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Baffling Experience

I recently was given a Logitech Harmony One universal remote (thanks, Sarah!) and it was a wonderful and useful gift. However, my experience with it has been about the opposite of any reviews I've recently seen for Harmony remotes, so I'll explain it here.

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So, my overall experience: Easy to use products (when they work), easy to configure, works pretty much how I want with the basic setup, and very useful overall. Terrible service with long wait times, sometimes completely inept workers, and never got back to me.

The rest of the world's reviews go more like: Extremely confusing setup that's missing the information for even basic devices, hard to customize but easy to use if you can get it to a working state. Luckily the service is extremely helpful and answers in mere moments when you call.

I'm baffled, but that's my experience.

Hilarious Update!
So, first of all, I miscalculated, it wasn't 5 weeks, but 3 weeks, today, since I last called.
And just now, I received a phone call from Tier 2 support! He hadn't seen the date of the original call, and asked nonchalantly about the adapter with a problem, and whether it was still having a problem. I said, well, that unit probably still has the problem. He asked, oh, well is it working again? I said, well I wouldn't know, as I exchanged that unit a while ago, and pointed out that I'd called several weeks ago. He noticed the date, said wow, and apologized for the delay. I was more amused than anything, so I didn't bother to rant or anything (they've essentially entered the "written off" category for me).
  • Current Music
    non-specific beat and riff
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A shoe review (day 1)

I recently bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers to run with. Since the reviews I read while shopping mostly didn't address my questions, I figured I'd write a review to put up places. I also believe such reviews are most useful when they take into account both first impressions and experienced use. So this is the first impressions part.

After hearing a decent amount of hype over barefoot running on the blagosphere as well as in person from a few people at work, I thought it would be a good idea to try it out since I'm getting back into running and my old running shoes don't work anymore (they tear up my heel). I admittedly didn't look into several options, having first been directed to the Vibram FiveFingers. It is very hard to find anything bad said about these 'shoes', other than that they tend to get smelly quickly (but are easily washable), and that putting them on isn't as quick as with normal shoes. Everything else was exuberantly praised, often described as lifechanging. Now obviously the internets are populated with planted reviews, so praise in general should be taken with a grain of salt, but I saw enough in terms of quantity and what I perceived to be realistic quality to convince myself that at least some reviews were real. So I went about trying to buy a pair.

The first thing I discovered was that these shoes seem to be popular at the moment. Neither of the stores in Austin that carry them had my size, and both were sold out of several sizes and models. This left me with the daunting task of ordering shoes online with an unusual sizing model, hoping that they'd fit me and that they were indeed useful in some way. I ordered my pair of size 40 KSO's in the one color that Vibram themselves had in stock (of 4 color choices).

When they arrived, I tried them on around the house. Despite what other reviewers had claimed, the tactile sensation was not too close to being barefoot; walking on grass didn't feel like I was walking barefoot on grass. On the other hand, there is a significant tactile element to them, and walking on grass did feel unique and different from walking on tile, which felt different from walking on carpet, etc. The talk about putting them on being difficult was true (though I'm not sure I shouldn't be wearing a size bigger); the shoes are tight and rubber, so trying to slide your foot into the toe slots takes a bit of pulling on the sole. I then took them for a walk, with a very brief run thrown in just for a test, having been warned to take things slowly to adjust to the new motion. I was pleased that my feet were quite protected from sharp street gravel, which I was barely able to feel. I've been walking in flip flops lately, as well as a couple times barefoot (I also spent a couple months walking barefoot in college - I have no idea if that affects me now), and I was a little surprised that walking in the FiveFingers didn't feel very different from what I was used to (aside from the tactile element of being able to feel the ground better). My run was too short to get a real feel, but it also didn't seem too different; however, in my running days in high school, I had evolved to a short stride running style, so at least that element of the running was natural to me.

