Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in Review

Stolen from Jenni (and Dan):

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
-conceived a child
-owned a non-condo detached single family home
-live in Minneapolis proper
-Visited somewhere in Georgia other than the Atlanta Airport in February
-Watched the NFL draft with my 11 year old newphew
-followed U2 to 3 different cities and saw them in a city other than Minneapolis or Chicago
-Met distant Norwegian relatives
-Watched Brett Favre play football in a Vikings jersey (and still somewhat in disbelief about it)

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
-I don't do them really, but I suppose I was resolved to have a kid, and we accomplished that.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
-Two of my cousins had baby boys
-Ask me again in a year, I'll have a lot here, including my own! No less than 6 couples we know are pregnant and due around the same time that we are.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?
Didn't leave the US this year.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
-Be able to focus better and tune out distractions.
-More discipline at work.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

The day we found out we were pregnant - 8/18/09

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Knocking up my wife. (do you detect a theme yet?)

9. What was your biggest failure?
eating too much food and blimping out.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing major!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A Tivo, to finally rid myself of shitty cable company DVRs.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Sully Sullenberger. I'm still amazed at how he landed that plane in the Hudson and nobody was seriously hurt. Stand up dude.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Tea Baggers (Republi"cant's") and the mainstream press. I really try to avoid it for the most part now. I don't give a shit that Tiger Woods fucked 27 women.

I wasn't appalled or depressed by Obama and his administration, but I was disappointed. Change, my ass. More of the same political bullshit, IMO. So much for being optimistic last year. Really does prove that Democrat or Republican, it doesn't make that much of a difference in my life.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Our house and Savings

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The Norwegian visit over my birthday in July
When we found out that we were pregnant.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
"Breathe" - by U2

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? happier
ii. thinner or fatter? fatter
iii. richer or poorer? Richer

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

work on the house, acting instead of just thinking, reading books

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Watching TV, being a lazy jackass, lacking motivation, checking twitter so incessently

20. How will you be spending (spent) Christmas?
Spent it at my parents house in North Carolina, as we often do. I told my mom last night that it just feels like Christmas there. I wish we could go every year, but it's tough with my wife's family here in Minny.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

Yeah, with the idea of having a beautiful baby daughter. And my wife and I are doing better than ever. You really hit your stride in marriage after 3 or 4 years, I really realized that this year. There's a rhythm, an ebb and flow to it that's hard to describe, but it works really well.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

There's so many. Survivor. How I Met Your Mother (discovered and watched all 6 seasons this year). Those are the two that stick out the most this year. We watch a lot of TV. Too much.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don't really hate on anybody. We've reconnected with some that we fell out of touch with though, and that feels good.

24. What was the best book you read?

Infinite Jest, hands down. It was actually one of the only books I completed reading this year. I started a lot of books.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery of 2009?

You know all those "Best Albums of 2009" lists that come out this time of year? I've realized over the past several days that on most of them, I don't know a single Album, and in a lot of cases not even a single band. To say that 2009 was not a year of new music discovery for me is not an understatement.

26. What did you want and get?

To sell my house and buy a new one

27. What did you want and not get?

Can't think of anything really. I get anything I want to, and set realistic wants to begin with...

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Avatar, hands down.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Hung out with a bunch of awesome Norwegians and most of the Kinney family at my aunt's house, then watched the fireworks from the roof of a building downtown. I turned 31, and it was the greatest birthday ever. I'm not exaggerating.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not having to deal with negativity. I'm trying to shut it out of my life, because life's way too short.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

Same shit, different day. Not at all an innovator here.

32. What kept you sane?
My wife, 150%.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Hate to say it, but Brett Favre. I am fascinated by the man.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

How, in the end, Healthcare will continue to be ruled by the fat-cat insurance companies who will continue to ensure that many Americans will not get the care they need, and the government doesn't have the balls to do something more drastic about it. A tie with that and the lack of financial reform to make sure the greedy motherfuckers on Wall Street don't keep pulling their garbage. It's already happening again and Obama/Congress are not gonna stop it...

35. Who did you miss?
My grandfather. I miss him every year. He died 6 years ago. That's crazy to me that it was already that long ago.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I didn't technically meet him in '09, but I got to know my new manager a lot better this year - and he's someone that can serve as a good mentor to me. For that, I am grateful.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:

Preparing to have a child puts everything in perspective. Everything.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"I love it when they call me big Poppa" - Notorious B.I.G.

both because I'm fatter and I'm gonna be a dad.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Tivo so far, Consensus:Totally worth it

We got a Tivo just before Thanksgiving after my frustration with the crappy Comcast DVR we'd been provided in our new place reached a boiling point. The last time I had checked prices on Tivos was several years ago, when the only option that would pick up digital cable was the original Series III tivo. At the time, that box was in the $750 range, which was pretty cost prohibitive compared to the cable company offerings.

Fast forward, and now it's possible to get a Tivo HD box for less than $250, and a monthly fee that's less than I'm paying for the cable box. For us, worth it, particularly when pressed with the inferior Comcast offering. The drive is small, but we don't actually have HDTV yet, and upgrading the box is as easy as buying a 1TB drive for around 100 bucks that plugs right in to the unit and gives you a LOT more storage.

The Tivo showed up in about 4 or 5 days, which was really nice considering I ordered it with supersaver shipping which was free. Sometimes that can take a while - but an item as big as a Tivo is still shipped via UPS ground, which usually has a 3 day cycle. I got it for 229.99 with free shipping and a $30.00 credit at the Amazon On-Demand video store. I could have gotten it a bit cheaper from a few other places, but wanted the guarantee to be able to return it to Amazon if we had issues or didn't like it.

Suffice it to say, that didn't happen. Once we got the Tivo, I hooked it up to the cable by splitting the line between the cableco box and the Tivo. The rest of the setup was easy - the tivo comes with a digital audio out which I've used for years with other sources and plugged in easily to my stereo, same as video out. Since my router was already by the TV in our house, I was also able to easily plug the Tivo into that.

