The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 31, 2007

Just in Case You Were Wondering…

Filed under: Site Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:36 pm

I finally went ahead and put up a proper About Page for this Blog.  I’m also doing a bit more tinkering with stuff in the sidebar, and at some point I’m going to actually try to create a template of my own, since I haven’t really found one to my liking out of the default WordPress ones.  The one I am using right now is there mostly because it doesn’t mess with the graphics in my posts too much, and there’s definitely room for improvement.  Stay tuned…

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Operating With Ruthless (In)efficiency

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 8:20 pm

OK, so the good news is that yesterday’s little water heater misadventure was resolved quickly.  On the other hand, something seems just a bit odd with this?

It’s always reassuring to know that the stuff you’ve got is better than the best (or is that the other way around?)  And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is this graphic on the front page of the manufacturer’s webpage supposed to mean anyway?  All I know is that if that picture is any indication of how the product is going to perform, I sure hope my upstairs neighbors don’t have one of the things…

Out With the Old…

Filed under: Culture — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 5:05 pm

By the time you read this, you will have less than 8 hours of 2007 remaining (unless you happen to be reading it from some island out in the middle of the Pacific, in which case you’re just complicating things.) If there was anything that you swore you would do this year but haven’t gotten around to yet, now would probably be a good time to start panicking. In spite of what some of the stuff in your inbox might claim, about the only way you’re going to be guaranteed to lose fifty pounds that quickly is to go log onto a UK-based Internet gambling site. There’s always next year though, right?

As the year comes to an end, it seems that there’s always one thing or another left to do before making the big jump into the next year. In some cases, it might be getting an early start on whatever resolution you are making for next year. It might also be some task that you probably could have gotten done easily back in September, but have put off until it becomes a crisis. It could also just be something that you always do to close out the year. Dealing with your taxes is one such task, although that generally doesn’t come until a bit later on. In my case, one of the standard end-of-the-year tasks involves counting out the pocket change that I’ve accumulated over the course of the year. I keep all of it in a plastic container left over from my brief and disastrous foray into Beanie Baby collecting many years ago (it’s a long story, and I’m not telling it to anyone but my Shrink,) and count it out at the end of the year. You’d actually be surprised just how much of the stuff you can manage to accumulate (although some people are a bit more successful at this than others.)

What exactly you can do with the change once you’ve got it is a bit of an issue. Banks tend to put restrictions on how much of it they will accept at a time, and the coin counting machines that have become a common feature in supermarkets add an 8-cent per dollar fee on top. Generally I will roll up the quarters (which are usually a majority of the contents) and deposit those in the bank, and put the rest into the coin counter, which can turn it into an Amazon.com gift certificate without adding the counting fee to it. For a number of years I have done this by hand, but last year I got one of those fancy counting machines you see pop up in the stores as a “great gift idea” (yeah, right) around this time of year, and found that I just ended up counting the things by hand anyway just to make sure the machine wasn’t messing me up. It’s a bit of a time-consuming task, but a subtle, nagging sense of avarice helps greatly in ensuring that the task gets completed in a timely fashion.

Elsewhere, the end of the year provides a convenient opportunity for journalists everywhere to break out the time-honored slow news day gimmick of the Year in Review column. This allows them to take the stories they ran into the ground months ago and dig them back up for just long enough to run them right back into the ground again. If that doesn’t provide enough material, there’s always the option of “presenting” a number of completely meaningless and arbitrary “awards” as well. If you’re really hard up for material, you might even be able to finagle another entire column out of that gimmick.  I’ll go ahead and get things started with the award for Most Politically Correct Toy of the Year

Things You Never Notice Until They Fail Catastrophically

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:51 am

Currently, I live in a somewhat older apartment, at least compared to most of the ones found in Redmond. It’s not exactly the most luxurious place you’re going to find in this area, but it’s clean (at least it is whenever I get around to cleaning it up,) the neighborhood is decent, and it takes me less than ten minutes to get to or from work. To get to work from here, I literally just turn left out of the apartment complex, drive straight down the road for about 2 1/2 miles, turn left again, and I’m there. On the other hand, being a somewhat older apartment also means that you can’t always count on the appliances being the most up-to-date models.