The next day I took them for a longer run, trying to pay close attention to my body to determine if I needed to stop (again paying attention to many cautions about starting slowly with barefoot running). I first ran at a brisk jogging pace for a half mile; I hadn't necessarily planned to go the full way at that pace, but while running I didn't feel anything painful or strained. Again, the running motion didn't feel very different to me from what I am used to, but I did notice that my feet were a little lighter, which is a nice benefit. On my way, I stepped on a rock the size of a child's fist. It was mildly uncomfortable, but not more than I would expect it would feel like if I were in normal running shoes. Upon stopping at the half mile, I finally noticed my calves were decently tight, so even though I hadn't noticed during the running, my calves were getting a stronger workout than I was expecting. After walking around a little, my calves seemed to settle down a little, so I decided to continue running the half mile back, this time at a more comfortable jogging pace. It was upon reaching my home and walking a little bit that I really noticed my calves wanting to explode. They're the one part of my legs that are sore today still. I also noticed that the top of my right ankle felt a little sore from use, but not in a bad way like shin splints. It felt like a part of my foot that would not have been used in normal shoes, due to the shoes providing support there, but that should get stronger now that it's being used.

So, so far, so good. They're not anything immediately lifechanging, but I don't have any real complaints yet. I'll see what happens as I use them for running over the next few weeks.
  • Current Music
    "Eat It" - Weird Al Yankovic (IMH)
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House Grades - Part 1

These are my reviews of the people I interacted with in the recent selling of my house and purchase of a new one. Part 1 contains grades concerning the process of actually buying and selling the houses. Part 2 will contain grades about the remodel and moving companies, etc.

The short and sweet version:

  • Realtor (Buyer's Agent) - Jane Adsley Chopp (Coldwell Banker): C+
    Very inconsistent. Some days very helpful, others a hindrance. Went through a lot of trouble for us, but led us astray sometimes and also acted shadily in a particular incident.
  • Mortgage Broker - Tim Dockery (Network Funding L.P.): A-/D+
    Early interactions were pleasant, and he got me the lowest rate and did eventually get the job done. Trying to get to close was a royal pain in the ass, especially for my brother, who also used Tim as his broker. Tim placed the blame on the people behind the scenes, but he has to be held accountable since he represents them to us.
  • Title Company (sale closing) - Wally Tingley and Associates (Chicago Title): A-
    More helpful than I would expect from a title company in setting up the sale of my house. Extremely informative during closing. One sour note in bringing up a problem at the last minute when they had the information to know about the problem from the very beginning.
  • Title Company (purchase closing) - Stacey Johnson (Gracy Title): B
    Probably a pretty standard closing, but Stacey was particularly not informative when it came to any documents from the lender, and only moderately informative otherwise.
  • Home Inspector - Edward Martin (Advanced Inspection Service): A
    A pleasure to work with, and very experienced and informative. Report well presented on website. Also best priced that I found.


The way too long version:

