A few random thoughts
tinman

I saw a Denny’s ad on TV and knew it was Denny’s even before they showed the logo, just from looking at the food.  It’s always yellow!  I’m serious, the food in Denny’s ads (and presumably at Denny’s itself, although I wouldn’t know), is always yellow-ish.  It’s the strangest thing.  The next time you see one of their ads, look for yourself.

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Received a card from DirecTV a few days ago notifying us that they’ve upgraded our free RedZone channel this season to the full NFL Sunday Ticket.  Woo!  Of course, this also means that I won’t be very productive on Sunday afternoons for the next several weeks.

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Speaking of sports…  Fox Sports Radio is FAR more entertaining than ESPN Radio.  The Fox guys have actual personalities, not just catchphrases.

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I went to the county tax collector the other day to renew the tags on my cars.  They gave me a waiting list number and it was the next number called, less than a minute after I arrived.  I was in and out of the place in fewer than five minutes total.  That sort of thing never happened at the DMV in California!

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Windows 8 is pretty nice! I’m running the Developer Preview on my tablet PC now.  I fully expect that by late next year I’ll be able to replace both my Tablet PC and my iPad with a tablet running the release version of Win8.  Although, those new Kindles sure look nice, too…  iPad suddenly has a ton of real competition.

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I saw a news article yesterday about a bag of severed heads found near a school in Mexico.  The article also said that, in addition to the heads, they found “threatening notes”.  Really?  Are the notes necessary?  Aren’t the severed human heads enough of a threat?

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I’m watching The Green Hornet (the movie remake) this afternoon.  Why does Cameron Diaz keep showing up in movies that I would otherwise enjoy?  Seriously, enough’s enough.

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My golf and scuba gear is packed!  Parents are on a plane here to watch the kids, and Beth and I leave for Cancun on Saturday morning.  Should be a very nice week, although we’ve never gone anywhere without the kids for this long before.


Xanadu
tinman

Last night I was a bit bored and flipping around the TV channels and saw that some channel I’ve never heard of was showing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the Peter Frampton / Bee Gees remake).  I figured, what the heck, there’s nothing else on, so I tuned in.  But then something odd happened.  That’s not Frampton!  That’s Olivia Newton John.  And I recognized the song, too.  They were running Xanadu instead.

Now I should explain something. Xanadu is one of two movies I can think of that I have never seen, but have always enjoyed the soundtrack (the other being Pretty in Pink).  So, I decided to watch it for a bit and I learned something…

It is awful.

Shockingly, embarrassingly bad. The acting, the story, the cheesy effects, even the clothing (I know it was 1980, but even that doesn’t explain all of it).  Even Olivia Newton John, who was smoking hot back then, couldn’t save this one!  And Gene Kelly?!?  How the heck did they convince him to do this movie?  I understand it was the last feature film he ever made.  I’m guessing he quit acting in disgust.

I still like the music, though. I wonder if Pretty in Pink is any good.


Canadian football
tinman

So during a long summer and faced with the possibility of no NFL this year, God help me, I was watching Canadian football.  It was just awful.  Only the Canadians could take something as awesome as football and eff it up this bad.  It's like they wanted to play football like we do, but couldn't quite figure out all of the rules, so they just made some stuff up.

On several plays, the offense had three receivers in motion running at the line of scrimmage before the snap.  It's like they've confused the forward pass in football with a hockey breakout pass.  I half expected the refs to call a two-line pass penalty on anything going over 10 yards.  (And what's with the red flag that the refs throw? Do Canadians not have the gene that lets them see yellow?)

At one point, the offense did get called for having too many men in the huddle. In American, ahem... REAL football, you get 11 players a side.  In the CFL, they get about 30.  I think the problem in this particular huddle was that they had the entire team, some fans from the stands, and a couple of beer venders.

There was a nice interception, and the player was trying to run it back for a touchdown ("touchdoon"?).  But seeing as the Canadian football field is over seven miles long, he passed out from exhaustion before he could make it to the end-zone.

And what's with having only three downs?  Can Canadians not count all the way up to four?  I'm kidding!  I know Canadians can count to four... provided they remove one of their mittens.

Seriously, Arena football is better than this crap.

(OK, that was mean.  I take that back . I think that all football fans can agree that Arena football sucks ass.)


RIP OFF ALERT: AVOID VANILLA VISA GIFT CARDS
tinman
NEVER BUY A VANILLA VISA GIFT CARD! The things are a complete scam and a rip-off. Here is what happened to me today:

Beth is going out of town this week so she bought me a Vanilla VISA Gift Card with $100 on it so I’d have some money for the week. My paychecks go into our “usual” checking account, but we paid bills and it’s empty until payday on Friday. Her paychecks go into a different account and I don’t have a debit card on that one; normally I just let her pay for everything until the main account has money again, but since she’ll be out of town, this seemed like an easy temporary solution.

I tried to use the gift card this morning to put gas in my car, but the card was declined at the pump. So I went inside the gas station and it was declined again at the counter. I called the 800 number on the back of the card and the automated voice told me that there was a credit of $100 on the card, but the available balance was $0. Weird.

