Thursday, December 27, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

Among my more subtle talents is my innate sense of direction, also known as Hobbit Inertial Navigation. It is far from perfect, but I think I've got higher batting average than +Katherine Derbyshire, who is actually pretty good herself. We're both lazy in our old age, smartphones and dedicated Navigation Systems do that to people, but I like to think I know where I've been and where I'm going.

Well, physically, at least. Until today at lunch. And the problem wasn't where I was going.

With Katherine traveling, I headed out solo for lunch to the Mill Creek Blazing Onion. I'd never been there (only its sibling a few miles west), but it's a straight shot north, and armed with the address, I headed up in the freshly fueled MINI Cooper S equipped with a nav system. All well and good ...

... until I noted the MINI, fueled yesterday morning on the way back from breakfast, had only seven-eighths of a tank. I had driven home and then fetched a pizza in the evening, and I knew I had driven less than 10 miles total. I may have failed to top off the tank, but the trip odometer, normally reset by hand after fueling, matched the gas gauge with 67 miles gone.

I started wondering how the car was driven without my memory, either by a very neat thief or me having a blackout worthy of Stephen King. About the only suspects I could eliminate were Katherine (in a different timezone) and the cats (they hate riding in cars, and I don't think letting them drive would change their minds. There's also the thumbs issue, but anyway ...)

Finally, I was sitting at lunch when I realized it wasn't the MINI that I fed yesterday morning. Rather, it was the Audi, the day after it was used to take Katherine to the airport. I specifically had gotten the Audi fueled and ready to go back to the airport for Katherine's return, and then switched to the MINI in the evening both to balance the use of the cars and to play with a new Bluetooth hands free unit we bought last week.

And I did personally fuel the MINI, but it was on Friday before a weekend of errands.

I guess the breakfast run wasn't a very memorable drive.


I almost prefer the blackout theory ... it's less embarrassing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Old School Home Defense

Sometimes I claim to be old school.   Sometimes I live it:

New Mac-ready USB Keyboard for my home office(click for larger photo)

My (physically) largest Christmas present, above, is basically the grandchild of the the original IBM Model M keyboard, the classic quality PC keyboard.   (I still own two classic Model M units, with each with a PS/2 connector and no annoying Windows keys.)

Differences compared to the Model M aside from the color include that it has a USB connection (not PS/2) and plays well with my Mac computers.

My favorite quote on the IBM Model M is from a co-worker:
"... the type M is also incredibly sturdy.  My personal feeling is that if you can't use your keyboard as a weapon to defend against home invaders and still have it work as a keyboard afterwards, it's obviously not a good design."
One down side: I need to lower my desk to offset the height of the unit.   It was at a borderline height before, and this makes it uncomfortable.

One other downside: If I take it to work, my co-workers may kill me because of the noise it makes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Sound of Music

"The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang,
    the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.
 Let's rock, everybody, let's rock.
 Everybody in the whole cell block was a dancin'
    to the Jailhouse Rock . . ."
-- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Making a short story long ...

I'm not an audiophile. For starters, my hearing is crap, with both moderate hearing loss and tinnitus going back years, and my brain has never been wired for parsing spoken English well. (I didn't figure out why Andrew had an "R" in it until around first grade. I could always spell it fine. Go figure.)

But I like music, and I especially like while I am at my desk. My audio toys have grown over the years from the family cheap all-in-one stereo (sorry, Dad) to my own first radio (a Radio Shack Astronaut-8) and on to my own successive stereo components. Unlike the 13 different desktop computers I've bought and surplused over the years, we've still got most of the audio components. Those go back to a cassette deck and a pair of Boston Acoustic speakers (now in the library), acquired before the close of the first Reagan administration. The stereo receivers in our home offices are relatively new -- they date only from early in the second Clinton administration. The living room is more modern; all the gear down there was bought for this house except the previously mentioned cassette deck, a CD player, and a second, larger pair of Boston Acoustics speakers dating from the first Clinton administration.

