Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tear Gas, Holiday Shopping and the T-Mobile Girl

Two Tuesdays ago, a priest, a pregnant teen and an old lady all get pepper sprayed. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn't it. Well, though its mostly true (some of the initial headlines included a priest, but I can't find it now), I wasn't there. I was braving the crowds, cops and chemical agents to go see Carly Foukes.  If you don't recognize the name, maybe the picture will help.
If the pink and white dress doesn't help, she's the T-Mobile girl. T-Mobile and Kristin from Our Ordinary Life was hosting bloggers at a Holiday Tips and Tricks event at the downtown Seattle store.

Unfortunately, Carly must not know how to avoid tear gas exposure, as she wasn't there. And she's probably not as hot with streams of mucus running from her cute little nose, crying and gasping for air through those red lips.

While nibbling on snacks from a veggie tray, I learned about some of the mobile hot spot devices that T-Mobile sells and some great tips when purchasing a new phone or carrier.
  • What does my rate plan cover?
  • What kind of speeds/data am I getting?
  • How much will my monthly payments be and/or other charges?
  • What’s the exchange/return policy?
  • Is my/my recipient’s home and workplace covered by your network?
  • What are roaming charges?
  • What are your warranty/insurance policies

There were some fun activities, it wasn't just all about tips.  It was a good thing I paid attention, because I did pretty well in the quiz and got a few HTC coupons.  T-Mobile has increased smart phone users 40% not 60% (I used my family as an example, our usage increased 60% over the last year, so I guess we're not normal).

Another Android user and I went head to head against two iPhone users on a MyTouch phone.  The iPhone users did pretty well with the T-Mobile customized Android version, the Android users prevailed, way to go Tara (I couldn't remember my Facebook password which I had changed the day before).  But really, you can switch easily from iPhone to Android.

My sexy wife, Heather, won a shiny new Android phone. I don't think she'll switch to it (we're locked into AT&T) and until there is an Android Instagram app, she's not interested in switching. And as long as she keeps on taking pictures of her cool shoes, I'm happy that she's got Instagram, too!

Though the likelihood of me switching to T-Mobile is low, it was a fun event. It was good to catch up with Carol and meet The Happy Girl. Even if Carly wasn't there.

Though I didn't get compensated, I did get a bag of swag. I have a flying, squealing, slingshot T-Mobile monkey now!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A great weekend

Its been quite awhile since I've last posted but this was a great weekend that I should share about. And for those of you who follow my wife on Twitter, there was no Sir Mix A Lot in my life this weekend.

It started out like just about any other weekend, waking at 4:45 AM to take the kids to swim practice. But kid 1 went to watch the Girls State Swim Meet, so he didn't need a ride back afterwards.  Kid 2 and I stopped at a ski swap and after we checked it out, we went back with Heather and Kid 3, who had been at home.

We got some snow pants for kid 2 (yes, the one who had been there with me, but I'm no good for clothing selection, evidently).

Kid 2 got her ears pierced twice more in each ear (read: 4 more holes in her head) and contrary to how it was when they were first pierced, no tears.

After that we hung out and got lunch at a sushi place and then did some more clothes shopping for kid 2. It really was a lot of clothes shopping, but it was great to be out with a part of my family.

After hanging out at the library (where I read back issues of Backpacker magazine), we linked up with Kid 1 and got dinner at La Costa, the Mexican restaurant in Issaquah.

For some reason (kids these days) moccasins are popular, worn with sweat pants, both of which we shopped for for Kid1.

We probably spent too much money, but I knew what Sunday held. Free cupcakes and a Williams-Sonoma techniques class (Thanksgiving side dishes).

After explaining to Kid3 all of the things we'd have to eat today, we set out into the world. After some good side dishes, the rest of the family caught up with us and we went to Trophy Cupcakes for a Google Places party. For the low price of writing a few reviews on some Chromebooks, we got cupcakes and t-shirts, Google Places tattoos and pens. It was yummy and filling.

On the way out, Heather saw the Skillet truck and we made a 3 point turn (u-turns are not legal in Washington) and got chicken and waffles. With five of us, we could try almost all the different topping options. And boy, was it good!

I can't recall the last time I had tbat much good food all in one day!

When I got home, I got the bug to cook myself. So, dinner was biscuits and gravy, bruschetta, and Brussels sprouts with pancetta. None of these things go together but they were all individually very good. Weird combination but good.

All in all, a busy weekend but one that we did a lot of stuff in. It was really nice to be able to spend some time with my family, relaxing and having fun!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I really hate plumbing, but I don't have a leaky faucet anymore

For a while (I will not say how long, to not incriminate myself) our backyard hose faucet has been leaking.  Not dripping but leaking.  I've replaced the gaskets inside of it, but last night, I decided that I should replace the hose bib.