In particular, the washer and dryer seem more than a little out of date. As you can see from the photo above, the model name on the washer and matching dryer is shown as “Design 2000,” which by itself generally indicates that you can automatically knock about 15-20 years or so off of that to get back to an era when such a designation would have still sounded impressive. Combine that with a “high-tech” computery-looking font and gratuitous faux wood trim, and you’ve got a machine that at the very least is probably old enough to vote, and wouldn’t have looked too out of place going all the way back to the Seventies (although the machine itself is beige, so maybe it doesn’t go that far back.) If my research is correct then the apartment I am in was built sometime in the mid to late Eighties, so the washer and dryer can’t be much older than that. The stove in the kitchen is of a similar design aesthetic, although the lack of faux wood trim keeps that one from looking too dated. Just be sure that when you bake something in the oven, you set the temperature on the knob on to 25 degrees less than the recipe calls for, or you’re going to find yourself eating an awful lot of charcoal. So with all these ancient appliances in the place, which do you think you would pick to be the one to fail and make a big mess of the place?

Why, the 2 1/2 year old hot water heater, of course. At 10pm on a Sunday night, no less. Earlier this evening as I entered my den/office (actually it’s the second bedroom, but since I’m the only one living here it’s my office,) I found a spot of the carpet to be abnormally soggy. Further investigation revealed the sogginess to not only extend throughout the carpet in that half of the room, but through the wall into the laundry room as well.

If you’re a homeowner, this is usually the time to start scrambling to find the manual for the hot water heater, realize that you probably tossed out the manual ages ago, scramble to find the manual on the Internet and read the troubleshooting section which doesn’t tell you anything but to turn off that big red knob on top, call a 24-hour plumber and give them a bunch of money. On the other hand, since I’m renting here, I was able to make an emergency call to the maintenance staff, who responded quickly, and somehow managed to get a carpet cleaner here at 11:30pm on a Sunday to extract the water and clean up the affected carpeting.

Even though I will probably have to deal with not having hot water for a couple of days until a replacement can be found (Edit:  Never mind, they managed to get a new hot water heater installed in the morning,) this could definitely have turned out much worse. At least it happened when I was home, and thanks to the quick response of the maintenance tech and the carpet cleaners, what could have turned into a disaster got reduced to a mere nuisance. For anyone who ever finds themselves looking for an apartment in the Seattle area, I would gladly recommend a community managed by BRE properties. They have provided excellent service in the time that I’ve lived here, and maintain the place very well.

It would have been kind of nice if I could have figured out a way to finagle a new washer and dryer out of the deal though…

December 29, 2007

And the Award for “Most Politically Correct Toy of the Year” goes to…

Filed under: Culture — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 8:46 pm

Super Diverse Electric Car

 Approved by the Sierra Club and Jesse Jackson, I’m sure.

Tiny Bubbles in Huge Quantities

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 pm

(Note:  This article is crossposted from buzz.mn.)

While some stores are busy with their huge after-Christmas blowout sales, other stores have swiftly removed all traces of the now lapsed holiday from the store. At the local Costco, the shelves full of holiday decorations (mostly the stuff you’d probably need a bigger yard to accomodate) had disappeared without a trace from the warehouse. Aside from some leftover toys piled up on shelves in the back, there wasn’t any sign that a major holiday which results in massive consumer spending just happened. This is somewhat understandable, given the fact that the stuff has been hanging around since September and they were probably getting sick of it.  In the place of the Christmas stuff, preparations have been made to catch the next opportunity to sell big ticket items to the well-intentioned:

Just in time for New Years Resolutions, a variety of exercise machines are on offer.  Throughout my childhood, a fair number of these devices took up relatively brief residence in the household. I can recall several stationary bikes, a couple of treadmills, and even a full-sized home gym (which forced the relocation of our well-stocked den/computer room to the dining room of all places) showing up at various times. At first, they would see at least somewhat regular use, but over time, they would eventually end up buried up under piles of unfolded clean laundry or other detritus, amd would eventually find their way out to the garage until they could be foisted off on an unwitting relative. No matter how many times it happens, the cycle seems ro repeat itself eventually. (Incidentally, if anyone happens to need a home gym, I could probably find you one really cheap, as long as you’re willing to haul it off…)

