Posts Tagged "personal"

A Case of the Mondays

Published on December 17, 2018

At 4:30 this morning, I awoke to our daughter (for the umpteenth time) crying out from her bed for who knows what reason. My wife had just put her back to bed after an early morning feeding. Seeing as my wife had just gotten back to bed herself, I got up to give her a break. After calming our daughter down, our cats decided it was immediately time to eat. Rather than put up with another hour or so of cat mischievousness, I decided to go ahead and feed them.

Having fed the cats, I headed back upstairs to bed. About ten minutes later, I hear a metallic thunk from downstairs. Getting up once again, I went back downstairs to find that I had left the can of cat food on the counter. Our incredibly food-motivated calico had eaten about half of the can, and had knocked it onto the floor, spilling cat food everywhere. After ten more minutes of cleaning (and swearing), I was now wide awake. So I decided to go ahead and get up.

At 6:45, after working for awhile, I decided to have breakfast. Something tasted off, but I chalked it up to being sleep deprived. Halfway through the meal, however, I discovered that the milk I was using was spoiled. I ended up having to toss the rest of the meal, and was too tired to make something else.

As I was about to head out the door to work, our daughter started fussing again, loudly. I brought her back downstairs to calm her down and give my wife some more sleep. After another hour, our daughter fell back asleep, and I put her back in her bed. I quickly gathered my stuff and headed to work, dazed, confused, and hungry.

YouTube Railfanning

Published on December 9, 2018

I’ve loved trains since I was a child, and it’s a passion I never grew out of. In fact, one of the best parts of our trip to Switzerland last year was riding the rails, which we did each day. That is one of the (many!) reasons we wish to return to that fantastic country.

Here in the United States, train spotting (i.e. railfanning) primarily consists of watching freight traffic. As fun as it is to see a train in person, I have neither the time nor the inclination to get in my car and ride around chasing trains. To my good fortune, there are plenty of people on YouTube who do enjoy that pursuit and who film their efforts.

One of the best channels I’ve found to help me scratch that itch is Distant Signal Productions. Danny Harmon, based near Tampa, Florida, wonderfully narrates his railfan adventures. That he works in television is apparent, both from the professional voice-overs to the fantastic video editing. Here are two great introductory videos to his channel:

I learn quite a bit each time I watch one of his videos, and I enjoy it immensely. Another channel worth checking out is Delay in Block Productions, another very professional channel. This video on the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad was exceptionally shot, and fun to watch.

Who Needs Sleep?

Published on December 4, 2018

My wife and I welcomed our first child, a daughter, in late October. Our lives have changed so much in the few short weeks since. Former routines have been shattered. Thought patterns changed. Our two house cats even behave differently!

Prior to her arrival, we often got similar comments from friends and strangers: “sleep while you can.” If another parent happened to say these words, they inevitably came with a knowing glance or twinkle of the eye. Though unsaid, the implied “trust me on this, and enjoy it while it lasts” always came through with conviction.

Now that we’re several weeks into parenthood, I can better identify with those parenting veterans. I knew sleep was going to be a precious commodity, but I didn’t know to what extent. Some nights are better than others (and things are slowly improving), but lots of mornings still start in a dense fog of exhaustion. I’m most amazed at how my body has adjusted to this change. As it turns out, we humans can apparently survive on less than 8 hours of sleep a night; who knew?!

In the end, the lack of sleep is small potatoes. When your child needs you, you’re there for her in a heartbeat. And when she looks at you and smiles, it gives you the energy to do it all a hundred times over.

NC SECU’s Car Buying Service

Published on September 26, 2013

Let me get the crux of this review out of the way: the car buying service offered by the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union (of which I am a member) rocks. Before I get to the details, allow me to provide a little background.

I’ve been driving a 1999 Mazda Protege since June of 2000. The Protege is an extremely reliable car, but mine was really starting to show its age: rust was visible in a few places, the pin stripes on the side were flaking off, and the car had gotten quite loud on the road (the wind and road noise were pretty unbearable). Having talked about getting a new car for a year or two, I finally decided to take action. In searching for a new car, I had a few essential criteria:

  • It should be a four-door sedan
  • It should have a quiet and smooth ride
  • It should be a step up in quality from my Protege

I ended up test driving five vehicles, all in the same size and price class: the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. All of these vehicles have their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g. the Mazda 6 was the sexiest on the outside, but had a rather loud and “active” ride), but I was able to whittle it down to two cars: the Altima and the Camry. I ended up choosing the Camry (though it was admittedly a tough choice; the Altima is a pretty nice vehicle).

