Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Funny Quotes and Awesome Customer Service

YS Quote of the Day

So I go into the bathroom to start the water for the boys' bath, and YS comes barrelling, hopping, thumping, skipping, jumping into the bathroom like a herd of elephants and pronounces to the world, "I'M going to take my TEMPERATURE!" and he proceeds to stand on our digital bathroom scale and watch the digital numbers start to blink up on the screen. His temperature... er... I mean, he weighed in at 39.8 pounds.

ES Quote of the Day

So the boys are now IN the bathtub, and I'm washing between ES's toes. He normally giggles and squirms ferociously when I do this. After I finished cleaning his toes tonight, he said, "Daddy?" Yes, son. "I know one monster that isn't mythical." (Yes, he used the word mythical.) Oh yeah, what monster is that? "The TICKLE monster!" Sorry, maybe it's not that funny or maybe you just had to be there. I was just blown away by his use of the word "mythical."

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Two-Thumbs Up for D-Link Customer Service!

First, a disclaimer: Keep in mind that the comments I will share with you here are based on a sample size of TWO, so I don't know how scalable my opinion is to the corporations at large. That being said... There are two companies that stick out in my mind as having earned my undying loyalty due to their phenomenal customer service.

The first was 3Com. We set up our first home LAN back in 1999 in Monterey so LW and I could play video games together and access the internet at the same time on our two computers instead of taking turns on the phone line. My first LAN hub was a 3Com OfficeConnect that had a built in 56.6k modem, so it dialed out on our phone line and connected to the internet and acted as the proxy server for our two computers on the home LAN (think stone-age version of a cable modem router).

It worked like a champ and our home network rocked with some epic Civ II battles. One day I tried to upgrade the firmware in the router, and it died. No worky. Non-responsive. Kaput. I called the 3Com toll free tech support number, I got to talk to a real live human being on the phone, and he immediately shipped me a replacement router via next-day air. When the delivery guy showed up at the door, all I had to do was open the box, take out the new router, put the broken router back in the box, slap the RMA address label on it, and hand it back to the delivery guy to take it away. Poof! Our LAN was back up and operational in a day, and it didn't cost me a dime.

Later, on my initial attempt to join the world of wireless LAN people, I tried to use a Linksys wireless router. I hated it. No matter how hard I tried, I could NOT get it to work, and tech support was non existent and/or not helpful.

So based on my previous high-esteem for 3Com, I did some online shopping and found that 3Com had a wireless router on the market, so I bought it. I have never been disappointed with it. The 3Com wireless router worked right away with no set-up issues or problems over the past 3 years.

Okay, I'm stepping down off of my 3Com soap box now and stepping up onto the next soap box.

The second company to earn this high praise from me is D-Link.

Sometime during our last shore duty, I replaced my Intel Print Server with a D-Link DP-300U Print Server. It's been a few years, and I'm sure that the D-Link is probably no longer under warranty. While the setup of the D-Link was by no means intuitive or "plug and play," it came with a VERY HELPFUL quick setup reference sheet that was very easy to understand and follow step by step, and it worked like a champ. The quick setup sheet is available for download from their support website, so each time I've bought a new computer and needed to map my network printer to the new computer, I've been able to quickly relocate the setup guide on the D-Link website and follow the instructions.

I decided to upgrade our cable modem router. This is not meant to put down 3Com in any way, that 3Com router was awesome and served us well. I decided to go with a Zyxel router this time that had really good user reviews on the internet, was reasonably priced, and was recommended for use with the X-Box for playing video games on X-Box Live.

The problem arose that I could no longer print after installing the new Zyxel router. The default IP address that the D-Link print server liked to use was not in the IP address range that the Zyxel router assigns to computers on the network. I emailed D-Link customer service to ask for help. I quickly received a reply email informing me it would be easier to help me fix it over the phone, and to please call their tech support available 24/7. I called D-Link tech support tonight, and with a few menu options and button pushes, I got to a live human being. He quickly understood my problem and walked me through step by step to fix the problem. He never asked me when I purchased it or if it was under warranty or anything like that, he was very professional just helped me solve the problem and got me back in business.

So there you have it. Two anecdotal stories on why I hold 3Com and D-Link in such high esteem.

What about the other end of the spectrum you ask? Hmmm... The ONE company that I will forever hold a grudge against and NEVER EVER purchase something they make is BenQ. Avoid BenQ like the plague! It's a rather long story spanning nine months of multiple RMAs and complaints to the Better Business Bureau, so I'll have to save that one for another post.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weekly Food Recap

I like the idea I saw on someone else's blog about doing a weekly blog entry for certain topics. Since I do my WW weigh-ins on Mondays, I figured Monday would be a good day to write about food.

So you say to yourself, "Self, why does Kevin write about and post recipe links for food that his wife made? It seems most people who post recipes on their blogs are posting the recipes of things THEY'VE personally cooked." Well, I'm glad you asked. I actually do it for two reasons. First, I do it as a shout-out to show my appreciation for my LW and the time and effort she puts into finding and planning nutritious yet good tasting stuff for us to eat. Second, I do it as sort of a catalog of things I can ask LW to make again in the future.

We have found that planning ahead is the key to being able to stay in for dinner instead of going out to eat every night. If LW hasn't planned what we're going to have in advance, then by the time 4:30 or 5 p.m. roll around and we start the "what do you want for dinner" discussion, then it's really too late to take chicken out of the freezer to thaw, or go to the store to pick up the ingredients, etc. So LW makes a concerted effort to sit down and plan out several meals for the week before she goes to the grocery store, and she frequently hits me with the, "What do you want for dinner this week?" question. Now, given the indecisiveness I feel and the lack of response she gets from me when she asks me what I want for dinner TONIGHT, you can probably imagine how much worse of a blank-stare response she gets from me when she asks what I want to eat for dinner this WEEK.

I do much better when I can choose from selections put in front of me. So if I keep track of what LW has made that I've liked, then next time she asks me what I want to eat this WEEK, then I can look at my list of favorites and pick out some suggestions for her instead of giving her the blank-stare response (or worse - the "Not now dear, I'm playing Lego Star Wars" response).