Elsewhere in the warehouse, other preparations for the New Year were being made, including a sizeable display of various champagnes and other sparkling wines (you can’t call it “Champagne” unless it comes from that particular region of France, according to EU regulations.) For years, these wineries have taken great pains to build up a reputation of prestige and exclusivity for their products. Then something like this comes along and wrecks the whole thing:

I’m sure that you wouldn’t have to go back too many years to find a time when practically EVERYONE would have been appalled by that particular scene for one reason or another. You can put away the guillotine though, because the Dom Pérignon brand of Champagne was not introduced until 1936, more than 200 years after the actual Dom Pérignon’s death in 1715. Nonetheless, one might be tempted to say that the Dom himself would be rolling in his grave, but his Wikipedia entry seems to suggest that his role in the development of sparkling wines is often exaggarated. In fact, back in those days the refermentation of wine that resulted in carbonation was considered to be a defect to be avoided, mostly due to its tendency to cause the bottles to explode, sometimes setting off chain reactions and presenting considerable risk to those who worked in the wine cellars.

Of course, even at wholesale prices, Dom Pérignon is still horrendously expensive for most of us at nearly $120 a bottle. Perhaps if you’re looking for something a bit more Bourgeoisie friendly, how about Kirkland Signature champagne? As strange as that may sound, According to their website the stuff is real Methode Champenoise produced champagne from France, compliant with all the EU Protected Designation of Origin regulations. In other words, the stuff ain’t Two-buck Chuck (or Three-Buck Chuck, depending on the taxation wherever you happen to live.) On the other hand, it’s still $20 a bottle, so I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the stuff in the local 7-Eleven anytime soon either.

December 27, 2007

How to Tell When Your Holiday Has Overstayed its Welcome

Filed under: Cooking, Culture, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:33 pm

(Note:  This is a crosspost of an item I wrote over at buzz.mn.)

As you might have noticed if you did any shopping yesterday, it’s after-Christmas markdown time at your friendly neighborhood Target store, or whatever other “great big box full of stuff” store you’ve got nearby.  On the shelves, all the various baubles and trinkets shine and sparkle just as brightly as ever, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’ve literally gone out of style overnight. In spite of this, the great big “50% OFF” signs tell the tale. The Valentine’s Day stuff is moving in a week from now, and it’s time for the Christmas stuff to hit the road (or the closet as the case may be) for the next nine months. Next door at the recently opened Kohl’s store (which, oddly enough, replaced a Mervyn’s that closed about a year ago,) they’re even more emphatic: 70% off.

In theory, this would be the best time to stock up on assorted paraphanelia in anticipation of Christmases yet to come, but that leaves the problem of storage. Are those tremendous savings really worth filling up the closet for? Sure, if you’ve got a large crawlspace to put the stuff in (as my parents have) this isn’t a big deal, but since I live in an apartment that accumulates an ever increasing amount of clutter over time, this becomes an issue. Besides, it’s not like they won’t make more of the stuff when the next Holiday season rolls around, right? Right? Um…  Better go ahead and stock up, just to make sure.

 

On the other hand, it’s not just the Christmas decorations taking a quick trip to the bargain bin. As you wander the aisles, it seems like anything even remotely festive is getting the big markdown. This is most visible in the candy aisle, where it seems like everyone’s been wrapping their stuff in festive Holiday packaging since roughly five minutes after Dia de los Muertos ended. In many cases (such as the package of chocolate shown above) a few sprigs of holly printed on the package will save you a couple of bucks over the same product in the standard packaging, even though the individually wrapped squares inside are 100% identical. I stocked up on these, but I don’t know why, since I still have these left over from last year’s after-Christmas clearance sale. If I was a food snob I’d call it “vintage” and claim that 2006 was a good year for chocolate, but I’m pretty sure most food snobs wouldn’t bother with this stuff anyway.

