for Leffe Blonde. Had some in France, it was quite tasty. Only problem is (a) no good homebrew store by me, which makes it difficult to get small quantities of specialty grains, (b) the one Leffe clone beer ingredient kit on the web says it's not so close, and (c) my normal online supplier ( Northern Brewer) only sells specialty grains by the pound, so if you need 1/8th to 1/4th of five different grains, you get left with a bunch of extra that will probably be stale before you use them.

I think I'll just order the NB's Belgian Strong Golden Ale after I do the TongueSplitter, and maybe stop by the local store (FermentationFrenzy) to see if their stock has improved while I pick up some more bottles.

PS Despite what CherkyB thinks, brewing with extract isn't "making beer tea". Of course, (a) he's got an opinion on everything, (b) he makes stuff up to irritate people, and (c) hasn't brewed in years, and probably won't, now that he has a new riding lawn mower!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Year of the Pests...

First it was the ants. Then it was more ants. And then more ants. After about 10 cans of Terro Outdoor Ant Killer Spray, they've stopped coming into the house. And, I just topped off the Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait in 4 KM Ant Pro Units, I finally seem to be winning the battle against insects.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday, as I was brushing past the hibiscus plants, dragging out the garbage totes, I notice a small cloud of whiteflies. Looking closer, I also noticed what look like tufts of white threads coming out of some leaves, and others with spiral white designs on the bottom side. Seems like I have 1 or 2 infestations of whiteflies:

Common Greenhouse Whitefly (common because they don't do anything special)

and the Spiraling Whitefly -

that lays it's eggs in white spirals, generally on the undersides of leaves.

Of course, the wooly whitefly lays eggs in a spiral, but the eggs are brown, which doesn't match what I have, and my leaves have more "white hair" than "white wool", like this

. And then there's the leaves w/ white flys and white fly eggs below, that don't have wool or spirals.

Still reading?

Now - should I go w/ the general pest predator, the infamous Lady Bug? Or the ravenous Green Lacewing? Or maybe the Whitefly specific predator, Encarsia Formosa? Or maybe the new Delphastus (Scary thing is that I knew 3 of these 4 "beneficial insects" already!). Since to get 1 or 2 of them, I'd have to pay for FedEx shipping anyway, why not get the lot?

Why not spray, you ask? I have. I can probably knock the population down by ~80% by spraying. But, they like to live on the undersides of leaves, and they like to fly, so unless I can buy gallons of insecticide, and use my pressure sprayer to enable me to get under the leaves, it'll never get them all. I'll use the stronger pesticide on the infestation to knock it down, mix up a gallon or two of Safer Insect Killing Soap, which is much less harmful, to cull out many of the rest, and then go predator on the rest, to keep things in check.

But, it all boils down to have I killed enough ants so that I can now control the whiteflies, or while I'm distracted by the whiteflies on the hibiscus, they'll just start farming some sucking insect someplace else?

Annoying thing is, I'm pretty sure the whitefly problem stems back to the ant problem. Argentine ants farm insects that produce "honeydew" (sweet excretion from sucking insects, such as Aphids, Whitefly, Scale, Leafhoppers, plant lice, etc). I don't know if the ants "planted" these whiteflies themselves, or if they just kept the natural predator population down, and that's what allowed the whiteflies to take off on this one plant.

I think I'm already doomed - I just realized that the ants have had me distracted for 2 days now, and I'll soon discover their nefarious plan is already underway.

Good thing they're just sweet loving ants, and don't want anything important, like my beer

HallerBrau Logo

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Marriage and the Witness Stand...

Watching the idiot box, and despite managed to catch a few seconds of a commerical before we could grab the TiVo remote and skip over them. Nava says to me "Hey - I'm going to record that for you - you love that guy.". Then she asks me why I laugh so hard @ Nick from the BBC show My Family.

So I answers "Because he's the best lay-about."

And Nava asks "Excuse me, are you sure he's the best?"

Now, I can't remember what TV show or movie it was, but some actor(s) playing a lawyer once said "A good lawyer never asks a witness a question he doesn't know the answer to."

So - what's the corollary for marriage? Never answer a question until you're sure what the answer should be.

Most guys are used to the classic "Do these pants make my ass look fat?"

There's only one honest answer to the question ("It's not the pants."), but that's unlikely to be the one you should use.