Now, when I say LW "plans" the meals for the week, I don't mean that she plans we're going to have THIS on Monday and THAT on Tuesday and THOSE on Wednesday. I actually think it's worked out really well the way she has been doing it. She has several meals "planned" for the week that she has purchased all the ingredients for at the commissary. Then, getting back to how it's easier for me to choose from selections put in front of me, on any given day of the week LW will say to me, "Would you rather have X, Y, or Z for dinner tonight?" where X, Y, and Z are meals that she has planned for the week and the ingredients readily available in the kitchen. The results have been that we eat out a lot less and save a good amount of money in the process.

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Restaurant Review: Zia's in Kaneohe

Sunday after church, we were starving, so we wanted to go someplace close. Up until now, we have not been very impressed by the selection of places to eat on the Windward side of the island, with the exception of Haleiwa Joe's in Kaneohe. Haleiwa Joe's Sunday Brunch is AWESOME, but it's also expen$ive, so we tend to go there when we have visitors or for special occasions. We didn't want to spend that much this morning, so we started driving down the street just looking for whatever popped up in front of us.

We found a place called Zia's on Kam Hwy in Kaneohe. If you take H-3 to Exit 11 and turn left onto Kam Highway, it's probably about two miles down on the left hand side, before you get to the traffic light intersection with Burger King and the Toyota dealership. You can't miss it because it's ORANGE and really stands-out. It's a fairly small place with about a dozen tables. It turns out this is their second restaurant, and there's another Zia's in Kailua.

The atmosphere was really cozy and nice. The service was very prompt, professional, and courteous (significantly above average service for Hawaii). They had really good salads and sandwiches, but it's really sort of an Italian place. I had a hard time deciding what to have, because so much of what was on the menu sounded delicious.

They had something I had never heard of before called a plantation iced tea. I found there is a recipe available online here, but the waiter at Zia's told me a couple of extra little sumthin-sumthin's they put in their recipe. I could tell you the ingredients if you want, but it might be more fun for you to try one and guess the ingredients and then ask your waiter. I thought it was pretty good.

LW commented to ES that Zia's might be her new favorite restaurant. I definitely look forward to going back.

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Another Run with Chicken in Aluminum Foil on the Barbecue Grill

I've been surprised by how many people have come to my blog after doing a Google search for some combination of "barbecue," "chicken," and "aluminum foil." Since I've had multiple hits from that flavor of Google search, I thought I'd share that we did another barbecue chicken in a foil packet. LW prepared these teriyaki chicken packets with a chicken breast, some pineapple, onions, and peppers along with some teriyaki sauce. All I had to do was throw them on the barbecue grill for 20 minutes. LW tells me she got the recipe here. It turned out really nice - the chicken was very tender, moist, and not charred black (the usual result of my cooking chicken on the barbecue grill without aluminum foil).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Secret Life of a Blog Post

There's a pretty cool two-page spread in the February edition of WIRED magazine about "The Secret Life of a Blog Post." It's really fascinating to read. I never knew that "spam blogs" existed, but somehow it doesn't surprise me. It was interesting to read how corporations monitor blogs for feedback on products or commercials. The example they use in the WIRED article is someone sees a Budweiser ad during the Super Bowl and writes a blog about it, and how it gets automatically picked up by Data Miners and used by corporations. Pretty cool stuff. Here I thought my blog posts of favorite restaurants and stuff was just going out to the five of you who read my blog. I wonder if any CEOs of major corporations have read my blogs. If the CEO of Einstein Brothers happens to read this: WHY?? WHY DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE OUR EINSTEIN BROTHERS AWAY???

Another really cool WIRED article was this photo gallery. My friend E sent me the link to this one, pointing out the photo of the fiber-optic cables where they come into America from the trans-Atlantic cable. Check it out here.

In case you were wondering: No, WIRED is not paying me a dime for advertising. I just really like the magazine, that's all.

Sailor Mail Sea Stories

My previous post about colors brought to mind a couple of quick sea stories.

Sea Story #1: Lilac.

During my previous sea tour, the Eng's wife and my wife were known for going nuts with their paint brushes around our houses. Every time we'd go out to sea for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the Eng and I would come home to find our LWs had painted one or more rooms of our house a different color than it was when we left. [Aside: In our case, this was the first house we had owned, so LW was really excited about getting to paint the walls instead of living with the plain white walls in previous rentals and military housing.]

One day, we went to PD (periscope depth) to clear the broadcast and download our email traffic. Eng was sitting in his stateroom and I was sitting next door in my stateroom. As the email started to flow into the LAN, I suddenly heard a panicked yell from the Eng's stateroom, "WHAT COLOR IS LILAC?!?!?"

Eng had received an email from his wife informing him she had painted their master bedroom "lilac." We took a poll around the wardroom table at dinner that night, and nobody had any clue what color "lilac" was.

Sea Story #2: Our New House.

Before I tell this story, I have to explain the Sailor Mail system for any of you that aren't submariners and haven't used the system before. Sailor Mail is a system that enables us to send and receive unclassified internet email via our classified LAN on the submarine and our routine satellite communications circuits back to the shore. The limitations are:

1) It's slow. There can be a time lag of a couple of days between it going through filters that search for bad news or classified information, and then it depends on how often and how long the submarine is going to PD to download the email traffic.
2) You can't send file attachments or forwards. The Sailor Mail system automatically strips any inbound emails of any attachments or text marked with the carrot symbols to say it's forwarded text.
3) Lastly, we have no ability to browse the internet or use any internet links that someone emails to us.

