Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home Theater Pictures

I can finally show some decent pictures of the theater. Front row is in place, but we are still waiting on the back row. The curtain in the back of the room has a black-out liner and covers a window. It is a single piece and does not open. The curtain rod we initially installed for it isn't working out (it has already collapsed once) so "replace curtain rod" is on my short list of to-do items.

The walls are painted a mid-tone brown. The trim is a cream color which matches the rest of the house. The cabinets are a dark mocha brown. The ceiling and the area around the screen are a midnight black. The acoustic panels provide a touch of deep red. The curtain is a velour brown.

View of stage and screen

View of stage and left wall, showing more of the
acoustic panels and surround speaker

View of the seating and rear, showing the rear
surround speakers and the window curtain

Front row of seats (back row is still on order)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The chairs are here!

Earlier this Sunday afternoon I got a phone call from a local delivery company. "We just picked up your chairs from the store since they are closed on Mondays. And I noticed that you live nearby. Do you want me to deliver them today?" Gee, let me think about that for a microsecond. YES! So they delivered the front row (three chairs) on a Sunday afternoon. How cool is that?

The chairs are black leather Berkline "Matinee" recliners. The front row contains three seats arranged in a curve. The back row will have a total of four seats with only the outer two being angled towards the screen. We did not get any add-ons: the recliners are manual, the cupholders are not lighted, and there are no "butt kickers".

I don't know if we will have time to watch anything tonight, but we have a Netflix movie arriving tomorrow, The Queen, and should be able to enjoy our new seats tomorrow evening.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home Networking Nightmare

Our previous house was built when the typical household had at most one computer. Being in the technology industry we had a decent collection of computers, each of which needed to be connected to the Internet. So shortly after we moved in I borrowed my brother and father for a weekend and we wired the house up for ethernet. Nearly every room got its own Ethernet jack, and some of the rooms received multiple connections. Along with Ethernet we wired rooms for telephone and cable. All wiring was "home run" back to a central point underneath the basement stairs and terminated in either a patch panel or (for telephone) a 66 block. Since I was making all the decisions on equipment I made sure that the installation made sense.

Our current home was built to order, and they provided the option of wiring the house for telephone, Ethernet, and cable. So this time I opted to pay someone else to do the dirty work. Unfortunately that means I get what they like rather than what I like. All connections were terminated in a central location in the basement, but not in to any sort of patch panel. Ethernet and telephone are all Category 6 wiring, terminated with a 8P8C modular connector (sometimes mistakenly called RJ-45), bundled and tie wrapped together, and placed in a GE "Smart Connection Center" box. Cable connections were terminated with an F-connector and also bundled together in to the same box. This box can't possibly live up to its name as it is one of the worst designs for networking that I have ever seen. Perhaps it works well for telephone, but for Ethernet it is worse than useless. It is about 3 inches deep and requires special inserts to mount just about anything inside the box. These inserts are impossible to find, even in the information age. The box came with one insert to do telephone distribution. Since I use ooma I have to do some rewiring to get the ooma dial tone distributed throughout the house while still grabbing the DSL signal from AT&T.

The connections were terminated to reach this box and no farther. There is no room in the box for a patch panel, and not even enough room for my switch. No patch panel means no labels. The only way to label the circuits is on the outside of the wire itself, which means tracking down the right cable is time consuming and difficult. All my equipment (router, DSL box, ooma box, server) is on a cabinet placed below the connection center with cables running up to it. There's no hope of closing the door to the connection center: even if I did route all my extra cables through the bottom of the box the switch simply wont fit with the door closed. The switch can't be placed with the rest of the equipment because the circuits won't reach.

To make matters worse, the terminations were done very poorly. The circuit to my office did not work when we moved in, due to poor termination. So the sub-contractor came out to repair the circuit, and re-terminated both ends. In the basement this made the wire even shorter. But rather than alert me to the fact that the wire no longer reached my switch, he simply plugged it back in and left the switch to dangle by this too-short connection (see the picture). I have since propped the switch up on some spools of tape. This is a complete disaster and a nightmare to troubleshoot or change.

So my next project is to rip all that out and redo it. I already have a wall-mount rack and a used Cisco 2924 switch to mount in the rack. I will buy a 24-port keystone patch panel and a whole bunch of Cat 5e modular couplers and F-connector couplers to put in the panel. All existing connections will be wired in to the patch panel, clearly labeled, then patched in to wherever they need to go. This should end the nightmare. I will post a followup (with before and after pictures) when I finish.

Home Theater is nearly done

Our home theater is almost complete. The cabinets were built and the entire space was repainted a little over a week ago. The projector has been mounted to the ceiling. The equipment is in the rack. The speakers are placed in the cabinet and everything is wired up. The screen arrived last week and is now up on the wall. The acoustic panels are on order and should arrive shortly. The curtain to cover the window is also on order and we expect it to arrive some time in December. The only thing we still need to make it a usable space are the chairs. I've included a picture from earlier this month, taken just after the cabinets and the painting was finished, but before the screen was installed. It will have to do until I can get some more recent photos taken.

