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December 31st, 2012 No comments

So I probably just missed the memo, but apparently at some point Microsoft decided that Excel was far too functional a product, and decided that it definitely needed to be broken. So they went ahead and made a few tweaks to ensure that everyone would suffer as much with Excel as with the rest of their product suite. (They are nothing if not consistent. 🙂 )

Without further ado, I give you the two worst software functionality regressions I’ve seen in recent memory:

1. You cannot open two spreadsheets at once.

Okay, some might argue that you can open multiple spreadsheets and then switch between them using a chooser, but the bottom line is that without going to extreme measures you can only have one Excel spreadsheet on your screen at a time. Because no one ever wanted to compare two documents…

Which leads me to:

2. You can’t open two spreadsheets with the same name.

Wait, is this the 80’s? Because I’m pretty sure we have folders to differentiate between “spreadsheet.xls” in two different places. But, alas, Excel doesn’t think that’s good enough. Want to open two versions of a document? You’re obviously doing the wrong thing according to the all-knowing Excel.

The worst part is that if I saw these behaviors in a brand new product I would NEVER buy that product. Yet Microsoft decided to ADD these behaviors to a long existing product, thus hampering it in a fundamental way without — as far as I can tell — adding any benefit.


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Two Photos

March 22nd, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been playing around with my new copy of Lightroom 3 lately (I snagged a copy for only $70 — hooray for close-out discounts). So far I’m pretty impressed. It’s reasonably snappy even on my older system, it’s quite easy to use, and the results I’m getting are pretty good with a fairly minimal amount of editing effort. The tool seems to hit a good sweet spot of being just powerful/tweak-able enough without going all the way into full-blown Photoshop “OMG TOO MANY OPTIONS” mode. I’m looking forward to making some new prints again to see how they compare with the ones I was getting from DxO, and to figuring out the relative strengths of each tool. Anyway, without further ado, here are a couple of shots that I was playing around with. These are both from my iPhone.


Pirates of the Kitchen Sink

The Time-Out Chair

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So Frustrated

January 5th, 2012 1 comment

I’m so frustrated right now with my stupid HP printer (a Photosmart C5550 All-in-One, for anyone that cares). Yesterday I went and got my ink cartridges refilled at Costco, since it costs only a third as much as a new cartridge. So far so good. I got home, plopped them into the printer, and everything is great. Awesome. I then proceed to print something like 10 full-page photos with no problems. Great, right? Well, here comes the problem: all of a sudden my printer claims that the color ink cartridge that it’s been happily using for the last hour or so is suddenly “not intended for use in this printer.” Bull. So I take the cartridge out and reseat it, but to no avail. I clean the contacts. No dice. Power cycle? I wish.

I searched the web for a while to try to find any hint of how to get around this issue. Nada. As far as I can tell, there’s just no way to make this cartridge work again. Grrr… It looks like I’ll either have to plunk down the change for a new color ink cartridge (thus supporting the very ink cartel that put me into this mess in the first place), or I need to upgrade my printer. (Incidentally, HP was nice enough to design the printer such that I can’t just leave the color cartridge out entirely and just print in black and white, despite the fact that that would be perfectly reasonable.)

Anyway, in my various button pushing frenzies while I tried to get the printer to do something useful, I did discover some interesting — if unhelpful — things about the printer. I’ll write them down here in the hopes that someone might find them useful someday:

  1. If you press Cancel and OK at the same time you’ll be given a prompt on the screen that reads: “Mfg Commands / Enter Special Key Combo”. Sounds promising for some basic hacking.
  2. From here, hitting Cancel (in my case) went to a cartridge alignment screen, but pressing OK on the alignment screen seemed to put the printer into an infinite loop state.
  3. From the special key combo screen, pressing OK three times brings up an even more cryptic screen that reads: “uiaux / FW Comp Menu”, which seemed interesting, but I was never able to find anything that would cause the printer to do anything useful from this screen (although the printer isn’t locked up).
  4. There is a small silver card in a depression underneath the flip-up screen. Prying this out revealed that the underside has a couple of bar codes and a number. It looks almost like some type of access card, but I wasn’t able to figure out what it was for.

If anyone finds out more about these or discovers some other key combinations I’d be interested to hear about them. I have to imagine that there are some things there that were built in for testing or servicing the unit, but as to how much can be done from this interface I couldn’t say.

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The Story Thus Far

November 29th, 2011 No comments

“NaNoWriMo novel massively behind. Need to get through half of plot, twelve thousand words in two days,” he thought, wild plans racing through his head.

“Nothing for it,” he sighed, “I’ll just have to bust this out the hard way.”

He swung his legs over the side of the chair, put on his trusty Batman pajama pants, tossed on a clean but ill-fitting t-shirt and plopped down at the computer…

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I Made a T-Shirt for You Guys!

