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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My First Lesson in French

On previous trips to Europe, I had either traveled with people that knew the local languages or we were in a country where I could get by – English, Spanish, or German with my knowledge of the languages. Something that is new for our upcoming trip to Paris, France – French is a language that neither Ashley nor myself have spent any time learning.

Last Friday night our good friend Stephanie Kates came over for dinner and to hang out. Stephanie spent two years on a mission trip in Aix en Provence. When we told her of our upcoming trip and some of the concerns of the language – Stephanie being the great teacher she is (teaching at an elementary school in Oxnard, CA) gave us our first lesson in the French language.

We did learn some interesting concepts that we had no idea of at least in terms of pronunciation – general rules that no doubt have many exceptions. In addition, she believes if we learn the phrase “Parle vouz anglais?” and remember to use it every time before we even think about using English, that we’ll be alright. That sounded easy enough to me.

However, that was not quite enough for me to feel completely comfortable with our language needs for the group. A little later in the evening, Stephanie mentioned how she had been listening to various podcasts while she ran. Most recently she had been listening to Coffee Break Spanish and was getting a real kick out of it.

Later that weekend, I did a quick search and came across the Coffee Break French website. After looking around the website, there were a total of 12 lessons that have been published as podcasts to take you through the French language in little 15 minutes increments.

I selected to download all 12 podcasts to load up on my 60GB iPod Photo and got ready to start learning via Coffee Break French, produced by Radio Lingua – perhaps the most famous for their Coffee Break Spanish lessons.

So, over the next couple of weeks – while I am flying between various locations, Coffee Break French is going to be the podcast of choice that I will listen to on my flights. In fact, I am already listening to Lesson 1, learning terms like “Yes”, “No”, “How are you”, “Thank you”, “I am doing very well”, etc.

Let’s see how it goes – I will have a real opportunity to see how well I can put the lessons from Coffee Break French into practice is just over 3 weeks!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Garth Brooks - 2008 Fire Intervention Relief Effort - 01/26/08

Last night, Ashley and I had the pleasure of attending the last of 5 concerts that Garth Brooks was putting on in two days in Los Angeles, CA -- at the Staples Center. Our show started at 9:00pm, and boy was it worth it. In my book, it was definitely in the top 5 concerts that I have ever been to!

Garth Brooks - 2008 Fire Intervention Relief Effort - Stage at Staples Center before the concert

For quite some time, Ashley and I have wanted to see Garth in concert. Somehow, in 2000-2001, on his last tour we could never make a concert date work out for us. Then, Garth Brooks retired in 2001 to stay at home until his daughter turned 18. For some reason, most of us believed that he would be not be gone that long from concert scene. However, we were wrong.

Then came this amazing event to Los Angeles to help out the families that were victims of the 2007 wild fires across southern California. We were personally affected by them (our home church burned in the Malibu fire), and were glad not to only see the concerts come up, but know that the proceeds were going to the victims to help them re-build their lives.

However, we did not get tickets when they first went on sale for $45 a piece. Last week Ashley mentioned that she we regretting that we did not get them. I had her go on eBay and she picked up some pretty good Premier seats and reserved parking for a reasonable price. So, with that we were ready to attend the concert.

The biggest difficulty of the night was getting there -- when it rains in Southern California, people forget how to drive. Plain forget what they are doing. That being said, it took us quite a bit longer than normal to get there and then the traffic around Staples Center was packed. I had never been to events there that were back-to-back like the 5:00pm and 9:00pm shows -- but getting in made it difficult.

However, once we arrived -- we were glad to be there. Sitting in Premier section 15 is pretty close to center court as far as basketball goes and an excellent seating arrangement for the concert.

Picture of Garth Brooks on stage at the 2008 Fire Intervention Concert at Staples Center.
As most people who have seen Garth in concert, he is an excellent entertainer. Not because of the fact that he has some of the most popular country songs in the world. Rather because he has a great stage presence and is constantly interacting with the crowds. Below is a picture of Garth Brooks posing during a song with a fan while a band member takes a photo.

Picture of Garth Brooks posing during a song with a fan while a band member takes a photo at Staples Center
In all, the concert went just over two hours -- which is a feat given this was the 5th concert that Garth put on in about 30 hours. It would be difficult for someone on a current tour to put on that high quality of performance 5 times, let alone someone who has not been on the road for 7 years. By the end of the concert, Garth was getting a little tired -- do you wonder why?



Also, there was a special guest appearance by Trisha Yearwood singing a duet with her Husband Garth -- "In Another's Eyes" before singing her hit "Walkaway Joe" and going off stage. After the performance and how visibly encouraged Garth was by the fans, one would not be surprised if he hits the road in the next couple of years. He's an unbelievable pro.

Definitely a concert we were proud to have been apart of.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bought my Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D...Finally

Today I finally broke down and bought the Canon EOS Rebel XTI 400D. Earlier this week (here) I had wondered what impact the announcement of the new Rebel XSi announcement on January 24th. The short story is that there was no additional impact and that while the features of the EOS Rebel XSi 450D are impressive – it is not due to be available until April. That means no immediate price breaks on the XTi 400D.

Then on Saturday, I came across a deal too good from Staples to pass up – although it became an ordeal to make it happen. But the bottom line, I ended up with the Rebel XTi 400D kit for $480 + plus some tax. Here is what happened.

Each week for the last few months I had been searching FatWallet (one of my favorite sites) for deals on the Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D. This week, a post showed up that had a couple items that made for a great deal at Staples brick and mortar. First, the Canon Rebel EOS XTI kit with the 18-55m EF-S lens normally retails for $699.98.

But, then a number of deals possibly made it much lower, here is how it worked out:

$649.98 – Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D kit ($50 price drop for week of January 20th)
-$50.00 - $50 off $500 coupon from eBay for $.99
-$75.00 - 12% customer appreciation
-$50.00 – Rebate for week of January 20th
$ 38.06 - CA sales tax

$513.04 out the door, or $474.98 for the Canon Rebel XTi. A pretty good deal.

If only it would have been that easy. The first problem I ran into was finding a local store that had them in stock. The stores in Newbury Park, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, and Moorpark were all out of stock. Then we called down to the Oxnard Staples store and they said they had one in stock, so we headed down there.

However, once we got to the Oxnard store – there were no XTi 400D’s in stock. Rather the stockperson was indicating they had the accessory kit in stock, not the actual camera. However, after talking to the sales person they told me that they could have it delivered to my house and apply the discounts. So, he printed out my order and I headed to the register.

The register was the real moment of truth. While the associate told me I could apply the $50 off $500 coupon I bought on eBay for $0.99. However, I had no idea if it would take until it was typed in. Once it was accepted, they also applied the 12% off for customer appreciation and I was out the door with a full Canon EOS Rebel XTi for under $500 before tax.

The only problem? It will not arrive until Tuesday. I guess I can wait.

On another note, has another added any lenses to their XTi? Of all the options out there, it is hard to determine what would be a good addition. I am hoping to pickup some sort of zoom / telephoto before our trip to London and Paris next month.

The only question now is whether I will keep my G7. Once the XTi arrives and the rain stops here, I’m going to take some comparison photos and post.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Guitar Hero 3 – Battle Strategies to Win

Now that I am a Guitar Hero 3 “expert” I thought I would share a couple of the basic strategies that I have used in the game to win battles. In reality, I am no expert at all – I have struggled to pass more than one song on the ‘Hard’ mode and have yet to attempt any songs on the ‘Expert’ level.