I called the chair company two weeks ago and asked what the status was. I was informed that the front row chairs is ready to be shipped but they are holding them until the back row chairs arrive, which might not be until Christmas. Well, this was simply not acceptable. So I requested that the front row be shipped immediately and they can send us the back row later. Right now the three chairs for the front row are on a truck somewhere on their way to the store. I don't expect to get them until next week.

But we are far enough along on everything else that we can watch movies. And that is exactly what we did. We dragged some old chairs in from the other room and set them in front of the screen. Two nights ago we had our official "first movie viewing" in our new home theater. The choice of movie was easy: we chose the just-released Star Trek.

I am extremely happy—ecstatic even—with how everything has come together. I made good choices for my audio and video components. The image quality is absolutely outstanding for a DVD. The audio quality is equally fantastic, even without acoustic panels in the room. This is going to be a very popular room in our house.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Useful website

Here's a useful website.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finally Back in the Saddle

I was finally able to do some riding over the past few days. 12 miles on Thursday. Today I chose a new route and managed 22 miles. I really liked today's route and will probably do it again. More than half of it was on 2-lane roads. Although they are sometimes heavily traveled the traffic (on a Sunday afternoon) was manageable. The route is a large loop that first heads north then turns west. On the south leg it crosses part of Lake Allatoona, then turns east and takes me through town before returning me to my home. Lots of climbing (for me anyway) but the hills weren't too steep. Well, there was one that was almost too steep, but I managed to make it. Parts of this route I have never seen before, either on a bike or in a car. So it was only natural that I missed a turn. I was looking for the street and was expecting to see a traffic light at the intersection. As a consequence I blew right by it. I went an extra 2 miles (at least) before coming across a major highway that I wasn't supposed to encounter. I did a U-turn and headed back to find the right road. It added about 4 miles to my trip, but that's supposed to be part of the adventure.

Unfortunately it was on my detour that I encountered The Rude Driver. This stretch of road was 4 lanes: two in each direction. Traffic was light enough that cars had no trouble using the second lane to get by me. As always I was riding as close to the right shoulder as conditions allowed. Then I heard a very loud horn. It easily lasted 10 seconds. This was no "beep beep", this was solid blaring horn for a long time and was the sound of one very irate driver. I was apparently the source of his irritation. I looked over my shoulder and saw a red pickup behind me with plenty of room to his left to get around. The shoulder opened up to a right turn lane so I moved a bit further right to clear the lane. As he pulled past me he gestured to me with a motion that was clear he thought I should be on the sidewalk. Well I wanted to say "Too bad! I am a vehicle and I have every right to use the roadways. It is unsafe and perhaps even illegal for me to ride on the sidewalk." Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to actually say that, and I doubt it would have made any difference anyway. So I rode on. Next time maybe I should just "take the lane".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

You think I would learn, but I guess I have to make the same mistake many times over before reality finally sinks in. I haven't ridden since a week ago Sunday when I was on the Silver Comet trail. Why have I not been riding? Because of the rain. But it hasn't been raining every day. That's where I keep making mistakes. By now I should know to ride any day the weather is dry, because the next day it will rain again. Yesterday is a perfect example. We had a break between weather systems, and conditions were sunny and pleasant. But I didn't ride. Why? I don't know. Lazy, tired, schedule, procrastination, not sure. Today it is raining again and this will probably continue until tomorrow. On the good-weather days, something else always seems to keep me off the bike.

It is getting late in the year and soon riding will be made even more difficult by the weather. So I can't really afford to pass up these chances. I also plan to get a "trainer": a device that turns a regular bike in to a stationary bike. With a trainer I could at least get in a workout on days like today when the weather keeps me off the roads.

Home Theater Progress

Putting together a home theater is harder than I thought. I figured the hard part was getting all the right equipment installed and working. But it turns out, for me, that's the easy part. Deciding what the room should look like is proving to be a real chore. We talked to a cabinet maker. He measured the room and we discussed ideas. About a week later I drafted up (by hand) some plans for what I want the cabinets to look like. I sent him copies of the plans and dimensions of the things that need to fit in the cabinets (screen and speakers, primarily). And I have heard nothing. Meanwhile we had to decide on chairs and wall treatments, while continuing to discuss (in other words, repeatedly change our minds about) the appearance of the cabinets. We were kinda hoping that we could walk in to a home theater store, look at the theaters that they have in the showroom, perhaps look at a book of photos, and say "we want one that looks like that." But things aren't that simple.