November 17th, 2011 1 comment

Hey everybody. Check it out: I made a T-shirt design on Zazzle:

You should totally buy one! Or more!

(For anyone that doesn’t understand the joke, this is in response to congress’ remarkable foresight in protecting the rights of all Americans by upholding that pizza and fries count as vegetables for school lunch. Go America! Land of the free fat and unhealthy.)

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Super Simple, Super Fun Dinner for 2 to 12

November 10th, 2011 No comments

Here’s an idea Dore and I tried out last night: Pizza party night. We just bought:

  • Pre-baked pizza crusts (We found some gluten free, pre-baked pizza crusts that actually have a really nice “thin crust” consistency)
  • Pizza sauce (one giant can is like $1.50 at our local market)
  • Block of mozzarella
  • Ranch dressing
  • Chicken breast
  • Salami (We found an antipasto pack with prosciutto, two salamis, and a dry coppa that works great for pizzas and a pre-dinner appetizers)
  • Bell peppers
  • Can of black olives (Yes, we did try to stick them on our fingers!)
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Red and yellow onions
  • Fresh garlic

You’re obviously welcome to pick any ingredients that sound good to you. The real trick is that you don’t have to be a great chef to come up with great combos: you can pretty much write your shopping list straight off of the ad for your favorite restaurant pizza! Or make up your own.

Prep is super simple: Just slice everything up (you know, like a pizza topping!)

Pop the finished pizzas in a preheated oven (the crusts you have should have directions; we did 375 degrees for ~9 minutes and were right on).

Slice on a cutting board and voila: dinner for two to four in about 30 minutes. Or make an assembly line out of the whole process and just keep popping pizzas into the oven until everyone at the party is full. It’s just an extra 10 min for each set of pizzas Our oven can hold four 10″ pizzas, plenty for four people, and enough for 12 to share comfortably until the next round. 🙂

Dore and I think this would be a great idea for a party. Anyone want to come over for a pizza, movie and ice cream night?

Bonus Question: Even if you can’t make it, what would you prefer for dessert: sundaes, ice cream floats, or both?

Oh, and if anyone tries this I’d love to hear how it turns out!

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My Favorite Snack Recipe

October 5th, 2011 No comments

I’m seriously in love with the caramel popcorn that Dore and I have been making lately. Like call-Dr-Drew-I-may-have-to-enter-rehab in love. I mean, sit me down in front of a bowl of this popcorn and it will be demolished. This stuff is that good. And the best part? It’s dead simple to make; Dore and I don’t bat an eye at throwing together a batch during a quick movie intermission.

So here’s the recipe:

3 tbsp vegetable oil (or any other high smoke point oil)
1/3 cup popping corn
3 tbsp sugar

1. Add oil and popping corn to a medium (3 qt) saucepan over medium-high heat (which, in every apartment I’ve lived in means about as high as you’ve got)

2. Sprinkle sugar and a pinch of salt over top. Shake the pan gently to settle the sugar down into the oil between the kernels.

3. Cover the pan and let sit until the first kernels start to pop (about a minute)

4. Shake the pan a bit as the kernels start to pop in earnest to ensure even heating (and thus full popping).

5. Once popping dies down, quickly transfer popcorn to a large bowl (careful: the caramel is REALLY hot and sticky at this stage). Sprinkle with a bit more salt and toss gently to mix. If you want, add a drizzle of melted butter (although I actually prefer to skip butter here) and enjoy.

The popcorn should be nice and crunchy, with a nice light caramel flavor and a hint of saltiness.

Easy, right? The biggest problem you’re likely to face is not having enough. Good thing another batch is just a couple of minutes away…

P.S. If you make an extra batch the night before, you can keep the popcorn in a sealed plastic bag for lunches or afternoon snacks the next day. Talk about envy at the office. 🙂

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Weekend Hijinx

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

Dore and I had a fun, but really tiring weekend. On Saturday, we went out to Magic Mountain with our neighbors, Ryan and Adrienne. He works at Google, and they were doing a private party that let us get into the park for a reduced rate and stay until midnight.

What none of us knew is that Magic Mountain’s definition of “private” is pretty loose. This party felt private in the same way a celebrity sex tape is private. As in, not very.

But the crowds did die down from horrendous to only mildly atrocious, so that was something. Still, waiting in line for 30 minutes — no matter how good the ride — just doesn’t seem like a good use of my time anymore. In part it may be that I have outgrown the excitement of roller coasters (it’s hard for me to get scared when I know how much safety factor is built into the system). But I also think  that traveling has made me realize that, while the thrills may not be quite as great, you can have more fun hour after hour just cruising around a town popping into various attractions, talking to people, and getting delicious tastes of everything in sight. On the whole it’s usually cheaper, too.

