The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 20, 2018

A Letter To My True Love

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:17 pm

(Yes, I’m still alive and well.  I know I haven’t posted in, oh, somewhere around 3 years, but I’ll have to do something about that.  I’m sure there’s plenty to catch up on, but in the meantime please enjoy this,)

December 26, 2018

To My True Love,

First of all, let me express my gratitude for your very generous Christmas gifts this year.  I see that you have chosen to go with a, shall we say, rather traditional theme for your Christmas gift giving this year, and I am at a loss for words to describe your generosity.  That said, I must confess that your gifts have left me with several logistical challenges that I must now attempt to rectify.  I imagine that your Christmas gift must have been a significant undertaking requiring careful planning, so I trust that you may have some advice for me in my current situation.  Please allow me to explain:

  • The partridge doesn’t seem to care much for the pear tree she arrived with, which is currently taking up a significant portion of my rec room and blocking my view of the television from the couch .  I suppose I could attempt to transplant the tree into the front yard, but the middle of December doesn’t seem like the right time of year to be doing that type of thing.  Besides, who would want to be out in the yard digging a hole in this weather anyway?
  • Unfortunately, I am currently unable to locate the turtle doves.  I also haven’t had the time to expend much effort in trying to locate them since I’ve been otherwise occupied (as I will explain further).  My suspicion is that they simply flew away at the first available opportunity, but mostly I just hope that my Maine Coon didn’t eat them.
  • Try as I might, I haven’t found any provision in my Home Owners Association’s covenants that clearly explains whether or not backyard chickens (which I assume would cover the category of French Hens) are permitted in this neighborhood.  This is currently the least of my worries with the HOA though, as some of your later gifts have attracted the unwanted attention of the board;
  • Although the four calling birds were a very thoughtful present, they seem far too enthusiastic about calling for their own good.  Thus far, I have had little luck in being able to quiet them down, even late at night.  I have sought for the best earplugs money can buy, but even those have been less than effective in this matter.  The neighbors have also taken notice, and I have received a number of complaints.  Do you have any advice?
  • As beautiful as the golden rings are, to be perfectly honest I am not quite sure what to do with five of them.  They all look basically the same so there’s not much point in wearing a different one each day.  If I try to wear all five at once it makes me look like a mobster or something, and I don’t even want to know how much the jeweler would charge me to resize all of them to fit anyway.  Oh, and you happen to get these appraised by any chance?  As much as it pains me to admit it, I may be forced to sell several of the rings to cover a number of unforeseen administrative expenses related to some of your other presents.
  • The swans and the geese unfortunately don’t seem to be getting along very well right now.  I suspect most of it has to do with the fact that they are all currently housed in a kiddie pool on the back porch (which I had to borrow from the neighbor’s kids; do you have any idea how difficult it is to buy one of those around here in the middle of December?) but my initial research suggests that a pond of sufficient size to accommodate them would not only take up a significant majority of available space in my back yard, but would also violate at least six or seven sections of my HOA covenants.  And while we’re on the subject, I’m not sure exactly what the six laying geese are supposed to be laying right now, but the current condition of my back porch and lawn seem to suggest that they are currently misguided on this matter.  I’m half-tempted to just let them all fly South for the Winter and be done with it, but I’m sure that would come across as rather ungrateful.  Please advise.
  • The maids were especially thoughtful, but I find myself rather short on dairy cattle lately, so I don’t seem to have the means to employ them appropriately at this time.  I have made inquiries to several local dairy farms for advice, and each one I have contacted (including some of the really pretentious hipster ones) informs me that those tasks are generally automated now, and there is little need for milkmaids anymore.  I have been able to find some light clerical tasks they can assist with in the short term, but it seems like such a waste of their unique skills. Can you suggest any ideas?
  • Those leaping lords I received several days ago are certainly impressive in their performing skills, but lately they’ve been getting, shall we say, rather frisky with the milkmaids and the dancing ladies, to the point that I’ve had to spend most of what little time I have remaining after tending to the impromptu aviary that my backyard has become attempting to chaperone them.  Yeah, I know, the birds and the bees and all that, but can’t they at least get a room?  And preferably not one of mine?  It’s probably a good thing the geese chase away the neighborhood kids if they get anywhere near the yard (I apologize, I probably should have mentioned that a little bit earlier) or I might be having some rather awkward conversations with their parents right now.
  • The pipers and the drummers have been, in a word, cacophonous.  That isn’t to say that they aren’t skilled in their chosen professions, but I suspect they could have used more rehearsal time prior to their arrival, and I suspect a properly trained conductor could do wonders here.  They also seem to have little regard for the neighborhood’s quiet hours rule, and between the aforementioned calling birds, geese, pipers and drummers I have found sleep very difficult to come by as of late.

