The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

March 30, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Filed under: Culture, Sports — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:01 pm

(Programming note:  Posting may be light here for the next week or so, but I plan to write at least one post each day over at while the host of that site is on vacation (it’s not so much guestblogging as usurping, but that’s beside the point.)  This particular article is a crosspost from there.  The rest of my blog entries can be found here.)

Well, I’ve been trying to think Spring, but lately it just doesn’t seem to be working all that well. The picture above shows the scene this morning when I got to church. According to the news, some places in the Puget Sound area got as much as six inches of snow overnight, and there’s been scattered snow throughout the area since Wednesday. I suppose for those of you who live in some frozen wasteland snow in late March probably isn’t all that unusual, but considering the fact that over here getting snow more than two or three times over the course of the Winter is considered abnormally snowy, this seems to be just a tad excessive.

Nonetheless, the calendar says that it’s just about time for the Boys of Summer to take the field for another season of Baseball. Although in recent years I haven’t followed baseball as closely as I used to, in my family Opening Day is practically considered to be a holiday, celebrated with hot dogs and apple pie (NOTE: Due to ongoing criminal investigations, the Cream will not be provided with apple pie this year.) Although rooting for the home team (which around here happens to be the Mariners) seems to be the order of the day, living in the middle of nowhere meant that there really wasn’t a “home team” where I lived, which meant that I had to make do with whoever’s games we could get on cable TV. For many years, this meant the Chicago Cubs, whose games came to us via WGN out of Chicago via the not-so-silver tounged Harry Caray (who I got to meet once at a Spring Training game in Arizona, which the Cubs of course lost.)

Soon faced with the realization that backing the Cubs wasn’t exactly a winning proposition (the ’84 playoffs were probably a good sign of this,) my allegiances eventually shifted toward the Atlanta Braves, whose games played on TBS. Given their frequently dismal record during the late Eighties, expectations were set low, until they suddenly managed to get good in 1991, and pulled off the miraculous worst-to-first comeback and even more improbable playoff win against the Pittsburgh Pirates to reach the World Series in 1991. Although I would later learn to respect both of them as players and people, Kirby Puckett’s game 6 walk-off homer and Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in game 7 of the 2001 World Series are both in the top ten of my most traumatic baseball experiences. Although a couple of years later the expansion Colorado Rockies would give us something that would reasonably call a home team, my loyalties remained with the Braves until my family moved up to Seattle, where the Mariners were a cellar-dwelling team at risk of being moved to some random city in Florida. We figured they could use all the help they could get, so we hopped on the bandwagon. And what a ride it would turn out to be.

Then came the 1995 season, when suddenly everything came together, and the Mariners managed to get into the playoffs by winning a one-game tiebreaker with the California Angels, then pulled off an even more improbable comeback from a 0-2 deficit in the Division Series to beat the Yankees before finally losing the ALCS in six games to the Cleveland Indians (who would then go on to lose to the Atlanta Braves in five games. All in all, not a bad year for baseball in our family.)

Although the Mariners didn’t make the World Series (and have not yet done so in their 30 year history) that 1995 run ensured that the Mariners would stay in Seattle, and set the table for the incredible 2001 season, in which the Ms would win 116 games and host the All-Star Game, but lose to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. Among the highlights of the season that I saw in person were the All-Star Game itself, with Cal Ripken’s home run in his final All-Star appearance (marked today by a plaque in the visitor’s bullpen at Safeco Field,) and the “victory lap” that the team took around the diamond carrying an American flag the day that baseball resumed following the September 11th attacks. Oddly enough, I was working in a concession stand at Safeco Field for that game (something that I would do for anywhere from 5-15 games a year for several years on a volunteer basis, to help raise money for various nonprofit organizations. It was hard work, but it provided plenty of opportunity to be at the ballpark. I can best describe the experience as similar to trying to watch the ballgame through a hole in the fence while serving beer and hotdogs to everyone else crowded around. I must have served thousands of the things, yet surprisingly enough, I still consider the hot dogs at the ballpark to be superior to those you can find just about anywhere else (just don’t ask me to actually pay for one.) This concession standexperience came in handy when I took a trip to Disneyland a couple of years ago, and found that the food prices inside the park almost seemed reasonable in comparison.