I did my research online. I found videos on how to replace them, articles on how to troubleshoot whats wrong with them. I even found the manufacturer's website of my very own  frost free hose bib. I took a trip to Home Depot to see what they looked like and what type of replacements they had.

This was supposed to be a simple, unscrew the hose bib and screw a new one on, exercise.  If it were that, do you think I'd be blogging about it?

Thus prepared, at about 4pm on Saturday afternoon, I shut the water off, affixed a wrench to my faucet and gave it a turn. It turned alright, but it wasn't unscrewing. Someplace, inside the wall one pipe was turning inside another.  Not exactly what I wanted.

I checked with one of my rather handy neighbors, Dave, and he indicated that he had not done any work on that particular faucet, but warned me about the CPVC piping our builder used and how its starting to get brittle.

At this point, I was starting to feel chicken and ready to call a plumber.  My wife convinced me that they would start by cutting a hole in the wall and that I should do that too (which was also Dave's recommendation).  I hemmed and hawed for a while, because I wasn't sure what I'd find on the other side of the wall board. Underneath the kitchen sink. Behind a mess of supply pipes for the sink and an electrical outlet.  My super handy wife remembered that we we had a set of architectural drawings of the house (why, I do not know) and she pulled them out and we pored over them, and then I started cutting.

With my luck, I cut a hole that was almost centered on a 2x4 in the wall.  While that will make it easy to replace that piece of wallboard, it made it really hard to get my arm through there, but I did it.  And I found the male fitting that the hose bib was connected to.  I held it steady while Heather "lefty looseied" it outside, until there was a snap.  And the faucet was off.  With a small, torsional sheared portion of CPVC pipe.  However, the female end of the faucet was too big to fit through the hole in the siding, so we were not really better off.

It came to me that the old faucet was garbage anyways, so I cut it in half.  Then I could see the problem.  The builder's plumber (insert all kinds of curse words here), used a plumbing cement to secure the threaded fixture.  No wonder it wouldn't budge.  And they weren't supposed to do that, either.

With some tool assistance from Dave and his neighbor I started to couple a fresh end to my broken pipe.  I'd done PVC work before, but outside irrigation, where you can be a little sloppy. The standards are higher when you're inside your house.  All was good and we affixed the new faucet to the threaded end.  This was a challenge in itself, relaying messages through a child, coupled with the fact that it was really hard to screw it on.  [To those experienced with plumbing, do you see the warning signs of cross-threading? I wasn't that experienced, then.]

We turned on the water, which resulted in me frantically telling Heather to turn it off, when I discovered the leak, spraying water inside the wall.  She responded that she didn't know how. I don't think I got my 6'2" frame out of the kitchen cabinet that quickly any other time...

We re-tightened things and still there was a leak.  We tried loosening it and there was a cracking sound.  No broken pipe this time, but a sloppy glue job (remember what I said about irrigation) failed and the male end broke free of my rebuilt pipe.  It was late and I was getting tired and we're not really any closer to having the water fixed.

Heather convinced me to call it a night, but I cut a larger hole in the wall and could see evidence that the faucet was cross-threaded. Which also explained why it wasn't perpendicular to the wall, either when we tightened it once before.

So, all night long, I'm visualizing how I'm going to fix it in the morning.  Needless to say, I didn't sleep well. Plumbing doesn't make for sweet dreams. I really needed the water back on, because I needed to wash clothes for my first day at my new job!

Home Depot opened at 7 am and with a little assistance from Heather (I did wake her up), we got the cross-threaded end off and I went to buy a new one.  I got a little wiser this time and bought enough connectors to do the whole job over again (if I hadn't done it enough already).

Bim, bam boom, it was all put together again.

And there was a tiny drop of water forming at the end of the threads.  But why? I used the teflon tape, like the guy at Home Depot said...  I called my Dad for some plumbing advice and when he didn't answer at home, I called him on his cell phone. Still no answer. I called home again and realized that they weren't there, its their anniversary weekend!  My first messages were about plumbing, not anniversary wishes, so I rectified that. I kept hoping the water would stop dripping and dry up and headed to my kids' swim team audit.

Five hours later, I stopped at Home Depot and Roger in the plumbing section asked if I used teflon tape and sealant.  As you already know, I did not and we had a great chat about it and I was on my home again (trip #4) with sealant.

Bim, bam, boom. Faucet off, re-taped, threads glopped up with sealant.  Faucet screwed 2-1/2 rotations on (1 more rotation, because we needed it closer to the wall) and there are no more drops forming.

