Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Evening Breeze

Place: B-Bops
Lunch: Single hamburger (no tomato), chili, Pepsi

Last night was the rare perfect evening.  The neighborhood air filled with the aroma of grilling, people leisurely walked their dogs, windows were opened, the distant sounds of wild critters started to appear, and a gentle breeze or two wandered in as I took care of some things on my newly refurbished PC.

Yes, the cables arrived, and the case is once again closed.  Everything works perfectly.  The new wireless keyboard and mouse are great.  Especially the mouse, which has a wheel that doesn't click.  It's just smooth motion.  I LOVE that.  The keyboard is taking some getting used's one of those ergonomic curved ones, but it's not to the extreme like a lot of those out there. They run on AA batteries. Wonder how long those will last.

My townhouse association had approved purchasing and posting speed limit signs over the winter.  Those went up yesterday.  The posted speed limit: 11.  Because THIS village goes to 11.

(Yes...that was totally my idea.)

These perfect mild evenings won't last.  Soon, the air will get humid and sticky, and I'll be wishing for October to hurry up and arrive already.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy it while it's here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Place: smashburger
Lunch: 1/3 lb All-American with egg, chili cheese dog, Coke

This is my second attempt at a chili dog today.  Between yesterday and today, my life has been so awesome I just might puke.

One of the things I decided to budget into this year was a new PC.  But because PC's haven't come quite as far as I had expected them to by now (specifically Blu-ray authoring...which you CAN do, but it's not to the speed/processing/price point that I want to see yet), I decided to upgrade my existing 3-year old unit.  It already runs everything I want to run fast enough, so why not.  So I figure I'll get a bigger hard drive, get an additional PCI slot USB port (I have one more dedicated USB device than available slots on the back) and update to Windows 7 (I have a Vista machine) and use this one for a year or two more.

What could possibly go wrong.

So I pick up Windows at Costco.  I also find a nice Microsoft wireless keyboard/mouse that would not only reduce the number of annoying wires I have running around, it would free up that needed extra USB slot.  They don't have internal hard drives, though.  The one I want is available at Amazon or Best Buy for $99.  So I go to the neighboring Best Buy. 

The IN-STORE price for the same hard drive that's $99.99 online is $119.99 in the store.  Huh? I go home, order it online, and come back to pick it up?  Or order it from Amazon?  Or eat the $20 and get it here?  I eat the $20 because I just want to get going on this.

So I go home with Windows 7, new hard drive, and snazzy keyboard/mouse in hand.

First things first...I install the hard drive.  Or so I think.  The hard drive didn't come with a data cable.  WHAT?  The hard drive uses a newer SATA power and data cable, which my existing hard drive also uses, so at least they match.  My PC's SATA power cable has two plugs so I'm fine there...just no data cable.


I had also been trying to decide between doing a new Windows 7 install on the new drive and transferring files from the old one (having one single 1 TB drive in the end) or doing an upgrade on my current drive, using the existing drive for programs and the new drive for files.  Initially, I decided to just use the new drive.  So I plugged in the new one and fired up the machine to boot from the Windows 7 CD.

Things start the way they should, then just quit when it comes to "booting from CD".


I plug in the old drive and load Windows. Then go to look for the Windows install CD. Which isn't a CD at all, of's a DVD. And after much troubleshooting, this is when I realize that my DVD burner has quit reading DVD's.  Actually, it hasn't successfully burned a CD in awhile either now that I think about it.  Crap.

Best Buy is closed by now, so off to Walmart for a DVD burner.  If I'm lucky, they'll have a SATA cable too.  I'm not lucky.  But I get a new DVD burner for $40.  I get back home, open the box, and...what's THIS?  A SATA data cable?  SCORE! But why would a DVD burner need a...Oh great.  The DVD burner requires a SATA cable/power source.  My old one used the big gray ribbon cord and a four-point power plug.  There's no way my existing SATA power source can do the drive and the hard drives at the same time.  So I'm looking at an adapter.  But at least I can get started.  It's a mystery why the mother board has like five inputs for SATA data sources but the power supply is only set up for two.  Quick research shows four-point SATA power adapters are readily available, though.  I've completely bored you to tears by now, haven't I.