Interestingly, I have won all but a couple of my battles and in many cases most of the competition was better than me. Much better than me. One time, I was up a player that in a best of 7 song battle hit all the notes in the primary song on 3 straight songs. I still was able to pull out the victory in 5 songs though!

Why is that? In many cases it was a simple lack of strategy in approach to the ‘Battle’ mode where you try to make you opponent fail. This mode is about more than just hitting notes, it is more about when you hit them and when to use your power-ups.

Here are the 6 key strategies I have used to win:

1. Pick the more difficult or unique songs that you know well. Songs that are in sets 6-8, or in the bonus tracks give you a good chance of catching your opponent off-guard. What I have found unbelievable is the frequency of which Dragon’s…..”Into the Fire and Flames” is picked. It is a great GH3 song, no doubt – but 8 out of every 10 battles include that song. Ridiculous.

2. Know your song. The absolutely worst use of a power-up is to unleash it during a pause in played notes or during a chorus with a lot of long notes.

3. Time your power-ups. If you are coming up on a set of notes that will give you a power-up then unleash one of yours on your opponent. It will likely make your opponent miss a note and miss their power-up.

4. Unleash 3 power-ups at the same time. To do this, save up your power-ups until you have all 3 available. Wait until a guitar solo or similar part of the song where you have a ton of notes to play. Unleash all three at the same time on your opponent and see if they can cope. Difficulty Up, Double Notes, and Amp Overload are a good combination that will cause some disaster for most opponents.

5. Watch what power-ups your opponent has coming. If you see a ‘Steal Power-up’ show up on their notes, unload your power-ups on the opponent so there is nothing to steal, rendering it useless.

6. Prepare for Sudden Death. If it is clear after the guitar solo that neither you nor your opponent will win during the song, then conserve. Store up as many power-ups as you can. You want to make sure the opponent cannot get the first power-up note set to avoid the death drain. Unleash them on the opponent consecutively, grab the death drain power-up and hit your opponent with it for the easy sudden death win. The Whammy is the best power-up for this as it is the only one that guarantees a missed note. If you can save a Whammy in your first position, do it at almost any cost!

Are there any other strategies you have tried? Let me know with a comment below.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Replacing my Powershot G7 with a Rebel XTi 400D

I have made the decision and now I am just waiting for the price to drop. I plan over the next couple of weeks to trade in my Canon Powershot G7 for a Canon Rebel XTI 400D camera. The Powershot G7 and its 10.0 megapixel size has been awesome, I just want more than it is capable of now.

Over the past year I shot over 3,000 pictures (that I kept) on my G7. From the day it arrived, it has been the best digital camera that I have owned – and made a mighty pairing with the ultra-portable Powershot 800IS. The pictures from the G7 have turned out amazing with my limited experience and it seems like I find new features every month or so I did not realize were there. (Most recently it was the 15 or so different light ‘modes’ that for some reason I never found before. However, I digress)

However, the more I start tweaking the pictures in Adobe Photoshop, the more I realize that I may need an upgrade. The main reason is that when zooming in and cropping, there is significantly more noise in the photos from the G7 than what I have seen on the Rebel XTi 400D in similar shots. It is compounded by the fact that I am now tending to shoot at lightly larger angles and distance than I normally would so I can post process the pictures to get them just the way I want.

I can still get high quality 8X10’s after cropping and adjusting the pictures in Photoshop. However, I had some more ambitious goals on some recent pictures that I taken – wanting to generate some 16x20’s. However, the noise in the photos just did not allow for it.

With the 400D comes the same resolution and megapixels, however a lot more flexibility in terms of avaiable lenses. The only drawback? Its size. However, with a pairing with the SD 800IS, it should a great combo for both high quality pictures and quick shots.

I have been scouring the ads for deals for a few weeks, but there is one thing that is keeping me from pulling the trigger. The pending announcement from Canon on the camera that will stand to replace the Canon Rebel XTI 400D. That announcement is due out tomorrow the 24th – depending on the delivery time of it, it could cause some significant price drops on the 400D.

I will have to wait a couple of days to see. Have you tried both a Powershot G7 and a Rebel XTI 400D? What are your thoughts on the differences?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New York City – Trip Report

This took me awhile, but as they say -- better late than never! I am finally getting to the trip report for our recent vacation to New York City. Several of you have asked, especially given my previous experiences there. With that…..

Back in 2006, I visited New York City on a leisure trip for the first time. (I had been there previously on a quick business trip, but did not have the opportunity to see anything) Let’s just say that the six days we spent there in May, 2006 were not my favorite. I am not sure if it was due to the overly stuffy Waldorf Astoria hotel we were staying in or we had just visited my two favorite cities in the world – Munich (favorite large city) and Heidelberg(favorite small city) in Germany.

I think it would be appropriate to say that the trip left me with a bad taste in my mouth. In fact, I believe that I told Ashley that I did not care to ever go back to New York City for vacation.

That being said, Ashley has always wanted to visit New York City during the Holidays – to ice skate in Rockefeller Center, see the Christmas decorations, and take a ride through Central Park on a horse-drawn carriage. When much of the families plans changed around Christmas, we decided to get out of town for a few days and the price was right for the trip.

I would say that I am now a changed man in terms of liking New York City, we had a great time. Not only did we do all the activities that we on our list, but we were able to enjoy some great weather, shows, food, and even some shopping. We had the best possible time we could have, and even a one-day flight delay did not put a damper on the trip – it made it even better.

No doubt we will visit again.

Here are the various posts from the trip:
Day 1 - Luggage fun and Mary Poppins
Day 2 - Yes, we're tourists and it is cold here!
Day 3 - Santa and Legally Blonde
Day 4 - Ice Skating in Rockefeller, a great day to get stuck.
Day 5 - No kindness on the flight home.

Side note: It’s hard for those of us in the Los Angeles area to be impressed with “shopping” in New York City. You hear such great things about it, however in the end – there are very few stores that we do not have here. If you are from a non-major metro area, then this is a much greater benefit for you.


In terms of why I did not enjoy it last time? I have come to the conclusion that as good as New York is a as a large city – it simply (and perhaps no US city can) compete with the charm and historical significance of cities like Munich and Heidelberg.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

iPhone 1.1.3 Update Requires Restore to Factory Default

As with most upgrades for devices that are not mine, I usually wait a few days before installing them on my computer. Especially when it comes to Ashley’s Apple iPhone and the storied history of Apple iPhone upgrades. Apple’s release date for their latest version – 1.1.3 was earlier this week on 01-15-2008. Coinciding with MacWorld, it was no secret that the update of the iPhone firmware was full of good content and updates.

I waited for five days and scanned a number of blogs and did not see too many issues. Most of the firmware upgrades seemed to go find for a lot of the folks I know – in fact, a couple of quick searches did not reveal any problems. Unless of course if your iPhone was hacked – since Ashley’s has not been – no worries.

Last night I went ahead and connected Ashley’s 8GB iPhone to her computer fired up iTunes and started to download the software. However, something went wrong while the Apple iPhone software upgrading was extracting.

An error window popped up with the following message:
"This iPhone could not be updated. An unknown error has occurred. (1602)."

I made another attempt to install the software again and the iPhone would not update the software. The problem was actually worse than that. Not only did the iPhone not get updated, but it put Ashely’s phone into recovery mode and forced me to restore from factory settings, then install the updated software, and re-sync all 7GB of music. Fun.

In case you run into this issue with your iPhone firmware upgrade, here is the process I went through. Once I went through the steps, it was updated to the latest version of Apple iPhone’s firmware.

1. Back-up your Apple iPhone before you even consider updating the firmware. If you do not, you could loose all of your settings.

