The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 17, 2015

I Think I’m Officially Too Lazy to Play Video Games.

Filed under: Games — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 8:58 am

Over the past few weeks, owing to a somewhat unusual work situation where I’ve had a job lined up to start but have encountered a number of unusual delays of the actual start date for that job, which means I’ve been basically sitting around (mostly) waiting for someone to sort out some obscure piece of paperwork or another.  In theory, all that extra time would be great for catching up on my video games or something like that, but for some reason I’m just not finding myself all that interested in playing video games right now.  That’s not to say that I’ve given them up entirely or anything like that, but as is the case with many other tasks that I am not particularly good at, I am finding that I might just be better off letting someone else do it for me.

These days, it’s a pretty natural thing for people to get someone else to do things they aren’t good at.  I’m pretty sure that if I tried to cut my own hair the results would be disastrous, so I get someone else to do it for me.  The same goes for getting someone to work on my car if it needs to be fixed or maintained (I do know a few things here and there about cars, but I am far from an expert on the subject.)  Fortunately I have a father who is much better at this stuff than I am, which is helpful in the rare cases when I do need something major done.  So when you think about it, if you aren’t good at video games, why not get someone else to play them for you?  Twitch.tv is a website that allows people to livestream themselves playing video games.  Although most people on the site are playing to just a handful of people, there are a few that have managed to build sizable followings.  As with virtually any significantly large site on the Internet, communities tend to spring up and self-organize over time.  I watch about 5 or 6 different streamers on a regular basis, and find that their communities tend to be largely a reflection of the streamer and the type of people they attract.  Streamers who are in Twitch’s partner program can sell subscriptions for about $5 per month (the actual amount they get of that varies depending on the number of subscribers they have) which allow access to a set of custom chat emotes specific to that stream, but usable in anyone’s stream if you have access to them.  Spamming emotes seems to be a favorite pastime of Twitch viewers everywhere, so a particularly good set of them can earn a pretty good following by itself (there’s at least 1 or 2 people I subscribe 2 mostly to get the emotes to use elsewhere.)  Then again, there are some streams where the community can be downright toxic.  Those are the ones I usually just stay away from.

Although it was well before my time, a longtime mainstay of morning television in Seattle was the JP Patches show, which aired on KIRO from 1958 to 1981 (although Chris Wedes, the actor who played JP Patches, continued to make public appearances until 2011, before passing away in 2012.)  One of the more famous segments on the show was what was known as the ICU2TV, in which the show’s titular clown used a device to “see” through people’s TVs and to wish children viewing the show a happy birthday.  Of course, this was impossible given the one-way nature of television (although these days it seems like people are perfectly justified in wondering if their TVs are spying on them) and it was just a trick, typically the result of parents sending requests to the station for their kids’ birthdays to be recognized on the air through the ICU2TV.  Of course, this was over 50 years ago, these days with modern communications technology two-way video conversations have become commonplace.  Although a streamer on Twitch doesn’t have the capability to see you while they’re streaming unless you were to set it up in advance, it is still very easy to interact with them while they’re streaming.  And a lot of the better streamers take time to interact with the chat in nearly real time (there is typically about a 15-20 second delay from when something happens to when it shows on the stream.)  Communities tend to form naturally over time, and in the livestreaming community it’s usually pretty clear that the community surrounding a streamer is a pretty clear reflection of the streamer themself.  A lot of streamers have well-behaved communities that contribute to the experience (a good set of chat moderators certainly helps.)

All this still leaves the question:  Why just watch video games when you can just play them yourself?  Even before I started watching stuff on Twitch, I’ve had what I like to call the “YouTube Rule” when it comes to video games.  For years now there have been various people on YouTube who have done “Lets Plays” as they play through various games and add their own commentary along the way (unsurprisingly, some of these people have become rather successful Twitch streamers as well.)  In addition to those, there are also people who have uploaded just straight playthroughs of a lot of games as well without any additional commentary.  Basically, you can find someone playing just about any game you might be interested in on YouTube if you look.  Which is where the YouTube rule comes in:  In my experience, if you can get 90% of the entertainment value out of a particular game from watching someone else play it, there’s probably no reason to play it yourself.