I fired up the Tivo once I had everything connected. It takes a while to turn on the first time. I went into the setup and did everything to set it up (it's a bit slow to set up because it has to download the guide data, etc). Once I set it up, I took it for a spin. One of the things I realized rather quickly is that it had an old version of the software on it which did not support features like Netflix on-demand (something I wanted to try sooner rather than later). No worry, this guide and Tivo's site pointed out that I could force the Tivo to run updates and restart so that the updates would take. It took about an hour additional to do that. This is the one thing I'm not sure about Tivo, why wouldn't you have the latest software on the box out of the box, especially an update that came out a while ago.

This was really my only frustration with setting up the Tivo. Programming recordings, all that was easy to set up. And almost immediately the Tivo started recording suggestions, an interesting feature which I check out a few times a week.

We had the Tivo going on the analog channels which more or less provided what we already had in the digital starter package from Comcast. Katie and I don't watch much on the channels over 100 and a while back had scaled back to just the digital starter. Most of which is provided by Comcast on the Analog channels, particularly when you don't need HD.

However, this package includes a free cable card and the digital channels are a better quality, so I went over to the Comcast store in Richfield to get a cable card. Despite their website saying this location stocked them, the counter person informed me that I'd have to call and have a truck rolled. I knew I should have called! Waste of a trip.

I set up an appointment for the following week, which got postponed another 5 days because of a "national outage" of their activation system. Comcast guy was able to set it up without issue. The box did make me rerun the setup which took a while, but now the box is working great.

I've tried out some of the add-ons - Netflix works pretty well for the most part, a few films lacked sound or had weird aspect ratio issues, but most have worked great. Tivo's PC software, however, is a waste of time. Once I did get it to connect to the box (challenging because of my network setup, apparently), it errored out on my music library, which I found out was far too big for the Tivo to be able to handle. Lame. Transferring videos requires a 25.o0 upgrade which I was originally going to buy, but I found a free program called PyTivo which allows you to download videos of pretty much any stripe to the Tivo - WIN. It works great once set up to watch divx encoded and other video files. It's a bit tricky and technical to set up as it runs a mini-server on your pc. You have to be able to work with configuration files and the like, but once it's running, it's set and forget.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my Tivo experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn't satisfied with the cable company DVR options. The CableCard makes it a no-brainer, really. You do lose on-demand and PPV from Comcast, but frankly, the Tivo box more than makes up for that.

There's a few places I reccomend checking out if you are interested in a Tivo:
The AVS Forum FAQ - an excellent and very inclusive guide to the TivoHD Product.
The Tivo Community - good site not affiliated with Tivo. Lots of good info here as well, particularly around CableCards and Comcast.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've had it with this POS DVR from Comcast

I've lived in a Comcast market ever since I moved to Eagan in 2002. Since 2005, I had a Motorola DVR box. It wasn't the greatest, but it did what I needed it to do and it was passable. It had its quirks, like it would inepxplicably freeze on a screen for a bit and queue up remote commands and then unleash them all at once. But once you got used to that, it was a minor annoyance more than anything.

I transferred this box to our apartment in Eagan for the few months that we lived there, but when we bought a place in Minneapolis, I was told I'd have to get a new box since the Motorola boxes were not compatible with the Minneapolis market (it's an old Time-Warner market that had flip flopped with comcast, and they use Cisco (Scientific Atlanta) equipment).

Well, the Cisco box that I have now is an utter piece of crap compared to even the Motorola box. It can't do series priority at all, and my wife likes to record a lot of shit on HGTV and stuff like that which is on multiple times per day. What ends up happening is that the box stops recording other things I want to record randomly, and I don't figure it out till I realize it hasn't recorded. It's maddening. The Motorola DVR also had the (undocumented) ability to program a skip button. No such luck on this thing. There's a lot of other things about this Cisco box that just plain suck but those are the two most glaring weaknesses.

On the suggestion of more than one person on the various AV forums, I started checking out the Tivo HD DVR. When I last checked out Tivo a few years ago, the Series III was just coming out. It was really what I would have wanted, but the pricetag, north of 750 if I recall, was out of the question, especially compared to the serviceable motorola dvr I already had.

Flash forward to now, and Comcast is charging me 15.99/month for this piece of shit box that's far inferior to the Moto box I had before (for the same price). Tivo's 12.99 per month (and can get even cheaper if I pre-pay) and the box is only 250. Seems like a no brainer. Comcast will even provide the cable card the box uses for free.

The Tivo box can also do a lot of other stuff, like watch netflix on demand movies and access Amazon's movie library as well. My wife will dig that.

Gonna make the leap. Comcast can take this DVR and shove it...

Stuff you can do if you run out of stuff to do on the internet

I'm sure I'm like a lot of you when I say that I've got content coming out the wazoo most of the time. Far too much stuff. My normal routine is to first hit up Twitter to see what's new. I'm something of a completeist, so I usually read most of what I've read back to the last time I read Twitter. Brizzly is a great Twitter client for that because of the J/K shortcut keys and the continuous scrolling. Can scroll through a great deal in a short amount of time. When I've just gotten too far behind, the new Twitter lists are great for checking up on certain people or things. They now work in Brizzly too, so the same scrolling principles apply. Once that's done, I usually float into Google Reader. While some notables in the Tech community have all but abandoned it, I still find it to be the most useful tool for accumulating what you want to read for later consumption. Sure, I end up seeing a good chunk in my Twitter feed (I do still try to avoid Twitter feeds that are simply mirror's of a site's RSS feed, because Google Reader does that better), but I can aggregate a lot of things.

Very rarely do I run out of things on Reader. If, by chance I happen to, there's a few things I will do if I have some time to kill and my laptop in front of me.

