The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 27, 2012

Another Doggy Evening

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:15 pm

Officially, Summer has been on for about four days as of the time this is being written.  Of those three days, two of them have featured weather straight out of the March playbook, with temperatures peaking in the mid fifties and heavy rainfall.  Meanwhile, my parents (and a couple of my siblings) are down in Arizona visiting my Grandmother, where the high temperature managed to “only” get up to 98 today, and later this week should be approaching 107.  Sure I tend to complain about the weather around here every so often (hence my self-imposed limit of one post per month complaining about the weather) but I’m pretty sure I’d melt in weather like that, especially for months at a time.  About the hottest I can ever remember being was a few years ago when me and my brothers went to the American Le Mans race at Miller Motorsports Park in the middle of July.  On that particular day, the temperature hit a scorching 106 degrees at the track, and our seats spent most of the afternoon in direct sunlight.  Most of us were able to guzzle water and make through reasonably unscathed, but my brother’s then current girlfriend ended up needing treatment for heatstroke.  Given the chance, I don’t think I’d be in too much of a hurry to spend a day out in the desert in the middle of July, cool cars or otherwise.

In the meantime, I’ve been taking care of Imola and Minardi again this past weekend while my parents were out of town.  These days I don’t do this as much as I used to, but it doesn’t exactly seem like they’ve been on their best behavior this time around.  Then again, I’m not sure that what constitutes their best behavior is really all that great in the first place, so for all I know this might be their best behavior after all, and it’s still pretty bad.  That’s not to say they’ve been unusually difficult or anything (well, aside from deciding that 6:30 on a Sunday is a perfectly good time to wake up,) although as usual they do seem to enjoy barking and trying to grab food off the counter.  Every once in a while when I’m dogsitting I start to get the idea that getting a dog of my own might not be such a bad thing.  This hasn’t been one of these times.  Then again, working in a dog-friendly office at Amazon means that I do get to see a fair number of dogs during the day while I’m at work, and some of those seem like they’d make good dogs for me  (in particular, some of the Welsh Corgis in the office seem like they’d be fun to have around.)  I’ve also got a pretty good idea that taking Imola and Minardi to the office would most likely result in disaster, especially with my workspace being located right next to the kitchen on our floor of the building.  Needless to say, I don’t expect to be trying it out anytime soon.


June 13, 2012

Reinventing Disney California Adventure: An Early Look at Cars Land

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 10:38 pm

Since it opened in 2001, the Disney Californa Adventure park located next door to Disneyland has been widely considered to be a disappointment.  Although the park was the 11th most visited theme park in the world in 2011 and does have a number of notable rides (particularly Soarin’ Over Californa and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,) it has never quite been able to shake a longstanding reputation of being little more than a place to retreat to when Disneyland is too crowded.  Since 2007, a $1.1 billion expansion of the park has been underway, which so far has added such attractions to the park as Toy Story Midway Mania, the Little Mermaid Ariel’s Undersea Adventure dark ride and the World of Color nighttime show, and has resulted in major retheming efforts on a number of areas and rides (as well as some removals, most notably the Maliboomer drop tower in Paradise Pier), particularly in the Paradise Pier area.  This Friday, the five-year project to reinvent Disney California Adventure finally comes to an end as the two biggest pieces of the expansion open to the public:  The new Buena Vista Street entrance plaza and Cars Land, an event significant enough that it is being celebrated with a rededication of the entire park. 

When the walls come down and Cars Land opens to the public, it is widely expected that record crowds will converge on Cars Land, but thanks to a bit of luck in a random drawing of Disneyland Annual Passholders, I was able to get the opportunity to preview Cars Land and Buena Vista Street a few days early.  This was a good thing, because I had already made my travel arrangements roughly a month in advance, not knowing whether or not I was going to make it into this (although I had planned to take this trip whether I got into the preview or not, so mostly it ended up being a nice little bonus. ) Naturally I took my camera along with me, and after the jump, you will find a tour of Cars Land.


June 9, 2012

Fun With Three Hours of Sleep and Too Much Sugar

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 6:16 pm

(Note: Although I wrote this on the plane on the flight down this morning, thanks to some issues with the in-flight Wi-Fi I wasn’t able to post it until reaching the hotel much later. Needless to say, I am not exactly endorsing the sleep-deprived approach to theme park touring. Crowds are not too bad, and I actually managed to get quite a bit done (I doubt the same can be said of things a week from now.) Oh, and the rental car I got was so new that the odometer had less than three miles on it. Now I’m almost afraid to drive the thing…)

Although I don’t exactly live the kind of jet-setting lifestyle that you always seem to hear about allegedly cool people living, It occurs to me that I do travel a lot more these days than I used to. Then again, the last year or so has been a bit of an exception to my normal travel habits. Somehow I suspect I won’t be taking four (well, three-and-a-half if you want to be technical) cruises within a year again anytime soon. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t do so if the opportunity arose, but with a job that doesn’t allow nearly that much vacation time and what I suspect will be some pretty significant pending changes to my life situation, it isn’t looking likely these days.

