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I participated in a campaign on behalf of Dad Central Consulting for The Calling Wines. I received a product sample and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

I was asked to review The Calling Pinot Noir from the Dutton Ranch vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, California. The Calling is a joint venture between Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits CEO Peter Deutsch and legendary sports commentator Jim Nantz. Both men credit being inspired by their fathers which makes a selection from The Calling particularly appropriate for Father's Day.

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My Pinot Noir arrived this afternoon and I couldn't wait to open it when I got home from work. I threw a pair of rib-eyes on the gill and took some photos of the wine in our backyard. The Calling describes the Pinot Noir as follows:

This Pinot Noir's classic flavors of fresh cherries, mushrooms, and spice are framed by rich acidity, delicate texture and powdery tannins. A classic cool-climate Pinot Noir from select Dutton Ranch vineyards in the prestigious Russian River Valley appellation.

I am by no means a wine connoisseur but I do have an appreciation for fine wines and, at least, a passing interest in viticulture and oenology. The whole process of grape to wine is fascinating to me. As for my Pinot Noir, it was wonderful with just the right amount of dry, an excellent aroma and a subtle fruity spice taste that perfectly met my expectations. The wine held its own without being overpowering or distracting in any way. It was the perfect complement to our meal. I would highly recommend it and would not hesitate to select it myself in the future.

153-jim-nantz-always-by-my-side*** FREE GIVEAWAY***
The fine people of The Calling are providing a signed copy of Jim Nantz's book Always By My Side with foreword by George H. W. Bush to one lucky commenter to this blog post. The book is an anecdote rich story of Jim's love and respect for his father whose health declined due to Alzheimer's while Jim's career rose as a sports caster. All you have to do to get a signed copy of the book is to: (1) leave a comment wishing your father happy Father's Day (2) use an email address that I can contact you with if you are the winner, (3) one entry per email address, (4) enter by midnight central time Saturday, June 14, 2014, (5) be the randomly chosen winner which I will pick and announce here on Father's Day. Your email address is not shown in the comment and I do absolutely nothing with the email addresses, so its safe, or at least as safe as anything on the internet. If you want to know your odds of winning, just check out the number of comments to this post. Entrants are only eligible to win once per sweepstakes as part of a campaign sponsored by Dad Central Consulting.

154-random-number[UPDATE:] Thanks to Random.org, with an input request of an integer between 1 to 17 inclusive, the winner of the signed Jim Nantz book is commenter number 9, Lori Walker!

Posted by Don | Comments (17) | TrackBacks (0) |
Apr 12 2014

New Custom Computer

It has as been six years since I bought a new desktop computer. And, that one was picked with the express understanding that it "would not have to have a life-span of nearly seven years." I have been looking at components for over two years and waiting for the next generation of some parts and other parts to simply mature.

Fed up with Dell customer support (I'm looking at you "Kevin" in New Delhi) and their crippling proprietary hardware, I tried piecing together systems on boutique custom builders' websites. But, although I got close, I never was offered all the hardware options I wanted. So, I finally decided on just ordering all the parts myself which would provide the benefit of getting precisely the parts I wanted. The decision was finalized when the IT vendor we use as work said he would put it all together for a bargain price. I would have loved assembling everything and installing the operating system but I just didn't have a full weekend available which it would have easily taken this first time builder, nor was I looking forward the frustrations that would likely accompany a first time build.

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These are all the parts prior to assembly:

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor
Motherboard: Asus Z87-DELUXE/QUAD ATX LGA1150
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3-1866
Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 4GB
Storage: Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB 2.5" Solid State Disk
Storage: Samsung 840 Pro Series 128GB 2.5" Solid State Disk
Storage: Western Digital RE 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
Storage: Western Digital RE 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
Optical Drive: Asus BW-16D1HT Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer
CPU Cooler: Corsair H110 94.0 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
Power Supply: SeaSonic 760W ATX 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular
Case: Corsair 650D ATX Mid Tower Case
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 (64-bit)

The 256GB SSD is for the operating system and programs. The 128GB SSD is for temp files and Photoshop scratch disk. One 3TB HDD is for data while the second is for backup. (I also have full online backup and other redundant physical backup.)

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The end result, is a screaming fast systems that doesn't slow down for the most demanding task (Photoshop/Premiere) I can throw at it. I couldn't be happier!

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |
Feb 21 2014

Cord Blood Registry

"I participated in a campaign on behalf of Dad Central for the Cord Blood Registry. I received promotional item to thank me for my participation."

I was asked to participate in an "awareness campaign for the Cord Blood Registry." While I have absolutely no medical background, had never heard of the Cord Blood Registry and had only a very limited knowledge about cord blood, I am a professional researcher 021-cord-blood-registry-logoand was willing to get up to speed on this interesting topic, so I volunteered for the campaign.

While the Cord Blood Registry sounds very official, maybe even government sponsored, it is a private for-profit biotech company founded in 1992. It originated as a pilot program partially sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the University of Arizona in Tuscon where the company maintains its 80,000 square foot laboratory and storage facility. Today, the Cord Blood Registry is the largest cord blood bank in the world having worked with over 3,500 hospitals in over 100 countries to store over 500,000 cord blood and cord tissue stem cell units which otherwise would have been routinely discarded at birth.

After reading dozens of articles, policy papers and reports about cord blood uses and storage, I learned there is actually controversy and politics surrounding the issues, which I have to admit made the whole thing even more interesting to me. The Cord Blood Registry itself talks about cord blood in the context of being "used to treat," "may benefit," "being investigated," "clinical trials," "treatment options," "help treat," "may provide," etc. It's all very new and emerging, cutting edge, medicine with fantastic potential and possibilities. There are even diseases and conditions in which stem cell treatments have recently been so successful that physicians are beginning to use the term "cure" with respect to umbilical cord blood transplantation.

[UPDATE]After reading several more articles including ones from the Journal of the American Society of Hematology, I reworded the last sentence to more accurately reflect the current successes in cord blood treatments. [END UPDATE]

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Stem cells have been used in the treatment of over 80 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and anemia. Cord blood is rich in these potentially life-saving stem cells. (It should be noted that cord blood contains adult stem cells not the controversial embryonic stem cells.) Further, there are currently over 200 clinical trials using cord blood in transplant and regenerative medicine. Clearly, there is benefit and amazing potential for the use of cord blood and the stem cells it contains.

There are several options available regarding what can be done with cord blood. The Cord Blood Registry provides private/family banking for a fee. There is the option of public banking where the cord blood is donated to a public bank, at no cost to the donor, but like regular blood donations the individual donor family retains no right to use the cord blood. Absent, private or public banking, cord blood is discarded as medical waste. Finally, the Cord Blood Registry provide one very cool (no cryogenic pun intended) option for families with certain qualifying immediate medical needs, in which processing and storage for 5 years is absolutely FREE!

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It is with the distinction between private and public banking that there comes some controversy. Dr. William T. Shearer, the professor of pediatrics and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine who helped write the American Academy of Pediatrics' position on private storing, states that the Academy strongly recommends donating cord blood to a public bank but only recommends privately banking cells if an ill older sibling might benefit. Dr. Shearer stated, five years ago, that claims of being able to fix future disease and injury using a person's own cells was "a little far fetched, frankly." But, in the same breath he also said the uses of donated cells are immediate and greatly needed. Personally, I cannot reconcile those two statements. The common institutional and government position consistently favors public banking over private banking for reasons which are either inartfully or just falsely stated. Public banking cannot be immediately and greatly needed while the benefits of private banking are far fetched.

The truth, which I'd respect such proponents more if they just stated it, is that they simply value a more likely public good over a less likely private good. This makes sense when you are a faceless bureaucrat telling the unwashed masses how to live their lives or a clinical trials physician looking for more cord blood matched subjects to analyze. But, when you are talking about what is best for you and your own family, the public versus private benefit analysis takes on a whole new light. The other thorn in the bureaucratic statist's side is the fact that there is cost involved with private banking and, heaven forbid, only those who can afford it can take advantage of it.

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I think a good analogy would be bone marrow donation which we are all more familiar with. Imagine if you could only donate bone marrow one time at birth. Knowing that a child would be 100% match for its own bone marrow and a sibling a 25% match but a random stranger would only have a 1 in 100,000 chance of matching, would you privately bank your child's marrow or publicly bank it? It's easy for someone stating public policy to advocate for public banking but I can't imagine an actual parent making that decision if they have the resources available to them for private banking.

All of this leads to the question of cost. Private cord blood banking with the Cord Blood Registry costs a one-time payment of $1,995 plus an annual fee of $130 while cord blood together with cord tissue banking costs a one-time fee of $2,995 plus an annual fee of $260. Until March 24th, anyone who visits CordBankingBasics.com and completes an information request will receive a $200 discount on banking a newborn's umbilical cord blood with the Cord Blood Registry.

One thing remains undisputed, there is not enough education of expecting parents regarding the banking of cord blood. I recall, briefly and probably to superficially considering the issue and deciding that the requisite funds would be better placed in our boys' 529 college plans. I don't regret our decision, but our boys have been exceptionally healthy. Everyone needs to make their own well-informed decision based on their family's needs, beliefs and resources.

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |
"I participated in a campaign on behalf of Dad Central Consulting for LongHorn Steakhouse. I received a gift card to facilitate my review and a promotional item as a thank-you for participating."

445-longhorn-steakhouse-logo.jpgAfter running errands this morning, edging, trimming, and mowing the front and back yards this afternoon, we all went to church and then to Longhorn Steakhouse this evening for a fantastic meal. It was nice to be able to enjoy a great steak with all the fixings and sides without having to worry about having all the ingredients, cooking/grilling, and cleaning up. Even then, we probably wouldn't have had fresh bread let alone a different item for every person.

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We went right at the busiest time on a Saturday night but only had to wait 15 minutes. The weather was absolutely gorgeous so we didn't mind waiting outside for a few minutes.

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Me and the world's most awesome boys in a pre-Father's Day photo-op.

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Everyone gets fresh warm honey wheat bread to start out with while you wait for your appetizers and/or salads. We didn't get an appetizer this time but we've previously had the spinach dip and grilled white cheddar stuffed mushrooms both of which were excellent.

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Mary and I both had fresh mixed green side salads. Mine had raspberry vinaigrette dressing on the side. They were a perfect warmup for the food to come.

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My 9oz filet, known by Longhorn as Flo's Filet, was incredibly tender, juicy and full of flavor. My steak was accompanied by a fresh vegetable medley which I did not hesitate to roll around in my steak juices...yum!

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I ordered my filet medium plus (between medium and medium well). It was perfectly done and absolutely delicious!

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Mary had the bone-in Outlaw Ribeye. You almost can't go wrong with a bone-in steak and the Outlaw Ribeye doesn't disappoint. Mary also had the Steakhouse Mac & Cheese which has got to be the best macaroni and cheese I've ever tasted.

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Will wanted ribs and since they weren't on the kids menu, we order some baby back ribs off the adult menu. A full rack was only $4 more, it would have been a sin not to get the full order. I've had the ribs before, and had some of Will's this time, and they were awesome. You can literally eat them with a fork as the meat just falls off the bone.

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Drew went kids classic with some chicken tenders. He said they were really good.

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Landon is our salad eater and he ordered a kids grilled chicken salad. I tried a piece of the chicken and it was great. With a little ranch dressing, Landon ate all of his chicken and a good portion of his salad.

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Will's ribs came with a side of fresh mixed fruit which Landon ate with his salad.

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There was nothing left on my plate when I was done.

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One of the reasons we like Longhorn Steakhouse so much is the atmosphere. It is just the right mix of upscale casual and not too loud. The booths are roomy and the tables aren't shoved together. The only cattle are on your plate.

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Longhorn Steakhouse has some tips for grilling at home. Click on the image for the full size.