Okay, so, rewind to the end of my last sea tour. I was going to spend the last three months of my tour out at sea before transferring to DC, so we decided to sell our house while it was a strong seller's market and send LW and the boys off to DC to find us a place to live.
Aside: Back then in San Diego, houses went on the market and got multiple offers within the first week. We put our house on the market and got two offers in the first week. We were in the process of counter-offers on those two when a third buyer came into the fray. Their realtor told them that we were already in counter offers with two other buyers, so if they wanted the house, they better bid fast and bid BIG. So the third prospective buyers rounded UP from our asking price, and we said $OLD! Now, our neighbors back there tell us our former house is on the market again, but listed for over $100k less than what we sold it for. Cha-ching! We made out like bandits when we sold that house, but it turned out to be a good thing. We took a loss on selling our house in VA, but we're still in the black from selling our San Diego house.
Anyway, getting back to the story. LW and the boys are off in the DC area house hunting, and I'm out at sea. We go to PD and get a download of email. I get this email from LW that's addressed to a bunch of our family and friends, and says, "Check out this house that I just put an offer on!" with a link to the MLS listing. Um... Sweetie... I can't use the link... How about telling me something about the house? That was all I got that PD trip. So I strolled into lunch in the wardroom and had a conversation something like this:

Me: "[LW] put an offer on a house!"
Wardroom: "Oh yeah? Where is it?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wardroom: "How big is it?"
Me: "I don't know.
Wardroom: "How many bedrooms does it have?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wardroom: "How many bathrooms does it have?"
Me: "I don't know."

Before I continue the story, let me just stop and ask the question: If you wanted to know what a house was like, what information would you want? In systems engineering terms, what are your evaluation criteria? I think the discussion with the wardroom above reveals what a man would want to know - location, square footage, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, asking price... These are simple terms that enable you to compare from one house to another house.

I figured it was just a case where she sent out the link to everyone for the MLS listing and that email made it through on the last Sailor Mail download, and there was probably another email still waiting in the buffer that was addressed specifically to ME with details about the house.

Fast forward to our next PD trip. I open up my computer and I'm VERY excited to see another email from LW. LW wrote to me that she really loves this house and that it just "felt right" to her, and she really liked that it had a jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom, a partially finished basement, and a swing set in the back yard for the boys. Okay, okay, this is good, right? So I walk into the wardroom for lunch and have a conversation that went something like this:

Me: "I got another email from [LW] about the house she put an offer on!"
Wardroom: "Oh yeah? Where is it?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wardroom: "How big is it?"
Me: "I don't know.
Wardroom: "How many bedrooms does it have?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wardroom: "How many bathrooms does it have?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wardroom: "What DO you know?"
Me: "It's got a jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom, a partially finished basement, and a swing set in the back yard for the boys."

Ahhh, the challenges of time-delayed communications with your spouse. :-) Luckily, we pulled into port soon after that, and I was able to get on my webmail and see all the pictures LW took of our house and read the MLS listing.

Saturday Evening Stew

A smattering of odds and ends to tell you about tonight.

Snow... er... Carpet Angels

After seeing the patterns that the vacuum cleaner leaves on the carpet, YS decided to improvise a Hawaiian version of snow angels. He calls them [YS]-Angels. It's funny watching him waving his arms and legs back and forth on the carpet. I wish it actually left an observable impression like snow angels do that I could photograph.

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Latest Technology in Making Pillow Forts

The Lucky Wifey wrote a post about building forts as kids. I know, I know, I had fun building forts when I was a kid, too. As a parent though, it's frustrating to not be able to find a place to sit in the family room with all the dining room chairs, sofa cushions, blankets, and miscellaneous other stuff all piled in heaps to make forts.

This morning, I woke up and came downstairs to find a new variation on the pillow fort...

That's LW's laptop and my laptop side by side making one wall of the boys' new "video game fort."

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Chuck Rationing

With the writers' strike putting a big damper on our favorite TV shows, LW and I were really excited to get a double-dose of new Chuck episodes this week. We decided given the overall lack of new episodes to watch though that we should ration ourselves and not watch both episodes in one night. LW checked and double checked to make DARN sure the DVR was going to record both episodes though.

During the first episode, I saw an ad for the Chuck spy games on the NBC website. The games are okay, nothing to rave about. The Nerd Herd car is pretty hard to drive, but maybe that was the point of the game. I think the "I Spy" game was the hardest (find the four things that are different between two VERY similar looking pictures of Buy More store shelves).

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Another Bullet for the "Con" List for Staying in Hawaii

Bugler, sound taps please. (If you live here in Hawaii, you may want to get a tissue box before you read any further). I sincerely regret to inform you that the ONLY Einstein Brothers Bagel Bakery here on Oahu has closed. That said, there aren't ANY places around here to get a good bagel.

Friends of ours who were stationed here previously tell us there used to be Dunkin Donuts here, but they closed before we even arrived on the island last summer. When I got up Friday morning, I was starving, but I refrained from eating so I could go to PT. I got to the gym and was running on the treadmill when they showed a Dunkin Donuts commercial on the TV that seemed to last forever. [Cue stomach noises: gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.]

That's one of the disadvantages of getting satellite TV here in Hawaii... You have to endure the homesickness induced by commercials for Target, Dunkin Donuts, Olive Garden, etc...

On a positive note though, LW did find Dunkin Donuts coffee at the store this week!

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4-Year Old Birthday Party

Today we had YS's birthday party. It was controlled chaos as you would expect. I thought it was pretty funny that YS announced to LW and I a day or two ago that he wanted ONLY BOYS at his birthday party. LW was like, but YOU invited J, can she come? Oh, yeah, J! And you asked C to come, do you still want her to come? Oh, yeah, C! The list went on and on... Off the top of my head, I think there were 7 girls and 3 boys on the guest list. YS and ES evened out the boy-girl ratio to 7:5, but the boys were still outnumbered. I just found it odd that he came up with this "only boys" proclamation when so many of the kids he enjoys playing with are girls.

LW got the "cake" from the Commissary, and it was REALLY GOOD! I say "cake" because it was really a whole bunch of cupcakes, but they were all frosted over the top to make it look like a regular cake (see picture below). It turned out to be quite messy as LW and I were pulling the wrappers off the cupcakes before putting them on plates, and the abundance of frosting was getting all over our hands. Even so, it was delicious!

You probably can't tell from the picture, but it was a Backyardigans cake. One of the other dads and I were commenting on how frustrating it can be to have the Backyardigans theme song stuck in your head all day at work.

YS quote of the day: "I'm four, so I can jump high now."