Even so, I do take the opportunity to get away for a bit when I can, and as I write this I am on a Virgin America flight to Los Angeles, headed for a weekend getaway to Disneyland. And yes, it seems like I end up there a lot these days too. Once again, I am traveling solo (although if it wasn’t for the fact that I bought an Annual Pass last year I don’t think I would be taking this trip at all) but I am planning to take another trip in August with friends before the pass expires (and gets a heck of a lot more expensive to renew). Given the fact that I am back in a contract position at my job right now, vacation time has once again proven elusive, so I need to take these quick getaways where I can. I suspect (or at least hope) that my current situation will be temporary, and that I will be back into something a bit more stable soon, but for now I think it’s best to just go with the flow and let things happen how they will. Even so, I do still find time to sneak away for a long weekend every once in a while, although the relatively short time does mean my options for vacation destinations are a bit limited.

Unlike most of the Disneyland trips I take, I don’t intend to spend the whole time rushing around from ride to ride to try to cram in everything I can this time around. I’ve tried that approach many times, and mostly it just wears you out. When you are on your own you can usually just deal with it and soldier on, but trying to take that approach in a group (especially with kids) is just asking for trouble. In particular, Epcot over at Disney World has developed a bit of notoriety among the various Disney junkies on the boards I read as being the Meltdowniest Place on Earth, and I can see why. It’s a huge park, it takes forever to walk from one ride to another, and I suspect a lot of kids would be bored to tears by most of the stuff in the World Showcase. On this particular trip, I intend to take a more casual approach than I usually do, mostly trying to keep myself from needing a vacation to get away from my vacation. Knowing that I will most likely be back in August definitely helps with that one.

On the other hand, thanks to a bit of luck, on this trip I will actually be getting a rare chance to see all the new stuff at California Adventure just a little bit before the general public gets to. On Monday Disney is doing a preview of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street for a small group of Annual Passholders (well, apparently about 10,000 or so, but given the fact that over a million people have Annual Passes at Disneyland these days that’s comparatively tiny) and I was one of the ones who managed to actually get in. And yes, I intend to blog about it. So far, the reviews from the few people who have had a chance to see it have been pretty positive, and huge crowds are expected when it officially opens next Friday. Given the fact that people who entered the lottery for a spot in the preview didn’t get notified until just about a week and a half ago whether to not they got in (and from what I read over at DISBoards, most of them didn’t) I actually had to make my travel arrangements before I would find out whether I got in or not. I had intended to take this trip whether I made it into the preview or not (mostly because I just needed the excuse to get away for a bit) but being able to get into the preview does add a nice little bonus. Anyway, you will be seeing more about this next week when I get home,

In the meantime, I am currently running on about three hours of sleep last night, which means that I should be nice and loopy right around the time all the fun stuff starts happening in the parks this evening. Either that, or I’ll end up zonked out on a park bench in the middle of Adventureland while wearing a pair of Mickey ears with someone else’s name embroidered on them. I suppose that it would at least make for an interesting story….

June 7, 2012

The Sledgehammer Version 2.0: Bringing You Quality Drivel For Five Years

Filed under: Site Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:48 am

On June 6th 2007,  a random Blog appeared on WordPress, presumably one of hundreds to have been created on that particular day.  At the time, I was mostly looking for a place to write a few things here and there, and had a few specific topics in mind that I would like to discuss.  I had envisioned this Blog acting mostly as a revival of some of my earlier efforts at writing things on the Internet.  In retrospect, trying to emulate my earlier works proved not to be such a great idea, given the fact that the vast majority of my older stuff just happens to be pretty horrible.  Somewhere out there in the Ether, all my old stuff is floating around somewhere, but to be honest, I think I’m, better off just letting it remain obscure.  Ultimately, it was a good thing that the content of this particular Blog quickly departed from my earlier works, since I suspect that if I still wrote now like I wrote back then the contents of this Blog would consist mostly of unreadable drivel.  That’s not to say it doesn’t consist of drivel now, but at least I’d like to think that it’s quality drivel.  For example, unlike my previous efforts, I do actually manage to spellcheck my posts most of the time before I post them (and then I usually catch something I missed anyway, which I then have to go back and hastily edit before someone sees it.)  This means that instead of my former combination of cynicism and frequent typos, now I usually stick to just the cynicism.  Actually, over the years I’ve tried to become less cynical as well, mostly because it doesn’t really do anything but annoy people.  So without (most of) the typos and the cynicism, that leaves…  Well, something anyway.

