Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friendly Reminder - Uniform Shop

Last night, we were enjoying a wonderful dinner with a few friends over when there was a knock at the door. We looked up from the dinner table to see my next door neighbor, who is also in the Navy, standing at the door in his half-assembled dinner-dress blues (fancy black-tie tuxedo type of uniform). He was going to the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society ball last night, and came up missing a piece of his dress uniform, so he came to borrow from my uniform supplies.

It's good to have neighbors in the same military service as you.

Yes, yes, it gave me flashbacks to my OWN uniform mess ups and borrowing items from MY neighbors in the past.

So, I mention this as a friendly reminder to those of you looking forward to something like... ohhh... say the Submarine Birthday Ball on April 11th. That's only two weeks away! Save yourself some stress later by inventorying your uniform pieces and parts now and trying them on to make sure they fit if it's been a while.

You've been warned! :-)

NoVA custom woodworking

For those of you in the Northern Virginia / DC area, I'd just like to plant a seed in the back of your brain for future reference. A friend of mine from church does some awesome woodworking. He's a great guy and does beautiful work (see sample pictures on his website). With the way the economy has been going, I figured it couldn't hurt for me to put a plug for him on my blog.

From his website...
As the housing market slows and property values drop, now is a great time to add value to your home without the cost or hassle of additions, decks or pools. Custom built-in furniture is a relatively inexpensive way to increase the value of your home, without having to take out a loan or go in to debt. It is also a way to increase storage space without cluttering the room.

Kaleo Custom Woodworking is a small, family owned business that offers personal service. This not only enables us to keep our prices low, but also lets you work directly with owner/craftsman through the entire process.


If you're ever looking for some custom woodworking to put in some shelves or cabinets or a media center in your house, then please check out KALEO custom woodworking.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

BlackBerry Storm

Okay, for my fellow electronic gadget addicts out there (Eoin... Mark...). I've had my new BlackBerry Storm for two weeks now, so I figured it was time to post something about it.

I had been having problems with my BlackBerry 8830 crashing and had to do multiple wipe-the-Blackberry-clean and "restore factory defaults" resets, so we went to the Verizon store to have a look at the newer models.

Walking into the Verizon store was like taking a bath in fish guts and jumping into a pool full of great white sharks. The salesmen smelled us approaching before we even laid a smelly-fish hand on the door. I mean, seriously folks, if you're a college student taking any classes in social psychology and/or marketing and sales, then you should seriously write a term paper on the high-pressure sales tactics currently on exhibition at the Verizon Wireless store in Sterling.

One salesman immediately welcomed us and asked us to sign in. We said we were there to see about upgrading our phones, and he said he would go check our account status to determine if we were eligible for upgrades. No sooner did salesman #1 walk away then salesmen #2 swooped in for the kill welcomed us and asked if he could help us. Gee, think they work on commission?

Salesman #1 came back and was visibly annoyed that Salesman #2 was talking to us. Salesman #1 informed us that (a) I was eligible for an upgrade, (b) there was a buy-one-BlackBerry-get-one-free deal going on, and (c) my wife was eligible for an "early upgrade."* Ooooooh, tempting... LW wanted a BlackBerry, too.

It turns out Salesman #2 was actually trying to sell us on the new Verizon FiOS phone, tv, and internet service. All-in-all, it ended up being a very confusing and frustrating shopping experience because every time the Verizon Wireless salesman #1 stepped away to get an answer for us, the Verizon FiOS salesman #2 swooped into continue his pitch about how AWESOME FiOS is and what a GREAT deal he could offer us. I felt like a yo-yo...

Blackberry - FiOS - Blackberry - FiOS - Blackberry - FiOS - Blackberry - FiOS...

We eventually gave up because we were starving and couldn't make a decision on either front because neither salesman would withdraw from the battlefield and let one guy follow-through to completion of a sale. We went next door and had some dinner at Pei Wei.

At dinner we came up with a plan of attack. We decided to go back to the Verizon store and divide and conquer. My wife sacrificed herself as the chum for the FiOS salesman and kept him distracted while I looked at the Blackberry display and worked with Salesman #3 - because Salesman #1 left while we were eating dinner, so we had to start from scratch, have him look at our eligibility for upgrades, etc.


Curve vs. Storm

I was really torn between the BlackBerry Curve and the BlackBerry Storm. Either one would be an improvement from the 8830. The Storm sure looked like the cutting edge of technology, but I had a little fear-of-the-unknown. It was SO different from the 8830, I was pretty sure I would find some nuances that I wouldn't like about it, but I couldn't predict what they would be before buying the phone and using it for a week.

Even so, I decided to be daring and go with the Storm. It came with the SIM card that meant it was ready for international use (not that I'm planning any international travel in the immediate future, but you never know). It came with an 8GB micro-SD card. I liked the way I could view full web pages on it and turn the screen sideways to make the text wider.

Here are some of the good and bad things I've observed in my first week with the Storm:

Music.

It appears I've solved my whole Zen / iPod dilemma. I've been using my BB Storm to listen to music while I've been at the gym. It works like a champ. It loaded up all the songs I had on my hard drive, but stopped to ask me if I wanted to load the songs from Yahoo that had expired licenses. I clicked "no" and got rid of those. I created a new playlist for running on the treadmill at the gym. I'm very pleased with that so far.