The speakers, alas, have not held up as gracefully as the solid state electronics. In early September a grill got knocked off a living room speaker, and the material around the woofer looked abused enough to have been assaulted by feline claws. On second look however, while it torn up enough, the damage was too specific to the rubber gasket -- a feline assault would have nailed the inviting felt cone as well. The final verdict: old age. This was confirmed by looking at the older pair of BAs in the library, and while their shelf location makes them inaccessible to the cats, age had no trouble reaching them as well.

Repairs were in order. This required a bit of a shuffle of our remaining toys. Katherine's office and the bedroom kept their speakers, the library was silenced, and the bookshelf speakers in my office went to the living room. My office fell back to my cheap Altec computer speakers.

Fortunately, Seattle has a repair shop called speakerlab, so both pairs got to go the spa for three weeks for professional TLC.

Parts issues turned the three weeks into five.

Finally, this our speakers came home this week, and my office got its speakers back.

It's good thing Whitey can sleep in my office with the stereo cranked, because he is and it is.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

There But For the Grace of God ...

I had jury duty most of this week, a civil trial regarding a minor vehicular accident.  When the case went to the jury on Thursday, things didn't go well for the plaintiff: We awarded most of various contested medical bills, and $3000 for non-economic damages, which effectively is nothing at all.

The problem was that the plaintiff was obese with a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, high blood pressure, and on disability from an old foot injury.  To us, the "Preponderance Of Evidence" standard was not met that his lingering pain was from the accident.  Quite frankly, with one party clearly at fault for the actual accident, the aftermath was amazingly murky.

Friday I was back at work at Google, where I had lunch guests of a high school classmate, her high school-aged twin sons, and a friend of the sons.   I wowed them all with our free food, climbing wall, foosball tables and other amenities.  When the boys all announced they wanted to work for Google, I gave them the lecture:  First, most of the employees we saw were not using the amenities, but rather sitting at their desks quietly working, and second, to be good enough to work where you want, one has to both embrace and command your field.  I also pointed out the physical plant was effectively a big parlor trick:  The real Google shows in how the company treats us, which is in fact pretty good.

I skipped the part about pure luck being involved, I didn't need to depress them.   But I did  think about my own luck, especially with the contrast of Thursday.  I am (still) obese and have various aches, but I have an interesting and well paying job, and I've avoided the abyss of declining health.

I've glimpsed the ghost of lifestyle future, and I dearly reminded why my self-improvement efforts this year are important.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Drew & Katherine's Big Adventure

I've been quiet about the diet and exercise front lately.   The weight loss has in fact stopped temporarily, with a week's travel and the recovery screwing up both my intake and exercise.   I'm not panicked (yet), but distractions like this after this much loss have been my downfall before.

Which is not to say I've given up.  In fact, yesterday we got out the bikes, checked the tires, and set course to have lunch at University Village in Seattle, a ride ~50% longer than we had previously taken.

The only problem is, we didn't make it.  About eight miles into the eleven mile ride, Katherine found her front tire was going flat.  After a trail side inspection, we decided the stem itself was leaking, and walked the both bikes to the nearest shop, Cycle University.  Nice owner, prompt service, but he didn't have the proper size tube.  So I  hopped back on my own bike, pedaled down to the near by Bicycle Center, got a tube, and took it back to Katherine at Cycle U where she had it installed.

Suffice to say the delay took the wind out of our sails, and once we got lunch next door we headed back.

I did still log ~ 21+ miles, a new daily high for me in the past 25 years.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Easy Money

Katherine says I can never die while working at Google, because no matter how or where it happens, the authorities will blame her.   We have suitable term life insurance out on each other to cover loss of future income (kitten farms don't keep the lights on and the kibble flowing on just purrs), but Google's benefits dwarf that.