By this time, I'm frustrated enough that I decide to forego the ground-up install to the new hard drive and just upgrade the existing build.  In order to power both the DVD drive and the hard drive, I have to have them within a few inches of each other due to the short power cable.  So I start the PC with the hard drive rack on the floor next to the DVD burner (also on the floor) and start the upgrade process.

Windows 7 goes through the motions, does some searching, then presents a list of programs it wants me to uninstall.  Okay.  Done.

Windows 7 goes through the motions, does some searching, then presents a list of other things it wants me to do.  Okay.  Done.

Windows 7 goes through the motions, does some searching, then says "Reboot your computer, stupid."  Okay.  Done.

Windows 7 goes through the motions, does some searching, then says "Okay.  I'm going to install.  You can go.  For now."

So I wander to the bedroom and fire up a movie.  Chester, who is sprawled across the bed like a big orange tabby beach towel, and I watch "The Wizard of Oz".  The three-disc "Emerald Edition" Blu-ray was on sale for $12.99 at Costco.  Jeepers.  Did WB print too many of them or something?  It's $39.99 at Amazon.

I watch the whole movie while Windows 7 installs.  Then I watch the new "Aqua Teen Hunger Force".  Then I am prompted to enter the product key.  Then I'm told the product key is wrong.  Then I figure out one of the 8's I entered is supposed to be a B.  Then Windows 7 starts and everything works perfectly.  Go figure.

So I shut down, disconnect the DVD burner, put the hard drive case back in the tower, and hook up both drives.  The DVD will have to wait for my SATA power adapter and 3rd SATA cable to arrive (which I order from Amazon because I can't even imagine what Best Buy charges for that crap, and they've punished me enough for one weekend).  I don't really need it right now anyway.

I fire up the machine.  The new 1TB drive is nowhere to be found.

Double-check connections.  They're fine.  Fire up and check the BIOS.  It sees it.  What's the deal here?  I decide to wait until tomorrow to find out. 

Morning comes and I do some online searching. I discover this is a common problem.  I take some notes on how to fix it but am late for work.  And really really hungry.

Make very frustrating drive to office amidst 40 mph stop-and-go traffic made up of zombies who have no reason to exist other than to obstruct traffic and waste resources.  Stop at QuikTrip for chili dog and soda.  Get to office.  Chili dog goes flying out of my hand in the parking lot.  Package breaks open and hot dog escapes bun, rolling through the parking lot and becoming encased in a layer of sand and gravel left over from snow removal.

Which is why this is my second attempt of the day at a chili dog.

And I still haven't hooked up the new keyboard and mouse.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Place:  Taco Bueno
Lunch:  3 deluxe tacos (no tomato), 2 bean burritos, Dr. Pepper

Recently at Walmart, I spied a Banquet Mexican dinner selling for 69 cents.  Really?  Not only less than a buck, but SIGNIFICANTLY less than a buck?

So even though Banquet has never ever even once made a TV dinner that I liked (much less one that didn't actually make me sick), I tried one.  It was a single enchilada, a single tamale, a very small amount of sauce (so small, the instructions have you stop the cooking at some point to spoon the sauce over the enchilada and tamale), and some really weak beans.  It makes the Patio brand dinners look luxurious.

(I like the Patio dinners, by the way, but I don't like to shop at the only chain in town that sells them.  And they're usually out of them anyway.)

Years ago, Van de Kamp's (the frozen fish stick people) had a line of Mexican TV dinners under the label "Van de Kamp's Mexican Holiday".  These included a single enchilada beans, no rice, just a big fat single enchilada.  The cheese enchilada was one of my favorite things in the world.  The cheese filling actually tasted like cheese. And olives, which were part of the mixture.  They were just awesome.  They cost about a buck and a half.  They also had a line of regular dinners with rice and beans.

In the eighties, the line was apparently moved to the Don Miguel label, who continued producing the individual enchiladas for awhile, but they eventually disappeared from the market place.

