It’s Coming up on my 2 Year Blogging Anniversary

Another year has passed and my blog is alive and well.  Chalk up 2 years now to this commitment which is pretty surprising to me considered I gave it about 2 months when I started down this path.  To continue a related tradition, I decided to once again provide a summary of this year’s output (data does include this post which is a good thing since this fulfills my quota for the month):

  • According to the WordPress Stats: To Date Total Posts 171 and 46 comments
  • According to the WordPress Stats: This Year Total Posts 73 and 19 comments
  • Total blog pages this year (according to MS Word): 234
  • Total number of words this year (according to MS Word): 61,813
  • Post topics (some posts had multiple categories) 2009 / Total
    • Birds: 11 / 20
    • Fail: 3 / 3
    • General: 10 / 19
    • Observation: 51 / 110
    • Products: 2 / 2
    • Ramblings: 3 / 9
    • Recollection: 4 / 10
    • Service: 13 / 26
    • Uncategorized: 0 / 0
    • Wildlife: 17 / 17
  • Blogs this year by month
    • 1/09:6
    • 2/09:5  (oops, I missed my quota this month, but made up for it in March)
    • 3/09:8
    • 4/09:6
    • 5/09:6
    • 6/09:6
    • 7/09:6
    • 8/09:6
    • 9/09:6
    • 10/09/:6
    • 11/09:6
    • 12/09:6
  • Writing style: conversational
  • Most common grammatical error: thanks to converting to Firefox most of the spelling mistakes have been cleaned up, but still getting caught on the wrong word for the context.  Mainly it complains about missing ‘;’s which I will immediately admit to since the conversation format I use does not work well with that.  There is also a problem with the WordPress editor which tends to lag and give me extra spaces between words.  I transfer everything to Word after I write it in WordPress so most of those errors are caught before it is published to the web.  I also tend to make words up, which again (like parkify), is perfectly fine with my style 8^)
  • Number of WordPress uprades:1
  • Number of reference links used:40
  • Number of images used: (at least) 272 Tough to count that many, but definitely improved over last year and with the exception of 1 time had at least one image per post and that was after I’d already met that month’s quota.
  • Languages uses: 1 (unless you count Engrish)
  • Completed Life List Items: 6
    • Ran the Steamboat 15K – toughest in IL (another year another medal)
    • Ran the BIX7 – (another year another medal)
    • Purchased a piece of art for the second year in a row although didn’t blog on it yet
    • Blogging for a second year with the exception of one month hitting my self-imposed 6 post/month quota but made up for it with two additional ones the following month
    • Transforming a portion of my woods into a park setting
    • Constructing a bridge
  • Maintained convictions:3
    • Never giving Metallica a penny of my money (still not a dime)
    • Ban from RIAA backed musicians
    • Not giving Sprint a dime of my money
  • Posted 70 more items than my brother over at Dead Reckonings (he clocked in at only 3 this year) – of course we are not measuring on quality or I would lose hands down but like the current government I can skew the stats anyway I want to .
  • Personal Revelations:
    • I was actually down a little bit on my book reading – this is likely due to all the outdoor activities this year – tough to read when you are so exhausted you can barely keep your eyes open.
    • My disposition is still on the sarcasm side and clearly not happy with the current government – I need a shirt that says “How is that CHANGE working out for you?”
    • Pet peeve – still bad service, but socialized government is right up there
    • I remember more than I thought from my childhood and based on the bridge work retained a lot of knowledge from my father.
    • Clearly interested in marketing and economics – ironic since those were my worst subjects in school
    • Definitely leveraging all of his elective psychology classes
    • Enjoys nature and spending time out in the woods
    • Stretched my creativity this year, the image per blog requirements was pushing my limits and kept the posts down a little
    • Track record for New Year’s resolution is going quite well
    • I think my photography skills are improving – a lot of this may be the new equipment, but I think in general the shots are getting more interesting
    • Have an affinity for books on special/elite forces.  I think it is an interest in what makes an individual willingly put himself in harm’s way and once in that position, what does it take to succeed.  I also think a lot of this experience/skills/training can be leveraged well in a corporation – commitment, dedication, quick thinking, problem solving etc.