2. If you download the iPhone update and get the message “This iPhone could not be updated. An unknown error has occurred. (1602)” then restore your phone to the factory setting, which will wipe out all of the data on your iPhone.
The iPhone is not reconized by iTunes requiring a restore to factory settings before installing 1.1.3 version of the firmware.
3. After about 5 minutes the iPhone will be restored to factory settings.
Restoring the Apple iPhone's firmware to the factory settings due to problems with 1.1.3
Confirmed restoration of the iPhone to Factory Default Settings
4. Now immediately apply the iPhone 1.1.3 firmware upgrade to your iPhone – it should take about 5 minutes to upgrade the firmware.

5. Once the update complete, restore your Apple iPhone’s data and then sync your iPhone to get all of your music and photos back.
Restoring the backup to the iPhone, after the 1.1.3 update caused me to restore to factory settings in recovery mode.
Now you are finally on iPhone 1.1.3. Yes, Apple could have made it easier. Since I first encountered this issue, I have seen a few other posts on (1602) – looks like this is becoming a common issue.

Additionally, there were some other oddities as all of a sudden the iPhone found 59 conflicts between Microsoft Outlook and the iPhone. I reviewed the first few with no issues, so accepted all of the changes to Outlook from the iPhone. Hopefully there will be little collateral damage to the planner.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guitar Hero 3 Controller Does Not Work for Guitar Hero 1 & 2 (Les Paul Wireless)

Like many of us who have had our PlayStation 3’s for awhile, I had not played any of the Guitar Hero games from the popular Activision franchise that included Guitar Hero 1, Guitar Hero 2, or Guitar Hero: Rock the 80’s. When Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock came out for the Playstation 3 and include the new wireless Les Paul guitar controller – I added it quickly to my Christmas list. Like thousands of others, I was lucky enough for Guitar Hero 3 for PS3 to make it from my list to under our Christmas tree. (thanks Ashley!)

Since Christmas, I have played quite a bit of Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock – enough to become decent on the Easy (Ranked around 15k online) and Medium (won’t mention) levels and struggling mightily on the Hard and Expert levels. I have played online a good amount as well – and have performed better than expected – especially in the battle scenarios. (more on that in an upcoming post this post.)

I have enjoyed the game enough that I wanted to check out the previous versions of the game. After some searching, I found that there was a Guitar Hero 1 and 2 game only bundle which presumably is for people who have already purchased Guitar Hero 3. At $59.95 on Amazon.com – the Guitar Hero bundle was not a great deal, but cheaper than buying them separately used or through a service like Half.com. So on January 6th, while ordering some travel guides for our upcoming trip, I added the Guitar Hero 1 & 2 game-only bundle to my cart and bought it.

After a brief delay in shipping, the game arrived late last week while I was out of town. I did not get a chance to try it out until yesterday, boy was I disappointed. Neither of the games works with my Les Paul wireless controller that came in the bundle with my Guitar Hero 3 game. At first, I thought it might be a problem with the driver on the controller, or perhaps I needed a Playstation 3 update to get the right drivers for my PS3. No luck.

Do not buy this game if you started on the Les Paul Wireless Controller for Playstation 3.  It won't work
After a few minutes on Google, I still could not tell if it was my issue – or a real compatibility issue. Most of the articles referenced using a Playstation 2 (PS2) controller with the Playstation 3 (PS3) rather than using the newer Les Paul Wireless controller. The buried way within the Activision support pages is an article which directly states that “No. The new guitar will not work with Guitar Hero 1 and 2 or Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s.” What a letdown that is, so much for backwards compatibility. Not even a ray of hope for a patch or driver update.

Interestingly, there is also a USB port on the Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock Les Paul wireless guitar that resembles the same sort of connectivity. Perhaps you could plug it in to get it to work. D not get your hopes up though, another buried answer in the support pages says that port is “This port is currently not used.

How about it Activision / Red Octane? Can a patch be made so we do not need multiple Guitars and adapters to play the entire series on PS3? Luckily for me, Amazon.com – based on incompatibility is accepting a return for my opened game. The game is already on its way back to Amazon.

It also looks like a number of us are going through the same problem as another review on Amazon.com is already pointing out the same thing. Too bad those reviews were not published before I made my purchase. Otherwise, I could of saved a few dollars in shipping.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Exchange Cached Mode is Killing my Blackberry

I have enjoyed Microsoft Outlook 2003 for some time -- and little time with Outlook 2007 as well. One of the great benefits that was introduced was the Exchange Cached mode which basically took the old offline folders (OSTs) for mobile users and integrated it into the overall product. What that meant for users and networks was a reduction in the chatter on the network and increased freedom and less locking during times when the connection was interrupted.

However, I have experienced an issue with my Blackberry’s Desktop Manager software. While I am running the latest version of the software, it does not appear to honor the Outlook cached mode. Seems to cause me pain on a regular basis. For example, if I disconnect from my network connection and take my laptop to a meeting – when I return and plug in my Blackberry – the Desktop Manager software recognizes that my Blackberry 8800 is connected – but yet messages are still forwarded to the device.

The reason for this is that it appears that the Desktop Manager software is highly dependent on a direct network connection to the Microsoft Exchange Server. Rather than leveraging the connectivity and intelligence in the client it interfaces with, it appears to connect to directly to the server. If that connection is severed, it does not automatically retry or correct itself.

Anyone else suffer from this issue?

The work-around or solution that I have come up thus far is to put in a process anytime that I disconnect from a network, vpn, or other type of Exchange connection. What do I do? Simply I exit out of the Blackberry Desktop Manager when I reconnect to the network, I start it up again.

Clunky, but at least it keeps my Blackberry from being flooded with message I have already read. How about it RIM, why don’t you make your desktop client that is integrated with the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) just a little bit smarter?

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Throwing My Blackberry 8800 Series Into A Wall

It’s getting close to that time again. What time is that you asked? It’s time to get a replacement for my Blackberry 8800. After today, I am considering whether or not just to throw the 8800 against a wall and smash it into 100 pieces. But before I do that, I need to find out if it is under warranty.

Why is it time? Well, let’s just say that today was a bad Blackberry day. Here are all the problems that I experienced with my Blackberry 8800 today:

  • Rebooted it, some reason would not sync up with the GPS satellites on my way to the airport this morning.
  • Rebooted it again when I landed in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have to reboot it after every flight in order to get the GPS to work. I was then able to find my way to the office.
  • Missed several calls today, they went directly to voicemail without ringing. Discovered it in the afternoon, rebooted it again. Calls seem to be coming in again.
  • All the applications are running really slow – freezing for a couple of minutes at a time. When holstering, the screen never goes to the default screen. Reboot again.
  • Guessing I will have to reboot again when I land in Los Angeles.

That’s 5 reboots in a day – almost enough for the Blackberry to be considered a Windows 3.1 release. Frustrating to say the least since the device takes 10 minutes to reboot, verify security, and organize the call logs. Way too long these days.

Hey RIM, why don’t you think about beefing up the processors in these things? The performance is awful. Ashley’s iPhone never has these kinds of issues. Never.

However, I am hopefully that this device is still under warranty -- bought it last March -- as I have had it for less than a year. Perhaps after a call to support – I can have a replacement and perhaps even the 8830 with Wifi capability sent on to me.

Has anyone else had this kind of problem? I am considering reloading the system software to see if anything improves. Perhaps I will give that a try this weekend. It'll be the first time for me on the 8800 series.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We’re going to Hawaii, err – London & Paris

United Airlines is having a pretty amazing New Year sale on their flights. So amazing in fact, that Ashley and I changed our February vacation plans this year. Each February we take a vacation about the time Ashley finishes her year end closing work in finance. The last couple of years we had gone to Hawaii, and this year was to be the same.