Today, Don Miguel is a byline of the El Charrito label.  They have a few regular Mexican style TV (sorry...I guess today they're called 'frozen') dinners and some ala carte offerings of stuff like mini tacos and taquitos.  But nothing like those enchiladas (although the red sauce is basically the same).  The El Charrito "enchiladas" have a thin amount of filling that appears to be spread on an open tortilla like a condiment before rolling.  (They have a "Grande" size verson of the same dinner that seems to be better on the filling.)  Sadly, it's the best of the mainstream Mexican dinners I know of.  I have one for breakfast every once in awhile.  I really enjoy gutbomb breakfasts, for some reason.  QuikTrip chili dogs also make for a good breakfast.

The only thing I've found that even comes close to the old Van de Kamp's enchiladas is Amy's cheese enchiladas, which come in pairs as a single entree about the same overall size as Van de Kamp's did for $3-$5 depending on where you shop.  But short of Amy's, the whole Mexican TV dinner concept has headed in a "who can make this crap cheaper" direction.

Swanson used to make a good Mexican TV dinner.  The one they put out today isn't it.  The "Hungry Man" version, which used to be a four-compartment tray with two beef enchiladas and two tamales with rice, beans, and pudding, is now a three-compartment meal with three really skimpy beef enchiladas served on TOP of the rice.  It's not even the same recipe.  And there's no more tamales.

By the way...Have you noticed Swanson has taken their name off the "Hungry Man" line?  They're now just branded "Hungry Man".

It seems the only frozen Mexican food people are willing to spend more than a couple bucks on are the things like taquitos, tornadoes, flautas, and the like.  Often sold in bulk.  Want a complete platter?  Find a Mexican restaurant.

I suppose this is also true about the other TV dinners out there, but I haven't had that craving.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Auto Show 2010

Place: Don Pablo's
Lunch: Tex Mex Ribeye (medium well), beans, chips & salsa & queso, fresh tortillas, Coke

Smiling Server Girl brings hot tortillas (which they make on site) with my queso cup and suggests I try dipping the tortillas in the queso.  Smiling Server Girl is wise.

Is it that time of year again?  Why yes it is!  You're SO excited, you just might puke.

We are at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  Admission this year has been adjusted to be more "family friendly", which means singles like me are now paying TEN BUCKS.  Not to mention NINE BUCKS for parking.

With the economy being what it is and all of the changes in the industry, the show's arranged a bit differently.  Porsche and most of the extreme high-end car makers are nowhere to be seen.  Mitsubishi is also a no-show, which is a bummer because I wanted to check out the new Outlander.  Subaru moved into Porsche's spot.  GM, who used to take up something like a fifth of the show floor, no longer needs that much space and has downsized a bit.  Lexus and Nissan have moved into some of GM's traditional space.  Nissan cleverly positioned their big trucks right next to the GMC display, which prompted GMC fans to mistaken them for GMC's and check them out.

The big 'new' stuff is the continuing evolution of lighting and gadgets.  LED accent/DRL lighting.  Intelligent keys that you can leave in your pocket, allowing push-button start.  Sensors that prevent accidents.  There's even heated/cooled cup holders out there.  Jeepers.

The big focus by the manufacturers this year seems to be crossovers...little SUV's and/or tall station wagons.  MY focus is pretty much on those and coupes, so apologies to you sedan and redneck pickup truck lovers.

You know what depresses me?  The number of people who demand auto headlights and wipers.  Seriously...You can't be bothered to turn those on yourself?  Why...Are you too busy texting?

One of the interesting things I saw was a couple going through every crossover model on the floor with a tape measure and measuring them from dashboard to tailgate.  Wonder what they're comparing them to.

So...What's new and noteworthy?

FORD - Ford has the best television advertising of any automaker out there today.  Their focus (no pun intended) on technology being explained by car owners works really well to differentiate them.

Ford Flex - These things are so damn cool.  It's way more vehicle than I'd ever need, but I really want to drive one.  At night.

Lincoln MKT - Sort of a crossover or tall station wagon.  It had the first power-adjustable height/telescoping steering wheel I've ever seen amongst its 'power everything' features.  It also had dreadfully boring white instrument lighting.

