Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hot Hot Hot

Good thing I cut my hair because it's a hot one today. A high of 103. And, since it is a Tuesday, I'll be riding with the folks from Cyclotopia. Hopefully I won't die of heat stroke - my camelbak is already in the freezer, cooling off.

Of course, it didn't help that I had the oven on for a part of the afternoon, baking pavlova for Mary's book club that is meeting tonight. Hopefully it'll turn out yummy. It's my first attempt (well, actually it's my second as I baked last night's too long and it turned brownish - which I think was also due to too much sugar).

Monday, July 25, 2005


I don't have the earlier pictures handy, but here are some pictures of the patio in progress. Captions are below the picture shown.

This above is a view of the front yard, showing the curve of the path as it turns south to go down the side yard.

This above is a view of the patio-to-be from the backyard, just gravel.

What an action shot of Mary using the tool carrier (horrible name) to move gravel around our yard. Look at the concentration! Mary got pretty good at whipping that machine around our yard. We moved over 15 tons of gravel in one day.

This view is from the front yard down the side yard to the back yard, freshly graded gravel.

This is the raised step just outside the sliding doors.

The result of our weekend - a finished step and over 7 feet of semi-circle. The cats are enjoying the pavers warmed from the morning sun.

Jokes from someone upset with the current administration

Come to think of it, these sound like me - if I were funny that is.



I went for a jog this morning. I'm still pretending that I'm going to do another triathlon this summer, but I've not been very consistent with training. Work has interfered (well, I've let it interfere), and I've been mentally weak.

So, I jogged my standard 3 mile loop. One word: s l o w

I may still be able to get away with a weekend-warrior approach to biking, but I should know that I can't do that with running. Gotta stay consistent.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


We rented the Aviator - Mary fell asleep to it twice. A decent movie, there was a lot I didn't know about Howard Hughes.

One thing in the film came to me - Leonardo really reminded me of Brad Pitt. Especially Howard Hughes began wearing a mustache (to cover the nasty scar on his lip from the crash in Beverly Hills). I'm not sure if it was the look, or the mannerisms, or what, but he really reminded me of Brad.


First Pavers

This weekend we lay our first pavers. Yay.

Mary and I started actually laying pavers down in our side yard, creating this thing we've just talked about for several months now.

Saturday went a little slower than we'd hoped. We had to start the job with putting in the large step-building blocks (80 pounds, measuring 12x16x6) down to build up the raised step right outside the sliding glass doors. I didn't realize the blocks were just 16 inches long, I thought I read 18 inches - which means the 8 blocks I ordered was 1 short of what we needed to fit the 12 foot span. So, in the middle of all this I have to head out to buy the missing step. Of course, the gap is no longer 16 inches because there are small spaces between the blocks, it's actually 15 inches. How the heck am I going to fit a 16 inch block in a space of only 15 inches?

I had the brainstorm to stop by Corvallis Rental to get them to show me how to use the brick saw I'm going to rent a little later on. So, they showed me how to use the saw and took off the inch I needed from the side of the block. Yay for quick thinking.

We got all the blocks in place, leveled out, and only slightly off the original measurements (they're about 1/2 inch low on one side).

One thing we did have to muck with were the large screw-thingies poking out of the foundation (which were used to support the wooden deck I tore out). I did end up removing the board that was under the sliding doors - it poked a little higher than we could handle. I was able to get the board off by chiseling out the wood right above the screws and letting the board drop down. However, we had two of these 5 inch puppies poking out of the foundation exactly where we wanted to put the large step cinder blocks. Mary cut most of the protruding screw off with our trusty hacksaw. Unfortunately, the siding on the house prevented her from cutting it flush. What to do?

The hardware store had the sledge hammer I wanted to buy (gotta have one handy, don't know how I survived without it - oh yeah, I just used two hammers at a time). I was really there to buy a manual tamping tool because we just weren't going to cover enough ground (pun intended) to warrant the motorized one. While there I also picked up a cold-chisel, which the hardware store guy said was always handy - it could be used to cut through metal (knock off stubborn, rusted-on bolts and the such). I thought, "great! I can just chip off the remaining inch or so Mary won't be able to cut off." Nope, the cantilevered screw just acted like a spring-board and absorbed 99% of the force. All I could do is bend it a little bit.