In fact, we already had both our flight and our hotel room booked. We were flying from Los Angeles to Kona, Hawaii and staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort on the big Island of Hawaii. All free of course, book with frequent flyer miles and Hilton HHonors points.

Then I received the email on the United Airlines New Year’s sale. It seemed like there were some great fares to Europe, so I went to United’s website and found that round trips for a direct flight to London were going for right around $600. These are the same flights that when we looked last year, were impossible to get under $1500. Then looking at doing a multi-leg trip between London (4 days) and Paris (5 days) only increased the price by $40. An upgradeable far was only an additional $40. That meant a business class trip for the both of us (using United’s system-wide upgrades) could be had for right around $1300 – a great deal.

If you are making, recently made, or plan to make a vacation trip soon – I would highly recommend checking out the fares, they are pretty unbeatable. The actual fare for the London leg of the trip is only $175 with an equal amount being airport taxes. The taxes on the Paris flight home t

While it was initially a tough decision, our opinion was shifted by the face that we were not getting a “great” deal on our trip to Hawaii. Pretty much everything was on points – nothing that was discounted. That made a big difference in our reasoning.

So, on a quick shift – we booked our flight leaving Los Angeles on February 22nd for London, and returning from Paris on Sunday, March 2nd. Luckily, the points transfers from Hilton will work for the Paris Hilton Arc de Triomphe, and there was enough of a balance to get three additional nights at the Trafalgar Hilton in London.

Both of us have not been to London or Paris since 1996 (me) or 1997 (Ashley) – we are really looking forward to trip. Most spectacularly, neither of us had the opportunity to visit the beaches of Normandy from the World War II invasion – we are eagerly anticipating that!

The only concern – neither of us speak a lick of French. While we were both their last time we were traveling with a group of folks with at least one person that knew the language (very convenient for country hopping). Looks like we’ll need to visit Amazon.com and pick up an audio book for learning some basics.

Although, I am sure our pocketbooks will hurt a little after the trip as long as the British Pound and Euro keep moving up against the dollar. However, with most of the high-cost expenses being covered – it should not be too badly.

Finally, for our transportation between London and Paris we’ll be taking the “chunnel” – the Eurostar train that goes underneath the English Channel in about 2 hours. It looks to cost less than $100 each, and is quite a bit more efficient that flying between those two cities.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Blockbuster Total Access is still at $17.99

Am I the only person still paying $17.99 for my Blockbuster Total Access Plan?

I have had my BLOCKBUSTER account for quite some time -- ever since they introduced their $14.99 plan, switching (mistake?) from a charter Netflix member with a grandfathered "4-at-a-time" account a couple of years ago. Just for comparisons, mine is the Total Access Premium - $17.99 / month (plus taxes) - 3 at-a-time, unlimited mailings - unlimited in-store movie exchanges - 2 FREE bonus Movie or Game Rental E-Coupons / month.

Blockbuster Total Access options - the lowest is $19.99
I first read about it on Greg Hughes' blog back in December. (I subscribe to Greg's blog through Google Reader) Greg initially found out from an original email:

"To continue to bring you the unmatched convenience of both online and in-store DVD rentals, your monthly subscription fee will change from $24.99 to $34.99. This adjustment† will go into effect on your next billing cycle on or after December 27, 2007. The benefits of your subscription plan will remain the same."
It was further documented that my plan, the $17.99 plan was going to be increased to $19.99.

I did not get the email -- searched my gmail a few different times, but I still did not get it. While I was tempted to post about it immediately and celebrate my "victory" -- I thought it was too soon, and I wanted to wait until my next billing period before raising the flag.

Well, my billing on 01/07/2008 has come and gone -- I am still at the $17.99 rate. See a cleaned screenshot of my account status below. (Please note my usage -- will be discussed below):

Blockbuster Total Rewards account status at the $17.99 rate
Interestingly, if I go to 'change' account, I am only presented with the $19.99 package as my lowest cost option.

Blockbuster Total Access options - the lowest is $19.99
My conclusion? I have seen in suggested, but no confirmation in some of the articles that Blockbuster based this on usage. I believe that my experience is proof that they did.

Over the last few months (since August) I have traveled quite a bit in my role with Intuit. That meant that as you can see from the above account rental counts I do not -- and especially did not during that period -- rent a ton of movies. In fact, there may have been a month or two where I exchange zero DVDs by mail or in-store. I have never used the in-store exchange option and I only used my E-coupons once. Let's just say that I am not what many would call a heavy user of the service.

My suspicion is that Blockbuster ran usage statistics against their customer base and determined an area of cut-off of people that would be 'grand-fathered' due to a lower usage. Anyone above the line was increased, anyone below that cut-off was left alone for fear of either 1) they would definitely leave or 2) it would make them remember they have an account that would be cancelled.

So, what does this mean? It clearly means that Blockbuster selectively choose who they would 'give' the gift of price increases and who they would not. Seems a little questionable if you ask me for 'unlimited' services -- kind of like charging the guy who is 6'5" and 250lb more at the Fresh Choice buffet than you charge that 4'10" 85lb lady that comes in. What do you think?

In terms of an experiment, my usage is greatly increasing this month. I wonder what the chances are that I will get slapped with a price increase (and leave) next month? Either that or they see this post, it stirs up some trouble for them, and they increase me anyways. Stay tuned.

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Some New Stickley Furniture For Us

We have some new furniture additions to our home. In fact, they just arrived Friday afternoon after a 10-week construction and delivery. And after seeing their delivery, it was well worth the wait!

Ashley and I have been big mission and craftsman furniture fans for quite some time. Specifically, Stickley's Mission styled Arts & Crafts furniture has been our favorite. It all started when we saved our pennies when we were first married (almost 9 years ago) to purchase our first bedroom set, which while expensive -- we have been happy with that decision ever since.

Since we bought that Stickley furniture several years ago, we had not added any other pieces to our home. That was with the exception of an exceptional 1920's Stickley kitchen nook round table and six chairs that my parents were nice enough to give us that were passed down from my grandparents. It has even become difficult to even find a store that carries Stickley furniture.

We used to have Homestead House here in Thousand Oaks -- however, they ceased operations towards the end of 2005. The next closest Stickley Furniture dealer for us is Fedde Furniture, located in Pasadena -- about an hour drive from our home. Our first "opportunity" to visit was back in October when Ashley and I were on our way to the USC vs. Oregon State football game.

During our visit, we discovered that Fedde Furniture had a very large in stock collection of Stickley furniture pieces. In fact, practically an entire floor of their showroom on Sierra Madre was filled like a Stickley Furniture catalog. That made our shopping quite a bit easier -- as some of the pieces we could find the pieces we were considering and decide whether or not they were the same as we pictured.

Once we finished, we completed list of the items we were interested in -- including several new ones, the prices so we could make a decision and contact our salesperson Arline with our decision later in the week.

During the week we made a couple of calls to sanity check the prices at some other Southern California dealers of Stickley Furniture -- and then decided on the specific furniture pieces we wanted. Interestingly, all of our choices were based on what we saw in the Fedde Furniture showroom rather than what we had seen online and in the catalog. We placed our order, put our 20% down and then waited the 8-10 weeks it usually takes for Stickley furniture to be built and shipped.

Well, Friday was the day that it arrived and we are really satisfied with the choices. In case you are interested, here is what we ended up with, all in quarter sawn oak...