The Popular Feed on Google Reader - The popular feed is great to find new stuff to read and peruse what people like. I like to page through it periodically. Lots of good visual stuff on this feed. I've found multiple new blogs to follow this way.

Comment feed on friend's shared items in Google Reader - Google's implemented a bunch of features related to the social aspects of sharing items. They're implemented rather haphazardly in my opinion. However, conversations do start up on some items, and it's always worth a gander to see what people are saying.

Drop in on your Twitter Lists - Lists are a great new feature in Twitter. I've used them to find and increase the number of accounts I follow. Increasingly, I'm following people on my lists that I don't follow on my main Twitter account. Mostly because they are entities or people that I don't always need to see updates from, but are good to check in on every once in a while.

Drop in on other people's Twitter Lists - one of the other great features about lists on Twitter is that you can follow other people's lists. This allows you to sample tweets from other people without actually following them or taking the time to cultivate the list yourself. I like to go in and do this periodically to see what's going on. The Breaking News list compiled by a New York Times editor I follow is interesting when a story is breaking. The New York Times staff list is also another one I'm liking a lot. And the list of TC Journalists is also interesting for a local new perspective. There's lists for all manner of things, the sky is the limit, really. There's a list for that, so-to-speak.

Check out Friendfeed - this is something I'm doing less than a few months ago, but I follow a base of people on that site that I don't follow other places, and they're interesting people. There's always something to look at content wise there because FF aggregates an individual's content, and it does a pretty good job of filtering the best of the day for various lists you can set up. Unfortunatly, the once-thriving native-to-friendfeed community here is less of one - since facebook bought the company a few months back a lot of people have all but abandoned native participation in favor of it simply being a stream. I'm guilty of that myself.

I very rarely peruse individual sites for content anymore - I can't remember the last time I went to look at without being linked there, for example. I very rarely look at individual blogs where I'm not either linked there or read it in Google Reader. It's an interesting shift from the way things used to be, but it's one that I find gives me more information that I want/need, versus having to go through a bunch of stuff that I don't care about.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Delta's got some work to do to keep me as a regular customer

MSP (Northwest, now Delta)has been my home airport for the last 14 years. Prior to that O'Hare (United/American mini hub) and Midway (Southwest, various low-far lines over the years), when I lived in Chicago, and when I was very young, NYC (numerous). So, I've lived in a hub of one sort or another for most of my life. And I've often had access to direct flights.

Like a lot of my fellow MSP travelers, I was not really thrilled with the Delta acquisition of Northwest last year. I've been a regular Northwest customer for most of my adult life. They've been a good option for travel, and we get direct flights on them to almost anywhere. Sure, directs were often 50-100 more than connecting through Chicago on United/American or Atlanta on Delta But after you get stuck at ORD or ATL once or twice waiting out standby lists, the directs become the way - particularly when you can afford them.

I'm going to be close to getting medallion status with Delta this year due to some bonus miles and late year traveling. I probably won't make it, but I don't know that I care that much. Delta kind of sucks compared to NWA for a variety of reasons. There's lots of little differences that are annoying, but their general service level just seems to be lacking in comparison as well. Maybe it's just because I'm primarily dealing with disgruntled legacy NWA employees right now.

I'm a little concerned that we're going to start losing directs out of MSP, but I don't know that it bothers me that much. I may end up flying Southwest more often down the road (though I haven't found their fares out of MSP to be very competitive with DL so far on the ones I've checked, in fact, they're often more expensive), even if it means connecting through Midway, Denver or St Louis. Southwest is adding new destinations from MSP pretty fast, and if Delta decides to reduce service further at MSP, I bet they'll come in with even more.

Simple math and geography dictates that Delta has too many hubs post-NWA merger. All signs point to Cincinnati (actually located in northern Kentucky), a legacy Delta hub, being the first casualty - and with Memphis and Detroit in the fold, that makes perfect sense. Delta was already hinting at downsizing there before the merger even took place. Memphis still seems awfully close to ATL, though there's no sign of downsizing there yet, and there's some overlap between MSP and DTW which leads me to believe that Delta may choose to focus more on one or the other.

Regardless of what happens, I really hope the discounters like SWA look more heavily at MSP. We've got a lot of business travel originating out of here because of all the Fortune 500 companies that are HQ'ed or have large presences here, and it seems like it will continue to be the case.

I'm hoping I can get medallion sooner or later on some airline. I don't travel tons for work, but do a fair amount of leisure travel. Fully half the flight I was on yesterday was medallion, and that left me in the predicament of being able to get in the 3rd row of coach because of my business fare, but not being able to get on the plan in time to avoid the dreaded gate check (all too common these days with people avoiding the bag check fees).

I've never really worked the system as far as credit cards and other special offers go, I think I need to start doing that as well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Livin' in the Citaaaaay

I've been a Minneapolis resident for a few weeks now. I dig it. My commute's a little longer, and totally reverse - I head out to my office in the burbs every day. It's only slightly longer than when I lived in Eagan. My wife has a commute generally less than 10 minutes in which she does not need to take any freeways. It's great for her, and I'm happy - she's had the longer commute for a long time. It's nice to have her in bed longer in the mornings and be home by the time I am usually. She tends to work more hours than me anyway.

I like a lot of things about the city. My Walk Score went from a 39 to a 73, a dramatic improvement. Interestingly, 73 is still in the bottom half of all walk scores in Minneapolis. But it's still way ahead of most anything in the burbs.

I haven't done tons of walking yet. It is getting colder out. But even having 4 or 5 different non-chain restaurants within a few blocks of my place, and hundreds more if you go to a 20 block radius is great. Options were always so limited in Eagan - it was basically a handful of chains or some local chain joints that I could usually get my wife to eat at. For that, I am happy. Fits better with my lifestyle. We ate out a few times this week at different places. Mostly because we could!