In short, things around the house have become rather hectic as of late, and I am unfortunately at a loss for ideas on how to handle the situation.  Although I hesitate to even suggest the idea, I must confess that I have considered returning at least some of your gifts to the store, but it appears that none of them came with a gift receipt, and to be honest, I don’t know which store I would even attempt to return any of this stuff to in the first place.

Lacking that option, the best solution I can think of is to try to put together some sort of Avant-garde performance art piece or something, but I have learned that theater owners are not particularly enthusiastic about animal acts (I don’t think I got much out of the expletive-filled tirade over the phone but I did hear “health codes” mentioned once or twice) and even though the dancers are quite skilled in their art it seems that none of them have much in the way of Choreography skills.  In the mean time my room and board costs are getting rather high; My pantry and fridge have been completely cleaned out and during my most recent visit to the local McDonald’s they hastily taped a “CLOSED – Kitchen is on fire” sign to the the door, locked it and hid behind the counter until I left.

Unfortunately, I am at a loss as for what to do in this situation.  Any ideas?

With love,

Your Dearest


November 25, 2015

Going Around the Table, 2015 Edtion

Filed under: Family, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:39 pm

Yes, I am well aware that I haven’t posted anything on this Blog in, oh, around 6 months or so.  It seems I’ve been a little busy.  During that time I’ve managed to move to a new apartment, get engaged and married, go from having zero cats in the house to having some indeterminate number  between 1 and 3 at any given time (it’s a long story, don’t ask) and started a new job as a contractor that turned into a full time position six months later.  Naturally, it’s all taken quite a bit of adjustment, but I certainly can’t complain.  And yes, I know I need to Blog more, and when things settle down a bit I will try to get back into a more regular pattern, but since this is one of the few posts I do on a yearly basis that I use as something of a checkpoint to look back at where I was, I think it’s important that I get it posted.  Oh, and there’s also the part about being grateful for things too.

At the beginning of this year, I had a pretty good idea that some big changes were coming, but didn’t quite know exactly when they would get here or what form they would take.  The contract at Airbiquity that I had worked in for the past two years had ended, and although it was a good opportunity at the time and paid quite well, it just felt like the job in general and the project in particular that I spent most of my time there working on was going nowhere.  The product I had been working on at the time did eventually ship in some form, but I seriously doubt anyone was particularly happy with the end result, and some of the subsequent stuff planned for the project (including some things I actually thought were working pretty well) ended up just getting cut.

I knew it was getting to be time to start looking at my options, but around the beginning of last December I got informed that they were ending the position at the end of the year.  I was grateful to have plenty of notice, and grateful to be in a position to not have to be in a big hurry to get into something new.  Fortunately the job market for my skillset is pretty hot around here right now, but it took a little longer than I anticipated to find something that both sounded interesting and paid the kind of money I was looking for.  After some delays for assorted red tape I know little about, in mid-April I ended up starting a contract position at Groupon doing mobile app testing, which subsequently became an FTE position at the beginning of last month.

Even though it doesn’t pay quite as much as the last place I worked, I’m enjoying it a lot more.  I still get to play with all the latest and greatest devices, I work with a great team of developers and testers, the stuff I work on actually gets released (most of the time anyway), and there’s a lot more flexibility and room for advancement than I’ve had in the past.  One of the best parts of this job compared to some of the others I’ve worked in is the fact that our entire team is local, which is a refreshing change after having spent years dealing with offshore developers.  This isn’t so say anything bad about any of the developers I’ve worked with over the years (I’ve actually worked with some very smart people in China, India and Ukraine), but it’s just so much easier to get your bugs fixed when your devs are two desks away instead of twelve time zones and potentially a language barrier away.  I’m grateful to have landed at Groupon, grateful for what I’ve learned and accomplished so far during my time there, and grateful for the opportunities I have in the future.