A lot of the same holds true for Twitch streams, but at the same time there are other factors involved here too: I’ve also found that there are a number of games that are more entertaining to watch than to play.  For example, one of my favorite streamers (KashBryant) has devoted most of his stream in the last few months to playing Evolve, a game that came out earlier this year which is a shooter that pits 4 players playing as hunters against one player playing as a giant havoc-wreaking monster.  I’ve actually spent a lot of time watching this game, and have found it rather entertaining.  The only problem with this game is that even though I’ve enjoyed watching it, I really don’t have any particular inclination to actually play it myself.  I’d rather spend the time just watching high-level players who actually know what they’re doing rather than trying to stumble through it myself.  And then there games (mostly stuff in some of the “finicky niche gamer” categories I tend to inhabit) where some of the people playing on Twitch are just amazing at them.  Another streamer (KevinDDR, a vague acquaintance of mine from before he made a big splash playing Tetris at AGDQ 2015) has skills I just can’t possibly come close to at some of the games I enjoy but thoroughly suck at.  Then again, some of the games he’s playing simply aren’t for everyone (especially because a lot of them are on imported arcade PCBs that cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention the need for an arcade cabinet to play them on) and he also brings many years of practice to get where he is (to give you some idea, he was only the sixth Grand Master in the world in Tetris the Grand Master 3 when he accomplished this earlier this year, for a game that has been out for many years.)  At this point I might be inclined to actually try the games if I can ever get my hands on them, but there’s no way I will ever be that good at them.

Basically, what it comes down to is just another form of outsourcing, albeit on a much smaller level than what usually happens.  In a way, I’m offloading work that I’m not good at to someone else who is an expert at it, which frees me up to do other things (another of the many things that multiple monitors are good for) and it allows me to experience most of the content of various games I might be interested in seeing but not actually playing without having to play them.  If there’s a particular game I might be on the fence about I can just go find someone else playing it and decide whether or not it’s worth spending the money on it (these days it seems like more often than not the answer is no) and the only cost is a few bucks here and there to subscribe to someone’s channel if I enjoy their content and feel an inexplicable desire to spam their chat emotes.

Not a bad deal really.  Most of the entertainment value of video games without the cost or any of the pesky interactivity.  Tell me again why I’d actually want to play the stuff myself?

March 17, 2015

Time For a Few (Big) Changes

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:53 am

In what has become a bit of a recurring theme on this Blog over the past few years, I apologize for the shortage (or lack) of posts recently.  I’d say that I’ve been busy with various things, but to tell you the truth I haven’t been quite as busy as I might normally be, mostly on account of the fact that my last contract at work ended at the end of last year.  Fortunately I’ve got the next one lined up now and I expect to start it next Monday, but even without work to worry about, there’s still been plenty going on.  Fortunately, I’ve dealt with enough job instability over the years to know that I need to plan for it whether it’s coming or not.  In this case, it was nice because it allowed me to have a bit more flexibility on my job search and the ability to be a little more picky about things than I might otherwise be.  That’s a good thing, because that’s not the only major life change I’ve got coming in the near future.

To make a long story short, my girlfriend of several years (and whom I have known for a number of years before that) has now become my fiancée of several weeks.  Of all the big life-altering decisions that one might make over the course of a lifetime that’s probably right near the top of the list, and I’m just starting to realize how much things are going to be changing over the course of the next few months.  Probably the biggest and most obvious one is that I will need to make some changes to my living arrangements, which means moving out of my current apartment.  It’s certainly a nice (if a bit expensive) bachelor pad, and I’ll be disappointed when I have to leave, but even for just myself the place feels a bit on the crowded side.  It’s actually a pretty decent sized place for a 1-bedroom in Downtown Bellevue, but the layout could use a bit of work.  It’s also had its share of problems, mostly with the plumbing (as I wrote a couple of posts ago I’ve had a leak in the shower which was recently fixed, but which introduced another problem with the hot water being disappointingly tepid because the shower valve would only open up about halfway.  And believe me, there are few things more disappointing than a lukewarm shower, especially when you know you’ve got plenty of hot water.  Fortunately that issue got fixed now, and I can actually take a decent shower again.  Of course, that’s just a minor little quibble in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to the damage caused by a leaking pipe at my fiancée’s sister’s house last week.  That one took out a decent chunk of drywall and a room of carpet, and is still being dealt with as of when this is being written, which isn’t exactly making me look forward to the joys of home ownership when the time comes.

But aside from where we are going to live, there are a whole lot of other changes that come with this as well,  mostly in terms of what things will be like when we get there.  Aside from the obvious ones I won’t discuss here, it is going to take me some getting used to living with someone else in the house again.  For nearly ten years now I have had an apartment to myself, and I suspect I’ve probably developed a few habits over the years that might be somewhat less than fully compatible with living with another person, even (or especially) one  I might happen to be married to.  It has already been decreed that the couch in the living room needs to go (preferably in a method that involves setting it on fire) and it’s been strongly suggested that a king size bed might be a good idea by the time we start sharing one.  Fortunately the big TV can stay, but I suspect she will end up using it more than I will.  But mostly I suspect I’ll have to change some behaviors.

