Thursday, August 30, 2007

Crowded House concert set list

My longtime favorite band Crowded House is in town on their Time On Earth tour, and I got a chance to catch them in a phenomenal show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA, last night. The Mountain Winery is a small 2,500 seat venue that's up in the hills above Silicon Valley. Once the sun sets, the lights of San Jose and all the surrounding cities glimmer on the valley floor.

And as a bonus last night, the almost-full moon rose about a third of the way into Crowded House's set and was so impressive that Neil Finn stopped the show, told us to all stand up and turn around to see the moon rise across the valley floor.

You could really tell the band enjoyed playing together, as the banter was going full force, and the show felt more like watching good friends play songs for you in their living room than the larger affair it actually was.

I kept track, and the set list from the 2+ hour show:
  • There Goes God
  • World Where You Live
  • Say That Again
  • Don't Stop Now
  • Fall At Your Feet
  • Distant Sun
  • Silent House
  • You Are The Only One To Make Me Cry
(moon rises, we all look, and they do a partial cover of Van Morrison's Moondance)
  • Nails in My Feet
  • Don't Dream It's Over
  • Pineapple Head
  • People Are Like Suns
  • When You Come
  • Something So Strong
  • Locked Out
  • She Called Up
  • Weather With You
encore encore
  • Fingers of Love
  • She Goes On
  • Four Seasons in One Day
  • Better Be Home Soon sing along (this was an acoustic version, as the venue staff had pulled the plug on the sound due to curfew. Neil led us on an extended version as an "F you" to the man)
There's still quite a few dates left on their tour, so by all means buy a ticket and enjoy the show.

giving Verizon Wireless one more chance

I've been flummoxed trying to make sense of all the plans and equipment and rates at the various carriers. Recognizing this FUD leads to a rather dear switching cost, I decided to give Verizon Wireless one more try, despite my blogged claims to the contrary.

I borrowed a friend's VZW-powered Blackberry 8830 today to see if I could pair it to my car and use my car's system to talk hands-free. Sure enough, the 8830 worked like a charm.

Rather than go in to a retail store and pick up the phone (why should they get the commission?), I instead used Verizon Wireless's online store and saved myself $100 in the process for upgrading my phone online.

So, I've ordered my own Blackberry 8830 (and upgraded Left Coast Mom to a RAZR in the same shipment). They Should arrive early next week.

And I'll be sure to blog about my experience changing from the Treo 650 world to the Blackberry 8830 world. First stop: how to get all my data from one to the other?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My daughter wants to be John Moschitta

A good friend shared this video with me this morning, and I now know who my daughter's idolizing at the ripe age of four. I swear she spends her days (all day, every day) practicing to take over his throne as the fastest talker in the world.

Fast Talking Fedex Commercial

Posted Nov 22, 2006

Fast talker John Moschitta runs his mouth through this '80s spot for Fedex. John Moschitta is best known as the fast talking fellow from the Micro Machines ads.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Best Burger in the USA at Bobcat Bite? YES

I'm a huge fan of Alton Brown (his shows on the Food Network include Good Eats and Feasting on Asphalt), and when I caught a glimpse of a Food Network special on the Best Restaurants in America, I knew I had to see the whole thing to find out where in this fine country I could find the best fried chicken, the best pizza, the best ribs and the best burger.

Bobcat Bite exterior Imagine my surprise when I saw that the food editors at Bon Apetit magazine had chosen as the best in all the land the green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite outside Santa Fe. Why was I surprised? Because I was scheduled to fly out to Santa Fe the day after watching the special on TV.

What luck!

I did a sufficient amount of research (going to the web site) to get a pretty good idea:
- where the restaurant is (on the Old Las Vegas Hwy, 4.5 miles east of the Old Pecos Trail exit off I-25)
- when it's open (11am to 7:50pm Tuesday through Saturday)
- what to order: a green chile cheeseburger, home fries and iced tea

I pulled up outside the pink adobe building at 3pm on a Thursday. Late enough, I thought, to miss the lunch crowd and early enough to avoid the dinner scene.

countertop at Bobcat BiteThe two outside tables (four-tops, each) were full of folks enjoying their meals, so I pulled open the screen door to go inside and took a seat at the long wooden bar that runs the length of the skinny dining area. Behind the bar is a big picture window through which you can watch humming birds flit about the feeder and thrushes and jays and juncos splash around in the bird bath. Between the door and the bar is a single row of tables giving the place a decidedly cramped-but-cozy feel to it. Lots of Old West memorabilia on the walls, and the murmur of good conversations taking place over even better food.

