Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Letter 2012

This year has brought us a lot of changes. We’re in a new house that we’re sharing, the kids are growing at an alarming rate, and the days are filled with activity.

Our biggest change this year has been moving to Seattle, combining households with Shannon’s parents. Walker’s tastes in “interesting” places to live appears to come about even when he isn’t involved up-front, as Shannon, Ruth and Ellis picked out quite the place while he was off with Moira (but more on that later). We’ve long since stopped discovering new corners of the house we’d overlooked before, but that’s been replaced by discovering how many people we are able to accommodate for dinners or parties.

Davis has grown as one would expect of a newborn. He’s happy, playful, curious and determined. He is not easily distracted with simple tricks like handing him the broken remote control, or hiding something behind our backs. Lights, however, work very well as a distraction. He’s also proved quite proficient at biting and chewing before getting teeth - he quickly and eagerly gummed mochi to bits, and teeth have only made him more formidable.

He’s also exploring mobility, which is leading to gradual babyproofing of the house. Unlike his sister, he’s been content to crawl to get around the house. He takes a few steps on occasion, but drops to all fours when he really wants to get somewhere. His focus appears to be much more on climbing, opening drawers to serve as platforms for reaching greater heights, and navigating stairs.

For Moira, the challenges have been more with ballet, skiing and biking. The new house has given her more flat real estate on which to learn to pedal. Moving to Seattle has changed her options for classes, and we’re now able to get her into the ballet class she’s been asking for (along with Mandarin), and she graduated from the magic carpet to a ski lift earlier this year.

In February, to give Shannon a chance to bond with Davis, Walker took Moira to Disneyland for a week and a half. They had a great time, and Moira is very eager to go back. Several rides were too scary for her, so she’s saving them for when she can help Davis go on them. She was very taken with It’s a Small World and they went on it many, many times. While in the past, few adults would be willing to ride that nearly a dozen times over the course of a week, the dynamics of visiting a theme park change dramatically when you have a smartphone.

As noted, we’re now living with Shannon’s parents, and Moira loves being able to visit on a daily basis. There are more adults for her to play with and to read to her. She still greatly prefers to have books read to her rather than reading them herself, although she does occasionally read one to Davis. For those keeping track, our household grew 33% last year, and 50% this year. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Shannon continued with her quilting group, helped with Norwescon organization, wrangled Davis in addition to keeping up with Moira’s activities, and continued with the co-op preschool group Moira is attending weekly.

For Walker, autocrossing wasn’t much of a thing this year, as the Porsche factory graciously repurchased his car after an issue with the transmission, enabling the purchase of the new house. It isn’t exactly clear what will happen with enabling the speed addiction, between autocrossing and Moira soon being old enough for a go-kart. Only time will tell...

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2013,

Walker, Shannon, Moira & Davis

Double the Recipe

I don't do much cooking these days. On occasion, I'll make dinner, especially if the plans involve using the grill. Under some circumstances, though, there are things that fall to me to deal with, and tonight's work met those criteria. Namely, it was work that needed to be done while we could expect Moira to stay asleep but not Davis, and it generally fell into the category of baking. While Shannon does a great job in the kitchen for most everything, I do have more patience for following recipes to the letter, which can help in the more adventurous baking endeavors. Tonight's task was not one of those.

The task at hand: prepare a salt dough that will encase tomorrow's beef while it is baking. No one will be eating the dough, so precision isn't critical, but I generally assume a recipe says what it says for a reason.

The first issue is that we wanted to double the recipe.  That's fine, except that the basic recipe uses about ten cups of ingredients. We might have a bowl large enough to manage, but it seemed like a better idea to just make two batches in more reasonably sized bowls.

Five cups of flour. This was probably the most straightforward. With the liquid measuring cup, it was also very quick. Since this won't actually be tasted, I didn't worry that the markings only went to four cups rather than five.

Three cups of salt. Wow, that's a lot of salt. What we had left over in the old box was just enough when added to the new box bought for the occasion.