VOLKSWAGEN - They had a loaded black Tiguan Wolfsburg Edition that had some sweet leather seats.  Nothing really new here, though.  The New Beetle "Final Edition" convertible was here.  So does that mean they're done with the New Beetle?  I still miss mine.

SUBARU - Subaru seems a lot fresher this year than last.  The Tribeca had some interesting gauges that back-glowed slightly in red when I entered the car.  Nothing else really stood out to me, though.

HYUNDAI - Why is there a Nissan Rogue in the Hyundai display?'s just the new Tucson.  REAL original design, guys.  Not exactly a head-turner, but a big improvement over the previous model.  And it gets Hyundai's cool blue dash lighting (or as a friend of mine calls it, 'Tron-blue lighting').  And when did the Accent get up to over $17,000?  Yikes.  Some Guy looking at the sticker price exclaimed "$17,000? What'd they put in it?'s got an engine."  The Genesis and Santa Fe were very nice.

KIA - Kia's old ladder-frame mid-size Sorento has been replaced with a smaller car-frame vehicle designed to compete with the Santa Fe/Equinox/Terrain/blah blah blah class.  I like their TV commercial with the partying toys.  They had a stand-up version of them displayed with the turntable model.  The vehicle itself felt very nice.  Needs HID headlights as an option, though.

CHRYSLER - Nobody cares.  Except maybe for the Dodge Challenger.  They had a purple one here. That was pretty sweet.  Let's see what happens when they start re-badging Fiats for U.S. sale.

TOYOTA - HOLY CRAP! One of the Corollas on display had a MANUAL WINDOW ROLLER!  A manual window roller so cheap feeling, I felt like I could break it off in my hand.  Not even the Hyundai Accent had manual rollers.

They also had a $38,000 Highlander with an "XM-ready radio" that did NOT include the XM tuner.  That's absurd.

Given their unintended acceleration problems, is it really wise for Toyota to continue to use "Moving Forward" as their advertising slogan?

Honda - Honda SERIOUSLY decreased the size of their display.  Maybe they just wanted to show the really cool product.  Nope...It's all still Hondas.  Acura was here too, but I didn't bother.

Mazda - Yawn.  Maybe Mazda should have skipped the show and Mitsubishi should have taken their place.

Nissan - Aside from the trucks they were trying to intermingle with the GMC product, Nissan enclosed their space and filled it with...Nissans.  Nothing new and noteworthy this year at all.  I played with the on-board nav system in the Murano and found it to be confusing.  Yay.  Supposedly we're getting an updated Rogue next year.  I'm still in love with mine.

GM - The 'new GM' is the old GM with half the brands and a few new crossovers.  Howie Long should be proud.  Idiot.

GMC Terrain - Wow.  This thing feels CRAMPED.  More cramped than anything I've sat in all show.  What's the deal?  Not exactly in love with that center stack either.  And the "manly" look of the front end just doesn't make sense on a vehicle of this size.  If anything, I bet this gets a lot of people to bump up to the Acadia.

Chevrolet Equinox - This thing had some seriously freaking awesome leather seats.  I would have liked to have adjusted them properly, but they were electronic and the battery was disconnected.  But they were really nice.  They've also supposedly improved the steering radius over the old model too.  I'll believe it when I drive it.  It's still freaking ugly, though.

Chevrolet Camaro - They had a metallic green one on the turntable that was just gorgeous.  Not a dark green...mean green.  They also had a red one on the floor.  A blonde teenage girl was behind the wheel, hands fiercely grabbing the steering wheel, looking wide-eyed and hypnotized.  This is every parents' worst nightmare.

Cadillac SRX - The oversized station wagon is replaced by a completely new Equinox-sized crossover that supposedly does NOT share the Equinox-Terrain platform. It's an all-new platform with a ridiculously smooth and quiet ride if you believe the Auto Week guys. Some Guy asked a Cadillac rep about the parts content. He read the label and said "55 percent Mexican."

WRONG answer for a premium GM buyer.

Monday, March 08, 2010

West by Southwest

Place: Old Chicago
Lunch: "Rush Street" Buffet (pizza, Caesar salad, cookie), Pepsi

Geez, I haven't been here in forever.  They must have missed me...they put some seriously awesome pizzas out today.  Probably in my honor.