In short order, Bonnie, one of two waitresses working that afternoon, had placed a menu in front of me and told me she'd be back for my order in a moment as she walked down the length of the bar and through the doorway into the kitchen. From my vantage point, I could see the very cast iron griddle stove that had been featured on Alton's program.

While I already knew what I'd be ordering, I opened the menu out of curiosity to see that, on the left side of the page, their sandwich menu ran the gamut from a plain hamburger to my green chile cheeseburger to a simple ham and cheese (ranging in price from $5.60 to $6.85). On the right side, they listed out the various steaks they serve, ranging in price from $12 to $20.

I told Bonnie my order (burger medium rare, please) and she quickly brought my glass of unsweetened tea and I sipped it while looking around the room to see who else I was dining with. Of the 27 seats available inside, there were only four empty chairs to be had. The crowd on hand ranged from a couple tattoo-laden young guys at a two-top talking about cars to a cluster of white-haired friends swapping stories about who'd forgotten what more often. If I didn't know any better, I'd say well over half the customers were locals on top of being frequent guests.

Bonnie and the other waitress certainly made everyone feel at home as they brought out plate after plate of burgers and home fries and refilled glasses of lemonade and tea.

The BEST burger in AmericaA scant 20 minutes after placing my order, Bonnie set the most beautiful looking green chile cheeseburger in front of me. It's served open faced so you can add lettuce and tomato as you wish before setting the top bun on the patty. The patty was a beautiful brown and thick 10 ounces of ground-that-day choice chuck. The monterey jack cheese was perfectly melted so as to capture the diced green chiles underneath it and not allow them to fall off. The home fries that were scattered around the burger were a perfect golden color... yum.

When I stacked the bun on top of the burger, it was thick enough that I had to consciously open my mouth as far as it would go (just shy of painfully wide), and when I bit in, the taste was heavenly. The texture of the beef was a hearty and moist crumb, the mild jack cheese helped to cool the surprising heat of the green chiles, but all of it worked to really make my mouth sparkle bite after bite. I closed my eyes in bliss. I had found the perfect burger.

Before I knew it, I'd eaten well over two-thirds of the burger, and only ten minutes had passed since the plate was set in front of me. I slowed my attack and enjoyed every chewing motion that unleashed more of the yummy burger taste into my mouth. I started alternating bites of burger with bites of home fries (perfectly cooked and salted just the right amount) trying to stretch things out even more. But, 15 minutes after I'd taken my first bite, the whole thing was gone.

While I wanted to order another burger then and there, I knew it was only a matter of minutes before my stomach would be puffed out to here. I resisted and instead walked up to the register to pay Bonnie for my meal: a grand total of $10.45 (plus tip).

Maybe they sell more steaks at night, but while I was in the place, I only heard anyone order the same thing I was getting: a green chile cheeseburger (supposedly the best in the land).

If you ever find yourself in the Land of Enchantment,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

impatient picking = unripe watermelon

unripe watermelon
Originally uploaded by thomas pix
Longtime readers know that we've been growing vegetables in our backyard and on our deck this summer. In the backyard garden we've had corn, pole beans, bell peppers (purple, red, yellow, green), tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash and jalapeƱos growing to much success.

We've even had a couple watermelons sprout up from the vine I planted as almost an after thought. We picked a miniature variety, and when the melons stopped growing and just sat there unchanged, I got anxious and picked one thinking it'd be ripe.

As you can see in the picture, the melon's still unripe. We've still got one melon still on the vine, so I'll be waiting before getting that one. Next season I'd better do some Googling before I pick.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

preparing to leave Verizon Wireless

I've been a Verizon Wireless customer since shortly after the company
came on the scene in 2000 (out of the merger of Vodafone and Bell
Atlantic). The first five years of service were actually quite good,
as I found VZW had rather decent coverage for my cell phone and the
rates were competitive. I even stayed with Verizon Wireless when I
switched coasts in 2003, moving out west to California and swapping
my 703 number to a 408 number.

Then, in 2005, I upgraded my handset to a Treo 650 to take advantage
of the data capabilities of the Treo, and my relationship began to sour.

As a VZW subscriber, my Treo's feature set was crippled as a matter
of corporate practice. How did this manifest itself to grate at my
nerves most? I have BMW Assist in my car with Bluetooth technology.
Theoretically, I can pair the Treo with the car to be able to use the
car's built-in hands-free (steering wheel embedded) communications
system. I say theoretically because VZW saw fit to disable this
feature on the Treo so if I try to make a call via my car, the phone
reboots as soon as the other party picks up. If I had my Treo on the
Cingular or Sprint networks, it'd work just fine. It's just that VZW
has decided to cripple this feature. This is purely a VZW issue (even
though they insist it's a BMW thing).

