November 28, 2007

Holiday music update

As an update to my earlier post, The Mountain holiday music channel is now live. The earlier link seems to still work, but here is this year's link.

Have a greener holiday

"And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!" - from How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess

It is estimated that between Thanksgiving and the New Year an extra million tons of waste are generated nationwide each week. In fact, 38,000 miles of ribbon alone is thrown out each year--enough to tie a bow around the Earth!

Here are some links to websites with ideas on how you can reduce the amount waste this holiday season:

November 27, 2007

Bit of a black eye

Articles in the paper have exposed a little confusion/misleading regarding the Seattle Marathon. According to their website's front page, the marathon was to benefit the UW Medical Center Patient & Family Housing Fund. This was reinforced at the starting line by the announcer.

Turns out that none of the entry fees go to the charity. Only money raised or donated separately by the participants goes to the charity. This amounted to $12,000 last year, and in total the marathon took in $1 million. The article notes that compensation has tripled in the past two years, even though the website states that the marathon is run by volunteers.

By way of comparison, the Portland marathon (similarly sized) donated $200,000 of their entry fees to charity. Now I'm sure most of the runners were there for reasons other than charity, but I'm guessing most thought that the $95 - $120 entry fees were more reasonable if part of it went to support a local charity.

The Seattle Marathon has some image fixing to do. Hopefully we will hear in the next couple of days about a sizable donation made.

On a separate topic, the Portland Marathon has stated that it is OK for runners to plug into their iPods. This is a break from what other marathons are doing. There were tons of runners in Seattle wearing headphones. Most were off in their own world. Not sure if that is such a good thing.

A nice surprise

I forgot to mention that when the last marathon walker was about to pass, this guy came rolling by on his bike:

I met Bruce on the Big Ride Pacific Coast in 2006. Great guy and a lot of fun to be around. He has done a number of these Lung Association rides, and he was very welcoming to us newbies. He was unable to make it to the Glacier ride this year, so his good friend Scott laminated a photo of him and carried him along the whole ride. "Bruce" showed up in lots of our pictures. A poor substitute for the real thing so it was nice to see him Sunday. He was working as a sweeper for the marathon, keeping an eye on the stragglers and radioing in their position. Always there to support the team.

November 26, 2007

Seattle Marathon

No, I didn't run.

Tami and I volunteered this year. We were course marshalls around mile 18 (mile 5 for the half). Basically we were given a slow/stop sign to prevent cars from running over the runners. Last year I volunteered at the finish line and the weather was awful. Endless rain and even snow in some locations. This year was chilly but beautiful.

As is true with most marathons, there were many more people running the half marathon. They were the first to come by, and for a while they packed both lanes of the road. They were followed by the walkers and they just finished passing before the full marathon runners came by. The first two marathoners were neck and neck and had a 7 minute lead on everyone else. Uli Steidl has won the last 7 or 8 marathons, but skipped this one to run an ultra next weekend. His wife kept the family tradition alive by winning the women's marathon.

I appreciate all that volunteers do for these events, and it was nice being on the other side of the tape this time around. Outside of occasionally directing traffic, we spent most of our time cheering the runners on. I tried every motivational thing I could think of to help them along. Mile 18 is a tough place to be. Those that had their names on their shirts of course got a personal cheer. I was surprised about how many walkers there were. That makes for a really long day.

I didn't let the power of the orange vest go to my head.

November 23, 2007

Bring on the Holidays

I heard my first Christmas song on the radio while I was out and about - "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses. I'm not exactly ready for the season, but once we're past Thanksgiving I figure it is game on for Christmas music.

KMTT (the mountain) puts on a good online Christmas music channel. It is a pretty good mix of modern, traditional and funny songs. Here is the link: Holiday Channel It wasn't up this evening, but hopefully soon. I will fix the link if it changes.

Want to know when "A Christmas Story" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is going to be on TV? Check it out here.

Black Friday

So I ventured out into the cold this morning to try and snag a couple of bargains. This is only my second time participating in the madness. A couple of years ago I bought a suit at a screaming deal that was only available for a couple of hours.

The alarm clock went off at 4:15 and I was pulling up at my first stop about 10 minutes before 5:00. I was way out of my league.

I was actually expecting it as I had caught the news last night. They covered our local mall as it was opening to shoppers at midnight. Live bands, lots of mayhem. They stopped by Best Buy (where I was headed) and found people had been camping out since 7am Thanksgiving morning. Different levels of crazy. When I drove by, there was no chance of even getting in the parking lot.