Three tablespoons of pepper. This is where things went off the rails. First off, I needed to double that. So, three-eights of a cup of pepper. Of course it calls for fresh ground pepper. Maybe there have been times in my life when I've had that many peppercorns on hand, but tonight wasn't one of them. We also only have a regular hand pepper grinder. With an electric pepper mill, this wouldn't be that big a deal. By hand, it's quite the endurance event. I managed about half of what was called for, rather coarsely ground.

Half a cup of fresh herbs. Not too bad, although after having just finished with the pepper, it was a challenge to get the herbs to land in the bowl and not all over the counter.

Set aside. Combine 1.5 cups of water with 5 egg whites, then add to dry ingredients. This is where the real problem with trying to do this in a single bowl comes in. Not only does it need to be big enough to hold everything in the first place, but you also need room to mix and knead.

That gets to sit overnight at room temperature. Good, because there isn't room in the refrigerator for it anyway. There is room for the ten leftover egg yolks, though. Maybe people who are big fans of egg white omelets have other ideas on what to do with large numbers of egg yolks. I think, in my case, other will be lemon pie next weekend. Not lemon meringue, since that'd need more egg whites, and it's been long enough since I've baked a pie, I'm happy to skip making the meringue.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Packing Day

Today I find myself with a bit of spare time, sequestered in the downstairs bathroom of our old house while a group of people pack up the bulk of our worldly possessions for the move tomorrow. I always feel a bit awkward having a bunch of people around me busily working while I'm obviously not, so this is probably about the most comfortable place in the house, overall. Certainly not physically comfortable, but it's nicely out of sight while still letting me hear if they're asking questions about whether something should be packed or not. Outside would be nice except for not being able to see the screen.

One of the things I've noticed while packing is that what appeared to be a giant stack of paperwork that I've been dreading sorting through and organizing isn't really all that big on the scale of packing stuff up. It's still going to take quite a while, since I have to sort it page by page rather than as a stack, but hopefully once everything else comes together at the new house, which is likely to include a new filing system, maybe it'll be easier to work through.

I'm looking forward to leaving my old commute behind: the billboards in Lake City with advertisements for Dubai, the two doughnut shops that I haven't stopped at since moving back up here, and the long, long lines of cars winding around the north side of Lake Washington. It won't be all sunshine and daffodils, since we're leaving daffodils here, and I've seen traffic on Boyer at rush hour heading the opposite direction (which rules out one house where I really liked the pictures but was going to be nearly impossible for us to get in and out of in the evenings). I did manage to squeak over 18mpg out of my last tank of gas, which is better than what I was getting with the old car, even including the autocross weekend, which were usually good for upping my average by 0.2 to 0.3 mpg. I have no idea where I'll be filling up the car going forward, but that's just more encouragement to bike. At least our timing on that is good with this move. When we first moved up here, I hadn't been biking for too long before we got to September when gloves and rain gear started to become very important. This time, I'll have a good four months to prepare for that (and find where all the rain and snow gear got packed away).

There are a bunch of things we wanted to do with this house that we didn't get around to. I suppose that's for the best. We'll be downsizing our water feature, but at least the new one does have a pump. The pump isn't working right now, but it's a step in the right direction. The setup of the house isn't so great for using computer speakers for most applications so I expect big upgrades in audio quality as well, once I find the time to put together a plan for the electrician. That'll be top of the to-do list next week I suspect, after we know where the internet connection will come into the house. Something's definitely changed, since not only will we not have an internet connection ready to go before we move in, but the stereo won't be the first thing unpacked and set up. I guess this is what comes from growing up.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

California Sun (Mostly)

My second solo trip with Moira went pretty well, in spite of presenting a new set of challenges. Waking up, getting breakfast, picking up something for lunch, getting her to daycare and getting to work on time is a challenge when dealing with a hotel. This is as close as I care to get to being a single parent. It's clear that trying this at home, or even having a kitchen, would make it a bit easier, but there still don't seem to be enough hours in the day. I think the closest we got to bedtime was an hour later than usual, and that was only because we were in a hotel with no bathtub, so bath was postponed for a day.

On the plus side, she did her own packing, which was somewhat questionable. For Thursday and Friday, I'd mentioned that we should probably have brought her shoes. The downpour we got Saturday morning, though, made her rain boots the perfect choice.