Not even mentioned in the article is the actual term life insurance they also pay for, which is generous but more mundane.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I feel I am getting more sloppy about my eating and exercise habits, but my weight loss continues at the rate over just over two pounds a week.   I guess I'm not screwing up too badly, especially I've been dropping long enough to see real results in my waistline.  I keep swapping belts, and seeing what old things fit.   The coolest item so far is my SRE Mission Control jacket, which was an excellent for some top down motoring in cool weather yesterday.

(What, your company doesn't give spiffy leather jackets for schwag?   Come work for mine.  Void where prohibited, certain terms and conditions apply.)

Suffice say, it's getting to be that some clothing clean up is order.  Case in point are my belts. I have a selection in varying sizes going back 10 years.  A few months ago, I decided to clean out stuff I don't wear, like any belts too small to wear and T-shirts too ugly to wear.  By the time I got around to actually carting a load to the local St. Vincent de Paul donation center today, not only had the belts that fit changed,  I realized I should dispose of the largest belts and keep the older belts that I have a very good chance of shrinking into.  I also sent away my largest "fat pants", which had only been worn a couple of times.

I must note that our closets do hold ample evidence of the major room for improvement.  I've got at least two jackets from different decades which don't come close to fitting yet, a trench coat old enough to drink which never sees the light of day in rainy Seattle, and jeans I would have to drop the considerable amount I have already sloughed off again before if they might fit again.   (I have no idea why those jeans still exist, I think they were worn last during the first Reagan Bush administration.)

Even so, the closet may need another pass.  But I didn't have time today, and besides the more I lose the more I need add to the pile.

What a nice First World problem.

Updated:  I mis-read the labels on the jeans, inseam versus waist.   Let's just say I'm shorter than I am wide.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


My weight loss trends remain very good.  However, sometimes, I am amused if not confused by the details.

In particular, this morning I dropped three pounds, after being down a pound yesterday.  That's on top of two pounds Thursday, for a total of six pounds since Wednesday.   I fully expect half of that to come rocketing back in the normal course of events, and actually prefer it would.  My healthy target is to lose 1-3 pounds a week, no more, and it's only more than 2 pounds because I'm exercising in part to avoid muscle loss.  (I also cleared it with my physician.)

Never mind that I had pizza two nights in a row and went over my daily budget at least one day during that period.

I blame portion control and my overall clean living, in particular that I've gotten at least some light exercise in the last 24 days out of the last 30.  Maybe that's how I wore out a connector for the heart monitor, which snapped off today when I unmounted the monitor from the chest strap after riding the exercise bike:

Aw, snap!   One connector for my Polar Monitor is AWOL

Fortunately, like Foghorn Leghorn, "I always keep a spare in my locker".

Slightly more seriously, my longer trend is making me feel like a bit of a freak.    My two month record is over two pounds a week, and doesn't seem to have any short term road blocks.  If that were average results for Weight Watchers and similar sensible plans, the world be a thinner place.  Katherine and I agree, Weight Watcher's metrics just happen to be a natural compliment to my own methods.    This hit home yesterday, as when I poked about the online Weight Watcher tools I came across a page which reported the number of days I had recorded my intake, which was 100% of the days since I started.  Since both I eat and use a computer every day, why wouldn't I record the data?

In any case, I'll try to keep it going while it works.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Miles Milestone

I have a spreadsheet which reaches back into the mists of time, with my weight recorded at least 115 times a year since 2001, and more sporadic entries going back another 10 years and beyond.   It also has acquired other data over the the years, like the occasional blood pressure check.

I am consistent when and how I weigh myself, making the weight tracking is fairly routine and accurate.  Years ago, I added prediction for any weight loss based on the periods of January, year-to-date, and the last 30 days.   This spring, the "last 30 days" prediction was off by a only days as to when would I hit my first goal (17 pounds lost), not bad for the input I gave it.

The blood pressure measurement is sufficient to assure me that I'm normal.   I am vaguely amused at how my resting pulse has dropped a little during my current fitness kick, but it's not worth tracking more closely.

