Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What have I done?

In two days, I have to drive to Grimes, Iowa. That's 675 miles from home. All in one day. With two childrens, a dog, a rat, and a wife in the minivan. That's 225 miles (about 50%) farther than we've ever driven before in one day with The Childrens. However, to be fair, it's pretty much through nothing on the way. Our benchmark roadtrip involved driving through San Jose and Los Angeles, both of which push really push your average MPH way down. Through LA, we used to average less than 30mph for about an hour and a half.

The GPSes and google mostly agree that this trip is about 9.5 hours, which is an average of 71 mph. I guess the highway must all be 75 MPH between here and there. We shall see. The trip is pretty straight-forward. Get on I-25, drive north to Wyoming, hang a right on I-80, drive for 9 hours.

This'll be the first long trip with this minivan that didn't involve mountain driving, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of mileage we get. In general, we seem to not do better than 22mpg on the highway, and we have only a 20 gallon tank. The old minivan got 26 highway, and it had a 25 gallon tank. Either way, it's likely our stops will be determined by bladders and stomaches.

Got word today that both my nephews and their wives and sons (two each) will be showing up to see us at my brother's place. MaxieC in particular is very excited to meet all these cousins of his. I think he's met one before, but he was under a year old at the time and doesn't remember. HannahC is perhaps less interested in hanging with a bunch of boys between the ages of 1 and 4, though she'll probably quickly figure out which one is most controllable and make him her pet, like she did with Bozzetto's kid.

We're going extra-far on the first day so that we can get to my brother's at a reasonable time on Sunday. It's the longest haul of the whole trip, and we get it out of the way right up front before The Childrens are too bored with traveling.

Though I think 8 hours of Nebraska could quite possibly take the love of the road out of them. Though I hear Nebraska is quite flat at this time of year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A day like any other day

Except more filled with suckage. I spent half the day carefully crafting two foils to share with one of our major customers tomorrow. "Carefully crafting" means, as far as I can tell, deleting useful information and adding ambiguity such that we cannot possibly be held legally responsible for any difference between what I say now and what we might actually end up with once we actually finish the damned product months from now.

And it means a lot of conversations with marketing and sales guys ahead of time to make sure we're all crystal clear about the level of ambiguity of the message.

This whole "being the technical guy we bring to the discussion for credibility" thing is quite new to me. Normally, I'm the guy they try to keep away from the customers so that a more stately person can lend credibility. But we seem to be fresh out of stately. Plus, I'm the only guy who knows how to answer their questions. Ha ha! Though I need to work on my ambiguity skills.

Over the past couple weeks, hits to my inground trampoline design page are through the roof. Predictably, the snowblower hits are trailing off. According to Google Analytics, the snowblower guys are better ad clickers than the trampoline guys. I think I may need to actually finish my trampoline project post. Plus, I've figured out how to make it a lot easier, so I should probably re-write half the thing.

My guide to carpet cleaners never gets a hit. Probably not enough promo. I think I need to figure out some new early fall project to write up. Otherwise, revenue will taper off towards the end of summer. Maybe a guide to leaf composting or something.

I'll wait for The Mrs. to tell me what I absolutely must do in September.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A good day plumbing

" when you're only digging through mud with your hands."

Thus said my plumber as he put back the mud he had dug out in order to fix my sprinkler supply line which, as you all remember from before, was leaking due to an original build-quality issue. He was only supposed to come over today to figure out what he needed to fix it, but he decided to fix it right then. I can now go on vacation without worrying that I will have a geyser in the back yard upon my return.


I think this year I will need to buy some fertilizer with iron in it. For some reason, our soil is iron deficient, and you need a special fertilizer with iron in it. But I haven't been using that. And the lawn is not looking as good as the neighbors' (though they have been watering for 2 weeks compared to 2 days for me).

I have decided, though, not to fertilize until we return, as only an idiot puts down a load of fertilizer and then hits the road for a couple weeks. "Hey everybody, lookit me! I'm out of town, and my lawn is 10 inches tall!"

