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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Unique Recipe Presentation

A unique way to present a recipe? Preposterous. I've been reading recipes since I owned my first cookbook, The Boxcar Children Cookbook, which my parents purchased for me when it came out through my school's Scholastic Books program. Since then I've spent a lot of time learning as much as I can about the "how" of cooking as opposed to just following a recipe blind. One of my favorite resources is Alton Brown, creator of the Food Network TV Show "Good Eats". Then I was searching around the other day for methods and recipes on how to prepare T-Bone steaks for our Christmas Dinner with the family and found a recipe on one of the websites I've seen in the past but hadn't been able to pay much attention to it. It is Cooking for Engineers and was created by Michael Chu. On his website, Michael will present recipes like the following:

Not sure if everybody is able to understand this presentation, but I'm sure that for most mathematical types you might agree that this is a pretty awesome way to look at a recipe. I chose this Osso Buco recipe because it's somewhat complicated so I could show you how a complicated recipe is shown, and because it sounded delicious! Check out the rest of the content on Michael's site for many other helpful hints and recipes!

Update: Sorry for the poor presentation on this site originally, hope it looks ok now. Had a tough time showing the HTML table properly so I just uploaded as an image. Thanks for the patience!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snowmageddon 2010

Hello all from the frozen tundra of Minnesota! Quite an adventure today as close to 24" of snow is scheduled to fall and our town has announced a state of emergency. Of course, I only found this out after I tried to go out. Normally the rule of thumb is if you can escape your driveway and onto a main road, you're good to go. Not the case today because they decided it was a losing battle to try and clean it up now, so they are waiting. I got about 3 miles from my house before I finally called it quits and went back home. Why was out I out do you ask? Well, it just so happened that I got one row of my driveway snowblowed out, when it decided to sputter and die. After careful inspection, we suspect that it has a clogged fuel filter. So I figured I'd either be staying and shoveling or going and snowblowing. So I made a run for it. Immediately when I hit the snow in my driveway I knew I was in trouble for I could feel it start to slow me down instantly. The Explorer fought against it with all it had but it gave up the ghost just at the end the driveway when it hit the hard pack from the initial plowing that occurred before the announcement. After an hour of getting all the snow out from around, under, and behind the truck I finally was able to manuever and made the decision to try and punch it into town. At this point, I should have known that there was going to be a problem when a couple goes walking past my driveway in the middle of the road on snowshoes, we said hello like it was a sunny summer's eve and I was washing my car, I love Minnesota. But on the other hand, the roads had less snow, and all I needed to do was keep forward momentum going, right? Easy peasy...until after 20 minutes of fighting heavy drifts and almost stopping to help somebody who was stuck in the middle of an intersection in a 4x4....I decided that my snowblower wasn't the most important thing and I should probably hightail it home.

Out my driver door when I arrived back home...all the way up to the door.

Another picture after I punched it into the driveway on the way home.

So yeah...I pushed about 2"-3" just to open the drivers door.

All in all, this is part of the reason I love living in MN, the high highs, the low lows, and the fact that I just saw another couple outside out walking their dog. This is definitely a strange place to live...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Project: Wii Golf Simulator

Project Name: Wii Golf Simulator (WGS)
Project Type: C# Program
Project Reason: I just got a Wii Balance Board, already had Wii Motion Plus, and with Winter starting I began playing the Wii more, plus a new diet had me trying out Wii Fit Plus. So Wii Fit Plus comes with a great Golf Driving Range, which looks at your weight shift to determine ball flight/power. Pretty good, but not great because it doesn't take into effect your arms. Slide in Tiger Woods 2K11...this is awesome because it picks up every single bit of movement with the Motion Plus and is very accurate with swing action. However, no balance board so nothing in the weight shift taken into account. The question is...how hard would it be to create something that takes both into account?

Project Plan: To create a C# program that interfaces with the Wiimote, Motion+, and the Balance Board to do data collection about a golf swing and report back information about it. Possibly even present a 3D model with movements tied to the movements being logged by the hardware.

Project Cost: $0
Project Timeline: ~1000hrs (plus or minus 2hrs) - span will be over my lifetime
Project Starting: Evening of 11/25/2010
Project Phases:
1) Datalogger for hardware
2) Data Interpreter to interpret data into body motions
3) Display Model to show motions
4) Collect data and video from real golf swings
5) Data Interpreter to interpret data into ball flights
6) Display Models to show ball flight
7) Create Gameplay/Instruction Modes

Initial Resources: http://www.brianpeek.com/blog/pages/wiimotelib.aspx

Obviously, not exactly an overnight project (even with Mr. Peek doing 75% of my work by creating his fantastic Wii Library), but I haven't done any real programming in a long time and I was inspired. This is not my first golf-style simulator either, for my Senior Thesis project at Kettering University I used a Cognex Machine Vision Camera to track a real golf putt and determine how good of a shot it was. As it turns out, just because the ball went in the cup there are still a number of ways to determine just how good the putt was.