Finding things in your new neighborhood is always interesting. I had to figure out where my new polling place was. I voted in the first Minneapolis city elections to feature Ranked Choice (instant runoff) voting. It was not a very interesting mayoral race, with RT Ryback having no serious challenges going in. The park board race was the most interesting thing on the ballot, and only because I live in the 5th district, which was one of the few contested races. Indeed, it's going to the IRV for the official result since three candidates were within a few points of each other.

I also had to figure out where mailboxes were. The USPS web site has a nice tool for that. The nearest redbox. Grocery stores. And on... Lots of stuff is very close.

Since we have a bigger house with more storage, we decided to join Costco and made our first trip there last week. Good decision, will help save us some money in the long run.

I feel good about the long run benefits of living in the city. Someday I'll probably work in DT Minneapolis or the vicinity again. That will come in handy. Even if I don't, we are centrally located to a lot of things now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Copy of my letter to Comcast Customer Service

UPDATE: A customer service agent with the authority/ability to take care of this from their Twin Cities office called me a few hours after I sent this. They re-pulled my credit report and told me I wouldn't have to pay a deposit. I have cable and internet (finally) at the new house. Nice of Comcast to save the relationship - though they should empower their front line reps a little more so that I don't have to go to these lengths. I also feel bad for people who don't use Twitter/etc and don't know about these channels.

I've had Comcast for Cable and Internet for the past 7 years. They've been pretty good to work with overall, despite the horror stories that I've heard and read at various places around the Internet. I finally have a story of my own. I downplayed the "setting up the new account at an address with former service still installed" aspect in this letter, because that was finally resolved (and partially the fault of the incompetent non-profit that I bought the home from). But that saga was pretty terrible with 2 reps never calling me back and finally a third that was helpful. Clearly their reps need more training on what to do in these scenarios.

I'm proceeding with Comcast for now, but I'm hoping that this letter gets somebody's attention. I sent it via email to their executive customer service which seems to be pretty reponsive on Twitter, etc.

Hello, I am hoping you can help me understand and rectify the current situation I am in with your company.

To preface, I’ve been a satisfied customer of Comcast for 7 years, since May of 2002 when I moved into my home in Eagan, Minnesota. For the most part, I have been a satisfied customer of Internet and Cable services – a few glitches here and there, but Comcast has always been helpful in resolving in a timely manner when we've had issues. I now have a situation that needs attention, because I am being asked to pay a deposit on my new account in order to receive service. I believe this may be a systemic/administrative error that was simply overlooked.

My wife and I sold our townhome in August of this year where we had Comcast Service for 7 years and moved into a temporary apartment while we searched for a new house. I transferred service to this apartment successfully. We did have an issue with bill payment – the debit service for bill payment was not set up in time to capture my first bill at the new address and as a result was not debited from my account in a timely manner, even though I was told by an online rep (transcript available) and a phone rep that it wouldn’t be a problem and would be debited on time when I inquired. I rectified this situation after I started receiving shut off notices, and realized that Comcast wasn’t going to debit my account unless I told them to, even though they already had my debit info, it was setup on my account, and my account had been debited for the last 7 years.

I called Comcast’s local center in the Twin Cities on Saturday October 10th in preparation for the move to my new home in Minneapolis Minnesota. I did not think I would have issues with this transfer since I had just done one with relatively few problems. I was wrong.

I purchased the property at (personal info omitted) a few weeks prior from (personal info omitted). They had used the house for institutional purposes and apparently had never shut off service to the property as a part of their bulk commercial account. I was originally informed of this by a representative around noon on Saturday the 10th of October. I never heard back from that original rep or a subsequent rep that I talked to later that day.

By Tuesday afternoon when I hadn’t heard from anybody, I called the main Comcast Twin Cities number again and began talking to a third sales representative (Michele) in your Twin Cities office. At this point, I admit that I was a little perturbed because it had been 4 days since I had originally inquired about setting up new service, and it didn’t seem like anybody really wanted to help me get that set up.

Michele was very helpful and understanding, and was actually the first person at Comcast that seemed to actually care about the customer. She placed a call to the commercial group who told her to set up a new account instead of transferring my service and they’d take care of the shutdown of the old.

I was also asked to fax in proof that I owned the property. I understand why, and provided the Hennepin County Tax assessors record from their website, which already showed that I was the property owner (and is publicly searchable). Once I faxed that in, Michele called me back and we set up new service with an appointment for the following week (today, almost a week after I originally wanted service set up, due to the delays in shutting off the old account).

Imagine my surprise when a letter appears in my mailbox a few days ago, telling me that I would need to make a deposit to Comcast in order to acquire service, due to something found on my credit report from Equifax. It noted that it had been mentioned in my call to set up service, which it never was. I was also never informed of a credit check being re-done with my information. In response to this, I pulled a copy of my credit report from Equifax and have no accounts with negative standing or in collections. I also see no inquiries by Comcast in the recent past. I believe whatever credit check was done on me may have been done incorrectly.

Michele gave me her number to call her back if I had any issues. I left her a voicemail on this issue and never received a call back. It was disappointing to me since her service was otherwise excellent. I can only hope she's on vacation or otherwise out of the office.

I finally called the general Comcast number today to find out more information about this deposit levied against me, since the letter made no mention of the amount and it hadn’t been mentioned in my initial call. I was told it was going to be $200.00 and would be returned to me once I established a clean payment history. Since I’m technically trying to transfer my service from my account that I’ve had for 7 years and have never had a late payment other than the one that was the result of the billing error I described at the beginning of this letter, I’m a little stunned that I’m now being subjected to this treatment. I just purchased the property at which this service is being installed and at that time, had a very good credit history and received a prime loan from a well known national lender.