Fast forward five years, and somehow I’m still at it.  Admittedly, I tend not to write nearly as much as I used to these days, but I do make an effort to try to write as often as time (and the occasionally meager flow of ideas in my head) permit.   If you told me five years ago that I would still be at it now, I probably would have doubted it, given the fact that my previous efforts at creating and maintaining a website and Blogging had fizzled out right around the two-year mark.  Not long after I started this one a number of family members and other relatives started Blogs of their own, but most of those have fallen by the wayside too (although a couple of my sisters do still update theirs every once in a while, mostly with family stuff.)  When I started this one, I did have some vague idea that I may try to make money off of Blogging someday, and perhaps if I had been more diligent with pursuing that path I could have eventually made it, but ultimately I think I’ve decided that it’s best to just keep this as a hobby for now.  That way, I don’t have to worry about deadlines (although I do try to keep some rough guidelines with regards to post frequency and post length) and since I’m already making a pretty decent living off of my regular employment. I just haven’t seen the need to bother with trying to monetize anything here. 

Besides, when it all boils down, even though I do like to have an audience to write for, ultimately the stuff I post here is intended as much to serve as a personal history for myself and my future descendants as it is to be read by the general public.  I’ve never been all that good at keeping a personal journal (the fact that my handwriting was generally pretty horrible back when I did keep  a physical journal probably doesn’t help matters much, I can barely read any of the things these days,) but I do find that if I write for an audience I generally do a better job of it.  Nonetheless, the biggest challenge I have with my writing is finding enough interesting content to keep the Blog updated on a (mostly) regular basis.  I have a tendency to come up with a lot of ideas for things, but the difference between having an idea and being able to get enough out of that idea to write a 1,000-word Blog post out of it can be difficult to deal with at times, especially given my frequent tendencies toward distractibility.  On the other hand, if I can come up with something that just clicks, I find that the material can just flow.  Those times are rare, but some of my best posts come from those situations.  I also find that some of my favorite posts here are the ones that are well researched, and dig into things that may not be well documented on the Internet.  In fact, I’ve found that those types of posts have generally been the most successful ones here in terms of generating page views and comments.  To be honest, most of the popular posts on this Blog were things that I almost stumbled onto by accident.  So if you’re looking for some advice on how to write a successful Blog, the first thing I would recommend (besides finding a successful Blog somewhere and asking them) is to find a topic that isn’t covered well on the Internet, and write about that.  There’s a good chance that in your day-to-day web surfing, at some point you’ll come across something that you’re looking for, but can’t find much good info on.  If you can write a reasonable post on the topic and get it into the search engines, there’s a good chance you can get steady traffic for quite a long time out of that.  Then again, it can be trickier to do this than it sounds.  For example, in the over 550 posts I’ve written on this Blog, I’d say I’ve only managed to have this work about 4 or 5 times, and at least two of those were completely by accident. 

Anyway, as you might know if you’ve been reading this Blog for a while,  I use the Blog’s anniversary as something of a checkpoint, being something I do twice a year at the beginning and at roughly the midpoint of the year (not quite, but close enough.)  To be honest, I’ve found I don’t care as much about my Blog’s statistics as I used to, but I find it’s still a useful thing to keep for reference.  So, without further ado, here’s a few statistics since the beginning of the year: 

  • Total Posts(all time, including this one):  553
  • Total Posts (So far in 2012): 19
  • Total Comments (all time):  866
  • Total  Page Views (all time):  230,732
  • Total Page Views (So far in 2012): 19,137
  • 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 (So far in 2012):  121

Top Posts (Last 365 days:)

Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates   6,206
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall   2,793
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations   1,426
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall   1,351
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09)   1,213
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home   1,142
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets   1,095
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall   899
Off the Beaten Path: The World’s First KFC in Murray Utah   764
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall   691

Top Posts (All Time):

Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall   26,248
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates   14,037
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations   10,395
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall   10,072
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall   6,911
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09)   6,682
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets   5,613
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall   4,711
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home   3,929
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway   3,164

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has been reading, and hope you’ll stick around.  Will this Blog still be around in another five years?  It’s a bit too soon to tell, but I suspect that in one form or another it will be.  I get the sneaking some interesting things might even happen between now and then.  Stay tuned…

June 3, 2012

Home is… Well, Somewhere Anyway.