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Bedtime Stories

Every Friday, ES goes to the library at school and gets to check out two books. He ALWAYS picks out at least one military book. I've been surprised by the wide selection of kids' military books they have. They've got first-grade level books on just about every type of military aircraft or vehicle you can imagine.

One of ES's current library books is on the Army Rangers. I've been very impressed with what a good job ES is doing in reading. He blew me away tonight when he read the sentence, "Usually this means solving difficult problems in stressful situations, such as simulated combat conditions." No help from me, he just read it. His spelling word lists for school are like "was", "does", "goes", "their." It's a lot easier recognizing words and reading them or sounding them out than it is to recall their correct spelling form memory I guess.

We got to a hard word that ES didn't know: reconnaissance. He asked what that was. I explained to him it's just like a reconnaissance satellite takes pictures of where the bad guys are (he's familiar with this concept from my last shore duty job at the NRO). Rangers go out on reconnaissance missions, not to fight, but just to take pictures or observe where the bad guys are and report back to the generals so the generals can decide where to send the Army. This lead into a discussion about how the Rangers have to be stealthy and quiet so they can sneak behind enemy lines, close to the bad guys to see what the bad guys are doing. ES giggled and said, "So the Rangers aren't allowed to laugh." I asked why not, and he said they would want to laugh because they were able to sneak up on the bad guys without the bad guys knowing the Rangers were there watching them, but they can't laugh because then the bad guys would hear them and know they were there. Ya know what, son? You're absolutely RIGHT, they CAN'T LAUGH. I suppressed a laugh myself and continued reading the story.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gouge, Kudos, and a Rant

Playing Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, I found a lot of great gouge on the internet with lots of pretty color pictures and videos. Now, playing Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, it's thrown in a few new things here and there, and the internet knowledgebase just isn't as robust as it was for LSW II.

I went on a quest looking for information about the blue cannisters.

You see, for each level of LSW, you have to play the level once through in "Story" mode using the characters that are given to you. After you've played the level once in "Story" mode, then it unlocks the ability to play that level in "Free Play" mode. In "Free Play" mode, you get to choose any character you've unlocked on other levels or purchased in the Mos Eisley Cantina with the points you've earned playing so far. Different characters have different special capabilities that enable you to reach or access different hidden parts of the map.

As you play the game in either "Story" or "Free Play" mode, there are ten white cannisters hidden throughout each level. When you find all ten white cannisters, it gives you like a 50,000 point bonus and a vehicle you can use in some race later on.

So far, everything I wrote above was the same from LSW II to LSW CS. Now in LSW CS though, after the "Story" and "Free Play" it has added the "Challenge." The "Challenge" mode is ALL about finding ten BLUE cannisters hidden throughout the map. You have a 10 minute time limit to find them all. There are no studs (coins) to be found anywhere in "Challenge" mode, but all the same bad guys are there to thwart you that were there in the Story and Free Play. It's pretty... well... challenging.

In my search for hints on the internet, I found lots of discussion forums, and I clicked here and clicked there and through some untraceable series of links, I ended up at THIS site. I don't know why it didn't pop up as the FIRST result on the list when I googled it. It SHOULD have.

Now, this guide is technically written for the Wii version of LSW CS, but it's all good gouge for playing on the XBox, too. It's not pretty and doesn't have any color pictures or other frills, but it is very well organized and logically laid out.

For the sake of anyone who hasn't played Lego Star Wars before, I wanted to share this "hint" from that website, because I thought it was a surprisingly simple synopsis of the game:
Shoot. Freakin'. Everything. If it's made out of LEGO
bricks and not obviously part of the background, gun it
down, or saber it down, or whatever you have to do,
because a lot of stuff to move ahead in the game requires
you to go on a destruction frenzy.
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PT Update: I got my trophy back! On my Polar F11 heart rate monitor (HRM) watch, it keeps track of my workouts. I set up a plan for how many and what type of workouts I'm going to do each week. If you reach at least 75% of your goal each week, then it displays a little trophy icon for the rest of the week. I had lost the trophy over the holidays from holiday laziness. Thanks to getting back into my regular weekly routine last week, my watch gave me my trophy back on Monday.

Unfortunately, a shipyard fire drill prevented me from joining my crew with the PT Nazi over at Bloch Arena this morning. I'm really disappointed I missed it. I hear he had the guys running quarter mile sprints out on the bike path.

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Proud of my Tiger Scout: Last night at our Cub Scout Pack meeting, ES earned his first awards as a Tiger Scout. He earned his Bobcat Badge, six beads toward his Tiger Badge (there are 15 total to earn the badge), the Geography belt loop, and the Swimming belt loop. I know during the week or so before the pack meeting as I was quizzing him on the Cub Scout Promise, the Law of the Pack, the Cub Scout Motto, etc (all things you need to know for the Bobcat badge), he got a little frustrated or annoyed with me. I think when he got the awards last night though, it really gave him an ego boost and made the effort worth it. Now he's excited and wants to start earning more belt loops.

It was interesting to see the difference in awards last night though. Most of the other boys in his den got the basketball, soccer, baseball, and other sports belt loops. Not only did ES not get any of the sports belt loops that the rest of his den got, he was the only one to get the geography belt loop. I think that's more of a reflection on his non-athletic nerd of a dad though.

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CBS Rant
: LW and I were REALLY excited to watch the season finale of The Amazing Race on Sunday. We plopped down in our chairs and clicked on the DVR, and... found... nothing... Our DVR did NOT record the finale of the Amazing Race.

So you say to yourself, "Self, WHY on EARTH would the DVR NOT record the finale when it has recorded EVERY Amazing Race episode before this?!?!?" Well, I'll tell you. Some IDIOT at CBS decided to change the official NAME of the show in the electronic listings that go into TV Guide and Dish Network and everywhere else. Our DVR was set to record every episode of "Amazing Race 12," and that worked for the entire season, because that's what it showed up as in the Dish Network guide. For some reason, they changed the name to "Amazing Race: The Season Finale" or something like that. So NOBODY's DVR recorded it if they had it set up as an automatic "record-all-episodes" function. Turns out the same thing happened to my Mom, too. She isn't using Dish Network, so it's not a problem unique to Dish.

