Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bad Day Fixer Upper

If you are having a bad day at work I've got a suggestion to help you out. 

Stop over at Chick-Fil-A and pick yourself out a good chicken sandwich.  Add a sweet tea to your order.  Here's the critical part;  you have to get one of those brownies they have sitting at the register. 

I am telling you that if you end your lunch with this brownie you will forget about your bad day as your sugar high sends you flying back into work. 
Note: Bad Day Fixer Upper not available in all locations (or on Sunday).

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Gear! Part 2

A few more new items to show you today.  The first is a new camcorder.

There were several issues I had with my previous camcorder.  First of all it was one more thing to carry around. It was getting to the point that on vacation I would carry my large Nikon camera, Cari would carry a pocket camera, and then we would drag around another camera bag for our camcorder.  Most times it wouldn't get used much outside of birthdays and concerts because it was too awkward to carry it around as a just in case.  Cari's pocket camera and my cell phone takes decent videos anyway.  So the camcorder sat in the closet most of the time.

The second major complaint I had was that the thing used tapes.  It was annoying trying to rewind the tape and then record it over to the computer on firewire.  A few times we picked up the camera to use it and we couldn't remember if we had transferred over the thing on the tape.  It got to the point we were never comfortable just picking it up and filming for fear of losing something on the tape from before.

To solve those issues we picked up the Kodak xi8 handheld camera.   This uses SDHC cards for memory, films in 1080 or 720 HD formats and takes still shots.  It's small enough to fit in a pocket and weighs almost nothing.  Like any digital camera, every time you hit the record button it starts a new file.  No worry about losing what was previously recorded.  It plugs into a USB port to get charged and also to transfer the files.  It couldn't be any easier!

We've had a week to try it out and I am really pleased with the quality.  Push a button to record and push it again to stop.  I had the kids trying it out one night and the only problem that I saw was that because it is so small, it can be hard to hold your hand still.   But if you are aware of the potential for a shaky video, that's an easy one to fix.  Just don't drink a pot of coffee before using the camera.

We've already found that it is easy to pick up and get short clips if the kids are doing something you want to remember.

To go along with our new camera we decided it was time to upgrade our storage for those files.  It was time for an external hard drive.  I remember a day when having a 1 Gig hard drive was crazy huge.  How would I ever fill 1 Gig?  That's a ridiculous size.  Heck, my first few hard drives weren't even 250MB.

This time we went for one that will last at least six months.  1.5T.   I'm not sure what comes after the terrabyte range, but I'm sure we'll all find out in the next five years.  Kids will be saying that 1.5T isn't enough to even be messing with.

The drive sits on the desk and has a display that shows how full (or empty) it is.  It's just a hard drive, so there isn't much more to say about that other than it is a great companion to the Kodak camera.

We'll that's enough shopping for one week.  If UPS drops off anything else I'll let you know.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Gear! Part 1

I've managed to pick up a lot of new toys over the past month and I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you about it.  Maybe you'll find something that you didn't know you needed like I did.

The first thing I picked up was a portable battery supply.  This little device will provide me with an additional charge to my cell phone, camera, or mp3 player while I'm out camping or away from other power sources.

Initially, I really wanted it to keep my cell phone alive for the three days I'll be backpacking next month, but I have now realized that I can get more use out of it than I originally thought.

There are a lot of choices when looking for these portable battery devices.  I saw a lot of solar options to go with, but ended up not choosing one because they seemed very sensitive to having DIRECT sunlight for a long time.  I purchased the Tekkeon MP1800.  It has a larger capacity battery than some others, is lightweight, and small.

On my tests with my Motorola Droid I was able to get about one and half charges from the Tekkeon.  That was after having the Tekkeon sitting for a week in a closet and I also left it on overnight one night.  I'm not sure how that effected the battery, but it was part of my test.  I charged my phone with it and went to bed.  I didn't turn it off until I got up in the morning, but the phone should stop drawing power when it is full.  There may be opportunity to get closer to two full charges out of the Tekkeon.  Either way, I have been pleased with the power that it holds.