I've got some ultra-sensitive water test paper (read: toilet paper) around the fitting and I've checked it a few times and so far we're good.

Because of Heather (and some good support from neighbors and Home Depot employees), we saved the cost of a plumbers visit, but I still hate plumbing!!!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Boys Weekend

Last weekend (actually, starting Thursday morning), Heather and the two older kids went to a swim meet in Boise.  I dropped them at the airport and they were gone until Monday morning, leaving Kid 3 and me at home.

In the days before they left, I asked Kid 3 what he'd like to eat while they were gone. Just to see if Heather was paying attention, I even told him I wanted to know, "so Mom can make us the food and put it in the freezer for us."  Now, if you know (or read my wife's blog), you can bet she sure doesn't do that. I'm self-sufficient when it comes to feeding myself or my family.  And more than that, I enjoy cooking.

That said, Kid 3 and I played tether ball, rode bikes, went for walks, played Xbox and ate.  And ate.

Kid 3 realized that we were not eating healthy, but he recognized that we were eating well.  He figured out that we had the right headset so he could talk with his friends on Xbox Live and I heard him more than once recounting his meals to his friends.  Yes, it fed my ego, but I thought it was pretty cool.

He kept track in his head, as he is oft to do, of how many bad meals we ate. He knew that we took the Cooking Light recipe and made it with more butter (you get a better sear on your steak that way). He know that the box of Hot Tamales with the movie wasn't a good snack.  He knew that bacon two mornings in a row and then coddled eggs the next day tastes good, but isn't healthy.  But I think he liked them.

We definitely had fun cooking together. And eating.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eating my way through summer swim meets: Muffuletta and Apricot Tart

One of the last Lime Pie pops from the previous swim meet went to one of my neighbors on the kids summer swim team. She said that the were good and I asked her if she wanted to collaborate for dinner at the next swim meet.   She was quick to come on board although parents should have fun at swim meets too, even though there was a bit of a double standard of eating gooey yummy stuff while the kids are supposed to be out there giving their athletic best performance.

I went through my sandwich recipes in Evernote and found a few good sandwiches. I traded a few emails with my neighbor and she said she'd bring a dessert. Dessert and sandwiches - that's a dinner in my book!

Even though, my neighbor said in her email she went to Tulane in New Orleans, I went with the muffuletta. It seems like such a simple, yet flavorful combination for a summer's evening. I was wrong on at least one count, but we'll get to that later.

Early in the day, I made the olive salad, so that the flavors could nicely come together.  I'll cop to it - I took more than one spoonful during the day. A good cook always tastes their product!

The sandwiches came together quite nicely and Kid3 and I headed off to the swim meet.  As we left, it started to rain.  I went back in and grabbed my gore-tex parka, which got me a little joshing from my son. It didn't seem to him that that was the right jacket for a swim meet.

It rained off and on as we went to the swim meet, but it was a light summer rain. I found a spot to sit and our neighbor joined us shortly thereafter. She had brought some salads and an apricot tart. This swim meet was going to be alright!

We enjoyed the sandwiches, as our kids did too between events, then it started to really rain.  We didn't have a shelter to hide out under, so my neighbor hid under her umbrella and I stood up so that my parka would keep me dry. While that kept us both dry, my chair filled with water, so I had no dry place to sit afterwards.  This is where I was wrong: the sandwich was good, but it wasn't a summer's evening. It was like early spring in the PNW with all the rain we got.

What was really funny, if you can call it that, was that the weather kept changing. I could see the break in the clouds that was coming our way and sure enough, the rain would stop, the sun would come out.  And then about 20 minutes later, the rain would start up again.

During one of the sun breaks, we broke out the apricot tart and enjoyed dessert.  Then it started to really rain.  My son went and stood in the warm shower in the locker room for something like 30 events (at least an hour, I stopped keeping track of the time). I think that he was the wisest of all of us. I was just as wet as he was (my boxers were wet), but at least he was warm.

The swim meet might have been unpleasant, but the food was good. And since my trip next week was cancelled, I need to start planning for this Thursday's swim meet!

Lime Pie ice pops and summer swim meets

In a recent Tasting Table newsletter, there was a recipe for Lime Pie ice pops. I think I read the email on one of the recent (and rare) nice June summer days here in the PNW.  Since summer swim meets were starting up, I decided that I'd make them for us for the Thursday swim meet.

Wednesday evening, my wife and I were going out to a foodie tweetup. My grand plans entailed me stopping at the grocery on the way home to pickup the limes and sweetened condensed milk that we didn't have at home.  Such are the plans of mice and men: I forgot to stop at any one of the 3 grocery stores I had to drive by.

