The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 31, 2008

Sometimes Too Much Technology Just Isn’t Enough

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Technology — Brian Lutz @ 10:53 pm

As I have mentioned in other posts here, I attend a young single adult ward in my church (I’ve got the “single adult” part pretty well figured out, but I’m really pushing it on the “young” part of that these days.)  In my church, the members of the congregation receive callings to serve in various capacities within the ward, from the bishop and other leaders of the ward (the church has no paid clergy,) to the teachers for Sunday School and other groups, all the way down to the greeters at the chapel doors when people enter for their meetings.  Currently, my calling within the ward is to be the communications director, which mostly involves creating the weekly bulletin passed out at Sacrament meeting.  In general, callings in the church tend to be somewhat temporary in nature, and it is not unusual for someone to go through a number of different callings in a relatively short amount of time, but for one reason or another I have had this particular calling for a number of years now in two different wards that I have attended during that time.  I have to figure that either I haven’t gotten enough practice at the whole bulletin thing yet and they’re keeping me there until I manage to get something right, or I did manage to get it right at some point and they’re keeping me there because of that.  I can’t seem to figure out which of those is more likely.

Because a lot of the information that gets printed in the bulletin isn’t finalized until the Ward Council meeting an hour before Sacrament, I have to finish filling in the information during the meeting and print out the bulletin in the Ward Clerk’s office before taking it over to the copier in the library to duplicate.  There was a time that I swore that I would never for any reason bring a notebook computer to church, but apparently someone had other ideas about that one, and now I bring my notebook to this meeting on a weekly basis (but don’t bring it to the other meetings unless I get really lazy when teaching a lesson and decide to resort to multimedia.)  Either way, the arrangement usually works out reasonably well, but every so often something comes up and tosses the proverbial monkey wrench into the works.  Today was one of those days.

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August 28, 2008

The Output Square Shaft Whirled at Once, or Your Money Back

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:59 am

This is an item that I  meant to post several months ago, but never got around to posting at the time.  It comes from my brother Jared, who works for the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association as a groundskeeper, responsible for maintaining the Sixty Acres soccer complex in the Sammamish Valley on the outskirts of Redmond.  There are sixteen soccer fields at Sixty Acres,  and the demands of maintaining such a large complex require a significant amount of heavy machinery and farm equipment to keep the fields in shape.  Between all the mowers, utility vehicles, irrigators and big tractors needed for the job, it’s inevitable that stuff is going to break down, which means that the job requires its fair share of wrench-turning. 

For some unknown genetic reason, my two brothers managed to inherit my Dad’s mechanical skills and uncanny ability to fix anything with an engine in it. I, on the other hand, got my Dad’s technical and computer skills but can barely manage to change the oil in my car without breaking stuff.  This means that it’s rare that I make use of any tools more complicated than a Phillips screwdriver and a roll of duct tape. My Dad has a rather impressive collection of hand and power tools if the need for such things arises (on the plus side, I can usually put together Ikea furniture in only 3 or 4 tries.)  Although there’s something to be said for a nice set of quality tools, every once in a while you just need something that’ll do the job for cheap.  I’m guessing the item in question here probably falls into the latter category.

The tool itself is an impact wrench designed to be powered by the cigarette lighter plug in a car.  A typical no-name product from a factory in a town you’ve probably never heard of, and probably purchased from Harbor Freight Tools, which is usually where inexpensive no-name tools come from around here (if I had to guess, I’d say this is probably one of these.)  I suspect that something like this probably wouldn’t work nearly as well as a more standard pneumatic impact wrench for removing or installing lug nuts, but I’d guess most people don’t have those available to them when they’re out in the middle of nowhere. It looks like the type of thing that would be handy to have around in case of a flat tire, provided that you could actually find somewhere in the car to store the thing.  It should be pretty easy to figure out what it is, and what you’d use it for, but how do you use it?  The manual should explain it… I think:

Wait a minute…  So does this mean I should hold the another big end plug to insert the cigarette lighter socket, or should I insert the another short wire’s end socket?  And why do I have to buckle the start button with a forefinger, the output square shaft whirled at once?  What happens if I use another part of the finger to whirled the output square shaft at once?  I’m confused now…

If I press down the center of the button, it whirled what direction?  And if the working can start only when the output square shaft has been inserted into the socket reliable, what the heck have we been doing all this whirling for anyway?  Maybe we’re supposed to get ourselves really dizzy before we use this thing, just to make the whole tire-changing process a bit more interesting (although I’m pretty sure there aren’t any instructions here that say anything about wandering into oncoming traffic, thankfully.)  Apparently the tire nuts are need to loose or tighten, but not all that badly.  Once you’ve finished all the impromptu whirling and you’ve got the output square shaft into the socket reliable, you’ll be under the normal working condition.  At this point, a working or a re-tighten it again will appear, but only for a little while.  I’d recommend bringing a net so you can catch the working, but the re-tighten it again is probably just going to be way too fast.

