Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Microlife Blood Pressure Monitor

It turns out that my new job is desiging and writing software to try to help people get and stay healthy. One of the fun parts of that job is playing with cool health-related devices.

I got this Microlife Blood Pressure monitor at Long's drugs here in town for about $80; Amazon has it for about the same price. The really nice thing is that you can download readings to a PC and chart them, etc. (this is why I got to expense it).

I don't really have a blood pressure issue --- maybe a touch high but not a big deal. But the interesting thing is, just seeing the numbers every day, I find myself thinking more about what I choose to eat (well, except for tonight at the M's game). We've heard similar things from other places as well --- apparently people who have lost weight have a 50% better chance of keeping it off if they just stand on a scale every morning. Not do anything about it, just look at the number.

Interesting. This is a hard space to motivate people in, myself included. Little things like this can add up.

Black & Decker Cordless Drill (and Screwdriver)

This one is actually a bit better than the one I currently have, but the same idea. I use these for everything; most recently to rebuild our huge disc swing that had fallen down a few years ago. The key feature (other than the obvious power and battery life) is the snap-on-snap-off chuck piece. You can have a bit in the chuck for drilling pilot holes and the phillips attachment on the inside --- just pop in the chuck and drill pilot holes, then snap off the chuck and drive the screws. Really nify. It also has a nice clutch feature so that you can use it on relatively delicate material without damage.

So as you can see, I fell down on my post-a-day resolution; it's been months. I took a new job and, well, blew it. We'll see if I can get back on the horse for awhile.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fleece Pullovers

OK, so we're back to whining about the weather here. Which really isn't fair, because honestly it was a really nice weekend. My son actually had sun for his Little League evaluation on Saturday, and we got a chance to play some catch this afternoon too. But it was wet and windy enough this morning that we lost power for about an hour, which set me off.

Anyways --- my wife figured this out a long time before I did, but there's really nothing like a good fleece pullover when it feels raw and nasty outside. Wool sweaters are pretty good, but dang they're itchy. I get really claustrophobic beyond all appropriateness. But fleece is puffy and warm and all kinds of goodness without any of that nasty sheep issue.

My personal favorite is my new Disneyland hooded fleece sweatshirt that I got when we were down there in January. Fleece AND Disney, I mean, c'mon now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Bosox

I've been a Red Sox fan forever. I grew up just outside of Boston, and the best thing ever was when my dad's consulting company got season tickets about twenty rows back from first base. Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Butch Hobson (!), Eck, Pudge, Yaz ... jeez, I'm tearing up here. The absolute highlight of my young life was in 1978 when my dad's partner took me out of school to watch the one-game playoff against the Yankees. I was so depressed after that game --- but will never forget it all the same.

In 2004 my brother and I each flew into St. Louis for game 3 of the World Series. I bought tickets off of some broker on the net for an ridiculous sum, and we met his runner outside the will-call gate. We were amazed but there were almost as many Sox fans there as there were Cardinals fans. The folks around us were great; they gave us a hard time, but all in great spirit and they took it back from us with a smile.

I'm not sure what it is about baseball that is so great. But unlike George Will, I'm just going to enjoy it. Right now I'm watching the first game of the first ever World Baseball Classic --- Taipei against Korea. I hope this thing catches on, it'd be great to draw more countries into the sport.

Thermacare Heat Wraps

Thermacare heat wraps are just awesome. One of our family just had a surgery that is causing a lot of pain and these things are --- in some ways even better than the drugs --- really helping. When I get one of my ever-more-frequent weekend-warrior injuries I use them as well.

The schtick is that they get hot when exposed to the air, and they're lightly adhesive so that you can stick them in place under your clothes. They stay there for hours putting heat right where it helps the most. Very impressive.

I'm not doing so well on the one-post-a-day thing. Taking a new job put a bit of a cramp in my extracurricular time. I'll try to catch up over the next couple of weeks.

XML Schema

This is dorkorama extreme, but having just spent a few hours working at some new code, I have to say that XML Schema is just the greatest thing ever. It lets me use the freedom and flexibility of XML in my applications without having to worry about checking for valid input all over the map. When I read files in they either match or they don't --- and if they do I can make a lot of assumptions everywhere else I work with them.

