Archive for March, 2007

Templar Legacy

Recently finished reading the Templar Legacy by Steve Berry. This was an interesting book, and a decent read/listen. Part of what added to the extra interest in the book was the timing. Right as I was part way through reading the book, the “Jesus Tomb” special was on the Discovery channel, and had some interesting ties to the book. Also, just before the Jesus Tomb special on DSC, there was a special on Free Masonry, which I also watched and was quite interesting (and related to topics in the book).

Overall, the book kinda dragged. Sometimes it’s maybe not such a good idea to read the unabridged versions.

But, at the end of it it was an ok book… another in roughly the style of the DaVinci code.

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Reign over Me

Jodi and I went out to watch “Reign Over Me” last weekend. I had read several good reviews of the movie beforehand, so I was pretty excited to see it. Overall it was a good movie, but it was still a little disappointing. The story was interesting, but a little unfulfilled.

I didn’t get a couple of things:

  • What the heck was Donald Sutherland’s role supposed to be? The all-knowing judge who doesn’t have to follow the law? Why in the world would he put the mental health decision for Adam Sandler’s character into the hands of the people who were pushing the legal action? I just didn’t get that, and it didn’t seem very realistic.
  • Who really would think it was a good idea to hook Adam Sandler up with the crazy woman who threatened to sue Don Cheadle? That’s just a terrible idea… doesn’t matter how “hot” she is.

So it was an okay movie and Adam Sandler did a credible job of being a miserable, crazy person. But come on.

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March Golden Weekend

March 25: Jodi and I celebrated her March golden weekend (both Saturday and Sunday off) by taking a bunch of photos! We started with the cool new R2D2 mailboxes (found this one at the UW Medical Center) then walked around the UW campus a bit. We spent some time at Snoqualmie Falls, and finally ended up at the UW Washington Park Arboretum.

See the photos at Doddsnet.

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Little Children

Last week I watched the movie Little Children. It was actually quite good, better than I had expected (somehow I hadn’t really heard anything about this movie before the Oscars).

I think the saddest part, really, was about Ronnie. Perhaps that’s the point of the movie, I dunno. But it’s so strange that it’s very hard to feel anything but sadness and pity for this poor character. Even after he proves what kind of person he is on his date, when his mother dies and it’s plain how helpless and hopeless he is, it’s very hard not to feel sad. The “be a good boy” note from his mother was exactly the message you’d expect from her and exactly what he needed to hear in her desperation. She knew who he was and loved him anyway.

Plus there was other stuff in the movie. I’m glad Kate Winslet didn’t run off with Jennifer Connelly’s movie husband.

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Sharepoint Designer and the loss of Themes

One rude awakening I encountered when upgrading from Frontpage 2003 to Sharepoint Designer 2007 for Doddsnet a few months ago (back when SPD was still in beta) was the “loss of themes. Well, to be fair, it was really a “deemphasis” in themes rather than a loss, since my current site kept working as-is.

But the key change was that I couldn’t (at least not easily) change the themes applied to the page or change the design of the themes. It looks like later in the beta a little more of this control returned, but still, without a doubt, the emphasis is meant to be on CSS instead of these themes. Ok, fair enough… I suppose it’s about time.

That said, it was a bit of a shock. I’d not totally realized how heavily I had been depending on themes in my site design. The overall page styles were fairly easy, since I could just reuse the theme CSS files. The much harder part was having to get rid of the navigation theme elements.

In Frontpage 2003, things like the page banners and active buttons would all magically derive from the site/page theme. The buttons got created simply by setting navigation and then dropping a Frontpage “web component” into the page (or page template).

Removing themes from this picture turned the Frontpage components into plain text links rather than the pretty pictures I’d been used to. Ugly!

I had to scramble to find a way to solve this problem. Someone gave me some tips on how to redirect the navigation bot to use HTML directly rather than using the themes.

I ended up using a nav bot code like this:

<!–webbot bot=”Navigation”
S-Btn-Nml=”&lt;a href=&quot;#URL#&quot;&gt;&lt;img src=&quot;/_css/doddsnet-arctic/TopBar#LABEL#.gif&quot; alt=&quot;#LABEL#&quot;&gt;&lt;/a&gt;”
S-Btn-Nml=”&lt;a href=&quot;#URL#&quot;&gt;&lt;img src=&quot;/_css/doddsnet-arctic/TopBar#LABEL#.gif&quot; alt=&quot;#LABEL#&quot;&gt;&lt;/a&gt;”
S-Bar-Pfx=”&lt;ul class=&quot;top-navbar&quot;&gt;&lt;li&gt;”
B-Include-Up=”FALSE” –>

Wow, it’s a lot more work than the old way, but it’s doable without themes!

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HHilton HHonors

I’m done with Hilton HHonors. I’m also done with Hilton hotels, any time I have a choice.