I planted grass seed yesterday in the bare spots. I figure two weeks without the dog or The Childrens might give it a fighting chance. I bought something called "Heat tolerant blue", which turns out to be a mix of tall fescue and Kentucky blue. It said it "aggressively spreads to fill in bare spots." I hope so.

Work is driving me insane. Everyone wants me to finish stuff and give major updates before I leave, but I don't have time for 3 major updates. Maybe 1.

I really need a haircut. My hair is a mess.

Tonight, I went to empty the camera secure digital card, and I discovered the built-in card reader wasn't working. So I rebooted. Still, nothing. So, being an electrical engineer, I opened up the case and unplugged the reader. Then I rebooted the machine without it. Then, I plugged it in again (it's just a USB connection on the motherboard), and the computer wouldn't restart.

Yeah, that's one of those heart-stopping moments.

So I unplugged it again, and only plugged in one of the three cables ("sound"), and the computer started fine. So I shut down and plugged in the second ("front panel USB"), and the computer started fine. So I shut down and plugged in the third cable ("card reader"), and the computer started fine. And the card reader worked. WTF?

I then spend like 15 minutes trying to get the case to go back together. It was tricky. The Mrs. did a lot of rolling of her eyes and sighing.

Afterwords, I got to wondering if all I really needed to do was flip the master power on the back of the case. I noticed that the card reader LED did not shut off if I shut down the computer via Windows or via the front panel button. So to power cycle the card reader, I would have to power cycle the master on the back. Hmmmm....

We shall see soon enough, I imagine.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dethatching Desmatching

Today, I marked the locations of over 100 sprinkler heads (which took me like two hours to do), and then I blazed up My Precious with my new dethatching trailer. It was the first time I got to use the dethatcher. Boy howdy did that thing dethatch. It dethatched the living sheeit out of the lawn. MaxieC said it best when he said, "Hey Da, your trailer is changing the color of the lawn from green to brown!"

It was a lot of fun.

I ran the blades while dethatching, and that generated a huge cloud of dust that blanketed the neighborhood. But it didn't really annoy anybody because I'm not the normally-annoying neighbor.

We've also started to prepare for our road trip in earnest. On Saturday, we bought a new cooler, cuz our coolers have gradually lost their ability to keep the lids shut. After much running around, we settled on a Coleman Powerchill thermoelectric cooler. The big kicker with this guy is that we can use it as a mini-fridge out on the deck when we're not traveling. Plus, there's a Coleman factory outlet store nearby in Loverlyland, and they have really good prices. The minivan has a cigarette lighter power outlet way back just inside the tailgate, and that'll be perfect for the cooler.

The Mrs. dry-fit most of the luggage into the minivan. We had to change up our plans a bit with respect to the dog crate because the door wasn't wide enough to accept the rat's cage. So the dog crate is going unassembled. We've decided to not tell any of the hotels that we're bringing a rat along, and instead just fess up to the dog. No one will discover the rat, as they'll be afraid to enter the room with a vicious dog in there.

I'll try to post some "on the road" updates for my adoring fans. I'll be bringing the laptop along, so this will all depend upon if any of the dumps at which we are staying have internet.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And a-one and a-two

Strange things keep happening to me this week. Yesterday, as my boss was going home, she said something morose about how I should try to have a good evening despite it all, and I gave her a pep talk.

Yes, you heard me right. I gave her a pep talk. Though, you know, I'm no JFK. So my pep talk started out with, "Any day where things aren't worse when I go home than they were when I got here, I view as a success." Though then I listed like two or three things that were actually better than they were in the morning. Not a lot better, and not huge things, but at least there was a modicum of forward progress yesterday.

And the way things have been going lately, that is practically cause for celebration.

And then today, my boss's boss said I did a good job on something. I have worked for her or for someone who worked for her for probably 9 months now, and I think this is the first time she has said I did a good job on something. I was shocked.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My GPS Sucks

If my GPS were a girlfriend, I guess that would be a good thing.

