September 2011 Archives

A total mash-up; random things


There's not much going on in terms of excitement for me these days, but it's no excuse to ignore the blog for two weeks... so, here's a collection of random things and updates. There's no real rhyme or reason to them, so apologies in advance for the lack of substance and/or continuity.

Concerts, continued

I guess I've been in a musical mood lately because in the past month, I've gone to two concerts and saw a documentary about a rock band. You'll recall from an earlier post that I had a chance to see Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary concert at Alpine Valley. That was an excellent show - really top notch.

So, when I learned that another good band (although still an up-and-comer) was going to be in town for a "low dough show" courtesy of a local radio station, I jumped at the chance. For $9.41, I was able to score a ticket to see Middle Class Rut play at the Majestic Theater in Madison. Middle Class Rut is a 2-piece group (guitarist and drummer) from Sacramento, California - you may recall that I saw them at Summerfest earlier this year, and enjoyed their show.

The concert was general admission, so I was shocked to find myself near the front of the stage - here's a picture from the show:


They only played for about 45 minutes or so, but as was the case with Summerfest, they played a solid set. There were two opening acts; Ume and some other group whose name I forget... neither were that stellar but for $10, I'm not complaining. :-)

And then earlier this week, I went to the gorgeous Oriental Theater in Milwaukee to watch a one-night-only documentary about Pearl Jam, titled "PJ20." I went with my boss and we had a blast - the documentary was absolutely fantastic and super interesting - it showed a ton of early and behind-the-scenes footage, complete with in-depth interviews and a lot of home video.

It was even more amazing because the movie only aired for one day (9/20), and it won't be available on DVD for a few months. I'm so glad I had a chance to go see it, and if you haven't been there before, take some time to check out the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee - it's really a cool movie theater.

Helping the Humane Society

We were at a local watering hole a few weeks ago when we spied some interesting wristbands that featured a Pabst Blue Ribbon logo. My boss is a huge fan of PBR (nostalgia, I guess?) and he asked one of the bartenders about the bands. She explained that Pabst was teaming up with Humane Societies across the United States in an effort to do fundraising and to raise awareness for homeless animals. For a $1 donation, you received a wristband and you got to put your name on a card that would then be hung-up at the bar.

We both donated a fair chunk of change and scored some wristbands. Great idea, great cause, great program, and an OK beverage (give me a New Glarus brew over PBR any day).


Blender blues

You've heard me rave about my Vitamix blender - the thing is an absolute beast. I've literally boiled water with it, simply by cranking-up the blender speed to "HIGH." Unfortunately, it's not immune to user error...

Having gained nearly 20-lbs over the past few months (chalk it up to really poor eating and a lack of desire to do any serious exercise), I was desperate to "reset" my diet and get back the urge to eat well and exercise. I'd fallen into a funk of sorts and just felt like exercising and eating clean were useless and dumb. I had no energy, no ambition, and no interest in doing any type of running - as such, my daily mileages dropped from 6+ miles to 4+ miles to 2 miles... ugh. It's no wonder I packed-on the pounds.

So, I watched a movie called Fat Sick and Nearly Dead and learned about the benefits of doing a juice fast. I decided that may be the bump my body needed to get back on track. So, I broke out the Vitamix and went about juicing kale, cucumber, spinach, celery, and apples for every meal.

About 3 days in, as I was making "dinner," I failed to use enough water in the Vitamix. As a result, my half-of-an-apple became trapped in the corner of the Vitamix container. I used the tamper to try and break the apple away from the corner; I grew impatient so I really jammed the tamper into the container. And that's when things got ugly.

The blades, spinning at nearly 38,000 rpm thanks to the 2.25-hp motor, grabbed the tamper, which sucked the tamper into the blender container and caused a major imbalance issue. The container spun around and became wedged between the drive gear and the base pad. Plastic bits spewed everywhere; smoke poured out from the machine, and my stomach sank. After removing the pitcher from the Vitamix, I assessed the damage:


The drive button assembly looks to have gotten burned-up and knocked out-of-center. I called Vitamix the next day and they promptly mailed me a new drive button. They said it's a common incident and that it was easy to repair. They also sent me a complimentary tamper to replace the one that had been minced into a million pieces... what a great company!