Ring Tones.

You can take any song you've uploaded to the Storm and select it as your Ring Tone. Pretty cool. I'm using Peter Murphy's "Indigo Eyes" right now, not because it has any particular personal meaning for me, just because the intro riff makes a good ring-tone.

Battery life.

Battery life seems reasonable. I took it through a "test discharge" last Tuesday and totally drained it until the phone was dead as a doornail. (Aside: A "test discharge" being where you test the health of your battery by seeing just how much you can take out of it.) I took it off the charger Tuesday morning and went to the gym. Listened to music on it and read blogs on Google Reader while I was on the treadmill and elliptical machine for an hour. Used it at lunch for email. Left it "on" all day in a metal cubby-hole lock-box outside my office. That night I never put it on the charger because I crashed at Nate's place, and I used my cell phone A LOT that night for several phone calls to my wife and back and forth to the office and to my boss through the night. I think it was about half way through Wednesday when the battery finally gave up the ghost and the Storm died.

Reliability.

Four times so far this week (that I am aware of), the Storm has spontaneously crashed and commenced a rebooting process that takes about 5 minutes to get you back online again. It's particularly frustrating when you've been tapping out an email to someone or when you're trying to chat with your 7-year old son before he goes to bed because you're stuck at work. No doubt, someday I will need this as a PHONE in an EMERGENCY, then it's gonna wig-out and I'm gonna have to wait 5 minutes for it to reboot.

Vibrate mode.

For a while there, I was getting REALLY annoyed. It seemed like whenever I put the phone in the holster that it automatically shifted to vibrate mode. I don't WANT it in vibrate mode! I want it in THIS mode or THAT mode or WHATEVER mode I put it in, so STOP SHIFTING TO VIBRATE MODE!!!

I finally figured it out though. On top of the phone is a mute button (speaker icon with a slash through it). If, while the phone is in the holster, you happen to BUMP, brush, nudge, nick, push, flick, pick, knock, swipe, beat, tap, bang, or bash the phone in any manner whatsoever, then you're gonna hit that mute button. When you hit the mute button and it's in the holster, then it shifts to vibrate mode. I haven't figured out how to disable this feature yet. I HAVE missed a few phone calls this week because I had the BB Storm in the holster and it shifted to vibrate mode.

Holding the touch screen next to your face.

I keep having this odd experience. I would be talking to someone on the phone, and all of a sudden the Storm would start making weird noises in my ear like I left the phone off the hook beep-beep-beep-beep, but I could still hear the person in the background with whom I was already talking. I think I've figured this one out. While you're IN a phone call with someone, it puts up four big buttons on the screen for you to hit at random with your cheek bone while you're talking. The one I most commonly hit with my cheekbone is the "add another person to the conversation" button which I think opens up another phone line to dial somebody else, but then when I don't actually dial anybody else's phone number, it starts giving me the off-hook beep-beep-beep-beep-beep signal. ANNOYING!

I witnessed my wife have trouble with this tonight. She was talking to someone on her phone and all of a sudden heard her say, "Yes, I'm here, can you hear me?... Yes, I'm still here, can you hear me?... What the heck?!?!" Turns out another one of those buttons on the screen of the Storm is the "mute" button. While holding her phone up to her face, my wife bumped the "mute" button on the screen so that the person she was talking to could no longer hear her, and then she couldn't figure out how to UNmute it (at least not before the other person hung up).

Again, this may be growing pains. I'm learning not to hold my phone up to my face or try to hold it up to my ear with my shoulder. That doesn't work so well. Maybe my problem is that I didn't give in and buy the super whamodyne blue-tooth headset the guy was trying to sell me.

Keyboards.

This might just be that I haven't used it enough to get used to it yet, but I can't type nearly as fast on the Storm as I used to type on the 8830.

When you hold the Storm sideways, then it brings up a full QWERTY keyboard with one letter per button. One thing I like about it is that if you lightly touch your finger to the screen, it lights up a glow around the button it thinks you're about to push. In that sense, if you type slowly, you can do it accurately because you can tell whether it's sensing the right letter before you push it.

However, the buttons are small and I can NOT type accurately using this keyboard with any kind of speed. Also, it's clear that they divided the keyboard in half and biased the keys assuming whether you would be pushing them with your right versus your left thumb.

On the 8830 I used to jam out messages fast and it didn't matter what side of the keyboard a letter was on. I developed a rhythm with my thumbs alternating back and forth like you were playing some 1980's era track-and-field game. For example, if a word was predominantly on one side of the keyboard like "FACE," then I would probably hit the F and the C with my right thumb and the A and the E with my left thumb.

Yyyyyyeah, can't do that with the Storm. It assumes the keys on the left will be hit with your left thumb. Because of the angle your left thumb comes in at, it assumes if you make an error and don't hit a key square-on, then chances are you hit a little to the left of what you intended, so it biases a little bit to the right of where your thumb made contact. So, for example, if I try my old method of typing "FACE," it would show up on the screen as "GAVE" because the angle of my RIGHT thumb hitting the F and the C combined with the left-thumb bias result in it choosing one key to the right.

To make a long story short, I have to lecture my thumbs on staying on each of their OWN side of the keyboard and not hitting the other side. Also, I can't type one-handed anymore using this QWERTY keyboard.