I’m hoping this is some kind of administrative mistake. I believe that my credit information may have been improperly pulled by Comcast which is what is causing this error. I have a copy of my credit report and I'm willing to fax it to Comcast to help rectify this error. I’m going to go ahead and pay the $200.00 deposit today to set up my service, but I’m also looking at other options for service. I have two other options (DSL and city WIFI) for internet, and other television options involving sat dish. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m a fan of Comcast’s quality of their internet and cable service and a lot of people would have completely given up on Comcast by now. I would like to continue my service, but I'd also like this deposit refunded as soon as possible.

My account is under phone number (personal details omitted)

Thank you for your time,

Bill Kinney

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


That's the phrase that my friends and I honed in on from this Fanhouse Dugout column of spring training 2008. For those of you not familiar, Dugout is a mock IM session (AOL Style)between baseball notables. The guys that write it started off by constantly mocking Jim Thome (late of the Dodgers, but it started when he was with the Indians). It made fun of Thome's midwestern-golly gee ness (whether Thome actually acts that ridiculous is a point of contention, for sure) and general dopey nature.

At any rate, the column tends to have a pretty acidic sense of humor. The Twins spring training preview of '08 featured the arrival of Delmon Young with some classic lines as "Boom Bitch", and Delmon saying "ya gat dam right i play in at huh-huh-huh metradomez, in they outfield they got got trash bags son, trash bags ".

So it's been fun to watch his surge of power over the last week, considering he's played way under his potential virtually the whole time he's been here.

I'm a lot higher on the Twins now than I was a few weeks ago. I'd hasten to say that I've been a bit fairweather this year. But there have been plenty of teams with the momentum come October that won it all and didn't necessarily play the best 162-game ball. And the Twins definitely have that momentum. Gleeman covers it here in great detail. It's pretty amazing when you read that, what they've done without Morneau and Crede in the lineup.

Excited to watch the last few innings of the game today. Go Twins!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moving to the 612 area code.

So, my wife and I are moving to Minneapolis proper in the next few weeks. We are still slumming it in an Eagan apartment which is a shithole of a place to live. It seems like the property managment company's trying to weed out the dead weight, but there's still some winners here- like the couple that got into a domestic verbal assault at 2:30 in the morning last week. And got the cops called on them. Or the losers that smoke pot and cigarettes on the stoop right outside my bedroom window 3 or 4 nights a week. Or the assholes that leave trash in the parking lot and on the stoop, like this lovely 40oz beer I encountered the other day. (I left it there for a day, until there was also a 95% full Steel Reserve can sitting next to it the following day. There's little kids running around here and you leave a mostly full beer can sitting out? Have some fucking pride in the place that you live, for fuck's sake.)

Oh sure, the new neighborhood has its issues as well, already. (sorry Minneapolis). Some jerk decided that they were going to leave 2 grocery bags full of paints/varnishes/stains at the end of my driveway. Does the sign on the house say "Recycling Center"? No, that's what I thought. The house and yard still do scream "NOBODY LIVES HERE" but we're already rectifying that quickly. Cleaning the place up will help. We did some major garden bed demolition already and it looks 10 times better in the alley already. In a few more weeks, it'll be obvious and you won't dump your paint in my driveway.

That nice little "WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD" was tempered with meeting a couple of nice neighbors who had nothing but raves about the neighborhood. It's also tempered by the fact that I will no longer live in John Kline's congressional district, but instead in Keith Ellison's. While I don't always agree with Congressman Ellison, his politics are of a general persuasion more amicable to my early 30's self. Besides being infinitely more affable and accessible to his constituents, he demonstrates that he understands his constituency's needs better than old guard guys like Kline (although calling Kline old line is a bit of a misnomer in some ways, because he's only been in congress a few years more than Ellison).

So I thought it'd be interesting to compare their Twitter accounts. Twitter's been quite evident as a tool used by politicians, and the ones that get it (like a lot of celebrities as well) actually send tweets to the account themselves instead of some lackey assistant or PR person. And the ones that get it share personal info to connect with their constituents. Ellison wins on both counts. Unfortunatly, I can't compare because John Kline appears to have an account, but as of this writing has not sent anything to it.

Is John Kline on Facebook or something? Maybe, but I don't really care anymore. Me? I'm outta here. See ya later Suburbs, been nice knowin'ya!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Things I like about moving to the city in bullet point format

We are about to come to agreement on a house in Minneapolis. My wife and I have been suburbanite dwellers for the last 7 years in Eagan. We're not terribly far from anything, about a 20-30 minute drive with no traffic to both downtowns. But we've been looking at doing something different.

So here goes:
  • no sprawl
  • Walking distance to coffee shops, bars, restaurants, other shopping establishments
  • City Wifi
  • Less driving to the places I go normally
  • Public Transit within a few blocks that runs til late at night
  • Closer to my friends that live in the city (most of them)
  • being able to potentially own one car
  • diversity
  • city has better web site, with more public access
  • save money on gas, still viable at higher gas prices
  • don't feel as isolated
  • houses/neighborhoods have way more charm/character
  • near one of the best urban bike trail systems in the country
  • a short bus ride to downtown or light rail
I'm sure I could go on and on.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Infinite What?

So I'm going to try and play catchup with Infinite Jest this weekend. I'm about 200-300 pages behind but I've got a weekend relatively free of obligation.

It's mostly been moving, looking at houses and activities supporting those things which have occupied my time the last few weeks. But I also have another time waster.

I've been a fan of Big Brother for a number of years, I watched bits and pieces of it the first few years it was on, but really got into it starting in Season 8. I've been an avid watcher of the TV show and followed along with various blogs about the goings on of the show. I decided to take the plunge a week and half in and get the live feeds for the season. It was only 40 bucks for the whole season, about 2 months, and honestly, not that expensive comparatively speaking.

So, I'm coming clean about the fact that there's some nights I'd rather watch a bunch of strangers locked up in a mock house on a studio lot in Los Angeles then read. And that has also contributed to my lackluster showing in #infsum.