Answer "No" too fast, and you're not even trying.

Best thing to do is have a heart attack, and hope that by the time you're out of the hospital, she forgot the question that triggered it.

So - to "Excuse me, are you sure he's the best [lay-about]?", I quickly answer "He's much worse than you, you at least paint."

Now - this is true, which means (a) it's unlikely to be a good choice. I also thought I was (b) defending my wife's honor to herself, as she sometimes feels like she should get a job / earn some money. But, it all falls back to not understanding what the actual intent of the question was. She wasn't thinking about herself as a lay-about, but someone else we recently saw in action.

So, the night before our 4th wedding anniversary, and I walk into one of those questions with my eyes closed.

Only good news is that I've managed to train Nava to not ask me the pants question.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ants - why I may become a Republican

Most of you who know me know that I'm a pretty liberal guy, and tend towards the ecologically minded, without quite being a granola head. CherkyB says I'm a Bolshevik. But he's a Republican, so is prone to exaggerations, making stuff up, and ignoring laws that don't suit him (like his pal, GeorgeW). But, he grew up outside of Buffalo (not Love Canal, but close enough), so you have to make some exceptions for him.

So - where am I going with this? The one thing that's most likely to convert me to being a "Frack the Environment" Republican, is ants. I hate ants. I try to not use insecticides and synthetic fertilizers, but when it comes to ants, if they had a homeland, and wiping it out would get ants out of my life, I'd nuke the place.

I didn't start this way. I used to ignore them, but then they'd make trails into the house. I'd hunt down the source, wipe up the trail, fill the hole if possible, and go on with my life for a day or so, when a new trail would show up. After 3-4 days of wasting my time on this, I'd go get the nastiest chemicals around, and nail the nest.

Only problem was that my neighbors didn't do the same. So, after a while, the ants would move back in, and a year or two later, I'd get the home invasion again.

It's been a year or two since I tried to commit Ant Genocide, so they've had a chance to rebuild there little communist / collective society and prepare for the invasion again. This year, once I saw the first few scouts in the house, I sprayed most of the perimeter of the house with Terro Outdoor Ant Killer Spray, which from my experience is a effective product for both killing those you can hit with it, but making a barrier that ants will avoid for a few months. This worked great. No new scouts in the house.

Everything was great, except that the ant's had been gearing up for an invasion, and all I did was make change their mind on the house. So, they hit the garden. What do our Argentinean Ants like? Sucking the excrement (nicely called Honeydew) off the backs of insects like Aphids. What do Aphids like - plants. No aphids in the garden? Don't worry - the fracking ants will bring their own!

The ants must have already scouted the garden, as by the time I checked a few days later, there were "seeding" aphids on about 20% of my corn. Now, being a granola head Bolshevik, I broke out the soap spray, the environmentally friendly way to control insects, like aphids. Guess the ants didn't read the label - they just wash their feet in the soap, and brought more aphids. By the time I checked today, about a week later, the small aphid problem on 20% of the corn plants was now a massive problem in the nooks of 80% of the plants.

Good news is that the aphids don't suck the juice from the ears of corn, but just from the stalk, so you still get some corn. Just not as big, and when you pull it off, you have to fight the 20 or so ants that were actively farming the aphids off of the corn, and you.

Fresh sweet corn, cooked within minutes of harvesting - extremely tasty.

Ants? I'm thinking of hooking up a barrel of ant killer to my sprinkler system, and sending the RNC a check.

Wonder if they'll send me a "Save the whales - we'll eat them last" bumper sticker.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Israeli Survey

Nava was telling me over dinner about a survey her niece was doing to finish up her degree. 10-15 questions on a some topic (hers is on a Israeli woman who was kicked out of a store for breast feeding her child).

Nava said there was a 5 point scale, with 1 being you "strongly disagree" and 5 being you "strongly disagree". Sounds like an Israeli survey:

1 = Strongly Disagree
2 = Don't like it
3 = Disagree
4 = Don't agree
5 = Really Don't agree

Oh - just realized that this is how the Bush administration check's it's policies:

1 = Strongly Agree
2 = Think it's a good idea
3 = Agree
4 = Sounds OK
5 = Don't disagree

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Fighting Prawns

Hmmmm - shrimp. Jumbo Prawns. Went to a Xanh's Vietnamese Restaurant in Mtn View last night. Very tasty.