In the interim, I've stopped the juice fast and am eating a "clean" diet of lean protein (140g per day) and unlimited vegetables. Grains/starches/processed foods are absent from the diet. I'm hoping that after 30-45 days of this, I'll be back to the weight that I should be.

And finally, breakfast for dinner

Today was a busy day... I rode and ran this morning, took a shower, ate lunch (pork tenderloin with brussels sprouts and a tomato), went grocery shopping, bought cat food, and completely cleaned the house. I also did a load of laundry and finally finished organizing the garage. When it came time for dinner, I didn't feel like chicken or pork, so I opted for one of my favorite meals - breakfast.


Is there anything better than having breakfast for dinner? Am I crazy for loving it?

That's 5 egg whites, 3oz of fresh spinach, 3oz of portabella mushrooms, and 1/2-cup of diced bell peppers and onion, with a tablespoon of Thai chili paste for a little heat. 175 calories, 15g of carbs, 1g of sugar, 8g of fiber, and 30g of protein.

And it's filling - I enjoyed that while watching the end of the Packers game (around 5:45pm), and I still feel stuffed. I'll probably drink a goat whey protein shake right before bed (110 calories, 24g protein, no sugar or carbs), but it'll depend on how full I still feel.

VICTORY! Steve: 1 Junk Mail: 0


I really dislike receiving mail. And I really dislike receiving junk mail. And when you have several addresses like I do, you receive a ton of junk mail. I receive the same crappy "shopper stopper" coupon booklet at four (4) different addresses... talk about a waste of resources, time, effort, and money.

When I voice my displeasure for all of the junk mail, most people offer this awesome suggestion: "Just recycle it - don't even open it, just put it in the recycling bin!"


And how does that help anything? Recycling isn't an environmentally neutral effort - a big truck picks-up your recycling, carts it to a sorting facility, big machines run long conveyor belt sorting lines, and then any number of things happens to the materials... some of it ends-up in landfills, some of it is burned or chemically treated, and so on...

But worst of all, it reinforces the undesired junk mail behavior. I'd rather not receive the junk mail in the first place, but if no one returns or rejects it back to the sender, the sender assumes the delivery was "successful," and thus you're included as part of a metric that the junk mail companies use when pitching their new customers. And the junk mail circle of life repeats and grows.

So... I've tried a bunch of things to limit the amount of junk mail I receive. I've opted-out of every credit card/insurance list I could. I've called every catalog company that sends me a crummy catalog and asked that they stop sending them. I've registered online to be part of a "do not mass market" list. I've paid a service to actively remove me from mailing lists. I've called the telephone companies that send me 2-3 phone books at each of my mailing addresses and requested they stop sending the phone books (I don't even own a landline).

But, despite these efforts, I continue to receive more than a ton of junk mail. It's so frustrating. Any important piece of mail that I "need" to receive, I receive electronically or at my post office box. I'd love nothing more than to completely abolish snail mail, but alas, it is a necessary evil.

So when I moved to the new house, I absolutely dreaded the notion of having yet another junk mail receptacle to check on.

And truth be told, I actually forgot to check the new mailbox for a while, and I thought all was well. Until one day, while changing the oil in my lawn mower, I heard a vehicle pull near my driveway and park.

"Hey, how about you check your mailbox and get the mail out of it?" said the voice.

I looked over and saw the familiar milk-carton on wheels that is the lovely USPS delivery truck. I sighed.

"Oh, hey, yeah - sorry about that. I have several addresses and I don't have anything of value sent here, so I really forget that I have to check it."

USPS driver: "Ok, but, you really need to check your mail. If the box fills-up, I can't deliver any mail to you."

Eureka! This was my "win," so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Me: "Oh, well, that would be great! I'll just let the box fill-up and then I won't get any junk mail?"

USPS driver: "It's not junk mail. You really have to empty out your mailbox or I can't deliver any mail to you."

Me: "But it is all junk mail. If there's any mail in there, I guarantee it's all junk because any real mail is sent to my other addresses. So, I'll just let it fill-up until you can't deliver any mail."

USPS driver: "It's not all junk mail. I know there is some first class mail in there."