The absolute worse metric in the spreadsheet I have is "miles exercised".  It started with number of the bicycle miles I had ridden, got the stationary bike added as its own column, then walking, and now elliptical trainer.   These are at best apples-to-hotdog comparisons, but I keep it up in part because it serves as a binary flag for having exercised at all on particular day, and that by itself is useful.

Yet, like swooning over cheap sticker awards for losing 5 pounds, I still care about the number of miles.   In particular, in the past ten years the most miles I've ever recorded is 602, and yesterday this young year moved beyond the rest of the pack and into second place with 308.  By summer's end I could be at a 10 year high.   That would be nice.

(Having done ~ 1500+ road miles on my bicycle in 1985, I suspect my all time record is safe for another summer, if not much longer.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fitness, meet Feline Fate

Getting the bike out of the back of the garage is a pain (we actually put cars in there!), and lately I've wanted it accessible.  Thus, it's been tempting fate in the front hall.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Next Five Year Mission

Five years and two months ago, I moved to the Puget Sound area to join Google as an SRE.  Alas, in the last year, supporting the production side of things has started to burn me out. So, as of today, it's official: I have a new job. I have transferred from SRE to regular software engineering, which puts me back where I belong: writing code.

That I have already been here for for five years is not unique, as I previously stayed at three other employers for over five years each. But it is unique that I now have no interest to go beyond down the hall, since I've never been at any company for six years -- one I left to finish school, another I departed from once they lost their hunger for bleeding edge technology, and the last seemed to view software engineers as an necessary evil.

(That last company was more comfortable with programmers who limited their world view to Microsoft IIS and SQL Server; being a snob, I am not sure they count as software engineers.  So sue me.)

But Google does want people like me, they do hunger for the bleeding edge, and there is the small fact of where it ranks in terms of the best companies to work for.   That's a beauty contest, perhaps, but it's nice to work for an entrant.

My five year mission as an SRE is complete.  So let's see what I can do to earn my keep here for another five years.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hup, Two, Three, ... Crash!

After Saturday's ride, where I was both wildly over- and under- pedaling at times, I considered how I ride the exercise the bike versus how I ride out in the Big Blue Room.  I realized how much I used the exercise bike's cadence display feedback to help control my exertion.  

Unfortunately, my new Sigma BC 1009 STS wireless bike computer doesn't have that ... but the installation guide teased me that the next higher model, the wireless BC 1609 STS Cadence, does.   So yesterday had another trip up the street to Bothell Ski & Bike, where I asked about a trade up.   They couldn't do that per se (I was missing the packaging), but they gave me a very reasonable deal on the BC 1609.

Newly equipped, we rode out for local errands today.  Between the cadence metric and the one additional day's experience, I was far smoother, and enjoyed it more as well.  

Even a minor crash at the end didn't ruin my mood.   I lost my momentum on the last rise before the house (as Katherine describes it, a very "short but nasty hill"), and my wobbling recovery was interrupted by a looming curb.  Too much was happening, and I tipped over.  I at least used my limited aikido head knowledge, and I let my fall morph into a sideways roll rather than being stupid and trying to straight arm the sidewalk on the far side of the aforementioned curb.   The result was only minor damage: I noticed my shoulder for a few minutes, the handlebar needed to be twisted straight, and Katherine pointed out that I had a classic road rash on the outside of my leg.   

(I did straight arm a sidewalk once, on ice around New Years 1984.  I remember it well, not to mention the resulting dislocated left elbow that would ache off and on for the next fifteen years.   I'll risk the unpracticed amateur roll, thank you.)

I'm not ready to match the summer of 1985, when at ~ 150 pounds I rode over 1300 miles, but small progress is being made.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Once Around the Block

After verifying the bicycle can roll with its new toys, it sat for a over week while I returned to the stationary bike, played around with the gym at work, and also watched Seattle weather be cool, cloudy and generally less than ideal for riding.    The progress did continue on the exercise bike, and I nudged it up another level.

