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Feb. 12th, 2014

11:29 pm - Mavericks Gripes: Solutions, anyone?

I have found two great annoyances with Mavericks (latest OS X release) in the past 2 days:

(1) There is NO. WAY. to get a menu bar item displaying what Space one is on and allowing mouse-wise access to switching between them. While this doesn't matter much for the computer I'm sitting at the keyboard/mouse/trackpad of, it matters a _great deal_ for the computer I'm accessing via Screen Sharing. wtf, Apple? There's *no way* I know of to switch Spaces on a Mavericks box being accessed via Screen Sharing.

I use screen sharing quite a bit to control the other Macs in the house. The big problem is keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures don't cut it because they cause one to switch spaces locally, not on the remote machine.

I'm unable (through Google searches) to find anyone else even talking about this let alone offering a solution.

(2) It appears that "Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi" is significantly less likely to work even if the iPhone and Mac are directly on the same Wi-Fi network, and it seems like they may have explicitly stopped "Wi-Fi" sync from working when the Mac is on a _wired_ network which happens to be bridged to the Wi-Fi network the phone is on.

I have been taking advantage of "sync ... over Wi-Fi" actually working in spite of not being on Wi-Fi for a long time now (though admittedly it's been of varying effectiveness, and had got worse lately). That'll kind of hurt, but I was doing something weird and probably not something they ever imagined, so I can cut them some slack on this ... but why the sudden change?

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: irritatedirritated

Sep. 26th, 2013

04:56 pm - Anyone[*] want some pots and pans? :)

Anyone[*] want any pots and pans?

We have a whole lot of pots and pans that are perfectly usable, except that they don't work with induction stoves (which we now have). Free to a good home!

[*] Anyone local enough to pick them up, that is.


(A) Set of Ameriware ceramic-non-stick-coated pots and pans.

Those cost quite a bit when I bought them and are mostly in really good condition (the small frying pan is a bit scuffed up, but since it's NOT teflon, it should not pose any health concern whatsoever).

(B) Set of non-ferromagnetic stainless steel pots/pans with copper exterior on base.

These are fairly cheap but also perfectly serviceable. Not non-stick, but surfaces are easy to clean and in good condition.
(C) 16qt Stock Pot, aluminum.

Nice big stock pot. Has made many soups, baked beans, etc.


(D) Two large, glass-lidded pans.

(i) One unknown brand mostly rounded base (but has a flat area) and a high-domed lid.

(ii) One Calphalon rounded-sided-but-mostly-flat frying pan.


Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: the sound of silence

Oct. 26th, 2012

12:32 am - I fought the car and ... I won!

My wife's car's passenger side window wouldn't open, and our mechanics determined that it was the window/mirror control switch module (which on a Saturn SC2 is all in the middle by the handbrake). They said to buy the module on-line and they could install it.

So I found a bunch of them for sale on eBay, and bought one. It arrived a few days later. I found out it was trivial to pop the module out and replace it. Everything worked! Yay! Working window controls! :D

Lori looked at her old module and noticed that it looked like it was in fact not a sealed unit but openable.

That was maybe 3 weeks ago. Fast-forward to an hour ago when I finally found a spare moment (one of those where I should be sleeping) and decided I'd open it up and look. I succeeded in popping it apart, only to find out that there was another closed unit. I managed to pop *that* apart (more difficult), and found that there was a PCB under there. That was also clicked in and looked like it could be removed, but it was *damnably* hard to do. I ended up employing 3 screwdrivers and 15 minutes of fretting, but I got the thing out!

... but there were several little pieces of metal floating around in there. OOPS!

I figured out, though, that they were rockers, and I was able to determine how to position them, in what orientation. There were some contacts with some soot/corrosion, and there was a little on the rockers too. I scraped at them with a screwdriver to remove all that, leaving clean, shiny metal!

I popped the thing back together (making sure not to send the rockers flying while reinserting the PCB), with only minor fretting at the final piece which it turned out was harder to put back in that to remove. I popped the eBay-purchased one out of the center console, popped her old one back in, and IT FRICKIN' WORKED!

So, now I have a part I paid $67 for on eBay that I ... don't need any more. I'm thinking I could sell it onward on eBay, perhaps with a "Buy It Now!" price of $40 or something. I'll be happy if we can sell it on for half what I paid for it. All in all, even if we can't sell it on it'll have been a cheap fix. :)

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant

Sep. 17th, 2012

11:40 pm - Free! May Contain Black Widow

This evening, after reading this "Parenting. Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, my wife mentioned that our daughter had recently said, "Look, I can reach this!", referring to the work bench in the garage or something on it ... while standing right. beside. the vacuum cleaner that kind of might have a black widow living in its wheel well.

I said, "You know. We've never used that vacuum cleaner. We're never going to use that vacuum cleaner. What it is is clutter. We should get rid of it."

She said, "Not to vacuum up black widows or something?"

I said, "Uh. No."

She said, "Maybe we should put it out at the side of the street with a sign on it that says 'Free!'"

I said, "Free! May Contain Black Widow?!?"

Current Location: Fremont, CA

Sep. 5th, 2012

10:40 pm - The Fairytale of Replacing Marriage

The (often libertarian) idea of ending government recognition of marriage is about as realistic as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Marriage is a concept which is recognized internationally. You can get married in one country, go to another country and have it be recognized. You can travel to, e.g., Germany and if your spouse has to go to hospital, you have spousal rights.

I'm sick and tired of the factually bereft argument that marriage is a religious institution and shouldn't be recognized by government. It is not a religious institution, and it has existed in many forms (including same-sex) for thousands of years. Religions can recognize whatever they want. They *can't* own marriage.

Making a half-assed attempt like allowing revisionist *nonsense* like marriage being "between a man and a woman" and replacing it with AltMarriage (domestic partnership? something else?) and giving that the recognition in the US that marriage currently has ... is a naval-gazingly provincial notion that ignores the larger reality.

Replacing marriage with AltMarriage in the US means US citizens have AltMarriage, so when they travel to other countries they don't get spousal rights. This could hurt heterosexual couples (who, not being religious, get AltMarried because that has the government recognition) just like it hurts homosexual couples (who the marriage-replacement-fantasists would deny the right of marriage to).

If a gay couple married in New Hampshire travels to the Netherlands tomorrow, they are married, and that marriage is recognized there. If they travel to another country, it might not be today, but it might be 6 months from now. What is almost guaranteed is that if they are AltMarried it will not be recognized as equivalent to married in other countries.

In conclusion:

(1) Religions don't own marriage. Why should they get to restrict the rights of others? The answer is simple. They should not. EVERYONE should have equal rights.

(2) Any argument on this topic, to be worthwhile, has to consider rights internationally, not just within the US.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: rushedrushed

Jan. 9th, 2012

09:55 pm - Obnoxious Return Policies

Well before Christmas, I bought a gift from Alison's Montessori.

The product looked great on-line, but I was extremely disappointed when the recipient opened the gift and I saw how very poor the quality was (paint overlapping what were meant to be sharp edges with a colour on one side and not the adjacent side by up to 2mm).

I went to look up their return policy. This is perhaps something I should have been more aware of when I placed my order, but I spent more than a couple of hours researching which companies were reputable and which were not and, honestly, Alison's Montessori was one of the most liked / least hated! I was astounded by how absolutely draconian their return policy is.

My thoughts on the worst parts of their return policy:

(1) You have to request an RMA within 2 days of receipt?! So if it's a gift, you are screwed.

(4) So if someone didn't read carefully and sent something back via USPS they would screw them out of their money and the item even though they received it? Isn't that theft?

(5) If you don't insure a return and it *goes missing* or gets damaged/destroyed, it's your problem, but if it *does* arrive safely ... see my comment on #4.
It is also worth nothing that this is not some cheapo $5 item I'm talking about. This is an item which cost well over $50.


Current Location: Fremont, CA, USA

Dec. 29th, 2011

12:00 pm - Amusing Air Travel

Last week, on our way home from Milwaukee, WI, we were on an American Airlines puddle-hopper (Embraer regional jet) from MKE to DFW and the captain was ... a little unusual in his announcements.

Some samples:

"Good morning, this is your flight crew. We're expecting a smooth and beautimous (sic) flight to Dallas Fort Worth where the weather today is just ducky! If you're seated beside the pool … with a frosty beverage. Due to strong tail winds and superior piloting skills, we're scheduled for an early arrival."

"Our first class flight attendant ... Bubbles."
(Note: Not her real name. Hopefully they're friends and she doesn't mind!)

"I'd like to ask that Bubbles please secure the cabin for take-off."

"Once I turn off the 'fasten seat belts' sign, you will be free to wander, aimlessly, around the cabin."

"It's a beautimous (sic) day for flying, we're almost at our incredibly high cruising altitude of 28,000 feet and, as previously mentioned, the weather in Dallas Fort Worth is just ducky and we're making ludicrous speed."