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If you like a serious steak knife with some real heft in your hand when you're having steak at home, you can pick up a set of Longhorn Steakhouse steak knives at the restaurant. The quality is actually quite impressive and worth checking out...especially if you might be short of ideas for Father's Day. As good as they look in the picture, the knives are even more handsome in person.

The point of all this...give your dad a break this Father's Day and take him to Longhorn Steakhouse..."you can't go wrong."*

*Actual quote from Mary in reference to the menu.

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |
Oct 30 2012

New Refrigerator

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This is our old refrigerator, a classic side-by-side Kenmore Elite, which recently decided it was done making things cold.

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With the ice maker removed, there was no shortage of storage space.

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Our new KitchenAid french door refrigerator, officially a KitchenAid Architect Series II model number KFIS29BBMS. It sticks out just a tiny bit more than our old one, but we passed on the counter-depth model and went with the full sized. With three boys who will all be teenagers before we get another refrigerator, we didn't think it wise to skimp on space.

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I'm still not sold on the french door design resulting in more space and one honest salesman agreed but added that it had more "useable" space. Perhaps. We'll see. (Note, shelves are as it came and not adjusted yet.)

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The freezer drawer will certainly take some getting used to. Overall, we really like our new refrigerator and are enjoying the in-door ice and water again.

We purchased it at Hahn Appliance here in Tulsa for a surprisingly good price, i.e., significantly cheaper than anywhere else. And, while we never get extended warranties, we did spring for the extended warranty which turned our 1 year into a 5 year warranty. It too was pretty cheap. If we only have one service call we'll be ahead of the game. And, if we don't have a problem for 5 years, then it was inexpensive peace of mind.

Finally, Aunt Donelda and I share quite a few coincidences. This time around she was remodeling her kitchen, including all new appliances, and we both wound up getting our new refrigerators delivered on the same day. Hence, the iphone text messaging of photos and comments back and forth during pumpkin carving.

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |

I've now used the Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 5000 with SmartGuide for two weeks and I'm hooked. Honestly, I didn't think electric toothbrushes were much more than a gimmick, something to encourage children to brush their teeth or an aid to persons with physical limitations. I stand corrected. This Oral-B electric toothbrush easily cleans more thoroughly than manually brushing. In just two weeks of twice daily brushing, my teeth seem brighter, smoother and my gums more healthy. This power toothbrush is both more effective and gentler than my own brute force brushing-harder-is-better manual method.

I thought I'd wind up just using this electric toothbrush occasionally as a novelty but it is now an integral part of my oral hygiene. I hate change and don't make changes often but I'm honestly switching to the Oral-B SmartSeries 5000 in place of my standard toothbrush.

Video of the SmartSeries 5000 in action along with some slow-motion.

There is a $10 mail in rebate offered by Oral-B on select electric toothbrushes until June 16, 2012. For more information check out Oral-B's website, or its Facebook or Twitter pages.

"I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of Oral-B and received a product sample to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate."

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |

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I was very fortunate to be asked to review the Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 5000 with SmartGuide, the latest and greatest electric toothbrush from Oral-B. Oddly, the name of the product neither mentions electric or teeth. Oral-B uses both "electric" and "power" to refer to this toothbrush but I've never used the latter, so I'm going with "electric toothbrush." (Google backs me up on the more common nomenclature: "electric toothbrush" 2,910,000 results, "power toothbrush" 670,000 results.)

We have always emphasized to our children the importance of bushing and flossing. Personally, my own oral hygiene was always about average until the invention of the floss pick, after which I have always shown up at the dentist with healthy teeth and gums.

510-oral-b-smartseries-5000.jpgFirst impressions of the Oral-B electric tooth brush is that it is very solidly built and runs surprisingly smoothly. I have vague memories of using an electric toothbrush a few times a couple of decades ago, but there are no positive feelings associated with the memory. This electric toothbrush is different. It is a pleasure to use and after bushing, my teeth felt at least as clean, if not cleaner than after manually brushing. It's hard to quantify...until I flossed afterward.

Normally, i can pull a small family of badgers out from between my teeth when flossing, even when flossing after brushing. This always amazes me since I brush from every imaginable angle with the very purpose of getting the bristles between my teeth and while applying more force than any two dentists combined would recommend. When I flossed after brushing with the Oral-B electric toothbrush, my floss was the cleanest I've ever seen it. This thing really does work and, first impressions, appears to handily beat out manual brushing.

This Oral-B electric toothbrush is their top of the line model. As I said, it is very well built including a modern induction charging system that allows the brushing handle to remain fully sealed. The technical specs state that the brush "provides 40,000 pulsations and 8,800 oscillations per minute." That translates into 667 pulsations and 147 oscillations a second, although I'm not quite sure what a "pulsation" is. The oscillations are the back and forth movement of the brush head since it does not "spin" around like I think the first generation of electric toothbrushes did many years ago. (Just checked my kids electric toothbrushes and they oscillate too...must have been a LONG time ago that I tried electric.)

The system comes with a wireless "SmartGuide," the LCD display unit, which communicates with the brush handle and tells you how long you are brushing as well indicating the various brushing modes. When brushing too hard, something I am very prone to do, the SmartGuide shows a frowning face and the brush handle lights up red. Also, included are the base stand with compartments for other brush heads so that more than one person can use the electric brush handle and a travel container. Oral-B says the brush will keep a charge for 10 days of twice a day 2 minute brushing.

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This is a close up of the Oral-B FlossAction electric toothbrush head. There are nine different heads to accommodate every preference and need. Given how well this one cleans between teeth, I'll be sticking with it. In a week or two, I'll have a follow-up post to see how things go and whether I plan on making the change to electric.

There is a $10 mail in rebate offered by Oral-B on select electric toothbrushes until June 16, 2012. For more information check out Oral-B's website, or its Facebook or Twitter pages.

"I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of Oral-B and received a product sample to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate."

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |

174-hickory-farms-logo.jpg

When contacted to review a Hickory Farms gift basket, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Who doesn't love Hickory Farms gift baskets? They're a holiday institution! There are few other gifts which are as universally well received as one of their baskets. They're like the anti-fruitcake. Everyone hates fruitcake, but everyone loves Hickory Farms. The only complaint I've ever heard over the years is that people always want more!

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This is my Orchard's Bounty Gift Basket with the cellophane removed. The one and only thing that is unique to my review sample is the inclusion of a 4GB USB thumb-drive in the white box on the right containing company and product information. (Photographing the basket with our wooden floor as the background was just stupid, it looks horrible.)

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This is the official Hickory Farms promotional shot for the Orchard's Bounty Gift Basket.

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This is my own shot of the contents of the Orchard's Bounty Gift Basket, minus the basket of course. I like my shot better, but then I'm incredibly biased. The fruit was aesthetically flawless in quality. You could ponder for hours over your local market's fruit bins and not pick out better.

The basket contains:

  • 2 "Signature" Beef Summer Sausages (5 oz.)
  • 1 "Signature" Farmhouse Cheddar (4 oz.)
  • 2 Crown Comice Pears
  • 2 Red D'Anjou Pears
  • 3 Fuji Apples
  • 5 Mandarin Oranges
  • 1 Berry Nut Bounty (4 oz.)
  • 1 Olive Oil & Rosemary Crackers (1.5 oz.)
  • 1 Hand made in the USA Peterboro Basket
Note, that for reasons unknown, my basket contained Hollywood Trail Mix instead of the Berry Nut Bounty. But, no complaints here, the trail mix was great.

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After church today, we all enjoyed our fresh to the door bounty all cut up and ready for the five of us to graze on for lunch! Everything was incredible. The sausage and cheese naturally compliment each other but when combined with the variety of fresh fruit...it was a palate party sensation.

We particularly liked the two types of pears. The Crown Comice pears were delicious but the Red D'Anjou pears had twice the pear flavor! I don't think I had every tasted them before. We had a great time blindly taste testing pieces of each but it was easy to pick out the more flavorful Red D'Anjou.

The sausage, the cheese, the crackers, the pears, the apples, the oranges; Mary, all three boys and I loved everything!

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In addition to the terrific food, you get a high quality, hand made in the USA basket. We've got a dozen or more Longaberger baskets around the house and, while I'm no basket expert, I can't tell any difference in quality between the Hickory Farms Peterboro basket and our Longabergers.

180-3-dollar-3-day-shipping.gifFinally, all Hickory Farms gift baskets can be ordered online or by telephone with expedited $3 dollar/3 day shipping.

I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Hickory Farms and received a product sample to facilitate my review.

Posted by Don | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) |
Jul 31 2011

Canvas Prints

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I recently had the opportunity to review a canvas print from Easy Canvas Prints. Mary and I chose one of our favorite photographs of our three boys for an 18"x24" canvas print and we couldn't be any happier with the result!

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My photos here of the end product simply don't do it justice. The colors of the canvas print are true to the original, the image is sharp and the build quality is excellent.

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There doesn't appear to be any derogation from the original photo we supplied. This is a blow up of the canvas texture (the shiny spots are just light reflections).

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I've seen some other canvas prints online that have ungainly folded corners but these are very professionally done and unobtrusive. You can choose any standard or custom size print along with either 3/4" or 1 1/2" frame depth. Finally, you have to choose whether you want your border to be a sold color, part of the picture wrapped over the edge or a mirror image of the picture. We didn't like the idea of a solid border which kind of negates the full canvas print effect and since our picture was already perfectly cropped, we went with the mirror image boarder. Ideally, you would crop your photo with extra space around the image to that it could be wrapped over the edges. You can also have Easy Canvas Prints do some touch up work if your images isn't already perfect.

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This is a better angle that shows the quality of the image without the canvas texture evident. Their website was incredibly intuitive and easy to navigate. We simply have nothing negative to say. In all honesty, I received my review canvas print for free but I liked it so much that I ordered another one at my expense for my office at work!

Best of all, if you "Like" Easy Canvas Prints on Facebook, you will get:

50% of your next order AND free shipping!
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I was fortunate enough to be asked to review Lands' End newly redesigned original mesh polo. Since a polo is a work staple for me during the summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I already have several dark navy or as Lands' End calls it true navy polos, so I requested a dark cobalt blue polo shirt.

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I wore the shirt twice before washing it. (I'm not one of those persons who has to wash a brand new item before I use it. *cough* Mary *cough*) I'd say that it felt great but the best compliment that I can give the polo is that I totally forgot I was "reviewing" the shirt until I got undressed the first evening. In actuality, the shirt does have a great quality feel and weight to it.

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I like the fact that the polo has a "no curl" collar and the banded sleeves don't appear as though they will stretch out has has happened on some of my cheaper polos. I've gotten a good number of polos in the past for birthdays and Father's Day and, if not for a certain item I have on order, I wouldn't mind asking for another Lands' End polo for Father's Day... especially given the very reasonable price. A classic polo is easily the most versatile piece of clothing in a guy's wardrobe, perfect with shorts, jeans, khakis, or slacks, tucked or un-tucked.

800-lands-end-polo-shirt-material.jpgThe fabric is a classic polo mesh weave the same as I remember my first polo from years ago (a hand-me-down), exactly the way a polo should be.

*FREE GIVEAWAY*
And now, the best part of this blog post. Lands' End was kind enough to provide me with one of its newly redesigned original mesh polos to be given away to one of my readers. All you have to do is: (1) leave a comment about why you would like to win a Lands' End polo, (2) use an email address that I can contact you with if you are the winner, (3) one entry per email address, (4) enter by midnight central time Wednesday, June 22, 2011, (5) be the randomly chosen winner. 801-lands-end-polo-shirt-colors.jpgIf you want to know your odds of winning, just check out the number of comments to this post. The winner will have to respond to my email notification that you won within 12 hours and provide me the U.S. address that you want your polo shipped to along with the size (S,M,L,XL, or XXL). Sorry, the winner does not get to choose the color. It will be one of the colors on the right.

