December 2008 - Posts

Mr Skinflints guide to buying a KitchenAid

J has wanted a KitchenAid for as long as I have known her so this weekend we headed off to spend some Christmas present money.

After shopping around online we came to the conclusion that Bed Bath & Beyond with one of their very easy to find 20% off coupons would beat them all. The original plan was to go with the 5 quart professional but they don't carry those in the store. However turns out there is a $50 rebate on the 6 quart professionals at the moment.

So with a starting price of $399, 20% discount plus tax gives you an instore price of just under $350. Less the $50 rebate means a final total of $300 which is less than you can get a delivered refurb online.

Of course The ZMan doesn't give up that easily... not when there is a few more dollars savings to be had. I have a credit card that gives me 2% cashback at supermarkets so we nip across the road and buy $350 worth of Bed, Bath and Beyond gift cards from Safeway. Oh and did I mention that every $100 worth of gift certificates you buy at safeway gives you 20c off per gallon of gas - 15 gallon fill up at 60c discount is worth having.

So final count $350 - $50 rebate - $7 cashback - $9 gas discount = $284. Original price is $399 + 9% tax. So we saved $151.

Now I just have to remember to fill the car up before the gas discount expires at the end of the month.

2.5 years too late?

In June 2006 I quite Microsoft with the goal of being a game developer - or something along those lines. Technically I suppose I achieved the goal as Microsoft paid me good money to write 3 demo games for the early versions of XNA Game Studio and MSDN paid me to write 3 of the most simple games ever. But really you know that doesn't count does it.

Somehow 2.5 years have gone past, I've managed to pay my bills with those jobs and a handful of others some involving Manged DirectX or XNA Framework, and some that were just ways to pay the bills for a few months.... and that's the problem isn't it. 2.5 years has gone by, my job satisfaction and work life balance is fantastic but I'm really not qualified to call myself a game developer and that sucks.

Even worse Microsoft now have Community Games on the Xbox 360 - they provided me with a tool set that matched my managed developer background, they hired me early on to work on the API before almost nobody outside of Microsoft had seen it, as an MVP I've had access to information that should have given me a strategic advantage, and they gave me a distribution mechanism and I appear to have been sitting on my arse for 30 months. Nobody has ever said it to me but most people are probably thinking "What a lazy Zman you are.....".

So, not that I really have time between one well paid job, one part time startup and a super secret non game development project but over the weekend I looked through my huge stack of 'ideas' that I have written in a book and in thousands of post its and I spent a few hours on Sunday writing code to generate the data I need. Things that you think should be easy are not always and that's all I am saying for now. Between real work today I got all the requisite items rendering on the screen so tomorrow I can implement the basic gameplay.

No screen shots yet or information yet, but I have preserved the early renderings to laugh at later and now I have a blog post for you all to mock me with if I don't get it finished. I expect the whole world to manage my time for me here since I obviously am terrible at it.

 

 

You know you are a hardcore runner when....

Andy running...after missing one training session due to the snow and being on the verge of missing a second you decide to walk over to the local school, flatten yourself out a 300m trail and then run 27 laps to get your hour run in.

Yes J and I were getting a little stir crazy and though I'm probably plenty fit enough to miss a couple of work outs and still run the marathon on the 31st I really needed to get out. We replaced Thursdays workout by a 2 hour walk but it was pretty obvious that day that the sidewalks were not clear enough to even attempt running. Last night dumped another 3 inches of fresh snow which had a nice crusty ice layer on top. The roads are fairly bad - drivable in the Outback if you really, really needed to get somewhere like the hospital but not really worth an accident just to find somewhere to run. And where to run anyway everything is much the same.

Our DIY running trailSo over to the school we went in pair of shoes #1 (I really need to get some new boots mine have big holes in them) though 6 inch deep drifts and then we walked 2 laps of the baseball field. 1st time we dragged our feet to break through the snow and second time we trampled it down as best we could. My Garmin says we have done .3 of a mile so its going to be at least 6 laps per mile.  The shoes are soaked so I switch into my running shoes and head off.