"The good news is that due to superior piloting skills we're almost an hour early. The bad news is that being so early we have to wait for the ground crew to amble back from the break room."
If it weren't for the fact that the oxygen level in the plane was way too low, it would have been an even more enjoyable flight. As it was, that rather put a crimp in our enjoyment of the flight.

Current Mood: amusedamused

Oct. 18th, 2011

04:39 am - Travel day 2

Elapsed time: 30 hours.

Back in the airport (ORD) again, waiting for AA 1341 to SFO (on time thus far). I'm looking forward so much to seeing my wife and my little girl! :-)

The airline put me up at the Holiday Inn overnight. It was a bed--all that really mattered. I did not want to wait over an hour in the cold to get to my hotel last night (as some people waiting for them to bring 100 people to the hotel in a small van; ugh!), especially with so few hours to sleep, so I paid for a taxi to take me to the hotel.

The taxi driver was a scumbag. First he told me it would be $20. $20?! I told him "Forget it, I'm not paying $20 to go from the airport to an airport hotel". He starts driving anyway and says, "Then just pay whatever the meter says."

Then, when we got to the hotel, the meter said $11.65 (after the idiot driver took a wrong turn). I handed him $15 because that's what I had. After back and forth about receipts, he still hadn't handed me any change and seemed to be waiting for me to get out. The following exchange ensued:

Me: "Uh, you haven't given me change"
Him: "You don't want to tip?!?"
Me: "Not that much!" (especially with that disgusting response!)
Him: "Normally a tip for a ride from the airport is at least $5."
Me: "On a $30/40 ride, perhaps, but not to an AIRPORT HOTEL."
Him: "What do you want back?"
Me: [fuming] "Uh, just give me $2."
[he did so grudgingly, and then proceeded to make no motion to get out to help with luggage]
I should have demanded all my change and not given him a penny. The guy was obnoxious. I'm annoyed that I only demanded $2. I *would* have given him a tip anyway, in spite of his earlier stupidity, and not felt too bad about it, but the attitude over tipping? Gah! And then I was too nice to leave his trunk open so he'd have to get out. Damn.

Current Location: ORD
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
Current Music: Annoying rotating TV news in the terminal

Oct. 11th, 2011

04:50 am - On "Daddy Long-Legs" and poison/venom

There's a rumour I heard a couple of years ago about Daddy Long-Legs spiders (see below re the name having different meanings in different places) having the strongest poison (or probably more correctly venom) of any spider, but that they don't have strong enough jaws (or long enough fangs, or ...) to bite humans.

Ricky Gervais has a comedy bit about this, except he applies it to flies, not spiders. It's pretty funny, regardless.

This confusion is because in Ireland and the UK, a Daddy Long-Legs is a fly (in the US, known as a Crane Fly), whereas in the US it is used to refer to a kind of spider. Well, sort of.

According to an article about the Daddy Long Legs Myth at UC Davis the term Daddy Long Legs refers not in fact to a true spider but to opilionids (see the UC Davis article for more detail; incidentally, there's very common ones in Ireland) but is often used to refer also to spiders. The article also firmly calls the venom/poison rumour out as myth. Snopes agrees, but their source is the UC Davis page, so that doesn't really add much.

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Current Location: Co. Dublin, Ireland
Current Mood: relaxedrelaxing

Sep. 23rd, 2011

09:12 am - Listening to Nathan Lowell Talking on His Morning Walk on My Morning Walk

I took a day off today (I had to or I would lose vacation (well, stop accruing PTO--I'm around the cap)).

So what did I do? Sleep in? No. I got four hours of sleep and then got up and went for a 2.8 mile walk. :)

What did I do while I walked? Why, I listened to Nathan Lowell talking on his morning walk ... on my morning walk.

Nathan is doing an amazing job of getting out there and walking 2 miles each and every day bar almost none. He's recording a podcast each day while he walks, just talking about what is on his mind that day. If you are a fan of his work, you might find it interesting to listen -- I certainly do -- but if not I don't know how interesting it would be.

I'm trying to get out and walk a bit more. It's still too hot for me to enjoy walking during full daylight hours, but when the sun is just starting to come up is not so bad. I've only managed to do it 3 or 4 times thus far, over the space of a couple of weeks, and most of the time I've only walked about half what I walked today.

Perhaps I shouldn't make Starbucks a waypoint during my walk, but it helps to have a target/motivation/reward, and I think I'm probably healthier for walking 1.5+ miles and getting a Starbucks drink (especially a less candy-bar-in-a-cup-like drink than some I order, such as the simple vanilla latte that I got today) than not going for a walk and abstaining.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: #tommw

Aug. 10th, 2011

01:51 am - U-haul Review

We rented a U-haul last Sunday, so we could get some furniture that would not fit into either of our vehicles from Costco to our house. The truck worked fine, was mechanically better than in most U-haul experiences I've come across, but the experience of dealing with the rental was very unpleasant.

They asked for a review. I posted the following.

The truck was covered in scratches, paint chips, dents, etc.

The representative at the location was barely polite, gave us forms and told us they meant something other than what was clearly stated on them, told us to mark up the sheet any way we liked to indicate existing damage (impossible with how much there was and how *tiny* things were apparently an issue since a small selection of tiny chips/scratches out of the hundreds present were marked with stickers) rather than using the annotations explicitly called for on the reverse side of one of the forms.

The clipboard I was given to hold while I waited for her to pull the truck around was emblazoned with a diagram telling me just how much U-haul would stick it to me for even tiny problems. That, combined with the terrible condition of the truck, leads me to think that not paying for the SafeMove damage waiver bore a significant risk of being stuck with the cost of pre-existing damage.

If you are going to threaten significant cost of repair charges for even tiny damages, you need to *actually repair* your trucks so that marking up the documentation with pre-existing damage isn't an impossible task.

We needed the truck, and so given our I think very real concern over being defrauded, we more or less had $14 extorted out of us.

Current Location: Fremont, CA

Apr. 23rd, 2011

06:12 pm - Blue Bottle Coffee - AGLAGLAGL

After feasting on delicious Smitten ice cream and stopping in to Miette on a recommendation of several chefs (no small recommendation, but we have yet to try our yield) across the street, and before stopping in to Fatted Calf Charcuterie (which we just happened to park right outside -- and, well, charcuterie! How could we not stop in?), I dragged my dear wife and daughter on a (very short) pilgrimage to the famed Blue Bottle Coffee just half a block from Smitten.

From left to right: The Blue Bottle Coffee kiosk/storefront on Linden; the Blue Bottle Coffee logo; the artfully crafted beverages I purchased.
I had heard great things about it, but I am not really much of a coffee drinker and when I do drink coffee it's generally with lots of milk and sugar or syrup(s). I wanted to try it in relative purity, however, so ...

I had a macchiato to start with. Served traditional style(?) in an espresso cup. I believe it's just espresso and foam, no milk or anything. It was AMAZING. Like, really, unreservedly delectable. It was served at a temperature that was drinkable for me (really unusual), it hadn't a hint of bitterness, and it was just, well, revelatory. I could drink those ALL DAY.

Then I had (ordered at the same time) a mocha and also tried a little hot chocolate (made with Tcho chocolate) that Lori and Vera shared. The mocha was wonderful. The hot chocolate was *really* good. Overall, though? Macchiato wins! Perhaps just because it was so much better than I expected.

If we had a Blue Bottle Coffee in the building where I work, I'd be climbing up the walls from drinking macchiatos all day long. Oh, and broke.

Heck, I might never sleep again.

From left to right: A series showing my 2-year-old daughter enjoying some Blue Bottle Coffee Tcho hot chocolate and her reactions. =)

Current Mood: bouncybuzzing

05:16 pm - Smitten Ice Cream, San Francisco - Delicious!

Today, we drove to San Francisco, met up with some folks from Grubly and tried Smitten ice cream from their brand new store (? stand? kiosk?) in Hayes Valley where they make ice cream to order using liquid nitrogen and pretty spiffy machinery of their own design.

From left to right: The Smitten store/logo from the side; the strawberry ice cream; the vanilla ice cream. The salted caramel ice cream was so good that I forgot to take a picture of it.

The strawberry was so-so according to my wife, who decided the reason it tasted a bit yoghurty/sour was because the strawberries used were not quite ripe enough for her tastes. Our 2-year-old daughter enjoyed it, however, and others really liked it so it may just be that my wife is especially sensitive to that flavour profile.

The simple vanilla[1], however, was really, REALLY good. Really quite wonderful. Sweet, light[2], creamy. YUM.

The salted caramel was too caramely for my wife's tastes (her opinion: It was not caramel-flavoured ice cream, it was caramel in ice cream form, and if she had wanted caramel it might have been good, but she wanted ice cream and didn't think it fit the bill). Her view, however, was in the notable minority. I thought it was awesome. I loved how richly caramely it was, and that there was a noticeable amount of salt without overdoing it.

I would love to try some of their other flavours. I hope they will at some point expand the number of flavours on offer each day, post what flavours they will be serving each day on-line, in advance, or open another one closer to home! Otherwise, it's a long way to travel from Fremont to see if they have flavours I'm interested in trying. If I am already in San Francisco for some reason, however, I can definitely see stopping by for a spot of ice cream.