The second item I want to tell you about today is another item that I initially purchased for hiking.  This is a multi-tool.  I've always wanted one of these but couldn't justify the price for the good ones for my limited use of it.  The cheap ones just don't seem worth it because I don't believe they'll always perform when you need them to.

For this I went with the Victorinox Swiss Tool.
I found it to be rated just as good as the equivalent Leatherman tool, and sometimes rated higher.  The main reason I went with this was because it was free.  I had earned a certain number of points in a reward program that I participate in and this was one of the available items.  I don't regret choosing this over another item and I haven't even had a great chance to use it yet.

Anyway, pliers, multiple knives, a wood saw, wire cutters, a file, and a chisel.  I think I'll make good use of it while camping, or at least I'll have it around if an emergency comes up.   It's a bit heavy, but feels very solid as you open and close the various tools.   Did I mention how shiny it is?

If you have any thoughts or comments or questions on these items, I'd be interested to hear from you.  I've got a few more items to show you so watch for part 2 coming soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Moose Goo!

As I prepare for another backpacking trip I was trying to calculate how many peanut butter crackers I would need to bring.  Thankfully, I was sent an email by Rake that took me to Ultralight Backpackers website.  There I learned about Ultralight Joe's Moose Goo.

I decided to try it.  Here's a video of my first attempt to mix up a batch:

We have since made another batch with the kids and we mixed in some dried cranberries.  This is a great mix to take hiking and won't require any cooking out on the trail.

Thanks Ultralight Joe!

And yes, I'll be ready for a hot cooked meal the very minute I get OFF of that trail.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Big and Bad

When we got home from our walk yesterday morning we found this in the driveway:
He was coiled up and ready to spring at any moment but that didn't stop me from poking at him for just a bit longer.  The more I poked, the more he coiled his body up getting ready to strike at my hand. 

But I had no fear and I continued to challenge the snake. 

It turns out he was just a baby and instead of striking, he just slithered off into the grass. . .
. . .where I later chewed him up in my lawnmower (potentially).

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I've got a new camcorder and I have some new editing software coming soon!  But I already have several videos I've been wanting to edit and get published onto the blog.  I couldn't wait any longer.  I loaded up the old software to get this one ready.

Here ya go:

Four (and a half) takes to make the video.  Sometimes I messed up, sometimes she messed up.  Making movies is hard work.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Technology in Action!

I was at the park for Randy's football practice and I had to pee.  Practice had about ten minutes left and I was getting to the point that I HAD to go.  I walked over to the building with the bathrooms and it was locked.  Awesome.

I called Cari to complain about my situation, notice that I call her a lot to complain.  I told her I was going to go to the car and pee into the small water bottle I was carrying.  She said that would be better than going on the practice field in front of everyone.

I went to the car, but then I started thinking, "Dang!  This bottle opening is small.  What if I miss?  What kind of freaking mess is that going to be?

I sat there for a minute with a bottle in my hand, looking out of the windshield.   Two cars over one of the other parents got out of their car to watch practice.  They were just standing there.  What if they came over to say hi?  Oh man!  I couldn't do it.

Practice ended within five minutes of me sitting in the car.  I urged Randy to hurry and we drove over to the grocery store.  "Where is the bathroom in this place", I asked my son.  He actually knew where it was, in the back, and started directing me there.

I made it without having an accident, but it was painful trying to make it there.  I was so proud that I had made it that I decided to text Cari about my accomplishment.
Technology in action!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Her Secret

I really enjoy drinking my one cup of coffee EVERY morning.


That's kinda an exaggeration.  I usually enjoy drinking my coffee every morning.  It doesn't matter if I'm at home, on vacation, or just driving, I really like my coffee in the morning.  I don't even drink the expensive kind.  I'm happy with making some cheap coffee at home.  It tastes just fine for me.

Coffee is a critical part of the morning routine.

Yesterday turned out to be one of those days that I didn't enjoy my cup quite as much.  Cari made coffee while I was getting ready for work and even poured it in my cup for me since I was running five minutes late to work.  I got a few minutes down the road and took a sip.