Ahi Tuna Tartar was very nice - the sauce overpowered the raw tuna a bit, making it difficult to taste the tuna beneath it. But still quite tasty.

Shaking Beef - filet mignon with a special marinade, cubed, grilled and served on a bed of greens. Nava loved it, and I thought it was a good way to eat greens!

Fighting Prawns - 5 Whole Jumbo Prawns, lightly battered in a spicy coating, and then deep fried. After I had the first one, I started nibbling on the swimmer legs on the underside of the next one, as otherwise you didn't get to taste the batter much, other than by liking your fingers. I loved them. Nava was a bit grossed out by the liquid that drizzled out of the head cavity, so next time, I think I'll dehead all of them, and just give her the tail.

Very tasty overall - and I think it moved into our top 5 restaurants, which include Bridgette's, Dish Dash, and Shiki Sushi.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Habitat for Me

Nava and I painted our living room over the weekend. About 18 months later than we planned. We had decided to paint the interior of our house in the October of 2004. Nothing fancy - off white on most walls, and a wall of color in each room to make it a bit more interesting. Should take just 6-8 weekends. It’s a small house, so shouldn’t be too bad, and doing it ourselves should cost just $1000-$2000.

That's was the theory. Now, almost a year and a half later, and we're almost finished. Or not.

We worked our way through the bedrooms, then the hallway, guest bath, and kitchen last year. Got to the smaller closet in the 3rd bedroom, and found water damage from a leak in the roof. Not very surprising – our neighbor across the street just had her roof replaced, and told me ours had been put on at the same time. Ok – need to start looking at shingle styles, and find a roofer. And might as well get the outside painted (by someone else), as that’s probably 20 years old as well.

Painting is easy. Picking the primary color went pretty smooth for us – even if there are 1000 choices in off-white, only took us about 7 samples to pick the one we liked, but then there’s the accent wall. In every room. Some of the companies have 2oz samples now, which is cheaper / less wasteful than get a quart mixed, but they have only 10% of the colors in samples. Picking the accent color dragged the 2-3 month project on longer, and made for 10x the number of trips to the paint stores. As I said, painting is easy. Everything else you need to do to prep / finish is hard. If you live in the house, you need to pretty much empty the room out. And then cover / mask whatever you don’t want paint on. When you’re done, you need to move everything back, and unless you’re fastidious about cleaning regularly, it probably involves cleaning everything before it goes back. Being a Yekke (Hebrew slang for being a typical German perfectionist), I can’t just put the stuff back in. Need to sort through it, organize it, and get rid of excess clutter. Not the regular clutter, just the *really* useless stuff. Being married to an artist means not only does it need to be organized, but it also has to look nice / interesting / asymmetric. Bottom line – lots of running around (finding the right paint), then the actual painting, and then more time to sort, drop off box loads at Good Will, and then arrange.

But the bedrooms are done, so we keep painting – hallway, guest bath, and the kitchen. Ah - the kitchen. Where we found the termites. Well, at first it was just some woody sand like stuff behind the fridge, which got vacuumed up. Which reappeared the next day. Tip #1 – woody sand stuff if never good news. Take a closer look, and there are insects crawling behind the baseboard. Joy. Get woken up that night by the Hugs and Kisses to find out that the kitchen floor is covered by black winged insects. I already knew we had termites, so what’s the big deal? Big deal is that the not only do we have termites, but they’ve done good enough to send out mating pairs. At least it was a cool night, and a sprits of Windex kept them from flying, so I could just wipe them up. And wipe and wipe. Nasty little buggers that can eat wood crumble apart, and get into every little nook and cranny of the linoleum, so you have to wipe 3 times to get all the body parts.

Get the termite inspector out the two days later. He checks out the house, the crawl space, attic – everywhere but the garage (“too much stuff”). Verdict - subterranean termites. Now, instead of finishing the interior painting before my mom visits, we need to juggle the termite work, emptying out the garage so that can be inspected as well, and get started on the exterior painting before summer comes, and they get to busy.

Rented a POD to empty the garage into. PODs are great – they come, drop-off a big container in your drive, and then you fill it. You can either leave it there for a while (remodeling), have it shipped off and stored (emptying the house to sell it), or moved cross country. I just enjoyed watching the truck come and drop it off, and then pick it up later. Fun for boys of all ages. Next time I might sell tickets, as a few guys in the neighborhood managed to wander by as well!