The hardware man was right, the chisel was invaluable, and I got to act like Mr. Caveman and chip away at stone. I chipped a hole in two of the cinder blocks to fit around the little bit of the bolt. Because we didn't get the blocks perfectly level, and as a result one side is oh so slightly lower than where it should be, some of the pavers actually hit the bolts poking out of the house under the sliding doors. Again, the handy cold chisel was used by Mr. Caveman, and the pavers were made to fit.

All of this effort, and more, led to use paving 36 square feet of space. Yes, it took us nearly all day to lay nearly 150 pavers. But it looks good.

Sunday went much faster. We'd tamped down the gravel the night before after getting it graded just right. So we started with screeing off some sand and laying the first paver of the big semi-circle that is to be the main part of the patio. Mary laid all the pavers, quite nicely if I do say so myself. And I provided all the grunt work of hauling sand and pavers to the job site.

Considering the fact I'd mis-calculated the number of 80 pound stepping blocks, and I'd mis-measured the level of said blocks on one end, oh, and I'd mis-measured the locations of the holes in said blocks for the protruding bolts (requiring chiseling the holes twice), it shouldn't be a surprise that we don't have enough of the so-called 3/4 stones to finish the patio. You see, the pavers needed to create a circle come in "circle packs" and they have enough stone to create a 10' diameter circle. We're going to have a semi-circle with an 11 foot radius, and then another circular pattern 8 feet in diameter. If you'll notice, most of the stones in the circle pattern are either "Large Circle" (LC) or "3/4" stones. The LC stones are slightly wedge-shaped, while the 3/4 are completely rectangular (and are about 3/4 of the size of the 6x6 stone - 2/3's is actually more accurate). Anyway, we have enough stone to cover the entire are we want to pave, just not enough of the 3/4 stones to finish the job nicely.

So, we cannibalized the second circle pack and completed 7 1/2 feet of the diameter. We'll need to get about half a pallet of the 3/4 stones to be able to put in the 8 foot round.

But, running out of the stones provided us with a nice stopping point for our day. We cleaned up the yard somewhat, put away the tools, and sat on our new patio, admiring our handiwork.

We've got a lot left to do, but we can actually see what it'll look like, and it looks good. Plus, we're doing a pretty nice job of it ourselves, especially considering that we've never done anything like this before. It doesn't feel like you're walking on a roller coaster when your cross the patio - which is more than can be said about the gravel that makes up the base for the yet-to-be-installed path.


Let me be the 72,419th blogger to congratulate Lance on yet another victory in the Tour de France. Go Lance!

Lots of people wear the yellow wrist bands to support Lance's cause - which I think is great. Lots of other causes have taken up wrist bands, for example Find Brooke sells pink wrist bands. While in Puerto Rico we saw lots and lots of people wearing all sorts of writst bands - it was very fashionable. However, on the streets you could find every color of wrist band you wanted - with none of the money going to any good causes, other than the pockets of the street vendors. Thought that was kind of sad.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Customer Service

I don't think I'd run a business very well. I have a feeling I'd get fixated on a few of the things that needed to get done, and all the other little things wouldn't ever get the attention needed.

However, that being said, I'd always have my business name and hours on the answering machine. And I'd have either call waiting or multiple lines.

Nothing pisses me off more about a company than when I call and just get a busy signal. There's no excuse for that, get another phone line and put me on hold. If I'm looking for something I've never done/used before and I get a busy signal, I immediately look for a competitor's phone number.

And when I get the answering machine - which is an acceptable alternative to a busy signal - I should hear the business hours and company name. There's one place I've recently called who has two phone numbers listed in the phone book. The first one has an answering machine that simply says, "delivery ... beep." eh? Whose delivery? The other phone at least says the company name - but no business hours. That way I was completely left in the dark - I didn't know if they were open on the weekend or not. Someone else got my business that day.

Seriously, it only takes a couple of seconds to record the proper message, and it's a couple of dollars a month for voicemail.