Stickley's Tile Top Cocktail Table in Twilight Gray (89-579-035) - our favorite piece in the purchase as the tile while "Twilight Gray" is a mixture of green and blue as well. This replaces a 9-year old $99 glass-top top from IKEA -- making an appearance on Craiglist soon. :-)
Stickley's Tile Top Cocktail Table in Twilight Gray (89-579-035)

Stickley's Server Piece(89-640-035) - even came with a silverware tray inside.
Stickley's Server Piece(89-640-035)

Stickey's Butterfly Top End Table (89-576-035) - Nice piece, we actually almost got the cocktail table with the same top before seeing the tile top at Fedde's.
Stickey's Butterfly Top End Table (89-576-035)

Stickley Tabouret Table (89-559-035)
Stickley Tabouret Table (89-559-035)

There was one issue in the delivery with our favorite piece having 2-inch shallow scratch on a surface that while not completely exposed, still was visible. The delivery person handled it very well, noted it on the invoice which I signed and made a copy of -- then mentioned I would be contacted in the next couple of days about having it fixed or replaced. I'll update my blog once it is resolved or there is an update as it is important to see how companies handle issues like this.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's Time to Backup Your Digital Photos!

With the prevalence of Digital Photos, we end up with many more photographs than we had back in the film processing days. That adds up to a ton extra snapshots – to make sure you get that ‘perfect’ picture – comes a larger problem, a lot more photos taking up a lot more hard drive space.

Of course, the more photos you add to your computer, the more risk there is that you lose everything if you hard drive or your computer crashes. Not an ideal situation, to say that least.

It is the right time of year to think about how you care for your online photos. Having just entered into 2008, you need to think about how you are protecting yourself from that next hard drive crash.

The way I look at it, you have a couple of options.
1. Subscribe to an online service that allows you to upload your photos to them. Among many service out there: Google’s Picasa, Yahoo’s Flickr, and Shutterfly – all popular services. While Google (one of the few times) trails in this area, for $24.95/year allows unlimited uploads, storage, and a 10MB file limit. With a 10.1MP camera, the JPEG images produce end up in the 4-5MB range so that should be plenty. Picasa and Shutterfly may also reduce the size of your original image degrading the quality – although Shutterfly does allow unlimited picture storage today.
2. Your other option is to put in a process so that you protect yourself against the loss of such pictures.

I could write for the next 10 pages about the pros and cons of the two choices, but will attempt to sum it up in a couple of sentences.

For the online option the pros are someone else is worrying about storing your pictures, and you can get to them from anywhere you are at, often for a small feed. The cons are that you’re at the mercy of the services if they change their terms, go out of business or have a major disaster – remember online photo storage has only been around for a short period of time – and you must have a high-speed upload connection – cable modems and DSL may not be quick enough for high quality pictures. Another big con is that if you shoot in RAW mode, even Flickr converts it to a JPG, so if retaining the original quality of the photo is important, this may not be an appropriate option.

For the do-it-yourself option, you have to commit to whatever processes you put in place to make sure you are consistent. The buck stops with you, but you can make it more fool and economy proof.

Thus far – I have chosen the do-it-yourself methodology although I have recently considered an upgrade to Flickr Pro at the $24.95 rate. For me, it is both a daily backup (automatic) and an annual archive process. The rest of this post will cover the process I have put in place.

First though, the situation:
For the year 2007 that just ended, I took over 11GB worth of photos from both our Canon PowerShot G7 and the Powershot SD800IS. As I repeat the process, the size of the pictures I took in 2007 was nearly triple the size of the photos in 2006, and 2006 was triple the size of 2005. See a progression -- does this mean 40GB for 2008?

The process I have put in place consists of the following...

First, I have an extra hard drive in my computer that is just for backup purposes. Every night at 10:00PM I have a backup job using a basic ROBOCOPY backup job to copy all my pictures and other important things to the backup drive. That insures if my primary hard drive goes bad, then I still have all the valuable data and pictures backed up!

Secondly, at the beginning of every year – and today is that day – I create and Archive folder on my hard drive and move all of the photos from the previous year into that folder. Once I create that location, I spend a couple of hours removing pictures I do not want to keep and then prepare to move them to media. From there, I create the appropriate number of DVDs via my DVD burner with Roxio Creator DE – this year it was 3 DVDs. Then I take those DVDs, put them in my fire safe and consider that to be relatively safe. In the next couple of years I plan to instead move the DVDs to a safety deposit box at a secure location like a bank.

Just set an annual reminder in Outlook to make sure you do not forget. And with that, in the case of most disasters – all of our photos are protected in multiple ways.

Have you backed up your pictures recently? If not, now is a great time to start!

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Hard Drive in Your Freezer to Recover Data

Both a technology urban legend, as well as a fact of physics -- putting your hard drive in a freezer can work to "repair" your hard drive long enough to pull your information off of the drive. It can be used as a last ditch effort when your hard drive has crashed and left you in a bind -- providing up to two hours of time to pull the data off!

This technique usually works with damaged or problematic hard drive where the failure was not of a mechanical nature. The reason for this is that by lowering the temperature you are changing some of the chemical / physical aspects to the drive - head geometry, electrical resistance is lowered, and the electrical contact points are adjusted. All of these can add up to a temporary (and possibly permanent if you repair or re-format the hard disk) working solution for you valuable data!

In fact, it is a technique that many data recovery specialists have known about for years. So, I explain all of this to tell you of my recent experience with trying to pull some data off a hard drive.

If you recall, my Lenovo T61 laptop gave me the 'Error: 2110 HDD0 (Hard Disk Drive)' error a couple of weeks ago leaving me without a working drive. Giving me no other choice after trying to slave the drive to another machine, the freezing the hard drive was my last chance.

For those who have not experience the trick, here are the important steps that give you the opportunity for this to work. Pictures below are from my actual test.

1. Remove the hard disk drive from the device - computer, laptop, or USB / Firewire holder.

Removing the drive from the Lenovo T61 laptop in preparation for data recovery using freezer trick
2. This is a very important step that many people leave out! Place the hard drive into an anti-static bag to protect it from any static energy or discharges. A freezer, because of its cold and often dry nature has a ton of static electricity present. You need to do everything you can to protect it.

Place the hard drive in a anti-static bag to protect it from static electricity in the freezer
3. Place the hard drive in a Ziploc or Glad Lock baggie. Preferably a freezer bag, the quart size seems to work very well. This step protects the electronics in your drive from moisture and condensation which could cause damage during the freeze process or while warming.

Placing the hard drive into a freezer baggie to protect from moisture.
4. Put your hard drive into the freezer to start the freeze process. This is the where the variability comes in. In some cases it can take up to 72 hours of freezing for the process to complete. Others have had success in as little as two hours of freezer time. My advice? Let the first try be at least 24 hours, and up to 72 hours if you can wait. That will give you the biggest chance for initial success.

5. Pull out the hard drive, connect it to the device -- the best opportunity, depending on your drive situation is to put the drive into a USB 2.0 or Firewire case and connect to your computer. If you need to put it in your computer or laptop and boot up, you may lose 10 minutes of valuable data recovery time. Now pull the data off of you disk.

How did this attempt work for me? First, because of the drive's encryption -- I needed to boot from it rather than slaving or attaching it via a hard drive cage. That meant I was going to need to boot and bring up the operating system. Still, my outcome was not good. My drive, even after freezing would not get beyond the 2110:HDD0 error.

A little bit of a bummer, but still worth the limited time it took to give it a couple of tries. I first tried a 24 hour freeze of the hard drive and then tried a full 72 hour freeze. Neither attempt made much of a difference, leaving me to believe that the drive's failure was mainly mechanical. Who knows.

