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On being less of me to love…

January 24, 2011

So, those whom have had the (mis)fortune to meet me in person (all two of you who read this) will have no doubt noticed that I am not the smallest of individuals.  For the vast majority of people who have not met me, newsflash:  I am not the smallest of individuals.  I am, in fact, one of the larger people I know.

I could wax poetic and say it’s not my fault, it’s genetics, it’s whatever-the-in-vogue-excuse-is-this-week, but bottom line is that I likes me some grub.  Portion control is, always has been, and most likely will always be my bane.  I was a powerlifter early in life, and never really lost that appetite, even after I stopped competitively lifting.  Add to that my dad is an executive chef, and SWMBO is a cookbook author in the making, well, I am certainly not denied any opportunity to indulge.

I must point out at this time that there was a point in my life, about 8 years ago as of this writing, where I was running 2+ miles a day, 5 days a week (we have treadmills and ellipticals at work) and consuming about 1600 calories a day.  And I weighed about 350 pounds.  This is what the body of a fat man looks like in starvation mode.  I plateaued there and have subsequently slid backwards, albeit slowly, ever since.  Needless to say, I’m not happy where I am.  This must change.

I’m not going to turn this into a fitness or diet blog or anything like that.  I am going to use this as a medium to start charting my progress.

SWMBO and I do not own a scale.  I’m OK with this on principle, but logistically, it poses a few challenges, and one opportunity.  I have access to a scale at the gym in the office.  Using only one scale, at least I don’t have to worry about calibration.  As of 10 minutes ago, I was out of range for that scale.  In total honesty, that means I’m probably in excess of 440 pounds.  My immediate goal is to get into range here.  I hope to do so in two weeks.

To that, I’ve acquired a copy of The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.  At almost 600 pages, it’s quite a read.  I’m not finished, but a lot of what I’m reading makes sense.  As someone who’s been trapped in the starvation mode plateau before, the one-day-off-six-days-on seems promising.  The slow-carb approach jives with what I know about the glycemic index, and the whole concept of MED (read the book) makes sense.  I jogged a quarter mile (180 seconds-ish) while I was in the gym failing to weigh myself.  That was my second trip in today, and I’ll make one more before I leave work today.

I don’t know where this is going.  I’m not setting a hard end-state goal – I carry a lot of muscle and skeleton around; I’ll probably never see the underside of 200 pounds, and I like being able deadlift more than half my body weight.  Still, I view any progress in this arena as good.

 Look for an update in two weeks, we’ll see how I did.

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Winter blerg…

January 20, 2011

Winter… is not my favorite time of year. Days like today? The main reason why. It’s currently a balmy 23 degrees Fahrenheit, with moderate winds gusting to 10 MPH or so, yielding a brisk ~10 degrees after wind chill. And the best part? It’s snowing. Again. Please note the dripping sarcasm, folks.

I used to like snow, when I was a little kid. I’d play out in the front yard, make forts, have snowball fights, the works. Then I turned 12, and realized that snow was cold. That ‘cold’ thing really changed my outlook something fierce. Now, I bundle up as I move from my heated seats in the car to huddle by the wood-burning stove, and spend the night wrapped up in the electric blanket cursing Jack Frost.

And the worst part of this whole bad idea someone called ‘winter’? I haven’t seen the sun in over a week. Kinda forget what it looks like. The whole area is gray. Not black at night, gray. Wintery, dull, oppressive, bleak gray.

I hate winter.

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Televisions and such…

December 1, 2010

JayG, who’s blog I read on a daily basis, has asked about things televisionistic and with a ceiling of about $1000.  How can I, the consummate geek (and spender of much moolah), not answer?  Here is how I would shop, if I were buying another TV.  Please note that I am avoiding specific brand names, as you should never shop by brand alone, but by features.  I look at four main things.

That said, let us begin with the source of the lumens in the light box.

Laser > AMOLED > OLED > LCD/LED > LCD/CCFL > Plasma > DLP > CRT

Research each independently, but avoid plasma and DLP, each of which has a limited life span (plasma needs recharged and DLP bulbs need replaced – neither of which is inexpensive) and CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) is what you grew up with, in all of it’s 320p glory.  These are all dying technologies, even if not everyone realizes it yet.