But I was not going to be stopped.  Doing some backward planning, allowing for at least 7 hours of freezing (a few more than the recipe calls for), I needed to have them in the freezer by 10am.  Adjusting for the fact that I also needed to be working at that time, I needed to get them in the freezer before I started working at 7am.  In turn, that meant I was at the grocery store at 5:30am.

Whisking the base. Ignore that bottle of lime juice!
The early morning shopping trip, though, allowed me to make the ice pops with Kid 2. That Thursday was the last day of school for her and she had extra time, since she didn't have to make her lunch.

We got the ice pops in the molds and in the freezer and Kid 2 off to school.  Undisturbed, the ice pops sat in the freezer all day, hardening.  Only Kid 2 and I knew about them and I know for me that the surprise was building all day.  I was looking forward to enjoying them at the pool.  As the day went on and I was thinking about the tart lime pops, I came to the conclusion that I'm going to eat my way through the summer swim meets.  Summer swimming is fun for the kids and its gonna be yummy for me (and my wife too).
I took all the ice packs, loaded up my cooler and a few bags to smash graham crackers.  Then as the kids finished their events or it was time for a refreshing break, I'd prep a lime pie pop for them.  They actually tasted like Key Lime Pie, which was a great snack for the [non-swimmers at the] swim meet.
My handiwork.

If you'd like to try them out, you can find the recipe here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I just discovered Instapaper

This week, I've discovered Instapaper.  I know that I'm late to the party and that Instapaper has been around since January, 2008, but its pretty cool. In short, its a read-it-later web application.

This week has been quite busy, both at work and in people on the web publishing interesting articles.  Since work pays the bills, working was the priority over reading things on the web [special note: work pays the bills every week, so that priority isn't special to this week]. I started an email thread to myself with the subject "Read Later."  After it had about 10 messages with a few URLs each, I realized that I had to find a better solution.

A quick Google search led me to a few applications, but Instapaper stood out, because I had just heard that it was one of the applications threatened by iOS 5. I'm not an iPhone user, so that didn't really matter to me (and I don't think it really matters anyway, as you'll see later).  It was a quick sign up and I was ready to go.

Instapaper provides a bookmarklet which basically adds the page you are reading to your Unread Items.  I use Chrome as my web browser and there are a few extensions which put a button that does the same thing.  I went that route, because it just looks a little nicer than the bookmarklet and it also will automagically close the tab of the page I'm marking to read later.

It wasn't until I was away from my computer, waiting for my kids after swim practice that I recognized the true magic of Instapaper. I had some time that I was looking to fill and on my Android phone, I went to the Instapaper website.  There was my list of web articles to read, even with a specially formatted text only link.  I read a few things, archived them (removing them from my unread list) all quickly and easily on my phone.

This was my resultant tweet.  It's that kind of cool. Excuse the funny grammar, it was voice transcribed and I was walking at the time and didn't correct it.

Because we discovered the magic of @instapaper this evening.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

One of my friends replied to this tweet with "seriously? Just now?"  Yep, there are technological solutions out there that drive productivity that I've not started to leverage yet.

There is an iPhone application too, but I can't say much about it, as I use an Android powered smart phone.

But this is a big time saver. With two quick clicks, I can mark something as interesting to read later, when I have more time.  With the nice mobile interface, that could be anywhere, like when standing in long line.

With everything we have coming at us these days, services like Instapaper can really help manage that information fire hose.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My rapture playlist

As I picked up Kid3 from swim practice, I asked him what we should listen to on our drive.

He suggested Europe's The Final Countdown since the world is going to end tomorrow.

I'm going to piggy back on his idea and share what I'll be listening to when the earth starts shaking.

1) Europe - The Final Countdown
2) The Beastie Boys - So Whatcha Want
3) Metallica - The Four Horsemen
4) REM - Its the End of the World
5) Ministry - The Missing
6) They Might Be Giants - Dead
7) They Might Be Giants - Snowball in Hell
8) Depeche Mode - Blasphemous Rumors

What would you add?

Don't be frontin' when revelation comes!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My kid doesn't know his spelling words

Every afternoon, Kid 3 comes to into my office with his list of 3rd grade spelling words.  I read the word, maybe use it in a sentence and he spells them. Just to be sure he doesn't memorize the list in order, I always mix up the order (its not random, but in case he's reading this, I won't give away my pattern). He almost always gets them right, which I attribute to the fact that he studies them before he comes to me (let me live my dream). He's really good at spelling.