But wait, all is NOT lost!

When you hold the Storm in the vertical position, it has a pretty cool new kind of QWERTY keyboard. It has two letters per key - (QW) - (ER) - (TY) - (UI) - (OP) being the top five keys. The buttons are a lot bigger since they have two letters per button. As you type on this keyboard, it figures out what word you want based on the combination of buttons you push. So using the same example as above, if I want to type "FACE," I type (DF) - (AS) - (CV) - (ER), and it figures out that FACE is the most likely word (only word?) that can be made from those four key strokes. In the cases where there IS more than one possible word from the keys you've pushed, then it will show both of them on the screen and let you tap on the one you wanted.

Because the keys are bigger in this vertical keyboard arrangement, it's actually designed pretty nicely to hold in your hand and do one-handed (one-thumbed) typing. I actually type faster with this keyboard than I do with the horizontal QWERTY keyboard.

Gloves.

I USED to be able to stand at the bus stop and read emails, read news, read blogs, etc on my BlackBerry 8830 while wearing gloves. I wasn't typing messages, but I could move the cursor around with the trackball and click enter to "surf" my way around things.

Not with the BB Storm. It apparently needs your actual finger to touch it. Instead of the track ball, you just slide your finger back and forth or up and down on the screen to scroll the image around... but it doesn't work with gloves on. This may be a minor thing if you're somewhere warm like San Diego or Hawaii, but if it's 27 degrees and windy out (like it was this morning here), don't plan on doing any reading on your BB while waiting for the bus unless you want to take your gloves off.

Shock Test.

Single data point. I dropped the Storm for the first time the other day. The battery cover popped off and slid across the floor, but unlike my 8830, the Storm didn't lose any of its "guts" (battery, SIM card, microSD card) and remained powered up the whole time. The few times I dropped the 8830, the battery usually popped out, then I had to wait five minutes or so while it powered up and logged into the network again.

Well, I figure this post is plenty long enough for now. I'll let you know if I have any other keen observations on the Storm as I gain experience using it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Effective Advertising Award

Oh my gosh my eldest son has turned into a walking car insurance advertisement.

First, we were driving past the shopping plaza at Ashburn Farms Parkway and Ashburn Village Blvd. We've never had nor dealt with State Farm Insurance before, and I make no endorsement or recommendation with regard to their business.

ES saw the State Farm store front in the strip mall and said, "State Farm is THERE!"

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Chalk up an Effective Advertising award for State Farm's ad agency.

Then, this afternoon I got home just before dinner and the boys were playing out in the front yard. ES sounded like a broken record. He kept singing over and over and over and over and over... "Nationwide is on your side." Curious, I asked my son if he had any idea what "Nationwide" was. Much to my surprise, he informed me it was a car insurance company. WHY on EARTH would a 7 year old care or retain that information?

So, Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Chalk up an Effective Advertising award for Nationwide's ad agency.

We came inside for dinner, and it only took about 5 incantations of "Nationwide is on your side" for my wife to go nuts and ask him to stop.

[Pregnant Pause]

You'd think ES had the yellow pages in his noggin. He flipped to the next business listing in the category and said, "oooh, how about the Gecko?" He started spouting off some slogans from the Geico ads with the gecko.

So, Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Chalk up an Effective Advertising award for Geico's ad agency.

That one at least makes a LITTLE sense why a KID would remember it. I can imagine a kid remembering a cute gecko, but not the State Farm or Nationwide jingles.

He got bored of the Geico slogans (no catchy tune), so then he decided to take our insurance company, USAA, and started MAKING UP jingles for USAA.

So here's a question for those of you with ad agency experience...

Do they have a summer camp where they put kids to work at ad agencies? How old do you have to be to apply for an ad agency internship?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'm alive

Sorry my posting has been light. It was a looooooong week.

On Tuesday, any plan I had for the day flew out the window as I read the message traffic and said, "Oh crap..." I was at work until 11:30 p.m. that night preparing an urgent memo and had to be at work at 6 a.m. Wednesday to start hand-routing it around the Pentagon.

Thankfully, my friend Nate lives just around the corner from my office and let me crash at his place for the night instead of spending the time driving home and driving back again 6 hours later. It wasn't a very good night's sleep though. It had nothing to do with Nate's guest bedroom and everything to do with my cell phone ringing three times through the course of the night.

Wednesday my sweat pumps shifted to fast speed before I even finished my first cup of coffee. Oh wait... ONLY cup of coffee. I didn't even get to eat breakfast until 11 a.m. when I grabbed a quick bite to eat in the Pentagon. Just as I THOUGHT things were calming down at 1 p.m., the next message hit the boards that had us resume crisis-management mode. I made it home close to 8 p.m. Wednesday night just in time to tuck the boys in for bed and kiss them goodnight.

Thursday was another long day that was supposed to end with a VTC from 4 to 6 p.m. so that it would be daylight on the other side of the world. After the VTC, I was about half-way home when my phone rang. Went back to work and was at work until about 11 p.m. Another not-so-great night's sleep thanks to two telephone call updates.

Friday started once again at a fast pace and before my caffiene level was really up to spec for high speed operations. As I walked into the first flag's office to deliver briefing materials on what happened the night before, I was immediately confronted by another flag officer on a totally unrelated topic that I wasn't prepared to discuss.