We have been making progress, however. We finally ordered the chairs (which take 6 to 8 weeks to be delivered). They are Berkline "Matinee" chairs. We had to hunt around a bit but we ended up getting a good deal on the chairs. The projector arrived and we have already used it to watch a few movies (projected on the wall). I ordered the speakers, which should arrive this week. I also have the receiver (more on that later). I ordered an APC equipment rack that I just finished assembling tonight. It sits in the unfinished basement space behind the theater room and is waiting for shelves, power strip, and cable management stuff.

For future plans, I have located a surplus computer store in Atlanta and I will be visiting it (very soon I hope) to pick up whatever equipment I can. I need a computer to run the automation system, and I need an ethernet switch to put in the rack. I hope to pick up a rack-mounted keyboard and monitor as well. I have finally decided on a Blu-ray player: the Oppo BDP-83. The reviewers all rave about it and it appears to be well supported. I also want to try to pick up a used Sony 400-disc DVD changer from eBay. That will be enough to hold our DVDs and will provide the basis for hands-off movie selection.

After much debate and research on a suitable receiver I finally settled on the Integra 8.9. Although the amp is more powerful than I need (140 watts per channel for 7 channels) the deciding factor was the unit's ability to "upconvert" video to the full resolution used by the projector. Face it, when you project an image to be over 100" wide any little defect becomes pretty glaring. DVD resolution is fine for 40" or 50" TVs, but when you go to something this large it starts to suffer. All the movies we own are on DVD and I don't have plans to convert the whole library to Blu-ray. So it is important that we be able to play DVDs and have them look good. The Integra will convert the lower resolution (480 lines) of a DVD to the higher resolution (1080 lines) of the projector, and it does this using one of the best video processing chips in the industry -- the Silicon Optix Reon. And of course the receiver does an excellent job with the audio too.

The final piece to the puzzle is the automation system itself. There are several manufacturers for these "high end" automation systems, such as Control 4 and Crestron. But they are all very expensive, completely custom, and completely controlled by the vendor. The end-user can't make any changes to the system without paying someone to come out and "reprogram" the system. I think I would rather have a Pronto remote than be hamstrung like that. So I am still looking at a software solution call Cinemar. It is fully programmable by the end-user which gives me enough room to tweak and play to my heart's content. I still have concerns about it, however. There are no custom remotes for it, so the best "remote" ends up being a touch-screen tablet PC. That's a tad on the large & expensive side just for a remote (I'm investigating its support for the iTouch, which would be ideal). Also, Cinemar doesn't seem to have solid support for some of the components that I will be using, so I will have to do a lot of interface work. In that regard it is kind of the Linux of home automation. Except you have to pay for it.

Our goal is to have the theater done by Christmas. If we can come to a conclusion on how to decorate the room we have a good chance of hitting that goal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weekend Ride: The Silver Comet Trail

Last Sunday with the rest of my family out of town I finally did something that I have been wanting to do ever since taking up biking. I rode on the Silver Comet Trail. This trail starts just west of Atlanta and ventures all the way to the Alabama state line. There it joins up with the Chief Ladiga trail and continues on to Anniston, AL. That's about 90 miles of paved trail. Most of the trail is on a former rail bed, and is part of the rails to trails conservancy. As a result, the trail contains (mostly) low grade inclines and descents and has very few street crossings. For me this is a welcome relief from the typical north Georgia riding with steep hills, narrow shoulders, and lots of automobile traffic. I freely admit it: I am a hill climbing wimp. Sadly I am not like some bike riders who love to climb mountains. I look at a "steep" incline and groan. In fact I have no idea what grade any of these roads are around here. I like to think they're 8% or something because it makes me feel less wimpy, but they're probably more like 3%.

Due to the recent flooding in our area part of the trail was temporarily closed. So I attached the bike rack and my trusty Cannondale to the back of my green Miata (with tan roof) and drove out to Dallas, GA, to a point just beyond the closed portion. There I found the Tara Drummond trailhead. As I pulled in to the parking lot I was amazed to see another green Miata, with tan roof, and bike rack attached to the back, already parked. I could not resist: I had to park next to it. I really wish I had brought a camera! I wonder what the driver of that Miata thought when he or she arrived back at the car.

As I was standing behind my car in my spandex and cleated biker shoes, detaching my bike from the rack, a couple came up to me and the woman said "you look like you know what you're doing." Isn't it amazing how dressing the part can fool so many people? Turned out they had never worn helmets before (!) and weren't sure they had them on correctly. After reassuring them that indeed they had got it right, I felt compelled to tell her that I only looked like I knew what I was doing.