The laser TV, while visually AMAZING, is kind of out of our ballpark here, weighing in at north of $5000 each as of this writing.  Likewise are the AMOLED/OLED technologies.  Nice, but still a little too pricey.  To me, the sweet spot of price/performance in the sub-grand arena is in LCD w/ LED backlights, instead of the older CCFL tubes. They last longer and run cooler.  LED backlight also leads to higher…

Contrast Ratio

Higher is better, and the sky is the limit.  This leads to rich colors that pop against dark blacks.  Entry level here is 5,000:1 or so, I consider a ‘good’ ratio to be more along the lines of 60,000:1, and over 500,000:1 to be excellent.  With LED backlight, the magicians at the manufacturers have even figured out how to selectively modulate the LEDs to darken areas of the screen and brighten others simultaneously, leading to 1,000,000:1 contrast ratios on some models.

Refresh Rate

Standard TV refresh rate was 60 Hz for decades.  Then someone came up with the idea that if the picture refreshes more often, motion will appear smoother, similar to a higher frames per second makes video games better..  Hence we now have 120 and 240 Hz (and even higher, on some models) refresh rates.  This smoother motion, to my eye, is a double edged sword.  Motion can look flowing and graceful, but because we are so accustomed to 60 Hz, anything higher can look unnatural, depending on what the images are.  Some TV’s have settings to regulate this, so my advice would be to find a TV with a high refresh rate, but with the ability to tone it down if you find the look unappealing.

Resolution

1080p > 1080i > 720p > 720i > 480p > 480i > 320i

(there was no 320p standard that I am aware of)

The ‘p’ and ‘i’ abover refer to progressive scan and interlaced. Thiese are different ways that the video is processed.  Interlaced is the older standard, and can lead to some pixilation on your screen because it only scans every other line with each screen refresh.  Progressive minimizes that effect by scanning them all. It should go without saying that you want a 1080p-capable TV, but there’s another important feature you should look for in this area:  upscaling.  Typical TV signals (your DVD player, non-HD satellite or cable, digital free TV, whatever) is broadcast in 480p.  If you just toss that signal up on a 1080 screen, it looks blocky, like an old 8-bit Nintendo game.  Most TV’s come with the ability pass this signal through anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, commonly referred to as upscaling.  On a good TV, you’ll never even know you had to turn this on.  Some manufactures still do not include this, so watch out.

Widgets

This is kind of a bonus category, as it doesn’t really have any noticed any real so-called killer apps.  Some TV’s let you connect USB flash drives and watch pictures or movies, which is kind of cool.  Others have direct connections to Netflix or Boxee or Hulu (or more recently, Google TV) but I haven’t seen any one thing that really stands out and says BUY ME BECAUSE OF THIS ONE FEATURE!!!

So that’s my mind spoken on the subject of current television shopping.  If I missed anything, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

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Motivation to Move…

November 22, 2010

It has come to the attention of your humblest of scribes that a particular house may be available for purchase. Said house would be, if my family were to have one, as close to being called our ancestral home as any. It not the oldest home to have passed through our hands, but it is the one that holds the most memories, and it has the most to offer.  1,613 sq. ft ranch with 2 beds and 2 baths on top of a full basement with a walk-out garage, a seperate 3-car detached garage, all on 3 acres of land in the city, butting up to the Metro Park.  The front yard alone is larger than my whole lot now.

This was the house of my great-grandfather (GGF, for now), whom I had the rare fortune of being part of my life until barely a decade ago. He passed away at age 97 in 1998. In what should have been his golden years, a certain unscrupulous bastard took advantage of my GGF, to the tune of a new Buick, $90,000 in signature bonds and the house.   The bastard either forged the signatures or coerced my great-grandfather to sign the papers placing the house for sale, then he short sold it to move it quick, and pocketed the proceeds. My father had power of attorney, and my GGF was in the process of being declared non compos mentis (when 90 years old you reach, think and remember as well, you will not, eh?)  But because he undersold the house so quickly, he got away with it before the rest of the family was in a place to do anything about it.   GGF had to spend the last years of his life in one of the most revolting care facilities I’ve ever seen because of the bastard.

The bastard is now dead, and I swear, if I ever find where he’s buried, I will drop trou and take a huge, steaming diarrhetic shit on his grave.  This is one of very few things that I and my father agree wholly upon.