Biggest bummer: I got my car a month after getting the phone and was
locked in a phone contract for another 23 months.

Flash forward to today and I'm free of the contract. As I wade into
the tar pit that is cellular calling plans and equipment choices, I'm
willing to give VZW one last chance to keep me (and my wife) as a
customer. I find the Blackberry 8830 equipment on the VZW web site
and spend a lot of time trying to figure out if the Bluetooth is
compatible with my car. No info available.

I drive over to the nearest VZW storefront and fondle the 8830
(nice!) and think, you know, I could re-enlist in the Verizon
trenches if this thing'll work in concert with my car.

I approach the customer service rep at the store and ask about the
8830 and its compatibility with a 2005 325i. The kid is too quick to
say "of course it'll work... it's got Bluetooth!" I push him a little
bit and ask for the product documentation showing that the link
hasn't been disabled (I've been down this road before). He tells me
to go talk to the BMW folks.

I tell him goodbye.

I'm finally ready to leave Verizon Wireless. Good riddance.

technical quest update: bluetooth a2dp anyone?

Just about a year ago, I posted about my technical quest to simplify our AV stack and augment its capabilities. Updates here and here and here.

While we're getting good 5.1 sound out of our Harman Kardon AVR245, it's not a push-button experience (yet). We've got the Harman Kardon HKTS-14 speaker system and in our setup, the front speakers are mounted to the wall on either side of the plasma TV, the center channel is perched on a shelf above the TV (the subwoofer is tucked in the corner) and the sleek HK stands for the surround speakers are stored at the front of the room and pulled around into surround position only when we're watching a movie that warrants the surround experience.

Why do they get stored at the front of the room? Our two little girls would undoubtedly knock them over if left in place post-movie (during the day), and I'd likely catch the wires walking by them since we've got hardwood floors. The net effect is that the majority of the time we don't listen to programming in full surround mode, as the surround speakers are stashed in the front of the room where the aural effect is minimal, at best.

While I could spend the time and energy to route the wires through the wall and attic to mount the speakers on the wall in their proper surround location, that's a wiring headache I'll put off for a long time to come, thankyouverymuch.

But now, David Pogue's column today in the NYTimes about Bluetooth and the End of Audio Wiring has got me thinking of a wireless solution our problem. Surely there's a bluetooth solution to be had here, right? I mean, given the A2DP protocol, I can bluetooth stereo signal streaming wirelessly from my AVR245 to the surround speakers mounted on the wall.

But how to do this?

Google searches on bluetooth stereo surround speakers seem to indicate there's more supply in non-North American markets, but here's a list of Bluetooth Stereo Speaker Suppliers in China that will only grow over time, right?

So what are the prerequisites before I'll add A2DP to my system? I have to be able to use my existing speakers. I've paired them purposefully for the entire system and I don't want to have to buy any bulky speaker to mount on my walls that'll unbalance the system.

What this means the gadget/widget I'm looking for will need to be a combination speaker mount/Bluetooth access point that talks to a Bluetooth gateway plugged into my AVR245. Bonus if there's a way to cut down on the battery consumption needed to run the speaker access points.

But if I can find something like this, I'll leapfrog straight over 5.1 sound all the time and start exploiting the AVR245's ability to pump out 7.1 sound.

Of course, if I get the speaker situation taken care of, then I really should upgrade to a HD-DVD player, and maybe I can use that upgrade moment to swap out TiVo for the DirecTV HR20 we've got... hmmm, better not start this just yet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

herbivore, carnivore, omnivore... local-vore?

So, as our chickens are quickly approaching their egg-laying age and our garden is producing its bounty, I'm more and more intrigued by the challenge of cooking a meal made up entirely of ingredients produced within 20 miles of our house.

An easy win would be to create an omelet using our eggs, produce from our garden supplemented by dairy and herbs from the farmer's market.

But what if I want to get more complex? Where's the limit? I see the bounds have already been pushed.

Looks like there are folks already way ahead of me given the recent ZagatBuzz item about Spruce's ascension to be "the ultimate local-vore's gathering spot."

This will be a fun trend to follow!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

price changes inside shopping cart

Well, I learned the hard way tonight that I shouldn't put off taking advantage of a good deal on

I've joined a group that's going to be climbing Mt Whitney (elev 14,495') at the end of September, and when I checked my water filter that's been in storage for a while, I discovered it no longer works.

