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Aaaaaaannnndd… We’re back!

June 15, 2010

Ok, so we’ve been back for a few days.  Had to at least attempt to recuperate.  I took today off work so I could get some requisite odds and ends done, and I’m sad to say that only the odds got done, the ends, I’ll have to squeeze in somewhere in the week.

How was the trip?  I have to say it was OK.  Yes, I realize a cruise that is essentially free (minus tax, and there’s a hefty amount of that…) can’t be all bad, can it?  I got to go snorkeling, after all.  But I have to say, there’s one or two glaring things that kind of overshadow the entire experience.

RCL is an odd company.  It has some amazing people working for it.  Our stateroom attendant, for example.  Pampering almost to the point of smothering.  But I will say, our sheets were clean and drum-tight every time we walked in the room.  As near as I can tell, his job is to scrub the room, top to bottom, either two or three times a day.  And there’s the cute little towel animals, too.  The pics are uploading in the background (1.6 GB takes a little time on my DSL…) but I’ll link one here when I get a chance.

However, RCL has some absolutely crap-tastic managers.  Vesta has Celiac disease, which for the unindoctrinated, means that she has a…  negative… reaction to eating gluten.  Rashes are really the least of the symptoms here folks, and we own a single-bathroom house.  Prior to the cruise, I had to fill out a little questionnaire asking about food allergies.  They even had a little check box next to Gluten-Free Diet, right next to peanut and shellfish allergies, so they are aware of the issue.  I thought this was a good sign.  I called ahead, and was told (by a very rude CSR) that the ship would be able to accommodate any special diet.  When I got on board, I made a point of asking the guest relations desk.  They said that the chefs would be able to make anything.  OK, I thought, we’re good to do.

I, as it turned out, was wrong.

The main cafeteria-style buffet on most RCL lines is called the Windjammer Cafe, and it is about as average as cafeteria foods get, albeit a little more colorful palette (I should mention that my father is an executive chef, and Vesta is writing a food book – it’s a subject we’re comfortable with)  The only thing I could find the entire week that I was sure was GF was some yogurt, pineapple, and maybe the salad, although Vesta stopped eating the salad because something gave her a rash, indicating a cross-contamination issue.  Even the meats were slathered in a gluten-containing rub and rice cooked with stock (they both use it as a texturizer and extender.)  Even dishes that are normally prepared with corn starch, like sweet and sour chicken, were done with flour.  It’s not a matter of cost, because corn starch is a lot cheaper than flour, it’s a decision that one of the kitchen managers made to simplify their ordering.  The net result is that Vesta was left with virtually nothing to eat for a solid week.

In case you weren’t aware, a suffering spouse is not conducive to a good vacation.

To Vesta’s credit, she did ask one of the line chefs to show here what was gluten-free.  After a very frustrating tour of constant ‘no, that has flour in it’ the chef told Vesta that if she’d brought her own food ingredients, like GF pasta, they’d be happy to make it for here.  Lot of good that does in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, really.  The next meal, when I asked the same question, a different line chef said ‘Well, she can have a salad right?’  I didn’t even bother explaining the cross-contamination issue.

So bottom line, my wife couldn’t really eat anything but some Snickers bars and stale potato chips the I’d found in the on-board shops, which were expectedly overpriced.  I thought that a good deal of the reason that people went on cruises was the so-called fabulous food.  I guess not.  Culinary Fail, Royal Caribbean.

So, that aside, we got to go to Key West and the Bahamas, which was very cool.  Actually, I tell a lie.  It was not cool, it was hot.  Very hot.  Fog-your-camera-lens-when-you-step-outside hot.  Key West set a temperature record while we were there.  In 95% humidity.  Joy.  Snorkeling was cool.  I have a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof to about 10 feet, so I have some really cool footage of use snorkeling in the Bahamas (again, waiting on the upload to post here) so there are parts we did enjoy.  But such a glaring issue does tend to overshadow the fun we had.

I have more thought on the cruise that have been bopping around for two weeks or so, I’ll see if I can hammer them out for my next post.