The first backup choice was Circuit City, but the line was wrapped around the building. On to third choice of Office Depot. They didn't open until 6:00 and when I pulled up outside there were only two people in line. Yes! A quick stop at the gas station for coffee and pastries, and when I got back more people had climbed out of their warm cars, so I was around 10th in line. No problem. I was there to buy a printer/scanner/copier/toaster/waffle-maker combo for $85. Most were there for the few cheap laptops and flatscreens in stock. The guy next to me was calling a partner at another place to coordinate their effort. I'm a total novice.

Oh, and it was 30 degrees!

After that it was onto buy a cheap air compressor. No lines outside the store this time, but a huge line inside. I actually lucked out by getting in a newer line that joined the original line. Some people had been in the checkout line for an hour and a half to two hours. Only 30 minutes for me.

So other than the early hour and the chilly weather, not too painful. I know some people do this every year, but it will need to be something pretty compelling (and offered in multiple places) to drag me out again.

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I raise a toast to all of my friends and family that are a beacon of light in my life. I am thankful for our health, and for all the wonderful people in our lives. As I gather with my wonderful extended (30-40 in number) family today, as I drink in the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday, I will be offering a simple thanks for the beauty of this life.

Decent article in the Times this morning about Thanksgiving as a pure holiday.

A shot of the pooch this frosty Thanksgiving morning.


November 19, 2007

An Apple today could've saved the day

This past week makes me wish he had one of the colio Macs. I felt like that poor PC shlub from the Apple ads.

It started with my DVD creation software. I was able to make a decent picture slide show with it, though I stumbled through the learning curve. I have now started on the "Year in Review" project, and I had a video clip I wanted to insert in the midst of the pictures. When I did the little drag-and-drop into the program, it would accept the audio portion but not the video. A search of the help files produced nothing. I found an online forum filled with user entries. Lately this is where I find most of my solutions as the product manuals are generally pretty useless. The gist of it was that yes, Sony doesn't support avi or mpeg files, and you need to search for a CODEC (whatever that is) to make it work. I went through three or four different free programs before I got it to work.

Then I updated the software on my phone. The update came out in April, and I held off until now because I anticipated issues. Well, I got them. The syncing program would hang when it was almost done. When I closed the program and reconnected, my computer wouldn't recognize the phone. Plug and play my a$$. Through multiple profile deletions I was able to get most of the data on the phone, but it still wouldn't sync fully. For some reason today, it does. We'll see about tomorrow.

Then Adobe flash suddenly wouldn't work in Internet Explorer. Eventually I did the uninstall/reinstall dance and I can now see videos again.

Today at work, the pdf creator for printing out listings stopped working. Quick learner that I am, un/reinstall to the rescue. Then I downloaded software for a new loan program we are offering. Naturally it didn't work. An e-mail to the help desk was actually returned within an hour. The solution - uninstall the version for your system and install the one for a couple of versions ago. This would be the "upgrading to a older, more familiar experience" from the PR lady Apple ad.

This is all just venting really. Macs aren't compatible with our Multiple Listing property program, and from what I hear Macs even have their own problems and "blue screen of death". The preceding link has a great video comparing Mac and PC packaging if you haven't already seen it.

Maybe the Macs don't live up to their hype and marketing, but I'd like to think there is a better way.

Can I get a ride?

We have been a one-car family for a bit over two weeks. It hasn't been too much of an issue as the wife takes the train into work most days. It actually worked well while I was building a deck on the eastside. Getting her to the train in the morning got my butt out of bed at a decent hour. Once we "fell back" in time, I lost daylight in the evening hours so I needed to get on the jobsite early. On the way home I could pick her up at work and so she could skip the train ride home.

Our normal mechanic was very slow in getting to our car. It took him about a week and a half to roughly diagnose the problem, and to conclude that he didn't have the tools to fix it. After paying him for his time, it is now at the dealer. Their mechanic called with a different diagnosis, and I'm hoping he is correct as it should be a cheaper fix. Of course there is no cheap fix at the dealer.

On the way back home from the train this morning, I was following a newer GMC Sierra pickup. In bright yellow letters (matching the truck) his rear window proclaimed that he was Emperor of Edmonds. I was unaware that position was available. I read an article earlier this week about a proposal to have the state pay for local political campaigns. It is supposed to even the playing field by eliminating huge personal contributions. The goal is to allow John Q. Public to run against Bill Moneybags, and it is supposed to cost about $4 per citizen. If the position of Emperor is open, I may need to look into it.

November 14, 2007

November 13, 2007

Reality TV

I don't watch much reality TV. I have watched "The Biggest Loser" the last couple seasons. I do find their weight-loss an inspiring story line.

When I heard the show "Survivor" was being created by the same guy that hosted/created the multi-day Eco-Challenge, I was really interested. I thought seeing people compete in physical challenges while roughing it would make for a great show. When I heard that the way people were eliminated was by a vote of the participants, I lost all interest. I have actually never seen an episode.