Since that 2001 season, the Mariners haven’t given us a whole lot of reasons to celebrate, but nonetheless, there’s nothing to compare to a beautiful summer evening as you watch from the cheap seats as the sun sets over the third base line as the National Pastime plays out on the field in front of you. Sure, my team ends up being down by six runs in the fourth inning more often than I would like, but still, a bad day at the ballpark beats a good day at work anyday. Feel free to share any baseball memories you have here. Even if the Twins did beat the Braves in the ’91 series, we can all agree that we don’t like the Yankees, right?

Oh, and Play Ball.

March 28, 2008

Does Anyone Remember What Month It’s Supposed to Be?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:03 pm

Sure, springtime isn’t exactly known for its bright and sunny weather around here, but… snow in late March?

Granted, it seems to be too warm for anything to stick to the roads (or even the ground, for that matter) but still, there seems to be quite a bit of the stuff coming down out there.  As long as it doesn’t mess up the commute when I go home from work tonight (and it doesn’t look like it will) I can probably learn to live with it.  It also sounds like it’s not going to stick around for all that long anyway, and by Monday we should be back to more Springlike weather.

 Update 1:45pm:  Scratch that.  It looked like the snow was starting to taper off, but whe snowfall has intensified, and it  it looks like the snow is starting to stick here, although not to the roads.  Something tells me I’m going to need to update this again before we’re done with this…

Update 2:30pm:  It looks like the snow is tapering off again, and I suspect that we’re probably not going to get a whole lot more accumulation than we’ve got now (I’d guess about half an inch or so.)  A couple more pictures from over here:

Update 4:00pm:  And just as quickly as the snow arrived, it’s already vanished.  Just minute traces remain.

March 27, 2008

Looks Like the Show is Over at Redmond Town Center… Or Is It? (Updated)

Filed under: Malls, Redmond — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:08 pm

At Redmond Town Center recently, a number of stores which originally opened on ten-year leases when the center itself first opened have now closed, as those leases have expired and not been renewed.  These stores all seem to be concentrated in one particular corner of the main mall area, and include the Limited, Abercrombie and Express stores.  Perhaps a more notable closure at Town Center is that of the movie theater, which also opened with the mall and closed their doors last month.  I can only recall seeing a movie at this theater once during its ten-year run one time, but then again I’m not a big movie fan, so I could probably count the number of times I’ve been in any movie theater during the last decade on one hand.  The design of this particular theater was very much a product of the  nineties, and the sign you see above reflects this.  Needless to say, the “technicolor ransom note” design on the sign hasn’t really stood the test of time.

From the outside, the late 90s style design is evident in some of the other styling cues.  The interior is covered by blackout material on the windows though, and the Cineplex Odeon sign above the ticket window is covered up in black plastic.  The Fandango ticket dispensers you see here have had all of their electronic components removed, leaving just empty shells.  The places where the screens used to be are covered up with what appears to be clipboards inserted inside the unit.

Turning around, we can see this little sculpture, ostensibly intended for use as a bike rack, although I can’t ever recall seeing any bikes parked there.  Next to this, we see a container that is normally filled with umbrellas for shoppers to use on rainy days. 