And if you managed to make any sense of that last sentence (good luck with that one,) here are a few points for attention.  Just whirled the output square shaft with a normal connecting and you should be fine, just as long as the vibration accompanied with the working time doesn’t make the power connections in bad condition.  And be sure to preserve the wrench, but make sure it’s dry while you’re preserving it (just keep the thing buried in a big box full of salt while you’re not using it and you should be fine, I’m sure.)  Just follow these easy instructions, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of whirling and normal working condition, and the output square shaft will always remain in the socket reliable.

Um…. Yeah.  That made no sense whatsoever.  I’m pretty sure when you’re buying power tools  for twenty bucks you probably shouldn’t expect the manual to get much more attention than having someone in the factory toss the text through Google translator, but this manual takes a tool that should theoretically be pretty easy to figure out and provides instructions that complicate the heck out of the process.  It’s probably a good thing that this manual didn’t bother listing any of the 73 different ways you could theoretically manage to accidentally kill yourself with one of these things, because given the quality of the instructions provided here, it doesn’t seem like it would be too hard for someone to inadvertently discover one of them while they were trying to figure the thing out.

August 22, 2008

The Marymoor Dog Park Revisited

Filed under: Dogs, Redmond — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:00 pm

Wait, you mean it isn't a prairie dog park?

The last time I was here dogsitting back in April, I put together a brief tour of the huge off-leash dog area over at Marymoor Park here in Redmond.  As I said when I previously wrote about the dog park, having a huge place to allow the dogs to run around unleashed makes the job a lot easier, especially when you have high-maintenance dogs like Beagles to deal with.  During the warm weather months, this place can be especially popular, although even on the dreariest of days (a couple of which seem to have shown up this week) you’ll find the diehards and their canine companions out for their morning walk in spite of the weather.

As with many other things, the dog park tends to change with the seasons, and a few months can change quite a bit out here.  To show some of these changes, I thought i’d take a few more photos  and show some of the changes that come with the season.  After the jump, a look at the dog park in late Summer.

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August 20, 2008

Well, So Much For My “It Never Rains Here in August” Theory

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:42 pm

I’m not sure if my post on Saturday counted as using up my monthly weather complaint post, but just in case, I think I might have one saved up from July that I can toss in here as needed.  Around here, August weather tends to be more along the lines of the heat wave that we saw last weekend, and it is rare for this area to get any significant amount of rain at all during August.  Things might get cloudy at times, but for many of the years that I have lived here, any rain that occurs during August tends to be in the form of halfhearted sprinkles.  Since the weekend heat wave, the weather has taken a distinct turn toward the rainy side of things, starting with some thunderstorms on Sunday evening and a decent amount of rain and wind to accompany them, and eventually leading up to a thorough drenching as I went home from work today, which you see here. 

According to Scott Sistek over at the KOMO Weather Blog, this type of weather pattern actually isn’t all that unusual…  For November.  Fortunately, we’re not getting quite that cold around here, but this type of weather tends to be a bit of a mixed blessing.  On one hand, this system did a pretty good job of getting rid of that heat wave over the weekend, and the rain definitely helps to green up the area, but when you get a significant rain event like this right in the middle of August,  it sure makes it seem like you’re getting shortchanged a bit on the whole Summer thing.  Combine that with the fact that it;s starting to get well into the later part of Summer, and you start to get to the point where you take a mental accounting of what you still need to do during the Summer, and realize that there’s no way you’re going to be able to get half the stuff done in the time remaining.

For the time being, I’ve got slightly more immediate things to deal with though, specifically the fact that I’m taking care of Imola and Minardi this week.  So far, I’ve been lucky that I’ve managed to avoid getting rained on at the dog park (like happened the last time I was over here dogsitting back in April,) but with the pouring rain I ran into on the way home from work this evening, I was worried that I was going to need to find myself a rowboat to take the dogs out on their walk.  Fortunately, we managed to catch a break in the weather, and made it through the evening walk in relative dryness.  With the weather expected to improve over the course of the rest of the week, we can only hope that drier times are ahead.