So I hit 0 until I was put through to a customer support guy. He told me that since I had swiped the card at the pump, it had put a hold on $100 on the card that would be returned in “about six days”, or roughly a day after Beth gets back in town. This is what makes me really angry: They put a hold on the money, but also declined the sale! YOU CAN’T DO BOTH. Put the hold and allow the sale, or decline it and do nothing. In essence, the $5 Beth spent on the card was buying us the “privilege” of letting Vanilla VISA play with our $100 for a week.

I asked to speak with a supervisor, but the customer service rep wouldn’t let me. Instead, he put me on hold and after several minutes came back and said that his supervisor would release $25 of the hold, but not the other $75.

Clearly this is a complete rip-off. It’s totally unfair to both hold the money and decline the sale. It’s unfair and it should be illegal. The idiot on the phone said he understood that I was “frustrated”. I replied that I was not frustrated, I was furious.

Not that I think it will do much good, but I’m filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, the Florida Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau. If I can think of anyone else to file a complaint with, I will. From what I’ve found online, I’m hardly the first one to get ripped off by these crooks.

I know many people use these cards as a convenient way to send gifts; heck, my parents do. I strongly recommend against it. Avoid these rip-off artists. They should be out of business (at the very least).

Little League photos
tinman

Some photos of the kids from this year’s Little League baseball / softball:

Owen going for a grounderOwen fielding a grounderNicole on the fieldNicole playing catcherOwen pitchingOwen right before the pitch

Nicole battingOwen at bat

Nicole 2011 softball cardOwen 2011 baseball card

Owen and Coach PerryNicole and Coach Perry


Sun-n-Fun
tinman

I spent the week in Lakeland at the annual Sun-n-Fun fly-in and airshow working with the Civil Air Patrol.  Normally, CAP will deploy people there all week, including overnight, to run several missions, including logging incoming aircraft (for the week of the airshow, Lakeland is the busiest airport in the country), searching for ELTs (more on that in a bit), and other tasks.  But the Air Force didn’t provide the funding this year, so instead, we arrived daily and focused on recruiting, drug demand reduction, and showing off our newest airplane.  That was my job, actually; hanging out by the plane and talking to people about the plane and about CAP in general.  At least until today (more on that in a bit)!  Here is the setup we had:

The CAP static display area at 2011 Sun-n-Fun in Lakeland, FL, with a new Cessna 182T, a xxx L23 glider, comm trailer, command trailer, and FEMA trailer.

We had our new Cessna 182T, and a Blanik L23 glider.  Behind them are our communications trailer, command trailer, and a very nice FEMA trailer.  Here is a better look at the Cessna, which is brand-spanking new – only 85 hours:

Brand new Cessna 182T airplane for the CAP Florida Wing.

The brand new Cessna 182T belonging to the CAP Florida Wing, on display at the 2011 Sun-n-Fun fly-in and airshow in Lakeland, FL.

It’s a really pretty plane, and it’s got a nice panel, too, a state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass cockpit:

Garmin G1000 panel inside the CAP Cessna 182-T

Across the way, there was a display with an Evektor SportStar, a small Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) made in the Czech Republic.  It’s not particularly notable, except that when I first started my flight training, it’s the first plane I flew.  Here’s a picture:

An Evektor SportStar LSA aircraft, similar to the one in which I did my Discovery Flight when first starting my flight training, on display at the 2011 Sun-n-Fun fly-in / airshow in Lakeland, FL.

Surprisingly, for such a very small and simple plane, it also has a nice glass cockpit:

The glass cockpit of the Evektor SportsStar light-sport aircraft.

So, the week was going just fine until today.  We knew that a cold front was headed our way and it was going to collide with the warm humid air over central Florida..,. meaning the potential for severe storms.  Turns out there were several very severe thunder cells and a number of tornados across Tampa and central Florida today, including one that hit Sun-n-Fun.  Not sure that there was an actual tornado there (there are mixed reports); I think it might have been straight-line winds that did the damage, but the winds were measured at 70 m.p.h. sustained, with gusts up to 90.  That’s hurricane-strength and too much for a bunch of tents and airplanes, many of which were poorly tied down or not tied down at all.  The result looked like this:

Damage at 2011 Sun-n-Fun following the heavy storms

Damage at 2011 Sun-n-Fun following the heavy storms

Damage at 2011 Sun-n-Fun following the heavy storms

Damage at 2011 Sun-n-Fun following the heavy storms

It was actually a lot worse than what I was able to capture, because most of the flight line was quickly closed by the police, who later closed the entire airshow.  CAP was ready to help find any missing planes and locate all of the ELTs that were going off, but the local officials wanted everyone out, so we departed.

Speaking of ELTs…  For those that don’t know, an ELT, or Emergency Locator Transmitter, is a device in every plane that transmits a warbling siren signal automatically when the plane comes to an abrupt stop (e.g. crashes).  Normally when an ELT goes off, the signal is detected by the FAA and other authorities who contact the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) who will dispatch the Civil Air Patrol to find it.  It’s one of our key missions.  Here is a link to page on Wikipedia where you can hear what one ELT sounds like. Today, with all of the planes flipped over and otherwise tossed around, we figured there must have been 50 or more ELTs going off all at once.  It’s something I’ve never heard before and likely will never hear again.  Here is what it sounded like (as captured on my handheld nav/com transceiver):

(Warning!  The sound is pretty obnoxious.)

