Friday, December 31, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 31 - Core Story

Core story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

I am a father, a husband, and a friend. I try to balance all of these things, but the father/husband part took precedence this year. These things give me purpose in my life. I haven't always had a lot of purpose in my post-college adult life, I've gone through periods where I didn't feel it as much. But I've never felt it more strongly than this year.

I noticed a couple of days ago on Twitter that many people were complaining about 2010 being a bad year for them. I can say nothing but the opposite, it was a great year, one of my best. I'm very happy with my life right now and having a purpose and living towards achieving that purpose is one of the big reasons why that is the case.

Of the three things, being a father is the newest adventure for me, and it's one that I look forward to continuing in the years to come. My daughter is a great joy. She is a wonderful young lady, already so full of happiness and smiles from an early age. I love seeing her grow and develop and being there for her when she's having a bad day (and she does).

I love my beautiful wife dearly and being married to her has been a great thing in my life. She is my best-friend, my life partner, my closest companion, and the person I spend the most time with. She knows me very well - we've been together 10 years, married for 5. Not all of that time has been flowers and sunshine between us, but the last year has been really magical in our marriage. Being able to share the joy of parenting with her has only strengthened us as a couple. My wife knows my strong suits and quirks very well, and she also knows what I don't like. We complement each other amazing well.

I've had a lot of friends over the years and people have come and gone, but the core group of people in my life at this time are great. All of them are very understanding about the demands my family places on me at the present time and I really appreciate that (some of them have their own family demands too!). I want to be better about reaching out to people to see how they are doing - it is admittedly something I'm terrible at lately, but may things continue to be great in the coming years with my friends.

2010 was a great year and I look forward to a 2011 filled with just as much fun, awesomeness, love and understanding.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 30 - Gift

Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What's the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

It's a cliche at this point in this month long exercise, but being a dad is the best gift I could have ever hoped for. It was somewhat of a long time coming, Katie and I tried for a while to get pregnant. We finally did. I'll never forget that day, and I'll never forget the day she was born.

Being responsible for the growth, development and safety of a little human being is so much more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. I enjoy her so much. It's really melted away a lot of the concerns in my life and gives things better focus. It's hard to describe to someone who's never had kids of their own, but other newly minted parents completely understand it. I really think that thinking what parenthood will be like before you have kids, and what it's actually like afterward are such different things.

Abby got an ornament from my Aunt Sue with a letter saying that she'd get one every year until she is 18. It was very heart-felt and I really appreciated it. The ornament was very pretty too.

We chose not to give gifts in my family this year, other than stocking stuffers. We still got a little carried away, but Abigail got the mass of gifts, and that was perfect. Gift giving tends to be such a pain in the ass sometimes, but when it pays off, it pays off. We got everyone in our family a book of pictures of Abigail via Shutterfly and this was one of the funnest gifts I've ever given to anybody. Very emotional and I think people appreciated it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Wrapup

A brief interlude from the rest of repeat nation 2010 Reverb 2010 to bring you this, my 2010 wrapup. I used to post these on my Livejournal but figured more people would catch it here nowadays.

Hat tip to Chele and Jenni for bringing this up, as they usually do.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?

Had a baby (and everything centered around it)
Cooked Thanksgiving dinner from scratch
Saw an outdoor MLB game in Minnesota (Target Field - Twins)

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I didn't do any last year, but some are floating around for next year. Not enough to commit to it, but loosely, I need to lose some weight and reign in the spending.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Well, besides us, we had many friends that gave birth - Mandy and Tom, Jim and Colleen, Rebecca and Julian, Katie's cousin Kirsten, Bridget and Tom, and I'm sure there's others I'm forgetting. Most of these babies made it to our house for our housewarming party too. Great fun.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. But lots of my friends and co-workers seem to have had this in their families.

5. What countries did you visit?
Nowhere else. I traveled once by plane this year, a just completed trip to North Carolina. Babies, you know.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
Can't think of too much, but more of a social life would be nice. Using opportunities to get out of the house.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 29-birth of my daughter
July 4th - my birthday and fun baseball game at Target field with awesome seats.
December 11 - Crazy Blizzard!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Becoming a father, and making good strides in my career.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I don't like this question. The word failuresucks. Besides, it's all relative.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing too serious, I did have a bad cold in October/November that lead to some additional medical investigation, which showed nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
iPhone 4. Hands down. Doesn't really ever leave my side for too long. Best gadget I've ever owned. I think Katie would agree with this for herself. I want to get the next gen iPad really bad. Damn Apple!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My wife for being an amazing mother while holding down a full time job (and then some). My friends for being awesome and understanding.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Without being too specific, certain members of my family. Not so much appalled as depressed though.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Our house, stuff for Abigail and savings/investments. We did pretty good on the last one despite all the additional expense.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Starting to see the potential in what our house could be and realizing that it's good enough for us to live in for a while even as is. Living in Minneapolis is very exciting for numerous reasons and I'm still really excited about moving there more than a year later.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
Serious answer: The Cave by Mumford and Sons. Pretty much that entire album, in fact.
Funny Answer: Whip My Hair by Willow Smith (I had to look up who that was by)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier
ii. thinner or fatter? about the same
iii. richer or poorer? richer in more ways than just monetary

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Staying organized, donating more time and money

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Being anxious and worrying about things I have little to no control over.

20. How did you be spending Christmas?
At my parents house in North Carolina. It was Abby's first out of state airplane trip and she did really well. We had a great time. And there was snow there. More than I cared to see.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?
I fell more in love with my wife if that's possible and I fell in love with a beautiful baby girl named Abigail.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Survivor: Heros vs Villians. Great stuff. Unfortunately, the followup, Nicaragua, was one of the worst ever.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year
I don't remember this question from previous years, but I'd say no. I don't really hate, I just forget about people. Easier that way.

24. What was the best book you read?
I didn't read that many this year, but I really liked In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Really got me thinking about how I could eat better, cut processed crap out of my diet and inspired me to join a CSA.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery of 2010?
Mumford and Sons, hands down. Oh, and that I could actually tolerate MGMT when I was in certain moods and (gasp!) even enjoy it - had dismissed them earlier in their careers.

26. What did you want and get?

27. What did you want and not get?  
Lots of stuff, mostly gadgets and computer related

28. What was your favorite film of this year? 

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?  
I turned 32. We went to a Twins Game while my in-laws watched Abby. It was one of Katie's first times away from her for more than an hour or two.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Less snow. We got dumped on hard.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
About the same as it's been. Probably out-dated.

32. What kept you sane? 
My daughter and my wife

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I don't really know. The Situation from Jersey Shore?

Kidding. I can't really think of anybody serious.

34. What political issue stirred you the most? 
Healthcare and the tax situation. And the fucking clown Republicans acting the fool. (and even sometimes the Dems doing the same, honestly).

35. Who did you miss?
Granddad Wyker. I always miss him. 

36. Who was the best new person you met? 
A couple of my co-workers that have been cool to work with.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010?'
It's not all about you, in fact, very little of it is about you.

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

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.

Reverb 10 - Day 29 - Defining moment

Defining moment. Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

OK, so a few of these this week have been somewhat repetitive, but this is nearly a clone of this one and I think it stands just as well. So I'm letting that link stand as today's posting.

See also: this

Nothing else new today that hasn't already been said!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 28 - Acheive

Achieve. What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

Man, this one feels a lot like Action on one of the early days. One which I had a hard time figuring out.

But I'll go in a more general direction here and say that I want to be the best dad I can be next year, and I'd imagine I'll be very happy when I accomplish that. Joyful and happy.

10 things I can do to experience that today? Let's take a stab at it:
1) Comfort her when she's crying
2) Relieve her mother when it's clear that she's exasperated/exhausted
3) Keep the house picked up
4) sing songs and read stories to her
5) love her unconditionally
6) watch her grow and develop into a beautiful little girl
7) have fun in interesting and new ways with her
8) teach her things
9) be there for her
10) be her dad

Oh boy, a bit of a stretch, but the gist of it is there.

Reverb 10 - Day 27 - Ordinary Joy

Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

These are kind of starting to get repetitive, it feels like. I guess it's hard to do 30 days of these without that happening. I'm a day behind too, and the one for today is also seemingly repetitive.

For this one, I really think it's watching my daughter play and interact socially. I sound like a broken record, I know, but having a child is such a central thing in a person's life, especially when they are a young infant. Watching Abby look around the room, taking it all in, is a lot of fun.