  • Realtor (Buyer's Agent) - Jane Adsley Chopp (Coldwell Banker): C+
    The main thing I have to say about Jane is that she was very inconsistent. On the plus side, she went through a lot of effort to contact various services for us (contractors to give us estimates on work, etc.), and didn't pressure us to buy any particular home, even when we showed particular interest. Sometimes working with her seemed very helpful, and other times I felt like she was holding us back from what we already knew we wanted to do. There were also too many times when she misinterpreted what we had told her, and a few ways in which she led us astray. Collapse ) She also loses strong points (from a B to a C+) because she shared information about the terms of one mortgage broker's good faith estimate with the Coldwell Banker mortgage broker I had contacted (I found this out through a third party with whom some of this information was shared by the Coldwell Banker mortgage broker, no less). I had not authorized her to share that information and she was not allowed to do so. Would hesitate to recommend. Collapse )
  • Mortgage Broker - Tim Dockery (Network Funding L.P.): A-/D+
    Tim is somewhat hard to grade, as a lot of the failings in our dealings were the fault of the underwriters he deals with, at least according to him. Of course, these are the people he works with and represents to me, so he has to be held accountable. The A- comes from our early interactions, and for getting the job done in the end. I consistently found the lowest rates with Tim at competitive fees, and in the early part of the process he was very responsive, even taking calls at 9:30 in the evening during the week. I had previously worked with Tim to get my mortgage on the old house, and our interactions throughout that process were at this level. Based on this I suggested to my dad that he work with him for my brother's mortgage, even being a little pushy, since my dad had been led to believe that mortgage brokers were all shady crooks while bank mortgages were the way to go. Collapse ) Again it's hard to know how much of this to blame on him and how much to blame on the people behind him. To his possible credit, he did sound fairly exasperated when I talked to him during any of the delays. Would hesitate to recommend.
  • Title Company (sale closing) - Wally Tingley and Associates (Chicago Title): A-
    I contacted Wally on Tim's recommendation early in the process, trying to get a real estate lawyer to help me make sure things went smoothly on the sale of my house, given that there wouldn't be any Realtors to help. While he didn't end up representing me as counsel (some miscommunication), the company was very helpful in the whole process, letting me know what steps needed to be taken in order to set up the contract, settle obligations, and prepare to close. During the closing itself, Wally was extremely informative, explaining everything and being very patient with my very thorough dad. It was a little weird to try to read my documents while he was explaining in detail everything to my brother and dad (hard to block him out to focus), but when I did have questions on my much smaller stack of papers, he took time out from them to explain to me. One failing point of the office was that, even though these were the very first people I contacted about the sale of my house to my family (then my dad before it changed to my brother), I was informed by them 4 days before scheduled closing that they required proof that I would have vacated the house before we could close. The fact that this was in any way a requirement was news to me, not to mention trying to get proof of that in some way. I changed my driver's license address that day, and I contacted City of Austin with whom I'd set up my utilities to start, and that satisfied that requirement. It would've been good for them to have let me know about that much earlier than they did (and they were aware of the family transaction, we'd already had to fill out other forms to prove we weren't trying to commit fraud). Would definitely recommend, especially given my next closing experience.
  • Title Company (purchase closing) - Stacey Johnson (Gracy Title): B
    Luckily I'd just been through the closing with Wally Tingley, because Stacey was not even close to being as informative during the closing. She had some things to say, about some documents, but it didn't seem like we could normally even get further detail on those. Other documents, anything that came from the lender, she completely disavowed. If we had a question, she threw up her hands and said she had no idea, it wasn't her document. However, she didn't actively create any problems, and didn't throw a fuss about the fact that the money being wired to them from my house sale hadn't gone through yet (due to Network Funding's delay on my brother's funding, the other title company couldn't start the wire until just as we started our closing). Would recommend if you have a lot of knowledge/experience, or a real estate lawyer with you.
  • Home Inspector - Edward Martin (Advanced Inspection Service): A
    Ed has been doing inspections for over 25 years, and it showed. He went over many details of the house, and explained which of them we needed to be actually concerned about and which weren't big deals (though he of course left everything on his detailed report available on his website, with photos). He was happy to explain in further detail when we had questions. He also had the lowest price of the various inspectors that had been recommended to me. Would definitely recommend.
  • Current Music
    "Heaven" - Bryan Adams (IMH)
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Still not worth watching

The last two seasons, I've somewhat gotten into watching American Idol. In particular I liked last season when they selected many contestants with existing musical talent, leading to a lot more creativity in how they sang their songs.

I've only consistently watched the later parts of the season, when they're down to their top 16 or so. I like to watch a few people who can sing well doing their thing.

However, I've not enjoyed in the past the earlier episodes with the tryouts. I hear that this is actually one of the more popular parts of the season, but when I'd watched before, I got bored watching bad singers get made fun of in mean ways.

Given that my attempts to watch the tryouts had all come before I'd watched any significant parts of American Idol, I figured now that I've watched a decent amount the last two seasons, I'd give the tryouts another shot, seeing if I'd enjoy them more with a different perspective.

Conclusion: not really. I did have a slightly different perspective on the people who did well, trying to analyze if they'd make it far or they were just good enough to get in but no further. However, given that the show commits a lot of time to the failed tryouts, there was still a lot of boredom to be had. Don't get me wrong; there's the occasional tryout that's humorous, or someone with an inflated-ego who makes the cruelty of the judges more fun than just plain mean. But mostly it's watching someone sing poorly in a boring way, and the judges making him feel bad while he walks out of the room holding back tears. Not very entertaining.