My predecessor in this job said he judged how "bad" his week was by how many stars he had to brief.

It was a 37 star week for me.

I was frustrated that I haven't been able to go to the gym since Tuesday morning. At the same time, my ankles and feet hurt from speed walking around the Pentagon multiple times per day multiple days in a row.

My MIL was here visiting us this week, but I barely saw her, and I don't think she enjoyed the telephone ringing in the middle of the night. Sorry Mom!

So what were my high points and low points for the week?

Low points I guess I've already covered, but the worst had to be the Thursday night phone call that the HARTFORD had been in a collision. Thank the Lord that nobody was seriously injured! I'm praying for those guys now as they endure the investigation and repairs to follow.

High points of the week:
- My wonderful wife was VERY supportive this week. I was totally stressed out and having a horrible week, and she had every reason to be annoyed and pissed off, too, but she remained upbeat, positive, uplifting, and encouraging throughout the week. I'm VERY grateful for that. Thank you, Sweetie!
- Last night (Friday night), my wonderful MIL watched the boys and let my wonderful wife and I go out for an AWESOME dinner at Bonefish. Man that was a good dinner - especially the martini(...s). We got back home and I was just exhausted. I went to bed about 8:30 and slept straight through to 7:30 Saturday morning.

It was one of those weeks where I had to stop and remind myself that things COULD be worse and I needed to be thankful and count my blessings. Still, I hope this was the worst week I'll have in this job.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The way we met...

It just occurred to me that today is March 15th. I know the date has some rather ominous literary meaning - Ides of March and all, but it's also the anniversary of a very important night in my life.

Yep, 12 years ago tonight was the first night I met my wonderful wife. I was a JO (junior officer) on a boat out of Groton, living in Mystic. My friend V who sat behind me in nuclear power school in Orlando was friends with LW from college. LW introduced him to her roommate C up in Boston, and C & V hit it off.

So C&V were going to be passing through Groton that Saturday night in March 1997. Saturday afternoon they called LW up and told her to pack an overnight bag and drive her butt on down to Mystic to hang out with them and meet me. They told her they were also staying the night at my house.

Against her better judgement, LW decided to be impulsive, packed a bag, and drove down to Mystic. So the first time I laid eyes on her was when my doorbell rang and I opened up the front door of my house to find her standing on my front step.

We walked to Margaritas for dinner about five or so blocks down the street. V and I sat there talking about boat stuff and using all these weird acronyms like EOOW and EDO all through dinner. Between that and the SUPER-stylin' outfit I was wearing that night, it's a wonder my wife ever agreed to see me again.

After dinner, we walked back to my house, where C & V promptly got in their car and said, "okay-nice-to-see-ya-take-care-bu-bye." Insert the tires screecing sound effect here as they sped off and left LW standing on my front doorstep late on a Saturday night with some nerd she only met a couple of hours before hand.

It was a big house in the Historic District of Mystic. Seven bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms. I had two bedrooms and a full bathroom on the second floor. My roommate Sean had two bedrooms and a full bathroom on the second floor. Our roommate Jay had 3 bedrooms and a full bathroom on the third floor. On the first floor we shared the living room (with all Sean's living room furniture and surround sound home theater stuff), dining room, kitchen, breakfast nook, laundry room, half bath, and family room (with all my living room furniture and surround sound home theater stuff).
Aside: This was actually a pretty good set up since Sean was a Notre Dame grad. You could count on there being some form of Notre Dame sporting event showing in the living room anytime Sean was home. That left us my TV and stuff in the family room to watch anything NOT related to Notre Dame.
So I told LW that I had an extra room and she was welcome to stay. If she stayed, then she was welcome to go to church with me in the morning and I could take her for a tour of a submarine if she had any interest in that.

Again, against her better judgement, she stayed.

The next morning I was walking down the hall as she came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head after taking a shower. Some might consider such a sight odd for someone you only met the night before, but somehow it just felt right to me. It was as if it wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last - just like it was totally natural and meant to be.

Anyway, we went to church and I took her for a tour of the boat and she headed back to Boston.

For our second "date" (if you could call it that), the very next weekend I got to attend a sort of a family reunion for her dad up in Boston and met her ENTIRE extended family. They all seemed to like me and gave her permission to keep me around. The rest, as they say, is history.

From then on, we spent every weekend together that I was in port. If I didn't have duty, then I would go to Boston for the weekend. If I had duty, then she would come down to Mystic for the weekend.

That was back in the days before terrorists caused us to reevaluate our security practices. She used to drive up to the gate at the sub base, show a bag of food to the gate guard and say, "My boyfriend is the duty officer on the [Use-ta-fish]," and the gate guard would say, "Okay, Ma'am, enjoy your dinner and have a nice evening." She would drive right on down and park right on the quay wall right smack next to the boat and walk on across the brow.

Anyway...

I just thought I would take a moment to remember being in Mystic 12 years ago tonight.

Thank you, Sweetie, for being impulsive and coming to Mystic that night, and for agreeing to see me again in spite of what a nerd I was (am still). :-)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reverse logic with illogical people

Okay, so I've wanted to tell this story for a while, but I refrained. Now, I think I've put enough time-distance-and-shielding between me and the event to provide an adequate level of anonymity and protection from retribution.