I read the recap of the final leg of the race, and it sounded pretty intense. It's a real bummer to have missed it. Why do they offer to let you watch full episodes of all their other shows on their website, but not Amazing Race? To CBS, I say, "Thbbbbbbt!" >:-P

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Waimano Valley Hike

This afternoon, we made another try at the Waimano Valley hike.

I mentioned in a previous post that we had attempted this hike, but aborted it based on getting devoured by mosquitoes. This afternoon, we went armed with lots of bug spray, and I lathered up the boys with the bug spray before we left the parking lot. The good news is the bug spray worked wonders. We still had clouds of mosquitoes buzzing around us, but they didn't seem to land on our skin at all - just our faces (and YS's thigh when he pulled down his pants to go pee along the side of the trail).

My two little environmentalists opening a
trash bag to pick up litter in the parking lot.

While this was a very beautiful area and overall an enjoyable hike, I severely underestimated the difficulty of this hike. Friends had told us they did the hike with their two small children and that they enjoyed it. According to Ball Chapter 20, it's a "2-mile loop" with "400 feet" of elevation gain suitable for "novice" hikers. To quote Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Thaaat's EASY!!!" Since we just did over 5 miles with 600 feet of elevation gain at the Makapuu Ridge hike a couple of weeks ago, I figured this 2-mile loop would be a breeze for us. ...Boy was I wrong.

This is the trail heading down into the valley.

Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived down in the bottom of the valley by the stream, I tried to turn the camera on and found the batteries were dead, so that's the last photo you get of our hike today.

The parking lot is at 530 feet of elevation, and we hiked down a moderate slope (pictured above, and note the slope of the descent in the altitude profile) into the valley, bottoming out at 350 feet.

Down in the valley it was really pretty along the stream, and we grabbed a geocache. Then it started to rain. Since the batteries were dead in the camera anyway, I put the camera away in my camelbak and pulled out our rain parkas. The trails got really muddy and slippery. Then we tried to climb up the hill. Note the difference in slope from the descent into the valley versus the climb out of the valley on the altitude profile below. It was very slow going with the boys.

When we got to the top of that hill and joined the Upper Waimano Trail, I figured we had maxed out on our elevation at 660 feet (310 feet gain from the bottom of the valley) and it would be an easy hike back down to the parking lot from there. There was still another hill to go up and over where we eventually maxed out at 700 feet. All the while, we were getting soaked and slipping and sliding in the mud.

We enjoyed a spectacular view of the valley and a very nice sunset from the top of the ridge, but as the sun set, it got VERY dark. We were pretty isolated with no street lights around. I broke out my flashlight and ES led the way. He was a very good point man showing YS roots to step over and centipedes to watch out for. He later told me he was scared in the dark part of our hike, but he was a real trooper and did a great job helping YS through.

Altitude Profile from my GPS
Mileage in 0.2 mile increments on X-Axis,
Altitude in 25 foot increments on Y-Axis.
Note the mileage here says it was 2.9 miles.

We were some messy muddy boys when we came home very late for dinner tonight. I wish I could show you a picture of the expression on YS's face as he laid floating in his bathtub water. His smile was one of pure bliss.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the boys said this was not as fun as Lego Star Wars. So if I were to draw a "fun meter", it would have muddy, slippery, after dark hiking on the left, sunny, dry paved path hiking on the right, and Lego Star Wars somewhere in the middle.

WAIMANO VALLEY HIKE SUMMARY: I know when I'm trying to decide on a new hike location, I search for an overview about the hike that will help me judge if it's doable with two little boys. For anyone else looking to do this hike, here's a quick summary:
Map: This hike is covered by Ball Chapter 20 (see this post for explanation).
Mileage: My GPS trip odometer said 1.6 miles, but reviewing the track history in my GPS after I got home, it says the total trek was 2.9 miles. Maybe I accidentally hit the reset button on the GPS while it was in my pocket.
Elevation Gain: From the bottom of the valley to the max elevation was approximately 350 feet of elevation gain.
Terrain: Mostly hard-pack dirt, but lots of tree roots and rocks to step over. Very slippery mud in the rain. There are some VERY steep drop-offs along the sides on the Upper Waimano Trail, so watch your children carefully.
Time: It took us 3 1/2 hours, but that was complicated by (a) the rain making the trails muddy and slippery and slowing us down, and (b) the sun went down and we were watching our footing very carefully for the last mile or so. My GPS said our average speed was 0.7 miles per hour.
Facilities: There were NONE - no bathrooms, no drinking fountains, nor any other sort of facilities anywhere in the parking lot or along the trail. (Luckily, having two boys, we watered a couple of bushes along the way).

Box Car Racing

This morning we got to go Box Car Racing in Kunia with ES's Cub Scout Pack. We had a GREAT time.

Daddy and YS Take Off from the Start Line
Check out the smile on that YS-kid.

Next Round: Daddy & YS versus ES.
I love the look on YS's face!

High Five at the Finish Line

The track was really well setup and well run. Turns out, it's a non-profit organization. Their website is here if you'd like to check it out or learn more. It'd be a great place for birthday parties or any sort of group activity. I think it was like $250 for three hours and up to 35 people.

Adults had to ride the track once alone to get comfortable with the cars and the track. After that, you could take a two-seater and have a child ride with you. I rode with ES the first couple of times, and then he rode by himself the rest of the morning while I rode with YS. The boys really had a ball (as you can see by the facial expressions in the pictures).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Recap

Oh so much to write about, where to begin?

Chapter 1. If offending babysitters were an Olympic sport, we'd be GOLD MEDALISTS.

It's been an expensive weekend with two babysitter nights in a row. Friday night, LW and I went to a social for the Dolphin Scholarship Foundation. We invited back the same babysitter I wrote about last time with my open-mouth-insert-foot maneuver on gaudy Christmas lights. She didn't seem to hold it against me, so that was good. She said at least the boys didn't handcuff her this time. ...Um... I'm sorry, they did WHAT???