So, I'll tune in again when Idol hits the next phase. If I'm looking for humor from the tryouts, I'll stick to clips on the internet.
  • Current Music
    "Vision of Love" - Mariah Carey (IMH)
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Lasting Impact

Long, long ago, on my family's... 386? 486? computer, I played a game called Sim Ant. Made by the creators of Sim City, Sim Ant had you attempting to take over a lawn & house with an ant colony, doing many of the actions an ant might do. The game also had a bunch of trivia for you to learn about ants - how there are gazillions more of them in the world than we tend to think about, how they don't take over the world only because of fighting between different colonies/species, and various tidbits about their day to day life. As a young curious child, I absorbed this information and was happy that I knew a bunch of stuff about ants.

Nowadays, I'm still a relatively curious person, but that's tempered by the vast amount of information available to me on the interweb tubes. So a Digg article labeled "Super Fruit Fly Taking Over Europe" might trigger a "hm, interesting" from me, but I probably would not follow the link except on a really really slow day. However, when the article actually said "Super Ant Taking Over Europe" instead, I got excited and quickly followed the link to read more about the world of ants that I felt I still somehow belonged to. This excitement came purely from that game long ago (I haven't studied ants or taken ant-ological classes since then), and I found its long-reaching effects interesting. I wonder what things will impact my own children this way someday.
  • Current Music
    Donkey Kong theme (IMH)
kitty

The family dog weighs 8 pounds...

My cats had their first adult annual checkup yesterday. They're happily both quite healthy :). And while Mario was the one complaining (i.e. howling) on the way there, it was Goomba who recognized the vet and got all hissy and swipey.

My cats are also beasts! Mario came in at 18.9 lbs and Goomba at 19.8 lbs! The vet came in expecting to find morbidly obese cats, probably ready to report me to the humane society, but was relieved (and impressed) to find they were just built really big. While he did say they could stand to lose a couple pounds each, he wasn't worried about their current weight (so long as they don't get heavier).

So we'll be looking into what changes can be made to their food supply to lose those couple pounds. This could involve getting the Reduced Fat version of the food they eat, switching them to canned food (3% carbohydrates instead of 25%!), or reducing their supply even more (while the bag's feeding amount table doesn't go beyond 14 lbs, if you extrapolate the numbers, I'm already giving them significantly less than the 'weight loss' amount for 20lb cats). Overall I'm not too worried though because they're still quite active, especially when they fight and chase each other across the house.

But don't get on my bad side, or I'll make my cats sit on you!
  • Current Music
    unidentified college band song (IMH)
motorcycle

I wonder...

As I was arriving at work this morning, something triggered me thinking about fossil fuels and how we'll at some point run out of oil and so on and so forth. I had my usual thoughts about the impact it would have on people getting to work each day or school or shopping or whatever, all significant impacts, but that hopefully we've got more electric cars or what not going by then and it's not as huge a deal.

Then my mind jumped to something I hadn't really thought of before. Is there anyone at all working on an electric (or otherwise non-petroleum fueled) passenger plane? Is such a thing even that feasible? It would seem there would be a huge impact if air travel suddenly became all but impossible, but I haven't heard anything about work being done to keep it going in the post-oil era.
  • Current Music
    some marching band (IMH)
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I wonder...

In baseball, if the batter swings at a third strike, but the catcher doesn't catch the ball, the batter can run as if he'd hit the ball. Two things I wonder about this:

If there's someone already on first, does he have to run to second, presumably causing an easy double play? If so, when is this forced run triggered.. when the ball is dropped, or if the batter makes a move toward running?

Who came up with this crazy rule? "Your goal as a batter is to hit the ball, and if you hit the ball you earn a chance at running to the bases. But we'll cut you a break if you don't actually hit the ball, if the catcher is also a noob." (Less rhetorically, how did this rule come about?)
  • Current Music
    "Take a Bow" - Rihanna (IMH)