We took Abby to a restaurant last night where we put her in a high chair sitting up for the first time. She was very interested in what was going on in that restaurant, looking all around and taking it all in, smiling at everybody and looking quizzically at the young kid behind us that was having a temper tantrum. I love my daughter, and I love that she's so curious about the world, and not phased by a lot of people and things going on in whatever space she's in.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 26 - Soul Food

Soul food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

It's fresh in my mind, so it might be causing some bias, but my mom's Christmas dinner last night was probably the highlight. It was pretty great. Standard Christmas fare - Beef Tenderloin, carrots with chive and red pepper, Rosemary Parmesan Potatoes (which are the bomb, and I'm not a big potato guy normally. A cranberry-orange jello salad with a delicious topping and pies for desert.

I helped mom find several of the recipes online using a couple of sites that I know well. We used her new iMac in the kitchen, which I hope she continues to use for such purposes (and even had an Apple touch mouse lesson).

The food was good, clean, American Christmas food.

Since I'm biased about this, the runner up is some of the dishes I cooked using CSA materials. We cooked a lot of new things this year, including pea shoot pesto, which was probably my favorite, and Katie liked it a great deal as well. Our food processor got a good workout this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 25 - Photo

Photo - a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

Dance Party with Dad

We were dancing around the room. I feel like this picture shows my easygoing nature of being a father. Katie took it in our living room. Abby was two months old.

Reverb 10 - Day 24 - Everything's OK

Everything's OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

This one's easy. Any one of the moments I spent with my daughter. But the best are the early morning weekend moments where we hang out while her mom sleeps. The wonder and joy that are having children is really hard to put into words. It is more incredible then everybody could have told me before we had them.

Everything's going to be alright when you have a child. It put everything into focus, into perspective. She is the center of my world, of my universe. Most everything I do now is geared towards her and her mother. It puts everything else into proper perspective. Those things I worried about in my twenties? A lot of them have melted away.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 23 - New Name

New name. Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?


It was my grandfather's name and a name that I cherish. My mother's father. It will be my first-born son's name if we ever have a boy. (and his middle name will be William). And it's a name I'd be proud to have. My grandfather was a very special man. He passed away 7 years ago. I can't believe it's been so long. I often wonder what he'd think about the state of the world today. I think about him a lot this time of year because I spend Christmas with my mom's family.

Reverb 10 - Day 22 - Travels

Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

This one's easy. We didn't. Katie was too pregnant to fly anywhere in the first part of 2010, and once Abby was born, we didn't really go anywhere. The furthest we made it in her first couple of months was to visit our friends that were camping about an hour from our house.

Not exactly true, because to close out 2010 we decided to travel to my parents house in North Carolina, which involved flying. Abby's first plane ride was yesterday, fitting on the day I was supposed to write this. It went very well all things considered. We were warned by many that the pressure might be an issue for her, particularly on take-off and landing, but she was sleeping on take off and nursing on landing, so she barely noticed. A real trooper, I was proud of her.

Flying with kids is challenging. Not only do you have more stuff to bring with you, but you also have to deal with strollers and things of that nature. We bought a more portable umbrella stroller and a bag to go with it that is red with a gigantic "GATE CHECK" on the side of it. These things help ease the struggle. Going through security takes more time as well.

I hope to travel more in 2011, but with the little one, I'm not sure how much we'll actually go anywhere. She can still travel on Katie's lap, which seemed to work pretty well. We've talked about Mexico a couple of times, and it'd be fun to go somewhere like that with my parents. (built in babysitting!)

Reverb 10 - Day 21 - Future Self

Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

This is a good one. I'm just through the transition to fatherhood, so I don't see 5 years from now being terribly different than now, except that my kids will be older and there will be more than one of them. But I can give it a shot.

First off, be patient - remember how you learned patience in 2010 and keep applying that. Your kids will try you but don't let them get to you. You have a great depth of patience and understanding that you didn't even know you had and just started to discover in 2010.

2nd, Drive - keep up your drive, don't settle too far into a routine, don't let yourself get complacent about your career or your life. It's easy to get stuck in the routine and not push and challenge yourself, but don't let yourself get to that point. You don't want to be in a situation where you have career issues.

Those are the two main things I can think of. This is a tough one, because it's hard to envision what I'll be like in 5 years.

If I wrote a letter to myself of 10 years ago, here's what it would sound like:

Dear 2000 Bill,

The next 10 years will bring you great adventures in your life. That woman you just met and started dating? She'll end up being your wife and the mother of her child. Treat her right. Do all the little things for her - she'll appreciate it.

The things you find important now, you won't in 10 years, and your friends will come and go. Don't get too caught up in the dramas of the day, a lot of that will seem silly later on. Only dedicate time to those in your life that show an interest in reciprocating. Don't spend too much time on friendships where it doesn't seem like there is a strong mutual interest, you'll only get burned by that.

You will grow in ways you didn't even expect over the next 10 years. Enjoy the Ride.

Sincerly, 2010 Bill

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 20 - Beyond Avoidance

Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn't because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

Well, there's probably lots of little things I could talk about here, having a child deters things no matter what you do, that's for sure.

Probably the biggest thing is broadening my social horizons. I have a small set of friends that I hang out with on a regular basis and I appreciate that, but I'd also like to spend more time with a couple of sets of people, old and new friends, that I missed out on in 2010. Part of that was just having a baby and the demands on that. But Katie and I need to get better at seeking out babysitters and getting some semblance of balance back in our lives, I think it will benefit both of us.
Increasingly, we are socializing with other parents, and I'm sure that will grow stronger as Abby gets older.

I think we will do a better job of this next year, and I look forward to it. But at the end of the day, I don't mind chillin' at home with the kiddo either. At all. I love it, in fact.

Reverb 10 - Day 19 - Healing

Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

Oh no. Another topic that I really can't think of anything at first glance. What healed me this year? Pretty presumptuous to assume that I need to be healed in the first place. Or maybe that's just me as a dude putting up that front that dudes always put up when it comes to things related to healing (specifically thinking of doctors here, even though I know this is a more meta concept in this context).

So yeah, really nothing else to say here. Lame, I know.

Reverb 10 - Day 18 - Try

Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn't go for it?

When I think of try, I tend to think of foods for whatever reason. And really, a lot of the things I want to try probably revolve around cooking lately.

I'm seriously amateur when it comes to cooking. More food then I'd like to admit comes out of a package in our house. Though one of the things we tried in 2010 was joining a CSA. This allowed us to get fresh produce in our house from June until November. We're going to do it again next year because it was largely a success. Katie and I ate better, and while we threw out a fair amount of rotten produce, we did manage to eat quite a bit of it.

The CSA culminates with a delivery right before thanksgiving which became a big chunk of our thanksgiving meal. I had a goal to scratch cook everything for Thanksgiving dinner that we hosted at our house - no stove top or gravy packets or canned cranberries. It was a success. I made sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes with celery root (good, but I'm going to look for a different recipe next year.)

One of the things I want to try next year is to cook at least one dish with each of the produce we get from the CSA. I was probably on 80-90% this year, but I'm going to make it formal, and I also think it would be worthwhile to write about it here. That's a great idea, in fact.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reveb 10 - Day 17 - Lesson Learned

Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

This is another tough one - at first thought, I can't really think of anything in particular that I haven't already talked about. It'd be nice to talk about something other than becoming a new dad, but that dominated my life this year, so it's hard not to have everything center around that.

I think what I really learned this year more than anything is that I can persevere through a lot of things and keep going. Every year of my adult life, I've seemingly had more responsibility, more things going on, more financial things to track, just more of everything. With children comes more financial responsibility, life insurance, wills, health-care directives, all of these kinds of things. Better money management because there's now expenses related to having a child to deal with. I could go on and on.

I think dealing with all of this has taught me that I'm quite adept at it, and that I shouldn't fear the future, but embrace it. It has made me a more confident person that will power through whatever life throws at me.

Reverb 10 - Day 16 - Friendship

Prompt: Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

My best friend is my wife and she's also the person I've spent the most time with this year. Having a kid changes how you interact with your friends - it reduces the time you can spend with a lot of them.

My wife has shown me that it's possible to juggle 30 different things and live to tell about it. I've always been bad at multi-tasking - my wife is a pro. To see her be able to juggle a full time job with being a mom and doing all kinds of things around the house.

This has made me realize that I can do a better job of doing a lot of different things at once and juggling all of the demands of life.

Reverb 10 - Day 15 - 5 minutes

5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

OK, there's a lot of stuff that happened this year. The birth of my daughter is clearly number one. All the things that happened that day and in the subsequent days. The multiple visits from my parents and family, and how much joy they got out of being with my daughter.

Opening day at Target Field - being a part of something great and new and outdoors. So much fun to be there for the beginning of it all. Going hand in hand with that, 4th of July at Target Field with Katie for her first visit.