Wow, another year of blogging.  This year felt like more effort than last, but again, likely due to stepping up the image counts.  I think it was a better product this year and on a content perspective I am very pleased.  It is a few days from New Year’s so the resolutions have not been set yet, but blogging is likely to be another item on that list.  Images were the focused improvement this year, so next year it may be time to work on increasing the readership.  I have been pretty guarded up to this point, but I think it is time to let a few more people know about the site.  I might even try having some guest bloggers to spice the place up a bit.  Hopefully there will be more comments in the future for those are what I really look forward to responding to.  Let’s take a look back at last year’s goals and see how it went:

  • Infuse a more graphic perspective – what probably has not come out in all this is my interest in photography and all things related to art in general.  You probably caught a little bit of that with the art purchase post and the photos of wildlife etc.  While creating this summary, I was shocked at how skewed it was to the textual side.
  • I need to get caught up with my observations.  I still have a large number of items written down that I want to post on the blog.  If nothing else, I want to be sure and capture the thoughts associated with those occurrences when they happen.
    SURVEY SAYS: SOMEWHAT – I did whittle a few down, but the image creation tends to limit the number of posts I can really do a month.
  • Branch out into some additional topics.  This year I focused on the bird side of the wildlife (and thus why it had its own category).  Being out in the country, I have a great variety of different insects and animals that I get to observe just about every day including; deer, snakes, spiders, coyotes etc.  I also want to add a new category on the topic of stupid engineering.  I am getting tired of poor execution on product delivery and have a growing list of examples I would like to share.
    SURVEY SAYS: SUCCESS – I added a products category, had posts on deer, snakes, spiders, coyotes (okay, it was dead), marmots, bears, moose, elk, frogs etc.
  • And finally, and to be honest, the most apprehensive goal is to increase viewer numbers and comments.  I purposely left this site unadvertised and somewhat private as I navigated through what I wanted to do with this site.  I was also struggling with the ramifications of knowing others would be viewing the content and might be offended or think differently of me if they did not agree with a position I took or a comment that was made.  This is still a concern of mine, but the only way I’ll get an answer to this is to simply try it.  SURVEY SAYS: UNDERACHIEVED – I did let a number of people know about the site and some are steady readers now, but once again the fear of accidently offending people put me on the cautious side.

In closing, a big thanks to everyone that took the time to check in on my ramblings.  It does take a lot of work/time to keep this thing going and nothing puts it into perspective more than someone taking the time to make a comment on a post or mention a topic in a conversation.  It has been fun and makes every day a little more interesting as I keep an eye out for blog material.  Until next year, happy surfing.

Operation River Kwai

As with most of my “operations”, there is generally a higher plan if you will.  If you recall, the summer project was focused on “parkifying” the area around a stream in our back lot.  There was actually another follow on effort to establish a means to get myself and ATV across the stream so I can enjoy the other 7 acres of my lot.  Focusing on the brush cleanup around the stream allowed me to take a step back and find the best possible placement to construct a bridge.  With the brush and thorns cleared out I could judge the flood lines and pick the highest banks.  All of this prework put me in a good position to start the fall project of constructing the bridge.

From a requirements perspective, it needed to span the river without any permanent supports in the actual stream due to not wanting to deal with any DNR permits or restrictions.  If you are curious, you may own the property, but they own the rights to the waterways and any flow changes or obstructions need to be cleared through them.  Secondly, it needed to be wide enough and strong enough to support my ATV.  That is my workhorse and I already have a few trails over there that I currently enjoy those few times of the year that are dry enough to drive through the stream bed.  With these few requirements, I set about planning the design.  The sticking point was what construction material to use.  A few options included a semi-truck bed, steel construction beams, cables, concrete and lastly lumber.  The first two options were ruled out after unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to get those materials down to the stream and the steel beams added some significant cash to the effort.  The cable option would probably be the cheapest, but figured the ATV traversal would be a little hair raising.  The concrete option looked intriguing.  There would be plenty of water for mixing, but the inability to get a concrete truck down there would mean hauling a staggering number of concrete bags.  With those options crossed off, I was left with the treated lumber option.