But here is the thing: he doesn't actually learn the spelling list. He just knows how to spell words. Sometimes, I throw other words in there, maybe not necessarily third grade words or a word from a previous list and he spells them. Sometimes, he gives me a funny look, but he just spells them. To really change it up, I sometimes make a crazy sentence out of several of the words.  And he spells them.

Every Friday, I ask him how he does on his spelling test.  Last week, he was not at home, but I found his spelling test and he missed one of the bonus words. I was a little surprised, because even though the words are hard (and I don't know what some of them mean), he had done a good job in practice.

Evidently, he mis-heard his teacher saying univalve and he wrote unicorn. I can hear the resemblence, but man, if only he knew that unicorn wasn't one of his spelling words, he might have asked for her to repeat it.

Yet another example of kids doing the darndest things!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Cupcakes and coding - a nice day off

Earlier this week, I took a day off. I was at my PTO cap and needed to take the day. Nothing really was planned for the day, so I did some things that I think are fun. I made cupcakes and reviewed MySQL stored procedures for a side project of mine. Sounds like nice things for a day off, no?

I didn't just make any cupcakes, I made Stout Cupcakes. Yes, there is a bottle of Guinness in these cupcakes. Okay, so I followed a Martha Stewart recipe, but they weren't any frilly frosted cupcakes on doilies. The cupcakes had a heaviness to them, more like a bread, with a bit of spice.  The molasses and nutmeg gave them a "ginger bready" taste.

That's stout glaze. No milk or lemon juice in there, stout was the liquid used to make this glaze.

My wife enjoys my cooking, but doesn't want to keep the cupcakes in the house. No sooner than they were glazed, I had called some of the neighbors and asked if they were home.  This is becoming code for "Beau is bringing something yummy."

I thought that they were pretty good. Heather suggested that I make a fluffier chocolate frosting, just to lighten them a bit. I'd be up for trying that again.

So what do you think of Stout cupcakes?

Monday, May 02, 2011

A sweet spring with Cal Giant strawberries

My wife, the big blogger she is, occasionally gets free stuff.  The day before Easter, when I was checking to see if a package from Amazon had arrived, there was a flat of Cal Giant strawberries sitting on our doorstep.  While it wasn't what I was expecting, it was still a sweet surprise.  A flat of strawberries is a lot of strawberries, even for our family of 5, which includes a teen aged boy (read: eating machine).

After I made myself dinner tonight (everybody else is at swim practice) and while my head is still pleasantly fuzzy from my Strawberry-Basil Gin cocktail, I decided I'd write about our free strawberries and how sweet they were!

Yes, I'm solo tonight and I made myself a pink cocktail. But what better way to use up the strawberries, as they reached the tail end of their life?

Well, you could mention the chocolate covered strawberries I made for Easter brunch.  Now that was a sweet combination.
Easter Brunch - photo by ScoutsHonor
Another way to enjoy strawberries, is dipping them in sour cream mixed with brown sugar. The brown sugar cuts the tang and thins the sour cream, making an enjoyable dip.

Yes, I use sweet like a California surfer, but these Cal Giant strawberries were a nice addition to our Easter brunch. And they were quite fresh too. I bet that these went from field to flat to our house. Its not that often that you get strawberries that fresh, unless you are from Watsonville (which would make you my first reader from that city).

On top of being fresh (like ripe, not like cool from the 80's), these strawberries were big. No wonder the name of the company is Cal-Giant, they were good sized strawberries.  I wasn't planning on making chocolate dipped strawberries for brunch, but a large strawberry makes for a very pretty one dipped when dipped in chocolate.

The only downside to this giant crop of giant strawberries which was delivered to us was that the bottom layer in the flat didn't fare so well in shipment.  But Cal-Giant doesn't make it a habit of shipping strawberries to your home, so go out and buy them from the grocery store!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Don't give your kids recording devices

My kids all have phones with some form of recording devices in them. The problem with phones these days is that they're very small and can make sneaky recordings. That, and my kids know how to use them.

One day, as we were driving back from swim practice, I was singing along with Van Halen's Jump and I noticed that Kid 1 was holding his hands strangely in his lap. He was indeed recording my singing.  And now you get to enjoy it too! American Idol, watch out!

One weekend morning, while the kids were eating breakfast (I had already eaten), Kid 2 recorded this video. I'm dancing to the Audio Bully's remix of Nancy Sinatra's Shot You Down. Again, you'll note that even though she does let me know that she's "waiting for the perfect picture" she doesn't say anything about making a video. I even had to rotate the video, as she was hiding the phone sideways next to her bowl!