And the on top of all that, there’s the wedding to plan.  Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to take care of that (apparently there are plenty of people in both my family and in my fiancée’s family who seem more than happy to plan weddings for some reason.)  Mostly I have to come up with the rings (all of them, including the big shiny one we’re still in the process of working on) and tuxes, then I have to actually show up to the reception.  On one hand, I hear from other people that you hardly remember much of the reception because it all ends up being a bit of a blur and you have about half a zillion things to do and all sorts of people to meet while you’re there.  On the other hand, maybe if I’m the one getting married this time I can go to a wedding reception and not have to help with cleanup afterward.

It’s a lot of work to figure all this out, but in the end, it should be worth it.  It’s been a long time coming, and I look forward to no longer having to answer endless “When are you going to get married?” questions from friends and family.  Oh yeah, and there might be some other benefits to the whole thing as well, but I’ll just figure those out when I get there.

February 14, 2015

The 2015 Sledgehammer Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup: The Things We (Probably Shouldn’t) Do For Love

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:59 pm

 

Once again Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and once again, you probably have to do something about this.  Depending on your relationship status, you might find yourself needing to either pursue a relationship or maintain one.  Depending on the circumstances, you could be under a fair amount of pressure to produce something that will either knock his or her socks off (possibly among other articles of clothing, depending on the situation) or something that’ll just simply not mess things up.

As Pat Benetar once sung, Love is a battlefield.  And these are the weapons you do not want to be wielding if you know what’s best for you.  Every year since 2008 I have been doing one of these Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup posts, and every year the stores reliably produce a questionable array of seasonal merchandise that will land even the most hopeless romantic on the couch for their Valentine’s night.  Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, and it;’s entirely possible that you might even have someone who would appreciate some of these, but in general, a lot of these things are a bad idea no matter who you’re dealing with.

Previous Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:

You’ll find this year’s selection of questionable Valentine’s Day merchandise after the jump.

(more…)

February 11, 2015

I Suppose I’ll Just Put Up With it.

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:44 am

(Apologies for the relative lack of posts lately, I’ve been busy with other things.  The annual Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup post is coming though, and should be posted in time for said holiday.)

As of when I am writing this post, I have now been living in my current apartment for roughly 4 1/2 years.  Although for the most part it’s been a good place to live, for virtually the entire time I’ve lived here there have been a couple of nagging issues that I just haven’t ever gotten around to getting fixed.  Granted, none of these little issues amount to much more than just a little nuisance, but a lot of them seem to be things that are hard to ignore completely.  It was just last week that I finally got the creaky floor I’ve had underneath the bathtub fixed after it has been creaking while I try to take a shower for years.  Fortunately I’m not the one responsible for fixing the problem (I’m sure that will come up soon enough when I finally get into a position where I can buy a house though) and all it really takes for me to get it fixed is to send in a service request on the building’s service ticket system.  Even so, I’ve just put it off for this long, mostly because it just becomes one of those little things we put up with even though they annoy us.

A somewhat more significant problem that may or not be related to the first one is that for probably just as long there has been what appears to be a leak in one of the pipes behind the shower.  I suppose if you’re the management in the building this is probably a bigger issue than it is to me as the renter.  For me it’s just a few annoying drip sounds and maybe a little bit of a soggy floor next to the tub (in this case the floor is concrete and the wall studs are metal so there isn’t anything that could actually rot, although I suppose something could possibly rust if I tried hard enough) but to the maintenance staff it means possibly bringing in a plumber, opening up the wall, repairing or replacing pipes and then putting it all back together to make it look the way it did before.  Naturally, this isn’t the only time I’ve had issues with the plumbing here.  When I moved into this particular building it had only been occupied for roughly a year and a half.  In the time I’ve been here quite a bit has changed, and although a lot of it is purely cosmetic (I’m pretty sure the Chihuly glass in the lobby has little to do with the plumbing) there are a number of things that seem intended to fix things that the original builders cheaped out on.  None of it makes the place unlivable or anything like that, but it’s definitely enough to be a nuisance at times.  After all, you never notice these things when they’re functioning properly.

On the other hand, it’s one thing to put up with a creaky floor or a leaky pipe in the shower.  It’s another matter entirely when the minor nuisance happens to be located within your own body.  For some unknown period of time, I’ve had a bit of a nagging issue with my left knee.  Aside from a significant effusion, it also becomes occasionally painful and limits the mobility in the joint.  It’s one of those things that comes and goes, rarely ever much more than a nuisance, but every so often it would make me walk like an old man for a couple of days at a time.  Walking for the most part is just fine, but if I try to run it will definitely have something to say about it.  Even though it became clear at some point that the issue was not going to go away on its own, it wasn’t until just recently that I bothered to actually do anything about it, and that after considerable persuasion from my girlfriend (yes, I know how stubborn I am about those things.)  Following an initial doctor visit, an MRI, a second doctor visit that resulted in a big needle being used to drain a shockingly large quantity of joint fluid from it, a third followup visit and several hundred dollars worth of bills (even with insurance) I have a reasonably good idea of what’s going on (they’ve basically narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities, neither of them too serious)  but ultimately it’ll probably require an arthroscopic procedure and possibly several thousand dollars more to actually get something done about it.