Last week, I decided to bring my GPS along to get me from Boston Logan to the hotel out near The Company, rather than any printed directions. There was a time I had it memorized, but I haven't been out there in nearly 9 months. I programmed in the address of the hotel and the address of The Company, and then stuffed it in my coat pocket for the trip.

I was cavalier. I didn't print out any directions.

Oddly enough, I learned that this GPS (the TomTom Go 720, which I highly do not recommend) can apparently be rendered inoperable by airport Xray machines. It refused to acknowledge the presence of GPS satellites upon powering up in the Hertz lot at Logan. I say refused to acknowledge because it said "weak GPS signal - are you inside a building?" on the map page, and did not show my current location, but when I went to the Satellite info screen, it was tracking 9 satellites, 6 of which were at 100% signal strength, and the remaining three were around 75%.

I ended up telling it to route me from Logan to the hotel, and then display me the text directions. So I'm driving down the highway with my fancy GPS performing the function of a maplight and printout. I got so pissed that I stopped at the rest stop halfway there and began a system restore via the USB cable and my laptop. But not until I jotted down the directions in case the system restore made it forget where the hotel was.

After about 10 minutes, I got tired of waiting, and I set the laptop and GPS down on the floor of the car and used my scribbled directions and the map light.

The driver's map light was burned out in my rental car, I also learned.

Once the system restore completed (~20 minutes), it worked just fine. Wonderful. Now I know that whenever I travel, I have to lug along my laptop and the GPS USB cable just-in-case.

It also decided to forget how to connect to my cell phone via bluetooth during the trip. The phone said it was connected, but the GPS said it was unable to connect. I had to delete the phone from the bluetooth setup and re-pair it.

The user interface is a disaster. Take simple things like routing you to a location. You'd think a GPS would have the whole "route me to a destination" thing down, since that pretty much the only frigging thing you absolutely need from a GPS. But no. Routing to a destination is easy enough, but once you get there, it gets stupid pretty fast.

For instance, once it announces, "You have reached your destination," I would expect it to stop routing me. The Alpine-based system in The Mrs.'s minivan does that. Not this one. It continues trying to force you back to the same spot until you tell it to stop. Parking lot entrance is 100yds past the address? "You have reached your destination... Turn around when possible." To stop this, you have to erase the route.

The "take me too..." button is the very first thing on the menu. Perfect. The "erase route" button is the 4th thing on the 3rd menu screen. Touch screen, push next screen icon, push next screen icon, push erase route, push yes.

Except, oddly, sometimes it doesn't do this. I haven't figure out exactly what is the trick that makes it think you're there vs. think you overshot. I think it may have to do with what side of the street you're on vs. what side the address is on (which it often guesses wrong). I dunno. More experiments are necessary.

Now, as far as I can tell, the real reason I got this vs. the Garmin turns out to be somewhat of a sham. The ability to correct a map and share with others the corrections. A couple days after getting the thing, I made three corrections -> adding a traffic circle at an intersection next to where I work that was built well over a year ago, deleting two streets next to where I work that do not exist, and extending a road a little south of where I live that they extended about 9 months ago.

I dutifully walked through the pages of somewhat confusing menus to make these changes. Next time I docked, they were uploaded. However, I'm still waiting for them to show up in a map overlay. The advertising that you can correct your map a BS. You can make map correction suggestions, then they apparently go off to central for someone to batch up into an overlay file, and then you get them only when released from there for download by the general community. This is not "correcting my map". I made sure I checked the "accept corrections I make myself" option. I even uploaded a couple of the corrections three times. Nothing.

I'll let you know the lag time if these changes ever actually show up on my own map.

When you're sad

I find a big hug helps.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rock On

I know you folks have all been clamoring for pictures of that which has kept me away from blogging for so long. And no, I don't mean this. I mean the soon-to-be-fabulous rock garden. Sadly, it has been pretty messy work that I've been slaving away at from morning until night, so I don't have a lot of photos at different stages. Mostly, I've taken photos at the end of a long day when I was relaxing and suddenly thought of it.