Eventually once I have something that somebody can see, I'll be creating a Sourceforge Project page.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Removing the Blog Cobwebs

Summer has bit me in the butt this summer when it comes to projects...apparently I like just hanging out doing nothing...or I traveled a lot for work and have gone through 3 reformats on my computers and 3 reformats on my Blackberries. It was crazy, I didn't travel on an airplane for work a single time in 2009...now 2010 has seen me going to Germany, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. And the majority of those all came in the month of June.

Along with that I had my laptop blow a screen, so I got a brand new Lenovo T510. I don't have a lot of love for IBM now Lenovo laptops, but so far this is a pretty nice one. I received it the day before leaving on a trip, and I was pretty excited because it was supposed to come with Windows 7 on it, and I was ready to move on from XP to see what all the hype was about...of course as I pushed to get the laptop as soon as I could because my other one was broken and I didn't want to be in an old intermediate laptop for too long, it ended up coming with XP. No time to reformat now, I'll have to travel with it. Gotta say...it sucked. It was almost jittery...which a Quad Core Processor with 4GB of ram should never ever ever be jittery....it was. Finally when I arrived back in the office, I was able to reformat it to Windows 7. Much better. I think it was actually too much machine for XP, which lead to XP having to try to decide what to do with all the excess processing power and caused jitters. I liken the situation to XP wanting to bounce a ball against a wall, but my computer had so many resources instead of hitting a wall and bouncing back, it was like throwing a ball into a field and having to run after it. However, Windows 7 did give me a problem...I was getting BSODs after installing certain programs. Programs that I've seen installed on other machines and programs that should have no problem (one was Microsoft Sharepoint Designer 2007...Microsoft!!) The BSOD pointed to the antivirus that my company runs which is F-Secure (an aside? This program sucks) however uninstalling that made no difference in the installation process except instead of a BSOD my computer just locked up instead. Then came Safe Mode and System Restore to the rescue. Of course, I was about to go back on the road so no time for another reformat, this led to installation of Windows XP Mode. What is this you ask? Why, this is a program that acts like Windows XP so you can run programs in an XP environment. In other words...it's a repackaged Windows Virtual PC. I was a little disappointed to learn this, because I've never seen virtualization work really well and really seamless. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. Virtual PC works so flawlessly within Windows 7 and when you're working inside of it, you swear you're using a standard Windows XP machine. The second thing that is really nice is that it's very easy to share files between the harddrive and the Virtual Harddrive. Loaded up with virtualization I continued on for a few more weeks, then just last week I was able to get a new reformat finished. Thankfully, no BSODs any more, so now I'm back in rebuilding mode.

Along with the computer stuff, I was also very very glad to see the launch of the new iPhone4. Of course, this was not because I was able to get one..I don't want one. However, it meant that the manager of my department was able to get one and I was able to slide myself into a Bold 9700. Fantastic device, smooth as silk, optical trackpad, 3G...just great. Of course, that means I had to reset up the phone as well while I'm messing around with resetting my computer, all while I'm traveling around and starting to pack up the house for the big move.

Soon I'll have some follow-up posts to talk about the new Blackberry and some new apps I've discovered, along with possibly some Windows 7 widgets and goodness.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ford Explorer: Project Vents - Post 1

Well, my first project with the blog up and running so it'll be a learning experience for all of us. Feel free to comment with ways you'd like to see this presented. Here's my hope for a first try format:

Step 1: Pre-Project Post - Give reason for project, goals, expected timeline, and any up-front research materials and costs.

Step 2: In-Project Posts - Posts within the project that will include progress, pictures, costs, and issues. Not sure how often these will come, probably once a day maybe...we'll see. If you're interested in mid-project information, follow me on Twitter.

Step 3: Wrap up - This post will be written so that somebody with the same problem can follow this single post from start to finish and hopefully do the same thing with minimal problems.

So there we go, this is the first post on the first project...so be gentle.

Project Name: Vents
Project Type: Ford Explorer
Project Reason: The vents in the Explorer will not change from blowing out of the defrost and the floor to the panel vents. Very not cool for the A/C season!
Project Cost: $0
Project Timeline: 5-10hrs over 1-2days
Project Starting: Evening of 5/30/2010

Initial Resources: http://www.justanswer.com/questions/3814k-2003-ford-explorer-only-blows-air-from-the-dash-vents-switch


Hello All!