Then it was time to tackle the trail. I love this trail. If I lived closed to it I would ride it every day the weather let me. Oh what an easy ride. Even on a Sunday the trail was not crowded. The walkers and joggers were easy to get around and none of the dogs chased me. There were very few bikers and the ones I came across were easy to pass. It felt really wonderful to just ride and not worry about cars, stoplights, road hazards, and many of the other things on a typical road that interfere with a good ride. But the ride was not without its challenges. There were several underpasses and each one of them had mud and dirt piled up from the recent heavy rains. The longest tunnel (the Brushy Mountain tunnel) was so bad that I had to dismount and walk the bike through the worst of it. The skinny tires of my road bike were no match for all that mud. Despite those little obstacles I had a good ride. I did get passed by one rider, just as a reminder that I'm really not as fast as I like to pretend I am.

I rode from Dallas all the way to Rockmart, GA. In Rockmart the trail leaves the railroad bed and joins a riverwalk through downtown. This part of the trail is narrow and windy, and has a speed limit of 10. Just after downtown Rockmart the trail climbs a little hill and for a brief time shares pavement with a cemetary road. That was rather unusual! Just past that it goes across a short boardwalk (gives the rider a nice massage), then hits a very steep uphill to a street crossing. It was at that point that I said "no thanks" (remember, I'm a hill climbing wimp), turned around and headed back. I stopped at a park in Rockmart, ate my snack (a Clif bar), and swapped water bottles. Then I rode back to my starting point. 2.45 hours of riding (with only one stop for snack) and 37.45 miles. That was only a rate of 15.3 miles per hour. I was hoping for higher with the easy road conditions, but I'm not in very good shape. Maybe next time. But I am pleased that I was able to ride that far for that long with only one stop.

I will definitely return to the Silver Comet. Hopefully soon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home Theater Build-out Begins

When we built our new house, we set aside a room in the basement to be our home theater. The builder finished the room with the standard paint, carpet, and light cans in the ceiling. Now it is time to build the room out as an actual home theater. The room is a little over 13' 2" wide and 16' 6" deep. It has a raised platform in the back that is 73" deep, enough to accomodate one row of seats. It is prewired for 4 surround speakers and a ceiling mount projector. The screen wall has unfinished space behind it so wiring the front three speakers will be easy. The biggest challenge in the room will be the window along the back wall. The framing worked out in such a way that we boxed in the window on either side. Our intent is to cover the window with a full length heavy drape, hoping that will block most or all of the light.

Right now we have a bare room with walls and carpet. Over the next month or two we will transform it in to a dedicated home theater.

Top priority is to talk to a cabinet maker about building cabinets for the screen wall. I want to enclose the front three speakers in nice cabinets that also frame the screen itself. Neext priority is to choose a color scheme and repaint the room. The ceiling is currently white, and it needs to be dark grey or black. We also want a rich color on the walls that is a few shades darker than the current yellow-tan.

My current plan for equipment is as follows:

Panasonic PT-AE3000U projector (already ordered)
Denon AVR-4810 (not available until October)
Paradigm reference studio 60 system speakers
Paradigm reference sub 15 subwoofers
Carada screen (size to be determined, approximately 100 inches diagonally)
Blu-ray player still undecided (looking at Samsung, Pioneer, and Denon)
7 reclining theater chairs: a row of 3 and a row of 4 (looking at Berkline)
Cinemar automation system

Tomorrow we are going to a store in Buckhead (near Atlanta) to look at chairs and to listen to speakers. They also have acoustical treatments which may influence our paint scheme, and they may be able to help us find a cabinetmaker.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rain and Flooding

A year ago the Atlanta area was dealing with a drought. Experts were predicting that our main reservoir (Lake Lanier) would hit record lows and that we would run out of drinking water by January. Today Lake Lanier hit record highs and the river it feeds in to has risen well above flood stage. For years we got little to no rain, and that led to one of the worst droughts ever seen in the southeastern United States. This past week we have had nonstop rain, saturating the ground. The rain reached a climax Sunday night and Monday. Heavy downpours and thunderstorms rolled through the area for nearly 2 days, and yesterday most of the area saw over 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period (some areas saw over 12 inches). That much rain on saturated ground led to flooding, and lots of it. Hundreds of roads were closed due to rising waters in creeks and rivers. The downtown connector, I-75/85, which runs through Atlanta, was shut down for hours due to flooding. I-575 near our house was also shut down and did not reopen until this morning. I-285 (the loop around Atlanta) is currently closed over the Chatahoochee River due to flooding.