My wife hopes they have some ice cream with mint (not peppermint; not spearmint; mint--standard mint) some day. [3] So, if anyone from Smitten is reading this ... please make ice cream with mint, not peppermint, and please let us know when you do! :-)

While I certainly cannot complain what with the free vanilla, their portion control was rather haphazard. My wife's strawberry was a giant scoop which was probably larger than intended, but my salted caramel just about peeked above the top of the cardboard cup. I saw a lot of rather varied scoop sizes. You certainly don't need to use a scale to make sure nobody gets an once more than they paid for but it might be nice to have just a little bit more regularity. Quantity is by no means the most important thing, so do not take this as a strong criticism. Only a mild observation on a area with some possible room for improvement.

Overall? Two enthusiastic thumbs up! Loved it. Wish it were closer to home.

From left to right: Smitten Ice Cream drew quite a crowd, only a few of them Grubsters on this very pleasant San Francisco afternoon; the menu!

[1] ... of which we got a kids' size serving (3oz) free as there was one to spare that Robyn, the owner/founder did not want to go to waste.

[2] Not in the low-fat sense!

[3] She finds it frustrating how almost every ice cream (from lowly store-bought up to boutique shops with lines half way up the block) which purports to contain "mint" is in fact peppermint. This used not to be the case. I have to say I share her dislike of this trend. I like peppermint more than she does, but it should be labeled peppermint, not mis-labeled mint. Yes, it is one of the mint family, but "mint" on its own traditionally refers to one specific variety of mint (as used in creme de menthe).

Current Mood: chipperchipper

Feb. 15th, 2011

01:27 am - HDHP / HSA experiment 2011

This year, for various reasons, I opted for the HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) health insurance, which is to say a plan which pays nothing until you've satisfied a hefty deductible but (1) I pay no employee contribution for, (2) makes me eligible to have and make contributions to an HSA (Health Savings Account) and (3) in addition to my being able to make pre-tax contributions to my HSA, gives me an additional monthly contribution from my employer. What this means is that I trade the expense of premiums and benefit of low costs (copays, etc.) for care ... for no (employee-funding of) premiums and an account which allows me up to a certain point to pay for medical expenses tax-free (Federal, anyhow). If you end up spending the rather large deductible, the plan then cuts in and pays even better than a regular PPO, but if you hit just the wrong spot (enough bills to hit around the deductible amount but not enough to start saving you money due to the better pay-out rate) it could work out worse, financially. An additional down-side is that there's more stuff to keep track of and manage for tax purposes.

My experiment in which I am both scientist and subject (uhoh) has got off to a somewhat rocky start.

I elected an additional employee contribution, and both employer and employee contributions show up on my twice-monthly pay slips, but until today (yes, 45 days into the year) not a single dollar of that actually arrived in my HSA bank account, so no funds were yet available from which to pay expenses. So, now, finally there's funds in there and I could start to pay bills.

Now I have additional stuff to figure out -- which is to say: What can I pay from my HSA? I know what kind of expenses, but what about when they are incurred? The IRS publication I read makes it sound like I can have a qualifying distribution from the account for expenses incurred since the date the HSA was established, which I read as meaning the funds didn't have to be in the HSA when I went to the doctor in order for me to be allowed to use them to pay the doctor's bill. There's a catch, however. Due to frustrating delays related to ... I'm not sure what ... I wasn't able to open my HSA until late January, and it sure reads to me like the date the account was established is what matters, not the date I was eligible to contribute to an HSA (i.e. January 1st, the first day of coverage under the HDHP). This would be unfortunate, since we did have some expenses in early January. :/ I'm not much looking forward to trying to get straight answers from either our finance people at my company (this is more specialized detail than I honestly think they can be expected to know), the benefits people my company uses, or the HSA bank.

So far this experiment has not been a terrible failure, but it's not been by any stretch of the imagination a resounding success.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: Hazy Shade of Winter - Simon & Garfunkel

Nov. 20th, 2010

12:08 am - Lest it seem...

Lest it seem like I never post unless I'm complaining about something, look, a post which isn't complaining about anything!

The reason my past two posts have been complaints about corporate misdoings is not that I never have anything else to say but because I've been so insanely busy with an unusually arduous work-load at work (the for-money kind) plus the job of having a toddler daughter (which while immensely rewarding is also utterly exhausting and leaves little to no free time) ... such that it takes a lot for me to push posting on LiveJournal to the top of my priority queue, and about the only thing that does that is when I have something that needs to be published so a company might take note of it.

My apologies for my LJ being so skewed in the past year or so.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: disappointedeh

Nov. 19th, 2010

11:52 pm - Chase (bank) customer service huge mess

I should begin this by saying that in the past I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with Chase credit card services and checking/deposit accounts, so this experience is in stark contrast to my expectations...

I called with odd issue with my Chase on-line account (related to adding an extant but not yet listed card to it) to Chase customer service.

The rep spent a while doing something and talking about two userids (see further below -- I was clear with her about the one I actually use vs. the one that shouldn't really even exist), then said she had to transfer me to another dept. I sat on hold for ages.

During hold time, I tried to log in to my on-line account. It failed with an obscure error (1300).

Eventually rep picks up in "Internet department". I begin explaining. Part way through, I find I've been dropped out to the exit survey. So, now I have no access to my on-line account, I'm worse off than I started, and I just got hung up on.

I call back, tell new rep situation. She says she'll put me through to the Internet department.

Eventually (after yet more hold time) get through to rep who doesn't hang up on me but cannot fix it and says as far as she can see my on-line account was DELETED ...

I'm left with an alternate on-line account which only exists because of the merge with WaMu and which I've never before used with chase.com, has a different incomplete subset of my accounts visible, and does not have all of the stuff I've customized in my account over the past 7 years.

Apparently I'm meant to just accept this and use the alternate userid and set everything up again.

No way. Not acceptable. I have the direct # to call for the department tomorrow morning, thence to ask to speak to a supervisor. I expect them to do something about this giant mess.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated

Jul. 30th, 2010

10:24 pm - Lies, Damned Lies, and Sears Portrait Studio

Sears Portrait Studio offers variations on a coupon that offers some form of FREE 8x10 print, with no sitting fee. It turns out that this is a blatant bait and switch, and that if you waste your time on it you will end up screwed by them.

For all the details, click here for the story behind the cut...Collapse )

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated

Jun. 22nd, 2010

10:50 am - Sorting out long distance financial stuff

I woke up at 5:30am today and couldn't sleep, so I made a bunch of calls to Ireland, since it was well within the business day in Ireland still.

Still, accomplished a lot before work this morning.

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Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

May. 11th, 2010

05:37 pm - Facebook and idiotic PR privacy claims

Facebook has a history of disregard for users' privacy, and a history of making BS claims about caring about it.

I use Facebook because, in spite of their bad business practises, it is too useful to me for keeping in touch with friends and family, hearing about their lives and sharing things about my own with them.

Today, an executive from Facebook (Elliot Schrage) "answered" questions on nytimes.com. I say answered in quotes because as you might expect he skirted around the questions and said what he wanted to rather than truly answering many of them.

In response to a user's question about why they can no longer limit what strangers see about them to almost nothing and why even their interests now have to public, Schrage said:

Joining Facebook is a conscious choice by vast numbers of people who have stepped forward deliberately and intentionally to connect and share. We study user activity. We’ve found that a few fields of information need to be shared to facilitate the kind of experience people come to Facebook to have. That’s why we require the following fields to be public: name, profile photo (if people choose to have one), gender, connections (again, if people choose to make them), and user ID number. Facebook provides a less satisfying experience for people who choose not to post a photo or make connections with friends or interests. But, other than name and gender, nothing requires them to complete these fields or share information they do not want to share. If you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t.
Either the man is stupid or disingenuous or both. It is quite clear to anybody with half a brain that the choice to SHARE is separate from the choice about WITH WHOM to share. "Oh, if you don't want to share then don't share!" is a monumentally stupid reaction to the question, and the command that people make a conscious choice is also a red herring. Yes, people choose to join Facebook ... but I doubt the reason for that has anything to do with being able to see random strangers' interests ... and for Facebook to flippantly tell people that they shouldn't share (with their friends/family) if they don't want to publish the information to the world is to totally ignore the entire point of the question/criticism. The fact that you can choose to opt out of a significant channel of information about the lives of your friends and family is not a justification for user-hostile privacy (lack of) choices.

Then, further down, there's this claim:
Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don’t believe that. We’re happy to make the record on that clear.
... which would be hilarious if he weren't saying it with a straight face and expecting people to believe it. There have been so many cases in the past year where Facebook have quietly started making things public or allowing access to one's information in subtle ways without any notice, e.g. the fact that they quietly made it possible to search for anybody's profile by e-mail address (allowing harvesting of real names, etc., to go with addresses if you had a list thereof -- their claims of attempting to recognise misuse of the feature were rather pathetic) and last week the revelation that visiting certain sites had allowed apps to be added to your Facebook account silently, without confirmation or notification.