Wait, how do sea stories start again?

Oh yeah, "So there I was..."

I was on a boat that had a pretty decent command PT program. We used to meet three mornings per week and do warmup stretches and calisthenics in formation. Then most of us would go for a run, but there was a group of guys who preferred to swim and went to the base swimming pool next to the barracks.

One morning, we were surprised to discover the gate to the swimming pool was locked, and there was a sign that said something to the effect of:

Swimming Pool Closed
by order of the Base XO


First, the COB got involved and called the base CMC to find out why the pool was locked down.

Apparently, some knuckleheads decided to have a mixed-gender "naked party" in the swimming pool the night before, so the Base XO declared the pool was to be shut down and NOBODY was allowed to use it.

As usual, such stories are grossly over-inflated and exaggerated. Pulling the string, I think the actual story was more like a few people were at the pool and ONE girl thought it was a good idea to go skinny dipping, and none of the guys around the pool seemed to have any problem with that (go figure). Of course, as the story got retold, it evolved into a "naked party" as if a dozen or more hooligans were hanging out around the pool in the buff and posting signs declaring the area a nudist colony.

The COB wasn't able to get the base leadership to listen to reason or allow access to the pool for PT, so the CO went to bat for us. The CO called the Base XO directly and asked that the pool be reopened for our Command PT purposes in the mornings.

The Base XO didn't see eye-to-eye with our CO and basically said, "Pack sand."
Aside: In Navy speak, "pack sand" is an in-your-face way of saying, "Go fly a kite," or "Take a long walk off a short pier" or "go piss into the wind" or "go play on the freeway." For the origin of the term, see definition 2 at this website.
The Base XO said that our guys who lived in the barracks were just as guilty because they lived next to the pool, so they HAD to have known what was going on at the pool and they CONDONED it and ALLOWED it to happen, so therefore they ALL lost the privilege of using the pool.

My CO was much more witty and able to think up creative responses on his toes than I ever was.

He took the Base XO's logic, flipped it around, and threw it right back at him. He said, "Well, I'm sorry to say that I observed somebody jay-walking on base the other day, and NONE of us - me included - did anything about it, so based on your logic, you're now going to have to outlaw all WALKING on base." (It may not be an exact quote, but that was the jist of it anyway - I was standing there listening when the CO made the phone call.)

The Base XO didn't like that much.

Yyyyyyeah, so the pool remained closed for a loooooooong time after that.

Even so, I think the HIMYM fans in the audience will agree the CO's response was pretty legendary. :-)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I feel old

Episode 1:

Watching my boys pulling the vitamins out of the bottle of Flintstones and asking, "Who is this one Mommy?" My boys don't know who the characters are in the Flintstones???

Episode 2:

We have an old FM radio in our office to provide some background noise. Today I was walking through the office and heard "Stand" by R.E.M. on the radio. It'd been a while since I had heard the song, and I started enthusiastically singing along. When it dawned on me that I was the only one in the office singing along with the radio, a sudden horrible thought occurred to me. I have a young lieutenant who works for me (he's been in the Navy a little over 2 years, so he's probably about 23 years old, so he was probably born about 1985).

I turned and asked him, "Do you know who sang this song?"

LTJG: "Uhhhh... wasn't this like some one-hit-wonder band?"

Me: "AAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!"

Dude...

It's

R

E

M

for cryin' out loud!

Pfft! One hit wonder...


Losing My Religion?


I am Superman?


Harborcoat?




Then again... I was just browsing the REM videos on YouTube. Between the fact that there is an REM performance on the Johnny Carson show and seeing the clothes people in the audience were wearing in some of the other videos, it quickly became apparent that this is probably just a generational difference and I shouldn't hold it against my young lieutenant.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Preemption Part 3 - the HVAC system

I'm having deja vu again. Remember how I previously described things like the light fixtures and water faucets in the house? If you want to know which light fixture or water faucet was in our house, just walk through the aisles of Home Depot and whichever one was the cheapest - THAT's what was in our house.

Yyyyyyeah, well, the builders didn't just open up their wallets and plunk down any extra cash on the HVAC system either.

Our system is the basic, bare bones, no frills, bottom of the totem pole model. Basically, it was as low as the builders could go and still claim that the house had heating and air conditioning.

It only had a 5 year warranty, and it's about 10 years old, so it's definitely lived a useful life. It started failing on us a couple of months ago (see this previous post for background). We decided back then to hold out and wait for some sort of catastrophic system failure so we could at least TRY to get our useless home warranty to do SOMETHING for us.

Then the phone rang.

The company that came out troubleshoot the system and gave us the estimate for the new system last time called. Business is slow. Would I be interested in 10% off? How about 16 months same-as-cash financing? How about both?

[Rubs chin] Hmmmmm... That doesn't sound too bad.

Now, we have some good history with this company, Aire Serv, in that we know the owner from church and we used this company for our periodic maintenance on our previous house here in Ashburn, too. So it's not like it was just some pushy salesman calling us out of the blue trying to sell us a pink elephant.

I had him come out yesterday after I got off work to walk me through the options and pricing. He talked to me about our current system and how much of an improvement the new system would be.

So we decided what-the-heck, we'll do our part to help the economy and we'll take them up on their offer. We're just going to have the upstairs system replaced now (the one that shows signs of imminent failure), but we will probably have to replace the downstairs system eventually, too.