Something wasn't right.

I sipped again and anyone that saw my face at that moment knew I had put something in my mouth that wasn't right.

There was a slight coffee taste to it.  I mean it was really really slight.  If you are interested in recreating this taste, and you really shouldn't, here's the recipe that I created in my head:

1 cup of hot water
a dash of soap
add a pinch of something from the spice rack for flavor.

I was really tired and I think that's why it took so long for me to figure out something was wrong.  I took a third sip.  Now I was sure something was wrong.  After the third try I put the cup down and closed the lid.  I turned off the podcast playing on my phone, and called home.

When Cari answered I asked her if her coffee tasted ok.  She was drinking the same toxic brew that I was but she adds all sorts of stuff to it.  She said it tasted great.

"Well then there is some other mystery drink in my cup", I complained.   She swore that she poured me a cup of coffee in a clean cup but I continued to complain.  "This is the worst coffee ever.  In fact, that's not true.  It's the worst drink ever.  I'm not sure it is even coffee.  It tastes like hot water with soap!".

That's when she revealed her secret.  "It's fine.  I don't know what your problem is.  I used Pumpkin Spice coffee this morning and I think it is great."

Pumpkin Spice coffee.  If you drink your coffee black like I do then avoid Pumpkin Spice flavored coffee.  You'd be better off dipping your cup in dishwater and warming it up in the microwave.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Matched Up

The lady at the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru asked if we were having our picture taken.  At first I wasn't sure why she would ask such a thing.  I looked over at Cari sitting next to me in the car and then quickly looked back at the drive-thru lady.  "Nope.", I told her.

She looked a bit disappointed when I answered her and she said, "Well you guys look cute all dressed in pink together."  We got our food and continued on our way.

I was smiling ear to ear at this point and Cari asked if the lady had made my day.  "Yep!", I told her.

You see, before we left the house, I noticed the girls were wearing matching outfits.  They were each wearing pink tops with jeans.  As I went to get dressed for our shopping trip I thought I ought to match them.  Why should the two of them make me the odd one out?

After getting dressed, I was accused by Cari for purposely matching her.  Truth be known, I will match her almost any chance I get. She would have been surprised, and disappointed, if I didn't match them after knowing what both of them would be wearing.

If I'm the last one getting dressed for church on any Sunday morning, you can bet your paycheck that I'll be matching at least one family member when I come out of my room.

We had been shopping all morning in our matching clothes without a single comment until we made it to Chick-Fil-A, and yeah, I was thrilled when she asked if we were going to have our photo taken.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Giving You More Than 100%

Have you ever had that coach or teacher that asked you to give 110%?  That never made sense to me.  Doing my best made sense.  But my best would be one hundred percent effort.  Anything more than that wasn't possible.

Apparently the guys over at Walmart have found a way to give 110%.  Having three kids in the house, we go through a lot of apple juice and last night I noticed the label for the first time.  "100% No Sugar Added Apple Juice", it says largely on the front.  But keep reading because you'll see an important note below that huge font.  "From concentrate with added ingredient".   Huh?
Added ingredient to my 100% Apple Juice?  That's not possible.  Depending on the amount of added ingredient, it seems like a more accurate label would be, "90% No sugar added Apple Juice WITH added ingredient".   

Even if I ignored the math issues, the fact was that I still wasn't sure what the added ingredient was.  I just knew it wasn't sugar.  So I flipped the bottle around to see what kind of stuff I was putting into my body.
Again, at the top they remind you that it is 100% Juice.   There is no asterisk there to note an exception.  It plainly states 100% Juice.  As I read over the fine print I would expect the ingredient listing to say something like, "apple juice".   Instead it reads, "Ingredients:  Filtered water, apple juice concentrate, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)."

Clearly this proves that Walmart has found a way to shove more than 100% of something into a bottle without making the bottle any bigger.  Any math principles you have previously learned are now the property of Walmart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Cari and I started a workout routine this week.  We're being advised by our very own personal trainer.  Our trainer is my friend Rick.  He is in school to become a certified personal trainer and offered to let us be the guinea pigs of his new knowledge.