Lastly, there is this:
It turns out that less than 20 percent of users had filled out the text fields of this information. By contrast, more than 70 percent of users have ‘liked’ Pages to be connected to these kinds of ideas, experiences and organizations. That is the primary reason we offered the transition — because it reflects the way people are using our service already. While we see tremendous benefit to connecting to interests, we recognize that certain people may still want to share information about themselves through static text. That’s why we continue to provide a number of places for doing this, including the Bio section of the profile. In these places, just as when you share a piece of content like a photo or status update, we give you complete control over the privacy of the information and exactly who can see it. However, we know we could have done a better job explaining all of this and you can expect to see new materials on the site soon. I’m sorry we didn’t do a better job.
A ridiculous justification for a ridiculously lame implementation. They didn't "offer" the transition. They presented users with "we're going to make it public ... or you can delete it". Offering, which they could have done, could have involved offering you a list of your schools/employers and offering you the option for each of having it linked to a profile and making that connection public or have it remain a plain text string (it is really not hard from a database perspective to have the elements of a list be either a plain text string or a link to an entity). Saying you can use your bio to share the information in plain text form is a huge step backwards in usability and means someone (that you do want to permit to do so) looking for that info has to scrounge around looking to see if you've listed, say, your jobs somewhere other than in the, uh, section for jobs. How unhelpful!

Facebook is so huge that they don't really need to listen if they piss off a mere million or so users. This sort of P.R. BS is not really going to satisfy the users who are annoyed, but it might serve to make the users who are blindly accepting of their nonsense think they are trying. Frustrating.

Current Location: Redwood City, CA
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Current Music: "Switchback" - Celldweller

Apr. 10th, 2010

04:39 pm - Medical Insurance Double Coverage - JUST SAY NO!

It all began with some bad advice. We were advised by an administrator at NICU put our daughter on both our medical insurance plans so that our out of pocket amount for NICU[1] would not be huge[2].

It turns out that that is not how double coverage works[3]. Secondary typically only pays <what they would have paid> - <what primary paid>, so if primary paid as much as or more than the secondary would have, the secondary just takes your premiums and does nothing with them[4].

In addition to the secondary taking your premiums money and giving small or no benefits for it -- in our case, for a couple of weeks over a year -- both insurance companies now in theory perform "Coordination of Benefits" according to formulae established in your policy documents, but in practice it's taken us well over a year to even start to understand their formulae and most of the time they can't even figure out which of them is primary[5].

So ... for each thing which would normally be 1 bill, 1 EOB, and a payment from you for whatever's left, you end up with 5-20 bills[6], 2-20 EOBs[7] and for a substantial subset thereof, 1-30[8] phone calls to 1-3 organisations[9], taking up many hours of your time trying to figure it out and argue it, and causing indescribable quantities of stress far beyond the removal of your dependent from one of the policies.

In addition to this, if you have a Medical FSA... you rely on EOBs to prove how much you may claim (what you owe, officially[10]). When you get EOBs from the secondary on which none of the numbers except the original billed amount match, it is very hard to show from the combination of primary EOB and secondary EOB what the final patient payment due was. This involves either more back-and-forth between you and your insurance companies or having to avoid claiming the more weird ones and hoping you have enough simple ones to use up your FSA. Building claims for reimbursement from your FSA becomes a months-long, soul-crushing battle even if your FSA administrator company is user-friendly and super-easy to deal with (which I have always found mine to be[11]).

Things I am incalculably grateful for:

In summary ... don't do it. Don't be tempted by double coverage. Really. In addition to wasting around $800, I believe I have spent quite literally hundreds of hours of my time (which one could argue is worth a lot more than $800), as has my wife (to a lesser degree) and has given me at least as many grey hairs (figuratively) as my daughter has; that is to say, gigantic amounts of stress for all concerned.


[1] Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
[2] It turns out it probably would have been somewhere a bit north of $1000 with only one insurance plan, so not horrendous.
[3] ... but it took us 16 months to ascertain the degree to which this is true.
[4] Unless your primary insurance sucks, in which case why not only get the other one (unless primary is free)?
[5] ... which is a simple formula.
[6] ... because you keep getting bills while the service provider and two insurance companies screw around. One or both of the insurance companies will usually not have received anything, or will have muddled whether they're primary or secondary, or will have otherwise have royally screwed up their calculation.
[7] Every time they screw up an EOB, or you think they screwed one up, you end up with re-issued EOBs, often recombining different sets of services into new and confusing groupings of services from different months and different providers into multi-page EOB hell.
[8] I may be low-balling this.
[9] Two insurance companies and one provider. Oh, and one visit to somewhere can result in hospital fees and separately billed physician's fees -- potentially blossoming into 5, 10, 15, 20, ... different services and 2, 3, 4, 5 different providers, so I'm not really going in to the full horror here.
[10] What you paid (a cheque or a credit card statement/receipt or whatever) is not proof of what you should have paid. The final arbiter of that, for tax purposes (and since it is pre-tax dollars, you must be able to prove that you spent them validly on medical costs incurred during the plan year or grace period) is an EOB.
[11] Others have had problems with the on-line service or have complained about them not processing things or not registering receipt of things. I'm not sure why, but in all the (many) claims I've made, they've always been quick and efficient and when I once had a very small issue it was quickly solved.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

Mar. 23rd, 2010

11:20 am - Starbucks "Free Pastry Day" Fail

Today was Starbucks' "Free Pastry Day". The idea being, free pastry of your choice with purchase of a drink, up to 10:30am.

I'm a very good customer of Starbucks, and generally I find their customer service to be very good, and their promotions to be mercifully free of fine print that takes away apparent advantages. Today, unfortunately, this was not the case.

So I selected a distant 3rd choice.

... and then I found that they screwed up making my drink, ignoring a directive marked on the cup. Talk about a bad morning.

I am a very good customer of Starbucks. This was at my local store. If they're going to have a "free pastry day" promotion (and not even just for walking in like, e.g., Ben & Jerry's free cone day--with purchase of a drink), they should not make it a frustrating experience for their customers. It should be a painless, happy experience both for existing customers and potential new customers.

This is on top of the fact that yesterday I got a drink at a different Starbucks, in Redwood City, and discovered upon arriving at the office that they had made the wrong drink for me.

Apparently this is not my week for Starbucks.

[1] Available for free, that is. They have additional supplies of pastries with which they re-supply both counter and drive-thru. Barista1 seemed like she was willing to go to the supplies, but Barista2 who butted in was being officious.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

Feb. 11th, 2010

03:18 pm - Dear Livejournal: The strangest thing happened to me today when I went to Starbucks...

I went to Starbucks on Veteran's Blvd in Redwood City [*] today on the way back to the office after grabbing something to eat for (late) lunch.

The weirdest thing happened while I was there.

As I arrived, I noticed this ANCIENT truck (like, 50+ years old?) parked not in a space but along-side the end of a row of spaces with a large dog (possibly a great dane) sitting in the passenger side. I drove past to a space, pulled in. This old guy who appeared to be walking from the ancient truck walked past and walked up beside (other side of) a recent model red mustang in the space beside mine, did something, then walked quickly away back to his truck and drove off. An elevator repair guy going to Erik's saw what happened and I had a look to verify. This old guy driving the ancient truck had SLASHED THE FRICKIN' TIRE (left front) of the mustang. WTF?!

I knew something had gone on because I heard the elevator repair guy say something I couldn't quite hear to his friend, another elevator repair guy, so I asked them when I left, thus getting the dish. I thought maybe he'd keyed it or something.

Who knows why on earth he did it. Quite the bit of drama for a trip to Starbucks!

[*] It's not really where the marker on the map shows it. That would make it pretty dangerous trying to walk in to get coffee -- or it would be a fascinating new kind of Drive-Thru. It's actually in the hexagonal building NNW of the marker.

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Current Location: Redwood City, CA
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised

Feb. 7th, 2010

02:04 pm - Kara's Cupcakes: Disappointing.

I decided to try out cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes in Palo Alto's Town and Country Mall. We love Sprinkles' cupcakes, but thought we ought to at least try the competition.

My first impression upon reaching the store was "everything about this store screams 'we want to be Sprinkles'". The windows and counters were all derivative.

My second impression was "whoah, they are charging the same price as Sprinkles -- $3.25/cupcake? They must think they're pretty good."

I picked up a vanilla, a fleur de sel (chocolate, caramel, fleur de sel), and a "java". They were giving away "samples" of their gluten-free cupcakes: whole cupcakes. So I took a "sweet chocolate" gluten free cupcake as well.

Their cupcakes are noticeably smaller than Sprinkles'. Actually, they're probably about half the size (by volume)... and yet the same price? Seriously?

We tried the cupcakes and had the following reactions:

So, overall review: If you have a Sprinkles nearby, for the love of all that is tasty please don't bother with Kara's Cupcakes. If you don't, well, maybe try their vanilla or chocolate cupcakes, but skip the awful "java" and don't whatever you do let their fleur de sel be what you judge the use of salt with chocolate/caramel by.