Of course, the job is far from the biggest change that has happened to me this year.  That honor would go to my new wife, to whom I was wedded on August 15th at the Seattle LDS Temple.  Having spent the previous ten years living on my own prior to this, married life has definitely taken some adjustment for me, and at times it has been difficult for both of us (I’ll refrain from discussing the little incident that resulted in adopting another cat as part of the apology) but I’m especially grateful for my wife and her patience with me as I learn to be her husband.  I do not talk much about her either here or elsewhere because she prefers to keep to herself for the most part, but she has changed my life in ways I could not possibly imagine both before and after I married her, and I’m grateful to have her as a friend, companion and spouse.  I know we’ve both faced challenges, but we can get through them together.

As another Thanksgiving arrives, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend it with friends and family, and to reconnect with people I see often and not so often.  I’m grateful to know that I was raised well, and have come to realize over the past few years that some people are not afforded that luxury.  I know that in my life things tend to work out one way or another, but I rarely see it until it actually happens, and I also know that for some people it can be tough to see it happening.  Nonetheless, I know how blessed I am, and even if things aren’t perfect (or even sort of perfect) I know there’s still lots to be grateful for.

June 1, 2015

I Went to the Dark Side, Now Where’s My Cookies?

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:38 am

As I noted in the last post, I started a new job a few weeks ago.  Given the number of different jobs I’ve been in over the years, this isn’t anything unusual, but in this particular instance the transition from one job to the next has been a little more difficult than usual, mostly because for the first time in my professional career I have found myself needing to use a Mac for my day-to-day work.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty much a diehard PC junkie, and anyone who has read my various writings over the years (especially the older stuff I’d really prefer to just keep buried in the depths of the Internet Wayback Machine never to see the light of day again) knows that I’ve never cared much for Apple in general or Macs in particular, mostly as a result of early exposure to Mac zealots in my formative years.  One thing I’ve learned about my personality over the years is that I automatically tend to become skeptical about pretty much anything that inspires irrational fanaticism.  There used to be a time when I wouldn’t go anywhere near a Mac, but over time my career path and various circumstances have mellowed my attitudes toward Apple products somewhat.

I am no longer at a point where I would just flat-out refuse to use anything with an Apple logo on it, but I still don’t care for them all that much.  In fact, after using a number of different tablets over the years I’ve pretty much settled on an iPad Mini as my everyday tablet (although I think I might eventually go back to the 10″ size since the Mini is a little smaller than I’d like it to be.)  I’ve tried a number of other ones (most notably a Nexus 7,) but haven’t been able to quite get used to them on a day-to-day basis.  I know quite a few people who have gotten to the point where they have basically replaced their computers with an iPad for personal use, and for some people I can see that making sense.

The problem with it in the long-term is that tablets in general (and iPads in particular) are functionally limited in what you can actually do with them.  Even though I’ve done it before, I would not recommend doing any significant amount of writing using a touchscreen keyboard.  And unless you’re running on a tablet with a full Desktop OS like a Surface Pro your tablet doesn’t have the capability to develop software for itself (and even there I wouldn’t recommend it.  Even with the Type Cover my Surface Pro still has a pretty horrible keyboard for anything but the most basic of typing.)  When it all boils down, tablets are great devices for consuming media (video, audio, etc.), so-so devices for web browsing, and flat-out terrible devices for basically any productive work.  In spite of that, they still have their niche.  Even though I’ve got all the computing power I could possibly need in my big powerful Windows desktop, there are times when you just don’t need all of that.

Which brings me to my experience with using a Mac.  Somehow I suspect that I would have had an easier time getting used to a Mac if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve spent over 20 years using PCs, and have gotten very comfortable with them over the years.  One of the things I’ve noticed about computer users is that over time they begin to develop their own workflow and particular ways of accomplishing certain tasks.  You like to have this window here, certain taskbar icons in certain places, certain keyboard shortcuts you like to use, and so forth.  The last time I bought a new smartphone (nearly three years ago at this point) I found that one of the first things I did with it was to arrange the homescreen icons and widgets in as close to the same layout I had with my old phone as possible.  Given the fact that I was going from one HTC phone to another at the time it was pretty easy to get it pretty close.  The biggest issue I’ve found when switching between PC and Mac is that there’s really no way to replicate that familiar workflow when switching to a different operating system.  Eventually you come up with a workflow that (sort of) works on there, but there always seems to be a couple of things missing, and a couple of things that you can never seem to get quite right.