Emptied the garage. Since it was now empty, and everything else was getting repainted, might as well paint it as well. And it wouldn’t take much longer to stain the garage floor as well, to practice for when we do something the back patio concrete, so what the heck. And the POD was the same price for 2 wks or 3-4, so why not.

Get the subterranean termite treatment, and the inspector back out to check the garage. Found wood-dwelling termites there. Where? In the frame for the garage door, which was the one part of the garage he had access to the first time, but never checked. Frack. Find out that he just needed the stuff moved away from the walls, not the entire garage emptied. Can either get a microwave treatment in that area, but no confidence if that’ll get them all, or go for the full tenting. With the microwave treatment, you need to make sure the neighbors, and any pets, are out of the way, as you don’t want to cook them. They’re about the same price, so we decide to go for the full tenting.

Need to stall the exterior painters, as the termite crew tends to bump around a lot of tarps, etc. Ever see those houses tented in pretty colors? Nice combos of yellow and blue. None of those houses were ours. Dirty blue was the color of our tent. More looks from the neighbors – not only did we have to be tented, but then the tent wasn’t even nice to look at. They say there are only 2 kinds of home owners in California – those who know they have termites, and those who don’t know yet.

Once the tent was off, and we could move back in, need to scramble around, and clean up the outside for the painters. Tip #2 – if you have an old, single piece garage door, don’t get it power-washed. If you do, don’t try to have the garage door opening lift it for a few days. Unless you wanted a new garage door and garage door opener. Never liked those big, clunky, dangerous doors anyway.

Since it took us 5-10 tries to pick an accent color on the inside, we told the outside painters to not do the trim – we’d do it ourselves. And since the garage door was going to be replaced, don’t worry about masking it. Same thing on the gutters / roof – they’re coming off, so just paint away. Come home on painting day to a house that’s basically one color. It’s called “Chivalry Copper”, kind of in the terra-cotta family. Nice color, but when it’s everywhere, including the trim, and a 6” band on the garage door, it’s a bit much. Start picking a trim color that evening, so Nava could start repairing our image with the neighbors.

Call the garage door folks and roofers, and get them lined up. The garage door folks have it figured out. One guy and a small pickup w/ a frame on the back can do everything. Get everything out of the way of the old door, back the pickup into the garage, and just drop it down. Drive it out, cut it up, and move it aside. Install tracks for a rolling door, drop in and attach the sections, put in a new opener, and cart off the old junk. A man, a plan, and less than a day. Of course, he was one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever seen!

And then the roof – found a very highly rated roofer, Eastman Contracting, San Jose>. Stopped by their place, as they had a showroom, so we could see what the various options looked like in person. Start looking around, and someone comes out of the office, introduces himself as Jim, and asks if we had any questions. I ask him if they can install solar attic fans with a new roof for me, as I really want solar attic fans. Says he can’t tell me if they can put in a solar attic fan in my house. They can put in solar attic fans, they know how, just don’t know if it’d work for me. Would need to do the math on air flow in my attic to see how much it had / needed, etc. Loved it – I’d been talking to the guy for 2 minutes, when he basically said told me to be sit down and shut-up, as I really didn’t know what I was talking about. But in a very nice, and professional way. Find out he's Jim Eastman, the owner of the company. Decide on the spot that we’re going with them. The customer is *not* always right, and is quite often an idiot. He may be 6’ 4”, frequently referred to as Chewie (Chewbacca), and known to threaten people with ripping their arms off and beating them to a pulp, but still an idiot. Being able to deal with that, and insist on doing the right thing is a skill. Doing that with an area full of engineers, who do lots of internet research, but are still idiots, is an art!

New paint, garage door and roof – now the 30 year old skylights look like crap. Get the roofers to track down replacements – and less obtrusive flat glass ones than the old plastic domes. Low-E glass, with anti-UV coating. Definitely worth it, but I’m starting to wonder if anything’s going to not result in yet another fix / replacement / upgrade.

Neighbors were sure we were about to sell, as we were putting so much work into the house. Where’s the logic in that? I can see touching up a house to try to sell it, but spending that kind of money, and effort, you’d better be doing it for you, and not for the next people living in your house!