I ventured out yesterday afternoon to run an errand and could not believe what I saw. Water where it isn't supposed to be. Roads closed, creeks nearly swamping their bridges, and traffic of nightmare proportions. My wife's commute home yesterday evening took 3 hours. Most of that time was spent trying to find a passable road in to our town. With I-575 closed, there were only 5 roads leading in to town. And four of them were closed. The good news is that our house is fine. Despite all the rain we never saw floodwaters get anywhere near our house. At last report one of the closed roads was opened, and I-575 has opened. And thankfully the rain has stopped. But the waters are still very high, many creeks well above flood stage. If we get any more rain I think things will get worse very quickly.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last dinner at a fine restaurant

One of the best restaurants in Atlanta is closing at the end of this month. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead is the only restaurant in Atlanta to receive both a Five-Star rating from Mobil and a Five-Diamond rating from AAA. Only three restaurants in the United States have received the Mobil Five-Star award for more than 10 years, including The Dining Room. It has launched the careers of several successful Atlanta-area chefs and it has been a true gem in the Atlanta restaurant scene. Sadly, The Dining Room is scheduled to close on October 1. Chef Arnaud Berthelier is moving on to Shanghai, and we don't really know what the hotel will do with the space, but we do know that The Dining Room will be greatly missed. Rowdy Food did a brief video from their recent visit.

My wife and I have dined there for most of our recent anniversary dinners. We have enjoyed the experience so much that when we heard the restaurant was closing we decided we had to go back for one last meal. That event was last night.

The service was impeccable as always. We were addressed as "the gentleman" and "the lady". The hostess knew us by name (and knew how to pronounce our name, which is quite an accomplishment). The chef had prepared a special dish to meet my wife's dietary needs, and recommended one of the menu items as an appetizer. I ordered the tasting menu. All the food was superb. The only bad mark on the evening was the wine served to my wife. Ordinarily the sommelier visits our table and recommends wine, but last night one of the waitstaff poured her a glass of Chardonnay. Despite it being a French wine it still tasted watery and unimpressive.

After an amuse-bouche, I had a golden chanterelle soup with egg, chive oil, and smoked salmon. I don't like mushrooms but as usual this dish was so delicious that I forgot I was eating them. I was served a glass of 2007 Albert Boxler Sylvaner from Alsace to go with the soup. My wife had Marble Soup with melon balls and peas. For my second tasting course I had Lobster Preserve with polenta, chanterelles, tomato, and basil. The entire dish was cooked and served in a glass preserving jar with a sealed lid. The jar was placed in front of me then unsealed by the waitress, and a broth was poured over the lobster meat. Once again, utterly delicious. The lobster may have been a touch undercooked but since I don't normally eat lobster it is difficult for me to judge. For the main course I had Beef Coulotte with foie gras, french horn and shimeji mushrooms. The meat was prepared perfectly, sliced thin, with a broth poured over at tableside. I have never tasted anything like it before. It was definitely a wow dish (although I avoided the foie gras, not being a fan). With my main dish I was served a glass of 2003 Salentein Syrah from Mendoza, Argentina. My wife was served her special entrée, which had lobster mushrooms and chantelle mushrooms, along with the vegetable salsify.

We moved on to the cheese course. I had a small cup of a creamy goat cheese. It had the consistency of a soft spread, and was served with membrillo (Quince paste), olive oil, and summer truffles. My wife got the cheese tasting tray, and the waitress selected a variety of cheeses, including some cow cheese, goat cheese, and a sheep cheese from the Pyrenees. I snuck in a few tastes too. As a pallete cleanser we both had a serving of a buttermilk panna cotta with apricot sorbet.

The dessert was just as fabulous as the rest of the meal. We both had a chocolate soufflé with crème Chantilly and a slice of chocolate served on the spoon, accompanied by a hazelnut ice cream. We broke the top of the soufflé with the spoon and put the crème and the chocolate slice inside to melt. Delicious!

The dinner was ended with a selection of petits fours and, unfortunately, the bill. As we left (with our souvenier menus and a serving of french bread to take home) we met the chef in the hallway. We thanked him for his years of fine food and wished him success in Shanghai.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Riding in my new hometown

On Sunday I took my first ride around our new hometown in suburban Georgia. Wow, this sure is different from our old place. Much hillier, with lots of rolling hills. And a few hills that are a real challenge for me. I haven't ridden since August 19, so I am out of shape. To add to my frustration, my Cateye (which tracks speed, distance, and averages) stopped working at the beginning of the ride. So I don't have any accurate numbers. According to the map I did about 15.5 miles, but it took me over an hour which puts me well below my usual pace. Riding around here feels like either I will adapt to hill climbing or I will give up riding completely.

Yesterday (Labor Day) I went for a second ride. A bit shorter this time, only 12.2 miles. But the climbing seemed harder.

There's a bike shop less than a mile from my house, and they do a group ride every Friday morning. I hope to join it regularly, but I also hope they don't leave me in the dust the first few times.

I have signed up for a 65-mile ride in Cartersville on the 19th. I hope I am in shape by then.

We Have Moved

Hard to believe, but we have been in our new house for over a week. Moving is a terribly traumatic experience, filled with a ton of work, paperwork, boxes, newsprint, and high expenditures. But it is finally finished and we are mostly settled in to our new house in suburban Atlanta.