The multiple early snowstorms including Blizzard '10, the craziest snow event in a while around these parts.

The collapse of the Vikings and Favregate. It was bad, but it was also memorable. I will remember this team for how much promise they squandered. The dome collapsing was an incredibly metaphor for the season too.

Memorial Weekend and being able to briefly visit friends out camping with Abby.

Katie's shower weekend where I got to spend time with my dad and brother doing stuff at my house.

Those are just some of the many things that happened this year.

Reverb 10 - Day 14 - Appreciate

Appreciate. What's the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

I'm appreciating fatherhood and what it brings. I appreciate the chance to mold and shape a young lady's life into something great. I enjoy taking care of her and seeing her grown and develop into a little person. I express gratitude through it each and every day to my wife and my daughter by showing my affection for them.

Reverb 10 - Day 13 - Action

Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step?

We have a lot of ideas with what we can do with our house to modernize it and make it more our home. What we really need to do is meet with an architect and contractor and get a master plan, then get to work on it.

We made an appointment with someone but that's since been delayed till sometime next year.

That's probably the major thing I need to make happen in my life in the next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 12 - Body Integration.

Prompt: Body integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

Look, I'm a big guy. I'm overweight for my size. I've got a nice beer gut. I'm most integrated with my body when I'm eating. No kidding. I like food. But I've been able to wear the same clothes for a number of years, so I'm not sweating it too much.

But I did try to run this year. It was a moderate success - I proved that I could do it. I did the couch to 5k program. Really good deal if you haven't run in a while or on a regular basis before.

A couple of those runs felt really good, especially the first long run. There were definitely some runner-high moments there.

I hope to run more next spring - it's hard to do in the winter without a gym membership or a treadmill. We may eventually get a treadmill, we've been talking about it for a while.

Reverb - Day 11 - 11 Things.

Prompt: 11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn't need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

1) Procrastination - It's probably one of my worst traits, and having all these modern day digital distractions just exacerbates it. I will be a more productive person if I can reduce this.

2) Short Attention Span - going hand in hand with my number one, my lack of focus kills me sometimes. I have moments at home where I'm just a space case, half finishing things here and there until there are little messes all over the house. My leisure time is the worst, I find myself not able to read more than 10-20 pages of a book before I'm checking Twitter or looking for something else to do. I think I'll be more productive if I fix this.

3) Social Anxiety - I still have problems in large groups of people that I don't know that well - I stress about these events before I go to them and I tend to use alcohol as a crutch to get through them. I also don't place myself in these situations very often because of it, which is to the detriment of my social life sometimes.

4) Electronic Gadgets/Junk in my house - self explanatory. I have a closet full of it. Most of it needs to go.

5) Less Clothing - My wardrobe is absurdly large and I probably wear half of it on a regular basis. Need to prune things out pretty badly. I've also been saying this for several months, going hand in hand with 1.

6) Messiness - Pick up the messes. This is exacerbated with kids, all the more reason to be more diligent. At least we have a cleaning person now. Well worth the money.

7) Negativity - I've been doing better with this one, but I still tend to be a negative person sometimes, and wear it on my sleeve. My co-workers and friends usually call me on it when I am. I am generally really optimistic though.

8) Bad Friends - there's a few people I just need to jettison out of my life because they no longer contribute to my happiness. Struggling with this.

9) Arguments with my wife - most of them serve no purpose and are the result of:

10) Bad Temper - It's way better than it used to be, but still has its moments. Need to keep working on the things that I know can help me successfully manage it.

11) Sports Obsessions - I took the Vikings a little too seriously this year and was let down (see also: Twins). Need to remember sometimes that it's just a game and it's not the end of the world if they lose the big game.

Reverb 10 - Day 10 - Wisdom

Prompt: Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

I really had a hard time with this one, so difficult that it's now 4 days later and I'm finally getting around to it. I always start out strong on these 30 day things, and I always end up doing them in 3 or 4 day chunks for whatever reason. It's not like I didn't have plenty of time during the weekend when we were snowed in.

Anyway, the wisest decision we made this year was probably to put Abigail in a daycare close to our house instead of a center. Even though there are benefits to a center, at her age, it makes little difference. We looked at some centers and at some in-homes and ultimately decided to go with one near our house. Sometimes people are a little leary of in-home daycare centers, but ours has worked out great so far. We may put her in a center later on, but for now it's excellent - and less than a block from our house. (so close that we can see it from the back windows). Our provider goes the extra mile and does little things like calls to make sure everything's ok if Abby goes home sick. Those are nice touches.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 9 - Party

Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Well, by now, it's no secret that we had a kid this year and the partying was somewhat limited.

There are two parties that stand out. (by the way, "rocked your socks off"? this is a colloquialism that makes the author sound old. And it looks like she's around my age. Nerdy.) One is our housewarming party and the other is my neighbor's first "Adult Beverage Club" party.

Our housewarming was long overdue, due mostly to that we had a lot of work to do on our house, and Katie was pregnant with Abby when we moved in. We invited a lot of people, mostly through Facebook (which I wouldn't necessarily use again as an invite tool). We had a good turnout of family and friends, including many babies of couples that had them around Abby's birth - we had multiple friends who had babies within a few months.

The party was fun - it started in the afternoon and went until the early evening. I got a keg of Summit, which was popular and bought entirely too much beer which we spent the rest of the summer getting rid of. We had the deck set up with rental tables and we had some in the back yard as well.

Our neighbor's party was the first meeting of what will hopefully be more. We all brought a six pack of beer to share - and it was clear that people wanted to show that they were connoisseurs of craft beer - some nice selections and appreciation from a few of the Rogue Dead Guy Ale that I brought. (not a common beer around here yet).

Good conversations were had, I met a lot of people that I hadn't previously and lots of beer was drank and appetizers consumed. My neighbor Chris, one of the hosts, is a home-brewer and he showed off his setup, which, to my untrained eye was a nice one.

It wasn't really a year for crazy ragers, and I think I missed most of the ones that were but I'm sure they'll be more down the road.

Reverb 10 - Day 8 - Beautifully Different

Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.

OK, so the other day after I posted one of my Reverb 10 posts, I saw a comment on Twitter from someone that linked to me that people should support the men doing this because there aren't many of them. It didn't occur to me when I signed up for this that it might be the case, but in retrospect, this makes sense.

So here's the first topic where I had an adverse reaction upon reading - what the heck am I going to write here. No offense ladies, but this is kind of a chicky topic. I'm perfectly capable of writing about my feelings in public, but there's a line, and this comes close to it. Almost a little too kumbaya for me.

So after two paragraphs of protest, I'll tell you what I think. I think what makes me a unique person is my sense of humor, my analytical skills, and my easy going nature which gives me the ability to empathize and forgive easily.

I am kind of a joker - but I often have a very dry wit and can be really sarcastic. Sometimes I'm sarcastic to the point where people don't understand that I am being sarcastic. (usually on Twitter when there's often no context or tone). I like to make people laugh. A big thing with my daughter right now is getting her to laugh. She'll squeal, but ongoing laughter has mostly alluded me thus far, and this is one of my goals.

Analytically, I'm a good problem solver, and I'm geared well towards careers that involve a lot of analytical capability. In my personal life, I build complex budgets and debt snowball models which I'm constantly updated in Excel. I'm hoping to parlay this ability into building some things for my home - I keep watching This Old House and thinking - "I could do this" when they show various re-modeling tasks that I haven't previously conquered.

As far as my easy going nature goes, I think this really helps me from going to the loony bin and it's really how I stay leveled. My wife and I balance each other out - while her mind races, I'm able to put things out of mind and relax, and show her how to do this. I am really good at empathizing and seeing things from other people's point of views, sometimes almost to a fault.

So I don't know that these things are different from a lot of people, but they are my traits that I think set me apart. My competitive advantage, so-to-speak.

Reverb 10 - Day 7 - Community.

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

We became a more integral part of our neighborhood this year, going to national night out, and a party thrown by one of our neighbors. We also had some friends move into our neighborhood. I have a stronger sense of physical community than I've had in a long time.

I hope to continue to build on that community. My neighborhood is a mix of old and young, and definitely starting to skew towards the younger end of things. I see a willingness of a lot of my neighbors to make an effort to build on what we've already started. It often feels like this gets neglected in the modern age - a sense of neighborhood community. A lot of people just get home from work, go into their houses, not to emerge till the next day. Winter in Minneapolis does not help this, unfortunately.

Reverb 10 - Day 6 - Make

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

I'm getting a little behind on these because of work/home requirements.

