Monday, December 31, 2012
Well, there's some of that going on, and the movie seemed loosely edited without the feel of the tight pacing required to keep you from one laugh to another. Ted, however, looks great, and moves realistically, if such is possible for an animated Teddy bear. The plot while cliched, is a lot of fun. It's a pity the dialog doesn't live up to the plot, actors, and characters --- they almost always feel forced.
For $1.99, however, I felt like I enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it. Just don't go in expecting it to be great. But hey, if you ever grew up talking to your stuffed animals, you should watch it.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
My wife's BMW was starting to need costly repairs (and it certainly wasn't cheap to begin with). The choices were to keep it and keep paying for it, or buy a new car. While XiaoQin didn't want to go car shopping, when I threatened to buy another Honda Fit, she changed her mind and decided that car shopping was less crazy than having 2 of the same car. (Given how happy I've been with my Fit, I have no idea why the objection exists)
We started with the Toyota dealer. We first tried a Prius Station Wagon, but discovered that the latch placement in that car meant that the car seat had to be on one side or another. Since we only had one kid and the safest place in the car is the middle of the back seat, we decided to keep shopping. We tried the Yaris, but discovered that the trunk was so small Bowen's stroller wouldn't fit in it. The salesman had a moment of insight and introduced us to the Scion xB. I had actually tried the xB way back in 2009, but discovered that it wouldn't fit the tandem. Since I already had a Honda Fit, that was no longer a concern. The amount of room in the car was substantial, and while it wasn't the most fuel efficient car around, we would most likely drive it around with at least 3 people inside, so that was less of a concern. The car's driving position felt higher than a regular car, but doesn't feel like an SUV: it's still easy to get in and out of it, and there's relatively little ground clearance. My bicycle will still be the primary vehicle for my solo trips.
We tried the competition. The Nissan Cube was substantially smaller though more fuel efficient. For whatever reason, the rear seat felt cramped with the car seat inside. Honda had discontinued the Element, which was its vehicle in the same class. The Mazda 5 was substantially more expensive, and suffered from the same problem as the Prius Station Wagon.
Negotiating with the dealers was a problem. The Scion brand features True Pricing, which meant that all dealers would only quote me the sticker price over e-mail, rendering my usual trick of soliciting competitive bids from all dealers within 200 miles useless. We did find two dealers who would offer about $1,000 off the sticker price, and after an afternoon of shopping, went with one of them.
Having had the car for about a week, I'm actually quite impressed. The car is stable and drives well, though it feels a bit top heavy and isn't as nimble as the Fit. The built in accessories are impressive: you get blue tooth linkage with your phone, as well as a USB port for an MP3 player. The bluetooth player handles streaming stereo audio as well. Overall, as a baby mover, I think the car has a lot to be said for it: the rear windows are tinted, for instance, so are more comfortable for Bowen when the California sun is shining. The price is also pretty amazing for what you get. The biggest criticism is the fuel efficiency, but as you can imagine, almost anything Japanese beats a BMW on that front. No car is perfect, but if you have a small family I can recommend this one.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
For the longest time, I ran only Avocet Fasgrip tires. They're grippy, and they were cheap, especially after a dealer online blew them out for $13/pop. About 2 years ago, however, my supply of them finally ran out, which meant I had to switch to a new tire brand.
For several years, I'd steered clear of Continental Tires. Between 2003-2007 in the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club, I personally witnessed more Continental tire blowouts than blowouts of any other tire brand. Granted, Continental tires were very popular but so were Michelin tires, as well as Specialized. While these blowouts were not common, I saw them about once a year, and they usually resulted in hospitalization/air evacuation.
I'd run Michelin tires for many years, especially when they were $12/pop for the excellent Michelin Hi-Lite Comps. Unfortunately, Michelin realized that after market tires were market in which selling tires at a higher price would result in a perception of increased tire quality, so the Michelin Pro tires ran for about $50 each. On top of that, Michelin abandoned the use of carbon black in its tires in order to provide colorful tires so that the urban hipsters could match their tires to their frame color. While this is not of general concern in California, I do tour in rainy places and wanted a tire that provided maximum wet traction.
The advent of the Continental Gatorskin line led many to conclude that Continental's sidewall problems are gone. Bill McCready of Santana even endorsed the 28mm tires for tandem use! I decided to give them a try. The good news is that these tires definitely wear longer than the Avocets I was using. I put them on last year in August after returning from the 2011 Tour of the Alps. (I ran Continental Gatorskin 28mm tires for that tour, but 25mm for this long term review) They recently wore through to the cords in several places. Also, the wear was more even than on the Avocets: rather than wear a penny-sized hole in one place, they wore in slices all over the tire. The tires grip fine, and I never had an issue with wet or dry traction. Furthermore, they don't flat frequently: I don't recall getting more than one flat tire or so in my entire year of riding them. (Somewhere around 3500 miles) The subjective ride quality isn't so hot: I think the Avocets I used to run feel a bit cushier, probably because the sidewall is of a different material.
The bad news? As I was removing the old tire, I noticed that the sidewall looked a little cracked, and I had threads coming off them. Examining the rear hub, I noticed a black thread from the sidewall completely wrapped around my hub axle! The sidewalls did not look like they would last another season. Now this is for just 3500 miles of use under ideal conditions --- unlike in the past, I did not go out of my way to take these tires off road this time. It was also an unusually low mileage year for me.