With that decision out of the way, the next task was to set the design.  Fortunately, my oldest brother (Dan) is well versed in the engineering design field and spent a long time helping me figure out the best approach to spanning the stream.  By far, the trickiest part was compensating for no mid-stream supports.  This means the structure has to be able to support a hefty downward force and distribute that weight out to the bank supports.   With arcs being a tad difficult construct out of lumber, we went with the next best geometric shape, the triangle.  I will take a short cut here and simply state we made a LOT of design changes before we were done and actually still considering adding some additional support.  Oh, and credit should also be given to the John’s Hopkins Online Bridge Designer website.  Although this site does not give rotational forces, it does a very good job of showing how the downward forces will distribute over the triangle legs.  Thanks to this program we actually decided to double the amount of triangles and actually removed the upward triangle legs at the post ends.

Next up.. the prep work – hit the jump to check out some pictures of project

Continue reading Operation River Kwai

Pretty Movie Playing Down the Street

Last Sunday a few friends and I decided to check out the new box office release of Avatar.  It wasn’t so much a decision as an apparent entertainment industry mandate based on the barrage of media hype as the “Revolution of the movie industry” and “The largest advancement in the industry since the on-seat cup holder”.  Okay, I made the last one up, but that is probably the one thing that really improved my movie experience in the last 10 years.  I was pretty skeptical of the 3D capabilities based on the disappointment from last year’s “super game” commercials supposedly leveraging this new form of entertainment immersion.  Although he tends to exaggerate his worth at awards ceremonies, Cameron tends to put out quality movies and ones that I tend to prefer over the other lame Academy Awards nominations (think Milk).  He is also talented enough not to need the shaky camera crutch.  So off we went to add our money to the opening weekend box office gross.  We slap our $9 dollars down expecting to get the required stylish cardboard and cellophane glasses.  Instead the cashier hands us a pair of Roy Orbison (per Pakage’s astute observation) grey tinted glasses.  Well, already the initial expectations have been exceeded.  After paying $8.50 for a medium drink and a bottled water (does anyone really wonder why people prefer to skip the theater experience these days), we made it to our seats in a relatively packed house.  Now this is somewhat a surprise since either I have been catching big releases later than the opening weekend or the hype was working because rarely these days do I see a movie in a crowded theater.

Ironically enough, I spent 3 grand to not have to wear glasses/contacts anymore and there we were putting on our thick plastic glasses when the prompt came up on the screen.  Immediately, the 10 years of 3D research and technology advancements were paying off.  Gone were the jerky phase in and outs of the screen images and the blur that usually occurred at least in the middle of the screen.  Every once in awhile, the edges would blur a bit, but may be due to the coverage of the glasses.  There were three distinct visual planes, the screen view (which we’ll call the reference point) and then two more planes equidistant forward and back of the reference point.  This technology is still new to me so a lot of the movie preview time was spent checking things out and experimenting.  One interesting thing is the reference plane appears to be normal when viewing the screen without the glasses.  The other two planes were blurred and had the dual color (stereo) blurring seen in the older 3D attempts.  It seemed that the further apart the dual images were the farther distance away it appeared from the reference plane, but again, I know little about this technology.  It did darken the screen a tad due to the lens tint.  There was also a concern as to whether these glasses would give me a headache after such a long movie (way over 2.5 hrs) but with a few removals to view how things were progressing on the reference plane there were no problems.

I do not want to spoil the movie for the rest of you, but I honestly had an “ah” experience when the name of the movie clicked.  For some reason this totally escaped me but that may be because I tried to avoid seeing/reading any details on it in order to get the full effect.  From a story perspective, I give it 3 stars.  Looking over the green liberal propaganda, the story did have some unique concepts and in my opinion drew from the classics.  For example, the personal mechanical warriors reminded me of the material handlers in Aliens (helped by Sigourney’s presence), Jakes speech was clearly in the Braveheart mode, the blue leader’s proclamation brought visions of the Last of the Mohican’s Magua discussion with the chief regarding how best to avenge the aggressions of Munro.  Add in a healthy dose of references to Gone in Sixty Seconds (thanks to Ribisi) and Grandma’s Boy (thanks to Moore) – okay, maybe those last two do not fit the “classic” description.