I'd been reading accounts of the live feeds and people kept saying that it was a completely different experience to watch them in conjunction with the TV show, and that is an accurate assertion. This year they also have added the flashback functionality which allows you to go back into the archives and watch old footage. This is useful particularly when there's not a whole lot going on live. There's also a whole host of web sites that provide minute by minute blows and summaries of what's been going on, so you can go back and watch.

It sounds really crazy, but it's strangely addictive, and you get to know the people. There's this theory of them being edited in certain ways for the TV show and it's totally true - there are sides to these people that they don't show too much on TV. It's hard to compress 100+ hours of house time per week into 3 hours.

All in all, it's a highly enjoyable activity and one that I'm not regretting. There's a constant source of entertainment that rarely gets boring, and can be done while doing other activities on the computer, etc.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The little things in life

I am in serious denial about Infinite Summer. I've been an average of 100 pages off the pace for some time. My first writeup is probably also going to be my last. See, this is why blogging is bad for me sometimes, I lack consistency. Maybe that's why Twitter is so much more popular in my mind.

Anyway instead I will bring you commentary about the little things in life that I'm enjoying, in bullet point format:
  • My fixed coffee maker. I own a Cuisinart Grind and Brew coffee maker. It costs an absurd amount of money for such a device, but I owned a series of sub-par coffee makers prior including a couple of hand-me-downs. My requirements were a coffee maker where I could reliable set a timer, and one that was industrial enough to not start breaking or leaking water all over the place (I've owned a lot of cheap coffee makers). At any rate, the Cusinart Grind and Brew fit the bill and then some. It has a bean hopper that fits a half pound of beans and it grinds them to an exact quantity every time. This is the greatest coffee maker I've ever owned, and a few months ago it started breaking down on me. It would shut off about half way through brewing and require me to keep resetting it. It took a call to the Cusinart customer service people to realize that I hadn't ever de-scaled it with vinegar. Why it didn't occur to me sooner is beyond me (I've de-scaled plenty of coffee makers). So, I did this for the better part of a Saturday afternoon, watching limey junk shoot out of the thing for a good hour and about 6 cycles. But it's working great again. My wallet and my stomach thank me.
  • Horse Racing - I've been out to the track 3 times this season and I've had a great time every time. Last Saturday was especially fun - it was the claiming crown at Canterbury Downs - lots of good horses and great jockeys. Russel Baze was there, he's the jockey with the most wins in the history of the sport (I don't think Kevin Gorg went 20 minutes without mentioning it the entire day). He was also riding a bunch of middle of the pack horses that were not favorites. Still, he managed to win two races in which we had Win/Place/Show bets and we also hit the Exacta on one of the races. (totally on a whim, I decided to bet on his horse and the exacta at the last minute). Total winnings of 140 bucks from these 2 races. Not too shabby - we basically ate and drank for free and had a good time while doing so.
  • Lazy Sundays - Katie and I drank coffee, played bejeweled blitz and watched the Big Brother feeds yesterday morning and it was pretty perfect. After the storm of work on the house to get it market ready, it's nice to have some lazy weekends where we do whatever we want.
  • Big Brother Feeds - as mentioned in the prior item, I got the live feeds for Big Brother this year. Totally worth it. They have a flashback option which is killer, and it's totally fun to see the whole picture. I'd been reading bloggers who were talking about all the stuff you were missing if you didn't watch the live feeds and they are totally right. They edit the show in ways they want to edit it and it's not always totally accurate as to what is really going on. My habit is to go home and watch the salient points from the prior night for an hour or two based on the various guides out there, then flip on the live feeds and watch them while doing other things.
  • Podcasting: I've always been a fan, but now more than ever, I'm hooked. My favorites in no particular order are The Bill Simmons Report (ESPN), This Week in Tech, and various Public Radio shows (This American Life, Car Talk, Fresh Air, Marketplace). My only grip is that I wish my Ipod touch had an option to synch all new episodes over wifi versus always having to sync with Itunes. You can download individual shows directly on the touch, but you have to manually go in and find them.
It's been a great summer so far and these are just a few of the things that are contributing to that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Infinite Summer Week 1 (and a half)

I decided that I'm going to do these updates every week. This one is a little late because I got engrossed in another Wallace novel, The Broom in the System, which I've now completed.

Page 66 (slightly behind the pace)

Most interesting thing I read this week:
the scene where Erdedy is waiting for his drug dealer to show up (chapter 2- pages 17-27). DFW really captures the frantic essence of the character and situation.

To be explored in more detail: Scene with Wardine. I'm told it comes together later.

Laugh Out Loud Moment: Filmography of James Incandenza:
"Various Small Flames. Latrodectus Mactans Productions. Cosgrove, Watt, Pam Heath, Ken N. Johnson; 16 mm.; 25 minutes w/ recursive loop for automatic replay; color; silent w/ sounds of human coitus appropriated from and credited to Caballero Control Corp. adult videos. Parody of neconceptual structuralist films of Godbout and Vodriard, n-frame images of myriad varieties of small household flames, from lighters and birthday candles to stovetop gas rings and grass clippings ingnited by sunlight through a magnifying glass, alternated with anti-narritive sequences of a man (Watt) sitting in a dark bedroom drinking bourbon while his wife (Heath) and an Amway representative (Johnson) have acrobatic coitus in the background's lit hallway. UNRELEASED DUE TO LITIGATION BY 1960S US CONCEPTUAL DIRECTOR OF VARIOUS SMALL FIRES ED RUSCHA - INTERLACE TELENT CARTRIDGE RELEASE #330-54-94 (Y.T.-S.D.B)"

So, how did I get here? Count me in among those that had barely ever heard of David Foster Wallace until his passing. I don't roll in those literary circles usually (though I have several friends that do). I'm mostly a non-fiction reader these days, I read a lot of business books and biographies. I've (somewhat ridiculously) limited my fiction reading to brain candy type stuff, like Vince Flynn and John Grisham - mass market stuff that's entertaining, but lacking any kind of interesting depth and meaning. Things that I can plow through in a few days without really thinking much. The reading equivalent of reality television (versus watching something of more substance, if it exisits these days, which one could argue).