I'll start out with a couple photos from the second weekend of work. This is after three days of serious work. We have installed 2.5 cu yards of dirt, plus I'm estimating about 1.5 tons of rock. We bought a half-ton of rock, and it was about 1/2 as much as we already had (scavenged from the old pond the rock garden is replacing). Here is what the right half of the layout looks like. Note, the bright orange stone says "Ethel" on it and served as the gravestone for the dearly-departed white rat. A new, less florescent, grave marker is replacing this one.

A view of the left half taken the same evening. The things standing up in the middle are the "legs" for The Mrs.'s new bench. They are sitting there while the concrete footing sets.

Here's the "over-engineered" concrete footing that I poured for the bench. Two rectangular pads of concrete extend to the surface, but it's a big giant block that's about five inches thick starting 5.5" below the surface. The form is made from scraps of redwood from the deck construction.

And here's the view from across the pond on the same day:

Just to break stuff up, The Childrens went out to feed the koi on Sunday morning and started hollering. This was one of four passing by.

Step 1 of "dig fifty foot trench" is to dig the from that little lollipop tree where the valve box is to this spot here, where we then make a 75 degree bend to the right. Rocks, apparently, need a lot of water.

It's all over but the planting. Added another 900 lbs. of rocks and another cubic yard of dirt. You can see the cute little bench in place just to the left of center. It has hummingbirds molded into the top.

Oh No!

Today, as I was filling my mug with the "free" coffee the The Company now provides, I happened to read the label on the dispenser. I've been tricked into drinking fair-trade coffee!

I feel so dirty.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I spy with my little eye

Me, CherkyB: "Something that starts with the letter 'S'."

The Mrs.: "Suffering?"

Me, CherkyB: "You're not supposed to get it on the first guess!"

A vision of the future

Yelled at MaxieC this afternoon:
The Mrs.: "Get your dirty little hoe off my couch!"

Monday, April 14, 2008

To Be Drunk on Premises

Today, I happened to find myself sitting in an alcohol-serving establishment. Don't ask why. These things just happen from time to time.

As I was sitting there "contemplating" my 25oz. beer, I happened to notice the liquor license hanging on the wall. It went something like this:

License of Common OldeEnglishWordForSellingAlcohol

This license grants the above establishment the right to
purchase, display, sell, and serve
all manner of beverages containing alcohol
to be drunk on premises.

And I thought, "Cool. We're licensed to be drunk on premises."

Self-inflicted suffering

Or, at the very least, wife-inflicted.

We spent this past weekend working on the rock garden project again. Bought a half ton of small boulders to complete the terrace walls. Bought another 1.5 cu yds of dirt. We will probably need more.

The Mrs. picked out a cute little 1-person bench with a hummingbird design on it, and I spend Saturday evening digging a footing for it and building a form for the concrete, then Sunday morning puring in the concrete. The Mrs. believes I over-engineered this. I dug down about 16 inches in a rectangle that encompassed the two bench pedestals. I added 50 lbs of gravel in the bottom. Then, I built a wooden form out of 2x6's such that the concrete only comes to the surface directly under the pedestals, and I got it nice and level. I pounded some rebar into the ground through the footings. It took 160 lbs of concrete.

I sure hope it doesn't heave all over this winter.

The watering system is next. I started on that, and got to the point where the next step was "dig 50 foot long trench" and decided to mow the front lawn instead. So I took My Beloved off of My Precious and put the mowing deck back on. I sure hope we don't have anymore blizzards. It had been snowing about 3 times a week for the last month, but none of it ever stuck to the driveway.

When the weekend was done, I was staggering around like a drunken sailor. And not because I'd been drinking. It was because everything hurt so much. Apparently, I got so fat over the winter that unloading two tons of material from the back of a pickup with a wheelbarrow wears me out.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Well, I don't know what it is

I believe I am experiencing something they call, "losing my religion". I am slowly becoming convinced that the technology that it is my job to deliver, that in fact I have been told my career depends upon delivering, is not particularly likely to work in an impressive fashion. But I've also pretty much given up on any hopes of a "career" beyond what I've already accomplished, so I'm remarkably at peace with that. I am, in fact, finding it remarkably easy to take the side of what is best for The Company even though that is at odds with what is best for me.