Kid 1 made this recording of me singing The Letter along with The Box Tops, one morning on the way to swim practice, but this one wasn't so sneaky. I've learned to watch for them holding their phones in their lap, pointing the microphone at me.  I knew that I was being recorded this time.

They've even made recordings of ScoutsHonor snoring on the couch. If asked, I will deny any involvement in that. There aren't any on my phone, but I did have to check.

What have you done that is kinda silly and caught on video, for all posterity to see?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day: Pizza at the Drive In

I hope you enjoyed your Valentine's Day. I enjoyed mine with my hot wife in the backseat of her car.

Dig your dirty mind out of the gutter, it wasn't quite as illicit as that. If you've followed her blog at all, you'll know how busy we've been with swim meets, my work travel and life in general. Celebrating Valentine's Day, on February 14th, has been important to us in our relationship. I even moved some travel meetings to ensure that I could be home with my sweetheart.
As starters, I made Red Velvet cupcakes Sunday night, which we enjoyed while practicing speeches and doing all kinds of homework. I even offered them up to be Kid 3's thing to take to school for Valentine's Day.
But then, what actually to do for Valentine's Day?
I couldn't really make a nice dinner, as everyone would be at swim practice. We decided that we'd go out to dinner during the 2 hours that the kids were at swim practice. To keep our costs down, Heather didn't want any gifts or to go out to an expensive place for dinner.  We started to talk about alternatives close to where we would be - Panera and Gyro World were the two low-cost, close to the pool options we came up. I proposed a picnic dinner, but with the forecasted rain, it was deemed creepy to do the picnic in the back of the car.
So, I'm ready for Panera.
We dropped the kids off and then headed back to where the restaurants were.  More ideas started pouring in:
  • "we could go to Burger King again" (it was Valentine's dinner two years ago and quite fun),
  • "Tofu 101 looks interesting",
  • "Are any of these pizza places any good?"
  • "Maybe we could catcha a movie?"
There were no movies starting on our schedule and it turns out that Panera was more of a joking placae. We ended up checking out a pizza place which had been previously deemed scary by Kid2 and my wife.  It was actually a nice restaurant and a much larger one than the storefront let on.
But we decided that we wante to watch a movie too, because that alone time is so nice.
We ordered some pizzas (larges, so there would be leftovers for the kids) and then got The American from the second closest Redbox and wandered the QFC looking for some wine.
Since our picnic was kind of ad hoc, we didn't have a bottle opener or wine glasses (yes, I don't have either of those things in my messenger bag). But we can adapt and over come - screwtop wine straight from the bottle!
What better way to show your love than in a dark parking lot, sharing the same bottle in the backseat of a car?
The movie was meh.  It's a character study of a killer.  The wine was meh. The pizza was good. Dinner and a movie with my wife on Valentine's Day - excellent.
We passed the bottle back and forth, munching on pizza, holding hands and simultaneously exclaiming "Ru-Roh" in our Scooby Doo voice when something bad was about to happen in the movie. When you've been married for 14 years you start to complete each others sentences and can the enjoy the simpler things (though I quite enjoy the lingerie my wife referred to in her blog).
We didn't finish the movie before the kids got out of practice.  We'd hardly put a dent in the bottle of wine and knew that the kids would scarf down all the remaining pizza. But it was a great way to spend valentine's day with my sweetheart.
I love you Heather.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Reading. A lot.

I've been doing a lot of reading of late.

Backpacker Magazine
My dad subscribes to Backpacker magazine and every so often, he'll send me the ones he's done reading. Just before my last trip, I received several and I took 3 of them on my trip for plane reading. I enjoy the magazine a lot, because they've got great gear reviews and guides for incredible trips.  I read one on the way down and then two on the way back. As I opened the final one, in a moment of self-defeat, I thought to myself, "I hate this magazine. Its got all these cool trip to places I'll never get to." And then, right there on the first page, there was an ad for Glenfiddich scotch with the words, "One Day You Will."
Image from POPSOP,

How motivating is that? The magazine has me figured out (or maybe I'm quite nestled in their target demographic).  Scotch and motivation, both things I enjoy/need (you figure out which one applies).  The second ad was a Jeep ad. My next vehicle will either be a Land Cruiser or a Jeep.  But on top of that, it was the Call of Duty Jeep. To my wife's chagrin, Call of Duty is my newest diversion on my kid's Xbox. All that and I'm a hiker/backpacker/snowshoer. I'm right in their demographic.

I've finally figured out what I'm doing with my time, now that I'm not going to school anymore - and no, its not Call of Duty... I've gotten back into reading again and re-discovered the library.  King County has a great library system.