Visuals get a hands down 5 stars.  Not since Hero has there been a more graphically stunning movie.  The color palettes in the jungle, the first (IMHO) movie to get the physics of non human movement right, the diversity in weapons and the seamless CGI to human interaction were extremely impressive.  Clearly Cameron compensated for the tinting in the glasses by going the neon route which really popped out of the jungle.  Even if you have issues with the story, there is no reason not to enjoy the cinematography in this movie.

Lastly, the 3D technology gets a 4 in my book.  They have progressed light years from the cardboard cutouts and realized the benefits in the millions of research dollars.  There is some room for improvement on the fringes of the screen.  There tends to be an occasional blur on the front foreground panel, but not sure if that is the glasses or pushing the edges of the technology.  The impact on those that are prone to motion sickness still needs to be investigated.  One of friends (Pakage) has been effected by heavy motion movies (Dark Knight’s cell phone scene for one) and Linda only made it about third of the way through the Star Trek movie due to the crap shaky camera effect (this even annoys me because I think it is a crutch for lack of still talent).  Pakage made it through this movie okay, however, it is likely to make Linda pretty sick especially during the warp holes and flying creature scenes.

So the final rating is a 4.2 stars based on the average of the three categories plus a bonus for replacing the obnoxious blue wang image in Watchmen with one of a  blue boob.  My recommendation – See It, Enjoy It, Dismiss the green liberal tree hugging gargle.

Now back to belting out my Pretty Woman parody on the Ol’ Les Paul.

We’re Gonna Be Rich…but First Get the Dogs Inside!

A Thanksgiving miracle apparently occurred that went unnoticed until now.  I have a field cam out in my back wooded acres to keep tabs on some unwanted hunter issues I was having and to keep up on the wildlife activity out there.  I changed out the batteries and the memory card recently and was going through the large number of pictures when low and behold I stumble on this beast.  At first I was scared for my pets because clearly this demon spawn is in search of prey to send back to the land of the dead.  After checking on the dogs of course, I sat down to assess the situation.  Apparently it was caught by the camera in the 4:00am time frame, required the infrared strobe to pull it from the cover of the night and is obviously well fed.  The oddest part was this is the only frame in a 9 frame consecutive burst that caught the demon.  There is nothing in the frames before it or after it.  Ruling out all the wildlife native to my woods, I started researching the possibilities.  Countless hours reading wildlife books at the library, tiring late nights surfing every off ramp on the information highway (Al Gore our technology savior) and a few beers with the locals at the nearby pubs resulted in only one conclusion.  A conclusion that is destined to make my bank account swell to unimaginable size.  A conclusion that will have the media consuming every second of my daily schedule yet doesn’t require me to duct tape a bunch of plastic together and fill it with helium.  Yes, folks, the terror you see before you is none other than “The Goat Sucker”.  I will let that sink in a while tick tick tick tick……. maybe the translated name is throwing you a bit… are you sitting down?  are the lights on?  are your credit cards nearby?  for the The Goat Sucker to our Southern tongues is CHUPACABRA (an assist goes out to Pakage for helping me with the spelling).

I know, I could hardly believe it myself.  Apparently Jerry Ayer is not the only one to find the creature (who later sold it to the Lost World Museum last September).  Although it is a little difficult to validate all the supposed features of the demon creature (reptile like skin, spines down the back, red eyes etc.) it clearly has a nasty set of teeth/fangs in which to suck the blood out of its victims.  This also opens up an additional possibility on the cause of a previous post I made on the dead coyote.  I had originally hypothesized that the cause of that death was drowning, but now it may have been the result of an unlucky encounter with the Chupacabra.  An encounter that resulted in the blood drained carcass being dragged up onto the branches by the scythe like claws.  The nasty venom causing the coyote’s skin to turn to leather thus providing the well preserved carcass in the pictures.