They're coming Monday to do the installation. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wii Fit versus My Fitness Coach

VS

Friends of ours asked for us to compare and contrast the Wii Fit and the new My Fitness Coach that my wife just picked up. Both have good points and bad points - it'd be nice if there was a combination of the two.

Based on my VAST knowledge of ONE session on the My Fitness Coach, here's my totally subjective, non-scientific opinion and observations.

In a nutshell:
- My Fitness Coach is like an interactive version of an exercise video, you just follow along with what Maya tells you to do (after you've told her what your goals are and what you want to work on).
- Wii Fit actually measures your actions and your progress with the Wii Balance Board and the Wii Remote, but the personal trainer doesn't really give you a full workout. You have to choose each exercise you want to do, so you pretty much make up your own exercise program.

Detailed Comparison and Scorecard:

Monitoring performance and improvement:
- Wii Fit uses the Wii Balance Board plus the handheld Wii Remote to measure your weight and your balance, as well as your timing and rhythm in the aerobic exercises like step aerobics and boxing. During the exercise, your personal trainer will tell you good job if your timing and balance are good, or will comment on your balance being off or your leg wobbling a little and giving you pointers for focusing your exercise and how to improve your balance and strength.
- My Fitness Coach relies on the user to obtain the data such as body weight elsewhere and then manually input the data into the program. During the exercises, Maya gives you encouragement and tells you that you're doing a good job, but she has no way of knowing. You could be sitting on the couch eating a tub of Ben & Jerry's for all Maya knows.
Importance: High. I like the one-stop shop of Wii measuring you and telling you how you're doing. It provides a sort of accountability.
Score: +3 for Wii Fit

Leading you through a complete workout:
- My Fitness Coach asks you how much time you want to spend working out and what you want to focus on (upper body, lower body, core, flexibility). After telling it I want to work on flexibility for 15 minutes, then Maya leads me through 15 minutes of exercises designed to improve my flexibility - some stretching, some yoga, some calisthenics, some aerobics.
- Wii Fit leaves your fitness program entirely up to you. It's sort of like exercises a-la-carte. Each exercise lasts 2-5 minutes or so depending on the exercise, but you click on one, then click on another, then click on another... It doesn't give you a recommended program or plan of what exercises to do today. This has been my primary complaint about Wii Fit and the primary reason why I was interested in trying My Fitness Coach.
Importance: High. Like I said, this was my primary complaint about the Wii Fit.
Score: +3 for My Fitness Coach

User Interface:
- Wii Fit doesn't require you to aim the handheld Wii remote at any particular target on the screen. You can just use the cross-pad or the +/- buttons to toggle between options and click the A button to select.
- My Fitness Coach requires you to precisely aim your handheld Wii Remote at very small buttons on the screen and push the A button to click on the up or down arrow on the screen. This is tedious and frustrating when you've been exercising hard and your arms feel like jello and you can't aim the Wiimote all that accurately.
Importance: Medium. Wii fit's use of the cross-pad is a lot easier to use.
Score: +2 for Wii Fit

Choice of Trainer:
- Wii Fit lets you choose whether you want the male or the female personal trainer. It's kind of funny to see their hair get longer over time. Every once in a while the other trainer will show up on the screen and say that your trainer is "out" today but he/she will be glad to work with you today.
- My Fitness Coach gives you a choice of Maya, or Maya, or Maya. Maya's okay, but I like working with the guy on Wii Fit better.
Importance: Low, it's a minor issue
Score: +1 for Wii Fit

Graphics:
- Keep in mind, the Wii game system was NOT developed for high definition graphics. Nintendo put all their R&D money on this one into the motion-sensing equipment in the Wiimotes.
- That being said, Wii Fit didn't try to make anything super fancy graphics-wise. They made the graphics to fit what the system was capable of.
- My Fitness Coach appears the designers tried to bite off more than they could chew. They tried to make a game with better graphics than the system is capable of. The result is that Maya looks freaky on my big screen with visual artifacts (random pixels turning on and off) all around her teeth as she talks. I found it distracting and kind of annoying.
Importance: Medium, the visual artifacts were annoying me
Score: +2 for Wii Fit

Scenery:
- My Fitness Coach offers a variety of backdrops for your exercise routine. You could be in a garden or a city apartment or a cruise ship.
- Wii Fit doesn't offer any sort of backdrop for most of the exercises. If you do the jogging in place, it takes you on a tour of a Wii-cartoonish island, but that's about it.
Importance: Low, I can do without the scenery
Score: +1 for My Fitness Coach

Music:
- My Fitness Coach offers a variety of genres of music to choose from while you work out.
- Wii Fit uses the same music all the time.
Importance: Low, I can do without the music
Score: +1 for My Fitness Coach

Summary:
Monitoring Performance: +3 for Wii Fit
Leads you through workout: +3 for My Fitness Coach
User Interface: +2 for Wii Fit
Choice of Trainer: +1 for Wii Fit
Graphics: +2 for Wii Fit
Scenery: +1 for My Fitness Coach
Music: +1 for My Fitness Coach

Bottom Line

Wii Fit: 8 My Fitness Coach: 5

Now, my scoring above is weighted based on my preferences. If you put more value on different criteria than I did, then feel free to modify the scores to see how it adds up in your book according to your preferences.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The latest government effort to create jobs

There's been an alarming growth of nefarious activity around our family.