  • Android Karenina
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
  • several of the Mack Bolan series
  • Dreadnaught by Cherie Priest
  • Spook Country by William Gibson
  • a few professional development books
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Midred Taylor
  • Rice Without Rain by Minfong Ho
The last two books were for a co-book report project with my daughter! Reading is a ton of fun and a great way to fill down time.  I've unplugged a bit more, there will be weekends where I'm only online to look up a recipe or add something to my to do list. In lieu of being online, I'll read. It feels great to do that again.

What have you read lately?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My wife gives it a way! Movie tickets that is.

Check out my wife's blog, United States of Motherhood. She's got a giveaway for prize packs and free tickets for the advanced screening in Seattle of the upcoming Touchstone film GNOMEO and Juliet.

So, go over there, follow her simple directions and get your name in for some tickets.

I watched the preview and I hope there are some tickets for me the kids and me, too.  Hopefully, I'll see one of you, my faithful readers there!

Advanced screening is February 5th and the contest registration period ends 30 January at 10 AM PST.  Good luck!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

This is the Droid you are looking for

After about 2-1/2 years of being an iPhone user, I made the switch to an Android phone, the Droid X.  I also switched carriers, from AT&T to Verizon.  I've been using the Droid X for about 2 months and I feel that I've gotten a grasp on it enough to write a bit of a comparison.

App Comparison
When I started thinking about a new phone, I started poking around in the Android Marketplace, looking to see what apps were out there.

The important ones were out there - Remember the Milk, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the full version of Angry Birds was free for Android.

In short, every app I had on my iPhone, I was able to find for Android with two exceptions, the Chipotle ordering app and the Starbucks card management app (there are a few that aren't written by Starbucks and cost, though).  But, I can do the same thing as both of those apps through my web browser, so it really doesn't matter, I'm okay with out them.

This was the first stage gate for Android readiness - were the apps I use frequently available, and yes they are.  The number of applications in apps stores are a frequently quoted metric and though the Android Marketplace still lags iTunes Music Store, in my opinion, there are plenty of good apps out there.

As a note, I do not use my phone to manage and play music. I have an iPod for that.  I've seen some apps to sync from iTunes to an Android phone, but I've got no experience with that.  If you purchase music from 7digital or Amazon MP3, there are some apps to get your music to the phone.

Integration with Google
This is kind of a no brainer, but with Google having developed Android, it works seemlessly with Google's web services, like Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, and Voice.  All I had to do was sign in with my Google Account (there's even a link to set one if if per chance you don't have one already) and my contacts were synchronized.  Not only can I see my calendar, but I can also see and manage my kids shared calendars too.

Android does a better job than the iPhone does in integrating with Google.  Google has instructions to setup your iPhone to connect to their servers using Exchange, as the iPhone has always had Exchange support.  It works pretty well when integrating with Google, but until recently, you could only have 1 exchange account setup.  The iPhone now supports multiple exchange accounts, which is useful for those that want a device that can manage both your work and personal life.

If you use Google Voice, you can actually set Google Voice to be the default dialer on the phone, so all calls are automatically placed with Google Voice.  That's a really cool feature, because I don't need to do anything special to have calls from my mobile phone show up with my Google Voice number.  This is a place where the Android phones hand down beat the iPhone, but why would Apple make its products integrate seamlessly with one of their competitors?

Integration with Exchange
My workplace, like many, uses Exchange for email and calendaring.  The two platforms support Exchange pretty well out of the box.   I think that they're pretty even on this front, though some of my friends recommended Touchdown, a paid app as it makes the exchange experience on Android even better.  I've been quite satisfied with the out of the box performance.

One of the notable things, though, my Android phone is my only device or program, including on my PC which can display and manage both my Exchange calendar and my personal Google calendars side by side.  I've got some apps where I can pull a snapshot of another calendar, but not a calendar I can update.

User Interface
The iPhone's user interface is much more polished that Android's.  You wouldn't expect any less from Apple, would you?  On the iPhone, screens grow out of the center, rather than just appearing.  When you set the time on an alarm, the iPhone displays the number choices in a scrolling wheel, which you spin with your finger.  Under Android, you have a text box with a + and - to add to the numbers.  It works, but its just not as pretty.

Accessing settings on the iPhone is pretty straight forward.  On Android, there are a few more layers of menus to dig through.  You have the same control, but you have to dig a little further to get there, unless you use Widgets.

Widgets are a pretty cool shortcut that Android provides (and you can get something similar for a jail-broken iPhone) to all kinds of features.  There are widgets that will show updates from your social network, but the ones where Android really beats out iPhone are the switches.  I have some widgets to turn off and on wifi, bluetooth and my GPS, all right from a home screen.  On the iPhone, you have to go to the settings and change it.  Again, same functionality, but a few more touches to get there.