On the other hand, the big storms like this do make for some interesting cloud formations.  Unfortunately, I only had my cellphone camera when I took this, so it doesn’t really show the clouds very well.  I’ve been meaning to bring my real camera back over to the dog park and take a few more photos to show some of the effects of the change of season on the place.  Maybe the place might stay dry for a while this time…

August 16, 2008

Would You Like Fires With That?

Filed under: Food, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:36 pm

Oops, looks like someone forgot to proofread the sign.  I suppose this means it would be just a bit too much to ask for them to get my order correct?

Welcome to the Dog Days of August – Now With Actual Dogs

Filed under: Dogs — Brian Lutz @ 9:53 pm

According to Wikipedia, The term “Dog Days” dates back to Ancient Greek times, and generally refers to the warmest period of the year, roughly between early July and the middle of August (which was generally believed to have been caused by Sirius, which at the time rose in the northern Hemisphere sky at roughly the same time as sunrise.)  The ancients seemed to ascribe a particular evil to this period of the year, with one account calling it a time “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”  These days, we seem to have a lot fewer wrathful gods around to cause trouble than there were in ancient times, so we generally don’t think of any particular time of year as being evil.  Even so, in modern usage the Dog Days of August (as the phrase is more commonly rendered these days) are still regarded as something of a time of laziness and inactivity.  And for some reason, I ended up with actual dogs this year. 

In case you somehow have managed to avoid noticing, it’s been freakin’ hot around here the past couple of days.  Temperatures have been regularly reaching the nineties for most of the week, and there’s been plenty of humidity to go around generally making it generally hot and sweaty around here.  Thanks to the modern miracles of air conditioning, this has been a bit more tolerable than usual this year (Back when I was driving my old beater Camry with no air conditioning, an unreliable fan and windows with broken roll-down mechanisms, this weather wasn’t all that much fun to drive in,) but when it’s this hot and this humid, it doesn’t take long for an unoccupied car to turn into an oven, which means that if you’re around town doing short errands you’re probably going to spend a lot less time in air-conditioned bliss than you’d like.  Then there’s the little issue of what you’re supposed to do when you’re not in the car.  Around here, air conditioning is something that’s not generally considered to be a necessity, so mosr homes don’t have it.  This means that the cooling in my apartment is provided primarily by a pair of fans which push air around with varying amounts of success.  Fortunately, my apartment also stays somewhat cooler than some places due to limited exposure to direct sunlight, even though it can still get uncomfortably warm, especially during the night.  Nothing I can’t deal with, but it can make it a bit tough to get to sleep on some nights.

Oh, and about the dog part:  Somehow my parents managed to miss the memo about going to Arizona in the middle of the Summer, and are currently down near Tucson visiting my grandmother.  Surprisingly enough, the weather down there isn’t much hotter right now than it is here, although that probably has something to do with the severe thunderstorm warnings going on down there right now.  That doesn’t help out much when it’s still expected to hit 95 tomorrow (when we should be cooling down to just 85 up here tomorrow, and the forecast is currently calling for rain and 70 by Wednesday.)  With my parents out of town, that means once again for the next week or so I’ll be taking care of Imola and Minardi again.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be dogblogging the whole thing again this time around (after all, there’s only so much you can write about a couple of dogs without starting to sound like a disturbing pet person) but I might sneak in a post or two.  So far, the Dog Days seem to have induced more lethargy than madness in the localcanine population, but hopefully the rest of the week won’r provide too much opportunity fot the latter…

August 14, 2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Filed under: Random Stuff, Redmond — Brian Lutz @ 1:45 am

Good Idea:  Helping people find your business by putting out coupons at the friendly neighborhood newsstand.

Bad Idea:  Not bothering to list any addresses on the coupon that aren’t 1,200 miles away from here. 

Granted, I suspect most people who live around here are aware that K1 Speed does have a location here in Redmond (which is apparently the only one that isn’t in the Los Angeles area) and most people here know where it is.  On the other hand, if you don’t happen to know where this place is, it tends to be a bit tricky to find, and the last time I checked, I don’t think the directions to get there included driving south on I-5 until you see Mickey Mouse waving to you at the side of the road.  Not a bad place for a nice little drive once you get there, but good luck finding it…

August 9, 2008

Yeah, We’re Beer Snobs.

Filed under: Random Stuff, Seattle — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 7:25 pm

Lacking much else to do today, I took a trip into downtown Seattle this afternoon, where I went to take photos over at Pacific Place and Westlake Center as part of my ongoing mall project.  Since these two shopping centers are just a couple of blocks away from each other, and each one is relatively small compared to the suburban malls that are more prevalent in the area, I intend to profile them in the same article.  While I was over there, I noticed that a restaurant across the street from Pacific Place had this banner up in front:

Apparently the absence of Budweiser is more important to highlight than the other 25 beers that they’ve got on tap in the place.  For some reason, I suspect you’d have no problem getting a Miller or Coors here though. I’ve never eaten here, but given the decidedly lukewarm reviews for the place over at Yelp, I suspect that I’m not missing much anyway.