Saturday night, we had our boat Christmas Party. Tangent: I know, it's a little late for a Christmas party. It's a bit of a challenge figuring out logistics of something like that when you've just arrived on the island, but the families are still working on moving to Hawaii through the course of the fall. Most places were already booked by the time we got here, and it just worked out better to make it a "Happy New Year" Boat Party instead. Besides, this way, we were able to present a bunch of end of year awards like Sailor of the Year, Junior Sailor of the Year, Blue Jacket of the Year, and Junior Officer of the Year. Plus we got to pin on one guys' dolphins and CAP another sailor to E-5. [Aside: The Command Advancement Program (CAP) gives Commanding Officers the ability to hand pick a very small number of sailors each year and promote them one rank.] It seemed like everyone had a great time. There were a lot of cool door prizes, and a lot of guys were getting up on the microphone singing karaoke. I'll be interested to see what videos end up on YouTube later.

Anyway, back to the babysitter story. The babysitter we used Friday night was busy Saturday night, but she told us she has a German exchange student staying with them and she would be willing to babysit for us.

Now, ES has been rather obsessed with military history, and WWII history in particular since we're surrounded by WWII history in Pearl Harbor. We keep having discussions with ES about the fact that yes, Japan and Germany WERE our enemies back during WWII, but that was a LONG time ago and they are both our FRIENDS now.

Ahem... So LW and I returned from the boat party and asked the babysitter how it went. She seemed a little sheepish and embarrassed. She alluded to ES asking her questions about Germany and WWII, but wouldn't tell us specifically what he said. I figure she didn't feel comfortable telling us about it because it was the first time we had met her that night and she didn't know us well. This morning, we tried interrogating ES to find out what he said that offended the babysitter, but he essentially plead the 5th and wouldn't tell us anything. YS in his 4-year-old confident innocence came right forward, proudly and cheerfully informing us that they handcuffed the new babysitter last night - as if it were a normal right of passage and an achievement ANY babysitter would be proud to share with her peers. We've told them that it's NOT OKAY to handcuff the babysitter anymore... if any babysitter ever agrees to come back to our house.
Disclaimer: Mind you, these aren't REAL handcuffs that would incapacitate her from taking action in an emergency. Our boys "handcuffs" are usually made of zoobs that are easy to pull apart. Still, if I were a 17 year old German girl being symbolically handcuffed and interrogated as if I were a WWII spy, I think I might be a little offended and might not go back to that house again.
Again... My mind is wandering back to the The Ransom of Red Chief for some strange reason.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 2. Okay, clearly, I was gone for some vital portions of ES's upbringing during some very sensitive and impressionable years.

Saturday, we went to the Hale Koa Pool. This was offered up to ES as a bribe for going to the dentist earlier this week. Plus, I wanted to knock out the requirements for ES's Cub Scout Swimming Belt Loop. One of the requirements was to, "Play a recreational game in the water with your den, pack, or family." I googled "swimming pool games" before we left the house and had a handful of games up my sleeve to play with the boys when we got to the pool. One of them was called Categories. You can click on the link if you want an explanation of the game, but the point of my story is that we each had to choose a COLOR.

So you ask yourself, "Self, what sort of colors would you think a 6 year old would choose?" Yellow? (His favorite color is yellow.) Orange? Red? Blue? Nice, primary, simple colors? Oh, no, my friend. I guessed EVERY primary color and all I got was a SMIRK in response from ES and LW! LW assured me she did NOT help him and HE came up with the color he chose on his own. The colors that came from my dear little 6-year old SON's mouth were FUSIA (heck, I can't even SPELL fuchsia close enough for my spell checker to tell me what the CORRECT spelling is - I had to ask LW), and TURQUOISE, and CONSTRUCTION orange (not just "orange" mind you - CONSTRUCTION orange) and SCHOOL BUS yellow. When it was my turn, I pulled out the big guns and used PERIWINKLE. I only knew that one because that's one of the character's names on Blue's Clues.
Aside: I didn't even know roughly what color fuchsia was until I asked LW. She gave me an education on where the name fuchsia came from ala wikipedia. It's actually named after the flower of the fuchsia plant. Who knew??? For the rest of you manly-men out there reading this who also had no clue what color fuchsia REALLY is, wikipedia says it's "reddish purple."

Tangent: As LW scrolled down the Wikipedia page, she came upon the section "Fuchsia in Human Culture" where it states, "In the handkerchief code of the gay leather subculture, wearing a fuchsia bandana means one has a spanking fetish." Um... okay... if THAT wasn't ALREADY TMI, LW clicked on the "hankerchief code" link and started giggling and reading aloud what some of the other codes mean. OMG I did NOT need to know any of that!!!
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 3. People have to WAIT in LINE???

Shifting topics, but still at the Hale Koa pool, we observed something new at the Hale Koa this time around. We've been there several times, and almost always on weekends. This was the first time we've seen a LINE of people waiting to get in. There wasn't a line when we got there, so we went right in and went to our usual back corner of the pool. We didn't realize that they limited how many people they let in to the pool until we were leaving about 1:30 p.m. The lady at the entryway who checked our IDs on the way in asked if we were leaving for the day so she could take our arm bands, and there was a line of about six people waiting to get in. I overheard one person explaining to another at the end of the line that the pool area was full and they had to wait for someone to leave before they would be allowed in.

Oh, and in spite of my advice in my last post about the Hale Koa pool, we managed to time our arrival PERFECTLY so we got there JUST as they blew the whistle for the "adult swim period" (no kids allowed in the pool for the first fifteen minutes of every hour).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 4. The Birthday Boy

Once again, I don't know WHY our boys are OBSESSED with all things STAR WARS. It's not like we encourage it or anything...

That little box hanging from his neck plays
either some pre-recorded Darth Vader
sayings, or it will also alter your voice as
you speak through the mask. (LW found
it on sale at the NEX for like 1/10th what
it cost on Amazon).

Sunday, since it was YS's birthday, we gave him his choice where to go for lunch. (You get three guesses what he chose, and the first two don't count.) We went to his favorite McDonald's with the big playground over behind the NEX. Otherwise, we spent a good portion of the afternoon playing Lego Star Wars (despite my efforts to convince him we should go for a hike). My thumbs were actually getting sore from playing so much XBox today.