Scratch one off the bucket list...Flying Southwest Airlines.  I did so for the first time last week.  You'd think an airline is just an airline, right?  But Southwest is such a unique experience, I figured I'd write up a survival guide for it.



Okay, so you "wanna get away".  Which website are you going to go to?

a) Orbitz
c) The official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The correct answer is: b)  Southwest doesn't syndicate its fares anywhere else.  It's or nothing.

You've selected your itinerary and have a choice of multiple fares.

a) Business Select: $182
b) Anytime: $162
c) Wanna Get Away: $59

Which fare are you going to choose?

The correct answer is: a) Business Select.  And the reason you're going to do that is because of the way passengers are boarded and seated.

Southwest does not assign seats.  You could wave the sum of the lottery at them and they won't do it.  Southwest assigns boarding positions.  First on board gets to choose whatever seat they want.  The better the boarding position, the best selection of seats.  There's several boarding classes, starting with "A".  Guess who gets in the "A" group??  Business Select, the highest fare.

But it doesn't stop there.  You also need to check in as early as possible.  Southwest allows you to print boarding passes online up to 24 hours before the flight.  Plan on doing so exactly 24 hours before the flight, because the first person in your seat class to check in gets the first boarding position.  You'll still be in group "A" if you paid for Business Select if you walk up to the counter and check in an hour before the just might be the last in line in your group.

Bottom line...If you're the 80th person on a Boeing 737-300, you're getting a middle seat. gets even better...Picking any seat in the plane only happens if you're on the first stop of the day.  If your flight starts the day in Houston with stops in Denver, Salt Lake, Boise, and Spokane, and you get on in, say, Denver, a good 40-50 seats are already going to be taken.  And those who were already on board and got a crappy seat on the first leg get to cherry-pick better seats before the new passengers board.

Better still, let's say you have a connection somewhere and your plane is late, cutting your arrival time to be within a few minutes of your connection.  Don't worry...Southwest will wait for you (within reason), but everybody else will be seated and you'll be stuck with whatever seats are left, regardless of what fare you paid.

This is all important to know because Southwest couldn't book a half-sold flight to save their life.  Of the four flights I took last week, three were COMPLETELY sold out...EVERY seat was booked...and one was within four or five seats of sold out.

Okay, so you're on board and you have the choice of any seat except for the guy in front of you in line.  (And the only reason HE beat you is because the guest computer in your hotel lobby that is specifically there for people to print boarding passes was being hogged up by some old man playing Mafia Wars.)  Where do you sit?

a) In front by the bulkhead
b) Somewhere in the middle of the aircraft
c) In the back to take advantage of the white trash drunken poker game

The correct answer is: b) somewhere in the middle of the aircraft.  This was suggested to me by a Southwest flight attendant.  She claimed that since the fuselage of a 737 is wider in the middle, the seats and overhead storage bins are slightly wider in the middle too.  I can't vouch for the seats, but my carry-on definitely fit length-wise in the compartment over row 7 while failing to do so over row 1.  And the front row seat has no under-seat storage and limits leg room compared to the regular seats.

Southwest's seats are:

a) Narrow and short of leg room
b) Reasonably comparable to other airlines economy class
c) There are no seats, you just strap to the floor of the aircraft

The answer is: b) Reasonably comparable to other airlines economy class.  Maybe even better.  They're leather, they aren't as narrow as people make them out to be, and legroom is excellent.  The seat height seems lower than other airlines I've been on, which makes the cabin feel more open.

So you're seated and the plane is in the air.  You'd like a refreshing beverage.  Soda is free, but premium drinks (i.e. booze) are:

a) Available for cash
b) Available by credit card
c) Available to "Business Select" customers with coupon for a free premium beverage

There are two correct answers: b) and c).  The flight crew does not take cash.  Freaky, man.  And this always causes problems with at least one passenger...the one who really looks like they could use a drink.

Southwest's flight crew is:

a) Of the upper crust in social status and snottiness
b) Dressed in hot pants
c) Wackiness ensues

The correct answer is: c) Wackiness ensues.  Southwest's flight attendants DID used to wear hot pants back in the day, but they don't anymore.  Probably a good thing since my first flight had an all-male crew.