*I am not responsible for any glitches that happen in the giveaway or even my own stupid mistakes. By leaving a comment you are entering and agree that it is perfectly legal and that I won't be held responsible for any butt-hurt you may suffer.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of Lands' End and received a polo shirt to facilitate my review, one to giveaway, and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

814-random-number.png[UPDATE:] I was too tired to pick a winner after midnight so this morning I surfed over to Random.org and had it pick a random number between 1 and 57 inclusive and it spit out "55." So, DanV is the lucky winner. He has since responded to my email and his information has been forwarded. Thanks everyone who entered.

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787-man-of-the-house-logo.pngThe Man of the House website describes itself as, "the real man's magazine, a guide for the jack of all trades trying to be better - at work and at home, as a father and as a husband...Man of the House is about men helping other men become better men. We're here for the man who wears a dozen hats and worries about losing his hair." The site has an interesting and useful conglomeration of articles, how-tos, tips and advise spanning a wide variety of subjects pertinent to the average man. In short, it appears designed for the middle-aged, middle class, regular guy, who must somehow be an expert in everything from home and auto repair, to modern technology, to investing, to child rearing.

Currently Man of the House is running a World's Greatest TV Dad Contest. The 32 TV dads in the March Madness style contest are: Eric Taylor, Don Draper, Mike Brady, Tom Bradford, Phil Dunphy, Michael Kyle, Homer Simpson, Mitchell Pritchett, Howard Cunningham, Jay Pritchett, Charles Ingalls, Phillip Banks, Richard Castle, Tim Taylor, Paul Hennessy, George Lopez, Steven Keaton, Ray Barone. Michael Hogan, Robby Stewart, Carl Winslow, Jason Seaver, Al BundyAl Bundy, Dan Conner, Adam Braverman, Hayden Fox, Danny Tanner, Red Forman, Cliff Huxtable, James Evans, Tony Micelli, Jack ArnoldJack Arnold.

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As for me, my pick for Greatest TV Dad probably coincides simply with the one I watched the most growing up: Mike Brady. But, I have no delusions about him winning the contest. He's old school and the winner will likely go to someone more modern who's had to deal with far more complex and difficult issues of modern times. But that's one of the reasons I like Mr. Brady, I make the assumption that he (and his wife) raised the kids right from the beginning so that there were no huge problems on down the line. I firmly believe the battles you fight when the kids are young are the battles you don't have to fight when they are older. Likewise, the values you instill in them in their youth are the values you can rely on as they grow older and are under your watchful eye less and less.

I remember Mr. Brady giving his boys, Greg in particular, just enough rope to hang himself with, that is, to learn a lesson on his own the hard way. But, when the situation called for it, I remember him sitting on one of his kid's beds and having a heart-to-heart talk. It seemed like a good mixture. And that, alas, is what a modern dad (and mother together) must be, a disciplinarian and instiller of values and educator of all the lessons that one needs to be successful in life. Because, lets face it, you ain't gonna learn all that from the TV!

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of P&G and received promotional items to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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May 30 2011

Black & Decker Edgers

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Out with the old...the very, very old, and in the new. The old one is my grandparent's Black & Decker U-278 Deluxe Lawn Edger & Trimmer that I inherited. Its gears were so worn that it only spun the blade about half the time and anyone within a mile could hear me edging. Although it had the ability to trim, to the best of my knowledge, it had never been used as anything but an edger. Years ago I went into a brick and mortar Black & Decker store and asked for some replacement blades by model number. The clerk was kind to ask if I had a really old edger. After I assured him my edger was sufficiently old, he sold me some new blades...in dusty packages.

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I believe the edger was purchased sometime in the 1970s. The most recent U.S. patent number listed on the edger, 3,330,102, was issued on July 11, 1967, for a "Pivoted Index Latch for Lawn Trimmer-Edger." One guy lists the model as having been manufactured between 1965-1970 as seen here and here.

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The new one is a Black & Decker Edge Hog 2-in-1 Landscape Edger model number LE750. It is lighter weight as it uses more plastic than metal. It was $80 at Lowes/Home Depot. Sears had it for $90...*sigh*. I've already tried it out once and it is like night and day compared to the old one. Quick, quiet and smooth! I wonder if it will last 30+ years?

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Interesting that it was 115 volts and not the now standard 120. As for the RPM of 8,500...let's just say that it never rotated near that speed while I had it. Two things you never see any more: (1) "For Service -- See 'Tools-Electric' in Yellow Pages" and (2) "The Black & Decker Mfg. Co., Towson, MD., USA." Finally, we put the edger out by the curb in front of our trash and by morning, before the trashmen had come, it was gone.

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Apr 25 2011

Green Lantern Toys

731-green-lantern-logo.jpgOn June 17, 2011, Green Lantern opens in movie theaters across the country. In conjunction with the Warner Bros. Picture release, Mattel has created a number of Green Lantern toys to go along with the movie and was kind enough to send me two items for my boys to review. Before the items came, we brushed up on Green Lantern history watching the movie preview, reading some of the Wiki page and watching some YouTube cartoons with the Green Lantern. For those unfamiliar with the Green Lantern, this was the official movie press release from last year:

In a universe as vast as it is mysterious, a small but powerful force has existed for centuries. Protectors of peace and justice, they are called the Green Lantern Corps. A brotherhood of warriors sworn to keep intergalactic order, each Green Lantern wears a ring that grants him superpowers. But when a new enemy called Parallax threatens to destroy the balance of power in the Universe, their fate and the fate of Earth lie in the hands of their newest recruit, the first human ever selected: Hal Jordan.

Hal is a gifted and cocky test pilot, but the Green Lanterns have little respect for humans, who have never harnessed the infinite powers of the ring before. But Hal is clearly the missing piece to the puzzle, and along with his determination and willpower, he has one thing no member of the Corps has ever had: humanity. With the encouragement of fellow pilot and childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris, if Hal can quickly master his new powers and find the courage to overcome his fears, he may prove to be not only the key to defeating Parallax...he will become the greatest Green Lantern of all.

By the time the box came, the boys were pretty excited.

As you can see by the video, Drew (7) and Will (4) were very excited to find out they had received a Green Lantern Colossal Cannon (age 5+) and a Kilowog action figure (age 4+).

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The Colossal Cannon shoots little plastic discs a good distance while flashing lights and making cannon noises. Both Drew and Will really enjoy playing with it even after having it for a week. From a practical stand point, the cannon is sturdy and has what appears to be a reliable shooting mechanism. Other than shooting it directly into an eye, the discs are harmless and, despite being hard plastic, there is no evidence they damage furniture or walls (repeated shooting at point blank range excepted).

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As you can see in the video, besides being a shooter fan, Will really likes action figures. He took an immediate liking to Kilowog but had a little trouble incorporating him into his Star Wars battles since he doesn't have much context in which to know what to do with him. I'm sure after seeing the movie (if appropriate for little munchkins) or after the expected Cartoon Network animated series comes out this fall, Will will be playing with him a lot more, especially if he gets a Hal Jordan and others to complete the team.

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A little background on Kilowog from the package:

Kilowog is the intimidating drill sergeant that trains new cadets for the Green Lantern Crops. His tactics are renowned for pushing rookies to their limits, and Hal Jordan is no exception to the rule. Representing a long lineage of Bolovox warriors from the planet Bolovox Vik, Kilowog is now the last of his race.

The action figure also comes with a Power Ring. I was surprised the Green Lantern oath was not included on the package:

          In brightest day, in blackest night,
          No evil shall escape my sight
          Let those who worship evil's might,
          Beware my power...Green Lantern's light!

I was pleasantly surprised at how robust the action figure was. It has a little bit of heft to it and the arms do more than simply rotate 360 degrees. They have some kind of ball joint that allows them to bend outward while at the same time preventing them from bending backwards in an unrealistic manner. The waist rotates 360 degrees while the legs bend up about 80 degrees. One of my pet peeves is action figures that do not stand up by themselves very well. Kilowog, however, stands on his feet and balances very well. I was curious about how sturdy the figure was, so I torqued and twisted his appendages beyond that of what I think an average kid might do. I had to stop short of literally trying to break it without any harm being done. I would say the action figure is surprisingly sturdy and well engineered.

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The hero of the story, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, was not included in our package but is a likely addition to our collection after the movie/animated series comes out.

I will end by saying that I think most any kid would enjoy playing with these toys if they are the least bit familiar with the Green Lantern. The Colossal Canon is pretty cool all by itself but Kilowog, like any action figure, needs some context and ideally some companions. Both toys are better quality than the usual crap we've all become accustomed to and should last though many adventures.

If I had to come up with a criticism, it would be that every picture on the Colossal Cannon box of the kid or Hal Jordan has them wearing a Green Lantern mask. I even double checked the box to make sure I didn't miss the mask in the packaging. No where does the box say that it comes with the mask but someone might mistakenly think that it was included.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of Mattel and received Green Lantern toys to facilitate my review and a gift code to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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A few months ago I came across the top idiot warning message while attempting to delete an iPhone app in iTunes. It was very late at night and I was typically sleep deprived. I read the message a few times, rubbed my eyes, and read it a few times again. No matter what, I couldn't make sense of it. I took a screen image and saved it to reconsider another day.

Today I updated iTunes to version 10.0 and afterward tried to delete some apps and got the same message again. But, notice the first line; "application" has been changed to "app." Somebody at Apple actually read this warning message and decided that what it needed for the new updated version of iTunes was to change how app/application was referenced...but no other changes were necessary.

Not a week goes by where I don't wonder about some program: "Do the people who wrote this program really use it themselves?" I still can't make sense of this message. Just for search engine purposes, the text of the message:

Do you want to move the selected app to the Recycle Bin, or keep it in the Mobile Applications folder?

Only files in the Mobile Applications folder will be moved to the Recycle Bin.

Cancel - Move to Recycle Bin - Keep Files

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This past week I was contacted by a representative of RedEnvelope and asked if I would write a review of a product from their Father's Day gift collection. In exchange I would get to keep the gift along with other compensation. After reviewing a list of potential products, I chose the baseball cuff links from their Sports Collection Cuff Links.

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The day after making my selection, I received a FedEx envelope containing the trademark RedEnvelope box with the cuff links nicely packaged inside.

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The cuff links are made from an actual baseball used in a major league game and are officially licensed by MLB (Major League Baseball). The hologram on the back of each cuff link can be authenticated through the MLB Authentication website which will tell you the exact game the ball was used in.

Both of mine came from one baseball used in the September 4, 2007, Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Further proof of their authenticity...the Cubbies lost 6 to 2.

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I've got say, I'm very impressed with the quality of the cuff links. The piece of the baseball used is flawlessly cut and nicely mounted with a convex curve greater than an actual baseball but perfectly proportioned for the size of the cuff link.

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The backing is sterling silver and everything feels and functions just like you would expect a high-end piece of jewelry would. Ignore the brass/gold looking color of the cuff link in this picture, the metal is all polished sterling silver.

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The cuff links look good on white, light blue and especially on dark or french blue which highlights the contrast of the red and white baseball.

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A co-worker who is more GQ than me, graciously allowed me to borrow a fancy weave french cuff dress shirt of his. We both agreed, the cuff links looked terrible against the patterned material.

Conclusion: I would highly recommend these cuff links. They could not be any higher in quality and would add a bit of style and whimsy on an appropriate occasion. They are a bit pricey, but quality always is. No doubt, the official MLB licensing adds significantly to the price, but I think it is well worth it to know the baseball the cuff links are made from is genuine and to be able to trace it back to an specific game. The only caveat to my recommendation would be to think about the weave of any shirt you might be planning to wear the cuff links with; a plain weave is strongly preferred and a darker blue color really highlights the cuff links best.