Other Features
There are a few other features and differences worth noting.

Taking screen shots is an available feature on the iPhone.  As a blogger, its quite useful.  However, on Android, the only way (so far) to get screen shots is to use the SDK.

Android beats the iPhone, hands down when it comes to voice recognition.  Almost every keyboard has a little mic icon and you can use voice recognition for your input instead of typing.  There are 3rd party apps for the iPhone that do a great job of this, but Android does it better.  The phone even has all kinds of voice actions which are really useful.  This video gives a great overview.

Virtual Private Networking
Out of the box, the iPhone supports Cisco VPN, with shared secrets. Android's VPN support isn't fully there yet.  I'm not enough of a VPN guy to know what all that means, but with the iPhone, I could connect to my corporate VPN and I've not been able to do that with my Droid. Yet.  As Android is all based on Linux, I'm sure that the functionality will come.

It was great on my iPhone to be able to connect directly to my work network; however, my role has changed and I don't need to do that kind of emergency support work as frequently and secondly, with the wifi hotspot on the phone (more on this later), I can just tether my laptop, connect with VPN and use a full size keyboard for any remote work.  It may be a few more steps, but I can still remotely connect to VPN.

Carrier Comparison
When one of my friends asked me about having to switch to Verizon, I responded, "I don't think it really matters."

With number portability and the fact that I use Google Voice (mostly the latter), I had no strong ties to AT&T.  AT&T has one large dead zone on the main road to my neighborhood and their customer service isn't the greatest.  The phone is on a corporate account, so I don't gain any benefits by being a long-time customer.   I wasn't married to AT&T and was ready for a change.

With Verizon, I've had fewer dropped calls.  Most in fact, have been my fault, as I learn the new buttons on the phone or how to switch between calls.  AT&T's dead zone is alive on Verizon's network, so I don't have to wait until I get past that spot before making calls in the car.  I've been able to get a signal where ever I want it.

Verizon is much more amenable to tethering other devices to the phone in order to connect to the internet.  The Droid X has a wifi hotspot application, no jail breaking/rooting or 3rd party apps required. A few weeks ago, the internet at home went down and I was able to wifi tether to my phone and then use Skype from my laptop to call my ISP to let them know of their issue.  I'm looking forward to a road trip when we can connect our wifi devices while driving (not for the driver, though) and surf the internet or whatnot.

There are two downsides, or at least big changes, having left AT&T, though.  Firstly, AT&T has a lot of free to the the iPhone hotspots - no sign in required, the iPhone just connects on its own.  It adds a step in the connection process with my new phone, but Wifi Browser Login speeds that process up some.  Secondly, and I've only tripped over this once, AT&T's GSM network allows simultaneous data and voice connections, while Verizon's CDMA only allows one or the other.  Being able to be on the phone and look up an address and then tell it to my wife has been useful in the past, but I'll see how it goes without this one.

One of my friends recently asked my opinion about an iPhone versus a Android phone.  They are both great computers and the Android is a great phone too.  The iPhone definitely has the polish and looks, but the Android has all the features and more.

I really like my Android phone and am quite pleased with making the change.  Its definitely the right phone for me.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

We're all geeks, someway

I've been sitting in a Starbucks this morning.  The kids are at swim practice, my smart phone is sitting on my William Gibson novel beside the leather over-stuffed chair in which I lounge.  I've been reading the Wired and Seattle Met issues I've been carrying in my messenger bag.

Between articles, I've been people watching:

  • the other swim families, as they wait for their kids and siblings to finish
  • the people gathering before a hike, boots and gore-tex pants aren't out of place in Washington
  • the women in yoga pants
  • the many people working on laptops, evenly split between apple and pc
  • the groups of teen agers meeting for their morning coffee and chat, which will evolve in 20 years to
  • the people who gather post workout
  • the little girl who stumbled over my feet, as I couldn't pull them in far enough, as she was walking hand in hand with her dad
  • the small baby, asleep in its carseat, but struggling in its dreams against the straps
I also saw two t-shirts that brought a grin to my face, as the owners projected their own level of geekiness.  The first was the older guy wearing the "There no place like" t-shirt.  Another younger guy was wearing a Dr Girlfriend t-shirt, from Cartoon Network's The Venture Brothers.

My wife returns from picking up Kids 1 and 2 from their practice. They bury themselves in their iPhones as I write this post offline, in my moleskine journal.

We all have our own ways of declaring our hipness, geek cred, fitness, familial status and more.  We're all geeks in our own way.