Anyway, I made it out of the parking lot with my car… I was worried, because it was a grass lot that was now mostly deep water and mud, but I know the trick to driving through mud even in a two-wheeler (heavy foot on the gas and NEVER stop rolling).  And now the next few days are supposed to be sunny and beautiful.


Charlie, Charlie, Charlie…
tinman

I admit I don’t really get the whole Charlie Sheen thing.  I mean I get why people are watching; it’s not  just a train wreck, it’s a high-speed maglev train wrecking into the Hindenburg carrying a load of fireworks and strippers.  But I’m not sure what Charlie is in it for.  I mean I can understand wanting to nail porn stars three at a time; I am a guy.  That sort of thing will kill you, but slowly.  But sucking in piles of cocaine will kill you quickly.  Very quickly.  Just look at the guy!  He looks like he’s aged 20 years in the last six months.  And he has no more teeth thanks to the crack that he’s chain smoking like Marlboro Lights.  Obviously he’s bat-crap crazy, but he seems to have it all going for him, what with the popular TV show and more money than God.  Why the death wish?


Word of the day
tinman

Today’s word of the day is “abomination”.  Try it!  It just rolls off the tongue; it’s very fun to say.  Plus, the meaning of it is fun, too.  Something so bad, so wrong that it simply shouldn’t be.  Try using it in every day conversation, like at your local coffee shop.  “This non-fat mocha latte is an ABOMINATION!”  Remember, that this is the kind of word that must be said very loudly to have the desired effect.  Have fun!


Christmas lights
tinman

Our outdoor Christmas decorations are pretty much all done now.  I added a few new lights this year, including wrapping our mailbox in a lighted garland and twin strands of “warm white” and “cool white” LED lights around our tree by the street.  These required installing a new outlet on our mailbox post, which is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile.  I also replaced the photovoltaic sensor on the mailbox post because the old one was faulty and the mailbox lights stayed on all the time.

My favorite new lights this year, though, are the flicker flame bulbs I put in the mailbox post light and on either side of the garage on the carriage light fixtures.  They don’t put out much light, and I’ll put back the CFL bulbs I usually use after Christmas, but with all of the other lights out there, I figured we didn’t need any additional light for visibility.  I also replaced the white floodlights we always have illuminating our mini-palm trees by the porch with red, green, and blue floods.  The normal white lights will also go back after Christmas.

With all of the lights I have out there, Beth has started calling me Clark W. Griswold, but I don’t think I’m anywhere near that level of getting carried away.  Besides, when I put out new lights or decorations, I usually retire old ones.  Our lighted snowman was falling apart (literally) and was thrown out after last year.  I also no longer put out the lighted snowflakes and have been cannibalizing them for spare light bulbs.

I really like the newer LED bulbs that we started using a couple of years ago and have been using more of them.  I especially like the combination of the “cool white” of the LEDs in contrast to the warmer white light of the incandescents and the “warm white” LEDs (which are new for us this year).

Here’s a photo I took earlier this evening:

Christmas lights on the house and yard

It wasn’t quite dark yet when I took it, but it is very difficult to get a good photo of the lights in full darkness.  You can see the difference between the cool white LEDs on the icicles over the garage compared to the warm white incandesecnts on the raindeer on the right.  There are also some flickering white lights on a tree on the other side of the garage (next to my car) that are not in this photo.

I took a short video of the flicker flame bulbs which shows them off a bit.  It’s very blurry for some reason, but I really like how the orange “flames” look on the mailbox over the lighted garland and with the blue-ish light from the LED icicles.  The odd perspective of the video came from me using the camera turned on its side.

Flicker flame bulbs

Some new photos
tinman

First, the kids’ school photos for this year:

Nicole's school photo for Fall 2010

Owen's school photo for Fall 2010

Here is the “official” photo of Nicole performing in the 2010 Cheer Jam last month:

Nicole performing at the 2010 Cheer Jam

And finally, a look at my new office setup:

My new home office setup

I spent a lot of time over the last few days, cleaning up and re-organizing my home office.  The two monitors in the front are used by my desktop (hidden under the desk) and my work laptop on the right shares the larger centered monitor and keyboard and mouse via a KVM switch.  The small monitor on the right isn’t hooked up to anything, but is available for use should I need it.  Behind the smaller monitor on the left is all of our network gear (and there is a LOT of it) and behind the main monitor is an external hard drive and (currently) a lot of empty space.  My various USB docks are on the right and I’ve got my two iPods, Palm Pre phone, and Livescribe pen docked.  My Blackberry is sitting on top of a Livescribe notebook on the desk.  And the white and black device on the right, next to the small monitor and the laptop, is a Sprint Airave femtocell.

I admit it’s not the most attractive workspace in the world, but it works for me and is a whole lot better than it was before I re-did it.