Over the years, I’ve often preferred Hilton hotels when I traveled for work or pleasure. I’ve been collecting HHonors “points” for years and years. And, of course, I’ve never “redeemed” any of them. Just what the hotel chain wants, I expect. A loyal customer who reliably collects points but never uses them.

And then the other day I tried to sign into my HHonors account to see how many points I had collected. Just to feel good about it. Let’s be honest, I have never had any real expectation that these points are redeemable for anything besides magazine subscriptions (tried to book a regular – non-premium 50,000 points – plane ticket lately using points? How’d that work out for you?)

… and the result? I couldn’t get into my account.

“What the heck”, I thought to myself. I’m sure I’m typing the right number for my account into the website. I’m looking at it on my Silver VIP HHonors card right here in front of me. Sure, I haven’t traveled as much for work since I took this new job in spring 2005, but what could be going on — that’s not even two years ago (implicitly thinking: “… and no customer-focused company would strip you of all your collected points in less than 2 years!”)

So I called up the customer support number. And they assured me that my account number was correct, but it had been “inactivated”. AFTER 12 MONTHS.

I’d be happy to reactivate your account“, the nice customer support lady reassured me. “And my points,” I asked?

Oh, they’re gone… sorry“.

Yeah, my points were gone after just 12 months of non-use. Well, then I’m gone too if they have such little respect for their customers. Fortunately there are alternatives I can use going forward who haven’t yet expired my points from >2 years ago.

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St. Patrick Day Dash

Well, the results are in for the 2007 Henry Weinhard Saint Patrick Day Dash. The 3.4mile (er, so not really a 5k) race I ran last Sunday was the first one this year for me… the first one where I’ve been “training”. It was very windy (SSE >13mph steady) and drizzling rainy just like you might expect for a March race in Seattle.

Results are posted at:

Some interesting summary stats for the timed runners:

Summary number of finishers: 7474
 number of females:  3775
 number of males:  3689
 average time:  00:33:24

My details:

bib number: 1899    age: 30    gender: M    location: Seattle, WA
overall place: 3953 out of 7474
division place: 437 out of 658
gender place: 2461 out of 3689
time: 32:57

I was a little disappointed with myself because I did a fairly poor job of staying on pace. I had targeted to do between 9:30->10min/miles. I ended up running slow at the front (due to the pack) and then trying to make it up by overrunning during the 2nd mile. So, by the 3rd mile I was totally beat and barely making my pace. I got my 5k in under 30 mins, but I was disappointed that I ended up doing about a minute of walking during the race to get my heart-rate back down where it needed to be.

Here’s my race map, thanks to Jodi’s Garmin Forerunner 305:

And finally, my thoughts on the race:

Overall I was a bit disappointed with the race execution. Evidently, I was not alone — this morning they’ve posted some “please forgive us” commentary on the race website:

The email address to send to is: I’ll be sending in my thoughts.

In any case, the problems I had were:

  • Crowding
  • Gear Check

Crowding is just a “big race” problem. Hard to get around pack crowding at the start of a race where there are 15,000 total participants and probably >5000 in the first wave. But why did I end up stuck behind a bunch of slower people at the beginning, throwing off my pace? Well, part of it may have been that people who run fast at the beginning and then fall off tend to clump too far toward the front of the pack.

But the main problem was that there were no pace runners… at least not any I could find. A few minutes before the Green wave started, the announcer said something about “slower runners to the back and elite runners to the front”. But where in teh pack did I belong to run my 9:30 pace? I had no idea. Evidently I misjudged where to start, as I walk/jogged the first 5 minutes of the race until I could finally break out from the pack a teeny bit near the battery street tunnel.

Dash 2008 suggestion #1: Have highly visible pace runners holding pace time signs or something. Make it very clear in the timed waves to know your pace and cluster in the right place at the start.

Gear check… wow, where do I start. This was the worst part of the whole thing, and it caused me to miss out on a planned brunch with some friends. Sure, I could have not gear-checked my cell-phone, but who in their right mind would think it would take 1HOUR after I finished the race to get my gear back!?! Yes, that’s right. I gear checked my sweats + cellphone around 8:30am, anticipating a 9am start time. The Green wave actually started about 9:10am. I ran about 33 mins and was walking through the chutes by 9:45am. I walked around the booths, got some smoothies and breakfast cookies, etc.

And then nothing. I couldn’t find the gear check. Nobody could.

Finally (i’m guessing around 10:10 or so) the announcer came on the microphone to apologize for the late gear arrival and noted that it “would be at Mass. St.”. Wait a second… would be? It wasn’t there yet?!

Nope, it didn’t arrive until, again a guess, probably 10:30. Fully an hour after even when I presume the final wave started running. All of teh gear arrived at once (not staggered as two trucks: the first with the fastest/green runners who left first and would presumably arrive first, and then yellow/red who are presumably slower and left later). Nope. All gear arrived at once. Well more than an hour after the green runners left.