Here we see the box offices for the old theater, as well as what passes for a marquee these days (although most newer theaters now use digital displays to show movies and showtimes.) About a week before I took this picture, the sign read “Th-Th-That’s All Folks,” but it was too dark at the time to get a picture of it. For the time being, it looks like there are openings in the windows where the speaker used to be.  If we take a look inside…

It turns out that the place has already been completely gutted out.  I took these photos on Saturday, and at the time I was not aware of any future plans for this space, aside from a vague statement by Town Center management in a news article about the store closures about the possibility of another entertainment venue, but just yesterday it became clear what would be opening here:  Another theater, set to open in October.  The Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinema won’t be anything like the old AMC theater though; it will come with high-end amenities, and a high-end price tag.  From the Times article, we find out that the new theater will still have eight screens, but there will be no more than 40 seats per screen arranged in pairs, and each of those seats will recline and feature a call button for service, with plenty of legroom to boot.  The theater will also feature a full restaurant and lounge, open to moviegoers only, with delivery to your seat.  Combine that with reserved seating and valet parking, and you have what sounds like a very different way to go see a movie than the standard megaplex theatres could possibly offer.  All of this comes at a price though:  The regular admission charge for a movie will be $35 per ticket, with matinees costing $20-25.

 It will be interesting to see if they can manage to pull this off.  They claim that this approach is intended to bring people who have stopped going to the movies back into the theater, and I can see where this might be the case.  On the other hand, $35 per person seems like a rather steep price just to go see a movie, and that’s not even counting the additional expenses of food and drink that one might incur there.  When you think about it, for $35 you could buy a movie on Blu-Ray (assuming you have a player for it, which is a definite possibility if you’re in the demographic that they’re targeting with this place) and watch it in the comfort of your own home.  If they are going to get something like this to work, Redmond seems like as good a place as any to try it (although if there was space for it, I could see something like this showing up at Bellevue Square as well.)

I suspect they’ll put the big drywall barriers over the old theater before too long, but if possible, I’ll keep an eye on this.  Note that Redmond Town Center is the next mall I plan to profile after I finish Crossroads (that one should be coming soon, I think…)

Update 4/4/08:  Here’s one more photo of the theater I found in my images directory, from shortly before it closed.  Not a lot to see, but it should provide a bit of context.


March 26, 2008

My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:45 am

If you believe everything you see on random shows on Food Network, practically everyone out there has some sort of top secret chili recipe in their head, which they keep a closely guarded secret: a pot full of meats, veggies, herbs, spices and quite possibly just a little voodoo.  I don’t think I’m doing anything quite that complex when I make chili, but I do have a recipe that I tend to follow.  Last night for Family Home Evening in the singles ward I attend, we were doing a chili cook-off for the activity.  I knew going into this that I was likely to be facing some stiff competition, so I was going to need to be on my game. 

There was just one minor issue with this: I was short on time.  Where I usually allow several hours for my chili to simmer before serving, I had about an hour and a half (give or take a few minutes) between the time that I got off work and the time that I would need to be serving this stuff to a discerning audience, which meant that I would have to take a couple of shortcuts from my usual recipe to ensure that I would actually have something to serve here.  I also have this innate tendency to tinker with the recipe at inopportune times as well, which may have manifest itself a time or two here.  Nonetheless, since I have not yet heard any reports of anyone getting sick after eating the stuff last night, it’s probably safe to go ahead and share the recipe that I used to make this.  After the jump, see what I do to make chili in a blind panic to feed a hungry crowd, complete with gratuitous photos that my siblings can use to nag me about the cleanliness of my kitchen.


March 22, 2008

A Cavalcade of Somewhat Delightful Easter Merchandise

Filed under: Culture — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:08 am

As the Winter begins to give way to Spring, thoughts begin to turn to the renewal of the Earth that the change of season brings, and the promise of the Summer ahead.  It also brings with it the Easter holiday, and with it, nightmare-inducingly huge inflatable Easter Bunnies hawking chocolate, as you see above.  And that’s just the beginning.  Although the quantity of Easter-themed merchandise you’re going to find at your friendly neighborhood mega-mart doesn’t come close to the massive quantity of Christmas merchandise you’d find during the last three months of the year, you’d be surprised at just how much the stuff there is out there these days.  I’d say that the quantity is probably similar to what’s available for Valentine’s Day, and that one’s starting to look way too overcommercialized already.  I had previously noticed the apparent convergence of the assorted holidays (or at least the type of merchandise they’ll try to sell you for them) but there’s no shortage of kitschy, ridiculous or just downright questionable merchandise unique to Easter alone.  After the jump, a look at the somewhat delightful merchandise without which the stores would like you to believe that Easter would not be complete. (more…)