So, I did some research at the site to discover that the filter I want to get is the Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Microfilter. It retails at $69.95, but a quick search on Amazon showed I could pick it up for the low, low price of $58.30 (tax free and free shipping!). I quickly added it to my shopping cart on Amazon but then got distracted and didn't follow through on the purchase.

A couple days go by and I remember that tonight, I must purchase the filter, tonight! (truth be told: I won big at last night's poker game and so now I've got the cash to buy it)

I navigate to Amazon, click on the shopping cart icon and there's a note in big bold letters at the top of the page (not exact, but the gist): The price of your item has increased since you placed it in your shopping cart. The prices of items in your cart may change if you wait to purchase them.

The price of my lapse? The price on Amazon is now the same as any other place ($69.95), so there's only the tax-free, free shipping going for it.

Lesson learned. Don't make my same mistake.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

making a coleman lantern work (cont)

Well, karma's come full circle on me in regards to the coleman lantern episode.

The morning after testing it out on our deck, I brought it inside, tucked it into the plastic carrying case and set it on the kitchen counter, fully intending to take it off the counter and walk it downstairs to the garage for "proper storage."

Well, one thing led to another, and I rushed out the door without remembering to take it downstairs.

Enter: our two year old daughter, aka "the counter cleaner."

Mind you, she's not of the let's-neatly-clean-this-up school of counter cleaning. She's more a swipe-and-smile devotee.

So, with one swipe of a two-year-old arm, the lantern, in its "protective" carrying case took a fall, a la Humpty Dumpty.

And the carrying case couldn't keep the globe nor the mantles from breaking into itty bitty pieces.

At least, this is how Left Coast Mom described the happenings to me via IM.

Being removed from the scene of the crime made it a lot easier to shrug my shoulders in a "sh*t happens" kinda way.

I look at it this way: I've got another excuse to go to REI now!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

DirecTV Ka-Lo band up-conversion process suggestions

two sets of BBC modules And just as I thought DirecTV was getting less geeky in their approach to dealing with their HD DVR customers, this new Ka-Lo band up-conversion process comes to bear.

As a DirecTV HR20 HD DVR owner, here's my up-conversion experience and some suggestions for the DirecTV folks on how to make it better (should they care) next time around.

First Encounter: I'm sent an email with subject line "Important Information about your HD Equipment" in which I'm invited to go to a web page to figure out if I've already got the B-Band Converter (BBC) module installed in my machine.

Better approach: DirecTV already tracks my equipment, my viewing habits, my programming... they should already know whether I've got the BBC modules or not. Send me an email to tell me the required modules are being shipped to me (and why) unless I opt out.

Second Encounter: A system message delivered to the inbox of my HR20 telling me to go visit the web page to see if I need to order the BBC modules for HD programming.

Better approach: Send a ping through the system to see if my BBC modules are installed (you can do that, too, right?). If not, give me a system message that says the modules are being mailed to me and to call DirecTV if I haven't received them by X date.

Third Encounter: As seen in the picture at the top of the post, the (two) modules arrive in separate padded envelopes (oh, the cost savings!) FedEx'd to my home. Each envelope contains a box containing one module and one single-page instruction sheet. The instruction sheet seems pretty straight forward: Thanks for ordering, installing is easy, pretty explanatory pictures and a copyright notice.

Upon opening the box and sliding the module out, however, my inner geek goes wild and my "I'm just a dumb customer" side barfs on the table. Included with the module is a two-color, double-sided page of instructions from the manufacturer of the module, Zinwell, whose brand is directly under the bolded, big-texted title of the Instructions sheet (no copyright notice on this puppy, thus the repost):

BBC module and propaganda sheet
Installation Guide
DIRECTV Approved "B Band Converter (BBC) Module"
(for Ka-Lo band up-conversion)

And then the getting gets good with the introductory paragraph that includes the BBC Module Functional Description:
The BBC Module is to be used in conjuction with the Ka/Ku Out-Door Unit (ODU) and the A3/MPEG-4 capable satellite receiver, hereafter to be called "the IRD". The Ka/Ku ODU output will consist of a three-way stacked signal: a Ka Lo-band (B Band) at 250-750 MHz, a Ku band at 950-1450 MHz and a Ka Hi-band (A Band) at 1650-2150 MHz. The IRD has an input range of 950-2150 MHz so an up-converter must be used in order to access the 250-750 MHz spectrum. Failure to install a BBC Module at the back of the IRD prevents the IRD from receiving Ka Lo-band. For clarity, a BBC Module must be used with each A3/MPEG-4 capable IRD in the home system. As further clarification, a BBC Module must never be used in a system that contains an Frequency Translation Module (FTM) as the equivalent function is already contained in the FTM.
WTF is an FTM and how can I tell I don't already have it, thus rendering the BBC module moot? Why must the BBC "never" be used in a system with FTM? so much FUD, so little time.