Now I just need to figure out the best way to market this invaluable gift from the dark side.  Should I put a large sign by the road advertising the chance to see the only Chupacabra ever found alive (for a mere $20 bucks which is the amount I got ripped off.. I mean invested at Crazy Horse) or maybe break out my rifle and track this creature myself so I can embed it in a freezer full of ice and go on public TV to find the highest bidder (except this time it will not just be a Halloween costume).  Maybe call up Bravo and persuade them to film a reality show about me instead of a couple  of broke washed up  socialites.  Or possibly call the Stealth Cam guys and get an endorsement as the only camera to catch a mythical creature.  All I know is I better figure this out quick if I am going to capitalize on this opportunity or worse yet it finds me before I capture it.  Until then, feel free to send me as much money as you can and I’ll be sure and put you at the top of the list to participate in whatever action I decide to take and just maybe I’ll even send you the picture above personally autographed in appreciation for your eagerness to witness history.

Honey, get the car, we’re going to make this a great Christmas this year!  Thank you Chupacabra for making us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.  Well, maybe not beyond our wildest dreams, but at least enough to pay for the tax fallout from the “Ticket for Change” farce.

The Christmas Tree Service Line

So my Dodge Ram 1500 started leaking oil on my garage floor.  This I found extremely troubling because it is not even three years old yet.  The good news, if there is a silver lining, is that the car was still under 36K miles so under my manufacturer’s warranty.  Noting I also had an oil change coming up anyway I dropped it off overnight at a local Dodge dealer (name withheld for now).  My wife had an event to go to the next day so as long as I could pick the truck up by 4:30pm we were good to go.

Not hearing anything by 3:30pm the next day, I called the dealership to check on the status.  The receptionist answers the phone, I request the service department and the wait music begins.  3 to 4 minutes later I she comes back on, verifies that I am waiting for the service department, says she is going to try again and the music starts back up.  At least 9 minutes later an individual comes on and starts talking about a vehicle he was looking into for me and asks if I could be put on hold.  After agreeing to this, he eventually returned to the call a few minutes later where he starts the conversation about my truck.  “I am not entirely sure how you know what vehicle I am calling about since I have not given you my name or told you the truck I was calling about?”, was my first response.  He proceeds to tell me about a 3 year 36K bumper to bumper warranty and wanted to know how many miles my truck had.  “Roughly 33K, but I do not think you are talking to the right person, I just want the status of a truck that was dropped off for service last night.”  “Oh, you have the sales department, let me put you on hold and get right back to you.”  Cue the wait music.  A few minutes later he answers the phone, I repeat the intent of my call and he apologizes stating “The phones were lit up like a Christmas Tree.”  He then puts me back on hold with a promise to transfer me to the service department.  It is now an official quest.  All of a sudden some guy answers and says “Elmore here”.  “Is this the service department?”  “No”, and back on hold I go.

At 26 minutes into the first call, the service department finally answers and I find out my truck is just now heading onto the lift.  Well, that was a complete waste of time.  Linda comes home around 4:30 and wants to head out to get the truck at which time I give her the story and question whether it will be done on time.  A call back to the dealership confirms that it was not done yet, but we could pick it up the next day without any problems.  This will be an inconvenience, but I can work around it.

At 5:55pm that night, the service representative calls me and immediately apologizes for calling me so late.  Apparently the technician put my order in his toolbox and went home for the day and they couldn’t find the paperwork.  Turns out the oil leak was due to “The last oil technician [fancy title eh?] failed to sufficiently tighten the filter”  This made me feel a little uncomfortable since this same dealership did my last oil change.  To his credit, he read my thoughts and confirmed that the same technician did not work on it this time and that it was properly fixed.  He then informs me if I could get there by 6pm I could pick up my truck.  I live over 30 minutes away so this was not an option.  Again he apologized which I appreciated.

As it turns out, my wife came down sick the next day so getting the truck was not an option until the following day which was even more annoying, but the good news is the truck is no longer leaking any oil.  The odd thing about all this is that this is the FIRST time I have not received an email asking how my service was and that they would do anything required to get me satisfied enough to fill it out in a positive fashion.  Of course this really didn’t matter much because ironically I never received a factory survey to even fill out.  Seems kind of odd if you ask me unless, of course, this 5 star rating system is based on the dealerships having a say on who the surveys go to.  Kind of like the political polls who call one demographic (for example those who are home during the day and do not have caller ID) and then state they know who is going to win the upcoming election.

Anyway, a very merry holiday Christmas lighted phone to you and your family!