On the flight from Denver to Salt Lake...where we arrived an astounding 25 minutes early...our captain's pre-flight greeting was followed by his co-pilot and somebody else doing a Homer Simpson "Woo Hoo!" in the background.  Upon landing, one of the flight attendants demanded a round of applause for the flight crew.  When she got a mediocre response, she declared "That was lame!"  Upon stopping at the gate, the captain keyed the mic and hit his Staples "That was Easy" button.

(The gate attendant, by the way, was flabbergasted that we were already there.)

Anyway, it was an experience.

Now I want to fly jetBlue, but I'd really have to go out of my way from here just to find a jetBlue flight.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Distracted Drive-Thru

Place: McGrath's Fish House
Lunch: Seafood Pasta Jambalaya, beer-battered prawns, clam chowder, bread, Pepsi

RECENTLY AT DEL TACO: I pull up to the drive-thru to order.  (Presumably) Smiling Counter Girl greets me and asks to take my order.  In front of me is a screen that displays the items as she enters them so I can verify my order.

"One Del beef burrito..."

(nothing on screen)

"One Del Classic chicken burrito, no lettuce, no tomato..."

(nothing on screen)

"One Classic taco..."

(nothing on screen)

"One bean and cheese cup..."

(Bean and cheese cup appears on screen)

"One large Coke."

(Large Coke appears on screen).

"Okay, so I have a bean and cheese cup, a Coke, a...classic taco?  And what else?"

We go over the order again.  I pull forward.  And I see why she's so off on my order...She's also taking counter orders.  She wasn't paying attention to me at all.

We've heard a lot about distracted driving...teens writing text messages as they run red lights, getting broadsided by semis who swerve into power stations causing an explosion that sends power surges sparking more explosions and burning down whole cities.  Sure, that sort of nonsense gets all the press.  But what about the tragedy of distracted drive-thru order taking?  Why aren't insurance companies spending billions lobbying Congress to get THIS practice banned?

Imagine if I'd forgotten what I wanted to order.  She asks me to repeat the order, I can't remember it, and I have to spend time reviewing their extensive menu board.  Cars back up in the drive-thru lane to the street.  Other cars don't see this.  *CRASH!* A vintage Ford Pinto explodes, setting little Pinto firebombs everywhere, setting off other fires.  The restaurant explodes, sending pinto beans flying.  And I'm still sitting in the drive-thru trying to remember what to order, and now I can't order it anyway.

Where are the lobbyists NOW?

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Place: Iceberg Drive-Inn
Lunch: Iceburger (no tomato), onion rings (with fry sauce), birthday cake mini shake

The trouble with flying in an era where airlines treat humans like cattle is that you occasionally end up sitting with somebody practically on your lap who absolutely stinks.

Which was my experience this morning.

The guy spent most of the flight on his MacBook looking at pictures...until the thing crashed.  I thought Macs never crashed.  I keep hearing they're perfect in every way.  Every Mac zombie says so.

The other problem with flying is rental cars.  I'm really learning to hate Hertz.  I reserve a mid-sized (or their interpretation of a mid-size, which is a Corolla) and end up with an "economy class" Mazda 3 because the class I "reserved" wasn't immediately available.  Aren't the Mazda 3's and Corolla's the same class car in real life anyway?

Then there's all the syrupy upsale to the bigger vehicles (renting for only $60 a day more than I'm paying) and the ridiculously expensive "loss damage waiver".  Shut up.

It's weird driving the Mazda.  It makes me realize how much I love my car.  For one thing, my car has an Intelli-Key that just sits in my pocket.  Therefore, I keep forgetting to take the key out of the Mazda's ignition.  Second, they give you this keychain with two keys, a remote fob, and a big plastic Hertz #1 tag.  JEEPERS.  As if I didn't have enough crap in my pocket.  And the thing shimmies at highway speeds and the serpentine belt squeals when you go through a puddle.

Anyway, my birthday present to myself was a long weekend in Salt Lake.

I'll take the annoyances for the rewards.