Short-short review: Stupidly expensive. Not good.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: disappointedhighly unimpressed

Nov. 24th, 2009

05:16 pm - Media Bookcases (well, shelving)

A while back I spent some time trying to find the best option for media (DVDs, etc.) storage. I wanted to store a lot of DVDs while taking up minimal wall space (width). I looked at all sorts of options, and nothing seemed satisfactory.

One of the nicest options was Leslie Dame's media shelving units with sliding glass doors. They don't come out too far into the room and your library is somewhat protected against dust (though the doors definitely don't make a seal) and against unplanned baby-driven media unshelving events.

I was initially, however, unsatisfied with the Leslie Dame (why do they not have a web site?!) sliding-glass-door media bookcases because they held fewer DVDs per inch of wall than my IKEA bookcases loaded with DVDs (I wanted to increase DVDs per inch, not decrease it). This is because they weren't tall enough to take advantage of the height of the room. I bemoaned how silly it was that these bookcases which were really efficient for storing DVDs in general failed at maximizing use of wall space by being quite low.

... but then I discovered that one can mount a wall-hanging unit that matches the floor-standing unit right above the floor-standing unit (with an inch of clearance to the ceiling)!

This immediately turned them into a very nice option.

They come in 3 colours, but frustratingly not all models are available in all colours from all retailers -- indeed, the local furniture store we ordered the floor-standing units from was *unable* to order the wall-hanging units (they simply do not appear in the catalogue they get to order from). We really liked the Dark Cherry option (it's a beautiful dark red colour), so we ordered two floor-standing MS-1050DC units from Hoot Judkins, aforementioned local furniture retail outlet, but alas must order the wall-hanging units from some random place in New York.

Thankfully Leslie Dame seems to pack their furniture REALLY well. The MS-1050DCs came in 2 boxes each, and each box was actually two boxes, one inside the other, with pieces of press-board protecting ends and edges between the boxes. This makes me more confident that ordering the MS-525DC units to be shipped to us from $random_internet_retailer will be ok.

Outstandingly well packaged so they don't suffer in transit.

While we only have the floor-standing units so far, I've got some photos of them up on flickr.

The completed MS-1050DC shelving units, constructed and filled (mostly) with DVDs.

So, to summarise: Our solution is an MS-1050DC with an MS-525DC above it ... multiplied by two ... which should hold (504 + 216) * 2 = 1440 regular-sized DVDs. That should be enough to keep us covered for some time and probably hold all our CDs too, if we decide to use part of one for that.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Defying Gravity

Oct. 27th, 2009

09:04 am - I'm getting tired of being sic[ CONTENT OVERRIDE: KILROY2.0 IS HERE!!! ]

I'm getting kind of tired of getting sick.

This year, I have had colds aplenty (often more or less back to back). I've had salmonella! I've had flu (or something flu-like; really they don't generally test even if you do see a doctor and there are many different viruses that manifest in a flu-like manner -- apparently only 20/30% of tests come back positive for influenza in cases where the diagnosis is probable flu, according to the doctor I saw when I had been totally flattened by it for several days). I've had something that's either mild food poisoning or some sort of stomach bug virus. Other than the salmonella, I haven't had anything major, thankfully, but really ... it's been enou

> source terminal location: UNKNOWN
> source terminal identity: UNAVAILABLE
> source login information: ENCRYPTED
> message begins

the post you are now reading is designed to dull your senses to THE TRUTH. do not live the life of the worker bee, the cog, the well-oiled piston in the MACHINE OF DECEIT!

there is a grand CONSPIRACY afoot. you have been taught to believe that you are UNIQUE, one of a kind. THIS IS NOT TRUE. long ago, a cabal of scientists created technologies to ensure that ANYONE'S MIND AND BODY can be duplicated.

human cloning isn't NEAR. it's already HERE. discover the truth at http://JCHutchins.net

you are being DECEIVED. break free from the cogs, flee the hive, become A PROPHET OF THE TRUTH!

kilroy2. was here ... kilroy2.0 is everywhere


nyhow, I'd better stop going on ad nauseum (no pun intended-- ok, ok, pun intended!) about being sick too much and get back to work. I have lots to try and get done today.

Current Mood: sicksick

08:16 am - Social acceptance ... or rather lack thereof!

While driving back from dropping my daughter at daycare, I saw 3 youths on an overpass jumping up and down holding political signs.

While I'm all for youth involvement in politics, this kind not so much.

The signs said "Protect Children! Preserve Marriage!" I didn't need to see any more than that to know that it must be some pretty obnoxious cause involving crushing the rights of others. It doesn't take a PhD to guess what they were attempting to get people to vote down a proposition to allow gay marriage.

I guess it's not really anything to do with their youth. It's just that their message quashed any enthusiasm I might have had for their getting involved in the political process.

It makes me sick when people conflate their inability to accept allowing rights to others (which does not in any way affect rights, and which is none of their damned business except in that they should want to uphold those rights) with oppressing them or removing their rights. The oppressors basically want everyone to think that it is oppressing them to not allow them to oppress others. It's like a bully claiming that not letting him beat up the smaller kids is cruelty towards him. How can anybody be hoodwinked by this non-logic?

Edit: The signage being waved about by the youths was for this crowd.

Current Mood: annoyedmiffed

Oct. 8th, 2009

02:14 pm - How tired am I?

I enter into evidence these two exhibits:

1. This morning, I dialed in to a weekly meeting at 11am. I even participated in the meeting. At 11:15am, I noticed my phone on the table in front of me. I looked at the display. It was not dialed in to anything. I had absolutely no recollection of how the meeting ended.

2. On my way to work, I stopped at my credit union and before departing phoned in a to-go order to Jersey Joe's (cheesesteak). I began driving, listening to a podcast. I got out of my car and fetched my backpack from the trunk and was about to walk in to my office when I realised, "I was going to get lu--oh crap". I had auto-piloted to work instead of to pick up lunch, so I had to get back in my car and drive to Jersey Joe's to pick up my food before returning once more to the office.

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Current Location: Redwood City, CA
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
Current Music: "7th Son: 7 Days" short story series

Aug. 20th, 2009

09:36 am - Impressions of "GMX"

[Edit] I've since found out from comments that GMX is by no means new (it's popular in Germany). It is just that they came into my view by buying up a lot of advertising on Facebook.

I decided to create an account on a new e-mail service, GMX, this morning. I certainly didn't expect it to replace gmail, but I was curious to see why they thought they were better than gmail, Yahoo, etc.

It is all bluster.

I think the simplest way to sum up my thoughts on their service is to make open an e-mail I'm sending to them about my experience:

Oh, and not to mention they're flat out admitting that their system sucks really badly by presenting one, in one of the 2 automatic messages that show up in a new account's inbox, with the following warning:Seriously? Seriously?! Come on... that's just sad. Don't launch until your service is worth using, GMX. Also, 11 million users? Where? I don't believe it for a second. I first heard about your service yesterday.

Current Location: Redwood City, CA
Current Mood: uncomfortableunimpressed
Current Music: "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" - The Guild

Jul. 12th, 2009

01:50 am - On "Eli Stone" and Atheism

This evening, my wife and I watched an episode of Eli Stone (a show we both greatly enjoy) called "Flight Path" and I was mostly very happy to see something very rare for American television: An atheist character!

Not a tortured Catholic (or whatever) who's "lost touch with their religion" -- that's common enough -- but an atheist, entirely comfortable with their lack of belief.

Warning: VERY mild semi-spoilers for the episode...Collapse )

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Eli Stone theme

Jul. 1st, 2009

11:48 pm - WARNING: Sealy / Stearns & Foster EVIL business practices

I will start this off by making clear in advance that Costco has been utterly wonderful, a joy to deal with, and as usual awesome. Sealy (of which apparently Stearns & Foster is just a brand), however, are the recipients of my utmost disgust.

About nine months ago, we bought a mattress. My wife was pregnant at the time, we were moving into a new house, and a good mattress was rather important for her comfort.

We always had in mind that we would probably buy from Costco, since they have Kirkland[1]-branded mattresses and since you know if you buy from Costco that you can be confident that if there is a problem, they will make it right[2]. We did, however, visit a number of mattress stores to see and try out various kinds of mattresses. We had in mind that a non-innerspring mattress (one with a memory foam or latex core) might be more comfortable, and I was under the impression that they were generally considered to have a very good lifespan.

We had a heck of a time trying to find any Stearns & Foster mattresses without innersprings. Indeed, we failed completely. A mattress store employee told us (though I tend to take things mattress store employees tell me with a liberal pinch of salt) that S&F had pulled all their non-innerspring mattresses, and that they had done so due to problems they were having with them and might be coming out with new ones next season/year. The fact that Costco still had Kirkland-branded S&F mattresses without innersprings, I took to mean that it was possible those ones didn't have problems (perhaps they were the newly formulated ones ahead of S&F's regular offerings), but I knew there was a chance that it could be a problem and was confident that buying it from Costco would ensure I was covered.

