The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 23, 2013

The Fine Art of Setting Money on Fire

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:09 am

Not just yet, but getting there…

Well, once again it’s the middle of June.  And that means that once again, the Fourth of July is right around the corner.  As you can probably guess from some of my earlier posts on the subject, this is easily my favorite holiday of the year.  Sure, some of the other ones are nice, but last time I checked, I tend to get in trouble if I try to set things on fire on Christmas or Valentine’s Day (Long story, don’t ask.)  It’s also the one holiday that I have an occasional tendency to go overboard on, as has been evidenced by some of the gigantic piles of fireworks at previous family get-togethers.  Then again, it doesn’t take too much searching on the Internet to find people who are putting far more into their fireworks shows than even I’d do.  For example, here’s a show from a couple of years ago down in Bonney Lake that makes even our Culdesac of Carnage look like a safe-and-sane value pack:

Of course, by the time you’re motivated enough to put a show like that together, you’re pretty much going to have to start buying your stuff wholesale.  In comments on another YouTube video showing the setup for all that, the person responsible for that show puts the cost around $5,000, although half of it is coming from donations from the neighbors.  All the stuff used there is 1.4g consumer fireworks, but by the time you’re spending that much you’re getting pretty close to 1.3g (professional fireworks) territory.  On one hand, I’m pretty sure I could get much better bang for the buck (literally) by contributing to something like that.  On the other hand, I’d much rather be the one lighting stuff than just watching someone else do it.  There’s just some sort of primal satisfaction to watching some amazing display of color up in the sky and knowing that you were the one that lit it off.  Combined with the fact that the Fourth of July is one of the few opportunities we get to really go a little wild with things (complete with an easily captivated audience of young and impressionable minds to corrupt,) and it’s no surprise that the Vanderhoeven 4th of July keeps getting bigger every year.

Of course, over time, it also starts to become clear that there’s more to the Fourth of July than just random reckless pyromania.  As far as I can tell, we’ve been doing the annual Fourth of July get-together at my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mike’s house every year since 2008 now, and every year the pile of fireworks has gotten larger and larger.  It’s started getting to the point in recent years where we had so much stuff that we were mostly lighting it all off to get rid of it.  It’s one thing to be doing that when it’s mostly little stuff you’re lighting off, but when you start finding yourself doing the same thing with Excalibur shells, that’s when it’s time to start rethinking your approach to the whole fireworks thing.

For  a number of years now, I’ve wanted to try out some of the bigger cakes on offer at the various stands, but have not bothered to do so previously, owing mostly to the ridiculous price tags attached to most of them.  It’s one thing to drop $60 on a 24-shot box of Excaliburs or some other big canister shell, because you at least get 24 satisfying large shots that you can spread out throughout the show.  If you’re putting that same $60 price tag on a single 500-gram cake (which is pretty typical for a lot of the 500-gram cakes at Boom City) which you light once and have it last all of a minute (although they do look pretty impressive in the process) you’re investing a pretty big chunk of your fireworks budget on one single item.  Granted, a lot of the big 500-gram cakes tend to be referred to as “finale cakes” because they’re intended primarily to act as a grand finale to a backyard fireworks show, but an even bigger problem with these cakes is that you’re basically shopping blind in a lot of cases.

This is a pretty typical scene of what you see when you arrive at the fireworks stand.  Lots of colorful graphics, and basically zero information on what any of it actually does.  Sure you can get recommendations from the stand owner, but I suspect that even they have trouble keeping track of that many different items all at once.  And while you could probably just buy from their recommendations and get a pretty decent show out of the deal, It still seems like there’s a better way.  And that’s where the power of the Internet comes in.

One of my longstanding theories about researching things is that if you do a bit of searching, you can find a bulletin board on the web about just about any subject you could think of, filled with people far more knowledgeable than yourself that can be used as a valuable source of information (although this does come with the caveat that you need to be able to filter at times for excessive fanaticism.)  It didn’t take long to find out where all the pyros hang out (that’s pyrotechnicians not (necessarily) pyromaniacs,) and from there it took just a little bit of browsing to not only find some really good recommendations for both 200-gram and 500-gram cakes, but also to find some much better sources to buy fireworks from than the reservation stands, with much larger (and higher quality) selections than you’re going to find on the usual stands.  And most importantly, prices on things that put the reservation stands to shame.  Granted, it’s still more expensive than buying wholesale, but there’s no point in stand owners even bothering with the whole thing if they can’t make a profit out of it, right?