I made Thanksgiving dinner for my family this year. We made turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. We made everything from scratch. I'm trying to do more scratch cooking lately because it's better for you and really not that hard. For example, while being a buyer of cranberry in the past, I found it amazingly easy to make the sauce with fresh cranberries. So easy that I wonder why the canned stuff even exists.

We had a 11 pound turkey for 6 people. We used a citrus brine which we started the night before. It was our second attempt at doing a brine and it worked quite well, the only thing I would have done differently is thawed the frozen turkey a little bit more before we put it in the brine (it was straight out of the freezer). We stuffed it with vegetables in lieu of traditional stuffing.

I made a traditional cranberry sauce and stuffing, which both turned out very well (I halved the stuffing recipe but forgot to halve the salt so it was a tidge salty, though nobody complained to my face).

As far as what I aspire to make, I aspire to be a better cook/chef in the kitchen. I've got a lot of the basics down, but I'd like to improve my knife skills and maybe learn a few more basic things. I also want to hang out with my food inclined friends while they cook more in 2011, if I'm able to.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 5 - Let Go

December 5 – Let Go.

What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

(Author: Alice Bradley)


I told you a lot of these were going to be baby related. I used to be a sound sleeper who needed a lot of sleep. I always pushed getting up in the morning during the week and was not typically an early riser on the weekend either (10-11am was typical).

My sleep habits started to change while Katie was pregnant. There were many nights where I'd fall asleep on the couch early in the evening, go to bed, and a few hours later be wide awake. (usually around midnight or 1, sometimes later). I think this was my body preparing me for a baby, somehow. Usually a quick dose of something off the TiVo would take care of it and I'd go back to bed. (I just did this last night for the first time in a while - it drives Katie nuts - she doesn't sleep as well when I'm not in bed with her.

Since Abby was born I can count on two hands the number of times I've slept in on the weekend past about 8am. Probably about 6 or 7. I'm often on wake up early duty on the weekends, because I can survive on less sleep than my wife generally needs. Plus, I enjoy mornings with Abby in the living room, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, and listening to podcasts.

Sleep is over-rated anyway. Though I do enjoy a nice 10 hour jaunt every once in a while.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 4 - Wonder

December 4 – Wonder.

How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

The first prompt I haven't really liked that much.

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but most of the sense of wonder (when I had it, I feel like I could improve on this, in all honesty) was looking at the world through the eyes of my daughter. To see her, from a very early age, explorer the world around her and try to figure out how things work is really an amazing thing.

That's all I really have to say about this topic.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 3 - Moment

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

I have a feeling a number of these entries are going to be about my daughter, the first one was, and this one will be too. I am going to talk about the moment during and right after my daughter was born.

Abigail was born inside of an operating room in the maternity ward at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St Louis Park. My wife Katie was prepped and ready to go for a c-section due to Abby being breech. I came in when they were ready to go. I'm squeamish in hospital settings, especially when blood is involved. There was a large white sheet covering so all I could see was Katie's head. Anesthesiology assistant told me not to look above the sheets. Later learned that Katie told her to say that, and I could have looked. Probably good that I didn't. It didn't take long once I was in the room. Doctor went in and baby came out. Katie had a look of sheer terror on her face when they were going in and I was doing my best to be supportive. The doctor held Abby up above the sheet, a little bit of blood dripped onto the sheet below Katie's head. The sterile smell of the room surrounds us as we smiled at each other. Abby was immediately whisked away to be cleaned off and checked up and I went with her while they sewed Katie back up.

Into the next room. I'm staring at my beautiful baby girl under the heat lamps while two nurses attend to her, getting the stuff out of her nose and airways, cleaning up her skin, and having her do a bit of light but still piercing cry. The vocals work and we can breathe! Crying! A very joyous sound on a baby just exiting the womb. Her eyes still haven't opened yet. One of the nurses asks me if I want to trim the cord, and if I want a picture. It's then that I realize that no pictures have been taken yet. Abby's first picture is taken of me trimming the cord. The nurses measure her and weigh her, and I put my first diaper on her (literally never having done so before, I needed a little primer from the nurse). This has happened, this is real, and its just me and her right now. Been waiting months and months for this (By the way, I'm getting teary just writing this now, 7 months later).

The camera comes out again and I shoot a video while the nurses are cleaning up, and her eyes open while I'm doing that, for the first time. I'm probably the first (fuzzy) thing my daughter ever saw. I'll always have that, I suppose (wish it would've been my wife). That video was shown multiple times to my wife afterward, and I'm proud that I captured her first "eyes open" moment.

We're whisked away to the baby nursery after a few more minutes - I'm under strict wife orders to stay with Abigail until she can be re-united with her mother. More tests. First sign that there might be troubles pop up - her pulse-ox is slightly low and her blood sugar levels are low as well. Katie and I were very gung ho about breastfeeding, but the nurses are already suggesting bottle feeding with formula to get her sugar levels back up. I don't know how to handle that and everything gets a little crazy inside my head while I try to figure this out. People are coming and going all around me in the typical zoo that a mid-day baby nursery at a major hospital tends to be. One of the nurses can sense that I'm struggling with this and suggests that I go consult Katie, who's now back in a recovery room. I do that, but she's still too out of it to really have much to say about it but gives the ok to supplement.

We try cup feeding since I didn't want to use the bottle - I had heard so many things about nipple confusion and staying away from the bottle. That seems to work, though this little baby in my arms barely knows what to do with it. Nurses check the pulse-ox again and find it's still low and decide to take her to the intensive care nursery. They are careful to tell me it's just a pre-caution and that she'll get better care there. It's right down the hall. I go back to tell Katie this and by that time, her dad has arrived, very anxious to see his new granddaughter. We went back to intensive care. It's now been some length of time since she was born, and Katie still hasn't held her yet.

Finally, all-clear happens and Katie is reunited with Abby. Things settle in and we get used to life as parents.

I'll never, ever forget this day.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reverb 10 - Day 2 - Writing

December 2 Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)

The question for me should probably be "What don't I do?" I have many habits that contribute to not writing as often as I'd like to. I used to be a more prolific writer in various forums around the internet, mostly in my personal blog. I've never been much of a public blogger. Now, it's often an afterthought, or really only utilized when I feel particularly strongly about something. This is due to a number of factors, which I explain below.

What can I do to eliminate?

Avoid distractions - television, Twitter, Facebook, other mindless activities. While I do enjoy all of these things, they get in the way of writing, sometimes to the detriment of my sanity (I subscribe to the theory that writing as therapy). Twitter is very addictive, but it can really be at the detriment of the longer form. 140 characters is good for a lot of things, but it's also not good for a lot of things.

Stop procrastinating - I am a gigantic procrastinator in a lot of things I do, both at work and at home. This causes way more time to be taken on certain activities then really should be.

Stay focused - environmental degradation (ED) is what I call what has happened to us to just about all of us on a daily basis. Beeping mobile devices, blaring televisions, blinking computer screens, ringing telephones. These are all detractors. I want to take several hours a week with as little ED as possible to read, write, and reflect. It's very important. It's hard to do when you're trying to blog, because all of that stuff is right there on the computer as you are writing.

Reverb 10 - Day 1 - One Word

Wendy linked to this Reverb10 thing and I decided that in an effort to blog more often, I was going to do it. I'm a day behind, so I'll do 2 today. Here we go:

December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)


The birth of my daughter Abigail in April dominated my year. There were a lot of other things that happened, but bringing a new life into this world and the growth that accompanies it was the highlight of my 2010. It changed a lot of things about my perspective on the world, including putting the relative importance of many things into perspective. I thought she'd be the center of my world before she was born, and she was even stronger than I could have possibly imagined. Nary a bad day at work doesn't also come with the joy of returning home to see Abby's smiling face, and that makes everything better.

For 2011, I'd like the word to be "Growth". I'd like to grow more as a person, as a father, as a husband and as a friend. I'd like to put myself out there more often, take more risks in my life, and try to maintain a positive attitude, avoiding the pitfalls of negativity that so often grasp at me. I'd like to achieve more solid growth in my career and not feel like I'm spinning my tires half the time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Google Voice Strategy

I signed up for Google Voice forever ago when it was still known as "Grand Central", before Google bought it. I had a phone number for it but I never really utilized it until Google turned it into Google Voice and created more options for voice-mail management.

At the time, I was with Sprint and they had just implemented conditional forwarding where they did not charge an additional fee to forward calls. Conditional forwarding is the ability to forward calls to a different number based on certain conditions. In the case of Google Voice, you set up a conditional forward to your Google Voice number based on a call going to voicemail.

Once you forward to Google, you can do several things - you can just answer the call with it's voice-mail service and you can also tell it to forward to another phone number for a certain number of rings before rolling back to voice-mail.