I almost rode outside yesterday evening, but I delayed a bit and when I realized a storm was about to pas through, I punted.

I didn't punt today, or fallback to the exercise bike.

I recruited Katherine, and returned to the scene of my previous retail crimes.  She got riding shoes, and I got  a new trunk (i.e. bag for my rear rack).   Then we pedaled down the Burke-Gilman Trail few blocks, doubled back, picked up the mail and headed home.    Total ride, ~ 5+ miles.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.  Suffice to say, I didn't exploit the tools at my disposal to maximize efficiency.   And since there remains alot of me to haul around, I need to be efficient.

I need to learn to transfer the power and cadence balance I've acquired on the exercise bike to the road, using my gears better to keep an even a pace.

Practice, practice, practice.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Skirmish in the Diet War

The good news is that I have lost 5% of my body weight.   But the battle continues.

Of course on the day I have already spurged on a breakfast omelet & bacon, and this afternoon I will have hot chocolate with an old high school classmate, the lunch menu includes:
Beef, Onion, Garlic, Bacon, Parley, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Parmesan, Corn Flake, Egg, Ketchup, Worcestershire, Cayenne, Paprika, Molasses, Brown Sugar, EVO and S&P
Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Potato, Kale, Garlic, Butter, Lemon and S&P
Yes, the menu includes other (healthier) choices, but I love both meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  

(Did I mention meals are free at work?)

Ceiling Cat is saying "Drew, you have done well.  See how you handle the next level!'   But, but ... I didn't want to turn up the diet knob from easy to medium yet.   Ah, well, it really does average out, and my overall progress is good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lights, Action, . . .

Our local bike shop is making a small mint off me, and I haven't even gone for real ride yet.

The kick-off to the latest expenditures was when I got my bike back from its tune up and realized the bike computer (speedometer for us old school types) wasn't registering any speed.   This actually predated the tune-up, so it wasn't their fault, but I mentally kicked myself for not having them replace it.

Driving home Monday, I stopped in at the shop to ask when they would not be busy as to expedite my install.  I ended up looking at bike computers, and, knowing how tired my light was, lights.   It turns out they don't carry FireSwords, but for a package the size of a fat short cigar, 500 lumens from the folks at Light Motion has a pretty good punch.   Ditto for the tail light from the same folks.    With a wireless bike computer (no wire up the fork) and a competent amateur bike mechanic for spouse, I figured it all could be installed at home, so I bought on the spot.

However, let's just say the bike computer was the cheap part of the trip.  Whee!

(I forgot to ask about a wall mount for hanging the bike, which doesn't quite fit in its current summer home since our 2001 Audi was replaced two years ago with a slightly longer 2009 Audi.   We won't discuss why we didn't notice before now.  Or what the mount could cost me.)

The bike has been stripped of its old electronics, and we'll install the new toys for the weekend.

Side Note:

Regarding actually riding the bike, my stationary bike rides continue, and I am gradually getting more work in per session.   This morning I nudged the stationary bike up a level, and I didn't die (or have to back it off, as I did Monday when I first tried without easing my pacing lower).   Hopefully I can get in a short spin this weekend.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Human Wheels

Weight loss and exercise do wonders moderately good things for creaky parts ... in my case that means my legs, especially my knees.

Moderately good things include a drop off of pain in my right knee, and an improved power-to-weight ratio that allows me to handle stairs in a less awkward fashion.

The lack of wonder includes that last weekend, after I walked home just over a mile from dropping off my bicycle for service I could barely move for over two days.  Yesterday, when I picked up the bicycle, I got smart and had Katherine drop me.   However, I had already ridden my exercise bike, and I lacked the reserves for the ride home, especially the short but steep hill leading to our subdivision.  I got home drenched in sweat and fell on the couch until I could drag myself upstairs for a shower and a nap.