Then, they started handing out the gear. Since we were gear-checked by our bib number, there was perhaps no good way to handle it. But pulling out bag at a time per crate and yelling out the bag/bib# to the hundreds of people standing around waiting was probably not the best way. It took another 15 mins for me to get my gear, and this mostly because I (and the mob of hundreds) finally got fed up and stormed the crates. Hopefully nobody lost their stuff in the mayhem.

Dash 2007 suggestions set #2:

  • Post a gear-check “close” time for each wave. Have an “overflow” gearcheck in case you miss your close time (ie – if you’re in the green wave, you can check your stuff into overflow after 8:45am, but then your stuff will arrive with red wave).
  • At the pickup end, have well-labeled site and tables set up to indicate where you have to go to get your specific pickup (if you’re doing it by bib#, that’s fine… but have at least a dozen tables set up in advance to separate the pickup lines clearly). BEFORE EVEN THE FIRST RUNNERS ARRIVE.

These are all obvious, of course. I’m sure they probably thought it was going to work just like that this year even.

In any case, I’m not sure if I’ll run this one again next year. Overall it was a pretty lousy experience.

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Personal Beekeeping

A recent article at the NYTimes about bees disappearing was both terrifying and nostalgic for me.

It is terrifying (and should be for anyone) because the massive and unexplained loss of bee colonies is a sign that SOMETHING IS WRONG. Bees are, as the article makes clear, hugely important in our ecosystem. Anything that removes bees en mass has the potential to be a BIG problem.

On the other hand, the article also mentioned the significant fall-off of hobbyist bee-keeping over the past two decades. This reminded me that it’s probably been nearly two decades since my mom (and, by extension, the rest of the family) kept bees at the Center Ave house in Sheboygan, WI. We moved from that house in 1989, so it has to be close to two decades by now…

We kept several of the painted-white boxes of bees at the back of the HUGE yard we had at that house (apple orchard, huge garden, trees, and trees, and trees — it was like living in the country… in the city).

We had these bees for a number of years, and I remember my mom suiting up in the beekeeper clothes, getting out the smoker/blower thingus, and extricating the waxed shelves from the hives. We’d bring them inside the downstairs kitchen — inevitably bringing a bunch of lives bees inside with us! — and get out the heated wax cutter to let loose the honey.

Mostly good memories around keeping bees back 20 years ago. If nothing else, it taught me the difference between honey-bees, bumble-bees, and wasps/yellowjackets (and made me wary of the right ones and not afraid of the others).

Of course, we had so much darn honey it took me years and years to ever want honey on anything again! But now that I like honey again, I remember it fondly. And I think my mom still has honey in jars up in Jamestown, NY from the effort. 

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Preparing for Renters

In our quest to better understand the landlord/renter experience, Jodi and I have both been doing some investigations on the process.

For my part, I recently (and fairly quickly) ran through two books that had caught my eye and which I reserved from the library: Every Landlord’s Guide to Finding Great Tenants and (I suppose it’s the opposing viewpoint) Renter’s Rights: The Basics.

I won’t spend much time on them because they’re really intended as condensed reference books on both sides of the landlord/renter equation. I did find it a bit amusing how the two books addressed the same exact topics from a different perspective, however. Example: both books talked about landlords doing screening for tenants… the landlord book talked about how important it was to do it right, and gave tips on how to cut through the smokescreen some tenants would try to put up. However, the renter book pointed out all of the things landlords can’t legally check (wink wink).

Very informative, both books. I expect I’ll work my way through some others in this series as we go on learning.

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Crime in SW Charlotte

Jodi recently blogged about a Walmart commercial we saw on TV. She didn’t point out one thing that I found particularly interesting about the Walmart experience in Charlotte; something I immediately thought of when I saw the commercial.

When we bought our house in southwest Charlotte in 2001, the closest Walmart was over on Arrowwood Rd at South Blvd. Notice that the police substation is 2 blocks from the 2001 Walmart location. (click on the image to see the labeled pushpins)

However, within a few years, that Walmart relocated much closer to our house. And… let’s say, by sheer coincidence… the police substation made a similar move. (click on the image to see the labeled pushpins)

Now, I’m not drawing any direct correlation between the Walmart shopping plaza in SW Charlotte and crime. I don’t have to. The crime statistic maps do it for me (including, of course, their wonderful “our data is garbage” disclaimer: “This program compiles data from multiple systems. Data in these systems are subject to changes, corrections, and delays in data entry; all data in these systems should be used with caution and should be acknowledged as estimates only.” – so my point is only as good as their data, of course… and of course I’m not comparing any other areas for relative crime concentration so my assertion is really total garbage, etc, etc)

In any case, within a 1000 ft radius of the Walmart over the past couple years we find a laundry list of crimes: Larcenies, Assaults, Loitering for money, Discharging a firearm, Robbery, Stolen vehicles, Drug crimes, you name it. 

Interesting stuff. Shame CMPD online data doesn’t go back to 2001 and earlier. I’d love to compare it to the old location before the move…

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