As the type of person who has never particularly cared for doctors (mostly it’s the sharp pointy objects involved that are the issue here) the temptation to just live with it ends up being rather strong.  After all, it’s not like my knee is about to fall off or anything like that, although it is probably going to provide mild to moderate annoyance for the indefinite future for as long as it takes me to get around to doing anything about it.  It does make running painful, but I’ve never been the type to do much running anyway.  I suppose if Bellevue gets invaded by starving wild animals I’ll probably end up being the one who gets caught and eaten so everyone else can get away, but fortunately the risk of predatory carnivores seems pretty low here (unless they’re opening up some fancy new store at the Bravern that I don’t know about.)  Even so, I suppose that knowing that the problem is more of a nuisance than anything that’s particularly serious should make me more likely to do something about it, even though there’s a good possibility I could be opening a completely different can of worms at that point.

I suppose I can just live with that, right?

January 19, 2015

A Memorandum Found at a Campsite in the Udûn Valley

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:08 am

A quick note of explanation:  Lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time playing Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, a recently released open-world hack-and-slash game.  Based in the Tolkien Legendarium but sharing only the most tenuous of connections with anything in the Lord of the Rings books or movies (basically a cameo appearance by Gollum and that’s pretty much it,) you play as Talion, a Ranger of Gondor whose family was murdered by the Black Hand of Sauron, aided by the wraith Celebrimbor, an undead Elven prince with a bone to pick with Sauron,  and you wander around Mordor causing all sorts of chaos among the local Uruk population as you seek your revenge.  The Uruks are far from a united force though, and they frequently get into power struggles among themselves and seek to gain power and advance within their own ranks, and by killing you (Celebrimbor’s presence makes you technically immortal, but you can still be killed by the enemy, which they’ll definitely brag about if they see you again afterward) can earn them promotions and cause them to gain power.  Eventually you gain a power that allows you to mind-control the Uruks and make them fight on your side.

All in all, it’s pretty fun to play, but  it occurs to me as I go about my business decimating the Uruk hordes that they tend to plan things out very well, and make a number of strategic blunders along the way. 


 

MEMORANDUM

From: Black Hand

To: All Warchiefs; All Captains

RE: Gravewalker mitigation strategies

I’d say that I hope this letter finds you well, but given recent events, there’s a good chance this letter will find you dead.  Well, whichever one of you miserable rats happens to still be alive to read this, pay attention.  Over the past week the Gravewalker has slain fifteen captains (in particular, it seems that Muzglob Deathbringer met his end a mere three minutes after being promoted to Captain), four Warchiefs and the Hammer of Sauron.  Naturally, these types of results are unacceptable if we intend to overthrow the Kingdoms of Men and bring forth the reign of the Dark Lord upon all the land.  And besides that, do you realize just how annoying it is when I try to go out for my morning walk and find the severed head of Lûgdash the Humiliator sitting on my front porch?  Perhaps you too would wish to find out what it’s like to wake up to an entire pack of Caragors snarling outside your window.  I’m sure it can be arranged (and probably will be when you least expect it.)

Normally, my response to such incompetence would be to mercilessly slay all of you shrakh and let the Black Númenóreans handle this, but the Dark Lord tends to frown upon the wholesale slaughter of his own forces, so unfortunately I have no choice but to spare the lot of you.  That said, there’s going to be some changes around here.  The following new policies will be made effective immediately:

  • Should one of you scrubs encounter the Gravewalker in battle, do not kill him; instead, bring him to your Warchief alive.  I am aware of the power and glory that will come to any Uruk brave enough to slay the Gravewalker in battle.  In fact, I see that the late Captain Gûndza Iron Arm  managed to slay the Gravewalker three different times last week before being relieved of his head the fourth time around.  I know you’re all just a bunch of miserable rats with the intelligence of a dead Warg, but can’t a single one of you maggots figure out the simple fact that there’s something wrong if you keep killing off the Ranger and he keeps coming back for his revenge ten minutes later?

Figure 1: This is probably not a good sign.

 

  • All vegetation within the borders of Mordor shall be removed.  In particular, shrubbery in and near Uruk strongholds must be removed immediately.  Yesterday I walked by a bush near Durthang and found twelve dead Uruks and a Caragor in it.  You would think that someone would figure out that something’s not right by the time three or four of their best friends were lying next to the bush with their throats slit, but apparently you idiots keep wandering over one at a time and getting disemboweled while a group of soldiers sits around twiddling their thumbs 50 feet away, none the wiser.  I’d say you idiots should just not pay attention to random sounds coming out of the shrubbery, but I know you’re all too stupid for that.  So henceforth, if you absolutely must investigate some random sound, do not take less than three Uruks with you.  Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to get one of the archers to fire a few arrows at it too.