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I’m leavin’ (on a boat…)

June 3, 2010

So, I know I just got this thing up and running and all, but I’m going to have to take a brief hiatus of sorts.  My company has a performance-based reward conference/recreation trip every year.  It’s not a sales-based thing, as we’re not in sales.  It’s awarded on how well you do you job, peer/manager recommendation, that sort of thing.  Out of our 70,000+ worldwide employees, about 1,500 are selected.  This is my second year going.

This year’s trip is a cruise from  Miami to the Florida Keys to a private beach (near Haiti, actually) and back, over 5 days.  Now, yes, we do have a few mandatory business meetings (served with champagne and mimosas, no less) and I have to pay about 30% of the total tax on the whole shebang, but the wife and I are going a frickin’ cruise that the company is paying for. How cool is that?  Downside?  My boss is going, so I can’t get really trashed.  He, on the other hand, will certainly get shitfaced more than once, and I have a new Nikon D5000.  I see a very good raise next year…
Interesting fact #1:  Did you know that there is a PIRATE MUSEUM in the Keys?  Guess who’s going and taking a few thousands pictures.

So I mentioned that I’ve attended this conference before.  Each year is a different location (I’d love to have the job of whoever picks them out…)  The last time I went, it was also a cruise, albeit from Los Angeles to Baja by way of Catalina.  Nice trip, that.  The boat we’re going on this time (RC’s Majesty of the Seas) is the sister ship to the one last time, RC’s Monarch of the Seas.  The nice thing here is I already know my way around the boat.  The one we’re going has just had a top to bottom renovation, where the last one, being 30 years old and showing it, needed one.  While Monarch was a nice boat, I’m really excited to find my way onto the Majesty.

Interesting fact #2:  Remember the cruise liner that dropped off virtually all of their food and medical supplies to Haiti after the quake, and refilled at their private beach, then the main stream media and a bunch of bliss ninny bloggers jumped all up in their shit for stopping at all a beach on the other side of the island?  With passengers on board, who spent money there, which the Haitian economy still needs?  Even though RC used those stops to ferry donated relief aid to the Haitians who needed it?  Yeah, that was Royal Caribbean.  They stood up to the plate and got swung at for it.

I have more to say about the trip, but I think that what I have to say deserves it’s own post (plus, I need something to do tomorrow while we do laundry) so I’ll leave you with this:

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Test pattern…

June 3, 2010

Testing to see if the email blogging thing works…

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Workin’ on the Weekend…

June 1, 2010

So with the weekend and the beautiful weather comes a list of project to do around the house.  Vesta, naturally, has her list, which is usually centered around digging in the dirt or hanging bracket for curtains or something.  This past weekend, my list was but a single project:  Brakes on Maximus.

 Maximus is our ’99 Jeep Grand Cherokee, so named because I have pulled a 10,000+ lb trailer over 100 miles several times with him without incident.  (His I-6 engine should only be good for ~half that, but necessity being the mother of stupidity…)  I have Maximus set up pretty decently for towing, with a transmission cooler, PowerStop blank (as in smooth, no slots or cross-drills) rotors and R1 Concepts Posi Quiet ceramic pads.

 The problem with those ceramic pads is they tend to wear out a little quicker than semi-metallics.  And they go from stop-on-a-dime great to stop-somewhere-in-that-field –over-there sucky in oh, a week.  Or less.  And they get LOUD – not the hey-its-time-to-do-your-brakes squeal, but the your-pads-gone-and-your-pressing-the-steel-pad-backer-into-the-rotor chatter.  So new pads and rotors in hand, I set out on Saturday to get this done.

 Did I mention that Saturday was the hottest day of the year that far?

 Normally, this would be a five or six hour job for me (I’m not the fastest turner of wrenches) but as always, there were complications.  My chief problem was that every bolt on every caliper was seized.  Every.  Damned.  Bolt.  How do I define seized, you ask?  Easy.  If after torching and soaking with penetrating oil and the impact wrench turned up to 130 PSI and all of my 350 pounds standing and jumping on a breaker bar with a 6-foot steel pipe extension on it, ½” 20 TPI 1 ¼” long bolt won’t budge, that is what I call seized.  At least one like that on each caliper.  And one of the wheel lugs, just for good measure.  After cutting two bolts off with the angle grinder and drilling out the shafts, at the end of the day, I had two wheels done, and a small pile of broken sockets and ratchets.  Go me.  Go me straight on to continue this on Sunday.