And still a page and a half of tech directions and illustrations I won't bore you with here (still with me?)

Better approach
: Get the vendor to leave the technogeek screed out of the module box. Catch pre-shipping the fact I need two and send them both in the same envelope. Include the simple picture-laden how-to single pager and include a bright yellow postcard that says "If you do not install these modules, you risk losing your HD channel access." Done.

Boy, these new HD channels I'm about to get (now that I've successfully completed the DirecTV Ka-Lo band up-conversion process) better be good.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

making a coleman lantern work

Back in May of this year, I found a screaming deal on to purchase a Coleman Lantern. In the same order, I picked up a Eureka tent as well as a Coleman stove. I was planning ahead for taking my family camping in the summer, so when the stuff arrived, I just put the unopened cartons in our storage room without opening them up. Why bother since we wouldn't use them for at least a couple months?

Oops, wrong move.

When it came time to actually get ready to go camping (in July), I pulled out my tent, stove and lantern to give them a test run before putting them through their paces at the camp site.

Smart move.

The tent and stove worked just fine.

It was the lantern that gave me fits. I've used plenty of Coleman lanterns before, so I know how they work. This one, however, just didn't stay lit no matter how much pressure I pumped into the damn thing.

I'd pump pump pump (30 times) and then open the valve and apply a flame. The mantles would glow for about 10 seconds and then pulse before going out. WTF?

I tried burning in another set of mantles. No luck.

I couldn't return the lantern to Amazon as defective because I'd waited over two months to try the damn thing out. I was stuck with it. The screaming deal was looking less than money-saving at this point.

I took the lantern over to our local REI to see if the experts there could help me understand what, exactly, was wrong with the lantern. Again, no luck. They tried to make it work and got the same result (10 seconds of light, then pulsing, then nothing) and suggested I might want to "tinker" with the regulator.

A tinkerer I am not, so I went to the Coleman web site to find the local authorized warranty repair place which turned out to be a place called Traders in San Leandro, a good 30 miles and a toll bridge crossing away from us in Redwood City. Believe it or not, there's no other warranty place in the Bay Area. Thankfully, the lantern has a five-year warranty, so I screwed up my courage and took the lantern over to get it fixed.

The guys at Traders were nice enough. They took the lantern, listened to my story, gave me a claim check and told me it'd take about 10 days to fix.

Flash forward to yesterday and I called Traders to see if the lantern was ready. Indeed, it was. Could they please tell me what was wrong with it?

After a short pause, I was asked, "did you take any fuel out before bringing it in?"


"Well, I ask because I filled it up with more fuel and it's worked fine for me every time I lit it."

"So, there was nothing wrong with the lantern. It was really my not filling it up with enough fuel."

Another pause. "It seems that might have been the problem, yes."

"Wow. Color me embarassed. I'll be by this week to pick it up."

"Come on over when you get a chance!"

So today, I made the drive of shame over to Traders to pick up my perfectly functioning (and now full of gas) Coleman lantern. I timed my visit to coincide with the repairman's lunch break, so I didn't actually have to meet him face to face. The guy at the counter just saw the big "NO CHARGE" stamp on the invoice and let me walk out the door with it.

And tonight, when I tried lighting the lantern on the deck, wouldn't you know it works just fine.

So, two lessons learned on this camping purchase:

1. when you buy stuff from Amazon, make sure it works as soon as it's delivered. If you wait too long, there's no recourse should something (seem to) go wrong.
2. if it takes fuel, fill it up all the way before trying to make it work.

Don't repeat my mistakes!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

hi viz yellow in the redwoods

hi viz yellow in the redwoods
Originally uploaded by thomas pix
just back from six days on this motorcycle wearing my hi viz yellow aerostich through hot and cold weather. Put 2500 miles on the odometer over the six days, but saw some of the most beautiful scenery you could wish for by going up the Northern California coast into Oregon and then criss-crossing both the Coastal Range and the Cascades before finally topping out at Mt Hood. Then back again on the express path down I-5 from Portland to Eugene to Grant's Pass, then over to Hwy 101 and down through Eureka and Ukiah to the Bay Area again.

Prepping other blog posts, but sharing my flickr stream (click on the pic to get there) in the meantime.

Glad not to be sitting down on the bike for a while (wow, I'm sore!)