I get really ticked off at Microsoft because they're constantly creating new technology that we don't really need --- yet another way to access databases, yet another new UI framework, blah blah blah. Mostly this just creates a constant spin cycle for app developers who get excited about new features, but don't deliver measurably better code. Schema is one of those very few new technologies that can really make a difference.

Disclaimer: I've been picking on Microsoft for years, pretty much since leaving ten years ago. Now I work there again. The difference? My complaints are slightly better informed. :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Logitech Webcams

Logitech has been making webcams for a loooong time now. I think it was something like 1995 when I got my first one? Not exactly sure --- and it probably wasn't called a "web" cam then.

At this point they've become ubiquitous in our house. The #1 user is my son, who is always on talking to his grandparents, who finally got their own cams so they can wave back at him while he holds up the latest artwork or plays his guitar. I've actually used the camera for real on business trips a few times --- just like those sappy telecom company ads!

My advice is to just get a cheap $35 camera --- you don't need more at this point unless you're really going to spend a lot of time with it. USB connectivity has gotten amazing as well, so there's generally almost no setup hassle at all. Don't bother with whatever software comes in the package; popular IM apps like Yahoo Messenger support video natively now and that's all you need.


About a million years ago I was playing Racquetball in college and dislocated my shoulder. Following that incident I proceeded to have my shoulder come out on at least a weekly basis until 1996 when I finally found a great surgeon who realized that more physical therapy just wasn't going to cut it and sliced me open. After a few weeks recovery it's been perfect, but until this year I never went back to Racquetball.

My son and I took a "discovery" lesson together so that we both knew the rules and some basics about playing. It was fantastic. The pro at the club we're going to was great and gave us some super tips so that a nine year old and adult can play together competitively on a relatively even field --- he gets as many bounces as he wants, and if he doesn't return a serve it's a do-over. We're headed back tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.

Perhaps Squash next? I'm Mr. Active all of a sudden, wonder what caused that to happen?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Real Vermont Maple Syrup

I grew up in the Northeast and the only syrup we ever had on the table was real maple syrup. Every spring when the trees would begin to run my family would take a ritual car trip up to one of the farms where we could see the syrup boiling in the big pans and get our annual supply.

One year in elementary school we tapped the big maples in front of the school. School was just a few blocks walk for me, so I had the job of checking the trees over the weekend. After very little action for a couple of weeks, the weather turned and I had to find every jug and bottle in the house and spent the whole weekend running back and forth replacing them. After all that I think we made a gallon of syrup at best, but boy did the classroom smell great for the week that we were boiling it down on a hotplate in the corner.

Anyways, it never occurred to me that people would actually eat that fake crap that you get at the supermarket. If that's what you use on your pancakes and waffles, please give the real stuff at try. It is pricier, but totally worth it unless you really are stuck.

We got a family gift of a homemade "brunch kit" over Christmas --- real syrup, pancake batter mix, and Canadian slab bacon (we had to supply the eggs). It was a great idea and a gift we really enjoyed. Yum!

Tealight Fountain

This was a Valentine's goodie --- a cordless, near-silent mini fountain with tealights and (ooh) decorative pebbles! It's quite cheap and as such I was worried that it would look cheesy, but it's really very, very nice.

The fountain takes about 24oz of water and is completely cordless, running on two AA batteries (unclear as yet just how long they'll last, but so far so good). It really is very quiet, enough so that the sound of the water in the fountain is all I really register when it's on. The pillars position the tealights nicely --- perfect for next to the bathtub. A great find!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Avaratec Tablet PC

My kids have had a couple of computers in their playroom for years --- one of the benefits of starting and shutting down a bunch of companies over the last decade is a bunch of old hardware! For school this year, though, it made sense to get her a laptop that she could take to school and use in her room, etc.

I ended up getting her an Avaratec Tablet PC, which is at the low end of the tablet market. At just about $1,200 when I got it, it was a great deal. The first one was DOA which was a pain, but Circuit City took it back without any problems and then second one has worked great. It's a convertible, which means it can work as a traditional laptop or a tablet.