Oh, and while I'm ranting about business practices, I was talking with someone from one of the local companies just two days ago. During the conversation she said, "Well, almost everyone has gone home by now because we close at 5." For one, nobody answers their phones at a couple of minutes to 5. And two, it was 4:30 when she said that! Closing at 5 does not mean that everyone is gone at 4:30 - that would seem to imply you close at 4:30, correct? Maybe everyone leaves 10 minutes early, but half an hour? I don't care if you close at 4:30, that's your perrogative - I'm sure the folks there work harder than I do, but don't tell me you're open until 5.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A thousand words

Happy Cats

As mentioned before, we're letting the cats outside now. It's been almost a week, and the results so far are good. The cats don't seem to roam very far - which is comforting. They appear comfortable outside now - not quite so jumpy. And, more than not, they hang out inside the house, or just outside the sliding doors - when given the choice.

The bonus feature is that they're usually too tired to run around like little banshees in the middle of the night - so Mary has been sleeping solidly through the night (I always do).

Now we just have to wait for the time that one of the kittens doesn't come in for the night.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Battlefield 2

My friend, Tim, plays an on-line game called Battlefield 2. I watched him for a little bit the other night - seemed kind of fun. You run around and shoot things - as a part of an army.

The demo version is available for free use - which is pretty full-featured.

Tim organized some friends who were going to get on-line and play at the same time, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Long story short, 3 blue-screens, several un-install and re-installs of the software, a video driver update, and nearly 2 hours spent, I still can't play the game. It starts coming up - the little montage at the beginning works, but things freeze up right when it tries to log me into an account.

I'm gonna give it one more shot (download a patch for the demo version) and call it a night.

Good thing I don't have to support computers for a job.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Scarlet Letter


All musicals should have a scarlet 'M' stamped onto the spine of the movie, or, even better, plastered on the cover of all DVD/VHS cases, movie posters, any and all promotions.

Mary and I received Bride and Prejudice the other day and sat down to watch it. It started off a little slow, but seemed like it'd be a good movie.

Then everyone broke out into song and dance.

I almost left the room.

The movie had enough to keep me going, but we ended up fast-forwarding through a couple of the musical scenes.

Perhaps the dislike of musicals stems from the only movie I've walked out on, Little Shop of Horrors. What a waste of Steve Martin, and $3.25.

If you want to see a good musical, rent either this or this.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Who let the cats out?

We let the kittens out this weekend. It's a big step for us. Losing Milo was a very traumatic experience.

I'm glad to report that the kittens didn't immediately rush out into traffic.

Jade ran around so excited that she had to breathe with her mouth open the entire time. Her breaths had to be at 120/minute or more.

And Jupiter just rolled around and hugged the ground as much as he could. He's our special cat. Plus, he used to be white, now he's sort of ... cream colored. He's got a lot of licking to get the dust out of is coat.

Oh Man, What A Week

How to even begin?

Last weekend, Mary and I spread over 15 tons of gravel (3/4 minus). No, we didn't haul it by hand, we rented a bobcat thingy to do the heavy lifting. We still put in nearly 14 hours of work (each) over the two days. So, the base layer for the path and patio is almost finished. It takes a lot of work to get everything level, and we're not quite there just yet. We need even more gravel. We also buried some hoses out to various parts in the plant beds (a poor-man's sprinkler system).

We're also getting a cob wall with a fireplace on the south side of our patio. Mary is trading medical services for the cob wall. The guy who builds the wall stopped by and gave us some ideas - and told us what we need to do to get ready. That should be a really neat addition to our side-yard.

This weekend we took it a little easier - as the pavers we want are not all available. I ordered a little too late, and they don't have enough in stock to fill our order. So, we spent time planting some plants in the bed, and getting some round river rock for the base of the cob wall.

We're happy with the progress being made. This weekend isn't going to be a marathon work-session, which is nice. We worked a little longer today (Saturday) than we intended, but it felt more leisurely. Plus, we stopped for a nice lunch and watched a few of the kinetic sculptures pedal on by the house (right about where the people to the right of the elephant are on this map).