5 year old YB has discovered he very much likes to skip everywhere. Of course, part of his enjoyment in skipping everywhere is that it annoys his 7 year old brother ES to no end. Much to ES's consternation, his father has begun skipping around with YB - both because of the fun and laughter that ensues with YB and because of the frustration it induces in ES. No sooner do we start skipping across a parking lot from the car into a store then ES will chase after us telling us "NO SKIPPING ALLOWED!"

I'm sure I've mentioned in a previous blog post that we have to keep things like scotch tape and scissors hidden in our house, because otherwise we end up with tape EVERYWHERE stuck to EVERYTHING around our house, along with little bits of cut up paper if the scissors were left out, too. Thank goodness we own stock in 3M.

ES has started posting "No Skipping Zone" signs around our house like this:


I don't really want to get into a big political debate here, but apparently there's a new government agency we have to contend with... I give you... The Federal Bureau of Investigation Skipping:

video

This video was taken at the end of our geocaching hike yesterday. I figured ES was going to do his typical "Stop that! Stop that! No Skipping Allowed!" routine, so I started the video recording on the camera.

I just wasn't expecting the feds to take us down. ;-)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ahhh, a taste of Spring

Sorry the blogging has been light. In previous weekends, I have done a good amount of setting up my blog posts for the week and prescheduling them for posting one per day through the course of the week. The past couple of weekends we've been a little busy though.

No, no, no, not just playing Castle Crashers (although that contributed).
Aside: A few funny little tidbits about Castle Crashers:
- I love the opening sequence where it shows the knights partying in the castle. Perhaps because it reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- If you play multi-player and one of the players loses all his health, he lays motionless on the ground with a beating heart symbol over his body. One of the other players can go over and push the Y button repeatedly to give him CPR and resuscitate him so he can keep fighting. You don't "lose" the game until such time as ALL of the players are laying on the ground with nobody left to give anybody else CPR.
- At the end of various levels, you have to beat these boss characters to rescue one of several princesses that were kidnapped at the beginning of the story. After you defeat the boss, if you are playing multi-player, then it launches a new stage of the game. Instead of cooperating with the other players, you now have to compete with the other players in a battle for the princess. Last man standing gets to kiss the princess. :-)
Last weekend we worked on both the boys' bathroom and the guest bathroom. My wife and I painted the bathrooms, and I replaced the light fixtures in both bathrooms (two above the boys' sinks, one above the guest bathroom sink). Behold the finished product...

Guest Bathroom
(My wife chose the paint color to match the shower curtain.)

This weekend was an absolutely beautiful weekend in Northern Virginia. It was like 70 yesterday and like 75 today. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right.

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to an open house to welcome our friend Liz back from her mission trip to Ethiopia. She brought some AWESOME coffee beans back with her, too. :-9

YB was looking pretty stylin' wearing his boots with his shorts, so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and went to the outlet mall in Leesburg to shop for some spring shoes for the boys.

...Yyyyyeah, we and a few other BAJILLION people thought going to the outlets was a good idea on Saturday. Can you say CROWDED? Anyway, the mission was a success. We picked up YB some new sneakers that look surprisingly familiar...

Sorry, I should have taken a better picture of the shoes. The firetrucks on the side of his new sneakers are the EXACT same light-up firetrucks that are on the side of his boots.

Making pizza for family movie night.

Saturday night we had pizza and family movie night for the second week in a row. Last week we actually MADE the pizza ourselves and it turned out pretty good. The movie last week was Dudley Do Right, and this weekend's feature was Madagascar 2.

My wife insists we had seen Dudley Do Right before. I most definitely had NOT seen the first half to two thirds of it, but I did recognize the ending. Not sure what happened there. Usually when that happens, it's because they were playing the movie on crew's mess on the boat and I happened to be walking through and just catch 10 minutes or so. It wasn't a great movie, but it was pretty silly and good for a few laughs with the kids.

I was a little worried that Madagascar 2 might be one of those movies where they gave away all the funny parts in the previews, but that was nowhere near the case. It was a good flick.

Today after church, we went to have lunch at the new Johnny Rockets that just opened in Brambleton. It was... meh... good food but very slow service and very noisy. Oh, and yes, that is a Johnny Rocket's hat on YB's head in the picture above. :-)

After lunch we went for a geocache walk to find a new kids' cache that was recently hidden.

My family wasn't very cooperative with my traditional Blunoz self-portrait.

I've been making a conscious effort to set my computer aside and spend time with my boys when they ask to do something with me, and for some reason they wanted to play Stratego this weekend. We played about 4 games over the course of the weekend - each time with YB trying to find some way to spy for ES and pass him information about where my pieces were. He seems to think as long as he whispers, then it's okay - I won't hear him.

Even so, ES isn't exactly stealthy and doesn't have any sort of a poker face. He doesn't yet understand the fact that the game is about deceiving and confusing your opponent and NOT letting them figure out which piece is which on your side of the board. So when he moves a knight, he sort of whispers a "nnnneeeeeigh!" and when he moves a beast he makes a sort of growling, grumbling noise.