Did this trick work for you? Let me know with a comment!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Choices We Make Have Consequences

Every choice we make has a consequence associated with it. Sometimes we make good choices and they result in positive consequences – those are the ones we like to talk about. Sometimes we make poor choices that result in negative consequences – we do not like to deal with them or even talk about them much.

This could actually turn into a much longer post about how most Americans think all of their choices should only have good outcomes and they should not be responsible for their poor choices – like say the tech bubble bursting in 2001, or the current housing market situation where people made crazy loan choices. But it won’t.

Fortunately, the choice I made this evening and the bad consequences associated with it are not bad in the scope of things. Really it is just a result of me being spoiled. Really spoiled.

My meetings in Menlo Park finished at a reasonable time today – allowing me to head out to the San Francisco Airport just before 5:00pm for my flight home to Los Angeles. Hoping that traffic would be light enough, I put myself on standby for the 5:56pm flight to Los Angeles with the thought – I will get home two hours earlier.

I planned on giving up my First Class seat (upgrade) in order to do so.

Traffic was not too bad – the car return at Hertz was quick – security and the walk to the end of the terminal to Gate 89 was brisk, but no worries. When I arrived at the gate, I approached the counter and handed my waitlist card to the agent. A ticket printed off quickly and I was in seat 28E. Of the 40 people on standby for the flight I was one of the first two names called. A lot of people did not make it.

There was one minor hiccup – our flight attendants from another flight had missed their connection and were not in San Francisco yet. This led to a 60-minute delay. Then it came time to board the plane.

Did I mention earlier that I had become really spoiled? It has been a long time since I sat anywhere other than Economy Plus, Business, or First Class on United. Maybe a couple of years.

So, by the time I found my way to almost the back of the plane and took my seat in the middle I had forgotten how tight the seats are without much legroom, especially when you are in the middle, seated next to two other guys. It is really uncomfortable. (try typing while fighting for armrest space)

Another reason why I do not enjoy sitting in the back because when the plane moves in turbulence – it is a lot more visual than when you are in the front or looking the window. As I have mentioned before, I really do not like flying – at all. Some find that surprising given the miles I log these days – 115k miles last year on United not to mention other Southwest flights.

Having experienced this outcome and being really uncomfortable right now, I am questioning the choice to jump on the earlier flight. Had it stayed at two hours it would have been well worth it – as it ticks under one hour difference in time, not sure it was the best choice. Then it will take me an extra 20 minutes get off the plane.

Things could be worse, I could have financed my home with 100% housing loan and looking for a government bailout.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting Sick is No Fun. My First Cold of the Season

No one like being sick. Especially me.

Until last Sunday, I thought I had made it through this cold season without coming down with anything. Luckily, I might add. I had been surrounded with people during December at work and elsewhere were sick with various forms of colds and flu. I had spent 4 days in pretty cold weather in New York City. I had been really good about taking higher doses of vitamins and Airborne and seemed to beat it each time.

I believed more than ever that my refusal to get a flu shots on an annual basis (I do not believe they work) continued to pay off.

Then on Sunday, my nose started running. It was the onset of a cold of which it did affect me much until the evening. I thought I could knock it out quickly with some Zicam and continued use of Airborne. No such luck.

On Monday, I was in a meeting most of the day and made barely made my way through it. In fact, I was in somewhat of a Sudafed coma state for most of the day. (On that note, the Sudafed that does not have the drugs that can be used to make Crank / Meth Amphetamine does not work – Sudafed PE is relatively ineffective for me.) Arriving home, I was pretty out of it – which had me going to bed at 7:00pm to end up getting 11 hours of sleep.

On Tuesday, my plan was to stay home sick. But do to about 6 hours of meetings that “I could not miss” it ended up being a work from home day. Fortunately, working from home is less stressful so I felt like I was getting some rest and a lot better. The Airborne and Zicam regimen continues. To bed early again.

Wednesday morning, I felt much better. Although many of my co-workers mentioned I still looked a little pale. However, as the day goes on – I continued to get stronger. Airborne and Zicam regimen continues. I am actually able to stay up to a reasonably normal time.

It’s Thursday now and I am almost 100% again. I am thankful that this bout was a relatively short one. Hopefully, this is my last cold this year as well as my first.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Goodbye to 2007 - SomeLifeBlog Summary & Traffic

2007 has come and gone and we're already six days into 2008! With that, I wanted to provide the readers and those interested with the summary of 2007 here at SomeLifeBlog as well as a glimpse into the next year.

While SomeLifeBlog got started in October, 2006 -- my posting was relatively inconsistent for the rest of the year. That made consistent posting a key New Years resolution for 2007. In fact, it was one of the best kept New Years resolutions I have had -- over the entire year of 2007, 496 posts (and still a few in editing) were written and posted to SomeLifeBlog -- some of course better than others!

In terms of traffic, it was an interesting year. As I reported back in January 2007 -- the site had just under 3000 visitors which was a 600% increase from December 2006. My goal at that point in the year was to reach 10,000 visitors in a month which I saw as very lofty goal.

However, after February 2007 the site cracked 10,000 visitors -- mainly thanks to posts on my experiences with (at the time) Ashley's Motorola RAZR phone and the Nintendo Wii. From there, the progress just continued in leaps and bounds throughout the year.

2007 Website Statistics for SomeLifeBlog.com
As you can see from the chart, the year ended on quite a high note with traffic trending towards the 200,000 pageview range which I anticipate will be exceed in January 2008. In all, thanks to all of your visits -- a very successful year -- 500k visitors and 1.3M page views.

Now to the other side of the equation where I occasionally get questions from readers via email. While I will be non-specific for the time being, the site is producing a significant amount of income, well beyond any simple expectations I had last January. More on this in the future posts, as the site still has some ways to progress and AdSense is not working all that well for me.

What's next?
For 2008, first and foremost -- I have a goal of reaching the 500,000 pageview / month plateau. The site is well on its way. Also, a little more efficient advertising that continue to ad value (to both you and me) -- without overloading the pages and making the content hard to read.

Secondly, there are some distinct possibilities of additional contributors on the site. (Are you interested as well, let me know!) More great content with the reach that SomeLifeBlog has already established is something to look forward to.

The content from me will still remain the same -- life wanderings, vacations, and a lot of technology geek things with "lay mans" guides so those who are not technically proficient can perform. I have received hundreds of emails thanking me for the guides that are out there and several guides still requested. (They are coming soon!) There is a chance that a couple of sites may get spun off, but we will have to wait and see!

Lastly, I plan updates to the site's progress more frequently. Hopefully that will be another successful New Year's resolution!

Best wishes to all of you in 2008, and thanks for reading SomeLifeBlog!

-Ken

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

The California Storm That Never Came

Since Tuesday morning, all I had heard about on the news and media was the massive storm that was eyeing the west coast and would pound southern California with rain for 5 days straight beginning Thursday night. People I worked even questioned my Thursday travel up to Menlo Park for business – that I could in fact be stuck there until the weekend.

Well, here we are on Saturday night and at least in Southern California, there are not many signs of a storm here. Ashley and I even took our Chocolate Labrador Luey out for a walk today. Clear skies and pretty dried up.

It seems like this highly anticipated storm was overrated in terms of its impact to Southern California. Looking at the precipitation statistics at CNRFC nearby Camarillo only got .53 inches of rainfall.

In all, Southern California continues to need rain given the recent fire season. While here in Thousand Oaks, we got a little over an inch, it is far from the 3-5 inches that were predicted. Weather.com is showing some showers tomorrow – seems doubtful we will get them.