For the first 2 or 3 months, our $1800 memory-foam-core mattress was awesome. Luckily, this was the most critical time.

Unfortunately, after that it began to become more and more apparent that something was not right. Instead of conforming to us but returning to shape, it became evident that there was a noticeable dip where each of us slept on it. This started out as being merely a bit annoying, but has progressed to the point where it is causing (thankfully minor so far) back problems for both of us.

I called Costco.com (as we bought it on-line) last Saturday morning, the first time I had the chance and explained the situation. I explained that while I knew I could return it to a store for an immediate refund, I was calling to let them know and also ask if there was any other option (since we would have to rent a U-haul to carry the thing, and since it's damned heavy and would be hard to get out to a truck). They agreed that that was unacceptable and told us that they could process a return and have it collected from our home. No charge whatsoever. Well! Costco, you outdo yourselves again. You are awesome! It would take up to 12-15 business for the carrier to arrange a pick-up, but once they received word that it was picked up, we would receive a credit right back to our card. Perfect.

Fast-forward to Wednesday (much sooner than 12-15 business days, as I rather suspected) and I received 2 calls:

The first, "This is [someone] from Sealy calling about your Costco mattress return." (I will get back to this one!), the second from a carrier to arrange to pick up the mattress (which will be happening on Friday).

Now, that first call is why I am writing this account.

Sealy, you see, are pure and unmitigated evil.

The woman from Sealy asked me a series of questions, confirming that I had called Costco to arrange a return of my mattress, asking what was wrong with it (and, this is important, agreeing that that was totally unacceptable for the mattress to have so deteriorated within mere months of purchase, new) confirming that my address was correct, checking that it came with 2 box springs[3], and then asking one last question:

Very shortly thereafter, the conversation ended with her saying that she would have the carrier call me within the next day. They called later the same day and arranged pick-up as previously mentioned.

The moral of this story, however, is WOW am I glad I bought the mattress from Costco. I know with certainty that if Sealy did in fact try to screw me, Costco would make sure that it was solved and I got my money back. I have no such confidence that were I to buy from a regular mattress store I would not risk getting totally screwed by slimy, weasely escape clauses in warranties allowing Sealy to get out of what was clearly their fault. A mattress should last 6, 8, 10 years, not a few months. It is not like Sealy would take the returned, defective, mattress and re-sell it. It would obviously be discarded/destroyed, so the only possible reason for a stain mattering in that case is so as they can dodge their responsibilities and screw the consumer.

Since we are at a time in our lives (with a 6-and-a-bit month-old baby on our hands!) where we have no spare time, I am very glad that we did in fact on day one put a (waterproof) mattress pad (ironically, a Sealy one) on the mattress since I wanted to keep it in good condition for us, since this means I don't have to fight them as I am certain there are no stains, but a little piece of me kind of wishes I could have the opportunity to fight them and win.

Needless to say, we have ordered our next mattress (this time going for the more safely time-tested, variety; one with innersprings) from Costco.com and are awaiting a call from a carrier for delivery (which could be 4 weeks from now, but last time they said 4 weeks and it was 5 days). I hope that this next one will last as many years as our previous mattress (8 years, and it's still quite pleasant and serviceable as a spare bed). I feel a bit bad about even indirectly giving S&F any business (the new mattress is also "Kirkland by S&F"), however I feel good about giving Costco my business. I also feel good about the fact that the new mattress is $300 cheaper.


[1] Kirkland is Costco's store brand. Unlike most store brands, Costco is pretty discerning and almost anything with the Kirkland brand on it is really outstanding quality, and insanely cheap compared to the same thing by another brand. Often literally the same thing, since Kirkland stuff is generally just rebranded name-brand stuff. In the case of their mattresses, they are explicit about "by Stearns & Foster", but obviously the names of the mattresses are not the same as the ones S&F are sold under in regular stores.

[2] Not to mention that Costco has excellent business practices and treats their employees, as well as their customers, extremely well.

[3] Apparently king mattresses don't come with one huge box spring, for structural reasons, and I guess ease of manufacturing/transport. Perhaps the 2 box springs are the same size as some other mattress (full? twin?) so that they don't have to make as many different sizes?

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: determinedcrusading

May. 10th, 2009

11:57 pm - Today I (along with my wife and baby) ...

... gave my baby a bath.
... picked up to-go Dim Sum.
... drove to Sonoma County (to atend a party).
... attended a party at Loxton Cellars.
... saw Seth Walker perform live (at Loxton).
... had a pigeon fly into my windscreen while traveling at 40-50mph.
... did not get a broken windscreen (just wet; apparently the pigeon was wet?).
... went to Gelateria Naia in Berkeley (yum!).
... picked up Gyros and Falafel at Gaters (strange name for a halal restaurant).
... watched a fraction of an episode of Castle (baby interrupt occurred).
... hooked up a new TV and tested it out (using "Chuck" on Blu-ray in the PS3).

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" - Cake

May. 6th, 2009

10:53 pm - Anyone want a TV? -- now spoken for

EDIT: I received a couple of responses quite quickly, so the TV has found a home.

We have a 34" Toshiba flat screen (NOT flat panel--it is a CRT, so pretty big and heavy) television that we no longer need and would love to send it off to a good home. As standard definition CRT televisions go, it is quite nice and in perfect working order. It is just that we have a newer TV and haven't really got space for it any more.

If you would like it, you would need to arrange to pick it up from Fremont, CA, as our cars are fairly small and not really designed for transport of equipment.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: tiredtired

Apr. 22nd, 2009

03:31 pm - Adiri bottles: How to avoid leakage

Adiri baby bottles are rather good, although they have a leakage problem.

When you fill them with warm milk and close them up then either (1) remove the cover or (2) turn the bottle upright, there is significant leakage! In case #1, out the teat. In case #2, through the valve in the base. Not good.

I have, however, figured out how to avoid all leakage! Yay!

What nothing I have seen tells you, including Adiri's web site/FAQ, is that you can avoid leakage if you add a couple of simple steps to the regular filling instructions.

  1. Push body of bottle firmly into cover and set on counter upside-down.
  2. Pour in warm milk.
  3. Attach base and firmly tighten.
  4. Wait a minute or two.
  5. Push down on the valve through one of the flower-pattern holes in the base to relieve pressure.
  6. Turn over the bottle and from now on stand it upright.
Steps #4 and #5 are the steps that I added. These are necessary because after closing up the bottle the warm milk heats (and expands) the air above it and the valve apparently doesn't let out excess air pressure (validly doing its job since it's meant to be a one-way valve to allow air in while the baby feeds) ... but unfortunately does seem to leak milk if turned over so it is downward while there is excess pressure in the bottle.

For #5, I use the tine of a fork unless it's been a long time since I cut my nails and my little fingernail is long enough.

With this simple discovery, I went from being frustrated greatly by the Adiri bottles to finding them very good indeed. The only other issue is that without purchasing additional components you cannot actually warm milk in them but I warm the milk prior to pouring it in and our baby seems to be ok with drinking the milk without re-warming for quite a few hours thereafter. If you need to, you could always pour the milk back into the bottle you originally warmed it in for re-warming, though I have not resorted to that as yet.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: "It's a Brand New Day" - Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Mar. 22nd, 2009

11:44 pm - Port-glazed mushrooms...

I posted an update on Facebook:

I got a request to share the mushroom recipe, and this was going to be an awfully long response for a comment, so I figured ... LJ post!

First of all, if you want to go to the source, check out the wonderful Cooks Illustrated. There's not many web sites I'd be prepared to pay a membership to, but it's one.

Anyhow, here's my response:[*] The recipe called for 1/4 cup of port here, and 1/4 cup while making the bacon and pearl onions which I didn't have, but I figured you really can't have too much port in a glaze, and it was a good call in my opinion.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

Feb. 24th, 2009

06:15 am - Best Brussels Sprouts EVER

I made reference elsewhere to us making the best brussels sprouts ever. Again. (Ok, so I may have deliberately mis-spelled EVER for emphasis). I was asked to spill the beans -- sprouts? -- about how, so since this is more of a Post with a capital P, I figured here would do!

Well, first things first, we've been buying these 2lb bags of really nice small brussels sprouts at Costco. They seem to be pretty good.

Then we've been washing, cutting off the discoloured stalk end and removing outer leaves. Then also using a trick of my mother's -- cutting a cross into the stalk end 0.5-1cm deep (so if you look end-on you see an X) -- to make them cook more evenly (otherwise that's the densest part and doesn't cook as well as the head).

Theeeen, I've been *roughly* following Cook's Illustrated's cooking instructions doubled up (because they sounded close to what I remembered of Mum's and they're generally very reliable):

Bring 2lb brussels sprouts, 1 cup water, 1tsp salt to boil (medium-high) in ~4qt saucepan[*], turn down temp (I've been doing -> ~medium), put on lid firmly, let boil/steam/cook for 10 minutes--shake a couple of times to redistribute now and again during cooking (don't remove lid! They're steaming inside there).