Figure 2: This archer immediately regrets this decision.

 

  • Speaking of the archers, lately they seem to be particularly prone to getting thrown from their watchtowers with giant stab wounds in their chests, and none of you shrakh seem to be able to figure out where the heck any of them are coming from.  There’s Gravewalker footprints all over the walls of Durthang Keep, but none of the Uruks there except for Zogdûsh the Slaughterer can remember seeing anything, and he’s currently got an Elven arrow clean through his eye and sticking out the back of his skull.  Can’t some of you filthy rats be bothered to actually look up every once in a while?  Oh, and if you decided to hang around a watchtower after finding one of said archers on the ground, don’t blame me if you get disemboweled by a falling Gravewalker.

Figure 3: The wrong way to practice fire safety.

 

  • Effective immediately, new fire safety protocols will be put into effect in all Uruk camps.  Due to numerous incidents of campfire explosions resulting in multiple casualties, all campfires shall now be contained within iron enclosures with solid side walls, thus preventing them from being detonated by random arrows.  Seriously, how the heck does a single arrow cause a campfire to explode into a ball of flaming death anyway?  Blasted elves…

Figure 4: Grog may be hazardous to your health.

  • By the same token, all grog supplies are now to be stored securely behind blast-proof locked doors, and only small quantities are to be removed at any given time as directed by your captains.  It seems anytime someone keeps the stuff out in the open it either ends up poisoned or blows up.  Either way, the stuff kills a bunch of you shrakh off in a hurry.  And which one of you thought it was a good idea for all of you to get addicted to drinking foul stuff that explodes in a disastrous fireball if you so much as look at it funny?
  • No Morgai Fly infestations near Uruk camps are to be tolerated, and all nests are to be removed immediately, since the Gravewalker seems to be all too fond of knocking them down and sending the surrounding Uruks into a blind panic.  The same goes for Caragor bait.  Seriously, I will soon be having words with whichever one of you maggots decided it was a good idea to keep that stuff around in heavily populated strongholds.
  • Furthermore, there will be no more imprisonment of Caragors in cages within Uruk camps.  It’s bad enough seeing how many Uruks fall prey to random Caragor attacks out on the plains of Udûn, there’s absolutely no good reason for you to be sticking those blasted things in flimsy cages that fly open the minute the Gravewalker hits ’em with a single arrow.  In the unlikely event that you maggots need to put a Caragor into a cage, said cage will need to be placed well away from the camp, and the door will be reinforced with additional iron plating over the locks.  Better yet, just stop messing around with Caragors in the first place, you miserable filth.

In the meantime, we will soon be starting construction of some proper fortifications within Southern Udûn.  I don’t know exactly what it is about you Uruks and decrepit old ruins, but I swear, if all you shrakh would have  just put aside all your petty squabbles and  just build a proper fort with some good solid impossible-to-climb walls and big heavy doors you can actually close whenever some Ranger decides to show up and cause trouble, then we could have all conquered Gondor by now.  The Talons of the Black Hand will be sent to provide appropriate motivation to ensure completion of this project in a timely manner.  I swear, if I wasn’t here to keep you maggots in line, you would have all betrayed me by now or something heinous like that.  It’s bad enough that the Gravewalker managed to blow up my lovely Gorthaur from right under your wretched noses, but screw this one up and you shrakh will all suffer more than you can possibly imagine.

I wonder if Sauraman has these kind of problems?  For that matter, I wonder if Sauraman is hiring?

Ashdautas Vrasubatlat,

-The Black Hand

P.S.  If you happen to be the Gravewalker reading this, then die in a fire.

January 1, 2015

Statistical Overview of 2014

Filed under: Site Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 2:45 pm

As 2014 draws to a close and 2015 begins, once again it’s time to take a look at the Blog’s stats to see how things have gone over the past year.  For those people who may not be familiar with this, during the year I use New Year’s Day as one of two checkpoints where I take a measurement of my statistics.  The other day I use is June 6th, which is the anniversary of when this Blog was started (it’s a bit hard to believe that I’ve been doing this since 2007.) In general, traffic stayed relatively flat (down by a couple hundred views over last year) but in gneral, I ended up posting less often than I have previously.  I hope to be able to rectify that in 2015, and have considered taking a different approach to posting.  Generally I like to write longer posts (I typicallt shoot for around 1,000 words per post) but that means that I typically post less often.  I figure that if I do shorter posts more often then it would give visitors a reason to stop by more often.  I have a number of changes in mind that I would like to make here (for one thing, I think the look of the Blog needs a refresh badly, but have yet to find a template that really works well for it) and hopefully this year I will have more time to spend on this.