Thankfully I only had an hour and almost 15 minutes were used up with the 2 lap trail blazing. By lap 7 it was pretty packed down, lap 13 it started to snow again and lap 15 I took off my hat, gloves and fleece - it was actually too warm. My feet never actually got cold. The pace was pretty slow going - each lap took around 1:50 which is well over 11 minute pace. Here's some more pictures.... 

 

The "global" internet

Yes its Christmas again and The Zman live in the USA and his (ever growing) family live in the UK. The first few years I lived here I purchased my gifts and shipped them back. Being able to use the Microsoft corporate rate was a great deal for a couple of years but that got very expensive. I switched to the US post office for a year before that also started costing more to ship than th presents themselves.

So these days I do my shopping online and ship directly. It works out quite well apart from one thing. Very few UK retailers will take an order from someone in the USA. So far today I have been told that 'there is a fraud alert' and told to call a UK phone number which isn't free for me. I've been prevented from ordering by a system which only allows UK billing addresses. One store is currently telling me 'there is a problem please press refresh'. Thank goodness for amazon.co.uk who worked out years ago how to do this. Problem is one thing I want is out of stock so i am stuck going through all these other places.....

Farewell Tree

Yes its a busy posting day... I needed a break and I have lots of things I needed to blog...

The tree guys arrived today to remove the dead tree. In about 5 minutes they had scaled the tree chopping off about 2/3 of the branches, cut the top of the tree off onto the drive and removed the branches from that. In the next 5 minutes they shredded all the branches, chopped down the remaining 2/3 of the trunk and cut it into logs for me. If you blinked you would have missed it.

10 minutes to do this:

No Green left :-( The tree is no more

OMG check out the orbs in that second photograph - I guess the tree sprits came to bid the tree farewell... unless there is a better explanation.

 

 

Posted 12 December 2008 03:48 PM by zman | no comments
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The Christmas present that wasn't

I've been a very good boy this year and Santa instructed J to buy me something cool and she did a very good job. Sadly the people at UncommonGoods appear to use not very well trained chimps to do their packing and the delivery services presumably did their part in tossing it around in the back of their van and/or lobbing it on my doorstep so hard I can hear it across the house.

This is what I was supposed to get: Big Cheese - alabaster cheese board

However this is how it was delivered:

IMG_6143IMG_6145 

Seems like they thought it was a good idea to put all the padding on the top and put the small rectangular box for the cheese knife underneath to act as a fulcrum to split the stone.

Seems like nobody else sells this very cool item at least neither of us could find it and that store seems to only keep one of these at a time in stock. They were very good about us returning it but can't promise a replacement until 2009. Boooooooooooo....

 

It doesn't matter who... customer service sucks

Yes AT&T and LetsTalk.com I am talking to you.

Lets start with the fact that if I walk into your store you expect me to pay for a phone and yet I can get the same phone for free, with a 2Mb SD Card and a car charger (and a free Xbox 360 deal which seems a little dodgy to me more on that next month!) at any of the big internet phone stores.

Then lets move onto LetsTalk.com who ask for SSN# to do the number ports but then won't let you type in a second number if you are adding a 2nd line. When you call the CS rep tells you that its impossible to merge 2 plans with 2 different SSN# into a single family plan. How odd when I call AT&T they tell me they can do it just fine. But no worries you got me off the phone in the required 2 minutes. I just put the order in anyway and Verizon and AT&T managed to work it out.

Back to AT&T now. J's number (which I had been told was impossible to port) has ported over just fine but 3 days later mine has not. So I pop into the AT&T store - ask the sales guy to copy the numbers from our old to new phones and get him the check into my port. He takes about 15 minutes to do the transfer which seems very odd and you can tell he's pissed because we are taking up his valuable commissioned sales time (note there were 16 sales staff in the store while we were there and about 4 customers!). Of course he doesn't believe me about the number transfer so he has to call himself to see which phone rings, then he turns my old phone off like that will magically make the new phone ring. Eventually he looks it up on the computer and tells me that its all fine - even though it obviously isn't and now he doesn't know what to do so he fetches another guy over. Now I am taking up 2 salesmens commission time and the 2nd one is smarter than the 1st. He plays with the computer for a few seconds and declares there is an error and I need to talk to the porting team and he is back prowling for suckers on the sales floor. Now you would think that the store has some hotline but no he dials the same number as I would, types in my number for me and then hands me the phone to confirm things. Of course the porting dept automated system thinks everything is OK so it kicks me to regular CS and a 20 minute wait. So I leave the shop thinking that neither of them had a clue and only cared about getting rid of me.