Google's voice-mail is nice - it transcribes if it's able, it's accessible via phone as traditional voice-mail is, you can have it send you text messages of the transcripts, and there's various smartphone apps for iPhone, etc and native support in Android. There's also a mobile web interface if all else fails.

Checking voicemail is a task that I abhor, so being able to see transcripts of messages is a great thing. They are generally accurate enough to get the gist of it - I'd say I have to listen to about 10-20% of the messages I get anyway.

Recently, Google opened up voice to all of its account holders. I have multiple Google accounts for various things, so I recently added some numbers.

My main number is still mostly unused - I have given it out to some things, but it forwards to my cell phone number. Since number portability is so common, I expect to have the same cell phone number forever and so the ability to have another number that you own and can forward anywhere isn't of much use to me at the moment.

What is useful is a second phone number that I can give out to individuals and organizations for which I believe it might be used in an attempt to solicit without my consent. This phone number goes nowhere but a voice-mail box for which I recorded a greeting - and an email is sent to my main gmail account. Like most people, I don't want to receive cold calls on my phone, particularly my cell phone. I recently subscribed to the Star Tribune and gave them this number - they can leave voice-mails to their hearts content about being a subscriber on my dead end voice-mail box, and I can still get any relevant messages from them. I plan to employ this number for most everything I have to give out to organizations from now on, and is a convenient number to use for the alumni associations of my Alma Maters too.

I'm very happy with the Google Voice service so far. Like most things Google does, they do it well and they constantly iterate.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My festival/tennis summer vacation idea

I've not been to many festivals even in the United States - I had an opportunity to go to Bonaroo back in the first couple of years, but didn't do it for whatever reason. There haven't been a whole lot of other opportunities since then - most of the US festivals are on the coasts or elsewhere. Lollapalooza has really not been that interesting to me, and that, along with the much smaller (snooze) Pitchfork festival are probably my closest options.

I discovered this high-def only channel when we bought our new TV called Palladia, which seems to be an outlet for Viacom to repurpose HD content, but good HD content. It's actually about the (mostly live) music, as opposed to their mainstays which have very little to do with music anymore and are more lifestyle oriented (and surprisingly, we don't get in HD yet, but we do get this other, awesome channel)

Watching Palladia has helped fuel my wish to someday go to the Glastonbury music festival to fuel my love of multiple different kids of music (specifically rock and dance), and while I'm at it, take in some other things that go on at that time of year. It would involve going over to the UK and Ireland for 2 to 3 weeks to take in Glastonbury in the UK in the last weekend of June and the Oxegen festival in Ireland which is usually the second weekend of July. In between, I'd want to take in some tennis at Wimbledon (my favorite Tennis tournament for whatever reason) and the sights of Ireland and the UK. I haven't spent any time anywhere other than London and I was 15 when I was last there, so it'd be totally different.

I feel like I'm skewing on the older end of the audience for these festivals given the crowds I've seen in various films of the past festivals. And I could potentially skip the Oxegen festival if the lineup was close enough (the same bands tend to do the festival circuit in Europe, which lasts all summer). Going to Glastonbury would probably be enough.

I have no idea how hard or easy it is to get tickets to any of these things either - Glastonbury sells out in less than 24 hours and many people get shut out. I have no idea if there's a secondary market for it. Wimbledon also seems like it'd be an expensive endeavor. I'd also have to figure out how to work the family into the mix, a tougher proposition when you have a wife that's not a huge live music fan and small children, not compatible with anything.

It's still just a crazy idea in my head, but maybe it'll happen someday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The summer of buying stuff - iPhone 4

I have not been good about updating here. At any rate, it's been a good summer. My wife is back at work and the little one is doing quite well.

I talk quite a bit about things I buy on here, and it has been quite the summer for that. I talked about my TV in a previous post and I've talked about phones.

We did end up getting iPhones a few weeks ago. I liked what I saw with the iPhone 4, and I planted the seed with Katie that she could get one too (I figured that she'd use it more than some other smartphone/device). My Sprint contract expired and that happened to coincide with Katie getting water on the contact of her Palm Centro that she was using and rendering it useless (not before I managed to rescue her contacts in one last sync!).

We have various old Sprint phones lying around from 10+ years of being a customer, the problem is that most of the chargers got thrown out when we moved for whatever reason. So switching Katie to another phone was not really a viable option. I was oh-so-tempted to just re-up with Sprint and get an Evo and get her a Palm Pixi or something similar (she liked the QWERTY on her Centro). But I resisted the urge to do that, and we finally ended up deciding to switch to AT&T and get iPhones.

This was a few weeks ago, and at the time, there was still a shortage of iPhone 4's. If I had a lot of time, I would have ordered through the corporate discount site and waited, but since Katie was sans phone, I decided to try and track some down locally and deal with converting the account to the corporate discount later on. I printed out a list of stores and Katie started calling. Low and behold, the first Apple store she called on a Sunday morning had a "few" 16GB's (what Katie wanted) and "a lot" of 32's (what I wanted) in stock. So I went over there shortly after they opened. They must not have had that many 16's, because they were out when I got there, but they did have 32's and I picked up two of them.

Say what you will about the Apple store. It does have a weird cult-like feel to it, I do admit. But their service is stellar. I was in and out in 20 minutes flat with the new phones. I had left my old phone with Katie and attempted to call her on my blackberry and tell her it was switching over, but the iPhone in my pocket was already ringing. It happens that quick to port a number (never done it before, as I've been with Sprint the whole time). The Apple store employees are top notch.

I got home and got everything set up. I had rescued Katie's contacts from her old phone via Outlook, and I exported those to her Google Account. I had our Google accounts linked via exchange and push in no time flat (done that config several times on my old ipod touch). Boom, all of our contacts are just there, calendars are updated, and my mail is streaming to the device. It just works. I've heard people complain about being a Google platform junkie with iPhones, but hey, it works fine for me. You can use the HTML 5 web apps in Safari and those work very well as well (I use Reader a lot on it, and like it quite a bit). I mean, clearly, android would have been a good fit for my Google loving self too, but Apple plays fine with that world (ironically - thanks to a Microsoft technology!).

I've been a fervent iPod touch user for several years, and this experience is not that different. There's a camera and a phone, and you can access data anywhere but that's really the only difference.

AT&T still leaves a lot to be desired from a pricing perspective - Sprint definitely had them beat there. But my net is going to be a savings of about 10-15 bucks a month. I was actually paying Sprint for things I wasn't really using, which I can get around on AT&T. We went aggressive on the minutes, but have roll-over and won't have to worry about that after a couple of months. I also went really aggressive on text messages, since I don't use that many any longer. I turned off all the services I had texting me, because the iPhone has an app with alerts for most of those things as well (and frankly, I'm trying to funnel everything through email since it's much cheaper to use that on an iPhone than text messaging).

So far so good. Katie likes her phone quite a bit. It does seem to drop calls more than the average phone, but maybe that's just a fluke. I don't know. Verizon and Sprint did not work particularly well within the confines of our house, and AT&T seems to have much better signal strength (I can maintain a call in our basement on my iPhone, I couldn't do that with my old phone consistently).

I guess they all have their flaws, and I'm willing to put up with AT&T for the iPhone. Sucked in by Steve Jobs. I'm still pretty sure I'll end up on Android at some point, but for now, I'm liking what I've got.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How we bought a TV

A 46" flat panel LED LCD HDTV (how many acronyms can we use in a row?) is now gracing the wall in my basement man cave. Up until last night the man cave was the hobby cave and sitting room. A TV transforms it over night into "the room Bill will spend the most time in".

This was probably my wife's motive when she suggested we buy this beautiful piece of electronic goodness. In fact, there's no probably about it, it was her motive. She wanted to reclaim her living room from my clutches. There's been far too much World Cup, Golf, Wimbledon, and baseball game viewing the last few weeks, and I honestly think she'd had enough of it. Not that she'd admit that, necessarily.

It was all triggered by a Best Buy Coupon that Katie got at the pride parade that promised a $100 gift card with the purchase of $1000 or more. She brought up the idea on Sunday afternoon and it had me quickly looking at the available deals. I'm all about playing the zero financing game, particularly if you can buy a product for close to what you'd get if you didn't have the deal. That's becoming tougher. Increasingly, stores like Best Buy are offering "zero down" deals but what you might not notice if you don't shop around is that you're not getting a particularly good deal. I see no real downside, other than the cost of these deals is often shoveled back into the cost of the item.