Discount Code: If you are interested in the cuff links or any other items, RedEnvelope has provided the following discount code to receive 10% off of your order: 10offred

Finally, I just wanted to mention that If I didn't truly like the cuff links, I would not hesitate to criticize them which I've done before with compensated reviews I was asked to write. In this instance I really love the cuff links! I, also, think it would be worth your time to check out some of the other Father's Day gifts that are available at RedEnvelope (I spent a bit of time there myself clicking around).

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The boys got the Lego Castle Troll Warship (7048) for Christmas. We were a little hesitant to crack it open since it is officially for ages 7-14 with 493 pieces. However, six-year-old Drew is always ready for a new challenge and spent just two days of remarkable concentration and sticktoitiveness to put it together with remarkably little help. Both he and Will have had a great time playing with it and putting it back together as it takes a beating from the play. It was a great and much appreciated gift!

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Today we welcomed a new addition to our family, a brand new Steinway & Sons Essex Empire Studio upright piano in Sapele Mahogany, model number EUP-123FL.

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We had the perfect spot just calling out for an upright piano to make its home.

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The Sepele Mahogany finish is absolutely beautiful and goes really well with the rest of our furniture.

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Neither Mary nor I ever learned to play, but we really wanted to get a piano for the boys to learn to play.

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We first started looking for a piano two years ago and after a lot of research and many trips to various piano stores we finally decided on this one as having the most bang for the buck, quality and beauty in both looks and sound.

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EUP-123 internals.

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The mechanics are fascinating to watch.

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It's as beautiful inside as it is out! We can't wait to learn how to play it. Maybe even Daddy will take some lessons.

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Will with his trademark Popeye smile.

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Drew smiling and having a great time.

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Will and Drew stop for a moment to smile the for camera while playing with Will's birthday gift a Step 2 WaterWheel Play Table.

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For what appears to be a fairly simply toy, both Drew age 5 and Will age 3 have very much enjoyed playing with the WaterWheel Play Table. It's fun to try and keep the waterwheel spinning and to sail boats down the waterfall. Not to mention, a little splashing never hurt anyone on a hot Oklahoma summer day.

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Back in my school days I longed for a quality SLR camera but none of the, then, available cameras much appealed to me. Then Canon introduced its much anticipated EOS line in early 1987 which combined fully automatic autofocus and metering with integrated lenses. That Christmas I was fortunate enough to get a Canon EOS 650 camera. There after my system grew to include the following components, along with their place and date of manufacture determined from their respective date codes:

Canon EOS 650 Camera, FB0713, Fukushima, Japan, July 1987
EF 50mm f/1.8 Lens, UB0400, Utsunomiya, Japan, April 1987
420EX Speedlite, SB0802, ???, August 1987
EF 70-210mm f/4 Lens, UB1101, Utsunomiya, Japan, Nov. 1987
EF 28mm f/2.8, UC0703, Utsunomiya, Japan, July 1988
Electronic Date Back, FE0909, Fukushima, Japan, Sept. 1990

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Anyone who knew me in college and grad school knows I was never far from my EOS 650 (left). I've been wanting a digital SLR for a few years now, but much like my initial acquisition of a film SLR, all the features I wanted in a digital SLR weren't available...until now. After traipsing around these past years with a point-and-shoot, I'm back to an SLR with my new Canon EOS Rebel T1i a/k/a 500D (right).

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My love affair with my film camera began to fade with the advent of digital cameras, you just can't beet the instant feedback of a digital imagery. From right to left, a Kodak DC3200 which, much like crack from a digital camera dealer, came free with our first PC computer purchase in 2001. Since then the addiction to digital has required stronger and stronger "fixes," continuing on: Canon PowerShot A80, Canon PowerShot A610 and Canon PowerShot A650 IS.

While just having the camera a few days, we are already impressed with the quality of the pictures delivered by the camera. (And, yes, I'm well aware of people who can get amazing photographs from crappy cameras...I hate them, and this guy too.) Anyway, for me at least, the camera does make a difference and below are just a few shots taken with our new Canon EOS T1i which are of a better quality than I could have taken (with my limited abilities) with our old digital cameras. Look for improved photography from us in the future!

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Mama took this photo of Landon one evening in the lousy florescent light of a bathroom.

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Landon again, both photos taken without a flash. The best thing about the new camera is how it doesn't need a flash most of the time.

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After dinner tonight, the boys ran around outside playing lawnmower tag (don't ask!). I keep calling them over to take pictures and try out different camera settings. Will is is such a hoot, he's always got a comical expression ready to show off.

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Here's a spontaneous pucker for the camera from Will.

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Drew was quite sweaty after running around. Could those dimples be any deeper?

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One of the first pictures I took with the new camera: flash off, some natural light, a handsome model, point, shoot...whoa!

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Even Joey looks better with the new camera. This was just a test shot late the first night I had the camera with the only light in the room behind Joey. All I did was turn the flash off and the camera exposed everything just right!

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You just can't beat a subject exposed by natural light. I love this photo! Much, much more to come, I'm sure.

[I also updated the post about Drew's pre-k field trip to the Tulsa Zoo.]

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Feb 28 2009

New Shoes

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The last time I bought some dress shoes, I went to John Daniel here in Tulsa. About a month later, a seam on the sole of one of the shoes started to separate so I took the shoes back prepared to argue in the strongest of terms how disappointed I was with the quality of the shoes and to demand an exchange for a new pair. I opened the box which the shoes were in and just started to state my case when the salesman (owner?) turned away and went into the storeroom. How rude! I was really going to let him have it now!!! He returned and handed me a new box of shoes and asked if there was anything else he could help me with. I opened the box and there was a new pair, same model, same size. I thanked him and left...a good speech gone to waste.

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Not surprising, I went back to John Daniel when a cleaning and polish would no longer make my shoes look presentable. According to their records, I bought my old shoes just two months shy of 5 years ago. Guess I needed a new pair. They had the same make/model in stock and, to no one's surprise who knows me, I got the same shoe again! (The one on the right.) The manufacturer improved the sole (to eliminate the separation problem), got rid of the raised piping and made the shoe a shade darker.

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I was so happy that I was able to get the same but improved shoe that I went outside my comfort zone and bought a hip and mod (at least for me) casual loafer. (The one on the left.) It looks better from the side. I didn't really have anything comfortable between my sneakers and dress shoes and this fills the gap well.

And, yes, my pants are normally that high.

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092-sick-computer.pngI'm embarrassed to say that I got hit, hard, with the Virtumonde trojan infection. I don't peer-to-peer and am pretty cautious about the programs I download/run, only downloading fairly well-known programs from trusted mainstream download sites. Even with those precautions and antivirus/firewall running, I still got infected. The internet was useless with pop-ups and redirects among other problems that were quickly spreading across my system. A little research reveals Vundo or Virtumondo is one of the worst and most difficult to get rid of trojans around. My infection included: Virtumonde, Virtumonde.generic, Virtumonde.sci, Virtumonde.prx and Smitfraud-C.

093-malwarebytes.pngMcAfee, Ad-Aware, Spybot and VundoFix were all useless, either missing the infected files or identifying them but failing to remove them. After much research and reading of help forums I gave Malwarebytes' free Anti-Malware program a try. After running it once, it cut in half the number of infected files and after running it a second time, it eliminated all signs of the infection.

If you have a virus/trojan infection, it would well be worth your time to check out the fine folks at Malwarebytes. They sure saved my butt! Also, thanks to all the volunteers I encountered at various forums who donate their time and experience analyzing logs and scans and providing people with detailed assistance with fighting computer viruses and trojans. I didn't submit my own problem anywhere, but I wouldn't have been able to clear things up without reading their detailed instructions to others; thanks!

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003-schick-quattro-titanium-trimmer.pngEarlier this summer I received a free Schick Quattro Titanium Trimmer provided to me with the hope, but no requirement, that I review it here on my blog. I spent over a month shaving with it exclusively.

To be fair, I'm probably not the best person to give something new to review. I'm very set in my ways and once I find something I like, I'm not very open to change. I think I've primarily used two different razors my entire life, a free model given to me when I entered college, either a Gillette or a Schick twin blade and my current Gillette Mach 3 triple blade. In other words, the potential exists that the new Schick Quattro might be better than my old Gillette Mach 3, but I wouldn't notice it.

The Schick Quattro Titanium Trimmer has four blades which have a titanium coating that is supposed to reduce irritation. While good in theory, I can't say I noticed a difference between it and my current razor. The razor also has a single blade on the back side for getting into tight places around your nose or...we'll that's the only place I tried it. It worked pretty good, but I didn't find it a necessary feature. Finally, the razor includes a small trimmer built into the handle powered by a AAA battery. I shaved my annual goatee just prior to getting the razor and, so, was only able to try it out on my sideburns. While a neat feature for those with more facial hair than myself, especially for people who travel or want minimum clutter, I was unimpressed by the trimmer which I didn't need. The trimmer also adds a substantial amount of bulk and weight to the razor which really annoyed me from the start. There's an ideal heft and ergonomics to a razor and the built in trimmer causes the razor to blow past any ideal proportions. Although, it's probably not so bad that you couldn't get used to it.

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Now to the biggest, most annoying problem, with this razor. It's increased blade count and cartridge design causes the razor to easily clog and be difficult to unclog. The clogged blades in the picture occurred with almost every shave with the Schick Quattro. Through some combination of increased number of blades, decreased space between the blades and a horrible design which prevents water from washing though, the blades are very clog prone.

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In comparison, my old Gillette Mach 3 on the left, you can actually see light pass through between the blades which is blocked on the Schick Quattro. That means a quick swish under the faucet will clear the Gillette but not the Schick. Absent this design flaw, I'd recommend guys with mustaches or goatees to give the Schick Quattro Titanium Trimmer a try. However, it's propensity for clogging requires me to rate this razor: not recommended.

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I finally broke down and ordered a new computer. We got our old one in the fall of 2001 and while it was still running strong, it was a little slow and unable to handle really demanding programs (*cough* recent *cough* games *cough*...OK, photo and video editing software too). Since last year, I've been researching options, configuring potential systems, watching prices and waiting for new components to come out. Finally, last Friday I found I was able to use multiple discounts on a Dell build of components and options that I really liked. The final price was below even what I could get at a discount parts seller for everything unassembled. I placed the order and, today, our new Dell arrived.

892-intel-e8500.pngThe hardest decision was whether to get it with Windows XP or Vista and whether to get a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. Long...very long...story short, once we decided that, since we weren't breaking the bank getting the most outrageous options possible, this computer would not have to have a life-span of nearly seven years. XP is sturdy, familiar, faster and more compatible than Vista. Along with many, many others, we'll be skipping Vista entirely and go straight from XP to Windows 7. Since we were staying with XP, I decided we'd also stay with 32-bit as there is simply no compelling reason to jump to 64-bit.

Once the decision was made that the computer wouldn't have to last forever, the choice of what CPU to get was also easier. At similar prices, dual core chips run at a higher clock speed than quad core chips. But, for programs that are optimized to run on multiple cores, the slower clock speed of a quad core CPU is more than made up for by the additions cores so, in theory, a similarly priced quad core is faster than a dual core. In actuality, very few programs are optimized to take advantage of multiple cores. As a result, most programs today, including high end games, run faster on a similarly priced dual core rather than a quad core. I picked out the 3.0GHz E8400 as the optimal performance value in dual cores but to qualify for one of the discounts I had to go with the slightly more expensive E8500. The end result with the E8500 and discount was much cheaper than configured with the E8400.