Clearly, I'm only getting started here.   I guess the wonders won't come until later.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Three Cheers

Weight Watchers hands out stickers with stars (ones that make your former teacher's Gold Stars look expensive) for every trivial thing imaginable, from minor weight milestones and long term attendance to simply deliver (literally) a "Bravo".   Combined with our ... zealous ... meeting leader's cheery nature, it's almost surreal.

When I checked in at the meeting this week, the receptionist noted I had lost my first five pounds, and could it be announced in the meeting?  Since my own records are more precise than theirs, it was old news to me.    Also, having shed weight before, I view dropping the first five pounds as no more than pulling out of the parking lot, so it's no big thing to me.   In any case, I thought it would be nice for others to hear someone making progress, so I said yes.

Never mind other people, I cared when it was announced.   ("Hey, I did something!") I was even vaguely disappointed when I realized it was the only thing I would get (no first "Bravo" for me this week).

I find the Weight Watchers meetings to be somewhat hokey and rather over the top, but I also realize the fundamentals (eat less, eat better, don't starve yourself, exercise) are sound, and that in general it's a dose of something which does help.

My first star is pasted next to my weigh-in data for this week.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Once More, With Feeling (and a Support Group)

My employer is offering to subsidize membership in Weight Watchers, and to support meetings at the office if enough employees join (the "enough employees" is a Weight Watchers requirement, not my company's.)

Given my weight has been stable the past few years at my long term high water mark, I'll try it.

A dietitian told me years ago, "Drew, you know the rules.  You just need to follow them!"    Maybe WW and their metrics will help that.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Service After The Sale

When you dive into life in the Apple ecosystem, life can be expensive.  On the other hand, sometimes it's worth it.

As implicitly shown in our cat blog, my home office includes a Mac Pro.  I speced it out in 2008 to run multiple virtual machines, but mostly it and its monitors keep the cats warm while I just surf the web.   

However, last Caturday I had a real project I wanted to attack, so I hopped out of bed at the crack of dawn and powered it up to do actual programming and ... got nothing except a blinking power light announcing a memory error.

Oh, bother.

I did a bit of poking about, and then made an appointment at the local Apple store.  I hauled it in.  They agreed it was probably memory or associated components, and admitted the patient.    They held it for a week, through two rounds of parts ordering.   I muddled along with my work portable in the meantime.    

I picked the machine up yesterday, with two components replaced for $150.  I brought it home, and booted it up.   Once.  Second boot, the symptom is back.  Oh, bother redux.

It was back to the Apple store today. They were able to get it resuscitated, and I'm typing on it now.  

This where I should say "What a pain" for them not fixing it the first time, but I know perfectly well the machine worked when I got it home, if however briefly.    Furthermore, their second pass replaced more components for no charge, and generally supported a machine which is not close to being the current model. 

My take: "Will use again".

p.s. The real pain is the <expletive> machine itself, which is built like a tank and thus weighs  40+ lbs.  It's worse than hauling a catzilla to the vet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Bit of Time Riding

I was feeling wiped at work, so I bugged out early after letting my manager  know.  I napped, and rose around dusk just after Katherine left for class.

The quiet made me feel like I was back in my old apartment in Kingston NY, a third story walk up over an optician on a good block in a not so good part of town.   It was the same isolation, and yet ...

... The Summerhill Kitten Farm blog has enough pictures of the house to more than hint at our creature comforts, and for that matter, the creatures escorting me about the house have broken my reverie multiple times.    And there's the matter of the car in the garage -- I lacked both in Kingston.

One could say life is good here, far better than my first lonely winter in the Mid-Hudson Valley a quarter of a decade ago.

I'll just say it's time to feed my trusted companions.

Minor note:  Note this is not about the feline overlords, although they were certainly about.  If it was, I'd have posted this on the kitten blog.  No, life is different from when I was in Kingston.