Once I knew what I wanted, I started looking at local dealers’ prices. My dad reminded me that our credit union had a car buying service, so I looked into it, mostly out of curiosity. Their process typically works as follows:

  1. You select the make, model, and year of the car you’re looking for.
  2. You select the color and options you’re interested in.
  3. You provide some contact information and submit.

Once the credit union has your information, they’ll look for a car that most closely matches what you asked for. They’ll then negotiate a price for that car, and will let you know what that price is. The turnaround time for this entire process was only two days (I submitted the request on a Monday and had a quote the very next day). My primary goal was to get an anchor price that I could use when negotiating with the local dealers.

The quote I received for the car I was interested in was way less than I expected it would be; nearly $5500 off the sticker price! Not only that, but they offered me nearly double what Carmax would have given me for my Protege! Needless to say, I was stunned at how competitive the deal was. Car shopping is an intimidating process and the negotiation phase was something I wasn’t looking forward to at all. This service shortcut that headache altogether!

I decided to not even bother trying to negotiate for a better deal elsewhere. I’m sure there are people who could have gotten a better deal, but I decided that my time and efforts were worth something, and SECU’s offer was very tempting. The car was delivered to my local SECU branch (they can deliver to your house, if you so desire), and most of the paperwork was handled for me. I essentially drove to my bank and swapped cars with the driver who delivered it (after signing the requisite forms, of course).

All in all, I would definitely use this service again. I’m so impressed with how easy it all was, and it took the most frustrating aspect of car buying out of the equation completely. If you’re a member of a credit union, I highly recommend checking out this kind of service if it’s available. It just might be the way I handle car buying from now on.

Target Weight Acheived!

Published on July 16, 2012

Back in June of 2010, I began tracking my weight using the Libra app for Android. For those who don’t recall, this app uses some of the tracking ideas presented in The Hacker’s Diet, a fantastic (and free!) weight loss book.

Over the weekend, I finally got the trend line to dip below my target weight for the first time! Here’s a snapshot of the latest chart:

New Weight Chart

This new goal line is slightly modified from my original goal, which can be seen in the old chart:

Old Weight Chart

As you can see, I used to be up in the “overweight” section for someone my height; now I’m down into the “normal” range! I cannot recommend this app highly enough. Simply tracking my weight has been a useful tool in helping me to get a little healthier. Hopefully it can help others out there as well!

Musical Voyage – Completed!

Published on July 26, 2011

Way back in February of this year, I started a Musical Voyage: listening to my music in order, sorted by album title. Today, I finally finished the journey with Van Halen’s “5150” (an album I consider mediocre at best; I never was a Sammy Hagar fan). I found this to be an interesting way to enjoy my music. Sometimes the jump from one album to the next was very pleasant (e.g. Relayer by Yes to Revolver by The Beatles); other times, it was jarring and unexpected (e.g. from Best of Schubert to Best of The Doors). I heard a ton of stuff I rarely listen to, reintroducing myself to some terrific music. Occasionally, I even heard something I didn’t like (and which I’ve subsequently purged from my iPod). At least I can buy some new music for myself now; upon starting this goal, I set a rule that no new music could be added. There’s several things I’ve been eager to get, and now I finally can. Mission accomplished!

Musical Voyage

Published on February 8, 2011

Over the course of the next few months, I am going to try something my dad did last year: listening to my entire music library in order, sorted alphabetically by album title. This sort order should provide a fairly diverse musical experience. iTunes tells me that I currently have 4174 songs in my library, which comes out to 12.4 days of non-stop music. I’ll be going from The Beatles’ Abbey Road to Van Halen’s 5150 (iTunes places numerically titled albums at the end for some reason). As I make progress, I will occasionally tweet my location in the library. My current plan is to use the #musicstream hash-tag on twitter to demarcate my progress. I’m looking forward to hearing the music that I don’t listen to often; there’s plenty that I frequently overlook.