The final specs on our new Dell:

DELL XPS 630i

- Intel Core2 E8500 (3.16GHz, 6MB L2 Cache, 1333 FSB, 45nm)
- 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz, 4 DIMMs
- nVidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
- 750GB Hard Drive, 7200RPM, SATA 3.0Gb/s, 16MB Cache
- Dual Drives: 48x Combo + 16x DVD+/-RW w/ dbl layer
- Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio
- 750 watt Power Supply
- Windows XP Professional

I wouldn't have even gone with another Dell except for the fact that they are moving their tech support back to the United States, they are moving away from 891-dell-ultrasharp-2208wfp.pngproprietary hardware and some other reasons such as their implementation of ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture).

In January we replaced our monitor. Our old CRT had grown irreversibly fuzzy. After much research and consideration, we went with a Dell 22" UltraSharp 2208WFP widescreen flat panel monitor (1680 x 1050, 5 millisecond, 1000:1, adjustable height, tilt, swivel and pivot). The quality and design of the monitor is outstanding.

[Update:] Holy cow is this thing fast! I had purposely been keeping my expectations low regarding noticing any speed change except in really demanding tasks. But, everything, from just opening a file to surfing the internet is much much faster. And, I'm not talking about just an incremental increase in speed, everything is faster by an order of magnitude! It's amazing!

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My web host, TotalChoice Hosting, just doubled the bandwidth and storage space of all their plans. This is a good thing since space was starting to get a little cramped on my server. Now, I'm good to go for a few more years with 3GB of storage space and 140GB of monthly bandwidth.

299webhost.jpgI can't recommend TotalChoice Hosting enough. Just a little research and you'll come across hosting providers such as...picking just one example out of the ether...BlueHost which promises 1,500GB of storage space and 15,000GB of monthly transfer for just $6.95/month...*cough* *cough* bull droppings *cough* *cough*. So what's the catch...speed and/or CPU throttling. I've tried several hosts over the years and either their speeds are so ridiculously slow that you and the rest of the world together could never transfer your allotment or anytime your site gets a mildly busy period your visitors are greeted with a splash page stating, "This Account Has Exceeded Its CPU Quota." These sites might as well offer unlimited space and bandwidth because you aren't going to get to use either.

totalchoice.pngAnyway, I've never had any issues with TotalChoice Hosting. As you can tell, this site is very graphics intensive but always loads very quickly. Any delays are due to some third-party scripts I run (usually one of my stats providers). Just as, or perhaps more importantly, TotalChoice Hosting has the best customer support in the business. They have the most helpful forums run by many incredibly knowledgeable and helpful individuals who go out of their way to help members. Formal tech support is nothing less than amazing. The last support ticket I submitted was fixed in just three minutes. They didn't just respond in three minutes...they fixed it in three minutes! They also have a number of options for live tech support, which I haven't tried...since I haven't had that many problems.

849-bill-kish.jpgFinally, TotalChoice Hosting is owned/run by Bill Kish known as the Head Guru who is always on the forums and available by email, AOL/Yahoo Messenger, ICQ and probably a bunch of other ways I've never bothered to explore. He's a normal guy who gets ticked at idiots and appears to really care about providing good quality, reliable hosting services at very competitive prices. TotalChoice Hosting has sponsored real life food and drink parties, given away computers and tech toys in contests and, otherwise, really makes the extra effort to provide a little more than other hosting providers.

The only caveat about TotalChoice Hosting is that they only allow one domain per hosting plan unless you get one of their more expensive "reseller" accounts. The industry standard seems to allow multiple add-on domains per plan. TotalChoice Hosting's restriction has required me to host a number of additional sites I have on a micro-account with A Small Orange where I can host unlimited sites which get very little traffic for just $25 a year. Even taking into consideration this minor annoyance, TotalChoice Hosting gets my highest recommendation for the best web host.

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Ahhh, feel that? Spread your arms out...feel all the extra space? That's our new 500GB internal hard drive you're experiencing. Specifically, a Western Digital WD5000AAJB, 500 GB, 100 MB/s, 8 MB Cache, 7200 RPM, WD Caviar SE EIDE (Ultra ATA/100), fast, cool, safe and quiet with WhisperDrive™, SoftSeek™, Data Lifeguard™ and ShockGuard™ technologies.

764-western-digital-hard-dr.pngOur primary home desktop is a six year old Dell Dimension 8200, which I'd love to replace...if I had a reason. I've previously detailed the five different upgrades we've made to it and, as a result, it runs great. It's as fast or faster than my brand new computer at work and runs all the software that I want: Photoshop, Movie Maker, Half-Life 2, Far Cry, etc., all run great.

The only problem was that the hard drive, originally 80GB upgraded to 120GB after a crash had grown too small. Now...we've got half a terabyte internal and over a terabyte external. It feels good not be so cramped any more!

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A recall was announced today of various Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys sold from January 2005 though June 2007. Pictured are the pieces we have that are being recalled: James Engine and Coal Tender, stop sign, railroad sign and the 2006 Day out with Thomas car.

Here is a complete list of each piece being recalled:

* Red James Engine & Red James' # 5 Coal Tender
* Red Lights & Sounds James Engine & #5 Coal Tender
* James with Team Colors Engine & #5 Coal Tender
* Red Skarloey Engine
* Brown & Yellow Old Slow Coach
* Red Hook & Ladder Truck & Red Water Tanker Truck
* Red Musical Caboose
* Red Sodor Line Caboose
* Red Coal Car labeled "2006 Day Out With Thomas"
* Red Holiday Caboose
* Red "Sodor Mail" Car
* Red Fire Brigade Truck
* Red Fire Brigade Train
* Deluxe Sodor Fire Station
* Red Coal Car
* Yellow Box Car
* Red Stop Sign
* Yellow Railroad Crossing Sign
* Yellow "Sodor Cargo Company" Cargo Piece
* Smelting Yard Ice Cream Factory

More information can be found at the recall website. There is also a helpful list with pictures. And, here is the form you will need to send in your recalled pieces to be exchanged.

Lead is very useful in paint as it speeds drying, increases durability, improves appearance and resists moisture. In fact, it's still commonly used in industry and by the military. But, as everyone knows lead is extremely toxic and is especially dangerous to small children in which it causes nervous system damage, hearing loss, reduced IQ, kidney damage and other developmental problems.

So, guess where the lead painted Thomas toys were manufactured. Any idea? Take a wild guess. I'll give you a hint, the country just recently exported poisoned pet food all over the world resulting in the death of thousands of pets and the recall of 5300 pet food products. Yep, China. Anybody else getting a little sick of that country?

[Update:] I noticed there are a number of reddish pieces in our set that are not included in the recall, but that there is a tree which is the exact same color as the pieces which are included in the recall. A little after 6 pm, I sent the following email to the manufacturer, RC2 Corporation:

I have the Deluxe Sights and Sounds set and will be exchanging a number of pieces from the set as part of the recall. I could not help but notice that at least one of the trees from the set appears to be the same shade of red as the other recalled pieces. Would you please confirm that the red tree should not be part of the recall.

Don Danz
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Just after 8 am the next morning, I received this reply:

Dear Don Danz:

The red trees are not part of the recall.

Consumer Service

I imagine they are being deluged with inquiries so I'm pretty impressed with their response time to my question. The Danz Family will remain big Thomas fans!

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667b-amazon-logo.pngSpeaking of huge companies with annoying websites. Have you ever tried to log out of Amazon? Seriously, It's impossible...at least without denying your own existence. Don't believe me...go ahead, surf over to Amazon and, if you're not already logged in, sign in and then try to sign out. I'll still be here when you return.

In order to learn how to sign out you could do what I did and do a Google site search of Amazon or you could navigate Amazon's site by going to "Your Account" then to "Learn how to use Your Account" and then to "Signing Out" where you will finally be rewarded with the following:

Signing Out

If you are using a public terminal, you will want to log off, or sign out, before you leave the computer. Here's how:

1. Click the link near the top of the home page that says "If you're not (your name), click here."
2. On the next page, leave the e-mail and password spaces blank and click the Amazon.com tab at the top of the page.
3. Close the browser to prevent your name or 1-Click settings from appearing on the public terminal.

Once you have done this, your name will be removed from the home page, and your 1-Click ordering settings will be inaccessible to anyone using the same computer after you.

First off, there are no instructions for non-public or home computers. They just assume you'll never sign out and that it's just fine for anyone using your computer, a friend or visiting family member, to hop on to your Amazon account and do whatever they want.

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Second, even on a public terminal, there is no way to log out without clicking on "If you're not (your name), click here." Why would I ever click on that? How stupid is it that you have to pretend you are not you just to sign out? So why is Amazon being so ridiculous? The next two sentences reveal Amazon's motives:

We recommend that you sign out only when you feel that you must. If we can't identify you, it will be difficult for us to identify items that might be of interest to you.

The reason Amazon makes it so difficult for people to log out is that they want to track everything you do on your site. I don't have a problem with this, but only if you allow me an easy way to log out. It just seems common sense that, if you have a system where you log in to you should have an easy, readily apparent, method for logging out. I don't know another major website that makes it as difficult as Amazon.

Finally, Amazon's statement that, "We recommend that you sign out only when you feel that you must" really bugs me. It's under the "public terminal" section. Accordingly, if you are using a public terminal and think you should sign out but don't think you "must" sign out, then you shouldn't. How incredibly irresponsible is this? Come on Amazon, get your act together, don't be evil.

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I'm working on archiving photos to Flickr (now a part of Yahoo). I've previously had a Flickr Pro account but I let it lapse since I haven't recently needed it. So, I needed to upgrade again to a Pro account.

On the fist screen in the upgrade process, two payment options were provided; PayPal or credit card. I'm not a fan of PayPal. I have an account and use it occasionally, but they've been involved in a number of incidents and, as a result, I don't normally use it when I don't have to. So, I selected payment by credit card and started to enter my information and when I was almost done, the screen refreshed all by itself causing me to lose everything I had entered. That's nice, I thought. So, I navigated back to the first screen and chose the PayPal option.

And, that's when I was reminded why PayPal Sucks. The first thing the PayPal screen says at the top of the page is "Add Credit Card (Recommended)." To anyone familiar with the English language "recommended" means "optional" as in, you don't have to do it. However, there is no way to get past this page without entering your credit card information. At the bottom of the page, there are two buttons, "Add Card" and "Cancel." Hardly consistent with the concept of a recommendation. Further, if I had wanted to enter my credit card information I might have, oh I don't know...selected payment by credit card?!?!

The yellow box on the same screen says: "To complete this secure payment, add a credit card to your PayPal account and click 'Continue.'" I already have credit card information associated with my PayPal account, so I started to think I somehow got hijacked by a phishing site, except the URL was a legit PayPal address. Above, where I'm supposed to put in my credit card information is says: "Number of cards active on your account: 1." So, what the heck! I have an "active" credit card on the account, so there should be no reason to enter any credit card information again.

I closed down my browser, restarted and went to my PayPal account. It turns out I had not updated my credit card information with PayPal since when it expired. Like I said, I don't use PayPal unless I have to. Accordingly, the credit card on my PayPal account was not active. I updated my account with the new expiration date and went back to the Flickr upgrade page, selected PayPal and I was no longer given the "Recommended" add credit card page.

What I want to know is, how can companies as large and sophisticated as PayPal and Yahoo screw up something so simple? Do they not know the definitions of "recommended" and "active." Do people at these companies use their own products? Arrrgh!

P.S., I sequentially number the names of all the pictures I put in posts. Prior to this post, I had used a total of 664 images since June of 2004. By sheer coincidence, the PayPal Add Credit Card (Recommended) screen's number is 666. Well, at least, that makes sense!

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Apr 29 2007

Xbox 360 Elite

657-xbox-360-elite.pngAs a gift for Easter, I received an Xbox 360 Elite. The only problem was that they didn't go on sale until today. So this morning, before church, I ran by Best Buy and picked one up. Unintentionally, due to the light Sunday morning traffic, I got there five minutes early and found myself doing something I never thought I'd do...stand in line waiting for a store to open to buy a video game console. There were six to eight people in front of me and four or five behind me by the time the doors opened. Although the black Xbox 360 is supposed to be a limited production run, there were plenty stacked high in the store for everyone.