The wife and I have started watching The Amazing Race 12. It only took me 12 versions for me to try it out. The show starts with 11 teams participating in daily races in locations around the world. So far the only way teams are eliminated is by coming in last in the daily race. Much more interesting than the tribal council. They of course choose the participants to make for interesting stories and conflicts. Hopefully it won't degenerate into more crappy TV.

Russian weblete

If I have time after checking my regular round of blogs, I will sometimes hit the next blog button at the top of the screen. It will pop up a random blog also hosted by You're never what sure you will get - sometimes foreign language sites that you don't have the fonts for, sometimes adult sites you don't want to see, etc. Every so often though you find another fun site to add to your regular set to read.

I found this one a little while back, and I check it once in a while for some light entertainment. It appeals to my interest in language.

November 11, 2007

Running in place

As I mentioned earlier, I have started training for another marathon. I missed a week of training and only made it less than a mile when I tried running again a week ago. Both for reasons of taking it easy, and because I have been losing daylight, I tried running on a treadmill this week.

I think part of the reason I had some knee pain was that I was walking around on concrete for a week while building the deck. I figured the treadmill would have some give and would ease the shock of impact on my joints. I haven't really run on a treadmill before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

I ran 3 miles Wednesday, 4 miles Friday, and 7 miles tonight. It was interesting. The gym is set up with TVs so you can plug in your headphones and have some distraction. I still found myself focusing in on the readout, watching the miles slowly tick by. It also was tough to run in such a warm room. My body is used to the chilly Fall temps, and running inside made for a sweaty run.

The treadmills are a great option when I need it, but I look forward to getting outside again.

November 9, 2007

Paper or plastic. How 'bout neither

There is plenty of debate as to which is better (i.e. less damaging), paper or plastic. Paper is more easily recycled, but uses more fuel when transported to the stores. Plastic bags can be recycled, but few are. If they are tossed in the garbage, they take up to 100 years to break down.

Here is our collection of bags, soon to be recycled at our local Albertsons. These bags can be recycled to be used to build composite decking among other things.

Of course, recycling is the third best thing to do, behind reducing and reusing. Whenever possible, I avoid getting my items bagged. I am usually only buying a handful of things, so I can typically just carry them out. For larger trips, I keep a couple paper bags in my car. The wife has her fabric Trader Joe's bag.

A major chain in England is going to begin charging customers for each plastic bag in the hopes that this will encourage customers to use less and to create less waste. A similar move in Ireland reduced waste by 66%. Will this program be making its way across the pond to us soon?

How was your day? Never mind.

I will take a page from this page. I don't share many details of my day with the wife or anyone else. Sometimes I come across an interesting challenge and/or solution, but I doubt it would be interesting to them. Sometimes there is a crazy job or crazy customer that transcends, but not often. Of course 95% of a typical day is just slogging through the mundane details. Some people's Mundane Details are more interesting than others. Getting back to building these past couple of weeks has been interesting and mostly enjoyable, but the details of my day would likely bore you.

One thing I have noticed while building these past two weeks is my mind has been pretty clear during the day. I am not distracted by the usual 14 random thoughts flying through my head. I kind of expected to be writing entries in my head, but my mind has been unusually quiet. I have been totally present, in the moment. Kind of the feeling I have been searching for.

November 7, 2007

Still being fooled by fractions?

So I'm in Costco today - Needed 400 coffee filters. Whenever I shop there, I don't use a shopping cart. It is too easy to grab anything that seems like a volume discount, like 6 pounds of pretzels for $3 (which I've grabbed). If I can't carry it, I can't get it.

While I was waiting in line, I was checking out the gas prices. I try to buy my gas at Costco as it is about the cheapest around. I noticed gas prices have creeped back above $3 again. As I ponder that, I wonder when gas stations will get rid of the 9/10 at the end of their prices. Is it really fooling anyone anymore? Maybe it will take getting rid of the penny to get rid of fractions of a cent.

Courtesy of David Letterman, the...

Top Ten Signs You Won't Win The New York City Marathon

10. You frequently hear, "Outta the way, lard ***!"

9. Every couple of miles you stop and ask directions

8. You pulled a hamstring filling out the application

7. Before the race, you eat a Powerbar with extra cheese

6. You still haven't finished the 2006 New York City Marathon

5. In trying situations, you ask yourself, "What would Rosie O'Donnell do?"

4. Some runners are sponsored by Adidas -- you're sponsored by Chips Ahoy

3. You're frequently mistaken for the fat guy from "Lost"

2. Made your own steroids out of Red Bull and Super Glue

1. You've been carbo-loading for 30 years

November 4, 2007

Monday is J.P. Patches Day!