We're still in the beginning stages of this program, but already Cari decided to make this a competition between the two of us.  Why must every little thing become a competition?  It's not that I'm complaining about a new contest, I'm happy to beat her in any contest that she creates.  It's just that I was surprised when she presented this one so soon into our new work out.  It didn't take her more than an hour to think of this one.

The challenge:  A foot race around the block.  No short cuts through the neighbors yard allowed.  You may find that rule unnecessary, but then you probably haven't been involved in any of our challenges.  In some ways it's like Nascar.  Every rule must be spelled out and then the competitors push the boundaries of the rules.

A date has been set almost two months into the future.  I believe it will be the first Sunday in May.

I won't lose this one.  Really, I won't.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Working Toward a Record

When you take nine kids to the pizza buffet after Sunday evening church, please don't expect them to act like angels. . .

They were going for records in the straw games.  First it was how many straws will fit into the lid of your cup.  Next, and really the more fun challenge, was how long can I make this straw and still suck water into my mouth.

When I asked the girls if that was the most they could do they told me they were just warming up and I should wait to take a photo next week!

Sunday, March 07, 2010


After playing Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and San Juan, Cari and I were ready for another game to try.  She headed over to the game store to ask their opinion and I headed over to my computer chair to check out   We both came up with the same answer.


At first, I wasn't too excited about it.  It's a card game and it didn't seem that interesting when I first read about it.  I watched a few video reviews on YouTube with Cari and my interest picked up a bit.  When Cari's birthday came up, her sister Amanda sent us (Cari) the game.

The game is very easy to learn.  There aren't any complicated rules to follow.  One reviewer even said that if you can count to five, you can play this game. We're going to try and teach the kids next week, and if I'm wrong about the complexity, I'll let you know.

In the game, there are three values of money cards, three values of victory point cards, and then around twenty five action cards.  In each game you choose ten of the action cards to use and put the others back in the box.  The action cards will change the way the game plays a lot so there is always a variety to the way you play.   Your goal is to have the most victory points in your hand by the end of the game.  Some board games take over an hour to complete, but Dominion takes roughly thirty minutes to complete.

I'm going to try and keep this short and simple, but here's a brief explanation of game play.  Each player starts out with seven "dollars" and three victory points.  Ten cards.  You shuffle your cards and then deal yourself five. On your turn, you will play an action card that you may have dealt yourself, make a purchase, discard those cards, and deal yourself five more cards.  As you go through your deck of cards, you shuffle your discards and deal five more.  You use the money in your hand each round to purchase action cards - which may allow you to draw more cards, spend more money, or use additional action cards - or purchase more money or victory cards.  You are making purchases of more cards just about every turn.  Your deck of cards may contain fifty cards by the end of the game.

Because you are constantly cycling through the cards you are buying, this becomes an important strategy.  If you purchase a lot of victory points early in the game, they can tend to clog up your hand, as they are useless during the game.  This results in you having a lot of meaningless turns while your opponents (up to four players in a game) are building up more money for later in the game.

It didn't take long for us to get the hang of how this game works and we have really started developing our own strategies.  After I played the game, my initial concerns were gone and I was hooked.  There is a reason that it is ranked high among gaming geeks!

This game is already ranked high on our list of games we love and we're excited to try it with a few more players.  If you have any interest in playing board games and card games, this is one that we highly recommend.  Thanks again to Amanda for sending us (Cari) a great game.  Are you willing to learn it too?

Friday, March 05, 2010


I was able to watch Cari scolding Meredith in the kitchen yesterday and when she had finished she told Meredith to head to her room.  As my daughter rounded the corner I heard some laughing and I quickly looked at Cari for a reaction.

Cari had also heard the laughing and was looking back at me.  I said, "Yeah, I'm not sure you really had the impact you were going for".

You may not have disciplined your eight year old correctly when she walks out of the room laughing quietly.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


One of the things I love about photography is being able to capture the smallest fraction of time and keep it forever.  