I picked up two games, Gears of War, which looks great but is incredibly difficult to play having to manipulate three joysticks and all the other buttons and triggers at the same time. The other is Burnout Revenge which only requires a single joystick (steer), trigger (acceleration) and one button (boost). 658-xbox-gears-burnout.jpgI don't bother with the brakes! Burnout is instantly enjoyable with a learning curve of under a minute. Once again, another activity to keep me from blogging.

The quality of the games is really phenomenal considering my game console evolution started with the original Pong which my family was the first of anyone I knew to get. I can still remember us and neighbors, young and old, coming over to play the simple game of paddle tennis. Later we were probably one of the last to get an Atari 2600...and that was it for console games until the Xbox 360 Elite. Granted there were a number of computers in between which I've always done a fair amount of gaming on.

At this time, We see no need for Drew to be Xboxing so we haven't told him about it. I figure he'll be old enough to play it when this conversation takes place:

   Drew:     Momma?
   Mary:     Yes, Drew.
   Drew:     Momma, do we have an Xbox?
   Mary:     Why do you ask?
   Drew:     Because there's one right here.
   Mary:     Oh, that's just part of the TV.
   Drew:     No Mamma, that's an Xbox.
   Mary:     Ask your father when he gets home.

To further aid in the deception, we keep a few things stacked in front of the console to help hide it. And, we keep the controllers and related items well hidden as well. Eventually, though, Drew will figure things out, but hopefully not for a few years. When he does, it will be time for Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.

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The really amazing thing is how well the Xbox 360 fits in our TV cabinet which we've had for years...long before there ever was an Xbox. I always thought the odd-sized tubby hole next to the cable box was a wasted space, an after thought evidencing poor design. Now that I see the Xbox 360 fit there perfectly, as if it were custom made, I think the designer was a Nostradamus-like genius. Now, if Cox/Motorola would just make their cable box in black.

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Sep 24 2006

Black iPod Nano Dock

511-white-ipod-nano-dock.jpgOn the left is the standard white Apple iPod Nano (2G) dock that can be purchased as an accessory from Apple. The Nano itself, only comes with a dock connector to USB 2.0 cable forcing your iPod to lay down like a second-rate piece of hardware while it syncs and recharges. To me the beautiful black Nano sitting in the white dock just doesn't look right. I figured, no problem, I'll just hop on the internet and order a black iPod Nano dock...wrong. I searched and searched and found nothing. At least, nothing that was simple, elegant and would fit my second generation Nano. So, I figured, it was do-it-myself time.

514-painting-ipod-nano-dock.jpgI picked up a dock from the "local" Apple store in Oklahoma City while I was there this weekend. Bought some glossy black spray paint specially made for applying to plastics and created my own black iPod Nano dock. And, if I may say so myself...it looks AWESOME!!!

513-black-ipod-nano-dock.jpgRemoving the cover from the dock was fairly simple. It's on pretty tight, but a little work with a knife wedged underneath between the innards and the cover and I was able to release the small tabs that keep it in place. The only thing I might do different if I did it over was not paint it in a dusty garage with a two-year old running around "helping" me. There are some dust particles that got stuck in the wet paint. 512-black-ipod-nano-dock.jpgNothing noticeable while the dock is just sitting on my desk, but if you pick it up and examine it in good light, you can see a few specks in the paint. After it dried, I just shoved the two parts back together and it works perfect. The thin layer of black paint does not seem to interfere in any way with docking and undocking the Nano.

I've posted pictures of the process on Flickr.

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Apple recently updated its iTunes software to version 7. The update made improvements in a lot of places. One of the coolest additions is the 3D album cover visualization called Cover Flow (originally CoverFlow by Steel Skies). A static picture doesn't do justice to just how cool this feature is. Using the mouse to drag or click the slider, you can "flow" through all your album cover art and select what album you want to listen to.

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There's only one problem...while the idea is fantastic...the implementation is horrible. In just the first 30 albums I ripped (192 kbps AAC), 10 had significant problems with the cover art from missing or wrong covers to covers which looked like someone just pulled a heavily worn LP album out of a crate and scanned it in with the lowest possible quality scanner. I had previously ripped the same albums in Windows Media Player (128 kbps MP3) and it downloaded the proper album art, of perfect quality, every time without a hitch.

And, I won't even go into all the bugs that you run into with iTunes while trying to fix the album art problems. Suffice it to say that all the various iPod forums are filled with complaints. The word is that Apple programmers are working feverishly trying to fix the problems. This is one of those things, usually associated with Microsoft, that I just wonder...did they use the product before it launched?

Here's the 10 screw-ups out of my first 30 CDs:

Atlantic Rhythm Section, wrong.
Bad Company, 10 From 6, wrong.
Badfinger, Very Best of Badfinger, missing.
Moving Pictures, Days of Innocence, poor quality.
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, poor quality.
Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water, poor quality.
The Who, It's Hard, poor quality.
The Who, Quadrophenia, poor quality.
The Who, Who's Better Who's Best, wrong.
U2 Best of 1980-1990, B-Sides, wrong.

And when I say "poor quality" I'm not just being picky, I'm talking about an objectively bad image that makes you immediately say, "Ewww, why is that all messed up?"

Argggh...as I type this four others albums have the wrong cover art: Best of the Animals, Best of the Alan Parsons Project, Best of the Allman Brothers Band and Aerosmith's Greatest Hits. I'm beginning to wonder, what's the point? Additionally, Apple chose to strip out the original Steel Skies program's ability to exclude albums without cover art, albums below a certain duration or song/track count and custom filters. Hopefully, these options will be implemented in future versions.

Final note, Cover Flow is just an additional feature in iTunes and in no way affects the fact that I LOVE my new iPod Nano!

[Update] Here is an excellent thread in the iLounge forums entitled: To Clarify: iTunes 7 ALBUM ARTWORK Issues...

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Sep 18 2006

Apple iPod Nano 2G

507-ipod-nano-2g.jpgSeriously, my hand is not that big...this thing is just tiny! The "thing" being Apple's latest iPod Nano, second generation, with 8GB of memory, enough for 2000 songs. I've put photos of the opening/unboxing on Flickr.

I can remember studying in college with a Sony Walkman tape player and a few tapes holding just a dozen or more songs each. My friend Dave recorded a bunch of Simon & Garfunkel for me which I listened to so much that, even today, when I listen to one of their CDs I occasionally think something is missing because there's not a scratch or pop where one is "supposed" to be.

Jump forward to today: 2000 songs in perfect digital clarity, 24 hour battery life, color screen with album art...all in just 3.5" x 1.6" x .26". Maybe I just need tactile feedback or my stuck-in-the-80s brain can't comprehend how it can all fit in such a small device but, for me at least, photos simply cannot convey how small this thing is. I'm in awe.

THANKS Donelda !!!

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Aug 31 2006

Macy's Blows Chicago

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Macy's (Federated Department Stores) which has taken over Chicago icon Marshall Field's mistakenly placed signage in their downtown Chicago store labeling major downtown thoroughfares Wabash Avenue as "Wabash Street," Randolph Street as "Randolph Avenue" and Washington Street as "Washington Avenue." I have absolutely no clue how something like this happens. Either you are 1000% certain of the name of the street/avenue or you look it up. Who makes this kind of mistake on an expensive permanent display that will be seen by millions? It's too bad there's not some interconnected network of computers that anyone anywhere could just tap into and get information like this in under ten seconds.

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Maybe Macy's/Federated can show they're serious about doing retail in Chicago by sponsoring a Bears fans appreciation night at the White Cubs' Wrigley Stadium. They could feature country music bands, thin-crust pizza, Polish hot dogs and free passes to Navy Park, the Sears Building Skydeck, rides along the Chicago Canal or other sites along the Magnificent Kilometer. Maybe work in some kind of commemoration of the great Chicago flood or famous Chicagoans Mayor Weekly, hockey great Michael Jordan, philanthropist Al Capone or singer Bill Murray. Sing it now...On State Street, that great street...That Toddler Town!

Photos and credit for breaking the story go to Mike Doyle and his Chicago Carless blog.

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482-western-digital-my-book.jpgOur internal hard drive has been at capacity for a while now and our external backup hard drive didn't have a whole lot to spare either. Recently whenever I wanted to load new photos and videos, I had to delete something...usually an old game I was no longer playing. The only problem, I was running out of unused stuff to delete. So, I've been in the market for some external drives for a while and after doing some research and waiting for the right sale, I picked up a pair of Western Digital My Book Premium 400GB hard drives. I figured they were a pretty good deal at $0.50 a gigabyte and, as you can see, they have a beautiful form factor.

483-wd-my-book-premium.jpgI'm incredibly paranoid about deleting our treasured photographs and videos but I've placed copies of everything on DVD and on each of the new hard drives (triple redundant), so everything should be safe. We now have plenty of space on our internal drive and over a terabyte of space externally.

Interestingly, in 1990 I purchased an 80MB external hard drive for about $1000. Just one of our new hard drives has 5,000 times the storage capacity, at 1/5 the cost and 1/2 the physical space.

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May 27 2006

Patriotic Music

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I love 70's music...classic rock that is, not disco. Unfortunately, while the music is incredible, all too often the actual words make me want to wretch like a bulimic after a visit to the all you can eat pizza buffet. Take John Lennon's Imagine for example, an incredibly beautiful song to listen to but don't stop to think about the lyrics:

Imagine there's no Heaven
Nothing like starting off with a full dose of ipecac.

Imagine there's no countries
Nice, if your country is a cesspool, but I'm kind of fond of my country.

Nothing to kill or die for
I'd kill and die for my family...poor Julian.

And no religion too
I sense a theme.

Imagine no possessions
What a freaking commie.

Or, any song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or nearly every other artist in my CD collection are all awesome to listen to but are some combination of ridiculous and insulting if you read the lyrics. And don't get me started on today's music...with only a few exceptions, I can't even tell what the lyrics are...if they still call them lyrics. I've wondered aloud so many times...why can't there be a decent rock band that plays true quality music?

436-right-brothers-2.gifMy wait is over, I have found The Right Brothers. Somewhere, I came across their single Bush Was Right and thought, one hit wonder, until I surfed over to their website and listened to some clips from their two albums and within fifteen minutes, I had ordered their Capitalist Edition, a collection of their two self-titled albums and the Bush Was Right single.

For the last few weeks, I've listened to no other music in my car. The band rocks, their music is awesome and if you think you might enjoy song like "Wake Up, America," "Tolerate This," "I Want My Country Back" and "Freedom Is Not Free," then you will likely love The Right Brothers.

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So, I'm at a local FedEx-Kinko's late one night recently and while I'm waiting for my copies to be made and bound, I was walking around the store and was confronted by this sign which was part of their Self-Service card kiosk (I've added the highlighting):

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It was late and I already wasn't thinking clearly, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not make sense of their pricing scheme. Why in the world would anyone buy 25 black & white copies for $3.00 when they could get 30 black & white copies for the same amount of money by buying them in $1 increments? The same problem exists in the pricing of the black & white prints.

I couldn't help wonder how many levels of bureaucracy, approval, editing, printing, proofing, etc., this rate structure had to go through before finally making it to the retail floor. When my order was ready, I asked the clerk about it and she agreed it made no sense.

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Feb 19 2006

Jabra C150 Headset

371-drew-jabra-150.jpgI hate talking on my cell phone and I can't stand people who drive while talking on their cell phone. The majority of idiots I see on the road are on their cell phone which means they are in command of several thousand pounds of steel and glass barreling down the road and their thoughts and attention are elsewhere. And no, you are not an exception. Every day idiots everywhere talking on their cell phones cause needless accidents.