After the ~2-3 month “repaint the interior walls” project ended up taking all winter, spring and summer, the outside of the house was painted, with a new roof, skylights and garage door, but the inside was only 85% done, with the living room left. Which is how the story started – decided to finish up the living room over the long 4th of July weekend. Got busy Saturday morning – boxing up stuff, moving out the sofa, 2 arm chairs, book shelves, etc. Lot’s of etc. Never new we had 8 boxes of etc. in the living room. Got everything out except for the 36” TV – not an LCD or Plasma screen, one of those CRT systems kids born today may never know about. Had illusions that Nava and I could pick it up and move it 5 feet to the center of the room. Hah – 250lbs. Bothered Bret across the street for “a little bit of help”. Bret’s almost my height, but not quite as stocky as me. We moved it, but barely. Only had to go 5’, but almost dropped it, and then mashed our fingers trying to set it down before we dropped it a second time. But, it was out of the way, and we could finally get down to painting.

Right. Next we find out that (a) we don’t have enough tarps to cover the whole living room, and (b) will 5 gallons of paint be enough for the living room? It should be, but we’ve already used 25 gallons in the rest of the house, so it’ll be close. Let’s get 5 more gallons, since the store will be closed by the time we find out, and it’s the same paint we used through-out most of the house, so having some extra won’t hurt.

Off to the paint store to get another tarp, more paint, and some odds and ends. Close up the existing 5 gallon bucket we’d just opened, to see if they’ll mix it up for me. Zip out of the drive way, and down the street. Hmmm – what’s that thump? Roll around the corner, and there’s more thumping in the trunk. Damn – it’s the 5 gallons of paint in the trunk, rolling around. Not supposed to do that when I put it in upright. Pull over quickly, and open up the trunk. Amazing, I didn’t have a trunk full of paint, as the lid had stayed on tight. Get to the paint store – chat with the owner, get him to start the make the new 5 gallon bucket of paint, and ask him if they can mix the old one. He says yeah if the lid’s on tight, so he gets to hear the thumping around in the trunk story. He checks out the label on the existing 5 gallon buck, and find’s out I’m now buying my seventh 5 gallon bucket of paint. Then he remembers me and all the trips from last year, so gives me the contractor’s discount, like he did last year. Want cheap paint, go to one of the giant stores. Want good paint, and extra service, tips, advice, and even a discount if you’re a good customer, go to a local paint shop (like California Paint Company).

I bought only 1 tarp at paint store, as I forgot the hold one was short in 2 directions, so still not enough tarp. We cobble together a layer of plastic, with some card board and old blankets on top, and start painting. I start on the ceiling, Nava on the walls. I must have developed some ceiling painting muscles last year, which have atrophied since, and the living room is 50% bigger than the other rooms, and my arms were much more tired this year. Probably didn’t help having the 3’ x 6’ obstacle (the TV / stand) in the middle of the room to paint above. 1st coat goes on as usual – the walls are really try, so you need to really load up the brush / roller to make have it end up in the same vicinity as the color you want. But we’d learned that already, and despite the 3 gallons of paint we used, it ended up mostly on the walls / ceilings. I used to end up w/ about 25% of the paint on either me or the floor. I think I’m down to about 5% now. Nava really likes painting, and you can tell, as she gets about twice as much on her! Finish the 2nd coat that evening, just as it’s getting dark. Break out the shop light to check the job, what do you know, we’ve gotten pretty good at painting, and there’s just a drip or two to roll-in.

It’s a year and a half after we started our little project, and almost $20k later, the house looks much better. Still have to finalize on the accent color in the living, and paint one wall with it, but that’ll go pretty quick (knock on wood). Kitchen cabinets are worn, and I never did like them, the tile countertops and old linoleum. Carpets are pretty dirty / spotted in the living room, the tile in the hallway / guest bath is boring, and Nava’s never like carpets. Sounds like there will be a sequel to this story, but hopefully not as convoluted, or long, I’m sure some of you are saying!

Kind of a “MasterCard – for when you want to remodel” story -
* What you think it’ll cost - $2,000
• What it actually cost - $20,000
• Having the house start to look how you want it to - Priceless

Or, as I say “I used to do Habitat for Humanity, now I do Habitat for Me.”