I've worked this deal with a number of items recently - our Tivo, the deck furniture, and the dishwasher. We buy it with zero interest for x amount of time, and then I set up a monthly payment in my bank's bill pay system to pay it off a month shy of when that deal expires. Of course, if you don't pay it in full, you get robbed - we're talking 25%+ interest rate. I'm assuming that's what ends up happening to a certain percentage of people, but I've never let it happen to me.

So we ended up buying a TV at Best Buy utilizing 3 years, no interest (which we'll probably pay off in a couple of months, but it helps the cash flow for now). We borrowed a friend's truck to take it home, because delivery was another 100 bucks. Another thing - Best Buy's prices are often higher on their web site than those in store, but they still charge sales tax. They offer free delivery online, but on TV's at least, that appeared to be a wash - if you chose to have the TV delivered. Do it yourself, and you save a bit.

Modern flat panel displays are quite light, and other than the size, are not difficult to move around. There's a wide array of options to choose from. We ended up deciding on a size and type, and then looking at what reviewed well on consumer reports. Type is less of a factor now - plasma is the older, established technology, but most of the shortcomings of LCD screens in the past are gone. The price differential is very small now and several companies have gotten out of the Plasma game altogether. So we decided to focus on LCD displays, although the differences between the two at the end of the day are pretty small. Sony Bravia and Samsung LCD panels topped the reviews, with Toshiba and LG also ranking well. I know Sony had some issues over the past few years from talking to some of my AV oriented friends, but they've come back strong this year. I looked at the Sony

Once we had a size, it was up to how much we were going to spend on features. Pretty much all the TV's sold now support 1080P (was not the case just a few years ago). The key differentiators on LCD displays right now are the types of lighting the TV's use, the engine that drives the picture and the speed refresh of the screen.

As far as lighting goes, there are LED or conventional back-lit displays. LED TV's are new and use less energy than traditional back lit. The price difference on these has gotten to be quite small. LED lit displays command a few hundred more dollars, but the difference in energy use seems like it might be worth it over the life of the TV.

The engine that drives the TV can make a big difference in the picture. Sony has the Bravia engine, which works very well, and the Samsung models we looked at achieved similar results via their own engine (the engine is the differentiator since the actual display hardware in a Samsung or Sony TV is virtually identical since the panels are made via a joint-venture between the two companies).

The last item, which I failed to consider before landing in the store for the final purchase, is the refresh rate. Many of the LCD TVs are 60hz refresh, but increasingly being offered at 120hz. The advantage is you get less blur when watching sports. The sales person at Best Buy convinced us to buy the higher refresh rate TV. It was only 80 more than the model without.

So we ended up with a Sony Bravia EX700 series 46" panel. I'm very pleased with it so far. We already had a Tivo capable of HD which we moved to the new TV. I bought an expander for the Tivo as well, since the HD capacity of it was suspect without. I plugged it in via the HDMI cable and it just worked. TV's have gotten so much easier to use with HDMI.

The only issue I've had so far is that the audio was lagging on some of the high def channels. This was being caused by the optical audio out on my Tivo having a delay. I hooked up the optical output to the TV instead and the delay went away. Probably good anyway, since I'm going to have to use the TV to do switching until I buy a different amp, an effort that also gets much easier with HDMI cables that carry both picture and digital audio.

Haven't bought a blue-ray player yet. I'm tempted to get a PS3 to provide that functionality and also have a video game system, but I won't pull the trigger on that for a while. We just canceled Netflix and our movie watching has gone down for the summer. I can rent high-def movies from amazon on demand and will probably use that to fill the gap.

Ironically, this will probably get me watching less TV because we put the TV in our basement, which separates it somewhat from the day-to-day activities of the house. And this is a good thing, because in the end, I want to read more anyway. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My impending mobile phone decision

I have a year and a half old Palm Treo 800w. It's been a good, fully functional phone. It has a few shortcomings, like the battery life has never been that stellar, but you buy a few more charging accessories and that's really not a problem very often, particularly because I sit at a desk all day, and have a car charger.

The chief issue is that it's a Windows Mobile phone. Probably the least developed for of the major smartphone platforms (And it's running an old version, to boot). Increasingly, there's been a shift to Android.

I've been a Sprint customer since 1998 and had the same phone number with them through too many phones to count, starting with that brick-ish Qualcomm phone back in the day (when Qualcomm still made phones as opposed to just milking their CDMA patents for all they are worth).

Sprint gets a really hard knock lately as a wireless provider. Their phones have tended to be substandard compared to Verizon and AT&T, and their customer service issues are well known. I've not experienced any significant customer service issues and have even been lumped into "Sprint Premiere" which is an MVC type program which, as far as I can tell, has relatively few benefits that are of use to me. A discount on your already hugely marked up phone accessories? No thanks! They do have one benefit there - which is that you can get upgrade price on a phone after 1 year instead of two, but I haven't taken advantage of that thus far.

I have a dilemma coming up. My contract is up with Sprint in July. The HTC Evo on Sprint looks to be the best fit of the Smartphones available in the next 60-90 days. Perfect, right? Because I'm already on Sprint. But they are going to charge a phantom 10 bucks a month more for the service, and I'm already having issues with how much I'm paying Sprint for my family plan.

At the same time, I've been pricing out AT&T with the new corporate discount that I can get through work. And I can get an iPhone, Katie can get something and we can save 20 or 30 a month over our current plan if it all works out. And I just got a Blackberry from work on AT&T to try it out. And the performance of their network is better than Sprint has been for me in the places I regularly am. So this is not boding well for Sprint.

My current plan is to wait to see what is announced for the next gen iPhone, and then evaluate at that time. My current Sprint contract is up in July, so if I do decide to go iPhone, I'll probably do it then and make the AT&T switch. I can't even believe I'm saying that.

If I decide to go to an Evo I'll probably buy one in June sometime. And I'm going to try and work the Sprint retentions people for all it's worth. I'd like to stay off contract and still get a good price on that phone if possible as well.

Decisions, Decisions.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Earthtainers galore!

Bless me blog readers, for I have sinned and not posted for a long while. Well, we've been really busy with a new baby and all, so I guess I have a good excuse.

I've also spent a good chunk of my free time the last week constructing 7 EarthTainers for various people and inspired building of at least 4 additional EarthTainers that I know of (with consultation to the builder).

For those of you that are like, "huh, what's he talking about?", an EarthTainer is a container growing system that ensures vegetable plants, usually tomatoes, are properly watered. I built one last year after reading about it on LifeHacker a year ago (Lifehacker is a must read, if you don't already read it, particularly for the tinkering types among us). It took me several hours and lots of new tools and parts to build one last year. The results? They were pretty great - my tomato yield was fantastic.

Tomato plants mid summer

Several of my friends caught on to my little project and were interested in building containers of their own, so I told a few people that I'd help them build these this year.

Last Thursday I went over to Jenni and Matt's place, and built 3 containers for her. It went really smoothly and it's a lot easier of a project when you have people to help. Jenni's planting tomatoes and peppers in her containers. I can't wait to go over and see how they are growing.

This past weekend, I built 4 more containers, 1 more for myself, 1 for my father-in-law and 2 for my friend and co-worker. My friend's family was so impressed with them that they were building 4 more total for 2 different people.

I'm pretty excited about the 11 earthtainers I've built or inspired, and I'm sure there will be many more. I bet the Lowes in West St Paul and Plymouth are wondering why there's a run on 31 gallon tan RuggedTotes.

If you do decide to build, there's a frequently updated PDF here, and if you're local to the Twin Cities and need assistance, feel free to get in touch with me.

As for my bins, I'm growing 4 tomato plants this year. I have to still buy those and plant them, but that will happen sometime this week.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Personal Finance - Keeping Track of Bills on Google Calendar

I used to be an fervent user of Quicken. I'd load all the detail in there and even maintained a cash account to track every single last dime.

I did this up until a couple of years ago when it started getting more complicated, and also around the same time that Mint came on the scene and I started loading everything into that. I've never really had any issues using Mint to store info that's available everywhere else anyway.

Mint has slowly evolved to be an online competitor to Quicken. It's still not as full featured, but it's got basically everything I need - namely budgeting and trending tools with the ability to categorize transactions.

Mint works more seamlessly than anything in quicken ever did. I do have to review transactions periodically to ensure they are in the proper categories - it has a tendency to mis-categorize certain things, though you can give it rules to fix that stuff. For example, I bank with USAA and also use them as an insurance company. I tend to get emails that I exceeded my spending on Auto Insurance for the month when really I just made a big transfer to my USAA savings account that it classified as Auto Insurance when really it was just a Transfer. The only other issue currently an issue with my 401k provider not able to be accessed by mint after it was available for a while due to a provider change. Hopefully they'll fix that. In the meantime, there's not really a good way to track that info short of entering it as an asset and manually updating it. It's not ideal, but at least it allows me to still track all my assets in one place.