Anyway, that was our past couple of weekends in a nutshell. I had one other thing I wanted to write about, but (a) it's late and I need to hit the rack, and (b) this post is long enough, so I'll save it for tomorrow.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Night Rants

Okay, I feel the need to vent and get a couple of things off my chest...

1. Main Stream Media

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but WHAT THE HECK is wrong with the main stream media???

Yesterday I was at the gym for about an hour. They had CNN on all the TVs. In the hour I was there, I think they spent about 50 minutes providing LIVE coverage of the ROOF of Mic hael Jac kson's bus driving through London. (Spaces inserted intentionally so my blog won't show up on Google searches for that freak's name).

It gave me flashbacks.

Suddenly, my mind was back in the Knight Out bar & grill across the street from UCF on the outskirts of Orlando. My roommate, Joe, and I liked to go to Knight Out because they had nice pool tables, real cork dartboards (all the other places in Orlando had those weird plastic computerized things), and THE BEST burgers I've EVER had (then or since).

Anyway, we were there one night shooting some pool, and I remember saying to myself, "Self, why is the news providing us continuous live coverage of some white Bronco driving slowly across the highways of Los Angeles???" Little did I know then how that slow chase and subsequent trial of O.J. would preoccupy the main stream media for a LONG time to come.

Yesterday... M.J. wasn't even WANTED for anything.

There was absolutely NOTHING interesting about watching the roof of his van.

I don't CARE if there are RUMORS he may go on tour. Count me OUT.

Must have been a slow news day I guess.

2. Clueless People Who Try to Make Rush Hour Traffic Worse Than it Already Is

So I'm driving home this afternoon along Waxpool Road (one of the main roads through Ashburn). A lady coming toward me from the other direction was holding her cell phone to her face with one hand. With her other hand, she flipped on her LEFT turn signal. This perplexed me, because:

(a) Turning left would mean she'd be turning right in front of me and she still had enough speed that it didn't appear she was going to wait until I passed.
(b) The road at that spot wasn't wide enough for her to do a U-turn, and all that was on her left (my right) was a ditch, so it wasn't like she was going anywhere in that direction.

Low and behold, much to my amazement, while still holding her cell phone to the side of her face, she spun her wheel to the left and started turning in front of me toward the ditch. She quickly came to a halt at the edge of the ditch and immediately threw her car into reverse. It was then that I figured out she was trying to do a 3-point turnaround. Unfortunately, the people who were coming up behind her were equally clueless of her intentions and were trying to continue driving along behind her as she threw her car into reverse and tried to ram the car that was driving by behind her. Luckily, the driver behind her was alert and able to swerve to miss her.

But dude, if she had hit either me or one of the cars behind her, she would have jammed up traffic across Ashburn for a LONG time.

Where do people like this get their driver's license from? As a prize in a box of Lucky Charms?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pentagon Gouge - Mass Transit Subsidy RAISE!

For those of you who use mass transit to commute to work in the DC area, GOOD NEWS!

They've RAISED the Mass Transit Subsidy to $230 per month. It used to be $115.

THE AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OF 2009:

Starting March 2nd, 2009 the MTBP maximum allowance amount has been raised to $230 per month. IT IS REQUIRED that all participants fill out a short recertification form, which can be found on this MTBP website, CLICK here. A fax number is provided for you on the form and in addition to faxing in your form, please also make sure to bring your short recertification form with you when you come the distribution table. Recertification forms will be made availible at the various distribution locations, but please note that the forms must be completed prior to receiving benefits.

Those who are new enrollees, after March 2nd, will receive up to $230 from their initial date of pick up on forward. Those current participants who have already picked up for this current quarter will be able to pick up any additional benefits, for which they are eligible, at one of the make-up distributions in March.

MAKE-UP/SUPPLEMENTAL DISTRIBUTION SCHEDULE IS LISTED here.

PLEASE NOTE THAT IF YOU ARE A CURRENT PARTICIPANT AND HAVE ALREADY PICKED UP BENEFITS FOR THE CURRENT QUARTER, YOU MAY NOT PICK UP ANY ADDITIONAL BENEFITS BEFORE THE MAKE-UP/SUPPLEMENTAL DISTRIBUTIONS AT THE END OF THE MONTH.

Wahoooooo!

Riding on the Loudoun County commuter bus costs me $7 per trip x 2 times per day x 5 days per week = $70 per week.

$70 per week x 4 weeks = $280 per month.

So the new $230 per month rate will pay for most of my commuting cost. As it is, I end up having to drive to work for one reason or another once every two weeks or so, so it should all work out nicely for me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Is there a doctor in the house?

Okay, I really don't understand this.

Whenever I go for a long run ("long run" in my book = 3 miles), I experience the strangest sensation afterwards. As I'm cooling down, stretching, and then getting ready to get in the shower, the smell of ammonia fills my nostrils. I've asked other people nearby if they smell it, too (most notably my lovely wife - I can count on her to tell me when I stink!), and get rather strange looks in response.

Nope! Nobody else near me can smell it. Is it all in my head?

My friend Chris is a Navy doc and a pulmonologist. I asked him if he had ever heard of anything like this before.

Nope! He's never heard of such a thing. Maybe I'm just crazy.

Does anybody else have this problem? Does anybody else know what causes it?

I can live with it. It's just weird and I don't know how to explain it.