So, some fourteen years later, after at least two different owners, a good deal of renovation and subsequent disrepair, the house is back on the market.  For about half of what it should appraise for.  Needless to say…

I WANT THIS HOUSE.

Now, SWMBO and I bought our house in 2006.  Very late in 2006.  We just had our 4-year anniversary of buying the house, actually.  Right after that, some asshat bankers decided that they would screw us all and drop my property value, to the point where I’m upside down on my current mortgage.  I’m not behind any payments, but owing more on a house than it’s worth is quite disheartening.  It also puts me in a difficult position to buy my GGF’s house.

So last night, I started looking at numbers.  What I would need to make owning the house a reality.  I’m behind on my student loans, but I’m catching up there.  I can’t really do anything until I am caught up, though.  I need to be able to put a real down payment on the house, and I need to do some repairs to our current house to do anything real with it.  Bare minimum, I need about $30,000 to make this work.  If I save everyhting coming in that isn’t allocated (paying bills or buying groceries, basically) I can scrape up about $5,000 by April.  I have maybe $1000 in a 401k that I could pull, but past that, I’m tapped.  If anyone needs their computer fixed for cheap, let me know, ok?

Suffice it to say, I have gone into full on penny pinch mode.  Every dollar that goes out hurts.  SWMBO and I are basically a single income househod, at least until her book gets published.  Consequently, it feels like a lot of dollars are going out.

Another thing I’m looking at doing is selling off some assets.  I have a nice entertainment surround sound system that is collecting dust.  I have disk jockey rig that’s doing the same.  I have a box of computer parts that has probably $500 in marketable RAM just sitting on my bench.  And I also have a few guns that I’m looking to sell.

My last recourse of action is to ask my parents for either a loan or outright gift of some of the money to buy the house.  I hate the prospect of doing that, but I think that they would like to see that house back in our family as much as I would.  Add to that the fact the my father’s income is going to roughly double in January, I might actually get something if I asked…

So look forward to more updates here.  I’m trying to get better about posting more (I have a post rattling around in my head as to why) and this will serve as a nice archive of what I’ve done to buy this house.

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TS… Aaaagent Man, TS… Aaaagent Man!

November 19, 2010

So, when I started this, I never promised to be all regular and stuff.  You want regular, go buy some Metamucil. SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) is the better of this pair at the bloggity-bloggity thing, even going so far as to try to get published.  My attempts here are for more…  personal reasons and/or moral support.

Still, I admit.  Been a while.  I do need to get better than this.

So what should I rant about today?  I know.  I’ll jump on the bandwagon of the last few weeks.  Ye Olde TSA.  I have a unique perspective on this, both as a person of not inconsiderable size and as a recent business traveler.  I have to admit that in my most recent foray into Mordor (Chicago) that I only saw one person get pornogra-fied, and no one seemed to be getting, ahem, extra-friendly.  In perspective, I watched probably 200 or so people go through that security line.  Mathematically, that means there’s one half of one percent chance that I could have been subject to the ‘enhanced security procedures.’

Now, allow me to fantasize.

Had I been selected, what would I have liked to do?

I’d have asked for both procedures.

You may have remembered, I mentioned that I carry a little extra baggage when I fly.  Or walk.  Or sit.

Big Butt

To the point where I’m relatively certain that those TSA guys really don’t want to look at nudie pictures of my corpulence.  Hell, even I don’t want to look at myself when I get out of the shower.  The whole idea is to make this venture even less appealing for the TSA people than it is for I, their intended passenger victim.  This goes doubly so for the guy that’s gotta put his hand in the perilous danger of personal injury from the pat down.  (Note to self, on my next flight, I need to route by the nearest Chipotle for my pre-flight burrito with extra beans and peppers.)  The agents themselves are already starting to dislike these new procedures, I think a little more motivaiton is all that’s needed to add a little more pressure form the inside and start an all-out coup or revolt.  How revolting!

(See what I did there?)

As a side note, I should mention that under normal circumstances, I’m fine with the prospect of someone jingling my bells, but I usually prefer them to be cuter, and wearing a lot less.  And there’s usually beer involved.  And maybe a cover charge or some tips or something.

And ya know what would make this even better?  I want John Pistole himself to do the screening.

Butt Head
(credit image:  DayLife/Associated Press)

I figure that if the special sauce is good enough for his rank and file TSA grunts, it’s good enough for the head as well.  Head honcho, I mean.