A Letcher County woman suffered a horrible injury early Thursday when her arm was severed in a car crash on the Mountain Parkway in Clark County.

Jacqueline Dotson and her six-year-old daughter had to be cut out of their vehicle after the accident in which Dotson veered into the median and over-corrected, rolling her truck over the guardrail and landing upside down after flipping several times.

Her arm was found near the accident still clutching a cell phone.

Studies have also shown, as does simple observation, that people preoccupied with looking cool, often just pretend to be talking on their cell phones. I'd love a law that would require cell phones to look like pieces of poop. Then, maybe, they'd be used as intended, as a tool and not as a fashion device.

372-jabra-150.gifWith all that said, for a while now I've been looking for an earpiece/headset for my cell phone for those few occasions when I do take or make a call. I've looked at dozens of models and never found one I liked until I found the Jabra C150 headset. I didn't think I'd like the in-the-ear earpiece design but, amazingly, it goes in easily, fits snugly and feels completely natural. I never found an over-the-ear or around-the-ear model that I liked. But, with the Jabra C150, you don't need the additional ear-hugging hardware (although it comes with a snap-on over the ear piece). The Jabra C150 comes with three different size ear pieces, but the one right out of the box works great for me. I chose the boom-mike because the dangly one seemed a little less precise. The comfort and sound quality is so good, I'm thinking of getting a Jabra stereo headset for general use.

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361-dish-network.gifThe previous owners of our home, which we moved into five years ago, had Dish Network satellite television. We didn't sign up right away, rather we waited until I found a way to simultaneously use multiple incentives offered by Dish. I purchased the requisite equipment dirt cheap on one offer which did not require signing up for any service...they just assumed I'd sign up. Then I waited a few months until I found another offer of free installation and free service for so many months...with the assumption that I'd be renting or buying their equipment at full price...but no requirement that I do so. That's when I called and scheduled an installation.

When the guy came out to set everything up he called into Dish Network and they were in total disbelief that I already had my own equipment and insisted on charging me for it again! I told the installation guy to forget it, that I wasn't about to pay for my equipment twice. He fully understood and wound up spending twenty minutes talking to Dish Network trying to convince them that I already had my own equipment. The conversation was hilarious and contained such statements by the installer as, "Yes, I'm certain, I'm looking right at it." After the installer convinced some supervisor that I did in fact already have my own equipment, I signed off on the purchase order.

When we got our first bill it, of course, had charges for purchase of the equipment which I already owned. And, thus began our near monthly fee dispute with Dish Network. Invariably Dish would overcharge, make up a charge or make some other mistake which amazingly always resulted in a higher bill and never a lower bill. I'd always convince them of their error and then, most annoyingly, they'd lie and say they couldn't credit my account but could offer me a certain number of months of some added programming that I didn't want and which cost them nothing to give me. No thanks, I want my money back...let me talk to your supervisor. At some point I just got so sick and tired of their attempts to screw me that I cancelled everything and...they tried to charge me a cancellation fee which only resulted in me telling them what they could do with their cancellation fee.

362-cox-communications.gifA few months of broadcast only television (no great loss) and a good deal on Cox Communications cable television came along...no equipment needed and no problems getting hit with hidden fees. Sometime around that same time we also signed up for Cox high speed internet. Customer service was great, they even admitted that there installation disc wasn't needed...just plug and play without having to install a bunch of software that I didn't need or want. Uptime was remarkable and the speed was addictive. No one goes back to dialup after having broadband.

363-cox-bundle.gifCox has been pushing their bundled services--television, internet and phone--for a while, but I was hesitant to switch our phone to the relatively new VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology from the good old standard landline we all grew up with. But, after evaluating what we were spending on everything offered by Cox in their bundled services (including ridiculous overcharging by AT&T long distance) we made the switch. We are now happy Cox Bundled Services customers and are very pleased with the quality and cost of their products: digital cable television, high speed internet, local and long distance telephone (using our existing telephones unlike some other VoIP providers which require use of their phones or adapters). We've stress tested the system by simultaneously uploading and downloading over the internet, watching television and talking on the phone and the system never so much as hiccuped. All that on one convenient bill which is significantly lower than what we were paying for everything separate...and not one attempt yet to stick us with a hidden fee.

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Look what FedEx brought me today! I must say, ATI's customer support is great! When they say, "When possible, products are repaired and shipped back within 10 business days from receipt at our Service Centre," they mean it (received on the 13th and shipped on the 23rd). No questions asked, they replaced my fried Radeon 9800Pro with a new one. That goes a long way to making me a loyal ATI customer. So, head on over to ATI and check out their new Radeon X1900 series of graphics cards...drool!

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Jan 7 2006

Fried Graphics Card

Can anybody guess what's wrong with the graphics card in this picture? It's very subtle...take your time...it'll come to you.

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Did you find the problem? Yes, the fan...it should be attached. I'm so happy. Do you know what happens to a modern-day graphics card without a fan? It heats up and fries until it is a useless pile of silicone and mildly carcinogenic chemicals.

The good news is that the card, an ATI Radeon 9800PRO, is still under warranty (3 years, purchased May 03). The bad news is that my main desktop computer is out of service for a while. I had to process the above image with some podunk starter edition program which came free with our laptop. The program is worth what we paid for it, but I digress. We'll see how good ATI is about their warranty and I'll report back. Until then, it's posts from the laptop!

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327memorexdvr.pngSanta brought Mary and me a Memorex DVD16+/-DL4RWlD2 double layer, dual format DVD recorder. The drive supports 16x DVD±R, 8x DVD+RW, 6x DVD-RW and 4x DVD+R9 writing technologies which allows burning of double layer discs with a capacity of 8.5GB. Are you lost yet? If not, just wait.

It records: DVD+R, DVD+R9, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD-R DA, CD-R, CD-RW.

It reads/plays: DVD-ROM, DVD-VIDEO, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW,, CD-EXTRA, CD-I, CD-ROM, AUDIO CD, CD-R, CD-RW, CD-ROM XA, CD TEXT, PHOTO CD, HYBRID CD, VIDEO CD, ENHANCED CD.

And, it writes in the following modes: TAO, DAO, RAW DAO, RAW DAO 16, RAW DAO 96, SAO, RAW SAO, RAW SAO 16, RAW SAO 96, Multi-session, Packet Writing.

I'm so glad technology is making life easier.

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Since we bought our Dell Dimension 8200 desktop in 2001, we've made five internal upgrades now: (1) increased RAM to 1GB, (2) upgraded the graphics card to an ATI Radeon 9800Pro, (3) increased the hard drive to 120GB, (4) installed a USB 2.0 PCI card, and (5) swapped out the DVD-ROM drive for the double-layer DVD writer. The old gal still has some life left in her.

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Nov 18 2005

New Kitchen Faucet

301moenfaucet.pngOur kitchen faucet (shown factory new) had been leaking for sometime now...and not from the spout. It had already been worked on once, but some of its internal parts had continued to corrode and its external appearance had diminished (yellowed) far in excess of what should be reasonable given its mere five year life. It was already an upgrade from the builder's standard fare so we were pretty disappointed in its performance. No more Moen for us.

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So, last night, I took off the old faucet and cleaned the sink to sparkling new. Then it was off to the internet to research faucet designs, manufacturers and models.

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Armed with the results of our research, we went shopping tonight and, after considering a number of criteria, came home with a brushed nickel Kohler faucet that just barely won out over a Delta model. After removing all the parts from the box, it was clear that ease of installation was not part of our deliberations.

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Fortunately, I had my plumber's helper, Drew, to assist me. Click "continue reading" to see the results of our labor.

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289sonybmg.pngThis past week the internet was abuzz with the news that Sony BMG (under their Sony, Columbia, Epic, Arista, Jive and other labels) has been protecting some of their CDs, possibly since March of 2005, using a method that previously only scum-of-the-earth virus writers used. The method involves "rootkit" technology which hides software from the user and from security software such as your virus scanner. The problem is that once installed, and invisible on your system, there is no mechanism to stop anyone from accessing the rootkit and hiding and running malicious files on your computer!!!

Uninstalling the rootkit yourself is all but impossible and would likely result in rendering your computer's CD player inoperable. Once caught, Sony lied about the risks their rootkit causes, and then issued a software update that it says, "removes the cloaking technology component that has been recently discussed in a number of articles." But, this appears to be a lie too. And, you can't download the "removal" program without giving Sony a ton of personal information.

290sonyinstaller.pngIt all starts when you put the CD in your computer, a EULA (End User License Agreement) pops up. I highly suggest NOT agreeing to it. Although I've never tried it, apparently Sony's copy protection scheme can be thwarted by merely holding down the shift-key when loading a contaminated CD. Also, the Sony malware only affects PCs and does not affect Apple computers. As a general rule, you should never have to install anything on your computer just to listen to a CD you have legally purchased.

I've never been an advocate of illegally downloading music, but given this latest incident and the music industry's history of illegal price fixing, payola scandals, suing innocent people, and generally being a paleolithic purveyor of cultural crap, I'm beginning to become sympathetic to the downloaders.

Watch for lawsuits against Sony to follow in 3...2...1...

[Update 1: List of infected CDs provided by EFF.]

[Update 2: The lawsuits have begun.]

[Update 3: Sony BMG pulls CD copy-protection software.]

[Update 4: Sony to pull controversial CDs, offer swap.]

[Update 5: Sony rootkit removal tool worse than original infection.]

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Aug 24 2005

Google Talk

245googletalk.pngGoogle introduced their Google Talk internet messaging/talk program today. I've tried it out and I like it...for what little...very little...messaging I do. If you are a Gmail user, it's a natural addition. It seamlessly integrates with Gmail and provides its own notifier program (with your permission it automatically uninstalls Gmail Notifer during installation.)

Now if my friends and family would just sign up!

Here is what Google says about their product:

They say talk is cheap. Google thinks it should be free. Google Talk enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free–anytime, anywhere in the world. Google Talk offers you:

* Choice: Get in touch over email, IM or a call

* Quality: Talk through your computer but hear your friends as if they were in the same room

* Convenience: Your Gmail contacts are pre-loaded into Google Talk so inviting or talking to your friends is just a click away

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Perhaps I'm spoiled dealing with very capable and professional people in my work. Because, when I leave the office, it seems like the majority of my interactions are with idiots...people who are rude, ignorant or who simply have grossly misplaced priorities. Here are three tales from this past week that started out on a poor note but ended with great customer service experiences.

240megabloks.png (1) We recently acquired some Mega Bloks for Drew or, more accurately, some more Mega Bloks for Drew. He loves them! But, after reviewing the enclosed products brochure and then visiting their website, I noticed a discrepancy in what we had received and what they advertised. I called Mega Bloks on their well publicized toll-free number, expecting the typical automated system and was pleasantly surprised by the friendly live voice, "Hello, Bonjour." Their Canadian, eh.

I stated that I had a non-safety related complaint to make, expecting that I would begin an odyssey of transfers and please-holds. However, to my continued surprise the same person who had answered my phone call also assessed my problem and offered a generous solution. She was never defensive and genuinely appeared to want to help me and, in fact, remedied my complaint far beyond my expectation. We will continue to be a loyal customer of Mega Bloks and pass their praise on to others.

241bandwidth.jpg (2) While reviewing my website's logs earlier this week, I noticed one of my images that I host being used on number of eBay auctions. For those not familiar, it is somewhere between being rude and outright stealing to use an image, especially on a commercial site, without permission that someone else hosts. The image was being used by a company that sells a fair amount of stuff on eBay and was selling multiple instances of this particular product. So, my image and my bandwidth which I pay for were being used to support a half-dozen eBay auctions.