However, this was the work week from hell. I've ranted before about how work has been .... sub-optimal. But this week things sort of came to a head. It's odd, because in some ways the week went well, but in others, it was just horrific.

You see, we're just trying to release a version of our software to the customer. Sounds simple. You have a deadline, you stop programming a few weeks before the deadline and just test, test test - fixing any bugs that crop up. Well, we've had this moving deadline for nearly a month now. We're always going to release "two days from now." Plus, we're pretty much coding non-stop. It's all good stuff to have, but it's not generally what you want to do right before releasing.

An old boss of mine says this whole debacle is because expectations were set improperly. That could be. There's also a clash of personalities between some of the managers - and the relationships have become caustically confrontational. All of this leads to a pressure-cooker environment.

So, this week is the "drop-dead" release date. We can no longer push out a release, it's either all or nothing. Of course, we'd heard this kind of thing before, but this one seemed to be a little more true. Luckily, we'd gotten most of the problems fixed, and stuff looked promising last Friday (just over a week ago).

Murphy's law, however, was waiting over the weekend, and bit us full on in the arse. We had an inkling of a really odd problem that occasionally caused a crash. Over the weekend it became a little more regular, but Tuesday night it hit us full-on, causing nearly every run to crash. The odd thing was that it only crashed when you ran from the end tool. Running it with exactly the same input (but not spawned from an end tool) resulted in no crash. This pointed to a memory problem, which happen to be some of the more difficult to solve. I stayed up late getting all the regression runs going (and failing), documenting what the problem was and pointing people toward the steps needed to solve it. I'd already stayed up late Monday night, making the drive up to Hillsboro on just a few hours of sleep, and late Tuesday night I'm struggling to stay awake long enough to send out the email telling everyone of the stench of the pile of poo we were in. It took me over half an hour to send out that email because I kept on falling asleep while typing it. I blame Tim's comfy couch as a main contributor.

So, while the results of the runs all looked good (enough), we couldn't release because we were crashing when it counted. A couple of us all converged upon the issue at the same time and got it solved on Wednesday. We got a couple of other last-minute fixes in by 8pm, and after running a quick errand, I started the builds at 9:30pm. I had to do a bunch of administrative things with the revision control system, so the regressions couldn't start until those were done. Yet another last-minute fix came in at 12:30, so I patched that in and released another build in the middle of the regressions (causing one to die, but that's ok). Two or two-thirty in the morning I leave to catch some zzzz's, knowing that things looked pretty good for a Thursday release.

I wake up Thursday morning, roll into work, and the results look good. No crashes, the new features added in the day before appeared to work just fine. We're in business. The new guy finds an embarrassing bug that somehow didn't get noticed during the regressions, so we fix it quickly (one liner change, luckily very easy and very safe to make). And the release is ready.

My trusty intern finishes all the spreadsheets comparing our tool with the old one, breaking down the overall comparison into design-by-design. All of the outliers are examined and noted they behaved as expected. One lingering crash is discovered, I find the reason and make note of it in the release notes.

Thursday afternoon rolls past, things look great (well, good enough). I talk with the boss (who's about to hop on a flight and return from Santa Clara), and he says to release if I'm comfortable. I get a little nervous, but with some confidence I send out the email. I'm done. The release is made. I get to go home and see Mary. No more stress from work. It's been three months in the making, but we should finally be on good ground again.

I should have known better.

Friday comes along, and there's some problem. I don't even know what it is. It's not with my customer, it's with a different one. Some new requirement has cropped up w/out much notice, and of course there has been no testing of that scenario. So the boss is running around frantic, I'm supposed to help another guy solve whatever this issue is. Only thing is, he's not even testing the newest release because the customer doesn't want the new release.

Things get worse from there. I get all hypochondriacal (yes, that's a word). Plus, the customer with a problem sends out an inflammatory email saying, "[my] product isn't working for customers A, B, and C, we advise against using it at all." Which gets by boss even more worked up. I get pretty annoyed at that as well, b/c my customer (B) is actually going to be very pleased with this release (they've already seen an (unauthorized - don't even get me started with that) copy and were very encouraged with what they saw.