Remember over a year ago I posted about us buying an as-yet unbuilt house. Well it took over a year with lots of bumps along the way but the house was finally finished and we were finally able to sell our previous house at an amount that fit our needs. So on Friday August 28 we simultaneously sold one house and bought another.

During the week leading up to the sale we started packing. With such a large house and all the stuff we had we knew we weren't going to be able to move ourselves. But there were some things we wanted to pack ourselves or that were easy to pack (like books). Our library took over 25 small boxes, each one of them filled to the top with books. Then on Friday the real fun began. The packers arrived and began wrapping and boxing up everything in sight. We designated a "no pack" zone for all the stuff that we wanted to have over the weekend (things like car keys, clothes, toothbrushes, ... insignificant items like that). My wife stayed at home to deal with the packers while I went to close on the old house, then later to close on the new house. The sale of our house had an extra clause that allowed us to retain possession of the property until 6 p.m. Saturday. This gave us time to move out while still giving us the funds we needed to close on the new house.

Then on Saturday the big rig—tractor trailer—arrived with 6 guys and the loading began. It took them 9 hours to load everything in to the trailer. And at hour 6 (3 p.m.) our cleaning crew arrived to get the house ready for the buyers. We knew we had a 6 p.m. deadline and initially I thought we would easily make it. But it was pretty close. They went right up to the deadline and finally buttoned up the trailer at 5:55. Unfortunately that left no time to unload anything at the new house. So with most our earthly possessions packed on to a trailer we arrived at the new place with little more than a large suitcase, toiletries, food, and the chemicals that the movers refused to touch. We grabbed pizza from a nearby Johnny's and our first meal was on the floor of the kitchen with paper plates and cups. The cleanup was certainly easy! After dinner I drove out to a nearby Target and bought pillows, blow up mattress, and sleeping bag for our daughter. That night we "camped in" our new house.

Sunday morning the tractor-trailer arrived and the unloading began. Who knew we had so much stuff? Fortunately the unloading didn't take nearly as long as the loading. But with three possible points of entry—front door, garage, and basement—it was difficult for the two of us to direct traffic as necessary. We were also trying to keep track of our 6 year old. The garage stuff came off first, including her scooter. So we sent her on her scooter down to the cul-du-sac (about 3 houses away) to play. About 30 minutes later a white car drove by heading for the cul-du-sac. Since we are near the end of a street, cars are not a common sight. I yelled down to my daughter to get out of the street, then noticed that the scooter was still in the middle of cul-du-sac. "No problem," I thought, "there's plenty of room for the car to get around the scooter." As we all watched in puzzlement, the car, doing about 5 miles an hour, slowly ran right over the scooter. It made such a loud crunching noise that I was certain the gentleman would stop and get out to see what he hit. But no, he just kept right on going as if nothing had gone wrong. It was truly surreal. As he passed by our house again I wanted to stop him and give him a earful for running over my daughter's scooter. But I figured either he was cold and heartless or he was deaf, and in both cases me talking to him would do no good. So as he drove by I merely said out loud to those around me, "I hope it broke his car." The scooter was bent beyond usability and had to be thrown away.

And about hour 3 it started to sprinkle. Then it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Unloading stuff in the rain is no fun. Between the breaks in the rain, blankets, and plastic coverings we managed to get everything in the house around mid-afternoon. We said goodbye to our movers and began the never-ending task of unpacking.

Before the move I called Comcast Cable to have our service (with internet) moved to the new address. But they couldn't find the address in their system. Since it is a new neighborhood they weren't sure if they could even give me service. The lady said she would put in a request for a survey. That was almost two weeks before the move. Even after we moved in Comcast was not able to tell me if I was worthy enough to be their customer. This forced me to use AT&T DSL for an internet connection as I can't be without that for very long. But for the television service we waited, just in case Comcast made up their collective mind.

On Tuesday we got our telephone and DSL internet connection. But the DSL didn't work. Investigation on the part of the folks at AT&T revealed that the installer did it wrong. So someone came back out Wednesday to reinstall the DSL line. By Wednesday evening I had internet working and fully functional.

By Friday I was sick of waiting for Comcast to grow a brain, so I called DirecTV. They are coming out Wednesday (tomorrow) to install a dish for me. It is not my first choice, and it requires a 2 year commitment. But I have a house full of TV addicts and they must be appeased.

In a week we (my wife, mostly) unpacked everything on the main floor and upstairs. All that remains is the basement toys and workroom. Besides rediscovering all of our belongings, we now have a very tall pile of cardboard boxes and a growing mound of trash. The amount of newsprint used to pack our stuff was enough to support a small newspaper for a year. I couldn't see just throwing it out so I made several trips to a nearby recycling bin to dispose of it all.