Me: "I'll bet you $20 there's no real mail in there."

USPS driver: "Just check your mail so that I can keep delivering your mail, ok?"

Me: "Can I just take down my mailbox? Do I have to receive mail?"

USPS driver: "What? Well, no, you - it's not required that you have a mailbox, but - wah - why don't you just take your mail?"

Me: "It's of no value. So, I'll tell you what - I'll take down the mailbox and we'll call it good."

He mumbled something about talking to a supervisor and filling out some form, and then puttered off in his milk carton. I went out and checked the mail, and sure enough - it was all junk. Catalogs, shopper stoppers, marketing offers from the local cable companies, and a bevy of Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons addressed to "Current Resident".

So, I left them all in there and went about my life.

I encountered the mailman again about two weeks ago, and he "instructed" me to empty the mailbox. I reminded him that I didn't have any real mail in there, and that I saw no need to tend to it. He said, "I'm going to have to stop delivering mail if you don't empty the box, and then I'll have to return it to the sender and tell them your address is undeliverable."

The good news kept on coming! This was a perfect win! So, guess what I decided to do?

That's right - absolutely nothing. I let the junk mail keep accumulating in that box.

And today, while I was mowing the lawn, I decided to check the mailbox. I figured it would be bulging with junk mail. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it empty, save for one piece of paper:


Ahh, the sweet smell of victory. Take that, junk mail pushers.

Lots 'o Updates: Party, Pearl Jam, and AR


It's been a while since I've updated the blog - almost 2 weeks... lots of things going on to keep me busy and distracted (although nothing to keep me from eating like a maniac - I SWEAR I'm going to do 6 weeks of super clean eating - this is ridiculous).

Let's see... where to begin? How about last week? I had one of my biggest projects come to a successful close in July. We updated more than 5,000 computers from Microsoft Office XP and/or Office 2003 to Office 2010.


We did it on time, under budget, and without any outages or downtime for any of our 60+ business units and 3500+ employees. That may not sound like a big deal, but it really was, especially when you consider the project had to ensure that all of our legacy applications and data were tested and confirmed to work with the new version of Office, and that we had to arrange for training, awareness, and communication to all 3500+ employees without disrupting normal business processes... Oh, and our project team consisted of less than 10 people.

So, we celebrated the success with a party at the Capital Brewery. We catered-in some barbeque from Blowin' Smoke BBQ, which included smoked brisket, smoked pork shoulder, cheesy potatoes, potato salad, and a bunch of goodies. Here's part of the spread:


We also ordered a cake from Craig's Cake Shop - and it was amazing, as usual. The cake featured a chocolate base layer, peanut-butter-chocolate-mousse layer, and a vanilla cake layer, all covered in Craig's signature whipped frosting with white chocolate shavings. YUMMO.


The only bad/unfortunate thing about the celebration was that the weather didn't really oblige us in a friendly manner... we had the party last Thursday, when it was 95F and nearly 100% humidity. So, we all sat outside, sweating to death and eating a lot of food. Not a good combination if you're hoping for a festive and celebratory mood. :-) Here's my project team, sitting in the sweltering heat and humidity:


Notice how there isn't anyone else sitting outside with us? Apparently we were the only ones daring enough to suffer the oven-like conditions that day. :-)

Fast forward a few days...

On Sunday, I went to the Pearl Jam concert with my boss and a few of his friends, and we had an absolute blast. The concert was held at one of my most favorite venues, Alpine Valley.

Alpine Valley is an outdoor venue that's situated in the valley of a ski facility, and it offers some of the best views, sound, and environment of any concert venue I've ever been to. I've seen dozens of shows here, from Guns 'N Roses to Rush to Metallica to Van Halen - countless of great, great shows. But all paled in comparison to the Pearl Jam show - seriously.

We parked out in the boonies, as is the norm when you visit Alpine Valley...


The show ran all weekend - there were probably a dozen bands playing, but we were there to see: Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes, and Pearl Jam. This superset of groups was scheduled to hit the stage at around 6:00pm (QotSA first, followed by the Strokes, with PJ coming on at 9:00pm).