 

Finally, we see shelves and shelves of these red “gift” boxes full of generic Chinese merchandise (Now with 50% more lead than the leading brand!) all with the obligatory markdown. Granted, none of this stuff is particularly expensive in the first place, but if you ever wondered if giving this stuff as gifts would make you look cheap when they were at “full” price, seeing all the prices slashed in half a day after Christmas wouldn’t do much to reassure you. Still, there might be a couple of useful items here and there, so it’s worth looking through the pile. You’d probably feel ripped off if someone gave you one of these as a gift (or vice versa,) but buy it yourself and it’s a bargain.

December 22, 2007

A Modern Marvel of Miniaturization

Filed under: Random Stuff, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:36 am

 Say you’ve got a bit of space on your bookshelf, and you’re looking for a small stereo system that you can use to fill in the space.  While you’re out doing your shopping, you come across one of these: 

Sure, the pricetag might be a tad expensive, but it’s a Sony, so you’ve got to expect a bit of a price premium.  Just as long as the thing fits snugly onto your bookshelf, you should be OK.  That shouldn’t be a problem for a “mini shelf system”…  Or would it?

 

Um…  You brought the truck to haul that home with, right?  Oh, and by the way, it looks like you’re going to need a bigger shelf while you’re at it.

As a rule of thumb,  modern technology allows us to make things smaller all the time.  Unfortunately, someone along the way missed the memo, and as a result, this behemoth has somehow been labelled as a “Mini Hi-Fi Component System.”  At first, I would have guessed that whoever made this particular decision was  wearing a blue shirt at the time, but it looks like the competition is using a very similar description for this particular system.  I think each speaker in this system is by itself the same size or larger than some of the other complete mini bookshelf stereo systems I’ve seen.   If this thing is what passes for a mini system these days, I’d hate to see what a full size one looks like…

December 20, 2007

The First (and Quite Possibly Last) Ever Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:52 am

OK, if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping by now, you should probably give some serious consideration to panicking at this point (hold on, I need to go panic for a few minutes. .  OK, back.  That didn’t help the situation any. but ar least I got it out of the way.)   For those of us who weren’t smart enough to get all of our shopping done back before the stores turned into a wall-to-wall mob of festively-minded rioters, we’re in a bit of a jam this weekend.  While it may be true that nothing would ever get done if it weren’t for the last minute, that particular axiom is best applied to situations in which everyone else doesn’t have the same idea. 

But never fear, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the line I managed to acquire a decidedly undeserved reputaiton for being good at Christmas shopping.  Somehow, I usually end up with just what whoever I am shopping for has always wanted, but doing so requires a long, arduous journey with plenty of not-so-great and/or downright questionable gift ideas along the way.  It’s these gift ideas, guaranteed to disappoint the whole family, that will be outlined in this gift guide.   See the list after the jump.

(more…)

December 15, 2007

Things That Probably Should Have Been Proofread Before They Were Put on a Sign

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 5:52 pm

Every once in a while, you run into a situation where you need a sign, and you need it quick.  Armed with a sheet of plywood and a can of spray paint, you whip up a quick sign, not only letting people know that your place is open, but showing off some of the fancy lettering skills you acquired back when you were creating, um, er… murals (yeah, that’s it) on some of the local underpasses.  There’s just one problem here:

Bussiness... OPEN

This particular example has been present in this location for a couple of months now, right next to one of the busiest streets in Kirkland. It appears that an impromptu correction has been made to the sign using a Sharpie, complete with a grade of C- which seems to suggest a spurious origin for the correction.  Of course, back when I was in school work of this quality would probably get me an F and  a note sent home to my parents, no matter how fancy the handwriting was, but that’s another story.

To be fair, if you’re trying to run a bussiness, you’re probably too busy to run to the dictionary every time you need to put together an impromptu sign.  But what if you’re getting your signs professionally made?

Um, bad news on that one too.  Unlike the individual example found above, I’ve seen a significant number of these signs in many different locations around town, and each one of them has this correction on it.  I’m guessing that particular assignment went to the parent who forgot to bring the orange slices to the last game.

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