Monday, March 01, 2010

Using the Phone

I don't make many phone calls with my new phone.  I'm too busy using it for other things.  Gowalla, Geocache, Buzz, Listen, Sporty Pal, maps / navigation, and of course FaceBook.  Oh yeah, I'll still text you before calling too.

This post is going to explain some of these apps and why I love this phone more every day.  If you are bored with that kind of geek talk, then you might as well move on to the next blog you read and come back in a few days.

I told you about Gowalla the other day.  I still think its pretty fun to use while I'm out.  Right now, the mobile site is the best way for Android phones to access it, but there is an app coming in the next month.  I have the beta of the app and it works pretty well but it is still missing some features.  A full release app should be out in a few weeks.

Geocaching is something I haven't been too good at doing lately.  To really go out and do some good geocaching took planning.  First you had to look up the caches you wanted to visit, download each one to the GPS, and then possibly print out notes and hints.  Now I have a great little app on the Droid called c:geo.  This guy made an app that will search for nearby caches based on my location, display the description, logs, and hints.  It will then pull up a radar screen and help you get to the location.  After you use your stealthy Geocaching skills, you can log the find within the app.  Awesome.  Geocaching in town just became easy.  If I'm out with the kids I can take a quick look for any nearby caches.  No planning needed.  Even better, when I get home, I don't have to try and remember to log them.  That was done while I was still at the cache.  We grabbed a few on Sunday while we were out and it worked perfectly.

Buzz.  Google forced Buzz on Gmail users a few weeks back.  I've never used Twitter, but I imagine Buzz to be something like it.  Short posts that go out to the public.  I like using Buzz on Google Maps with my Droid.  An icon is placed on the map for every post someone made from that area.  It's pretty cool to see what local people are writing about.  You can also tag your friends and see what they write, even if they are on the other side of the planet from you.   For someone that has never used Twitter, I think Buzz is interesting.  It will be better if more people start posting on it.  I think that as smart phones start to become more and more common, Buzz has the potential to pick up speed, like Gowalla.

When everyone except for me started buying an iPod I also started hearing about Podcasts.  It's like having TiVo for the radio.  It also seems to allow anyone that ever wanted a radio show, to have one.  Without an iPod I've always ignored anyone talking about Podcasts.  Things have changed for me now.  I downloaded an app by Google called Listen.  I can subscribe to Podcasts, have them auto download, and add them to a queue.  This is great and has really cut into my flipping between fourteen stations of blah on the radio as I commute to and from work.  Two of my favorite Podcasts are This American Life and Engaget.

Sporty Pal is a cool app that uses GPS to track me as I walk, run, bike, or whatever.  For me, it's just walking for now.  It tells me how far I have gone, how long it took me, approx how many calories I've burned, and shows a map of my journey.  I can also upload it to my account on their site and view a graph of all my work outs and see how far I've walked this month.  It's a pretty handy tool and helps motivate me to push a bit harder on my speed.

The Google maps and navigation have worked perfectly on the Droid.  I push one button and speak the name of the location I want and the Droid tells me how to get there turn by turn.  The voice recognition works perfectly most times, but a few times I had to go back and type it in.  It's still better than most GPS units where you have to type in the street address line by line.  When I was heading to one of our basketball games this past season, I just spoke into the phone, "Pickens Rec Center", and it got me there no problem.  If I do make a wrong turn, it recalculates and gets me back on track.

Finally (for now), I've been using FaceBook more.  Yeah, I started out a few months ago really hating FaceBook.  I even had most of my "friends" muted.  I am happy to say that (almost) everyone has been unmuted and I have been more active in making comments and reading what people have going on.  Partly because the Droid makes it so easy.  I have seen other friends of mine that pick up a new BlackBerry or other smartphone and suddenly become active when they hardly ever logged onto Facebook before.

This may not have been the most exciting post if you don't have a smart phone, but I just wanted to share a bit of how I've been using my phone for the past few months.  It keeps getting better as more and more apps are being developed for the Android platform.

I don't regret my decision to spend the money on the Motorola Droid.  I find myself using it in new ways all the time.  Hopefully soon, I'll figure out where the button is to make a phone call.