Jury Duty

Published on September 26, 2010

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to serve on a jury for the first time. The experience lasted for three full days and I learned a lot about how the process works. Now that the case is closed and I can openly discuss it, I figured I’d write up a little bit about my experience. I’ll go through each day’s proceedings, the case itself, and the outcome.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tracking My Weight

Published on August 12, 2010

I’ve been slightly overweight for quite a long time. Two months ago, I decided I would start tracking my weight daily, in an effort to try and motivate myself to shed a few pounds. Desiring a tool to make this easy, I immediately searched the Android marketplace and found Libra. This incredibly handy tool uses a weight trend line as described in the excellent book The Hacker’s Diet.

Allow me to quickly talk about The Hacker’s Diet. Written by John Walker, founder of AutoDesk, this book tackles weight loss as an engineering problem. The author is funny, to the point, and provides a careful analysis of how weight loss works. The briefest summary: you will only lose weight by eating fewer calories than you need. Exercise won’t do it (though it helps), and weird diets (Atkins, South Beach, et al.) won’t do it either. Read the book for further discussion and analysis of this viewpoint. The author presents a pretty solid case that’s hard to argue against. Best of all, the book is available for free as a PDF!

The trend line in a weight chart tells you where you’re headed: am I gaining weight (line going up), maintaining it (horizontal), or losing it (line going down)? With this simple tool, I was able to see in no time at all that my weight was going upwards at an alarming rate. After waking up to my weight gain, I set a modest goal of losing 9 pounds (I was 9 pounds above the “overweight” line for someone my height).

After reading The Hacker’s Diet, I made one simple change to my lifestyle: I altered how much I eat at each meal. I didn’t change what I eat; only how much. And wow what a difference that has made! Today, I weighed in at my goal weight for the very first time! Here’s the proof:

Weight Chart

As you can see from the chart, I started heading up, turned the corner, and have been headed down ever since. My trend line hasn’t yet hit my target weight (as of today’s measurement, it’s scheduled to hit the target on August 21), but at least it’s heading in the right direction. It was a great feeling to hit my target this morning. I’m looking forward to shedding a few more pounds and maintaining a healthier weight.

Writing Break

Published on January 31, 2010

So that all of my regular readers are aware, I am taking a much needed break from blogging during the month of February. I’ve been in a writing funk lately, and I figured that a small break would do me some good. Updates will resume in March.

Goals for 2010

Published on December 31, 2009

In the spirit of it being New Year’s eve, I thought I’d share a few random goals I have for 2010:

  • Simplify CoLT and Googlebar Lite where possible
  • Actually release the next version of Paper Plus
  • Continue the improved 2009 trend of taking and posting more pictures
  • Back up data earlier and oftener
  • Get more exercise
  • Eat healthier fare (and cook more often)
  • ???
  • Profit!

Whatever the new year has in store, just remember this:

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.

Happy New Year! 😀

How Do You Budget?

Published on December 6, 2008

When I moved into my new house at the end of September, I took on a lot of new financial responsibility that I’ve never dealt with before (mortgage, monthly utility payments, outstanding debt on large purchases, etc). As such, I’ve been a little overwhelmed in trying to keep up with what payments I’ve made and, more importantly, where my money is going each month. In short, I want to track my money.

There are a number of avenues I’ve briefly explored, some of which require a lot more effort than I think I’m willing to exert. Mint.com looks really interesting, and looks a lot like what I want, but I’m leery of giving out my banking and credit card information to a third party. The same can be said for Quicken Online. Non-web software solutions are a possibility, but obviously restrict my ability to view the data from anywhere. They also often require more manual input than their online counterparts.

How do you keep track of your money? Do you have a tried and true means of seeing where you spend? How do you keep track of what bills have been paid? Any tips from you seasoned veterans would be helpful for a newbie like me.

Upcoming Stuff

Published on July 22, 2008

Apologies for the infrequent updates: my sister recently came back to the US for about a week (which was fun), then my grandmother came to visit (which I also enjoyed), and now I’m sick. So there you have it.

A two-part series on Unicode support for PHP web applications is coming, provided I can feel better and get rid of my writer’s block.