But with so many other things demanding my time, I still haven't put up towel racks and mirrors. That is today's assignment.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The "new" road bike

Those of you who have been following my postings about cycling know that I recently bought a road bike. I haven't had a chance until now to post any details about it.

The bike is a Cannondale Synapse 1 manufactured in 2007. I purchased it at the end of June from a guy in Atlanta who was selling it on Craigs List. The bike is made from aluminum, it is grey with black handlebars and a black seat. It is a 30-speed, with 10 gears on the back and 3 on the front. I don't know exactly how much it weighs, but it is less than 20 pounds. After my first group ride in Cartersville it was apparent that I needed a road bike if I was going to do any significant amount of riding on roads. This guy was selling and I was buying.

Here are the details for those who are in to such things:

Shimano WH-R550 wheels (different spoke layout in the front and back).
Maxxis tires.
Shimano 105 components
Triple chain rings: 30/39/50
10-gear cassette: 12-25
Crank Brothers "Quattro" pedals

I hate the pedals and plan on switching them out for Speedplay Frogs at some point.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Weekend Ride: Is there a parade today?

Sometimes I outsmart myself.

Did 29.7 miles (can I call it 30?) this morning on a route I mapped out for myself. For those familiar with the area of Alpharetta GA the route included McGinnis Ferry, Morris Road, and Webb Road. I then cut through the neighborhood of Hopewell Plantation (beautiful homes!) to get to Hopewell Road. From there my plan was to head south into central Alpharetta, turn left on Academy Street, and head home. I chose this route specifically to avoid riding on Alpharetta Hwy/Main Street through town. Well guess what today was? It was the annual "Old Soldier's Day Parade" and southbound Main Street was closed to stage the participants. And where did all the traffic end up? Hopewell Road! There was a very long line of cars all crawling through town: stop and go traffic for several miles.

With Hopewell hopelessly backed up, I asked one of the friendly Alpharetta policemen if I could ride down Main St. to get to Academy. His reply was "On a bike, sure! Just pretend like you're in the parade." Funny! Since all the southbound lanes were blocked off I actually had a very pleasant ride down Main St. I just had to go slow and dodge all the people standing around the floats.

29.67 miles in 2:05 for an average of only 14.2 mph. I blame the parade.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hospitality Highway Century: We Closed Georgia 400!

Earlier this month I went on my second charity ride. This time I rode my recently acquired Cannondale Synapse road bike. The two main draws for this ride were: local (originating in nearby Roswell) and the first three miles of the route were on a limited access freeway. Yes, the local officials actually closed down Georgia 400 so that we could ride on it.

For this ride there were 4 route options: 8, 15, 61, and 100 miles. I chose to do the 61 mile route, partly because I have done 50 in the past and partly because the route had some familiar territory on it (within about 3 miles of our house on roads that I travel frequently).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Vacationing and Riding in North Georgia

This year for the July 4 holiday we decided to do something a little different. Rather than fight the crowds at a fireworks show, or shoot off our own fireworks in the front yard, we decided to "get away from it all". We found a cabin for rent in the North Georgia mountains and rented it for the holiday weekend. We located a company that rents pet friendly cabins so that we were able to take our dog Alfie with us. We left on July 2 and drove about 90 minutes to a secluded location halfway between Ellijay and Blue Ridge, GA. At the end of a long dirt road on the banks of the Ellijay River we found our cabin. It was gorgeous, well kept up, with beautiful surroundings.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cartersville Century bike ride

I have recently taken up bike riding as a way to stay fit. I dusted off my old Trek 4100 trail bike last month and put it to good use. I changed the tires to ones more suitable for the road, then started riding early weekday mornings (as schedules permit) and occasionally on the weekends. I also decided that I wanted to try a "group ride", where hundreds of cyclists get together and go on a long ride. My original plan was to ride 30 miles in the group ride, but I ended up doing 50 miles! Here is the story.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek

Just saw the new movie last night. It was awesome entertainment! I can see how some die-hard fans will not like the movie, but it was an excellent movie.

If you go to see it (either for the first time or for a repeat viewing), be sure to look and listen for the following things:

Randy Pausch
Christopher Doohan
Majel Barret's voice
A tribble
A reference to Porthos the beagle

I missed all of them, so I want to go back and watch it again. I'm sure I heard Barret's voice, but it didn't register that it was her. I heard the comment about the beagle, but didn't catch the reference. I completely missed the others.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy HD TiVo

My cable company recently announced that it was going to drop most of the analog channels to make room for more digital channels. Which meant that my Series 1 TiVo (first installed in 2000) would become obsolete. I've been wanting an HD TiVo for awhile but just never had the motivation to actually make the purchase. Losing most of my channels was enough motivation.