Even with better sources to buy fireworks from, there’s still the problem of figuring out what things do.  Which is also solved quite nicely, thanks to the power of YouTube.  A quick search can bring up a video of just about any firework you can think of being set off, all the way from the 3-for-a-dollar mini fountains to the big 500-gram cakes and giant nine-on-a-board shells that will run you big bucks even in the best of circumstances.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent hours going through YouTube videos of fireworks, watching videos to audition fireworks (often several times to make sure I know what I’m getting) and cross-referencing them to a list of inventory and prices, and ultimately making a list for a pre-order to pick up the Saturday before the 4th.  Even though I am throwing a box of Excaliburs into the mix (and paying $15 less than I did last year for a box,) I’m going for a quality over quantity approach this year.  Sure there won’t be as many fuses to light this year as there have been in the past (although I suspect there will be no shortage there either), it will give me the chance to just sit back and watch for a bit while the others light their stuff, then break out the big stuff later on.  And believe me, there’s going to be some big stuff in there.  Even if you are doing something as ridiculous as basically burning money for fun and profit, you’ll have a lot more fun doing it if you just do a bit of homework first.

Just in case anyone was wondering, the Vanderhoeven Fourth of July might be a little ridiculous this year.  Just saying…

(Quick plug:  If you want some of the big stuff at shockingly non-ridiculous  prices, give Stinky’s Fireworks in Stanwood a try.  It’s where I’m getting most of my stuff from this year, and quite possibly for years to come.)

June 10, 2013

Just Another Sunday on the Couch Watching NASCAR

Filed under: Cars, Sports, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 12:19 am

Auto racing has always been one of those things for me that I tend to enjoy watching (and participating in the very limited occasions when I get to do so, mostly in video games and the occasional go-karting outing) but that I’ve never gotten myself particularly involved in.  This comes mostly from my Dad’s tendency to spend Sunday afternoons on the couch watching races while we were growing up, a habit which continues to this day.  Although we got exposed to all sorts of different types of races and different series over the years, it was NASCAR that tended to dominate the Sunday afternoon viewing, mostly because that what was on most of the time.  Over time we did tend to pick a few favorite drivers on the circuit (mostly the Roush drivers, and Mark Martin in particular) but mostly we tended to end up rooting more for certain drivers to lose and/or end up in the wall or in the pits with a blown engine.  Originally Dale Earnhardt was by and large the chosen bete noir in the Lutz household, but he was soon replaced by Jeff Gordon, who then eventually gave way to Jimmie Johnson and the other Hendrick drivers…  Basically whoever happened to be ending up in Victory Lane a lot driving a Chevy.  Needless to say, we ended up disappointed a lot.

As for actually going to the races, I have only been to two of them previously, both at Phoenix in the early Nineties when we still lived in New Mexico.  On one of those occasions, we actually ended up getting our tickets from a member of Dale Earnhardt’s crew who was handing out some of their extras while we were waiting in line to get a ticket for one of my friends who had joined us at the last minute.  We already had tickets, but when we saw that the freebie ticket was in a prime location on the front stretch that was much better than ours in the Turn 3 grandstands, we were able to trade our other tickets for ones in the same location.  Sure enough, Earnhardt won that race, but I don’t think we complained too much about that one.  Since then I’ve been meaning for a while to try to attend another NASCAR race, but the opportunity hasn’t ever really presented itself.  Until now.

Thanks to a surprisingly large number of coincidences, me and my parents just happened to find ourselves in the right place at the right time to get a rather unique opportunity to watch the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway from a condo overlooking the track in turn 1.  First of all, we happened to be in the general vicinity, thanks to my brother’s wedding the day before the race.  Second, we happened to be in Charlotte the day of the race, since my brother’s return flight was there.  Third, my friends were already there with their parents, who own the condo in the first place (my friends’ father has a business that involves working with NASCAR teams on a regular basis,) who extended the invitation for us to join them to watch the race from their condo.   Thanks to their invitation and all the various coincidences that had to happen to get there in the first place, we had the privilege of experiencing a NASCAR race from what just may be the best seats in the house that are not traveling at over 180 miles per hour.  Naturally, I took plenty of photos.  After the jump, a look at some of the sights of a NASCAR race, as seen from on high (and down low.)