The Seattle City Council and Mayor Greg Nickels will declare tomorrow as "J.P. Patches Day" to honor Chris Wedes a.k.a. J.P. Patches. The J.P. Patches Show ran locally from 1958 to 1981, and his humor was aimed at both kids and their parents with lots of double entendre thrown in. The 50th anniversary of the shows first broadcast will be in the Spring and a statue will be unveiled in the Fremont district.

The week that was

The deck project is going along pretty well. Each day it feels like I am not getting enough done, but by days end I am about as far as I expected. Friday finally saw some visual progress - 3/4 of the beams and joists are up, and I should be close to finishing the framing on Monday. On the plus side, it seems my building skills are still intact (no major mistakes or delays). On the negative, my body is not in building shape anymore. I have been pretty much smoked at the end of each day.

I haven't run all week. A combination of being physically smoked and getting home after dark has kept me off the roads. I tried to run yesterday, but knee pain sent me home after only a mile. I strained the knee on Friday climbing up a ladder with a beam. I had forgotten about it until it flared up and sent me walking home. Ice and rest were in order.

The wife and I have joined a gym. She got a pretty decent corporate rate through work. I intend to make use of it a few days a week, maybe more depending on the weather. I will probably be doing some swimming until my knee gets better. Once I am back in one piece, I am going to try one of their spinning classes. I hear they kick your ass in a good way.

I've been in and out of Home Depot picking up materials for the deck. Every morning there are laborers standing around in the parking lot looking for work. This has been true for a few years at the big Seattle location, but now it has become pretty common at all their stores. I assume they are getting some work, or they wouldn't show up every day. Unemployment is pretty low in this area, so I imagine the reason most of them are looking for work in a parking lot is that they are outside the system.

On the drive home the other night, in place of the typical pan-handler was a guy with a full drum set. He was set up at the end of the off-ramp near our house, and had some funky bicycle set up as well. I didn't get much of a look at him as I was pushing to make it through a yellow light. Very odd.

Halloween was pretty much a bust at our house. We didn't do any pumpkin carving or any decoration. The wife picked up some candy on the way home from work that night, and came home with a variety pack of Tootsie Roll products. I joked that we were going to get egged for handing out lame candy. In the end it didn't really matter since the doorbell only rang once, and it was neighbor kids from a couple doors down. Everyone seems to do their trick-or-treating in malls these days.

The wife and I went to see Brandi Carlisle on Friday. It was a great show. She has a pretty amazing voice, and a good stage presence. At one point she and her band went completely unplugged, as in no amplification at all. We were in the cheap seats, but her powerful voice still made it our way. She ended the night with a great rendition of Hallelujah. I had heard her do the song on a live radio show, and she now closes out each show with it. Brilliant! Last night we were back downtown with some friends to have dinner and see Jim Gaffigan. Another fun night.

I watched a recap of the marathon trials yesterday. Ryan Hall blew everyone away and set a trials record as he earned his way to Beijing. Tragically Ryan Shay collapsed at mile 5 and died on the way to the hospital. He had an enlarged heart that helped him in these endurance events, but may be related to his death. The New York Marathon was held this morning, and there is a recap on in a half hour.

There was a good NOVA program on PBS about training 12 non-atheletes to run the Boston Marathon back in April. It had some good medical information about your body as it adapts to the rigors of training. Seeing people succeed and cross that finish line always gets to me too.

And the Huskies finally won!

This week in traffic

While working on the deck, I have been commuting about 27 miles across Lake Washington each morning and evening. It takes me through the heart of rush hour traffic. It has varied between 50 minutes and 1:45. I have started staying until dark to get more done and to wait for traffic to die down. Now that we have "fallen back", dark comes sooner and I will be back in the heart of traffic.

We are set to vote on Proposition 1, a regional road and transit package. The proposition is a hodge-podge of projects born out of multiple compromises. It spans three counties and every district needed to feel it was getting its fair share. It also combines 50 mile of light rail and some 150 miles of new roads. It also goes to repair a couple of bridges and add a few bike lanes. The proposition seems to have enough to appease most factions, but not enough to inspire whole-hearted support.

Seattle has the (much deserved?) reputation of over-thinking these projects while traffic continues to get worse. We had an opportunity over 30 years ago to get a rail system built, but it was narrowly defeated. Many of the supporters of the proposition acknowledge that it is not the best, but good enough to get us moving forward.

The costs stated vary between $18 billion to $157 billion depending on who you listen to. Much of the money is raised by increasing our car tabs and sales tax. The proposition will push our sales tax close to 10%. This is part of my problem with the bill. I think the money raised should be more tied to the users of road and transit, i.e. gas tax and tolls.

I'm not sure how I will vote. Is a "good-enough" proposition born of 5 years of compromise worth the cost? Will the varied and disconnected projects do enough to alleviated traffic? Should we vote for it just to say we are doing something?