Then I read some on-line forums where people were complaining bitterly of problems with the HD TiVo: frequent reboots, freezing, not recording when it's supposed to. And the complaints to TiVo for many months saw no progress on a resolution. I went through with the purchase anyway, relying on the 30-day return policy and the 1 year warranty to cover me if the device really was that bad.

Goodbye AT&T DSL

All that's left is the cancellation. On April 20th I switched over to cable-based Internet service. I've been very reluctant to do this since my last experience with this service (years ago) was abysmally poor. But the unreliability of my existing DSL circuit has left me no choice. There are only two DSL providers in my area (AT&T being one) and neither of them was able to make the service reliable.

My AT&T service would experience some sort of outage nearly every day. Many of the outages would last less than a minute, but there were frequent outages between 1 and 5 minutes, along with the occasional outage that would last 10, 30, 60 minutes or more. The record was two days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

California wine

My wonderful wife was in the California bay area recently on a business trip. While she was there she went shopping at the Sonoma Wine Shop, found some bottles of wine that she thought I would enjoy, and had them shipped back home. In the shipment were:

Seabiscuit Ranch Chardonnay (2007)
Wellington Marsanne (2007)
Balletto Syrah (2006)
Jacob's Vineyard Merlot (2005)
Arger-Martucci Pinot Noir (2003)
Watkins Family Cabernet (2004)

We've already had the Chardonnay and it was fabulous! I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottles.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


As some of you know, the little country of Guatemala holds a special place in my heart. Sadly, this beautiful and culture-rich country suffers from a terribly ineffective government. It has a population of a little over 13 million, many of them indigenous Maya. According to the World Bank: "About 56 percent of all Guatemalans (and 76 percent of indigenous groups) lived in poverty in 2000, and about 16 percent lived in extreme poverty.... The average schooling of the adult population is 5.4 years and just 1.9 years for the indigenous population." 44% of children in Guatemala are malnourished, the highest rate in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. Now it seems Guatemala may be facing a new problem that its government is ill equipped to handle: well-armed and well-financed drug cartels.

Guatemala: the next to fall?

Monday, April 6, 2009

AT&T Phone and DSL Extended Outage

I cannot overstate how disgusted I am with my AT&T service. I am supposed to have both telephone and DSL (Internet) service from AT&T. I pay them way more than I should (and apparently way more than they deserve) for this service, and I regularly have problems, especially with the DSL. Today I am simply fed up.

On Friday April 3 my AT&T DSL Internet service went out. Thanks to the regular monitoring I have in place for the connection I was able to see that the service stopped working at 2:33 in the afternoon. It came back briefly (for 4 minutes) but at 2:47 it stopped working again. I called the repair number and received a recording that there was an outage in my area and that I could expect it to be repaired by (and this is an actual quote) "two four p.m.". I have no idea what time "two four" is but it doesn't equate to anything sensible. Nearly 6 hours later, at 8:32 PM, service was finally restored. I figured that was the end of it. Boy was I wrong.

AT&T Woes

Sometime last year I fled Earthlink DSL as the connectivity became unreliable and the customer service deteriorated. The only other option for my house was AT&T. Unfortunately, it really hasn't fared any better. In the middle of January I starting running a daemon that would check the connection via a ping every 5 seconds and record the results. Now I know exactly when the connection goes out and for how long. Here is a record of all the extended outages since the beginning of the year. This doesn't count the numerous outages that lasted less than 10 minutes. Time is given as hours and minutes.

Monday, February 9, 2009

OOMA: Voice over IP Telephone Service

I recently installed an ooma system in my home to act as a second line for work. So far I am very impressed.

For those who are unfamiliar with ooma, it is a box that provides Voice over IP (or VOIP): telephone service via the Internet. This is similar to Vonage or Comcast Digital Voice. Rather than using the regular telephone connection in to your home, the connection is digitized and sent over the Internet. All VOIP systems are integrated with the Public Switched Telephone Service (PSTN) so you can place calls to anyone with a telephone even if you are using VOIP.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Yay Netflix

So I guess I am lagging being the cutting edge of cooldom, but it has taken me this long to finally sign up for Netflix. I've known about it for years, of course, but always thought that I would never actually want to see a sufficient quantity of movies in a given month to justify the monthly fee. But with a young one in the house it seemed that we were making far too many trips to the local Blockbuster and paying way too much to rent a single disc. So I subscribed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Tonight we had a wonderful meal. I made my famous coriander and carrot soup. Three stalks celery and two pounds of carrots chopped and sauteed in butter, some ground coriander and cumin, and about 4 cups vegetable stock. Simmer for 30 minutes then run through a blender (I miss my hand-held blender).

I intended to serve the soup with a salad and some bread. But after I got the soup started my wife said "we really need an amuse-bouche to go with this." Now I've never made one before and had to think for a bit about what I could make that would go with the rest of the meal. Here's what I finally did.