But other than those small things, mint's served my needs quite well. One of the things I used to use Quicken for was the ability to schedule transactions ahead of time. Like a lot of people these days, I don't "balance a checkbook" in the traditional sense since we hardly write any checks. But I still have a need to ensure that there's the appropriate amount of money in my account to pay scheduled bills. I have most of our bills on ACH withdraw with the respective companies, and have our mortgage on a bi-weekly schedule to coincide with both me and my wife's pay schedule (we work for the same company).

About 2 months ago, my wife was complaining about how she didn't know when bills were due and how much money was left in our joint account, so I decided to create a new Google Calendar called "Bill Calendar" that I'd share with her. I've used Google Calendar for several years, and stepped up my use about 2 years ago when I got a smart-phone that could sync to it via exchange. My wife has also become a regular user of it and we use it to coordinate schedules quite regularly, so it was a good option for me to share this information.

The calendar I created for Bills also helps me to better track our upcoming expenses at a quick glance. It's really simple - I simply put the bill name and amount as an "all day event". It looks like this when it's done:
I do this for all of my bills as well as any regular post-paycheck investments, of which we have several. For the investments and some of the recurring bills that are always the same amount, same due date, I make it a recurring event.

It's working very well for me and is a simple way at a glance to plan expenditures. It also helps me to not forget one time things that I pay for and do a better job of managing our balances.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On Target Field

The view from my seat on Twitpic
I managed to snag some tickets to the Twins Home opener a few weeks ago, that small chance that I talked about here panned out for me - as I had the opportunity to purchase tickets from a guy that always gets us tickets for the opener. His allotment was way down so I couldn't get as many tickets, but I was still able to get some.

I got down to Target Field early, about 1pm, after doing some work in the morning on my couch while watching the countdown coverage. I parked in the NorthStar ramp and walked down 6th street, being told it was the best and most dramatic way to come into the park. I hadn't really been downtown near the Target Plaza in a while (though I had seen lots of pictures), but I was still impressed by how it melds right into downtown so seamlessly. (the bridge that starts close to the Target Center seems like it's always been there). And it really is a dramatic entrance - the park is quite visible from a few blocks away - and walking there in my Twins garb among the people working downtown was pretty fun.

I got into the park and found my seat. There were not many people there yet, but for almost 2 hours before game time, there were quite a few. I decided to walk around the concourse once. It reminds me a lot of the newer ballparks I've been in - Miller Park and Minute Made Park come to mind - the open concourses are pretty similar. Target Field seems like it's the most open of all - pretty much all the way around on the first concourse it's open to the field. Even at those other parks there are stretches where it's not. The attention to detail is really striking at Target Field too - the art, the granite, the perfectly sculpted canopy (which looks awesome at night when they are not playing, all lit up), the way the lights are integrated into the canopy. I could go on and on. And the fan friendly features - such as the area where you can look right down into the bullpen, the number of seats they put into the first level bowl, the rail in left center where you can have a drink and watch the game from basically fieldside, the area in right field right off of Target Plaza where you can congregate.

We sat in the right field bleachers - one of the only places where the seats are benches instead of plastic seats. I didn't mind it one bit, as people were coming and going the whole game and there was plenty of room by the end. The view was great - you could see everything but a very small part of right-center field and the scoreboard behind the wall there.

The ceremonies before the game were great fun as well, and it was fun to be a part of a historical moment in Minnesota sports history. In recent years at the dome, I only went to a couple of games every year because of how stale of an experience it was. I only have tickets to one other game at the moment for this season, but I'm sure I'll end up going to at least a half dozen games - you almost have to if you're any kind of baseball fan and live in this town. I can go outside and watch a game, like I did for the vast majority of my childhood. And there's really no other sports experience like that for me.


Katie and I did not become fans of this show until a couple of years ago. We've managed to find a way to watch most of the past seasons, the only ones I haven't seen are the 2 or 3 seasons prior to China (which was the first season I watched as it aired).

It's really interesting that we never watched it until 3 years ago, because it's in our reality show wheelhouse. I'm mildly embarrassed to admit that I've probably seen close to every episode of the MTV Challenges featuring former Real World and Road Rules cast members. And we've watched shows like the Amazing Race for a long time (even if I'm utterly bored with it) and I was a fan of other Mark Burnet productions such as The Apprentice (back in the day, not now).

This season of Survivor has been great. They hand-picked a fabulous cast. Boston Rob! Coach! Tyson! Parvarti! Amanda! Rupert! and on... Some of the best people to play this game over 19 seasons. And of course, Russell Hantz, the most egotistical SOB to ever play the game.

Like a lot of people, I started off hating Russell during his season last year. And slowly, I started to build admiration for him, only to be blown away in the finale when I realized he'd gotten a really good edit from the producers and had ultimately failed to play the social game - alienating just about every single jury member. I was let down by this.

So in this season, Russell is at it again. He took down Boston Rob a few episodes ago, in a rather epic turn of events which started when Tyson stupidly created his own downfall while Russell made a gigantic bet by giving Parvarti the hidden immunity idol.

What some people may not know on the surface is that the Samoa season and Heroes vs Villains were taped only a few weeks apart in the same relative locations on Samoa. Russell went home for less than a week and then returned. This was well before his season aired, so the people on his team did not have the benefit of seeing his gameplay. Boston Rob thinks that he would have been voted out first "without a doubt". At the same time, Probst points out in his blog this week that they were well aware that Russell was one of the most evil of all time. But it's clear there's a benefit there - if the players had seen Russell's season, there's probably no way he gets to the point last night, and there's absolutely no way JT gives him the idol. No way.

Still, here we are, with Russell holding an idol about to go into a merge with a seemingly strong alliance. Sure, there are cracks showing - Parvarti is clearly supportive of him but at the same time doesn't fully trust him - that was clear from her holding back the information about the idol she holds.

I gotta confess though, I'm tired of Russell. He makes bold moves but he doesn't play the social game very well. I don't want him to get all the way to end, because the same thing would result. Andy Denhart nails it at Reality Blurred a few weeks ago. The same thing is happening this season - he's getting a favorable edit because they love him, but there's no way he'll win it all.

I've never been a huge fan of Parvarti. She's like that popular girl in high school that you couldn't stand because she was so evil to everybody behind their back. But I'm even finding myself hoping that she would win over Russell.

Ultimately, I hope Amanda finally wins one. She deserves it. And was the only one that they showed questioning giving the idol to the other side. She plays a much better social game than a lot of the people and is strong in challenges. Rupert, JT and Colby need to go.

But I've been extremely entertained and that's an accomplishment for a show on its 20th season.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My relationship with Apple

I can take or leave a lot of the over the top bloviating over the latest iWhatever device that Apple cranks out. The latest was on display as the iPad was released. I had several friends and family members get caught up in this and be among the first to buy it. That's nice for them and the people that have the money to spend like that.

I have a love/hate relationship with the "i-product". I am the owner of a 2nd gen iPod Touch that I've had for a year and a few months. It is a great device. It's more or less an iPhone without the phone or constant network connectivity. There are very few apps that don't work on it (mostly ones with microphone applications, since it doesn't have one) - so it's probably a pretty good representation of the iPhone, when you can get a network signal. It was a Christmas present from my wife and at the time, I was debating between the iPod Classic, with it's much larger hard drive and the Touch, which was smaller and more expensive, but more fully featured. That the choice between the two was even a dilemma is funny to me now. Because now, there's no dilemma - I'm locked into a product I use every day.

I think having a Touch has kept the iPhone jonesin' somewhat at bay. Well, that, and also that it's only available on AT&T. Which, no thank you. Verizon is probably the only carrier I'm willing to switch to right now.

There is downside to the iPod Touch. The main thing for me is having to use iTunes on a Windows PC. It's a fucking bloatware piece of shit. It takes forever to respond/do anything, it constantly needs to do things like check the library, and locks up on a regular basis. It takes forever to sync my iPod. Which I wouldn't have to do so often if the damn thing could sync podcasts on the device. But I'm willing to put up with this part of the experience for the device because I like it that much.

All that said, I'm sold on getting an android phone for my next phone. I currently have a Windows Mobile device that sucks the life out of me. (it's not really that bad, we just miss out on a lot of stuff). I like what I've seen out of android and the open nature of their platform is more appealing to me.

The next generation iPhone/Pod interface is being unveiled tomorrow
. It'd have to be a crazy leap to get me to change my mind. And the iPhone needs to come to more carriers, because I'd rather not deal with AT&T.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The first Interval Run on Couch to 5k

So about a week ago, I talked about starting Couch-to-5K. And yesterday I did. I appreciate everyone's support and suggestions, it's been great. I've been reading the LJ Community and various other support message boards.

