The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

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.

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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.

October 25, 2014

Random Thoughts: Una Discussione Molto Vivace, and Responsibility, What’s that?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:10 am

I know I still need to finish up the trip report on our Alaska trip last month, but lately work has been keeping me busy so I haven’t had time to do that.  In the meantime, a couple of random thoughts from the past couple of weeks…

  • Currently stuck in my head:  This MxPx song.  It’s not the type of music I normally listen to (it’s actually one of my brothers that listens to the stuff) but I do have to admit I’ve been tempted to think along these lines every once in a while lately.  In theory, by the time I’ve reached the age I’ve reached, I’m supposed to be some sort of mature responsible adult.  For the most part I can at least impersonate one occasionally in a pinch, but I do have to say that sometimes the whole thing can seem to be more trouble than it’s worth.  Responsibility also has a way of creeping up on you at times, as I’ve seen at work recently as various organizational changes have left me and a co-worker in charge of much larger portions of the project I’ve spent nearly the last two years working on than we have been in the past.  In some ways it can be nice to have more day-to-day control over the project and to basically be handed the keys to the car (in this case literally, although the opportunities to actually drive it are rather limited) but at the same time it can also feel a little bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the pool.  The other day I made a comment to one of the co-workers who recently got reassigned off of our project (but who still sits in our area) that things were so much easier back when we had him going to all the meetings and dealing with a lot of the administrative stuff for us and we could mostly just stick to the technical side of things.  One thing that comes with this is responsibility for managing (sort of) a couple of testers we currently have on our project in China.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done this (it’s one of the things that I did for a while when I worked at Motricity a couple of years ago) but it does tend to result in a fair number of late-night Skype conversations to keep them on track and make sure they have what they need to do their jobs (fortunately the late night bit isn’t a problem for me…)   All of this can definitely be a challenge, but to be honest, I have little to complain about where I am right now.  There’s plenty to keep me busy, I’m getting good pay, there are a few nice perks, and it does feel like I’m making progress on my long-term career path.  That doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally tempted to just go off the rails and hoon golf carts around every once in a while, but I suppose that’s how we end up at Disneyland taking ridiculous ride photos on Splash Mountain.

  • Also currently stuck in my head:  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Second Movement (Scherzo: Molto  Vivace – Presto).  Last weekend I had the opportunity to see a live performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony put on by the Ensign Symphony and Chorus at Benaroya Hall.  I do have to warn you that the Ninth Symphony can be a bit of a slog to get through (and that’s just being in the audience, I can’t imagine what it must be like being in the woodwind section) but it’s definitely worth hearing live at least once.  Obviously the Fourth Movement (by far the most famous part) gets all the attention and I’m sure virtually anyone would recognize it when they hear it, but interestingly enough I think I like the Second Movement better overall.  Having never heard all of Beethoven’s Ninth all at once before, I was a bit surprised to hear this particular piece and instantly recognize it as something that gets used often in various forms of media (in particular, the intro seems to be used as a bit of stock “creepy” music for some reason.)  Of course, when you’re listening to it live it all moves so fast you don’t have much time to process it (this particular movement is one of the fastest parts of the whole symphony) so it really takes repeated listening to really catch all the intricacies.  Not that I profess to know a blasted thing about the subject of music (in fact, I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out what a Scherzo is supposed to be, and even after reading the article I still don’t have a clue,) but I have to say that even if it’s less well known than other parts of the symphony it’s still quite the piece of music.  It;’s interesting to note that back in the day pieces like this were considered to be something of a joke (which is in fact what “Scherzo” translates to from the Italian) but these days even the less serious stuff would be considered high culture.  I don’t know if that speaks more to the decline of culture these days or if the stuff is just that good.  Probably a little bit of both really.

 

  • Ever have one of those days where you just can’t seem to focus on anything?  Well, I… Wait, I forgot what I was going to say here.  Oh well, I’ll probably think of it later.

October 8, 2014

We’re Quickly Running Out of Frontiers Here: A Week in Alaska by Sea, Part 1

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:00 am

As much as I suspect a lot of us would like to have it hang around a little while longer, it looks like Summer has just come to an end.  As always, this is roughly when you start looking over what you did over the Summer and trying to make sure you didn’t waste it.  In my case, I have to admit that it just didn’t feel like I’ve really done much.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I had been more than about 50 miles from home at any given point this Summer, and in fact hadn’t really traveled anywhere since the last Disneyland trip me and my friend took back in April just before our Annual Passes expired.  A lot of this is due to the fact that our big vacation for the Summer got scheduled for just about the last possible time we could have scheduled it, set to end just two days before the Autumnal Equinox.  To put the situation into football terms (I hear football is kind of popular around Seattle these days,) it’s basically a matter of being down 28-3  with a minute and a half to go in the fourth quarter, and trying to get down the field for a garbage time touchdown just so it looks like you didn’t get completely blown out.

Then again, much of the reason that we didn’t do much this Summer was because we had this particular trip planned.  Admittedly, in spite of the fact that I’ve done quite a bit of cruising over the past few years, Alaska has never been all that high on my list of possible destinations.  As I believe I’ve said here before, to me it seems like Alaska has the type of weather than I go on vacation to get away from. Then again, it was my friends who were planning this particular trip, so in a lot of ways I was just along for the ride.  Not that there was much of a ride involved anyway (at least not until we boarded the ship.)  One of the nice things about cruising to Alaska is that a lot of ships use Seattle as their homeport during the Alaska season.  For two Summers I have worked in Downtown Seattle just off the waterfront, which means that if I look out the window in some of the conference rooms at the office I can see the ships docked at either Bell Street Pier about half a mile away, or Smith Cove several miles beyond that.  It certainly makes the prospect of just hopping aboard one sound a lot more tantalizing when you can actually see the ships in port.  If nothing else, it’s kind of nice to take a cruise and not have to fly across the country twice to get there in back (nothing against Fort Lauderdale, which is a perfectly nice place to get away from the weather, but a quick 12-mile taxi ride to the pier is, shockingly, a little easier to deal with than a flight of 2,800 miles in each direction (not to mention a fair bit cheaper.)

The itinerary for this particular cruise would be a 7-day roundtrip out of Seattle, making stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, as well as a day spent aboard the ship as it cruises slowly through Glacier Bay National Park (other ships with a similar itinerary may omit Glacier Bay in favor of Tracy Arm Fjord.)  Since I had been to none of those places (except for Victoria on a previous cruise) before, I didn’t know a whole lot about what to expect.  The ship, on the other hand, was in large part a known quantity, as if you’ve been on one Grand-class Princess ship you should have little trouble finding your way around any of the other ones.  The Golden Princess is one of the older ships in the fleet (she first sailed in 2001,) and is a sister ship to the Grand Princess and Star Princess.  Although these three ships were originally virtually identical, over time a number of renovations have taken the three ships in significantly different directions.  Nonetheless, even with the various changes between the three ships you are going to find that the passenger experience is pretty consistent across the Princess fleet regardless of which ship you happen to be on.  All in all, it’s not a bad way to go.

After the jump, a look at some of the highlights from the trip.

(more…)

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