So Monday I call and go through the same process and after a short wait I get to talk to a lady who sounds like she is pretty bored with her job already that day. I explain my problem and she tells me I have to turn my old phone off. I tell her I have and so did the guy in the store. When she asks how long I tell her I don't know but maybe a few minutes and she tells me that wasn't long enough. When I point out that the battery died on Friday so the phone was off for 12 hours she tells me I need to remove the battery completely otherwise it won't work. I think she could sense the sarcasm and attitude in my voice at this point because she connected me directly to a lady in the porting department.

Who was AMAZING... she looks up the record, tells me that everything is showing OK and it should have ported (thereby proving the guy in the store lied when he said there was an error on the computer). So she resends whatever the magic is to do the port and immediately I get a text message saying the port happened. Then she called me on a 2nd line and my new phone (which I was using to call her) beeped for a second call. Most amazingly she did it with my old Sprint phone turned on proving all the other AT&T employees wrong too. Yes in 30 seconds this lady fixed everything that her dumb colleagues lied their way around rather than admit they didn't know.

I just hope now everything is working that I never have to go near an AT&T store or call their helpline ever again.

 

3 weeks to go..

In 3 weeks I will run my 3rd marathon in 3 months (and 4th of the year) and I've got to say I feel pretty darn good about it.

Its not been 2 weeks since Seattle and I've had a couple decent training runs - a 2 miler at about 8:30 pace and a 6.5 miler at 8:45 pace (thanks D - that was supposed to be an EASY run, I should know better than keep up with you) without any ill effects. I've had the usual stiff legs when I wake up but that's not abnormal when I'm training.

This is where it gets weird. Normally before a marathon I will have a 3:00-3:30 long run but these last 2 are so close together that I am in a sort of maintenance mode and my longest run will be 1:30 this weekend then I'm tapering again. Hey I love the idea of taking it easy, but it feels a little odd.

But since I feel good, and I have no uber hard workouts (I hope) coming up maybe there is a chance of a PR on December 31st. My current PR is 4:13:04 in Seattle 2007 and it would a a very nice birthday present to break 4:10. Its nice to have goals but this is my 3rd in as many months so my legs may have other ideas when I get toward mile 20.

 

 

Heavy Metal

My code isn't working and I need a distraction so here's something I've been meaning to do for a while. Budget for the Rock and Roll/Elite Racing Heavy Metal medal series.

All the Medals but DisneyAs you all well know though I love my running I am unlikely to ever have the time or desire to win anything unless I can somehow stay alive and fit longer than everyone else and one day win the over 90 category in some race. So I get my kicks by just enjoying other peoples reactions when you tell them you ran crazy distances and by getting medals.  (click the pictures to see all the medals annotated - cool flickr feature). Yes those are Goofy ears on the display case - I made them myself.

Disney MedalsThere's only one thing better than a single medal for a race and that's bonus medals that you get for doing more than one. I've talked about the 'its not really free' medal that I got for running the Disney half and Full back to back in the goofy race - Disney even give you a bonus medal if you do the East and West coast Disney races. However the big medal multiplier out there is the one done by Elite Racing who run the Rock and Roll series of marathons in what they call the Heavy Medal Series.

By my reckoning you can get 12 bonus medals for running 9 races - that's 21 medals for about 40 hours of race day work... I've seen these things at marathon expos and some of them really deserve the title of 'heavy'

Of course this doesn't come cheap because there's 9 races to pay for and 8 of them involve flying for me so one year I suspect this will be all the racing I do. Of course there's 2 plane tickets since I need to bring my personal support team. Thankfully she doesn't require her own hotel room too.

So here's how much it would cost one person from Seattle to pull this off assuming I get early registration on all races.