I did buy a watch with a chrono stopwatch, but on the suggestion of Kassie, I also downloaded an Ipod App. I researched a few apps and decided on the C25K app which several on the Livejournal community had recommended. It was 2.99, but money well spent. It lets you load a playlist into the app, then plays a voice over it telling you when to run and walk. A lot easier than trying to time it yourself, and you can listen to the music you want to.

I still used my watch to time the overall time but did not time the intervals. This was a good compromise (I also bought the watch to time my wife's contractions should it come to that, although I'm sure there's an Ipod app for that too somewhere!).

I started out from my driveway in my alley, did a few stretches, then went into the program. The first jog was pretty easy, but they got progressively harder. It got to the point where you really appreciated the walk. But there's something amazing about the human body, because I got this second wind and the last couple runs were easier than the middle ones. I mapped the route when I got home and I went almost 2 miles. Not too shabby for my first time out.

I was a little sore in my legs last night, and after popping a couple of ibuprofen this morning, I'm doing really well today.

I really think this is a way I can get into running. I live in an ideal neighborhood to run in and it should be interesting to see how things change for me over the next couple of weeks.

I appreciate all the supportive comments from my friends, and let me tell you, if I can do this, then you can too! I'm doing this coming off virtually no physical activity other than the occasional walk.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Couch to 5k

I'm finally going to get off my ass and do something about the weight. There've been various wakeup calls for me over the last several months - the fact that my pants barely fit anymore (and I refuse to buy a bigger size!), that I've started having more problems with my back again, the life insurance price increase from the original quote that was a gigantic eye opener. Not to mention, I'm about to have a child and I want to be around for that.

I'm going to try running. I've never been a regular runner - I used to jog on a treadmill as a change of pace thing when I got tired of the elliptical. But I now live near one of the greatest urban trail systems in the country, about 2 blocks from the Minnehaha portion of the Grand Rounds Trail system. I'd be foolish not to consider some kind of fitness program involving that.

This represents a massive shift from my largely sedentary lifestyle, so I'm going to employ the Couch to 5K program. I've known others who've had success with it. I should set a goal for what I want to do, like a 5k by such and such a date, but I don't want to do that yet. I would like to fit comfortably into my pants by my birthday though, which is in early July. I think that's achievable.

I'm going to start running soon, as the snow has made a hasty exit. I bought a digital watch with a timer to time the intervals. I'm probably going to go buy some better running shoes soon too.

I'm hovering between 300 and 310 right now, and I'd like to drop a big chunk of that.

Monday, February 22, 2010


So, we're about to be launched into not-seen-around-here territory for a while - a new stadium for the Twins is going to push demand to places previously unseen except for postseason play (and frankly, demand was pretty soft for that the last few years).

My personal feeling on this is pretty simple. I'm a fairly serious baseball fan - it's neck and neck with football for my attention. That said, over the last 14 years I've lived here, I haven't gone to that many Twins games. I can't totally explain why but there are some partial explainers- I never particularly liked going to the dome for baseball for one. Growing up in Chicago and Connecticut spoils me on that front.

I'm quite excited about outdoor Twins baseball, but I see the tizzy people are already getting into over getting tickets to the first games at Target field, and my immediate reaction is "Don't want to deal with that shit."

Granted, I've got other priorities, like a baby due sometime in the first month of the season, a house that still needs a lot of TLC and a fair amount of money thrown at it and an utter lack of discretionary income to boot.

But unless you can afford it and are willing to pay exorbitant prices to scalpers or already have some other way in, good luck getting tickets to the first week or two. Demand is going to greatly exceed supply. I already see it where guys are sending around emails to my fantasy leagues offering up their tickets for double face to any home game and 4 to 6x face for the first couple of games. That's fucking nuts, and that's somebody I know. Either he's grossly overestimating demand, or a lot of people are going to have sticker shock.

I still have a small chance of getting tickets to the season opener for near face, but even that's looking like a longer shot. My wife doesn't want to go because she's 8 months pregnant, and frankly, I think I'd rather watch it on TV in the comfort of my own home.

The first week of games features several daytime matchups which will cause work interruptions anyway.

I guess my point is that there's 81 regular season home games and not all of them will sell out. Plus, I'd much rather be sitting outside on a balmy July night than a cold April afternoon anyway. I'm sure the Twins will sell out a lot of their games, but their will be some tickets available for face, no doubt.

But it will be nice to go see baseball outside. Really nice. An entire generation of fans here grew up watching indoor baseball. What a treat to be going back outside.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow, Snow and more Snow.

I've had a generally good demeanor about the weather this winter here in Minnesota. It's no secret, I'm not a native and while I've always lived in temperate climates, this area offers the most sustained cold of any other I've lived (Philly, Chicago and New York City metro areas being the other 3) - and usually the most snow as well. Not this winter though, I'm pretty sure Chicago and the east coast has gotten more snow than Minnesota, but we have a lot on the ground because it doesn't melt and we keep getting 3-6" just about every other week.

It's funny that I've had a good demeanor about it, because for the first time, I'm responsible for snow removal around my property. Living in a townhouse with a condo association for the last 7 years spoiled me a little bit. But I've enjoyed the exercise that comes with snow removal (even if it's mostly pushing around a heavy snow-thrower).

That said, my commute is relatively painless - I reverse commute out to the St Paul suburbs and my drive is normally not that bad and the snow doesn't really add much to it. I hear my co-workers horror stories and I'm glad I don't live where they do.

Still, I find myself starting to long for warmer temperatures and not having to go out and remove snow at butt o'clock in the morning a few times a week. Soon enough. But the snows lately have been really pretty when you pause for a second to look around. People should remember this when they get cranky.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sports Heartbreak

So here we are again. The day after another conference champion loss. This is the third one in my 20 years of being a Vikings fan. They do get easier. This one was easier, anyway. Or maybe the shock of being so close to the Super Bowl hasn't worn off yet. I don't know. I still remember the heartache 1998 like it was yesterday. I watched the game by myself in my parents basement in Illinois. I could hardly believe what I watched. That was a home game that they should have won. This, while in some ways similar, was not that. Not at all.

A few people tweeted last night that the Vikings did not deserve to even get to the overtime. I don't disagree because of how sloppy they played, but New Orleans kept the Vikings in the game. Way too long. The Saints extreme failure to convert on third downs, coupled with an inability to capitalize on the Vikings turnovers.

I'll tell you the truth, when they got inside field goal range with less than 2 minutes to play, I started getting a little teary. I thought I was going to finally get to see this team go to a superbowl. Should've known better. It's not over till it's over.

Could've. Would've. Should've. I saw the Favre "I told you so's" right away on Twitter last night after the game was over. We don't really need to collectively go there as Vikings fans, and we're being really disingenuous if we do. Just about everybody in Vikings nation bought into the notion of Favre as the guy who could get us there, and if you say you didn't now that it's over, and you're any kind of Vikings fan, you're a fucking liar. We can armchair QB this thing all day, it's not going to change that we got beat.

The thing is, Favre didn't lose that game by himself. Turnovers lost that game, a couple of fumbles by the guy we used to call Purple Jesus, but maybe some fumble oriented name would be a better fit now. He's got a rep worse than Tiki Barber at his worst now and he'll need to work on that. Elite backs don't fumble the ball at pivotal times like that. The D stoppped New Orleans, but seemingly couldn't when they needed to. Brees did not look like the top caliber QB that he was for most of the season.

I'm thankful that it was a heck of a game and that the Vikings were in the game the whole time. 41-0 was a fucking nightmare for me, nearly 10 years ago, and this was a LOT better than that. I saw Dan Barreiro of KFAN rank this second after 98, but I don't agree. It's at least third for me, at least in my lifetime, and for all time Vikings big game losses, it's probably lower than that. (the 70s are a whole other ballgame of disappointment).

And as for Favre, I really hope the guy commits to retirement and the Vikings move on. Bringing him back for another season isn't going to do anybody any good. He was visibly tired and the Saints abused him last night. I'd hate to see the guy end his career with a bad injury. Maybe the INT was just the way he was meant to end his career. I will be upset if he yanks us around for another off-season. But I'm also prepared for that to happen. It is Brett Favre after all.

And hey, at least we don't have to suffer a manhandling from the Colts in the Superbowl now. Not much of a bright side, but the Vikings would have been seriously mismatched against them if they had made it. That would have been a tough game to not get blown out of.

And to all of you in the national scene, you're welcome. You don't have to hear about Brett Favre anymore. At least for a couple of weeks, anyway.