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:46 am

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Well OK, it’s that time of year too, but it’s also the time of year when the lease on my apartment is going to be coming up for renewal soon, which means that I need to figure out where the heck I’m going to be living for the next year (or so.)  Thankfully the apartment management at my current place does a pretty good job of providing their renewal information well in advance so I have plenty of time to consider things, but the story is pretty predictable:  It’s not cheap to live in Downtown Bellevue, and it sure as heck isn’t getting any cheaper around here either.  That’s not to say it wouldn’t be doable under the right circumstances, but for as much as I enjoy living here, it’s pretty clear I could go just about anywhere (besides Downtown Seattle, but I have no interest in living over there anyway) and get a bigger apartment for less rent than I’m paying now.  And based on doing a bit of searching, it seems highly unlikely I’m going to find a better deal than I’ve got now in Downtown.

I also no longer have the advantage of being able to walk three blocks to work like I did when I worked here in Bellevue, and given the aforementioned lack of interest in living in Seattle, it means I’m pretty much looking at a daily commute of at least 45 minutes in each direction from just about anywhere I go.  Although the commute isn’t quite as bad as I thought it might be back when I took my current contract at Amazon, I have to say that the ability to easily walk to work and back spoiled me a bit.  And although I was never all that impressed with the lunch choices available in Downtown Bellevue when I worked here, it’s still a lot better over here than what’s available in South Lake Union where I’m working now.  It’s actually even been enough to get me to start bringing my own lunches to work a couple of times a week, and anyone who has known me for long enough knows that for quite a long time I’ve been the type of person who never brings his own lunch to work.  Sure, there’s the much touted food truck scene in the neighborhood, but with only a couple of exceptions (most notably the taco truck that parks in front of my building each day,) the overall impression I’ve gotten of the food trucks I’ve tried is that they’re trying to sell you $5 worth of food for $12.  Nonetheless, since I have no intention of ever living over there it’s all pretty much academic anyway.  In theory, while I lived and worked here in the same neighborhood I wasn’t spending anything on commuting, but it’s pretty clear that the ability to live that close to work was a luxury, and not a particularly cheap one at that. 

And even with as much as I’ve enjoyed living here, it’s not been without its problems, most of them being related to the plumbing.  Although I haven’t found myself with any major incident like soaked carpets due to a leaky water heater (given the fact that this building has a centralized water heating system, that would actually be pretty impressive and pretty disastrous at the same time) I’ve had a number of minor issues with the plumbing, which leads me to suspect that whoever did it when the place was built didn’t do a very good job of it.  There’s also the creaky floor underneath the bathtub, and a few of the cabinets and fixtures that have had problems that I’d think you really shouldn’t be experiencing in a building that’s only three years old.  Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things it’s all been pretty minor, and it’s still a pretty nice place.  If I did move into a different place I think I’d also have a bit of a hard time giving up the air conditioning I’ve got here, but then again I do tend to be a bit of a wimp when it comes to the heat, and the big windows in the place mean that if I didn’t have the AC the place would be one big oven.  Ultimately, if it wasn’t for the impending increase in what’s already a pretty high rent I’d renew here in a heartbeat, but when reality gets factored in, it becomes a lot more difficult (albeit not completely impossible) to justify.

And then, there’s always the option of buying a house, which is what pretty much everyone I’ve talked about this with has told me I should do.  To be honest, I’m not sure that’s an option just yet, especially since it seems like quite a few other things in my life seem to be in a proverbial holding pattern right now.  As I’ve discussed in a couple of other posts, there are number of potential opportunities that I have going on right now where things could easily go in one of two different directions, but it’s really too soon to tell where any of them are really headed.  Although I am optimistic that ultimately things will work out in a reasonably advantageous manner, I’m not sure it’s a particularly good time to be introducing additional complications into the mix right now, and there are few things out there which are as good at adding complications to things as home ownership.  To be honest, I’m not even sure where I would be looking to buy a house, much less what I’d be buying.  I’ve looked a little bit at buying in this neighborhood, but even though I can afford to rent in this neighborhood, I think buying a place around here might be just a little bit out of my league right now.  Maybe I could swing it after I’ve written a bestselling novel and sold off the movie rights or something like that, but for the time being I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to look a bit farther out.  Either way, I don’t think it’s going to happen right now, although it’s definitely on the radar at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Ultimately, when I ask myself where I should be living when all this is said and done, I’m not sure there’s any answer that is completely right to that question.  I don’t think I’d need something like a big waterfront mansion or anything ridiculous like that, but I suspect that no matter what I end up deciding on there’s going to be some degree of compromise involved.  You can get something nice, you can get something affordable, or you can get something in a good location.  If you’re lucky, you might even be able to pick two of those.  At this point, all I know is that I’ve got to pick something, and I’ve got to pick it soon.

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