June 6, 2013

In Dog Years, This Blog Would Be Middle Aged By Now

Filed under: Site Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:34 pm

As of today, this Blog is now officially six years old, which, in Internet time, makes it practically ancient by now.  And although I haven’t got quite as much time as I would like to devote to the Blog these days, I’m still here, and still posting stuff.  Granted, I seem to find myself writing for a smaller audience than I used to these days (I think the spin doctors call that a case of one’s appeal getting more selective) but even so, I use this Blog as primarily for the purpose of acting as something of a personal journal, although I do find it helps to write with an audience in mind when I do so.  Over the years, I’ve found that having a reasonably large archive of old Blog posts to look back at can be quite useful.  Even if I have had some trouble expanding my audience for this Blog in the past couple of years much beyond what it is right now (which isn’t all that big, all things considered,) it’s the documentary function that serves as my prime motivation for continuing with it.

Anyway, as I’ve noted before, I use this occasion each year as something of a checkpoint, and I put together a statistical overview post of the type you see here.  I’ve been doing these twice a year now over the lifespan of the Blog, using them as a way of keeping track of the ebb and flow of the Blog’s visitors, and also just because I’ve always had an interest in tracking useless data for some odd reason.  I long ago abandoned any pretense of being able to make any money off this Blog (although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try on another one at some point,) but I do still try to make an effort to keep the posts coming on at least a somewhat consistent basis here.

As I always say in these posts, thanks once again for your continued visits to this Blog, and if there’s anything in particular you would like to see more of here, don’t hesitate to let me know.  In the meantime, that NASCAR post I mentioned last week should be coming soon, most likely tomorrow.


  • Total Posts(all time, including this one):  606
  • Total Posts (So far in 2013): 21
  • Total Comments (all time):  907
  • Total  Page Views (all time): 269,988
  • Total Page Views (So far in 2013): 16,142
  • Total Page Views in 2012: 42,260
  • Total Page Views in 2011: 42, 742
  • Total Page Views in 2010:  52,228
  • Total Page Views in 2009:  60, 939
  • Total Page Views in 2008: 50, 219
  • Average Visitors Per Day (So far in 2013): 103
  • Total Blog Subscribers: 88

Top posts in the past 365 days:

Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 7,877
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 3,150
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 1,502
An Example to Others: A Short Story 1,385
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 1,056
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 998
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09) 974
Ya Wanna’ Buy a Watch? A Visit to St. Maarten 884
A Not-So-Standard Chevron Station (Updated) 796
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home 697

Total Homepage views (Last 365 Days): 6,179

Top posts (all time):

Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 29,398
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 21,914
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 11,574
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 11,393
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 7,967
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09) 7,656
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets 6,193
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall 5,381
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home 4,626
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 3,539

Total Homepage views (All Time): 57,526

June 1, 2013

A Little Bit of Southern Exposure

Filed under: travel — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:42 am

Savannah Rapids Park, Martinez GA

In what has become a somewhat annoying but predictable pattern, I have returned from last weekend’s trip just in time for things at work to get ridiculously busy again, which typically means working the weekend.  I figure that I could (eventually) get used to a pattern like this, but the main problem I’ve got right now is that I’ve kind of run out of vacations to take for a while, which means that I’ll probably be spending the next little bit between being busy at work and being slightly less busy.  I suppose I should be grateful to be employed (and especially to be making as much as I am these days) but it sure seems like I’m spending a lot more time at work than I’m used to these days.  Then again, I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit lately, and by the time I figure all that in, things tend to (mostly) even out.