At least Northern California got some rain and some much needed snowpack. That is good news for both Central and Southern California as many farmers depend on that water from the Northern Sierras.

The California Aqueduct won’t go dry this year!

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

What’s the Deal with the Isle Seat?

People, what is the deal with the middle seat? I ask this because of a recent experience on a flight from Newark, NJ to Los Angeles airport and an experience that Ashley and I had on our way home from New York.

Our situation is that when our flight was rebooked, we ended up in the same row in First Class (thanks to system-wide upgrades from hitting 1k status) – but sitting apart from each other in the same row, but both with window seats.

Upon boarding the plane and hoping for some goodwill on Christmas Day I asked the gentleman next to me, Al Abayan (a director with the fashion designer with Number (N)ine) if he would consider trading with me so Ashley and I could sit together. He thought briefly, then quickly responded that he really wanted the isle. I figured so much for the Christmas goodwill and that he must have a good reason for wanting to sit in the isle – in order to make use of it.

I also followed suit and asked the gentleman sitting next to Ashley – his name I cannot recall – and receive a similar answer. He really preferred the isle seat.

Oh well, five hours in a plane not sitting next to each other is ok – a little bit of a bummer on Christmas, but hey – at least we ended up on the flight we wanted.

What really perplexed me is that neither gentleman made ANY use whatsoever of their situation with the isle seats. They did not get up frequently, they did not spread out even slightly into the isle, they were not in their baggage in the overhead compartments, and they did not use the restroom frequently. I just did not get it.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. They both slept the entire time. On several occasions both Ashley and I, with no remorse had to wake them in order to use the restroom a couple of times. By sitting in the isles, they were both disturbed more often than they would have sitting by the window or trading with me.

I just did not get it, why were they so insistent in having the isle seat?

Interestingly, I sense that Al may have felt a little guilty about his response, since just before take-off he asked me if the seats were full when we booked our flight. Although I really wanted to have a sarcastic reply in terms of yes – we intentionally did this and now want to change – I didn't. Rather, I briefly explained our situation having been stranded in New York City the previous day. However, he still did not offer to change with us. ;-)

Are you like this and you “have” to be sitting in the isle seat? What is your reason or need? Please help me understand with a comment below.

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Oklahoma Sooners Should Not Be Invited to Any More BCS Bowl Games

The Oklahoma Sooner should be banned from participating in any Bowl Championship Games for the next 5 years. The team of Bob Stopes has been consistently blown out in their last 4 appearances in these bowls. Last night at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was the latest in the series of disasters which include blowouts against LSU, USC, and now West Virginia. Not to mention a loss to the Boise State, a WAC team.

In fact, last night was so bad that a team without their head coach (Rich Rodriguez) or their top running back (Steve Slaten) hung 56 points on the Sooners. And that was just on one side of the ball. On the other side, Oklahoma was equally anemic with many of their yards and big plays coming after the game was well out of hand.

Probably the most concerning comment from the night came from one of the commentators on Fox – suggesting that the Oklahoma Sooner would be ranked in the Top-5 preseason next year. When are the voters (AP & Coaches) going to get it? Oklahoma simply cannot perform when it counts. It showed against Colorado, Texas Tech, and then in the Fiesta Bowl game against West Virgina. And some were arguing for Oklahoma to be in the national championship game?

The only solution is to ban Oklahoma from any significant post-season appearance for the next few years. The rest of the nation – and assuming the Oklahoma fans are sick of seeing this team in big games and getting shut down. Either there is a simply a problem with Oklahoma in the post season or the Big-12 is highly overrated. I’ll let you decide.

This Bowl Championship Season continues to be the worst on record, begging for some – change – any change – to make a better outcome for everyone. At this point, I would even take the traditional Bowl match-ups over what we have seen this season.

Will this travesty continue at the FedEx Orange Bowl with Virginia Tech and Kansas? We will have to wait and see!

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

BCS Bowl Games Continue to Disappoint

I started with my post on New Years Day, about what the BCS gave us for our major bowl games this year. After watching the first two major bowls -- the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, I am even more convinced at how much of a disaster the BCS is this year.

BCS Football Bowl Games Continue to Disappoint us in 2008
Let's first take at look at the Rose Bowl. Not more than a couple of quarters in, the USC Trojans were up by over 21 points before pulling all of their starters and still pulling off a 49-17 trouncing of the Fighting Illini of Illinois. While the game was moderately exciting to USC fans thanks to a couple of highlight reel plays from Joe McKnight and John David Booty. As everyone thought, and the reason I decided against getting tickets -- it was not that exciting and was simply a coronation of Pete Carroll's continued success at Southern California.

Then there was Georgia and Hawaii - 41-10 was the final score with the Bulldogs destroying the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii. It was 38-3 in the third quarter before Georgia and Mark Richt's team shut it down and took it easy on Hawaii. People thought Hawaii was clearly overrated at #10 in the nation and it really showed on the offensive and defensive lines. While Colt Brennan's stats were miniscule, it was mainly due to the fact that he had no time all day, spending most of the game on his backside.

Just two major bowl games in and possibly the two best teams in the nation (Georgia and USC) showed why 1) They are both more deserving than Ohio State and LSU, and 2) How wrong the Bowl Championship committees got it. If only the Rose Bowl selection committee would have asked permission from the Sugar Bowl for the participation of Georgia. Then we would have had two great games of well-matched teams -- Georgia vs. USC, and Hawaii vs. Illinois.

Let's hope that this disaster does not continue in the Fiesta, Orange before we hit the anti-climatic Championship game in New Orleans.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nintendo Wii Fix, Repair, and Troubleshooting Guide

Having owned a Nintendo Wii for over a year, I had encountered a number of issues the Wii console, sensor bar, and the Wii remotes. In every case, the issues were very correctable with a little bit of knowledge and testing. In fact, my first post on "Wii Remote - Why won't it sync?" is one of the most popular posts on this blog.




Nintendo Wii Error, Fix, Repair, and Troubleshooting guide for issues with the Nintendo Wii console, and Wii Remotes
Since that first post, I had received a number of questions on issues with the Nintendo Wii console -- many which I have personally experienced. For the curious, the very first issue I had with my Wii was I did not realize I needed to hook up the sensor bar!

For these reasons, I have put together the following post that serves as the unofficial Nintendo Wii Repair and Troubleshooting Guide. It is a list of various Wii problems that are out there and their appropriate solutions. In many cases, this information comes from or I have supplemented with the Nintendo website. The main reason for this is that most of Nintendo's guides are not written very clearly -- and require either more explicit descriptions or additional details.

The list is divided into categories for your easier browsing convenience. I hope you find the content not only useful, but valuable in solving your Nintendo Wii problems.

Do you know of a problem that is not list below? Or perhaps you are encountering a problem I have not listed? If so, please let me know with a comment below. That way, I can research, post, and share the problem with all of those who visit the site and we can all benefit!