  • Jan: 26.2/13.1 Phoenix AZ, $105 race fee, $250 air
  • Apr: 26.2/13.1 Nashville, TN, $85 race fee, $350 air
  • May: 26.2 San Diego, CA, $90 race fee, $320 air
  • June: 26.2/13.1 Seattle, WA, $95 race fee, no air or hotel ;-)
  • August: 13.1 Chicago, IL, $65 race fee, $360 air
  • September (6th): 13.1 Virginia Beach, VA, $75 race fee, $420 air
  • September (20th): 13.1 Philadelphia, PA, $60 race fee, $420 air
  • October, 13.1 San Jose, CA, $75 race fee, $250 air
  • November 26.2/13.1 San Antonio, TX, $85 race fee, $400 air

Total race fees: $735

Total air cost: $2770

2 nights hotel in 8 of those cities at approx $150 per night: $2400

Grand total for one person $5905....

Take along a friend to ring the cow bells who will probably run several of the races and share the hotel room: $9025 or ($4500 per person)

Ok so if you plan your flights right you can get a long weekend in each city which means a couple of days of sight seeing too but $10k buys me a pretty nice vacation or some 1st class tickets to the UK to see my family. Of course my family won't give me 21 medals and of course they are so used to me running now that I don't get those great looks when I say I ran 5 marathons and 4 half marathons in one year (interesting - this year I will run 5 full marathons and 3 half marathons so the rock & roll series isn't as tough as it sounds other than the travel and the cost).

So 2009 already is looking planned for races so it will be 2010 before I can actually do this... they will probably have 10 or 11 races by then!

 

 

Marathon toilet etiquette

Another month, another marathon. The ZMan is now 4 weeks and 26.2 miles away from being a marathon maniac (bronze level only).

On Sunday, still full of Turkey and beer I did my 2nd of 3 marathons in 3 months right here at home in Seattle. I've done the Seattle half and the full before so its getting to the point where I know the course pretty well. This year was a little unusual in that I had no intention of going fast or trying to get a PR. In fact I was purposely running easy and giving some moral support to some team mates and hopefully helping them get a PR and/or break 5 hours. I have another marathon in 4 weeks and there is no injury maniac club for me to join.

The weather was surprisingly warm - maybe even in the 50s but it was very misty and the mist never cleared through the whole race - so I was able to start the race in shorts and a short sleeved shirt with no hat or gloves required. We arrived plenty early to see off the 6 half marathon runners from our team and then the crowds thinned out - Seattle is a bit hilly and apparently that keeps the numbers down for the full. I headed off to the porta-potties where of course there were lines so I got to observe how marathon runners apparently either can't do math or, like the general population, just think they are more important and entitled than anyone else.

Lets assume there are 9 portapotties. Its too crowded to have a line for each one so lines appear every 2 or 3 and here lies the problem. There is no standard for how many potties each line covers and so people assume whatever is to their advantage. So when one becomes free that isn't directly in front of a line people from adjacent lines dash forward trying to add that stall to their lines 'group'. The weak lines get pushed down to a single stall and the more powerful ones end up with 3 or 4. Of course you can't tell this when you stand in line and even worse by the time you get to the front its probably changed. I'd like to thank the guy behind me who took my hint as I slowly moved our line across to reclaim an additional bathroom after the line to our left somehow claimed 5 stalls leaving us with just one on the end. My particular favourites are the folk who seeing 20 lines for 50 bathrooms find the biggest gap between the lines and start up a line between them, thereby avoiding the need to stand in line at all. As a good friend of mine suggested yesterday "tip it over with the door down and see how they feel"! But more on bathrooms later.....

So 8:15am M, C and I head off for a nice slow 12 minute mile. We started from the back because there's no point in fighting the crowds and we didn't want to be dragged along off our pace. M is on his 1st marathon too. 1st water stop is out of cups - they have plenty of water and Gatorade so we drink from the jugs (so far no diseases that I can see) and carry on. Up onto the freeway HOV lanes, under the tunnel and out onto the lake. We are all wearing GPS watches which get totally confused by the tunnel and we are on rough estimates for pace. The lake is very cool because the mist means you can't see anything. The bridge disappears into the fog and runners (yes the fast ones are already on the way back) are popping out of it. We are right on our planned pace and everyone is moving well. On the way back we see the back markers who are being followed at a crawl by 2 police cruisers and the sweeper car. The cops have their flashing lights on full for some reason. The roads are closed for at least another hour so the only purpose it seems is to harass the lady at the back into speeding up. Not cool if you ask me.