In my case, perhaps the biggest nuisance of switching between Windows and Mac on a daily basis is the fact that a lot of the keyboard shortcuts are almost, but not quite, the same between the two.  For example, the copy and paste commands (which I use a lot) are CTRL-C/V and Command-C/V on PC and Mac respectively.  The annoying part is that the Mac keyboard has a CTRL key in approximately the same place that a standard PC keyboard does, but it does basically nothing except for inside the command shell, where Command-C (a commonly used *nix command to abort a running process) doesn’t do anything.   What this means is that switching between the two platforms involves a fair bit of having to do things twice because you used the wrong keyboard shortcut (which happens to be the right keyboard shortcut on the other platform).

One of the reasons I’ve never been much of an Apple fan is that for all of their obsessive focus on design, they frequently seem to place form over function, opting to make things look pretty at the expense of making them useful.  Perhaps the biggest example of this in OSX that I’ve found is in notifications.  On a Mac, notifications for things like mail and updates are placed in a little pop-up that appears in the upper right corner of the screen.  I’ve found that this has a tendency to get in the way of things, as it happens to be right in the area where I might have things like browser tabs or menu options.  There is also no obvious way to dismiss these notifications.  I figured out eventually that you have to click on them and push them back off the screen, but most users wouldn’t be able to figure that behavior out without being prompted, and there’s no obvious prompt for this.  As far as I can tell, there’s no way to move it (and a Google search reveals mostly message board posts complaining about the behavior) and no real solution to this besides to turn notifications off.  On a Windows machine, the vast majority of these notifications happen in the lower right corner, which makes a lot more sense because it rarely interferes with anything there.  Windows apps also tend to standardize on right-click to dismiss notifications, or at least provide an obvious X icon.

Another major nuisance I’ve found compared to Windows on the Mac is that there’s no good way to deal with child windows in an app.   The way I have Windows 7 set up, these child windows just show up in the taskbar, which makes them nice and easy to find (Windows also has a “group icons” option, which I find much less useful.)  On the Mac, you can’t see where any of your windows are unless you open “Mission Control”,  a view that basically shows every open window at once.  If you’re using a trackpad you can use a gesture to open this, but if you’re on a Magic Mouse there’s no good way to do it without using a keyboard shortcut. So basically if you’re looking for a window you had open but moved away from (such as an e-mail message) you have to find the icon in the dock, right-click on it )or command-click if you’re one of those Mac traditionalists who never bothered enabling right-click) and find the window you were using.It’s just a pain to deal with really.  I suppose someone used to using a Mac would know how to do all this, but especially for someone who has been using Windows for years, this stuff just seems like a bad user experience to me.

That said, in spite of various nuisances in the operating system, I do have to say that the hardware is top-notch, which is pretty much what you’d expect for the premium price you (or in my case, someone else) would pay for Apple hardware.  After years of dealing with laptop keyboards ranging from mediocre to outright terrible (I have to say that the Type Cover on my Surface Pro tends much more toward the latter category unfortunately) I’ve found that the keyboard on the MacBook Pro is actually quite nice to type on.  The USB Apple Keyboard I use at my desk at work is slightly less so, but still pretty decent.  The construction of the system is nice and solid, and after you use something like this you start to wonder why you spent so long dealing with cheap plastic laptops.  For the development work I’m involved in, it’s also nice not having to go search the Internet for an ADB driver for every Android phone I connect to the system, and having a proper Unix command shell to work with, since the work I do actually involves a fair bit of work in the command line.  That said, there does still seem to be something of a disconnect between the Mac side of things (Finder and it’s version of the file system) and the Unix side of things, which functions very differently.  For the most part it works, but getting one to talk to the other when you need to can be annoying.

When it all boils down, even though I’m no longer the Mac hater I used to be (I’d say I’ve mellowed out to something more in the “Mac Skeptic” category) I still don’t see myself ditching my big powerful desktop PC anytime soon in favor of a Mac.  When you use both platforms regularly you can see a lot of the areas where Apple and Microsoft copied things off of each other over the years.  Even so, both platforms are still very different from each other, and switching from one to the other (especially if you’re doing it on a daily basis) isn’t exactly trivial.  I think I’ve mostly gotten used to it, but there are still some regular tasks that are accomplished easily in Windows that I haven’t found a good way to do on a Mac.  Part of that may be just a matter of figuring out the proper way to do them, but in general, I find I just have a (very slightly) harder time getting work done on a Mac than I do on a Windows machine.  And given the choice, I’d still rather work on a PC.  That’s not to say that the Mac is necessarily any better or any worse at what it does.  Just that it’s different.  And isn’t different what Apple was going for in their ad campaigns many years ago?

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? 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.


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. 



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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