But despite my premature descent into curmudgeondom we did actually have a really fun time. Dore and I finally ran out of energy about 11pm, and headed home and to bed.

We slept in nice and late on Sunday. We lazed about the house for a while, and then decided to go on a small outing to the library. We took the bus down, which I’m finding to be a pretty decent form of transportation, if seemingly always a few minutes late.

When we got down to downtown Santa Monica, we took a detour to find lunch. We ended up finding a really nice cafe that had great sandwiches and even offered gluten-free bread, which was really nice for Dore. (We’re actually finding that Dore’s being on a gluten-free diet is relatively easy to deal with, even at restaurants. Still, it is nice to find accommodations sometimes.)

After lunch we finished our trip out to the library. Dore hadn’t been there yet, so it was fun to show here around. I eventually drifted up to the photography section, and Dore looked at some craft and health books.

We had planned to visit the craft store after the library, but we both ended up being so tired from the previous day that we decided to head back. Just in time, too. I was nearly exhausted by the time we got back. A big glass of water and some tea perked me up, though, so we decided to go on one last adventure for the day: a trip to the animal shelter.

Recently, we’ve been kicking around the idea of getting another cat to keep Mochi company, but aren’t sure whether we want to take that on right now. But we figured that at least we can always go hang out with the kitties for a while, just to see if there’s an offer we can’t refuse!

We ran into a couple of pretty adorable cats at the shelter, which seemed to be really well run. All of the staff were super nice, and the cats seem to be living pretty comfortably. It was a bit sad to see how many had been living there for a long time, though. The shelter we visited was a no-kill shelter, which I guess means that the cats pretty much just live there until they get adopted, so at least some of them had been there for several years or more.

You can see a few pictures of our favorites (with notes in the captions) on my Google+ stream.

When we finally made it back I was definitely ready to relax. We heated up some leftover gumbo for dinner, watched some TV, and went to bed.

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The Story Thus Far

September 29th, 2011 No comments

I’ve been retired now for about a month, and let me tell you, it feels great. I sleep late, I eat well, I’m in better shape than I was a month ago, and I’m generally happier with life than I was before.

All things that I was hoping for in taking a break.

Of course, there have been a few things that I didn’t expect. Like the fact that I haven’t been writing about all of my adventures! I was planning on taking a lot of time to concentrate on my writing, but as it turns out I haven’t done a lick of writing this whole month. So what gives? Well, I think when it comes down to it I haven’t been that interested in writing (at least on the blog front) because I’ve been in a content-generation phase. Blogging, as least for me, is something that I do when I don’t have anything terribly interesting to do, and I’m happy to report that my days have been jam-packed with things to do. (Don’t worry, though… I’ve got plenty of notes. Blog posts are coming, I promise!)

As I start in on the second half of my allotted two months of vacation, however, I’m noticing a subtle shift in my mindset. I’m in the downswing of the trip, and I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do with my remaining vacation time. Funny… it’s actually the same feeling I get when I’m traveling for an extended period: the first half of the trip is liberating because you have all the time in the world on your hands. The second half of the trip you can feel precisely how much time you have left, and you want to do everything possible to maximize that precious time.

So anyway, not to belabor the point, but I predict that I’ll start posting more things in the coming weeks. If I’m really clever I’ll even put together a back-log so that I can make updates at semi-regular intervals.

But we’ll see how that goes. 🙂

Oh, and I’ll start putting up pictures, too. ‘Cause the Internet likes pretty pictures.

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You’re What?!

September 28th, 2011 No comments

The retired life is pretty nice.

Yes, that’s right: retired.

I get a lot of people that, when I tell them I’m retired try to correct me with other euphemisms: between jobs, taking a break, on sabbatical, temporarily unemployed. My buddy Ian calls it “pre-tirement.” My brother says I’m a bum.

He’s probably the closest, to tell you the truth. 🙂 Some days I don’t get anything done. And it feels wonderful.

But I don’t think in those terms. I’m not between jobs right now. I don’t have any plans for another job right now. I mean, I’ll probably end up finding one. But that’s not set in stone. Instead, I’m trying out the concept of considering myself retired. As in, I’ve got enough money saved up to see me through for a while; I have a nice, well-organized (yet surprisingly lenient) budget; and I have nothing I need to accomplish for work.

All of which means that I can devote all of my time to my family, my home, and any personal pursuits that interest me. Oh, and I get to sleep as much as I want. 🙂 Having that much discretionary time at my disposal is proving to be one of the most rejuvenating things I’ve ever done.

I doing yoga.

I’m painting again.

I’m taking pictures again.

I’m writing again.

I’m listening to good music.

I eating gourmet meals that Dore and I prepare from scratch almost every day.

I can stay up late every night of the week.

And it feels great.

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