I piss the boss off twice (well, probably three times) and stop working at 3pm (later than the 1pm I'd expected and wanted). The third way I pissed him off was disappearing at 3. There was nothing I could do at that point, so I emailed him saying as much and logged off. There was no way in hell I was working this weekend, and I was more and more sure that I wasn't going to make any more "last minute" changes because I'd already made the release.

The second way I pissed the boss off was sending an email directly to one of the customers saying, "oh, what I gave you will work, but it'd be better if you add X to it - you'll be more comfortable with that." evidentially, he hadn't told them much yet and having this snippet out of his control was maddening. He told me that "this is the kind of thing that makes them think we don't know how to make releases." Huh? I don't think so, it was a small thing I was telling them about - they'd probably be relieved I told them about it - very minor. Unlike the fiasco my boss was trying to pull by getting some more "last minute" changes into the release. THAT is exactly what makes them think we can't do releases properly. And they're right.

The first thing I did to piss the boss off was tell him to talk to the guy I was supposed to be helping insert the "last minute" fixes. My co-worker wasn't on the same page as the boss was expecting - so there really wasn't much I could do. The boss responded, "don't tell me to talk to anyone." I could tell he was well past his boiling point. I think I straightened things out with my response, but who knows, and to some extent, who cares?

I think we needed to make this release. The team is going nuts. The pace is hurried and hectic, and nobody is happy. I don't expect work to always be a happy place - there's bound to be some stress now and then, but 3 months solid of stress is way, way beyond what is normal/healthy/expected/permissible.

Next week should be interesting. In my head, I've already gone over some of the conversations that will probably happen. Of course, they never happen how I envisioned.

We released, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Thanks for reading this far, I needed to vent (again).

Friday, July 08, 2005

Nifty Pedals

I'm pretty sold on the Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals, they're just cool looking, and a got a pair for Christmas. Not to mention I've got a pair of Shimano SPDs and my old Speedplay Frogs. The last thing I need is another set of pedals (besides, all three pairs of my biking shoes already have cleats attached).

But, M2's new pedal, the ORB, looks way cool. Other than being super light (read as: not suitable for people over 200 pounds), it also has no sides and float!

Of course, it is a road-bike pedal, and as such, has a huge cleat. Making it useless for mountain biking. But cool idea nonetheless.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Phillip Morris Ads - they make no sense

Anyone else confused by the Phillip Morris ads?

I know they're required due to all the lawsuits and the such, but there's just something about the whole thing that doesn't make sense.

Before they lost the lawsuit, they could say, "We didn't know cigarettes were harmful."

But, the lawsuit has pretty much gotten them to say, "They are harmful - can cause cancer, lung disease, anal hemorrhaging, etc." They even have to go so far as to run ads telling people as much.

Ok, then why are they still in business? Why weren't they just shut down completely?

Smoking cigarettes has only been linked to bad things, not a single good thing (maybe weight loss). And the bad things are horribly bad.

It's not like alcohol, where when used responsibly, it causes no harm - and potentially has some benefits. Every puff of a cigarette does harm, and doubly so to those around you.

Opiates at least have some medicinal value, same with marijuana. These drugs are illegal.

Why do we even allow companies like Phillip Morris to still exist?

You're not allowed to sell food that is carcinogenic. Well, I guess some of the sweeteners are allowed...

I dunno, it just seems silly to have a company that exists only to sell something bad, and it publicly admits the product is bad for you.

F-in Hate Work

While I'm waiting for something to finish at work, I thought I'd rant.

Work has sucked for several weeks now. Nobody is happy. We've been trying to get a release out for a couple of weeks, and it just isn't happening - for a variety of reasons.

The long of the short of it is that people have been putting in long hours (even yours truly) and we're tired of this. One guy even worked over the 4 day weekend. And it looks as though I'm going to put in another late night tonight (last one, right?). But we've always had issues with this particular customer, and we've been in "crunch time" for over three months now.

I proposed that we make some changes, but those were shot down due to political reasons. So, we're still in a state of "just get it done." And as a result, we don't get it done cleanly.