I think he needs to hold his hand a little flatter, though. Gotta make sure both the boys get equal attention. A little cupping might be nice, too. Just sayin’.

And eventually, we can even have this:

Butt Head
They’re even already in the blue uniforms!  Won’t that be so much fun!

Or we could, ya know, employ security techniques that actually work.

But where’s the fun in that?

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Paul Bunyan is my New BFF

June 28, 2010

So, I just came in from the back yard.  Or rather, our back stretch of asphalt.  Whoever put in the driveway before we bought the house decided that we needed twelve feet of blacktop in any direction from the house itself.  Comes in handy when I’m under a car, but for other things?  Pain. In. The. Posterior.

So what was I doing out in the sweltering 90-degree 90% humidity?  Trying to stay warm.

Oh, not now.  In January.

One of the first things Vesta and I did when we bought the house was to have a wood stove put in.  I took a picture, but the internets ated it.  So here’s a much nicer installation of the same model, complete with rear heat shield:

Nice, huh?  Ours is not as nicely installed and has a lot more blue in the soapstone, but it is still flushed to the wall. It puts out about 50,000 BTU’s, which they say is enough to heat 1,500 square feet.  We still end up using a space heater on and off upstairs, but it does the job nicely.  We have ours in the living room, and there have been nights in February where we’ve cracked a window to keep it below 85 degrees inside.  Please note, I’m not complaining here.

So a few weeks ago, a friend of my mothers’ calls up and tells me that she has several cherry trees that were trimmed, and would I like the wood?  Expecting a few arm-sized branches, I raced over in the Jeep.  Trimmed, as I found out, was a bit of an understatement.  I found veritable wood burners’ gold:  16+” rounds, pre-cut, that had been down for a couple months, free for the taking.  All told, about a cord and a half, I expect.  Whoopee!!

So I ran home, hitched up the trailer, and four loads later, it was all in my back yard.  Or back black top, whatever.  I’ve been whittling away at it ever since.

In acquiring our wood to burn, I have three main tools at my disposal.

Husqvarna 455 Rancher Chain Saw

7-ton Electric Log Splitter

Fiskars Super Splitter

I’m considering doing a detailed write up on each one of these as I putter along on this blog, incidentally.  I have a couple other odds and ends that help along the way, but these are my big three.  Oh, and a lot of sweat and determination.  I don’t have a lot of land (standard 1/10th of an acre city lot) so I need what I use to be compact and productive.  I don’t have room to store a full sized gas splitter, so I use the electric.  It’s split just about everything I throw at it.  Vesta even gets on on it, it’s so easy to use.

We actually sat down and figured it out on day.  Heating with wood warms you about 10 times.  First by cutting it, then by hauling it, then stacking it, then splitting it, then stacking it, then hauling it, then stacking it, then stacking it again, then burning it, then getting rid of the ashes.  Pretty cost-effective at the free price, I think.  There’s the added benefit of what Vesta calls the Woodburner’s Diet:  eat whatever the hell you want, then cut/split/stack wood for a weekend.  Guaranteed to lose weight.

It’s a ton of work, but in the middle of February when it’s hovering around a balmy no degrees Fahrenheit, and I get the gas bill, I love opening it in my PJ’s in 75 degree comfort to see that it’s only $35 bucks*.

*We still cook with gas, and have a gas clothes dryer, gas (tank) water heater, and we do run the gas furnace for about a half of an hour a day in the morning to take the chill off.  Otherwise, we’d have no gas bill.
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On being unarmed…

June 18, 2010

So here’s that post I’ve had rattling around in my head for two weeks or so.

 On the cruise, and many other places, we have top surrender our tools of defense.  As a concealed handgun licensee (thinking about starting instructing, actually) I’m used to have certain tools at my disposal for a worst-case scenario.  Please note, I’m using the word tools – for a reason.  I’ll get to it in a moment.

 On our recent trip, I had to leave virtually any conventional implement of defense at home.  The cruise line even prohibits folding pocket knives, regardless of size (including the Kershaw Chive with a blade under 2” that permanently lives attached to my pocket) leaving us theoretically defenseless in a safe, weapons-free environment.  I saw theoretically because in practice, there is no such thing as a truly weapon-free environment.