When one discovers this type of activity, there are several options that present themselves. Some just substitute an image that says something generic like, "Please stop stealing my bandwidth." Other times people will substitute something more humorous often insulting the user. And, other times the person hosting the image will substitute an inappropriate image in order to teach a lesson to or embarrass the image poacher. I thought I'd take the high road and sent an email to the company and called their customer service number to point out their transgression. After being transferred to their technical department, I was assured that using images hosted by other websites was not their normal practice and that the problem would be immediately corrected.

The next day, however, several of the company's auctions continued to use my image. Having given them every opportunity to correct their error, I switched images on my server and now all of their auctions using my image showed the image on the right. Being the good guy I am, I also called their customer service number again and informed them of the switch. Within an hour all of their auctions using my image had finally been pulled. I considered the matter closed. Then, I received the following email from the CEO of the company:

I wanted to apologize for the unauthorized use of one of your graphics for one of our ebay auctions. This action was one of pure laziness by one of my staff members. This employee is no longer with our organization. Ultimately, as the owner, I take full responsibility. Thank you for your understanding.

I had thought about doing a post slamming the company so that anyone searching for it would know of their poor business practices. But, after receiving this email and others I've exchanged since with this individual, I no longer have a desire to badmouth the company. It is rare and very much appreciated when someone in charge steps up and takes responsibility especially over something that is relatively a small matter.

[Just FYI, my post complaining about Federal Express is third in a Google search for "FedEx Sux" and fourth for "FedEx Sucks."]

242volvos80.jpg (3) A couple of weeks ago, I was exiting a parking lot waiting to make left-hand turn. While I was stopped, a Hummer coming down the street from the right was making a turn into the parking lot I was exiting and the driver was, apparently, focused solely on oncoming traffic which she was turning left in front of. She turned right square into me, swerved at the last second and scraped my front left fender. So, egregious were her actions that someone who had been behind her, pulled up to my car, said that the collision was 100% the other driver's fault and that they'd be a witness if I wanted.

The young girl was very apologetic. We exchanged information and I also got the witnesses' information...just in case. It turns out the girl's family is well off and had bought the girl and her four older brothers whatever car they wanted when they got their licenses and none of her brothers from high school, to college, and on until they were on their own insurance had ever had a single accident or claim. But, the girl had had so many accidents that her parents decided to pay for my bumper, trim and headlight themselves rather than submitting it to the insurance company. The girl, her family and their insurance agent were all very nice and forthcoming with payment in excess of all damages.

I got the car fixed at Fox Collision. The experience was so pleasant and they did such a fantastic job that I will not hesitate to return there in the future. The car came out as good as new. They detailed the car and did such a fine job as if I'd done it myself which is about the best compliment I can give them.

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215jambadrinker.jpgLately, I've been totally hooked on Jamba Juice's Strawberry Nirvana smoothie. Most of Jamba's offerings do little for me as they are so high in calories and don't really do much to fill you up. However, the Strawberry Nirvana is surprisingly low in calories, only 330 for the large 32 ounce "power" size.

One of Jamba Juice's gimmicks is their "boosts" that are either included or added to their smoothies for an additional charge. Addition of protein and fiber boosts turns the Strawberry Nirvana into a truly filling meal replacement and all for around 400 calories!

I'm actually beginning to wonder if the Strawberry Nirvana isn't too good. Like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer invests in a non-fat frozen yogurt shop. After tasting the frozen yogurt Jerry exclaims: "This is so F***ing Good!" Everyone gains weight as it turns out the frozen yogurt was actually full of fat.

[UPDATE: The Strawberry Nirvana is made with apple-strawberry juice and lower calorie dairy base (nonfat milk, natural flavors, whey protein, Splenda). However, additional calories can be saved while adding protein by asking that it be made with no juice and with all low-cal dairy base. I corresponded with Jamba Juice corporate about this and they provided the following nutritional information for the 24 and 32oz sizes with and without the fiber and protein boosts:

24oz without any boost:
calories 280
fiber 7g
sugars 48g
protein 13g

24oz with protein and fiber boosts:
calories 310
fiber 14g
sugars 48g
protein 20g

32oz without any boost:
calories 320
fiber 8g
sugars 56g
protein 15g

32oz with protein and fiber boosts:
calories 350
fiber 15g
sugars 56g
protein 22g

Now, the only thing I drink is the 32oz Strawberry Nirvana, no juice, all dairy, with protein and fiber boosts.]

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May 12 2005

FREE Wendy's Frostys

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This weekend, Friday through Sunday, Wendy's is giving out free Jr. Frostys. (FYI, they are 6 oz which equals 1/2 a soda can.) This promotion is the company's official thank-you to customers who have stood by it after the recent failed attempt to defraud the company by a piece of human debris which, though unsuccessful, did result in a measurable drop in sales.

Besides having excellent burgers, Wendy's also has a nice variety of healthier options including my favorites: the Fresh Fruit Bowl with lo-fat yogurt (only 220 calories with 1 gram of fat) and the Mandarin Chicken Salad with Fat-Free French Dressing (hold the almonds and rice noodles, only 250 calories with 24 grams of protein and just 2 grams of fat).

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So, stop by Wendy's for a free Frosty and let them know that you support them!

Posted by Don | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (0) |
Apr 28 2005

Vaja iPod Mini Case

179vajaproduct.jpgFor my birthday, my sister got me a Vaja case for my Apple iPod Mini (2nd generation, 6GB). Vaja cases take about 30 days to be delivered because they are handmade to order in Argentina. We ordered mine online over Easter and it just arrived today.

Vaja makes cases for cell phones, digital cameras, mp3 players, notebook computers, pdas, and a variety of accessories. Reviews of Vaja cases are always extremely complimentary and now I can see why. I simply cannot imagine a higher quality case or leather good in general. It looks, feels, fits and even smells great.

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The first thing you notice when you open the package is the incredible leather smell. It was like opening a box of brand new leather shoes.

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Click to see a half-dozen more close up photos of the Vaja iPod Mini case.

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The Vaja case color I chose is "Caterina Dark Blue" and my iPod Mini is officially "Blue" but is really more of a teal. While Apple is currently only offering the iPod Mini in four colors, the Vaja iPod Mini case comes in twenty-five different colors. The color and texture of the leather of my case is perfectly consistent and has just the right suppleness you would expect of fine leather. There is no mistaking it for some kind of vinyl or leatherette.

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The iPod Mini fits perfectly snug inside the case. There is no chance of it accidentally sliding out. I suspect this will remain so since the iPod required just about the maximum force I was comfortable using to get it into the case--exactly what you want the first time.

The Vaja case has a clear plastic/vinyl window which protects iPod Mini's screen. It is completely unnoticeable when the iPod is in the case, whether the power is on or off. There is no cover over the click-wheel. However, the Vaja case for the larger non-mini iPods does have a click-wheel cover.

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You can see how nicely the case wraps around the bottom edges and extends above the top edges of the iPod while leaving all the connectors fully accessible. Note, however, that you cannot use the cradle while using the iPod is in the case. Also, because the iPod passively cools itself through its aluminum skin, it should not be charged while it is in the case which could result in overheating.

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Note the quality of the edging and stitching. I have never seen finer. [I don't know why the color is distorted on the close-up.]

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The Vaja case without a belt clip ($4), without personalization ($10), without an embossed logo ($30) was $60 plus $17 shipping for a total of $77.00. I've got to say...it was worth every penny.

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Thanks Donelda!

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This past week I completed what might have been the most difficult computer related task I've ever accomplished. I added a range expander to our wireless network. Since I didn't have much trouble installing the wireless network in the first place, I figured adding a simple range expander, essentially just a repeater, wouldn't be that difficult. I was wrong.

173WRT54GS.pngLast year, I installed a Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster (model number WRT54GS). After the initial thrill of being able to surf and compute wirelessly from our laptop, it became frustrating that the signal wouldn't reach everywhere in the house. The router was upstairs and if you weren't directly under it downstairs the signal was often too weak to work.

174HGA7T.pngI did a little research on the internet and found that Linksys had some super-duper antennas which were three times the size of the standard antennas that came with the router, that supposedly provided 7 dBi of gain and which would be real simple to install. Jackpot!...I thought. The Linksys High Gain Antennas (model number HGA7T) were simple to install, just unscrew the old antennas and screw in the new ones. However, after testing the laptop's connection out in several places there was no discernable difference in coverage area, not even a little. Admittedly, I didn't know what "7 dBi of gain" meant, but I assumed it was an indication of measurably increased signal strength. I was wrong...again.

175WRE54G.pngMore internet research revealed that what I really needed was a range expander and Linksys had just the item; the Wireless-G Range Expander (model number WRE54G). Admittedly, in my research I did come across a number of warnings about the difficulty of installation particularly if you wanted to install it with encryption enabled which is the only real option unless for some reason you don't mind your neighbors hopping on your home network and taking a look around.

I figured I'd be able to install the range expander by carefully following the Linksys instructions step-by-step. I was wrong...yet again. Surprisingly, I found a lot of good advice and a number of pretty good installation walkthroughs in the comments section of the ranger expander on Amazon. I also found helpful installation instructions on Tom's Networking, a subsidiary site of the excellent Tom's Hardware Guide. Unfortunately, all the instructions Linksys, Amazon, Tom's Networking and misc. others around the internet suffer from one fatal flaw: at some point the instructions say to tweak some setting and it is unclear whether such is to be done with regard to the main desktop computer, the router, the range expander or the laptop. I was left at various points simply doing good old trial and error. Things were further complicated by the fact that, during set-up, sometimes things just don't work on the first try. Eventually, using my three main sources of advice, I was able to get everything up and running with full 128-bit WEP encryption (only because it won't support superior WAP encryption).

176surfingoutside.jpgMany people have reported that the Linksys Range Expander will not work with Dell notebooks. The possibility that this was true was particularly disheartening during the darkest moments of my trial and erroring. However, I am happy to report that we can now speedily access our home network with our Dell laptop from anywhere in our home and even outside on the patio.

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Sep 18 2004

FedEx Sucks!

Over the years at work, I've sent packages FedEx overnight on average every other month. Almost all the time it's just for the purpose of getting the package to its destination quicker than regular mail and, in doing so, the package always arrives the next day. Every couple of years though, the item absolutely positively has to be there overnight. Each time it has had to be there overnight or else the world would come to end, FedEx has failed me and I was left trying to find a way to bring the world back from the brink.

The last time this happened was in May of this year when, on a Thursday, I had to get a package from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Pensacola, Florida, overnight so that the recipient would have it on Friday and be able to work on it over the weekend so as to meet a Monday deadline. So important was the project that I sent it, not just FedEx overnight but, rather, FedEx First Overnight so that it would be delivered earlier in the day than regular FedEx overnight. Little, did I know that "First" is apparently an acronym for "F*** It Re-Send Tomorrow. Below is the online tracking for my package which is handy if you want to be able track your package as it fails to be delivered to the destination.

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The next day, Friday, when the recipient had not received the package and the online information was less than informative, I called FedEx to inquire as to the status of the package. The very pleasant FedEx representative apologized for the inconvenience and said that every effort would be made to deliver my package the next day, Saturday. I asked if she could guarantee it would be delivered the next day, as if a FedEx guarantee still meant something to me. She was at least honest enough to admit she couldn't guarantee it would be delivered the next day.

I then spent the afternoon duplicating the package I previously sent via FedEx and sent it late Friday using UPS overnight for Saturday delivery. Come Saturday, UPS delivered the package to Pensacola as promised. FedEx, on the other hand, as can bee seen by the tracking information, still hadn't updated the status of my package in their system since it had left Tulsa. Eventually, when Monday rolled around FedEx finally delivered my package nice and early...four days after it was shipped. Federal Express sucks or, in more hip terms, FedEx sux.

Posted by Don | Comments (235) | TrackBacks (2) |