March 21, 2008

New Cereal in Old Boxes

Filed under: Design, Food — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:23 am

If nothing happens to grab your attention while you’re passing through the cereal aisle at your grocery store, it’s certainly not from lack of trying.  It seems these days that cereal boxes keep getting more and more ostentatious in an effort to grab the attention of easily distracted youngsters.  On the other hand, the contents of the cereal boxes themselves haven’t really changed a whole lot over the years, and a lot of the brands of cereal we have on the shelf today happen to be the very same brands that our parents ate while they watched Saturday morning cartoons back when they were kids.  Perhaps in an effort to stand out by bringing back memories of a simpler time, General Mills has recently started putting a number of their most popular cereals in throwback packaging.

These two packages go quite a ways back.  Based on looking at vintage cereal box pictures found on this site, I’d say that the design on the Wheaties box is probably somewhere in the late Forties to early Fifties, hearkening back to a day before they started using pictures of real athletes.  I wasn’t able to find an example of the design on which the Kix box was based, but if I had to guess, I’d say they used a very early design, perhaps  even from the Thirties or Forties.  (Kix was first introduced in 1937, and was in fact the first example of the now popular “puffed” style of cereal to be introduced.)

The designs on the Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams boxes are somewhat newer,  Golden Grahams cereal was first introduced in the Seventies, and the very Seventies looking design on the package (which survived largely unchanged well into the Eighties) reflects this.  In fact, the rather more generic packaging used for Golden Grahams these days kind of tends to get lost on the shelf As for the Lucky Charms box, that particular design seems to have been used through the late Seventies and early Eighties (Here is a picture that shows this box design with an offer for Star Wars stickers, and another one on the site shows a similar design with Battlestar Galactica stickers as well.)  Interestingly enough, there are some subtle changes to the Lucky Charms box.  The picture of the cereal on the box reflects the current lineup of  marshmallows, which is far more diverse than the three or four shapes that the cereal had back when this box design was current.   The text has also changed somewhat, so that the modern box reads “frosted toasted oat cereal with marshmallow bits”, where the old box reads “Sugar frosted oat cereal with marshmallow bits” (although the word “sugar” was later eliminated on the older boxes as well.)   Currently there is also a vintage box in this style for Honey Nut Cheerios as well, but I don’t have a picture of that one right now, and to be honest, the packaging of that particular cereal has changed surprisingly little between now and then.

As you’ve probably noted from the pictures, General Mills is currently offering a set of T-shirts at this website in conjunction with these throwback boxes.  Unlike the T-shirts offered in some promotions, the ones from this one actually look like the type of thing that a sane person might actually wear out in public.  I suspect you could probably even find similar tees in one of those goth-infested pop culture outlets at your neighborhood mall, at a significantly higher price than the $5 (plus shipping and handling, of course) that these ones are being sold for.  In fact, there’s just one tiny little problem with the T-shirt offers…


It seems that when someone copied the front of the box onto the design used for the back of the box, they didn’t bother to remove the T-shirt offer.  I guess I can see their point though.  Looking through the cereal box archive linked above, it is  surprisingly difficult to find a cereal box of any vintage that doesn’t have one special offer or another plastered on the front of the box.  I guess this means they’re just keeping with tradition, right? 