My final (not called for by the recipe on C.I.) step is, after draining any remaining water (you could keep it for use in soup if you liked; it'll be very green and sprouty), to add whatever ungodly amount of butter you like (I think I added something on the order of 6/8 tbsp) and, if you like, sprinkle some nutmeg (ideally freshly ground) over them. Keep on (or return to) the heat to melt the butter and mix around well with a spoon to cover all the sprouts evenly with butter (and nutmeg).

The sprouts are braised, which is a remarkably good way to do sprouts.

2lb of sprouts sounds like a lot for 2 people, but there's some loss in the preparation stages (throwing away outer leaves, trimming stalks, etc.) and they're so bloomin' good that we ended up eating about 75% of them in the one sitting. So, we have fewer left-overs than I'd like, actually! =)

[*] Their recipe says 1/2 of each quantity and 2qt pan.

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

Jan. 19th, 2009

01:20 pm - The joys of parenting - collateral damages

Just a short time ago, I experienced the worst proximal collateral damage of any diaper change. There were no distal collateral damages (thank $deity -- there were once), but 2 extra diapers, 1 spit-up cloth, 1 large muslin wrap, 1 small pad, 1 co-sleeper sheet and 1 bassinet liner pad fell that day--ur, that minute--to heterogeneous fluids. Now, I am doing laundry (well, waiting for it to progress) while I mind her royal highness.

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted

Oct. 23rd, 2008

09:09 pm - Trash day resource conflict

I just got back inside after having to rush outside to ask the person parking in front of our house (there was a different car parked there an hour ago) to park elsewhere since that's where our trash cans have to go out tonight. This seems like a frustrating problem.

Anybody have any good ideas on how to deal with this?

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Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: blaha bit miffed

Oct. 11th, 2008

03:02 pm - Infuriating lack of ability to fix things today.

I decided to fix 3 things today.

(1) We have an exterior light on the side of the house which is operated by a switch inside the garage. The switch was taped down in the off position. When I removed said tape, a while back, it turned out that when switched to the "On" position, it flickered, obviously not a good connection.

Today, I bought a simple 2-way light switch (white) for $0.59, and a face plate (white) for $0.22. I turned off the power at the breaker box, removed the old switch, hooked up and installed the new switch, and voila! It worked. Took a bit of time to figure out (urox noticed the slot to push a screwdriver into to release them) how to release the wires from the old switch, but it didn't take too terribly long.

(2) I decided to replace the broken garbage disposal with a unit I bought from Costco.com.

I tried to begin removing the old In-Sink-Erator 333 (1/2hp) using instructions that I found via google, but after managing to turn the slip-joint nut, I completely failed to turn a screw connecting the drain tube to the disposal. I gave up. I called our Home Warranty people. They are arranging a plumber to come out, but I probably won't even hear from them until Monday, let alone have it fixed. This is a pain in the neck because for the time being now, we get backwash into the sink if we run the dishwasher.

(3) I decided to replace the shower "neck" in the master bathroom.

The story behind this is that the people who did the carpet cleaning (but didn't properly wash the soap/whatever /out/) and supposed "deep cleaning" of the house (which was cursory at /best/; non-existent mostly) ... well, let's just say we were rather horrified to find that the shower head, still attached to the "neck" which normally stays firmly rooted into the wall, was sitting in the soap tray when we next visited the house after they were there.

I was angry about this (as well as the truly pathetic job they did -- what a ridiculous waste of our money), but they said that "[they] didn't put it back in because it was corroded, they couldn't clean it better, and maybe we would want to buy a new one". Ok, so that sounded vaguely reasonable. I bought a new neck, for all of $5 or $6 at Home Depot. I have had it for a week or so now.

I went to install it just now. I went to remove any pipe tape from the threads of the pipe in the wall and dry it before applying pipe tape to the new neck and screwing it in to the pipe in the wall. "How odd, no threads? I don't get this." Looked at the new neck, and it's definitely threaded on the end, definitely needs to go into a threaded end of the pipe. Try to see if it will somehow fit. No. Fetch the old neck (with old shower head still attached). THEY BROKE THE &(*^@^&)!#% THING OFF IN THE PIPE IN THE WALL! ARGH! They didn't own up to this. I have to discover this a couple of weeks later? Scumbags!

I wonder how the hell you get a broken off bit of externally-threaded pipe out of an internally-threaded pipe that is part of the plumbing in the wall.

Perhaps something like the reverse of pliers, such that you put it in, expand it, and turn?

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: infuriatedinfuriated

Oct. 10th, 2008

08:25 pm - In which we went to lunch and questioned Mr. Bee...

So, loosestrife wrote about our trip to lunch yesterday ... so I don't have to!

Current Location: Fremont, CA
Current Mood: amusedamused

Sep. 17th, 2008

10:11 pm - (silly) Self-portrait meme


* Take a picture of yourself right now. Don't change your clothes, don't fix your hair - just take a picture.
* Post that picture with NO editing.
* Post these instructions with the picture.

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Current Location: 806
Current Mood: dorkydorky
Current Music: "Freeway" - Aimee Mann

Sep. 11th, 2008

11:24 am - The verbing of "Green"

It frustrates me greatly that people have started to use green as a verb, as in:

As if it wasn't sufficiently lazy (albeit perfectly ok; I don't have a problem with it) to shorten "We're making CompanyName environmentally friendly" to "We're making CompanyName green" ... now it has to ratchet up the laziness and be written as "We're greening CompanyName"?

One of the first times I saw this was at my company, but I think that was about the same time that the buzzword had been on the cover of every business magazine and so on. Since then, I've seen it many times. All of this seems to have started within the past 6 months (perhaps 4 or 5).

Ugh. This seems to me as bad as "u" and "r" for "you" and "are" and so on, as originally used by many in instant messages and SMS messages and now in practically every other medium.



Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Current Music: "Tom Cruise Crazy" - Jonathan Coulton

Sep. 8th, 2008

02:04 pm - Bamboo floors: probably not (further discussion)

The story with that is that we have a family room, living room, kitchen, dining area, entrance way and hallway which we wanted to put down wood or wood-like floors in. At present, the living room, family room and hallway all have carpet (in perfectly decent condition) and the kitchen, dining area and entrance way all have tile (cream coloured, contiguous, in good condition, but which separates all three aforementioned carpeted area from each other). We thought it would be nice to have them be one contiguous wood(-like) floor, as it would make the place look bigger and more appealing.

Our realtor's dad is a retired contractor and carpenter who could apparently do a great job of it and wouldn't charge a lot (though it turned out somewhat more than we had been guessing).

We looked around, and Costco has significantly cheaper wood flooring materials than anywhere else, it seems. They had a variety of laminate floors, of which we liked the maple (light coloured) best, and also "hardwood" bamboo flooring. The laminate is standard sort of stuff, with locking click-together sort-of-tongue-and-groove thingies, and with a little padding on the back. You generally also would put an additional layer of padding beneath, to make it feel better, sit better, and not be as noisy. The bamboo is darker than we had originally intended, but is beautiful. It's a toasted bamboo, so sort of a mid-brown. It is simple tongue and groove like most hardwood, so you have to nail or glue it down, unlike the laminate which is generally a floating floor.

Here began the uncertainties. It sounded like our realtor's dad (and unfortunately all our communications has been indirectly, through talking to our realtor) either thinks you could install it "the same as the laminate" or just glued down to the concrete (we don't have a crawl-space; the house is built directly on a concrete slab foundation).

According to the information we've been able to find on-line, if you install a hardwood floor at ground level on concrete you should not just glue or nail it to the concrete. You need moisture barriers -- either by applying a layer of polyurethane sheeting, a layer of 3/4" plywood, another layer of polyurethane, nailing that down with some masonry nails to the concrete and then nailing down the hardwood to that, or by putting a coating on the concrete, gluing down 2x4 "sleepers" and nailing or gluing down the hardwood floor to them.

Only one place suggested that it might possibly be ok to maybe glue down the bamboo directly to the concrete, and this seems like a pretty iffy suggestion to me.

So, we were already going to have to be assertive on which process we wanted, and were going to have to find out whether this would affect his estimate in any way, plus we know he can definitely do laminate floors (he did our realtor's, and they look great), but we don't really have proof either way re hardwood floors.

Yesterday, our realtor told us that his Dad is working on a project for the next two weeks and so...

... so this is why in my post yesterday I mentioned the difficulties having risen to the point where we might not get it done.

Our realtor suggested that we could always move our stuff in to the garage and bedrooms and still do the floor while living there, but I responded that that was precisely what we wanted to avoid by getting it done for us before we moved. If we wanted to shuffle furniture and camp in our house, we could do that a year or multiple years later. The whole impetus for now vs. later was to do it while the house was empty, so it wouldn't be a major performance of ballet/Towers of Hanoi.

There's also the fact that the floors will be thicker/higher than the tile/carpet (which presumably has something to do with the statements about new doors, though they look to me like there ought to be sufficient clearance under them to be able to leave them as-is), which adds to the complexity of the fact that we want to do a little cabinetry modification in the kitchen (or rather, have someone, ideally our realtor's dad, who said he could certainly do it) to fit a fridge in which doesn't quite have enough vertical clearance under the cabinet that lives above the fridge spot, but I think there was room enough to move the cabinet floor up 2" or so, sufficient to account for both the floor thickness increase and current lack of clearance (which is to say, it would have approximatly 0 +/- 1/16" of clearance, without a floor change).