Mostly she uses it as a laptop with the traditional keyboard. But for drawing the tablet is really nice, and it has proven useful in a number of other ways as well. I just finally got a tablet for work (the Toshiba Tecra M4) and have been suprised how much I use it as a tablet. Microsoft One Note is actually a really nice app for taking notes during meetings, and I find myself actually sketching out block and flow diagrams rather than using my old standby #2 pencil.

I presume that sometime soon tablets will be the standard for the laptop form factor. And from my experience, it's no longer too bleeding edge to give it a try. Go for it!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rack-O Card Game

Good games are actually pretty rare. I just re-discovered Rack-O, which is a game I played with my Grandma as a kid. You basically have to arrange your cards on a rack from lowest-to-highest number, but you can't move them around. Instead you draw cards from the deck and swap them for ones on your rack. I remember liking it because it was easy to learn but interesting enough to play a bunch without getting bored.

Scrabble is my favoriate all-time game, but it requires a whole lot of concentration and diligence to do well. Cribbage is a winner as well; my dad and I played all the time. And of course you can't beat Poker when you've got a few people around, but that doesn't happen much here in anti-social land (note to self: time to teach kids to play Poker).

Any great family-type games you'd like to share? Bring them on, please!

Home S'Mores Kit

We have not one but two of these S'Mores Kits. No smoky campfires for us --- we're all about the trendy yuppieware. Can you tell I was skeptical? The kit is basicaly a little holder for a can of Sterno, some skewers and a special plate that holds marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers.

Truth is, this is a nifty little gadget. Easy enough to set up after any weekday dinner, but lots of fun when we set them up alongside a chocolate fondue on New Year's. I had tried to roast a marshamallow on our natural gas burner once upon a time, but it ended up with a nasty taste to it. The Sterno works great and is easy to work with as well.

And here's the secret --- I've been on a diet and just hit my goal after losing thirty pounds (yay). Roasted marshmallows are a really satisfying, really low-cal item, something like 10-20 calories per piece. So you can have a pile of them and not kill your calorie count. Not bad! Of course, you have to skip the graham crackers and chocolate, but still.

Extension Ladders

Last weekend it actually stopped raining here in Seattle. Of course, it immediately got insanely cold so that the fruit growers are freaking out and I'm huddling in my winter coat and smartwool socks, but that's another story. The point here is that I actually had a chance to clean out most of our gutters. I always leave this job undone until I look out the windows and see the rain pouring down the side of the house.

So anyways, I got out my trusty extension ladder and started mucking them out. Making my way around the house, a few feet at a time, freezing to death and pulling the nastiest of nasty slimy muck from the gutters, I was feeling pretty Zen (or maybe just a bit woozy).

It occurred to me that a good, solid extension ladder is a really great thing to have around. I've used ours not only for the gutters, but to build a two-story treehouse, break into the house when I was locked out, install my satellite TV and all kinds of other junk. And never once did I wipe out and have to go to the hospital like my dad did (woah dad, is that you shinbone?).

Simple tools but essential tools. Very nice.

Family Guy

I came late to the Family Guy party and have been catching up thanks to my trusty Tivo. It is truly a boon for my pop-culture-saturated psyche. This evening I was particularly impressed by the totally random reference to "You can't do that on Television", a Canadian kids show that ran on Nickelodeon back in the early 80s. Sadly, my wife was deprived and missed all of these shows growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania.

Watching Family Guy is a lot like playing poker with my friends from back in my first years at Microsoft --- basically an exhausting rapid-fire contest of who can make the most obscure references. Dave generally wins (hi Dave).

I think my favorite episode is when Brian (the family dog) goes to California to make it in the movies and ends up directing porn (and winning an award at AVN!). But jeez, it's so hard to pick just one.

(Oooh, looking through Amazon results for Nickelodeon, I just remembered another great afternoon-waster --- Clarissa Explains it All. Definitely give that one a peek too ... Melissa Joan Hart in her younger days!)