Nintendo Wii Error, Fix, Repair, and Troubleshooting guide for issues with the Nintendo Wii console, and Wii RemotesOpening and Repairing your Nintendo Wii Console:

  1. Disassembly requires a Tri-Wing screwdriver.
  2. How to disassemble / take apart your Nintendo Wii
  3. How to replace the internal fan on your Nintendo Wii
  4. How to replace the DVD Drive Player on your Nintendo Wii
  5. How to repair a "jammed" DVD drive on your Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii General Problems:

  1. How to fix the Wii's time settings or the Wii loses time
  2. The Wii has a delayed response in audio, display, or video
  3. Wii is stuck on the language screen
  4. How to hard and soft reset the Nintendo Wii console
  5. How to stream audio and video to the Nintendo Wii console
  6. Screen Character or Cursor moves on their own
Nintendo Wii Remote (Wiimote) Problems:
  1. How to sync the controller for your Nintendo Wii
  2. All Wii Remotes will not sync with console
  3. Wii remote cursor is off-center, jerky, erratic, or disappears
  4. The buttons on the Wii remote are sticky, stuck or sticking while playing
  5. Buttons on the Wii remote are not responding when pressed
  6. Crackling noises, static, or no sound is coming from the Wii remote
  7. Wii remote will not rumble, shake, or vibrate
  8. How to make the batteries in your Wii remote last longer
  9. Wii cursor does not appear when playing a game on the console
  10. Wii Remote (Wiimote) experiences tilt or rotation problems
  11. "There is no Mii save data on your Wii Remote. Format this save data?" message
  12. Guitar Hero World Tour Microphone will not work problem
Nintendo Wii Sensor Bar Problems:

  1. Sensor Bar tear down and dis-assembly guide with pictures
  2. How to repair a damaged or broken cable on the Sensor Bar
  3. How to adjust the sensitivity on the Wii sensor bar
  4. Only one dot appears when attempting to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor bar

Nintendo Wii Disc and Game Problems:

  1. How To: Clean Nintendo Wii Game Discs
  2. Unable to read the disc / Disc could not be read error messages
  3. Wii games and discs eject on their own
  4. Wii games freeze while in game play
  5. Wii games freeze at a specific spot or location during game play
  6. Wii - "Disc Not Recognized" - Error Message.
  7. Wii - "An Error Has Occurred" - Error Message
  8. Wii - Disc Problems the Require Nintendo Service
Nintendo Wii Email / Message Board Problems:

  1. What to do when you get the "Message Board Data is Full" Message
  2. "Be careful about posting too many message" warning
  3. How do I reply to a Memo? / Why Can't I reply to a Memo?
  4. Multiple messages being received from Nintendo
  5. Unable to receive emails with images attached

Nintendo Wii Power Problems:

  1. No power to the the Nintendo Wii
  2. Turns off intermittently or shuts off on its own
  3. Wii power light does not turn on; on=green, standby=amber/orange

Nintendo Wii Balance Board Problems:

  1. How to fix problems synchronizing the Wii Fit Balance Board
  2. Wii Fit -- Taking Consistent Body Test Measurements

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List of New Laws for California in 2008

Welcome to 2008! For many of that it means many things -- but for those of us in California, it means hoards of new laws that the legislation has put forward that go into effect either January 1, 2008 or at a later date based on the specific bill. A couple of days ago, I highlighted a benficial change to the gift card refund law for us Californians.

Here is a list of many notable laws and descrptions of their impact to us in 2008! Make sure you are aware of them so you do not get caught by surprise! If you are interested in more details, you can always get the full contents of the bills from this link.

Personal Identification Implants No one may coerce, compel, or require anyone else--such as an employee—to undergo subcutaneous implantation of a tracking device, even though rice-grain sized radio-frequency units are now available. SB 362.

Social Insecurity Numbers Certain state and local agencies may display only the last four digits of social security numbers. California's Office of Privacy Protection must determine if--and if so, when--SSN use by colleges is strictly necessary. Also, January 1, 2008 is the deadline for all employers to comply with an existing law that prohibits employers from displaying more than those last four digits on employee pay stubs. AB 1168.

Presidential Election The California primary moves up from June to the first Tuesday in February. SB 113.

At a Minimum California's minimum wage increases from $8 an hour. AB 1835.

Exempt from Overtime Pay The minimum hourly compensation for computer professionals who are exempt from overtime regulations plunges to $36. In order to qualify as exempt employees, the computer pros must also do work that is primarily intellectual or creative. SB 929.

Age Discrimination Labor laws were revised to clarify that employers may not discriminate against workers because they are older than their colleagues, but favoring an older individual over a younger one is not a violation.

Iran InvestmentsThe California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which together control a reported $338 billion, are prohibited from investing in foreign companies that engage in defense or nuclear-related business with Iran. AB 221.

Closing Boxes Residential hotels must provide individual, locking mail boxes for each unit. AB 607.

Cover Bands So that concert goers will not be deceived, tribute bands must show that they have the right to use the name of a famous recording group. AB 702.

Hush Hush Sex crime victims are added to those whose names and addresses are not subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. SB 449.

Parents of Gangsters Courts can order parents of gang members to attend parenting classes. AB 1291.

Health Care Whistleblowers Whistle-blowing doctors who complain to government agencies about unsafe patient conditions in healthcare facilities are protected from retaliation. In fact, health facilities may not retaliate against anyone who complains to a government agency or participates in an investigation. AB 632.

Military Leave Employers with 25 or more workers must allow up to 10 days off, without pay, to spouses of combatants who are on leave from military deployment. AB 392.

Disability Payments An employee may collect temporary disability payments over the course of five years instead of just two, though the maximum number of weeks for which the employee may collect the benefit is still 104. AB 338.

Stem Cells Intellectual property standards have been established for award recipients under the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. SB 771.

Money Smarts April is official Financial Literacy Month. ACR 40.

Gift Cards Recipients of gift cards may redeem them for cash when there is less than $10 remaining on the card. SB 250.

The Whole Cost Environmental benefits and costs are added to the criteria for the procurement of motor vehicles by state and local government. AB 236.

When Driving is Murder Anyone renewing or applying for a driver's license must sign a declaration acknowledging that they may be charged with murder if anyone is killed as a result of their driving under the influence. AB 808.

Driving While Phoning Drivers are forbidden to talk on the phone while they drive unless they use a hands-free system, effective July 1, 2008. SB 1613.

Teen Driving While Phoning People under 18 may not use wireless telephones while driving, not even those equipped with hands-free devices. However, teens on phones will only be cited if they are stopped for some other violation, like speeding. SB 33.

Smoking with Minors It is an infraction to smoke in a motor vehicle containing a minor under the age of 18, but the traffic stop has to be made for another offense. SB 742.

Traffic School No Defense Courts may no longer dismiss charges of driving under the influence, reckless driving, and other serious traffic violations as a result of an offender's completion of driver-safety courses. AB 645.

Bike Lights Cyclists must use lights while riding anywhere after dark, including sidewalks, bikeways, or highways. AB 478.

Idling Diesels The minimum fine for idling a commercial diesel vehicle for more than five minutes increases to $300. (Certain exceptions apply.) AB 233.

Smog Tech Fees for vehicle registration and smog abatement will be raised temporarily to fund the development of alternative fuel-vehicle technologies. AB 118.

Manganese Airs The state must identify areas where particulate manganese is at dangerous levels in the air. AB 294.

Better Fluorescents, Please The California Lighting Efficiency and Toxics Reduction Act mandates tougher efficiency standards for general purpose lights by the end of 2008. It also limits the amount of mercury in fluorescent bulbs to levels permitted by the European Union, starting in 2010. AB 1109.

Raw Milk It is forbidden to sell raw milk which has more than ten coliform bacteria per milliliter. AB 1735.

What's in the Bottle? Bottled water packaging must list the water's source, and contact information for a report on its quality. SB 220.

Phthay What? The use of certain phthalates in toys designed for children under three is prohibited, and manufacturers replacing the compounds must use the least toxic alternative. Chemicals used to dissolve or to increase the flexibility of plastic, phthalates have been associated with hormonal effects and damage to the organs of lab animals. AB 1108.

Pharmaceutical TrashThis year, the state government must start developing model programs for disposing of unused prescription drugs in a safe and environmentally sound manner. SB 996.

From the Santa Barbara Independent


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