And yes, those are banners on the poles for PAX, coming up three weeks from today.  Just got my pass for it earlier this week, and although I don’t know how much I’m going to discuss here (my job is taking me dangerously close to a conflict of interest as far as writing about video games these days,) I do plan to at least report on something when I’m there.

Good Luck Explaining to the Mayor That You Spent Your Budget on Video Games

Filed under: Games, Redmond — Brian Lutz @ 1:31 am

Over the last couple of decades, the Seattle area has become a popular spot for video game developers, and the City of Redmond is at the forefront of this trend.  In addition to being home to Nintendo of America and Microsoft, Redmond is also home to DigiPen, a small accredited university with degree programs in real-time interactive simulation (which is really just a fancy way of saying they teach people how to make video games) and a number of other smaller game studios.  Elsewhere in the Seattle Metro area, big-name game studios such as Bungie, Valve, Gas Powered Games and PopCap Games make their home here.  Just a couple of weeks from now, the fifth annual Penny Arcade Expo will be taking place in Seattle (and yes, I will be attending.)  Back in their heyday, Sierra On-Line made their home in Bellevue, and EA also had offices in Bellevue at one point.  Even though it’s no secret that the area’s economy is driven to a large degree by high tech, most people don’t realize just how much video game development  goes on in this area.  And oddly enough, it seems like even the City of Redmond wants to get into the game.

Over at the Redmond Neighborhood Blog, it was reported that the newly created Redmond Digital Arts Festival will be taking place in October, funded partially with city and county public arts funding and partially by a number of sponsors.  Although details on some items have not yet been finalized, it appears that there will be a number of workshops and presentations (including a presentation by Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games) as well as a number of other activities.  From the looks of things, the vast majority of the content at this show is going to be highly technical, and may not be of too much interest to a general audience.  In fact, it almost seems like they’re trying to put together a (very) miniature version of the annual Game Developers Conference right here in Redmond.

While I’m sure this might be something that would be interesting to people who develop video games (as well as some people who don’t,) this strikes me as an odd thing for a city government to be getting itself involved with.  Without diving too deep into politics here, my support of funding for public art doesn’t extend much beyond the stuff that goes on the wanted posters on the post office wall, but since there are state and county mandates for public art funding around here that are unlikely to go away anytime soon, it looks like they’re going to have to spend the money on something.  Although I suspect most people out there are content to just play their video games without giving a single thought to the process that went into creating them, but it is clear that people would be interested in game development around here, so it will be interesting to see how something like this might work out.  Besides, if they weren’t doing this, they’d probably be using the money to install another hunk of unrecognizable metal in front of city hall anyway…

August 8, 2008

In Defense of the Traditional Shopping Mall – Part 1: The Reports of the Mall’s Death are Greaty Exaggerated

Filed under: Culture, Malls, shopping — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:57 pm

Over the past couple of days, I have noted that a significant number of visitors have arrived at this site from an article posted over at WorldChanging Seattle that was linked by BoingBoing.  As seems to be the case withmost of the incoming links to this site, the article deals with the decline of the traditional enclosed shopping mall, and the open-air “Town Center” type developments that are taking their place.  The article specifically touches on a few subjects (from something of an Urbanist, and to a lesser extent environmentalist perspective) that I have had sitting on my “to do” list for a while now, and there are some topics in the article that I would like to comment on.

The article over at WorldChanging (an activity that generally falls well outside of the scope of this particular website) cites a number of local malls as examples, but focuses primarily on Factoria and its upcoming redevelopment.  The overall tone of the article seems to suggest that the area’s shopping malls are on a rapid descent toward oblivion, which just isn’t the case.   The article’s claims that the malls in the area are headed down the proverbial tubes is greatly exaggerated, and even though the mixed use “town center” paradigm that the article discusses is becoming increasingly popular in the area’s shopping centers, the Seattle area’s traditional malls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  In the article below, I’ll explain why this is the case.  Since this seems to be turning out to be far longer than I originally anticipated, I will split this into several parts.  The next part will discuss some of what makes malls go into decline, and a third part will discuss some of the goals of the Urbanists with regards to “Town Center” type developments, and explain why things may not work out there quite the way that they would like them to. 

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