As always, thank you for visiting, and I hope to see you continue to visit in 2015.

 

  • Total Posts(all time, including this one):  658
  • Total Comments (all time):  932
  • Total  Page Views (all time):  318.658
  • Total Page Views in 2014: 32,278
  • Total Page Views in 2013: 32,446
  • Total Page Views in 2012: 42.260
  • Total Page Views in 2011: 42, 742
  • Total Page Views in 2010:  52,228
  • Total Page Views in 2009:  60, 939
  • Total Page Views in 2008: 50, 219
  • Average Visitors Per Day in 20143:  88

Top Posts\Pages (Last 365 days:)

Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 7,584
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 3,287
Home page / Archives 2,985
Wandering Off the Beaten Path at Princess Cays 2,095
Ya Wanna’ Buy a Watch? A Visit to St. Maarten 1,365
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 1,042
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 1,036
A Not-So-Standard Chevron Station (Updated) 894
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 803
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 696
A Monstrous Helping of Ice Cream – Taking On the Kong Kone 617

Top Posts\Pages (All Time:)

Home page / Archives 62,443
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 33,929
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 32,548
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 13,162
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 12,402
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 9,442
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09) 8,444
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets 6,510
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall 5,774
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home 5,229
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 4,647

December 24, 2014

The Sledgehammer 2014 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Procrastination is the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:09 am

Well, you blew it again.  This year, you swore that you would do your Christmas shopping at a reasonable time so you wouldn’t need to scramble at the last minute.  You figured that you’d have plenty of time to do it, but just never got around to it somehow.  As the time creeps closer, you think you’ll take a quick trip to the mall and get everything done at once,  And then you realize that this is what you’re going to have to wade through to get to the mall…

And it suddenly dawns on you that maybe you’re in just a bit of trouble here.  Once again, you’re doing your shopping at the last minute, and once again, you’re pretty much doomed.  Well, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  You see, by the point you’ve waited this long, pretty much all the good stuff has been taken, packed up and placed under some unsuspecting tree.  By this point, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever happens to be left, and there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to be very disappointed in you.  But there’s hope.  In what has become a more-or-less annual tradition (although I didn’t do one last year due to spending most of the Holiday season in the Caribbean) allow me to present my Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, filled with ideas for stuff you should be able to easily find on the shelves.  Of course, there’s typically a very good reason that most of this stuff is still sitting on the shelves, but that’s just a minor detail, right?  Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the gift guide, which you will find after the jump.

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December 16, 2014

The Joy of Collecting Pointless Data

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:28 am

Over the past couple of days, I have learned that the hot water in my apartment runs about 125 degrees.  And that the freezer seems to be somewhere around -8 degrees in the back.  I also learned that the temperature in my apartment varies by several degrees from the outside of the building by the windows to the part that faces the inside of the building.  None of this is really all that surprising to me, but thanks to an impulse purchase off of Amazon last week of a cheap infrared thermometer I bought off Amazon on a whim last week when it went on sale for $12 with free Prime shipping (currently it’s $19, but still a relative bargain.)  Granted, for that much money you’re not exactly looking at a top-of-the-line model, so you’re not exactly going to get scientific grade accuracy out of it (if you need that, be prepared to spend at least a couple hundred dollars)  but for any purpose I might use it for around the house it should be more than adequate.  It’s actually something I’ve wanted to pick up for a while, but the last time I looked at these they were still somewhere around $40, which is a little bit on the high side for a random impulse purchase.

Still, regardless of what I plan to actually use the thing for (I’m still kind of trying to figure that part out myself) it’s kind of a neat thing to have around the house.  Need to figure out how hot something is on the stove or in the oven?  Grab the infrared thermometer.  Need to figure out where a draft is coming from?  It does that too.  Not that I’d actually fix anything if I did find a problem with this, but it’s kind of interesting to know these things anyway.  Just in the course of our normal everyday comings and goings we have a tendency to generate a whole lot of data.  Naturally, for the most part we don’t even pay any heed to this as this data comes and goes, never to be noticed for more than a few seconds at a time.  Then again, over the course of the past few years, it seems that people have taken a lot more notice of this data, as the concept of the “Internet of Things” has taken hold.  For example, about a year and a half ago I got a Nest thermostat installed in my apartment, which not only makes it ridiculously easy to set up timers on the heat and AC (at least compared to some of the notoriously convoluted “programmable” thermostats I’ve used in the past), but it also includes all sorts of tracking information, and sends a monthly e-mail to tell you how your heat/AC usage compares to other months.  To be honest, after I did the initial setup I haven’t really done much tweaking to the schedule at all, but it does allow me to see how things like outside temperature affect energy usage.  It also has features that allow it to automatically adjust the schedule based on my history and other factors, but in practice I have found that it doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of that.