CherkyB, altruist.

At least I'm going to get a big tax refund. I don't know why. The tax situation has still not stabilized after the move to Colorado. Last year had a whole mess of one-time relocation compensation, and this year that was all gone, but I managed to rack up a bunch of capital losses due to sales of stock of The Company that I got 7 years ago. I dunno WTF. At least I avoided AMT.

I do plan to take my refund and buy three things:
  1. A 12-channel amp to drive the speakers I have in many of the rooms in the house, plus some kind of hard-drive-based media center on which I can store our 400 CDs worth of music.
  2. A collapsible table saw. Probably a Bosch 4100-09. I wrecked my Craftsman table saw shortly before moving, but it was a crappy table saw. Having owned one for a while, I now have higher standards. Plus, I know I need to have one that folds up during the 362 days a year when I am not using it,
  3. Smith and Wesson 686+. Just in case Obama gets his way.
I'll probably have a lot left over. I probably won't Spitzer it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Pain

Saturday was a complete waste of a day. We went to the CSU Veterinary School open house, but it was the same as last year. MaxieC was bored out of his skull and annoyed the living hell out of me because of it. It was my job to watch him while The Mrs. took HannahC around to do fun things. Oddly, it became my job to watch HannahC just as she announced, "I feel like I have to throw up."

After that, we hit Jim's Wings for lunch and then went to the pond store to pick up some Koi food. The Koi (and the goldfishies) have been very perky lately, so we figured it wouldn't hurt to grab some food for them. The Mrs., always a sucker for a smooth sales pitch, also ended up with 5 bullfrog tadpoles.

I don't know why.

Then I did my taxes. I had to pay self-employment tax on my AdSense revenue this year. Oddly, there is no longer a cap on your social security tax if you are self-employed. The Tax Cut software led me to believe this was new for 2007. You used to be able to max it out, but now you have to pay some small percentage of all self-employment income even if you're "maxed out". So I had to pay $15 for that.

Today, The Mrs. decided we would tackle the "rock garden" project. This is a project she has been planning ever since we had the deck replaced. We're putting in a rock garden where one of the ponds used to be. Now, maybe it's just me, but I kinda expected that since it has been in the planning phase for almost a year, and because I've been reminding her incessantly to figure out what she wants to do there before we start the work, I kinda expected she'd have an idea what she wanted to do.

Silly me.

Instead I was instructed to remove the cap from the pickup so we could go get dirt. Little did I know, that was about a far as the plans ran.

We spent the greater part of the day moving rocks back and forth. Like bowling ball-sized and larger rocks. Put them here, no that's not right, maybe over there. Hmmm... They looked better in the first spot. You know, I really want you to build me a flagstone bench right here. We'll have to move all these rocks.

We did manage to get one cubic yard of dirt. Our local place was closed (Sunday and all), so we had to drive all the way to the other end of town to a dirt place that I've never been to before. That's now the fourth place here I have been to. I liked it the least. They weighed the truck before and after loading, and despite this being the smallest cubic yard I have ever received, they cleared me on the scale.

I did learn that my truck weighs 5200 lbs. unloaded (but with the family inside), and that even with the smallest cubic yard of dirt I've ever gotten, I managed to exceed my payload capacity by 700 lbs. It's damn near impossible to not exceed your payload capacity on pickups. Even the 2500 series guys only have about a 1700 lbs payload. And a full yard of dirt is heavier than that. I'll be fine, though, as I see folks loading up those little old 4-cylinder Toyotas and Mazdas such that the bumper practically drags. I'm nowhere near that bad.

I'll try to take some pictures of the rock garden. A lot of stuff moved around at the last second.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

HannahC, Entomologist

HannahC caught a big spider in the garage today.
HannahC: "This spider's name is, 'Princess.'"

Me, CherkyB: "Wonderful."

HannahC: "Yeah. It's probably a girl because it has such a fat bottom."