That said, I quite enjoyed the little trip to the South that I got to take last weekend.  It was my first time in the South (aside from the times I’ve been in Florida, but that hardly counts because they’re pretty much off in their own little world anyway,,) so it was all a rather new experience for me.   As discussed in the previous post, the primary purpose of this trip was to attend my brother’s wedding at the LDS temple in Atlanta last Saturday, followed by a reception later that day in a park on the Savannah River near Augusta.  Following the wedding and reception, we needed to head up to Charlotte the next day to drop my brother off at the airport there  for his return flight, at which point we then had no further plans until Tuesday evening, when I needed to be back in Atlanta for my return flight.  The “no plans” part of that evaporated rather quickly, as a number of factors coincided to provide us a rather unique opportunity to watch the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway from what might possibly be the best seats in the house that were not currently doing 180 MPH around the track at the time.  That (and some of our subsequent visits to some of the NASCAR race shops in the area) will be another Blog post, most likely next week.

The weather for my brother’s wedding day was surprisingly nice.  If I understand the local definition of these things correctly, this mostly means that it wasn’t oppressively hot and humid outside.  Up here in the Seattle area, this same weather would constitute a warm Summer day of the type we generally don’t get much of until July and August.  Either way, you probably couldn’t have asked for much better weather.  I don’t have a lot of photos from this, since the photos at the temple were mostly being taken by the professionals.

Following the temple ceremony, the wedding party began making the trip from Atlanta over to Augusta, but not before making a stop in the small town of Social Circle, roughly halfway between the two cities.  There, a wedding luncheon took place at the Blue Willow Inn, a buffet restaurant located in an old mansion serving up some of the best Southern food I’ve tasted (yes, the sample size is kind of small at this point, but still…)  With carefully landscaped grounds around the mansion, a location well off the freeway and in the heart of small-town Georgia and a front porch covered with rocking chairs, the whole place seems to be designed to provide a quintessential Southern experience.  Quite a few of the wedding photos got taken here, and I can’t say I blame them.

Upon arrival in Augusta, frantic last-minute rush was the order of the day as the preparations for the reception weren’t quite as finished as we would have liked, but ultimately things came together pretty well.  The reception itself wasn’t overly fancy, but things still turned out quite nice, and the setting (the dance pavilion of Savannah Rapids Park) provided quite the picturesque backdrop for the proceedings, as seen here by the sunset behind the Savannah River.  One thing that you come to realize in the South is that there’s history all over the place that you just don’t have around here.  In the various local historical research I’ve done here at various times on this Blog, I’ve rarely gone much past the 1920s, since there just isn’t a lot of history to be found much earlier than that.  In Seattle, 1889 seems to be the cut-off point for historical buildings, owing mostly to the Great Seattle Fire that burned down most of what was there prior to that.  Then again, at this particular park, there’s an unassuming barbecue pit located below the dance pavilion overlooking the river which dates back to the 1880s.  And then there’s the Augusta Canal which begins here, which I learned from a bit of Internet research to have played an important role in making Augusta a major industrial center for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Although the canal is largely non-functional at this point, the historical structures found in the area make for an interesting backdrop for a wedding reception.  The gorgeous sunset and even more gorgeous moonrise (which my phone camera proved woefully inadequate to capture reasonably) certainly helped as well.

Although the schedule for the trip and the 3-day detour to Charlotte didn’t provide much opportunity for random wandering around the area, we did make a couple of brief stops in South Carolina on the way back to Atlanta at the end.  One thing you see featured prominently along the I-85 corridor in South Carolina is fireworks, and plenty of them.  Right near the North Carolina and Georgia borders can be found gigantic warehouses full of fireworks open year round, and they’ve got all the big stuff too.  We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to stop at either of these (I probably would have been a bit too tempted to try to sneak some stuff into my carry-on luggage, which probably would have ended badly) but we did make a stop at a smaller farm store along the route that featured a pretty decent selection of fireworks itself.  Fortunately the Fourth of July isn’t too far off so Boom City and the other reservation fireworks stands should be opening soon, but I’m starting to think I may have to go pay another visit to South Carolina one of these days, mostly to blow stuff up take in some of the rich history and culture to be found along the way.

All in all, it wasn’t a whole lot of time to see things, but it’s always interesting to get the chance to expand one’s horizons and see parts of the country that you haven’t seen before.  I have no idea when (or if) I will have a reason to make another trip down here, but I certainly enjoyed the chance to visit.  The people were friendly, things seemed reasonably inexpensive (then again, compared to here things seem cheap pretty much everywhere) and there’s a lot to see.  I suspect I may have to take another trip down there at some point, preferably with a bit more time to wander.


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