 Think about it for a moment.  Let me suggest a few scenarios.  Let us say you are in an airport and have gone through security already.  The TSA likes to call this a ‘sterile’ area, so I’ll use that term as well.  Someone picks up a chair and starts beating someone else with it.  You’re in a so-called weapon-free zone, but that person could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  Hmm.

 Here’s another good one.  In Ohio, business owners have the option to post a sign which prohibits the carrying of a firearm in their business.  In Ohio, we have a slang term for such places, Criminal Protection Zones, or CPZ’s.  Those signs don’t work so well. (All of those are posted, and that search took less than 5 minutes)

 So, in practice, there is no such thing as a weapons-free zone.  How do we handle this?  As a law-abiding citizen, if I am inconvenienced by being asked (or forced) to disarm, I might be without my favorite tool for a specific job, but I am far from unarmed.  I don’t mean I’m carrying a backup gun, or a knife, or mace, or a baton, or some other mall ninja worthy persuit.  I mean I’m not unarmed, because I AM the weapon, the gun is the tool.

 Self defense is a mentality.  A carpenter has the skill to frame a house, even if you take away his favorite hammer.  A mechanic can still fix your car even his tools break (that was not fun, incidentally.)  In the same vein, self defense is not about carrying a sidearm.  It’s about staying safe, and keeping those around you safe.  That’s situational awareness.  It’s the determination to do whatever is necessary to stay safe.  Identifying potential threats before they act gives you time to prepare and remove advantages that a potential bad guy may have.

 I break situational awareness into three categories:  myself, the people around me and our surrounding environment.  If I have a person of significance with me (Vesta or some other family member, for example) I count them with the ‘myself’ portion.

 For myself, I take stock in my condition and what I have on my person.  How is my knee?  Is it up to running if necessary?  What am I carrying?  Do I have at least one hand free to intercept/react?  If I am with Vesta, is she carrying a weapon?  This should be the easiest category to control and be aware of.  Most of the time if I’m out and about, I’m carrying either my Walther P99 or my KelTec PF-9.  The Smith & Wesson MP9 in my header image is actually Vesta’s, which is what she carries.  (I was too lazy to run downstairs to the door safe to take the picture, and the MP9 was right upstairs with me at the time…)  If I’m at a CPZ, do I have my pocketknife?  Or my walking cane?  What do I have on my person that could be weaponized or assist with getting out of dodge?

 When looking at the people around me, this is something that working as a bouncer and uniformed security taught me – to watch people to predict what they’re going to do.  Look at the body language.  Look at the eyes.  If someone looks agitated, chances are that they are agitated, and may act aggressively.  This is what some of my friends who are peace officers call ‘cop-dar.’  Some say it’s a trained reaction, other say it’s instinctual.  Either way, I say that if someone sets off your radar, go with your gut reaction and keep an inconspicuous eye on them.  Our subliminal is far more observant than we are, and has evolved to evade predators.  We should listen to it.

 Lastly, the most complex thing you can observe is your environment.  I say that this is the most complex because it is constantly changing.  In everyday situations, can you say offhand how many exits the building you’re in has, and how to get to the closest one?  What available tools are at hand to break the window separating you from safety?  What cover or concealment is available for you to use until you can evade or act?  What is around you that can be made into an improvised weapon? Now think about those same things in the context of a dynamic critical incident, where you may not have time to find what’s around you.  If you already have the knowledge prior to the incident starting, you can react that much faster, and the faster your react, the greater your chances of survival.

 One little saying that I use to remind myself of this is ‘head on a swivel’ – constantly looking around.  I also use this when riding my motorcycle, for many of the same reasons.

 So what’s the real-world application of all this theory?  Back to my original thought-starter, our recent cruise.  I was without my tools, but at no point was I unarmed or unsafe.  A little forethought and I was aware of the exit points from the interior of the ship to where the lifeboats were, and where our muster station was and how to get there.  I did my best to ensure my safety, and those around me.

 I’m not paranoid, I’m prepared.  I don’t stockpile tons of food and antibiotics in my basement, but I keep a modest pantry and freezer.  Knowing what’s around me is in the same vein.

 You can take my tools, but I’m still armed, for I am the weapon.

*I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but it’s a complicated subject, and I wanted to present enough to convey my message.  It’s still a little long to read, but if I cut it any more, it would speak in incomplete thoughts, which I hate.

**Damn, it’s still over a thousand words.  Oh well.