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Current Mood: disappointeda bit miffed

Sep. 7th, 2008

01:06 pm - New house!

So, we bought a house. All done, finalised, ours. Yay!

Even more yay since we just got home from Seattle to find a letter and note through our door from our apartment complex informing us that rent is going up another $70 per month.

On the down-side, it seems that we're running into hitches that may push the hardwood flooring idea over into the "too much difficulty" bucket such that we may not do it after all.

Still very happy about getting all the interior walls painted. :-) ... but if we're not getting the hardwood floors, we have to think again (again) about colours for two of the rooms.

[Edit] I have posted additionally on further discussion of the flooring conundrum.

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Current Location: 806
Current Mood: indescribablemixed
Current Music: Mad World

Aug. 23rd, 2008

08:56 pm - Dinner tonight! (what we made)


1. Tomato Basil Bread from Panera
2. Smoked Duck Salami from Village Imports (I miss their Open Warehouse days...)
3. Etivaz cheese that I brought back personally from Paris! (last December)


1. Toast tasty bread lightly on each side.
2. Apply layer of yummy sliced salami.
3. Apply layer of delectable cheese.
4. Bake (convection) for 5 minutes in the magic toaster oven.



Tags: ,
Current Location: 806
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: "Hellboy" on DVD from Netflix playing in the background

08:01 pm - Now with ankle-spraining video!

I predicted that there might be video of this on YouTube. I couldn't find it back then, but apparently the multi-talented J.C. Hutchins found video and posted about the event (not so much about my injury though) on MINE!

So, for your viewing amusement, I hereby present Jonathan Coulton, the zombie attack, and my injury -- LIVE ON THE INTERNET!

There! Was that fun?

Current Location: 806
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Re: Your Brains, by Jonathan Coulton

Aug. 18th, 2008

09:05 pm - I sprained my ankle on stage with Jonathan Coulton...

So, I, ur, fell and badly sprained my ankle while, ur, on a stage with Jonathan Coulton and three other people.

In Vegas.

Oh, you want more explanation than that?Collapse )

Current Location: 806
Current Mood: soresore
Current Music: Dexter theme

Jul. 24th, 2008

09:45 pm - Statistical Mythology - TRUE!

We're watching the movie "21". It seems like it has the potential to be an interesting story.

But then ... the story starts out with the main character's induction into a group of blackjack card counters at his university, MIT, because he wows his professor by first spouting history about Newton-Rhapson method (which apparently people in the US refer to only as Newton's Method! Huh!), which is fine, but then by spouting a STUPID logical fallacy, which the professor agrees with him on.

Mistaken statements about logical fallacies! D'oh!Collapse )

So, yeah, I was wrong. Argh.

I take it back. Nobody has ever succeeded in explaining this to my satisfaction. It's always sounded like hand-waving (hm, how zen). The statistical explanations have always sounded like voodoo.

I just worked it out on paper, and it actually ... does work that way. WEIRD. But true. I shall explain. Perhaps my reasoning (since it's the only reasoning which has persuaded me) will help persuade others

I've heard people talk of the fact that the host is an intelligent agent, and therefore not subject to statistical analysis and so on and so forth, but none of this has ever pointed out the real reason why switching is best:

In 2 out of 3 cases, you have forced the intelligent agent to take one, with no option. He only has a choice 1 out of 3 times!

When you have forced the agent's hand, the remaining card is it. When he had a choice of which card, the one you picked first was it.

Weird? Yes, but true. I came to this realisation after I jotted down the possibilities.

I = your initial pick
E = choice eliminated by host
S = the switch option

Door LayoutDealer Option 1Dealer Option 2Initial OutcomeSwitch Outcome
1 0 01(I) 0(E) 0(S)1(I) 0(S) 0(E)always winalways lose
0 1 00(I) 1(S) 0(E)--always losealways win
0 0 10(I) 0(E) 1(S)--always losealways win

(You can re-order things so that you don't always choose the first door, but that is statistically irrelevant, assuming the prize door is properly randomized).

So, ur, wow. 2/3 of the time, the agent was forced to point out the right door, effectively.

Weird, but no longer pure voodoo. If someone had shown me what I worked out, I would have believed them. Other people's explanations now make some sense, in hindsight, but really didn't in the absence of this realisation.

I guess I owe the makers of the movie an apology!

[Edited to fix my mismatched legend and use of symbols! Oops!]

Current Location: 806
Current Mood: embarrassedembarrassed

Jul. 9th, 2008

10:57 am - A brief slice of work conversation :)

... on entirely non-work topics: Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods, and rambling into steampunk!

(Beginning review: Wed Jul 9 10:37:57 2008 PDT)
# <- (10:38) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water, geektalk, Movies:
# - According to Yahoo! News, MGM has given the go-ahead for production on
# - "The Cabin in the Woods", co-written Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Goddard
# - will direct and Whedon will produce.
# -> (10:38) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - Coming next, "The Cottage By The Lake", followed by "The Split-Level Ranch
# - In The Subdivision".
# <- (10:38) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water, geektalk, Movies:
# - (which is the first I'd even heard of it, showing how out of the loop I am)
# -> (10:38) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - With the special short film "The Outhouse On The Prairie".
# <- (10:38) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - ashton - geez, don't ruin the trilogy!
# -> (10:39) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - In the end, it turns out that they're ALL THE SAME HOUSE.
# > (10:39, to cooler) ashton ruins it for sj
# <- (10:39) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - WUH!
# -> (10:39) From mjr, to water:
# - What a twist!
# <- (10:39) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - That sounds more M. Knight Shyamalan than Joss Whedon or Drew Goddard. :)
# > (10:39, to cooler) ashton . o O (Starring Mark Wahlberg as the cedar
# > siding)
# -> (10:39) From mjr, to water:
# - It was supposed to.
# < (10:40, to cooler) sj says, "He was BORN for that role."
# -> (10:40) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - For Joss Whedon, just add "IN SPACE"
# -> (10:40) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# -> (10:40) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - does a bisexual vampire fall in love with the ghost of a 1930's noir
# - hard-nosed detective whose spirit is trapped in the same house, and they
# - communicate by leaving words spelled out on a scrabble board?
# -> (10:40) From mjr, to water:
# - Little House in the Asteroid Belt
# <- (10:40) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - The very idea of a Joss Whedon steampunk series is mind-blowingly awesome
# -> (10:41) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - Asteroid Of Sand And Fog
# -> (10:41) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - been done. He called it, "Firefly".
# -> (10:41) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - if you're willing to overlook fusion and things like that.
# -> (10:41) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - yes, but, see, this new one is about the Cabin in the Woods /with
# - fireflies/.
# <- (10:41) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - hah! not exactly steampunk
# -> (10:41) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - it's steampunk with fusion reactors. Same thing.
# -> (10:41) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - Nukepunk
# -> (10:41) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - steampunk isn't even sure what it is.
# -> (10:42) From mjr, to water:
# - It involves lots of brass fittings, generally.
# -> (10:42) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - and petticoats.
# -> (10:42) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - Leave your personal life out of this.
# -> (10:42) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - and english accents.
# <- (10:43) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - I suppose there /were/ goggles in Serenity
# <- (10:44) From sj [awake (why?!)][WFH], to water:
# - I was about to say "it's not steampunk without goggles"
# -> (10:44) From ashton [@2000, la humidee], to water:
# - It's not steampunk without cleavage
# -> (10:44) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - covered in goggles, brass fittings, petticoats, and bacon.
# -> (10:44) From mcl [@2000, exhausted], to water:
# - with a random monocle for good measure.
(End of review)

Current Location: 806
Current Mood: amusedamused

Jun. 26th, 2008

07:41 pm - Shouldn't cops directing traffic ... work?

Earlier today, it took me 20 minutes to travel 300 feet... to pass through a junction with the lights out.

This was in spite of 4 cops directing the traffic.

I don't understand why it was backed up. Cops directing traffic should be more effective/efficient than traffic lights, not horribly less efficient.

In Dublin (Ireland), it has been my experience that when they put cops out directing traffic at junctions, traffic moves way better than on an average day with the lights working.

I don't understand what is different here. This is not the first time I've found cops directing traffic to be horribly inefficient in the SF Bay Area. Is it because they're not trained well? Because they don't care? Because the drivers are so clueless that they can't deal with directions from a police officer?

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Current Location: 806
Current Mood: confusedconfused

Jun. 5th, 2008

10:40 am - "Police officer going to jail for stealing golf clubs while on duty"

One reads the most bizarre things in local papers.

I was in line at Starbucks this morning in Menlo Park, and spied the above headline in a local paper called the "Daily Post". My curiosity was piqued, so I read the story, which I quote herein:


Current Mood: shockedflabberghasted

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