The Power of Walking Away

Published on April 8, 2008

Last night, I spent several frustrating hours trying to untangle a problem with the update manifest for my Firefox extensions. After releasing my updated extensions, I noted that while CoLT automatically updated without any problems, Googlebar Lite did not. I double-checked, triple-checked, and even quadruple-checked everything I was doing. Everything I had done for CoLT was exactly what I was doing for Googlebar Lite. But the automatic update consistently failed.

As past experiences have taught me, simply walking away from the problem is occasionally all that is needed. Taking a mental break is a surprisingly effective way of going directly to a problem’s solution. And this is exactly what happened last night.

Being well past my usual bed time, and having made no progress towards a solution, I decided to call it a night, and so headed to the bathroom to take a shower and brush my teeth. As I stepped into the shower, the solution instantly occurred to me! I was incorrectly using a wild card in the minVersion value in my installer manifests (2.0.0.* instead of 2.0). Immediately after getting out of the shower, I rushed to test the solution. Lo and behold, it worked.

Sometimes, all it takes is walking away.

Sparse Posting

Published on May 11, 2007

I haven’t been posting much recently, due to a number of factors:

  • I’ve been busy at work
  • The Shivering Isles expansion for Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (totally fun!)
  • Puzzle Quest for my Nintendo DS Lite (also totally fun and highly addictive!)
  • My sister is graduating from college (!!!)
  • Insert most any other reason here

I hope to rectify this problem very soon. A number of topics have crossed my mind recently, and I hope to get to them over the next week or so.

Wanted: Physical Fitness

Published on March 12, 2007

One ill side effect of being a computer geek is a lack of physical exercise. My typing and mousing fingers are in great shape. Sadly, the rest of me has only gotten worse over time. In fact, I think I can safely say that I am in the worst shape of my life at the moment. The typical out-of-shape physical ailments seem to follow me around all the time: aches, pains, and a general lack of energy. Seeing that I can’t improve this area by continuing to sit around, I’ve decided to (try and) do something about it.

Thankfully, my employer offers a nice deal (a small monetary bonus) to motivate physical activity. I signed up to participate this year, thinking that a little coin would provide that extra push I need to start exercising. How and where to exercise is my first major hurdle. I’d rather avoid a gym if I could, mainly because I don’t want to (a) pay for a membership and (b) spend time driving to and from the place. I could avoid point (b) by using the gym at work, but I still have to pay. Buying a piece of exercise equipment for home would be cool, but I don’t have the room at the moment, and most good exercise equipment isn’t cheap.

So long story short: I’ve decided to start out by spending 30 minutes walking the paved trail around the gym here at work. I clearly won’t be able to do this when it’s raining, and it won’t be the most comfortable when it gets hot, but it’s at least a start. Some exercise is clearly better than none, right? Plus, the weather is just starting to get nice, so it’ll be good to get a little fresh air. I also hope to walk over at Eno River State Park more often on the weekends, which should give me a substantially higher workout (since the trails are often quite hilly).

In what ways do you exercise? Got any tips for a newbie like myself?

Escapism

Published on February 2, 2007

I enjoy my job at IBM, but I also enjoy coming home and putting work as far from my mind as possible. To do so, I tend to escape to other worlds. The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion is one of my particular favorites. There’s something about becoming another person in another world that’s refreshing. I can completely forget who I am for a while, and role play if you will. Another realm I’m starting to venture back to is the world of Prince Valiant. I’ve just begun rereading the comic strip from the very beginning, and I thoroughly enjoy becoming entangled in the intricate storyline.

What are some of your means of escapism? Surely I’m not the only person who enjoys getting away from it all…

Swish Day

Published on January 10, 2007

A coworker and I were recently reminiscing about our elementary school days, and we brought up something that I hadn’t thought about in years. Does anyone here remember “Swish Day” at their school? You know, the day when the teacher would bring out the big bottle of mouthwash, dispense it into little plastic cups, and make you swish it around in your mouth? They said it was “bubble gum” flavored, but in actuality, it tasted nothing like anything you’ve ever had before.

Searching the web doesn’t yield many hits on swish, but I know it’s something we did. Does anyone else remember this? If so, feel free to share your memories.

Rear Ended

Published on December 11, 2006

I had the great fortune of being rear-ended tonight while coming home from work. What a wonderful Christmas present, delivered early for my enjoyment! I wanted more than anything to spend the next several days dealing with insurance, collision shops, and going without a car. Whee!

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