Up till now, my experience with DFW has been a random essay in a magazine - I also read some of the Harper's stuff that they neatly collected after his death. He's right up my alley though, and I found Broom utterly enjoyable with many poignant and funny moments, yet mixed with a serious tone at points. He really does a fabulous job at character creation and conveyance of the character's thoughts and emotions.

I first heard about Infinite Summer nearly simultaneously on my Twitter account from my hombres Lauren Jumi and Jenni. Lauren's co-running the Infinite Summer Community on livejournal, and between that, the discussion boards on goodreads, and infinite summer site's discussion board, there's plenty of online outlets to discuss the book. I've picked up some clues from these areas. I also purchased a copy of Elegant Complexity to supplement, and it's already come in handy a few times to examine the overall narrative structure and some of the particular scenes of interest.

I'd been meaning to pick up more books of substance and read, and this gets me well on my way.

More to come...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Musings on Social Interaction on the Web

Man, like other blog endeavors that I've had over the last bunch of years, this one's not going much better in terms of timeliness of posting. It's been almost 2 months since I last joined ye, loyal readers (all four of you, judging from my stats, if my shit doesn't get buried in your google readers anyway).

At any rate, I'll leave this up as my long form forum for all things Willis/Billhelm/W/whatever you wanna call me. No harm, no foul, right?

I think Twitter consumes most of my daily posting mojo. Sadly, it's in a somewhat restrictive format.

I follow a lot of technology crazy internet celebrities on there like Robert Scoble and Dave Winer over on Twitter. These guys are constantly talking about things like Twitter and new technologies. I've been follwing both of them (and some others) for a while, both always had good blogs, and Winer was heavily involved in podcasting in the early days, which I followed closely at the time.

Scoble's always going on and on about friendfeed. He loves the service and is probably their biggest evangelist. I joined it a long time ago but found it to be not terribly useful. You can follow your friends from other services, but you only see their posts on it. If you mostly follow people that only have twitter, then there's almost no point - particuarly when you check Twitter several times a day.

Last week, I decided to make my feed public, and start following some other people. It's working. I like the stuff that comes up, and unlike Twitter, where I have this strange, insatiable need to view just about every tweet, I can just sample friendfeed when I have some time. I follow enough of a critical mass that there's always new things, and it shows friend of a friend entries.

Another thing came along this week, also courtesy of Scoble, that of feedly. It's a plugin for firefox that combined with the site, provides another way to view google reader feeds. And man, it's pretty sweet. It also integrates with friendfeed so you can see conversations that might already be going on. It has a twitter sidebar, and lots of goodies. I like the digest format when I only have a few minutes to read because it bubbles up things that I'm more interested in to the surface.

Finally, I'm giving foursquare a go again. I had deleted it a few months back because I didn't really like how it integrated with Twitter. But this time, I've scaled it back, and they've also added features to their mobile web and Iphone client to send to Twitter or not, which is helpful. A few of my friends are very big fans of the service and use it quite a bit. It's what dodgeball could have been and then some.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Comments on the Star Trek Franchise

I'm a nerd in many respects - mostly with regard to technology, but I've always lived on the fringes of sci-fi, fantasy popular culture. For example, I'm on the edge of the Trekkie Kingdom. Not quite hardcore enough to have consumed every episode ever made, though I have seen most episodes of next gen, many of the original series, and briefly watched Voyager (I lost interest after the first season). Haven't read more than one or two of the books, and that was back in high school when I worked at a bookstore and got them for free. I have, however, seen all of the movies multiple times - I owned the original cast movies on VHS, all 6 of them in the pretty mid-90s box set seen below (that clearly came out after 5, but hey, we have to add 6 to the set, so there's that extra space.
Exhibit a:
So yeah, that was a great set of films. Of course, the old fan adage holds true for me, more or less, that the even numbered movies were the best ones, and the odd numbered ones, somewhat lackluster. ST IV is my favorite one still to this day.

More recently, I was hankering for the DVD set, so I actually went out and purchased the full 10 DVD set, though I've only watched the first couple thus far.

My fandom with the movies has been less devout more recently, for example, I can't remember if I even bothered with Star Trek:Nemesis. By then, they had totally run the Next Gen shit into the ground. I don't really think Next Gen ever really hit it's stride in the movies.

So, when I started hearing that JJ Abrams and crew were going to be making a prequel of sorts, my interest perked up again. Sounds like something that could breathe some life into the corpse that the thing had mostly become. I've been following the goings on of the "prequel" from a distance, hearing a lot of great things, the reviews that have come out have been favorable, and the Trekkie Kingdom seems to be giving a thumbs up.

I'm going to see the film on opening night, I didn't go to a midnight showing, because damn, I'm not that harcore and I had to work. Plus, the last midnight showing I went to was Star Wars ep I, and that was the biggest disappointment in the world, considering that me and my friends camped out in the parking lot of the theather. But I will brave the crowds tonight for Star Trek, and hopefully it will be worth it. (I hate opening weekends for movies normally, I like room to spread out!!)

I don't know where the franchise goes from here, I suppose more movies. I wonder if they'll ever get a successful TV show off the ground again - I do sort of miss the weekly ins and outs of a Trek-centered show. I gave Enterprise a whirl for a few episodes but just was not my thing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Urban/Suburban Sprawl

I am starting to have more concern about this topic then I had in the past. Maybe slightly ironically, because I live in your typical suburban condo development and have for 7 years. All the stores I regularly shop at are sprawled about within a few miles of my home. But there's nothing within reasonable walking distance from my house.