 Did I mention that Sunday was even hotter than Saturday?

 The last two wheels went faster than the first, even through the front passenger caliper didn’t want to compress fully.  More on this shortly.  I got everything back together and Vesta and I went on a little test drive to bed the brakes.  Or I should say, we tried to go for a little test drive.  After about 2 miles, when the little lady in the Accord pulled up next to us at a stop light and yelled out “your wheel is smoking, and it smells funny,” I turned around and sulked home.  Being after 9:00 PM on a Sunday, I knew I’d have to wait until the next day to finally get that seized caliper fixed.

 The next day being Memorial Day.  And hot.  And Stormy.  Did I mention that I can’t do any of this in my garage because there’s only a dirt floor in there?

 So apparently the parts stores are clairvoyant, or I got exceedingly lucky, because not only did I find a parts store that was open, but they had my caliper in stock.  More money into this project, but at least I can get my $20 core charge back on the old part…  I also swung by Sears to swap out my two freshly non-ratcheting ratchets for new ones.  They are suckers with that Gaurantee Forever thing.  Oh well, back to work.

 Did you know that when a caliper is seized closed, that no matter how much anti-seize you used on the bolts, it ain’t coming off?  I didn’t, but I do now.  I had to dust off one of my favorite Tools of Mass Destruction, Mjöllnir.  (Yes, we tend to name things.  Keeps our lives…  colorful.)  So after wailing on this caliper for a half hour with a three pound hammer, I gave up and retrieved Mr. Authoritay, Mjöllnir’s BIG eight pound brother.  And with that, the offending caliper finally broke free.  Hooked up the new caliper, put the pads and rotor back and bled the brakes.  Finally done, wasn’t that fun?.  Did I mention it was storming off and on through all this?  Yeah, that fun.

 So what did we learn from all this?  If I’d have had this done by a professional mechanic, I’d be looking at the neighborhood of a cool grand, easily.  The girl at the parts counter said more like $1200, and that was before the caliper.  My cost for parts was about $300, which would have been a lot less except for that caliper.  So I guess I’m ahead, even if I did lose the entire weekend and have to replace a few tools in the process.

 So how did you spend your weekend?

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The Obligatory Introduction…

May 28, 2010

So, Hi.  Yet another blog.   Yea me.  So I suppose I should tell you about your humblest of scribes.  I grew up in an average city and I still live there.  I’ve been elsewhere, but I keep ending up back here.  Go figure.  Bought a house and everything.

About my professional life…

I work in an office.  I’m not a drone, but I’m not management either.  I guess you could say I’m in corporate limbo.  I describe my job as a professional problem solver, and a technical troubleshooter.  I directly support about 300 or so end users, and I also develop processes and make new technological tools to aid with those processes.  (Yes, I code, therefore, I am.)  I also play project manager and under-Schmoozer of the Big Wigs.  It’s a charmed career.
I suppose I should note that I am somewhat…  infamous…  for my sarcasm.

About my personal life…

I am married to my best friend, I’ll call her Vesta here for now, look for a more creative moniker as the muse musters by.  We have been married for over three years as of this writing, and had dated for over three years before that.  No marriage is perfect, and I’m sure I’ll touch on that over the life of this blog, but we have a pretty good thing going on here.  If you asked, each of us would say that we are truly happy.  And our marriage is very healthy, trust me.

I shoot things, as the blog title suggests.  My hobbies include firearms, music, medieval recreation, fixing things and photography (although I’m just getting back into that after a long hiatus)  I should say that I really am a jack of all trades, so don’t be surprised if you stumble here one day and see I’ve discovered the joys of underwater basket weaving or some such.  I’m also an ordained minister, so if you’re in Ohio (currently the only state I’ve filed the requisite paperwork in) and need to get hitched, lemme know.

I’m just an average guy in my thirties trying to stand out while keeping my head down and my nose to the grindstone.  Nice to meet ya.