Last year, I found an international supplier of Michelin Pro 3 tires at a reasonable $30/tire. I stocked up and will switch to those for the foreseeable future, even if the prices for the tires go up. In the mean time, I am sad to be unable to recommend the Continental Gatorskin tires for those who ride aggressively and don't stop riding their bikes when the pavement ends. There's just too much risk of hospitalization when the sidewalls blow. Now for a short tour of 3 weeks or so I'd be willing to run the 28s, but only if you inspect the sidewalls frequently and regularly.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The police in New Zealand have been contacted and have started searching for him from Wanaka, where he last posted. A backpacker there said he mentioned wanting to go to Mt. Aspiring's French Ridge hut.
Frank is a strong and careful hiker, but if there's any time to start worrying it's now. If you've heard from him or talked to him since November 26th, please let me know. Additional information could save his life, not to mention his friends, colleagues, and family a lot of worry.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
My dental hygienist told me that his patients with Oral-B electric brushes seemed to come in with better cleaned teeth (not that my teeth had any problems), and the brush heads seem more robust and are at the very least cheaper. Oral-B claims a more realistic 3 months for their brush head's longevity, but their brush heads are half the price of the Sonicare ones on Amazon, and you can get a Costco family-sized pack for much less than even that.
As far as I can tell, there are no peer-reviewed studies of Oral-B versus Sonicare brush-heads on the internet, so all I can go by are my subjective experiences. Sonicare's teeth brushing experience is light driving an electric car. There's a purr in your mouth, and the brush softly moves up and down on your teeth and along your gums. The noise is there, but it's not annoying. Oral-B is like sticking a machine gun in your mouth: not only do you get a massive grinding noise, you feel the bristles scrubbing against your teeth and gumline. It's definitely a very German approach to teeth brushing --- you can feel the raw brute power in your teeth.
I tried switching back and forth for a few weeks here and there, and the conclusion I can draw is that the Sonicare experience is the deluxe pampered experience (sort of like driving a BMW or Mercedes), but the Oral-B feels cleaner. Whether that's because my gums/teeth have been brutalized or because they're actually cleaner, I'll have to wait for a dental visit to see. The reality though, is that I haven't had any cavities for a decade and a half, and don't expect any change. My conclusion, buy the Sonicare if you have sensitive teeth or don't mind spending the money, the Oral-B if you prefer the "big throaty engine" sound of say, a Harley Davidson in your mouth.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
Would I recommend this novel? Yes. It's a fun read, even though the ending was a let down. However, if you've never read a Culture novel before, I'd recommend that you read Use of Weapons instead. That's one novel that's great throughout and doesn't feel like a let down at the end.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Motorized desks vary greatly in price, but I found the ErgoDepot one to be the cheapest of them all. Most people assume that low price = low quality, but the reviews on Ergo Depot were incredible, so I took a risk and ordered one. The first desk arrived with the box torn open and with parts missing, so I rejected the shipment and made the shipper take it back to Ergo Depot. Ergo Depot kindly sent me another one. This one arrived relatively quickly.
The desk assembly was fairly straightforward: screw the base together, and then use a power drill to screw the base permanently to the table surface. It is essential to use a full power drill here. A cheapo drill won't cut it. Then wire together the power adapter to the controller, plug into a power socket, and away you go! There's one minor quirk in the control system, which is that you have to hold down both rocker switches to get the table to go up or down. I have no idea why it's not just one rocker switch instead of two. The desk is fairly sturdy: it is rated for 154 pounds, which means that any monitor (or two) you buy nowadays will fit in the weight range. However, the desk does come with all sorts of warnings saying that if you move it you must lift it by the base, not by the table surface.
There are two entry ports so you can run wires for power, etc to the connectors. They work quite well. The surface itself is pretty great, but the test is in the usability. Xiaoqin loves the desk. She uses it nearly every day, and has come home from work early because her sit-down desk at work made her uncomfortable and she longed for her stand-up desk at home. You can't get a better testimonial than that. I've used it as well and the easy adjust-ability makes it very nice when we switch between users.
What are the flaws? First of all, it seems designed for laptops, not desktops. There's no space under the desk for a desktop tower to reside. Of course, if you don't plan to move the desk, that doesn't matter, just place the desktop on the floor. But given that the desk has wheels, it just seemed like an oversight not to have some provisioning for desktop towers.
If the above sounds like a minor nit-pik, it is. This is a great desk at a great price. Recommended.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
Changing the batteries turned out to be fairly straightforward. You unscrew the back, and the cover pops off. The battery is located in a bracket, and is a standard 9V battery which are fairly cheap to get from Amazon. When removing the cover, make a note of the orientation and make sure that you have the handle in the correct orientation when replacing. Otherwise it just won't go back in. Obviously, I use the front door of the house a lot more than the back door, so the battery for the back door is still going strong.
As for the product, I like it so much that I replaced the rental unit's lock with a Schlage unit, my parent's house also now sports one, and my wife's house also has them. I cannot recommend them highly enough, especially if you own rental property --- no more re-keying your unit between tenants, and even better, your tenant will never call you up in the middle of the night after they've locked themselves out, because they can't. It's also great if you're in the habit of exchanging your home with someone else on HomeExchange, or renting out your home on AirBnB. You set up a code, give them to your exchangees or renters, and delete the code when you get back. You can also set up specific codes for house-cleaners, etc and other trusted personnel and delete those if you ever switch providers.
Home ownership is in general a pain, but being able to replace the standard keyed locks with one of these is definitely a bright spot. Highly recommended.