March 19, 2008

Adventures in Dogwalking

Filed under: Wanderings — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:53 am

In general, Beagles are very friendly and affectionate dogs , but let me tell you, they can be a real pain to deal with sometimes.  As I’ve discussed previously over here, my parents own two Beagles (Imola and Minardi, gratuitously pictured below,) which means that I get to come over to their house and visit them pretty much whenever I want, but it also means that I get to come home to my own nice, clean (whenever I feel like it at least) house where at least 75% of the furnishings have not been chewed on by dogs at any time in recent memory.  Every once in a while, I get this idea in my head that a Beagle or two of my own might be fun to have.  This is usually followed by a reality check, as discussed below.

Normally, these two get at least one trip to the off-leash dog area over at Marymoor Park per day, usually two.  Every once in a while, I might accompany my Mom over to the dog park, but until last week, I had not taken them over there myself before.  Since my Mom is out of town for a couple of days and my Dad leaves for work too early in the morning to take them, I was asked this morning to bring them over there myself.  When I took them over there last week, they were actually quite well-behaved, followed me around as expected, and when the time came to put them back on their leashes, I had no problem doing so.  When I went to go pick them up today, they seemed a little more ramped up than last time, and all seemed well as I took them over and walked the loop around the park.  Shortly before we reached the exit, something got Imola’s attention, and she headed for the fence and started barking at what I would guess to be some bird in one of the trees.  I gave her a couple of minutes to get it out of her system (or so I thought,) and we continued. 

As we approached the entrance, I got the leashes out to put them back on leash to lead them back to the car, but apparently they had other ideas.  Immediately Imola saw some more birds, and darted out the entrance to the dog park barking at the top of her lungs, with Minardi following close behind (the two of them are practically inseparable, and if one starts barking, most of the time the other one is going to drop whatever she happens to be doing and join in.)  This resulted in a bit of panic as I had to run through the parking lot carrying two leashes and a bag of dog poop to catch up to them before they got away.  It only took a couple of minutes for me to catch up and bribe them with a treat for long enough to get the leashes on, but not before they managed to get into the bushes, resulting in a couple of scrapes while exiting.

As friendly and loyal as beagles are, their seemingly instinctive Attention Deficit Disorder is not what I’d call one of their more endearing personality traits.  If a beagle picks up an interesting scent, they will immediately drop everything and chase it, which can on occasion result in them getting lost.  Fortunately, with two dogs that like to stay close to each other, this does provide some degree of safety as if you have one on the leash, the other isn’t going to stray too far from her sister, but chasing after a pair of distracted beagles when you’re supposed to be at work in a half hour is not my idea of  fun.  About a month from now, my parents will be embarking on their latest Caribbean cruise, and I have been asked to stay at their house for the week and a half that they will be gone and take care of these two, which includes daily trips to the dog park.  I have no problem with doing a thing like this, but when something like this happens, I start to worry that at some point they’re going to get away and I’m not going to be able to get them back.  I guess that’s why I prefer to leave the dog ownership to other people…

March 18, 2008

Catching Up a Bit

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Technology — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:43 am

 For the past few days, I’ve been fairly busy with all sorts of stuff, and haven’t really had time to post anything.  With that in mind, I’ll just catch up a bit on what’s been going on lately:

  • A good chunk of my weekend was spent on writing a talk for church on Sunday.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the LDS church, rather than having a minister to deliver a sermon, most of the speakers in our Sacrament meetings are members of the congregation who have been assigned to speak by a member of the Bishopric, and my turn to speak came up this week.  I can’t recall the last time that I actually did one of these, and I don’t necessarily consider public speaking to be one of my strong suits, but in spite of that I thought that the results turned out reasonably well.  This was in addition to the other duties I have at church which include making the weekly bulletin and teaching a class once a month, which just happened to be this Sunday as well.  I know that the Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest, but sometimes it seems like I find myself doing more work on a Sunday than I do on any other day of the week.  I actually don’t mind doing all this stuff though.
  • Thanks to a bargain that I found over at a couple of weeks back, on Friday I finally made the switch from Comcast’s DVR box to a Tivo HD that I have been contemplating ever since Comcast switched the DVR interface from the MSTV software they were using (which was buggy as heck, but relatively easy to use) to their own stuff (which is somewhat less buggy, but just way too much of a pain to deal with.)  I have to say that I was actually surprised by how little hassle making the switch was.  A quick trip over to the local Comcast office to swap the DVR for a CableCard took less than ten minutes (the fact that I live only a couple of blocks from the office helped there) and a twenty-minute call to Comcast support got the CableCard activated, and I was up in about an hour total.  I’m still getting used to the Tivo interface (although it’s definitely easier to deal with than Comcast’s stuff) and I need to figure out why TivoToGo takes an hour and a half to transfer a half hour program and hogs the CPU on the desktop machine in the proces, but so far so good…  More on this later.
  • On Saturday evening, my Dad and my brother came over to my place to watch the opening race of the Formula 1 season from Australia.  We had planned to spend a bit of time playing Rock Band before the race began (no plans to quit my day job anytime soon,) and it was decided that it would be easier to just have people come to my place instead of having me haul all the Xbox stuff to my parents’ house for this.  Of course, this made it necessary to do a bit of last-minute panic cleaning so it doesn’t look like I’m a total slob when other people come over, but I’d been putting that off for a bit anyway, so it needed to be done.  As for the race, it turned out rather interesting, with significantly less cars finishing the race than started it.

More regular posts should resume shortly.

March 13, 2008

Step 1: Stop Being a Complete Idiot

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 6:55 pm

You would have thought that the whole Dummies book craze would have fallen out of favor by now, but it seems that the things are still all over the place, dispensing all kinds of advice that you probably wouldn’t need if you had two functioning brain cells in your head.  In addition to the books on just about any subject that you can think of, the companies who put out these things have reached out to the supermarket tabloid demographic and started putting out smaller checkout-sized versions of some of there, um, most popular titles.  Among several other pamphlets chock full of potentially dubious advice, this one in particular stood out:

It’s the Complete Idiot’s Guide to a Healthy Relationship.  Not that I’d be considerd an expert on the subject of relationships by any stretch of the imagination (far from it in fact,) but I’d like to think that I’ve at least reached a level where something like this would not be necessary.  Just be warned, if you don’t pay enough attention to the advice given in this book (more of a pamphlet really,) you may end up needing a copy of  Divorce for Dummies, and that one happens to be a lot more expensive than this.   

March 10, 2008

Totem Lake Mall: An Update and Info Dump

Filed under: History, Kirkland, Malls — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:28 pm

 Update:  Yeah, it’s still empty.  The fly-by-night ink store in the lower mall shut down and it looks like a small closeout store is currently occupying the former Grab Bag location for the time being, but there’s not much to report.  The City of Kirkland hasn’t reported anything  new with regards to the redevelopment plans, and the DDR webpage for the mall hasn’t even bothered to update to reflect the closing of the CompUSA store more than a year ago. 

With that out of the way, I would like to go ahead and give a quick summary of what I have been able to learn so far with regards to the history of this mall.  When I originally wrote my Totem Lake Mall profile, just about all I had to work with was a mostly empty mall sitting in the middle of Kirkland and a few random facts from a Wikipedia article.  Since I wrote that post, it has become one of the more popular ones on my Blog, since information on this mall seems to be rather scarce on the Web.  Since then, I have begun doing some research into the mall and its history in order to show the mall in better days, and give some more insight into how the property has reached its present state.  I intend to do the same with the other malls in the area (I am trying to collect info on the history of Crossroads now, although I haven’t found a lot there yet.  Factoria Mall and Bellevue Square will come later.)  Most of what I have found so far has come from some (admittedly brief) searching in microfilm archives from the East Side Journal, which was a weekly newspaper based out of Kirkland at the time.  The summary can be found after the jump.


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