As we made our way to the seating area, we saw this awesome billboard that some local artists were painting for the show. It was super colorful - I don't think my phone captured the color quite as well as it looked in person. They started the billboard on Friday and were just finishing it on Sunday when I took this photo:


We made our way from the entry straight to the "shelter" area, where there was a Pearl Jam "museum" (I didn't go through it, but I did take a picture of the walls that surrounded the exhibit. Fans were encouraged to sign the walls and leave words of wisdom - it was pretty neat):


We bought some t-shirts (Pearl Jam had special edition "Wisconsin Sports" shirts - they took the Packers logo and modified it to have "PJ" instead of the "G", along with a Brewers and Bucks version), and then almost had a heart attack when we saw how much a beer cost at the show... what is the world coming to?


Now, I know what you're thinking - "Stella Artois is an import, and it's probably a really big can of beer, so $13, while pricey, isn't that bad."

There's only one problem (or three)... all beer was $13 per can, including Miller Lite, Bud Light, Corona Light, etc... and a tall can meant a 16oz "tall boy"... and, Stella was only available in a bottle, which they poured into a cup and "topped it off" with part of a second bottle. For reference, an entire case of Miller Lite should run you around $16 if memory serves me correctly. Needless to say, we only had a beer or two the entire night. :-)

Brats were $6.50; hamburgers were $8.50; pretzels were $7.50... so, not only did we not drink anything, we didn't really eat anything. Good times (not really).

I mentioned that Alpine Valley is situated on a ski hill - if you look closely in the background of this photo, you can see part of the ski hill. I took this while standing in line for a t-shirt (which was $35 - sensing a theme??).


We found our way to the seating area, settled-in, and enjoyed the rest of the evening. The crazy thing about this particular line-up was that it "built" on itself - every part was better than the previous... The Queens of the Stone Age were great - sounded incredible, and played a great set of songs. The Strokes were even better - better sound, and a super great mix of hits. And then Pearl Jam came out and just nailed it.

Perfect sound, perfect stage show, perfect musicianship - it was so unreal. And they played for about four (4) hours!! The show ended at about 1:00am... they did so many great songs, and the crowd was singing along so loudly at times that you couldn't even hear the band. I would recommend that you go see them if you have any interest in their music at all. Here's the only decent photo I could get:


We arrived home at about 3:00am - a long day, for sure, but definitely worth it.

And then, the following day (Labor Day), I got a surprise call from Amy... apparently the house was in need of some repairs, including the A/C unit, which had stopped working (and it was 95F). Amy was able to help me diagnose the problem, which appeared to be a failed compressor-assist capacitor and the contactor assembly.

Quotes to repair the unit were around $300, and along with the other things that needed to be done around the house, I figured it was better for me to drive down and take care of it on my own. I found the A/C parts online for a total of $50-ish and had them shipped to AR. I left Wisconsin on Wednesday after work, and arrived just after midnight.

One part had arrived, but the other one was MIA. So, I checked the tracking details and discovered that the part wasn't due to arrive until Monday, despite my paying for expedited shipping. I called the company that I ordered the part from and learned that they goofed-up the shipping... so, I ran around all of northwest Arkansas today, looking for a suitable replacement part. Eventually found what I needed and went about fixing the A/C unit. When I was all done, this is what my handy work looked like:


This is what the old parts looked like - notice the rusted/leaking/oily capacitor (round thing) and the heavily corroded contactor assembly (block-thing):


Also note that I replaced all of the connectors, cleaned-up the wiring, and had to "translate" the wiring on the contactor so that everything would work properly. The replacement contactor was a generic version that didn't have the same configuration as the original part did... thankfully I was able to trace everything with a volt/ohm meter and got it figured out on the first try. I'm writing this from the frosty-cool-confines of the house, where it is an icy 68F inside (instead of 80F). :-) The system has been running flawlessly for a few hours now.

Which leads me to the last part of this entry. A lot of folks ask why I like Arkansas so much. The answer is simple - I like the house, it's inexpensive, the people here are much more friendly than they are in Wisconsin, and I get to enjoy views like this from my backyard...


And my "neighbors" are great:



And of course, the dogs are excellent - here's a "dog bomb" that went off in my office:


We're off to have dinner with some of Amy's coworkers. I can't wait to kick back and relax a bit. What a day.

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