Since we satisfied YS's daily chicken nugget fix at lunchtime, LW cooked up some fajita steak, sweet potato fries, and corn on the cob for dinner - all things that YS has been known to eat as an alternative to his favorite chicken nuggets. He actually loved the dinner and gobbled it all down. He even surprised LW and me by asking for "one of those taco things" (tortilla) and proceeded to put steak, sweet potato fries, and cheese in it, roll it up, and eat it. I guess it's time to take him back to California so he can get a California Burrito, eh? (California Burrito is like a carne asada steak burrito with french fries inside).

The Birthday Boy
Playing his favorite Lego Star Wars and enjoying
one of his race-car birthday cookies from Grandma.

Thanks to the holiday tomorrow, we're off to do some box car racing with the Cub Scouts. We'll be having YS's actual birthday party next weekend - this weekend we just had too many other plans.

How can it be 4 years already???

Where has the time gone? LW and I were very truly blessed with the arrival of our second son four years ago. Here are some of my favorite pictures and memories with my youngest son over the past four years.

Balboa Naval Hospital January 20th, 2004

Check-Up Time - 3 Days Old
Balboa Naval Hospital

OBX September 2004

Christmas in Oregon 2005

This is what happens when left unsupervised
and it's TOO QUIET in the house.

Drivin' the Boat
Lake Winnipesaukee, NH
Summer 2006
(I think this is my favorite picture of YS.)

Swimmin' in Grammy's Pool
Summer 2006

Homecoming from Deployment
Norfolk, VA

April 2007

Home from Local Ops off Hawaii
September 2007

I like the shadow in this picture.

The Fish Out of Water
Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park
December 2007

Happy Birthday YS!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

USMC Silent Drill Team

Photo from Marine Barracks Washington website.

First, thanks to the shout-out from bothenook. He periodically does a round-up, brief summary of a whole bunch of bubblehead (submariner) blogs around the blogosphere. In reviewing his most recent roundup, I found some really good stuff. I won't recap his whole post, but his roundup led me to this very powerful and heart-wrenching photograph, and also to a really good USMC recruiting video.

The USMC recruiting video brought back a memory from my last shore duty in DC. The USMC Silent Drill Platoon performs a Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial on Tuesday nights in the summertime. It's free and open to the public, and it's really amazing to watch. I was very glad I took the boys to see the Sunset Parade in the summer of 2006. Click here for Sunset Parade information (directions, parking, times, etc).

When I googled it to find the Marine Barracks Washington website with the info about the Sunset Parade, I came upon a whole slew of videos on YouTube. I flipped through a few of them, and most don't do justice to the power of seeing the performance live.

However (comma), this video I've attached below is an awesome remix with some music in the background. It's a little long (over 8 minutes), but around 2:30 into the video it starts showing some of the really amazing "rifle inspection" sequences in slow motion and repeated a couple of times. For to those of you who have never been on a drill team as a midshipman or otherwise, those M-1 Garand rifles are HEAVY, and those Marines twirl them with precision like they're twigs.

As you watch the beginning part of the video where it's all in fast-forward, keep in mind that they are doing ALL of that without ANY COMMANDS. Nobody is telling them what to do. They have memorized and practiced the routine until they can do it like clockwork without a single verbal command. The performance lasts like 30 minutes, and it's all perfectly timed with the utmost precision.

Be sure to scroll down and pause my blog music before you start the video.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Decisions, Decisions...

I just don't know what the right answer is. [Cue music - The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"] We're "in the window" to start negotiating with the detailer for where we'll go next. Should we stay in Hawaii or should we move on elsewhere? So far, the only job the detailer has offered me is here in Hawaii on the COMSUBPAC staff. We're just not sure if we want to stay in Hawaii.

Why do I bring this up, you ask?

We reached another PCS / New Duty Station milestone today. We took both boys in to the dentist for a check-up. We went to a children's dentistry office over in the Pearl Ridge Mall on the recommendation of several of our neighbors. This place was AWESOME. Every member of the staff had the patience of a saint. Our boys HATE going to the dentist. It takes a lot of comforting, cajoling, bribery and threats just to get them into the car much less out of the car much less in the door to the dentist's office. The staff at this place had children's dentistry down to a science, step by step making the boys understand what was going to happen before it happened, showing them what they would do with the tools on their fingernails before they stuck the tools in their mouth and started on the teeth. When the boys wigged out or were uncooperative, the staff were extremely nice, understanding, patient, and comforting.

After the dentist's office, we gave ES his choice of where to go for lunch. I was having a major Chick-fil-A craving... but alas, it's a LOOOOONG plane ride to the nearest Chick-fil-A. :-(

ES chose Wendy's for lunch. Thanks to my Chick-fil-A craving, I tried getting a chicken sandwich at Wendy's to try and satisfy the craving, but it just didn't do it for me.

Okay, so all that being said, tonight LW gave me a detailed summary of her reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii:
1) We hate moving.
2) We have an AWESOME dentist to take the boys to.

Yep, that's it. I suppose you could add to that the living in "paradise" thing, snorkeling, hiking, etc. The job the detailer offered me here I think could be fun and interesting at least.

Why, you ask, don't we want to stay in Hawaii / why would we like to move back to the mainland? Well, just off the top of my head, and in no particular order of importance, here are ten reasons for us to leave Hawaii:
1) Be closer to family and friends - maybe the same city to see them on a regular basis, or at least close enough they can come to visit.
2) Be able to take vacations to visit family and friends or to our favorite places like Lake Winnepesaukee without spending all day on an airplane with two small children and then spending a week going through the jet-lag time-zone adjustment, just to turn around and do it again coming back to Hawaii.
3) Not pay thousands of dollars to send our kids to private school because the local public schools are abysmal.
4) Cost of living. ($5 for a gallon of milk?)
5) Changing seasons.
6) Bigger houses for less money. I really miss our house in Virginia.
7) Get our nice dining room, living room, and home theater furniture out of storage.
8) Hawaii drivers drive us nuts.
9) Target.
10) Chick-fil-A.
10 1/2) Chicken biscuits at McD's (sorta goes along the same lines as 10 above).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shifting topics, today was our first session back with the PT Nazi since we got back from our Christmas stand down. Aside: For anyone who hasn't read my previous blog posts, we do Command PT three days per week, but on Wednesdays we go to Bloch Arena and have a personal fitness trainer lead us through some interval training, and he always kicks our butts.