We closed on our new house on Friday. Moving is two weeks from now. In the meantime, there's a huge amount of stuff to get ready. It's also the beginning of a new quarter that includes the review for a round of promotions, so there's a huge amount of stuff to do at work as well. This week also includes Norwescon, and prep for a long gaming weekend in May. This would be one of the reasons for taking it easy on caffeine most of the time, so that during periods like this, there's a bit of reserve to dip into when I start trading sleep for an extra hour or two a day.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Stop Believin'

My original plan had been to start out by spoiling the ending of Journey by revealing that, at the end of the game, when you take off your robes, you find out that you are Steve Perry, and it unlocks Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) for Rock Band. Catching up on a podcast today, I heard someone make a similar quip. Sadly, I didn't have time to come up with anything else.

The biggest gripe I've heard about the game is that it has a $14.99 price tag for an experience that lasts about two hours. Honestly, for me, that convinced me to buy it now rather than wait. I've liked thatgamecompany's other work, but it took me quite a while to get all the trophies out of Flower. Knowing that even I could quite likely get through Journey in a single playthrough (which is apparently the recommended way of experiencing it) increased the appeal dramatically. Between quarter end activities for work, getting ready to move in less than three weeks, and trying to minimize getting out of bed in the middle of the night, there wasn't a two hour stretch to sit down in front of a game. There's an outside chance next Sunday, followed by near certainty while Shannon is at Norwescon.

A while back, I made a spreadsheet of the games I intend to get around to playing, and Journey will be ignoring that. From the spreadsheet, I'm slowly working through Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City as probably the last game I'll finish this year. The next game on the list is Dragon Age: Origins. Considering that Red Dead Redemption took me over 9 months to finish (and an extra 5 months to get the platinum trophy), I think it's safe to say that anything wanting my attention will have to be either bite-sized or run on Android. Maybe I'll get "lucky" and they'll release an interoperable version on the PS Vita. At this point, I think that'd be enough to get me to pick up one. I don't see it happening for much less than that.

This week's adventure: Moira and I heading to California for a business trip. She wants to go to Disneyland as well, and even though she was able to tell on a map that going from where we'll be to Disneyland is a longer trip than from home to Canada, she still wants to go. Hopefully seeing her Grandpa will be enough. For me, I think it'll be catching up on reading, sleeping, and maybe getting our finances in order as we prepare to deal with having two mortgages.

I can't let a post with this much Journey content go by without including my favorite web comic in recent memory.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

More audio stuff, and a bit of nighttime reading

This blog isn't always going to be about music, but that's where a lot of my non-work time has been the past week. On the plus side, the portion of my non-work time I spend in my car is now more pleasant now that the stock radio/cassette deck has been replaced. It's amazing how much better a clean signal sounds than an FM radio signal.

Speaking of the car, I'm still getting used to the clutch. I think I'm averaging one stall a day. This hasn't incurred much wrath from my fellow drivers yet. Shannon's car doesn't challenge me this much, so I think there's hope. What is challenging me is that the cars have reverse in the exact opposite location. This will fail safely in my car, since if I'm frequently stalling in 1st, there's no hope I can get the car moving in 6th. If I mess up in Shannon's car, I'll start moving in the wrong direction. I think the only times I've gotten close were in our garage, so the damage would have been contained.

I did get a brief reminder of what's wrong with the Squeezebox music solution. Adding an extra receiver involves doing a factory reset on a remote and then resetting the new receiver at the correct time(*)(**). Thankfully, the remote does remember your registration with mysqueezebox.com even across factory resets, but I still had to enter the code for the wireless network after each reset. It also reminded me that when I first bought the system, I wanted to use it not only for music, but as a wireless bridge. That was doable with their initial product, and was technically possible with the ones I have, but they never exposed the configuration in the interface.