Vista Flushed

I am guessing 9 or so months ago we decided to upgrade my wife’s laptop.  She was running an old mini-Dell that was starting to slow significantly and was having some off and on issues that I could not pin down.  We did some research and eventually decided on another Dell, but this time we acquired it on sale at the local Best Buy.  This resulted in a little higher price compared to what we could have done on the web, but we felt it was worth not having to wait for it to be delivered.  So back to home we went with her new Dell XPS Studio 15 (I think that was the number).  I should note, we did not buy the ridiculous “Geek Squad Optimized” package which consisted of them changing a few settings and tacking on about 40 bucks to the price tag.  Once home, she went to work getting it hooked up to the house network (wireless) and adding all of her required software.   Almost immediately, the wireless network started flaking out on her at random times.  Unfortunately, this was the first computer we had that was installed with Vista so we were ill equipped to pinpoint the cause.  I do not think we ever really got this straightened out and instead used our Verizon card most of the time to get on Al Gore’s (sigh) Internet as opposed to going through our house network attached to the Dish Satellite access.  We probably could have figured out what was wrong (assuming it was a configuration problem and not a Vista flaw), but instead we were spending our debugging time trying to figure out why we could not install a single Microsoft patch without the machine blue (actually black bios) screen dumping with IRQ errors.  No matter what official patch we tried to install, it introduced immediate instability and eventually would crash whether it was on the first reboot or a couple of restarts later.  This was unbelievably annoying and resulted in us being about 133 patches behind on the Vista OS.

This all changed about two weeks ago.  Fed up with Vista we were just about ready to try out my new Ruger 1022 on it.  As a last ditch effort, we decided to ghost the OS onto a backup and install one of my Windows 7 licenses.  I had picked up a few when they were on pre-release sale in order to eventually replace a bunch of XP machines I have.  This ghosting ended up cost me some bucks on an upgrade because my version of Casper (which I love) didn’t support the 64x OS  this laptop was built with.  With the drives backed up, I put in the Windows 7 Professional disk and prepared to spend the next 10 hours fighting the install in the same manner my XP upgrades had taken to get right.  Low and behold, the install took off, asked me where to install and … and… proceeded to execute flawlessly.  I literally went off to play Rock Band with some friends while the install was taking place coming back periodically to check the progress.  A few reboots later it was prompting me for some configuration parameters (accounts, timezone etc.) and presto, the machine was up and running again.  Next came the true test.  The dreaded update process was upon me.  Selecting the automatic upgrade option from the menu brought me to the Microsoft web page to verify the configuration.  Sweat was starting to appear, the nails were taking a biting and the nerves were a tad frayed.   The bright side of all of this was I really wanted to test fire the Ruger and this would be a fun target.  The progress bar made it to the end and an install summary was displayed.  Living on the edge, I went ahead and selected them all and hit the innocent looking submit button.  I heard the fans cheering again so back to the band to earn a few million more fans.

A few hours later, I stole a peek at the laptop and there it was sitting there at the user page patiently waiting for me to bask in the glory that is Windows 7.  Although the trigger finger was disappointed, I was quite relieved.  Everything looked like it was running great.  I even rebooted it a few times to see if I would encounter any death screens.  Flawless execution.  Since then Linda has installed all of her software and it has been successfully integrated into the house network without any issues.  I must say, as much as Vista angered me, Windows 7 was a truly enjoyable install.  Kudos to Microsoft for getting it right this time and goodbye to Vista which took the death spiral exit out the toilet.

Oh, almost forgot.  There is still a MAJOR flaw with this laptop.  The idiot design engineer decided the best place for the laptop fan was on the back of the laptop.  This tends to work great as long as you keep the angle of the screen at 90 degrees or less to the keyboard.  Any opening beyond that point causes the edge of the screen to obstruct the airflow of the fan resulting in the hot air going directly onto the screen and even more flawed restricts the cooling of the laptop causing it to get so hot you cannot even touch the bottom of “LAP”top.  At this point, I recommend AGAINST going with this model unless you want to save some money on your heat bills in the winter.

I better not see any comments about Macs – I’d use my TI994a before subjecting myself to a product peddled by a condescending Apple spokesperson – not to mention it has more games 8^)