Worst of all was that I was stoked to go on another group ride tonight, but there's just no way to make it with the current state of things.

Cross Cell-phone tower

I drive on I-5 from home to work nearly every week. I often look up and notice a church on the east side of the interstate just south of Salem. It sits there, on the top of a hill, watching me drive by all the time.

It's not particularly attractive (which is too bad - I'd stop in and check it out if it were like the Sagrada Familia), but it has one feature that usually catches my eye - a big, white, free-standing cross. It's not attached to the building in any way I can see, it's just standing there.

The other day I noticed they'd turned it into a cell-phone-tower.

At a glance, you wouldn't really notice the difference, but it's actually rather ugly.I drive on I-5 from home to work nearly every week. I often look up and notice a church on the east side of the interstate just south of Salem. It sits there, on the top of a hill, watching me drive by all the time.

It's not particularly attractive (which is too bad - I'd stop in and check it out if it were like the Sagrada Familia), but it has one feature that usually catches my eye - a big, white, free-standing cross. It's not attached to the building in any way I can see, it's just standing there.

The other day I noticed they'd turned it into a cell-phone-tower.

At a glance, you wouldn't really notice the difference, but it's actually rather ugly.I drive on I-5 from home to work nearly every week. I often look up and notice a church on the east side of the interstate just south of Salem. It sits there, on the top of a hill, watching me drive by all the time.

It's not particularly attractive (which is too bad - I'd stop in and check it out if it were like the Sagrada Familia), but it has one feature that usually catches my eye - a big, white, free-standing cross. It's not attached to the building in any way I can see, it's just standing there.

The other day I noticed they'd turned it into a cell-phone-tower.

At a glance, you wouldn't really notice the difference, but it's actually rather ugly.

An Update

Well, lots has happened, but not much in the way of the patio.

Two weekends ago, we went to the beach to hang with Mary's family at the beach house. On the way there we stopped at Camp 18 for a bite to eat. The food is reasonable, but the building itself is amazing - stop by some time. What made this stop memorable was the cinnamon roll I saw. It had to have been 12 inches across. I'd already eaten my lunch, so there really was no space left for such a beast, but the next time I roll by, I'm going to stop in and get one. I doubt there's much hope that it's as good as those found at the Korner Kitchen (which are second only to mom's).

Last weekend (the 4th of July), Ron organized a mountain biking/rafting trip. You can see some of the pictures here and here. Mary flew down the whoop-de-doos. The weekend was too short, but a good time was had by all.

I happened to have the 5th of July off as well, and we went to the Oregon Garden. The last time we were there was right before it opened. The garden has made huge progress, but I imagine it'll still be a couple years before all the displays look established. My favorite was the water garden - with the lilly pads and the frogs.

After the garden, we ate some dinner in Silverton - where there appears to be one fancy restaurant (closed), and one each of a mexican, chinese, thai, and bistro-style restaurants. We plugged our nickel into the parking meter and ate dinner (fair fajitas, decent Cadillac margarita).

Now the parking meter was a trip - I almost grabbed Mary's camera to take a picture of it. Get this, it doesn't accept quarters - only dimes, nickels, and .... pennies! You get 12 minutes per penny (60/nickel, 120/dime). I remember when Berkeley got rid of dimes for their meters (quarters and nickels only). I can't imagine what the parking ticket in Silverton must be - $4???

And, last on my mind is the London bombings that just happened. I'm sorry to hear it happened, blah blah blah. What I want to say is that anyone who thinks we can "secure" our borders/cities/whatever against this kind of attack is just delusional. The only way to make that happen is to turn into a police state, which pretty much means the terrorists "win" - only I doubt our global policies would really change, so the terrorists would still be pissed at us (in which case we win? - they can't attack, and they're still angry == we win). Call me a hippie, but the only way to prevent attacks is to make them our friends - a big group hug. We don't need to make the world all love us, we just have to stop pissing off everyone in the Islamic world. Yes, I know we have non-Islamic terrorists, but most of those guys are internal to the country and a couple of well-placed smart bombs during a "training session gone awry" would solve that.