I can feel the need for a bathroom break and Seattle always has then at each mile and the upcoming one seems like it has no line so I run ahead and just as I get there a guy nips in in front of me. No worries eh? Guys are usually fast in the bathroom? Not this guy.... I stand there for several minutes... C&M run past waving and then I wait a few more. Should I knock? Should I run to the next one? C&M are fading into the distance and I see M looking over his shoulder. Finally out he comes and I do what I need to do in seconds. Now I have to catch up - it takes me a good half a mile and I'm breathing pretty heavy. Apparently they were wondering where I was when they hear someone yell "go andy" - Yes I'm wearing my shirt with my name on it again and it works its magic for most of the course. As always its the woo-girls and the people with kids who call my name. Though this year the frat boy types manning the mile markers seem to have fun yelling at me through their megaphones too. M&C seem to enjoy the extra attention we get. Later in the race we would get "Go Andy and Andy's friend"!

Before we know it we are down at the half way mark. Our goal was 2:30 at this point and we hit it at 2:29:32 according to my watch - that's pretty spot on if you ask me. Seattle has a hard 2nd half but the plan is to do the 2nd half a little faster and break 5 hours well as long as the legs and the hills don't have other ideas.

Round about mile 15/16 we leave M. He is on a slightly slower race plan than us. He's not going to be too far behind but since its his first he is going to take it a little bit slower. I notice about this point that the jovial man chit-chat has slowed quite a lot - its a pretty common place to be noticing that your legs are more tired that you hoped. C and I keep going at somewhere around 10:50 pace I think and then the hills start. They are small ones at first but on tired legs they seem bigger. C is more tired than he wanted to be so we slow down a bit. Coach N and assistant coach/baby daddy J are just before the 1st nasty hill to cheer us on. The water stops seem very close together here and we actually skip one when C tells me that its only been 8 minutes since the last one. We walk the 1st very steep part and the jog up to the waterstop at the top. C takes his merry time eating his Gu on the way down the other side and I realise we need to run because I know J and the cowbell team will be at the bottom and we will never hear the last of it if they see us walking DOWNhill. Thankfully due to the mist they don't see us until we are running again. Just 5 miles to go here and though we've slowed we might still make 5 hours.

The final climb up to mile 23 is slower than we need and there is just not enough Lycra in the world to drag us up there faster. At the top is the guy with the Crispy Creme's again... I LOVE that guy. Poor C is allergic to wheat so I eat extra for him. I'm pretty sure 5 hours is out of the question now but we can still get a PR for C with a bit of work. C tries to send me on but I'm a big Top Gun fan and I know you never leave your wingman. There's one uphill to cross the freeway then its half a mile downhill then mostly flat to the finish line. The downhill gives us a bit of a second wind and I pick it up for the final mile hoping that C can follow and he does. We skip the final water stop and drop down under I-99 - the short climb the other side is a cruel end to the race but I 'encourage' C and we run the whole way up. Now its flat into the stadium and the PR is in the bag.... there's the cowbell crew with my finish line donuts and 5:04 and the medal. We ran 10:47 pace for the last 1.5 miles and 10:06 pace for the last half mile. M is not far behind and broke 5:10. Interestingly enough even though we were slower than the plan for the 2nd half we still passed far more people than passed us after the half way point - I guess there are lots of people who just go out too fast.

I have decided 5 hour pace is a very nice pace to run. You still feel tired at the same spots as usual but never got that feeling of 'Oh man I have to stop here'.  Even better at the finish I still felt like I could have kept going and probably have beaten my 50k pace from earlier this year. 2 days later I have some stiff places if I sit still for too long but on the whole I'm feeling really good and not worried about doing it all again in 4 weeks time. Now I'm wondering how much is left in my legs and if I can get a PR before the year is out!

And to summarize the toilet etiquette:

  1. One line for 3 portapotties - no more no less
  2. Do not extend your line to your neighbours portapotties
  3. Do not make a new line when there are obviously perfectly good lines to stand in
  4. If there's only one bathroom then poop over the side of the bridge and don't hold up important looking runners with their name on their shirt. (I should have just gone over the side of the bridge - how many people can say they peed from the HOV lane on I90?)

 

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