And that’s just one example.  These days, it seems like just about everyone you see on the street is using some sort of fitness tracker.  I have yet to join in on this particular craze, but these have started popping up all over the place lately.  I can see where it might be useful though.  After all, the toughest part of the whole diet and exercise thing is actually remembering to do it, so if nothing else one of these things would remind you to actually do it.  One of the main attractions of these fitness trackers is that they collect quite a bit of data as you go along, which you can then use to see what how many steps you’ve taken during the day, what your heart rate was at any given time, how well you slept (I’ve always been wondering about that one myself, although I suspect the answer is probably “not as much as you should”) and other things like tracking of runs and other exercise.  It’s all sorts of information that could be useful if you made it useful, but I suspect a lot of people who use the things don’t necessarily do so.  But at least you know how guilty you’re supposed to feel at the end of the day, right?

And those are just as couple of the more obvious examples.  Pretty soon, you’ll see people trying to integrate things like smartphone integration and data monitoring all over the place, and I’d be willing to bet that most of it will get applied to stuff that has absolutely no use for it whatsoever.  Right now, the most egregious example of this I can find is a Crock Pot slow cooker that is Wi-Fi enabled to allow it to be controlled by a smartphone application, all for the low price of only $129.  Last time I checked, a Crock Pot typically has one control knob on it with three settings (four if you buy one of the fancy ones) so I have no idea what the point of one of these things is supposed to be, even if it does allow controlling virtually every aspect of my Crock Pot remotely instead of having to walk twelve steps to the kitchen to do it.  That’s definitely got to be worth an extra $80 over one of those other (sort of) fancy Crock Pots where you have to actually control it by hand.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I have no idea how the heck I’d enter a WPA password onto the not-so-fancy one.

For better or for worse, technology has started finding its way into places where we don’t particularly need it.  And as a result of all this, prepare to have all sorts of new and exciting sources of information at your fingertips that you didn’t even know you needed.  And in most cases you won’t actually ever need it after all, but I suppose it’s still neat to have it anyway, right?

November 25, 2014

Going Around the Table, 2014 Edition

Filed under: Family, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:32 am

Well, it’s just about time for Thanksgiving once again, which is always one of the nicer holidays out of the year.  In many ways, I actually like Thanksgiving better than I like Christmas these days because aside from the occurrence of the holiday itself people don’t really make a big deal out of it the way they do for Christmas (although the creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving itself does seem to be something of a worrying trend.)  That leaves us free to enjoy it for what it is: a time for the family to get together from its scattered  and give thanks for the blessings in our life, enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving feast (and the now traditional complaints about we keep having turkey every year) and watch certain people get way too worked up about the Cowboys game.  Also, as I’ve previously discussed on this Blog a number of times, one of the Vanderhoeven family traditions that we follow is that in one form or another, we all take some time on Thanksgiving to talk about the things that we are thankful for.  Although the format has changed over the years, the notional idea of “Going Around the Table” still remains, so I continue to stick with that.

As I’ve done each year since 2008, I like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the things that I am thankful for in my life.  And although the idea may admittedly seem a little trite these days, I still find that these posts serve as something of an annual checkpoint for me as to where I am with my various life goals and accomplishments, dubious as they may be sometimes.  To be perfectly honest, I really try not to write too much about my personal life here on my Blog, mostly because I’m pretty boring.  That said, I do feel that on occasion it is necessary to write at least a little bit here and there, partially because every once in a while something interesting does actually happen that’s worth sharing, and partially because I do keep this Blog as something of a personal record, and it can be useful to go back and have some of these things available to read again later.

Generally in these Going Around the Table posts I do try to talk about where I am and what I’m doing at any given time, but I do have the tendency to keep things vague, mostly out of respect for the privacy of the friends and family members who might not want me plastering their lives all over the Internet (and I can’t say I blame them.)  Nonetheless, when I go back and read these posts, it becomes pretty clear to me where I was at the time, and what was to come.  And although I generally try to keep these posts (and my Blog in general) fairly upbeat, there have been times when I can go back and read these posts and see that I was clearly struggling with one thing or another at any given time.  There used to be a time when I was incredibly cynical about…  well, just about everything really.  It’s a bad habit to get into, and even now I find myself falling into it every once in a while, but at least I think I’ve managed to get better at not showing it over the years.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure it manages to sneak in every so often.  Nonetheless, it’s still instructive to see where I’ve been and where I was going at the time (hindsight, of course, is 20/20.)