This morning, he led us through a great workout as always, but he wasn't too hard on us. He warmed us up with five minutes of jogging in place - alternating knee-highs and butt-kickers, and led us through stretching out. Then he led us through a series that went something like:
Pushups, unassisted situps, squats, lunges, running the bleacher steps hitting every step.
Pushups, Russian twists (in a sitting position with our legs out in front of you, twist your torso to the left and touch the ground, twist your torso to the right and touch the ground, repeat), running laps around the basketball court.
Pushups, squats, side lunges, dips, running the bleacher steps two-at-a-time.
Pushups, crunches, scissor kicks, flutter kicks more laps around the basketball court.
All this lasted for an hour, and we really worked up a sweat. It was a good workout. I wonder what my legs are going to feel like in the morning though. Our COB is a stud though. I couldn't believe as I was driving home tonight, I saw him out in his PT gear running along Nimitz. I guess the PT Nazi didn't dish out enough PT this morning for the COB.

There's one thing I don't understand about my body and PT though. Using my heart rate monitor during our PT sessions, I notice that when we go out running, my heart rate gets really high, but I don't seem to be out of breath and I don't seem to sweat a lot. When we do the interval training though, my heart rate is a lot lower, but I'm always out of breath and sweating profusely. Why is that?

Oh, No! It's started again...

As I came down the stairs from putting the boys to bed tonight, I saw LW had the TV on pause (DVR). She was grinning at me with one of those Cheshire cat grins and told me she had a "surprise" for me. For a moment, I got really excited thinking there was a new episode of HIMYM or Heroes. Then she hit the play button, and that oh-so-familiar and oh-so-awful theme song started for American Idol. The first few weeks of this show each season are just agonizing to watch, and even worse to listen to. It boggles my mind that there are so many people out there who THINK they are good enough singers to go on NATIONAL TV and make total and complete FOOLS of themselves. I would NEVER turn this show on if I had custody of the remote control. Tonight, however, I have actually been pretty amused and entertained by how incredibly BAD the singers are in Philadelphia.

On a similar topic, how does one explain intellectual property rights to a 6 year old? Last night after the boys got out of their bath and we were going to get their pajamas on, ES informed me he "made up" a "new song." I said, "Oh yeah?" He proceeded to sing, "Who let the dogs out - woof! woof woof!" I tried to explain to him that someone else already wrote that song and he must have heard it somewhere else, but he insisted his song was somehow different.

I may have mentioned before that ES has broken the Mommy & Daddy Code. Even as he learned to spell and could pick up on the shorter words, we used to still be able to spell more complicated words or spell them really quickly so it'd be too fast for him to think about it. It just isn't working anymore. He now prides himself on blurting out whatever one of us has just spelled to the other. We've tried asking him not to do that so it remains a secret to YS, but he doesn't think that's any fun.

LW tested out a new code on me on Sunday. After church, when we were trying to decide what to have for lunch, she informed me there was a new foreign residence of tasty flatbreads near our house. It took me a few seconds of churning that through my noggin to realize what she was talking about. I wonder how long this code will last. I'm not that clever, so I'm not sure I could come up with things like that on the fly. Maybe we need to start working on our pig latin.

We didn't end up going to the new foreign residence of tasty flatbreads until tonight for dinner. O...M...G... We got there at 5:30, and we didn't get our food until 6:15! The place wasn't even half full and there were plenty of waiters and waitresses, it was just OUR waitress. We had been sitting at our table for about ten minutes and NOBODY had welcomed us much less taken our drink orders. I had to stop one of the other waitresses to ask her where ours was, and she went to get our waitress. Our waitress came and asked if she could take our drink orders or if we were ready to order, and LW was like, "Uh, YEAH we're ready to ORDER." So we placed both our drink and our food orders, and then... [cue crickets chirping sound effect]. Normally (as in at other locations of this chain), they're very good about bringing your drinks lickety-split. About 6 o'clock, I noticed that the family from the next table over had all left and the father was still sitting there, looking very annoyed. It dawned on me later that he had the same waitress and was waiting for a check. At 6:05, I started suggesting to LW that we just up and leave and go to Baskin Robins two doors down. I mean, hey, if it's okay to have pancakes for dinner, then what's wrong with ice cream for dinner, right? At 6:07, I stopped a guy who had good command presence and asked if he was the manager. He said he was, and I expressed to him my dissatisfaction with the service. He was very nice and very apologetic and said he would handle the situation right away. Our drinks came out about 60 seconds before our food did.

I'm not ruling out going back to this restaurant yet though. It appeared to be just our waitress. We saw coffee and food flying past us in the arms of the other waitresses serving customers who arrived after we did and departed before we did. The food was fine. The waitress appeared to keep a level head and not get a bad attitude about us complaining to the manager, so that was good. She did seem to put forth a little bit more effort to check on us after that, but by then (after we had our food) there wasn't much she could do.

Shifting topics, I was rather surprised when I came home from work today to find YS wearing crocs. No one in my family has had crocs before now, so I figured he was wearing one of the neighbor kids' crocs for some reason. I asked whose shoes he was wearing, and he grinned and said, "MINE!" He proceeded to show off his new bright red Lightning McQueen (of Cars fame) crocs for me.

I was really surprised by this. I could have sworn not long ago we were walking through the Ala Moana Mall, passing by a large display of crocs, and LW commented on how they just didn't appeal to her. When I asked her about it tonight, she said it was the Lightning McQueen that got her, and YS LOVES his new shoes.

Lastly, I've been getting back into the culture of fitness and on track with eating right and PT. I had good results on the scale this week. However, I'm not looking forward to our first session with the PT Nazi tomorrow morning after four weeks of slacking off.

Week 7 Summary
Result this week: 2.2 pound loss
Cumulative Result: 4.8 pound loss
Average Per Week: 0.7 pound loss per week