I live in an inner ring or second tier suburb, if you drive out another 10-15 miles on a major freeway, it's just like this all over. It really makes me wonder about the sustainability of it all. Can we continue to develop every last square inch of land for strip malls and spread out, cookie cutter style housing developments?

It really hit me on a recent trip to visit my Grandma in Naples, Florida. Naples is your typical Florida retirement community - it has achieved absurd growth over the last 20 years. Since the 1980s, the West Coast of Florida has been a viable alternative for some looking to avoid the more populus Miami/West Palm/Ft Lauderdale complex. My grandparents first moved to the area in the early to mid 1990s as snowbirds. Upon first visiting you got the impression that it was certainly on the way up population wise. They moved to a well known development called Pelican Bay and it was pretty clear that there was still room for this development to grow. Not any longer - Pelican Bay seems nearly fully developed, as do most of the coastal development in that area. The development of housing communities in that area now extends 10 to 15 miles east of I-75 with no signs of stopping (maybe slowing a bit due to current economic conditions).

What really struck me was the strip malls, they've continued to multiply in somewhat of a willy nilly fashion in that area, and the saturation of businesses is pretty crazy - you have every type of restaurant imaginable, what seems like a grocery store at every major intersection, stores of all sizes and shapes plugged into themed strip malls. Naples has virtually no high density areas, it has a downtown that's 8 or 9 square blocks, but the rest of it exists in this massive strip mall sprawl along US 41 and other east/west and north/south coridores, and the massive-mega acreage developmens with fancy names. There is a good mix of density in many of these developments, but most of them still require you to get in your car to dine, shop or run errands.

I'd imagine that, eventually, it will hit a critical mass, where new development will slow down, but there's no sign of that occuring as of yet, and there's more and more baby boomers retiring every day.

I'd like to see a more thoughtful approach to community design in this country, and we have to do more than building poorly desgined "city center" type developments that end up being a bust. But I wonder where that's going to come from or when it will ever happen. I have hope that higher fuel prices will spurn people to think about this more, and I think it might be one of the only things that does so. Otherwise, cheap land and developer greed seem to be winning this battle - in the short term it's beneficial, but the long run damage that we are doing seems to be too great to ignore anymore.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The evolution of social networking in my life

I've been on Twitter and Facebook for a year or two now, and been a user of various social networking sites since I can remember, long before sites like myspace and friendster were popular. I enjoy them quite a bit, though they've, until recently, tended to be used by the more technology literate in my life. Which is a large number of my friends, unsuprisingly.

The bar on sites like Facebook seems to have come down recently - the generation gap has subsided - with various aunts, uncles, and parents on the site (can't tell how much any of them actually use it on a regular basis, doesn't seem like a lot). With the requisite filters set up to deal with mom and dad not being able to see every detail of my social life, I can deal with the fall of the generational barrier. Now if I could just get them to use the service in some meaningful way. Even an occasional status update or picture posted would be better that the mostly barren profiles I currently see. The youngest in my family are the heaviest users of facebook, I seem to fall somewhere in between, but even my sister and my cousins who are early gen-x'ers (as opposed to the borderline late gen x/early gen y'er) that I am seems to be using facebook quite a bit.

It occured to me at family Easter activities with my in-laws yesterday that the technology barrier is becoming an increasing problem for those without - I've seen lots of pictures of my 6 month old nephew via facebook, but my sister-in-law is less inclined to email or share those pictures in ways that the older members of my family can see. It's motivating people to want to get on facebook - my mother-in-law, who is seemingly always alternating between fear and disinterest of technology is even wanting to get in on the action. No Facebook account for her yet. Father-in-law does have an account (assuming for purpose of viewing said photos) which does not have so much as a profile picture (another sign of an extremely casual facebook user).

Meanwhile, my phone and unlimited text messaging plan has become a huge and constant distraction, and it is starting to impact my actual 1:1 communications with people. My phone rings, buzzes, beeps so much that I ignore legitimate calls and text messages till often long after they are relevant. I find myself leaving my phone in places where I will not hear it ring or buzz.

I became very keenly aware of how big of a distraction it was becoming when the new service Four Square recently opened its doors. The service is an evolution of Dodgeball, a now defunct service that a number of my friends used for several years. They've integrated it with Twitter versus making it it's own thing, which on the surface is a great thing for those of us that use Twitter. It has a better website then dodgeball ever did on day 1 and the mobile web experience is great. I really like the service. But I've already deleted my account. Why? Because of the level of distraction and the inability to control it. You can choose to publicly post your check ins on your twitter stream, which I was not interested in doing, but many of my friends do. So I can already see those there. But there's another option to send a direct message. I see this as sort of an either-or, but some of my friends chose to do both. It became a constant stream of text messages and twitter spam on a Friday/Saturday night. The last straw for me was when I awoke one Sunday morning to over 100 new text messages, many relaying the check in statuses of my friends out and and about the night before (and many in duplicate). I could turn off Dodgeball and completely ignore it when spending a night in - but not as much with this service. I think I've just hit a time and a place in my life where the appeal of going out to the bar often gets trumped by having a more low-key evening with a group of friends at somebody's house or just hanging out with my wife watching movies and such.

I've taken it a step further though, and something that happened at work prompted me to take it there. I was on a number of distributions that were crucial to my job a year ago, but now are unnecessary. I got off of these recently, and realized that they were generating a good 25% of my email. I also realized that I'm now able to focus more on the communications that actually need my attention. It occured to me that my personal cell phone was becoming much the same way - all the twitters and facebook updates were causing me to become distracted from matters at hand or communications with people (ask my wife, I've missed several crucial phone calls because of this). So, I've turned it all off, and I'm going to try and keep it that way for a while. I'll still look at Twitter and Facebook, but I'll pull the info when I want to see it, versus having any of it pushed to me. I think it will work out well and allow me to focus more with less distraction.