While we were at Disneyland in February, Moira decided she wanted to go on the Alice in Wonderland ride. I'm not sure if I'd ever been on it myself before, so we gave it a try. Thankfully, unlike Pinocchio, she didn't find it scary. She didn't like the Queen of Hearts being angry, but the rest of the ride was enough of a hit that, after the first time, we went on it at least once a day. Since I had the book on my tablet, we started reading it for bedtime while we were there. She told me then that it was boring and she just wanted to go on the ride. Since we've been back, she's been asking me to keep reading it. We finished Chapter 9 tonight. It gives me hope that maybe we'll be able to go back to Wind in the Willows, although she felt that ride was scary enough on her first trip that we didn't go on it this time.

* - there is a Perl::UDAP module that lets you do the configuration without a Squeezebox Duet remote. It may come as a surprise to some that I didn't go this route, but I didn't want to tear anything apart to free up a cable, or pull out the supplies to build one. I'm definitely getting older.

** - just in case I ever have to do this again... (1) Factory reset on the remote. (2) Configure wireless networking and accept the existing connection to mysqueezebox.com. (3) Scroll the menu down to "Choose Player". (4) Hold the button down on the receiver until it starts quickly flashing red (about 5 seconds). (5) Select "Choose Player", pick the appropriate one. (6) Hope the network configuration works (75% success so far).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not Putting My Money Where My Mouth Was

About two months ago, I got asked about home music systems. At that time, I was particularly upset with our Squeezebox setup at home. I've had issues with it of one form or another for about the entire 3.5 years I've been using it. At one point, it was frustrating enough that I unplugged the players, but lack of alternatives around Christmas this year had me reluctantly press one back into service.

In the past, I've had problems with network stability, broken upgrades, missing search results, library scanning issues, and lots of extra steps I feel shouldn't be necessary to just keep the system working. Setting up the player for Christmas meant trying the latest software version, since that was a lot easier to do than trying to go back to the last version I know worked. Surprisingly, most of the issues were resolved. Scanning still doesn't always terminate, but a couple kicks tends to be enough to get what I want from it. The remote is much better about staying on the network, search actually finds the things I know are there, and the plugin system is working again.

With the house we're buying, the two Squeezebox receivers I have aren't going to be enough, so I decided to look at the options, and look for opinions on Squeezebox vs. Sonos. Looks like the general opinion is that people who are exposed to both are generally a bit jealous of what the other one does. I'm apparently not alone in my frustration with things being unstable. Meanwhile, it sounds like the Sonos people are a bit jealous of being able to fiddle with the system as much as is possible with the Squeezebox. Maybe that's not entirely accurate, but looking at actual Sonos website, it really feels like the Apple sort of "we know how to do this and it's all just going to work". Perhaps, but it'll work their way and not mine, and paying to find out what their way is looks a bit steep.

That the real decision point here for me - the Sonos bits are about twice as expensive as the Squeezebox ones for what I want. There's the small caveat that what I want from Squeezebox has been discontinued, but there's enough stock out there that I managed to get what I was looking for, with a couple spare remotes in case of accidents. That, and being able to use the existing two units, rather than having to buy two additional Sonos boxes sealed it. No way was I considering trying to have both systems going. I've sunk enough time into trying to get all the music in order, and there's plenty more work to do there.

So, for now, even though I recommended other people start off looking at Sonos, I'll stick with the devil I know, who seems a little less bad at this particular moment. I'm still looking forward to something other than a phone or tablet that'll interface with Google Music, but that'll have to wait. I suppose in theory, I could write a Squeezebox plugin, but I'm more likely to grumpily wait and, in a few years, if nothing else changes, get one of the kids to write it instead.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No Better Time Than Two Decades Ago

I've just returned to work after roughly three months off. A lot has gone on during those three months, and I've realized that I've lost a lot of information over the decades of my life because I just can't remember that well anymore. Had I been reliably blogging since I had internet access (which would have been really pioneering, since that was 1988), I'd have a chance of recalling a lot more, like how many times I'd seen various bands in concert, what rides Moira rode the first time we went to Disneyland, or how long it's actually been since I've been on skis (rather than simply running after a three year-old who is on skis).

We'll see how this goes. I'm going to aim for at least a post a week, life permitting. With two kids, a full-time job, and a new house being purchased, what could go wrong?