That said, I really don’t have anything to complain about right now.  Even if I don’t see them nearly as much as I used to these days as a lot of us have gone off in whatever various directions life has taken us in, I’m still grateful for a loving and supportive family that I know I can rely on if I ever need them, and which has seen the addition of a niece and a nephew over the course of the past year.  I’m also grateful to have friends that share my offbeat sense of humor (I have to say that we both do a surprisingly good job of putting up with each other’s antics, all things considered) and whom I can trust to be there when I need it.  I would be the first to admit that I tend to be slow to get to know people (some of that is me having trouble putting names to faces sometimes, and some of it is just me occasionally being a little stubborn) but I truly believe that the friends I associate myself with are there for a reason, even if it may have taken me a bit longer than it should for me to realize that.  I just hope I can do for them what they have done for me.

I’m also grateful for the job I have, even if it has been a challenge at times.  I’ll admit that the first six months or so that I spent at my current employer were a particularly challenging time for me, as the project I was working on didn’t seem to be going well and there were people I was having trouble getting along with.  Ultimately I stuck with it, and over time things have gotten better.  That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, but I think I’ve grown into it reasonably well, and it does come with some nice perks, not the least of which is getting to mess around with a lot of the new phones when they hit the market, and I get to (occasionally) drive a really nice car as well without having to pay for the gas.  All in all, it’s actually a pretty good place to work.

I’m also grateful for the ability to travel, and the traveling companions that accompany me on my various adventures.  This year has not offered quite as many opportunities to visit new places as last year did, but we did still get a chance to see Alaska for the first time (which reminds me that I still need to finish up the post about the second part of my Alaska trip at some point) and next year should have some interesting things planned as well.  I know that eventually I will have to settle down and raise a family which will presumably put a damper on my ability to do so, but in the meantime I consider myself fortunate that I have the ability and the means to do so.

I do still have my challenges, and I do still have my shortcomings (who doesn’t?) but ultimately, I do think things are headed in the right direction, and I’m grateful for that.  And sometimes, that’s the best thing you can hope for.

November 9, 2014

How Sicky-Sweet It Is

Filed under: Food — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:51 pm

It has now been about a month and a half since me and my friends got back from the cruise we took back in September.  Since that time, we have been making an effort to try to eat healthier, partially to offset any potential weight gain that may have resulted from a week on a cruise ship, and partially because we just need to get into some better eating habits in the first place.  For the most part, we are following what is generally known as the “No white food” diet, which means avoiding refined sugar as much as possible, as well as other processed carbohydrates (depending on who you ask milk may be off limits too, but I have heard mixed opinions on that one.)  We also have weekends as our designated “cheat days” since it can be tough to stick to something like this 100% of the time.  To be honest, the part about avoiding white carbs is where I have trouble with this one, but as long as I can plan ahead I can do a reasonably good job.  On the other hand, one thing that I wasn’t expecting when I started this was that sugar has proved a lot easier for me to avoid than I expected it to be.

Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid sugar.  When you start looking at nutrition labels more closely you find that it’s virtually impossible to find anything that doesn’t have sugar in one form or another.  Just about any fruits and vegetables have at least some amount of natural sugar in them (although in most cases the amounts are relatively small.)  The same goes for milk and milk products.  If for some reason you decided to live entirely off of meat you might theoretically be able to avoid sugar, but the nutritional deficiencies resulting from such a diet would far outweigh whatever benefits of avoiding sugar.  In spite of this, I have found it surprisingly easy to avoid the obvious stuff (for the most part, I may or may not have been eating a Frosty while I was in the process of writing this) which actually came as a bit of a surprise to me.  One of the things you realize when you’re doing something like this is that it is very easy to casually snack on sugary stuff without giving it a second thought.  I don’t know how it is for other people, but typically when I eat sugary stuff I find that it leaves an aftertaste that can be annoying, which means that more often than not I tend to regret it fairly quickly.  I think it is this tendency that has made it easier for me than it would be to other people to just stay away from the sugar.

One interesting side effect I have noticed from this is that in eating less sugar and trying to avoid it, I’ve found that you start to notice it more when it’s there.  Even things you wouldn’t think of as being sweet start to taste a lot sweeter than you remember them being.  And it’s not always a welcome sensation to realize it.  Even small amounts of sugar (as little as 1 or 2 grams per serving) can end up seeming like a lot more than that.  Eventually you get used to the fact that you can’t get completely away from it and you just focus on avoiding the obvious pitfalls, but you can still tell that it’s there.  Gradually, as you go along, the cravings for sugar seem to gradually taper off, to the point that even when you can eat it you tend to eat less of it (at least that’s what I keep telling myself.)  In particular,  I know that soda can be a big problem for a lot of people, and sometimes it can be hard to avoid it, especially when it gets included with your food.  I also have the first-world-problem of having a soda fountain literally 12 steps from my desk at work (yes, I counted)  but even that I just haven’t been all that interested in.

As for results, it seems like this is doing something.  Exactly what it’s doing I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that even if I have trouble with the rest of the stuff that a diet should entail, at the very least cutting back on the sugar should do something.  Exactly what that is I’m not quite sure, but I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there.

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