Sorry I've not posted for a while, part of it was because I didn't have much to write about, part of it was because this blog was created to document projects which I haven't done many of recently, but most of all I've just been lazy and forgetful. However, I'm about to embark on a project which I hope it to be the first one which I fully document...we'll see how it goes.

So I will post a short introduction to the project next, which is going to be trying to fix my vent system on the Explorer, as right now it's stuck on defrost and floor and it's getting hot and the A/C is not very useful on that setting.

Also, here is a quick follow-up to my previous post about Integrated technology...it may not be a phone, but it at least runs on a phone OS...it's a start.

That's right, when docked it's a fully functional netbook with Windows 7, and if you remove the screen you get an Android powered tablet...how cool!

Let's see, what else to mention of things I've found in the recent findings...

- Worldmate Travel App on the Blackberry is pretty cool, for free you can forward your confirmation emails of your flights, cars, and hotels and it scours the emails and displays all your travel details in an app complete with confirmation numbers, phone numbers, and maps to the hotel...very handy.

- I'm currently downloading BitBop, which claims to offer free TV streaming to mobile devices and acts like a little DVR for the phone so you can set which shows to show up.

- The wife's android phone got upgraded finally to Android 2.1, days of course to when Android 2.2 was announced (Froyo). Lots of cool features added, a few interesting bugs added, all and all good update. Google Navigation is a very amazing beta...can't wait til they put more time into it.

- Just started working with Trapster a little bit, it adds a new layer to your google maps basically alerting you of all the speed traps, cameras, and regulated speed zones in your upcoming path. It's all driven by other users, so it works best in well populated areas. I still haven't found a good mounting solution for either phone yet so I have yet to use it to it's full potential...we'll get there.

- OurGroceries is a great app that keeps lists...kinda like the Maratick that I talked about before. However, this one allows you to connect your lists with another persons, which means when you open it you get anything the other person has added! How fantastic for families who want to keep an updated grocery list for everybody who's grocery shopping. We've linked my Blackberry App with the wife's Android app...everything working as promised. Just make sure to close the app down fully otherwise it'll chew up battery and bandwidth as it's always checking...Push functionality anyone?

At the risk of this becoming a Blackberry Blog, I'll stop here by mentioning that it looks like I weasled my way into a Blackberry upgrade to go along with a laptop upgrade, so soon I might have a few more apps to play with and report on along with some Windows 7 pros/cons.

Beyond that, look forward to a project post here soon and I'll try to post some daily updates.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Installed Apps on my Blackberry

So I'm about to embark on a new OS for my Blackberry Curve 8900, and I always do a full wipe when I do this. I say always, but really I've only done this once before. Things worked out really well for me last time so I don't have many worries. This time I'm going to take it a step farther and install a hybrid OS. This is where a really smart dude takes the binary files for all the Blackberry OS files he can get his hands on and take bits and pieces creating a masterpiece of wonder for your phone. Supposed to help battery life, general issues, and memory optimization. Of course, due to the full wipe, it's time to document which apps will get re-installed afterward. So I thought I might write up a post to highlight my list. Hope it helps somebody someday.

Social Media

Mapping / GPS
Google Maps
Blackstar - Geocaching and GPS waypoint logger
BBGPSGolf - Golfing GPS application which allows you to map out a golf course before hitting the links using Google Maps satellite view. Pretty awesome app for golfers.

BBWeather - Free weather app, icon changes with conditions, and auto-updates location based on GPS signal
YouMail - Free Visual Voicemail service!!
XE Curreny - Keep track of currency exchange around the world...gotta keep an eye on that Euro!
TwinsBaseball.com - Gotta keep track of my World Series bound team
MaraTick - Simple checklist app
Navita Translator - Handy when in Europe in case you forgot how to say something
FileScout - File Explorer App
Google Talk
Microsoft Live
Blackberry App World

Baby Go! - Simple game that locks out your phone and says the letters to your child.

On the Bubble
Not sure if I'll be putting these back on or not, but I figured just in case I need the names I'll throw them down.

Scanlife - 1D Barcode Reader
Beetagg - 2D Barcode Reader
Viigo - News/RSS Feeds

Well that's about it, here's hoping it goes well again, nothing like getting IT ticked off at me on a Friday. :)

Huh? What? Did I forget something? OH!! RIGHT!! THEMES!

Well I only use one, but it would have been rough had I lost it and had to go refind it again. The best thing I can find for the name is com_plazmic_theme_Blackberry_Prov3...interesting. Basically it's a dark theme, it has quick shortcuts for Messages, Calendar, Browser, Options, and Profiles built into the bottom row. I can preview items like Messages and Calendar, and then on top of that I have 5 more configurable icons I can place on the main page. Along with a Weather icon that will show up in the top corner. It's pretty sweet....

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Future of Integrated Technology

So I was talking with my father over the phone the other day, and if you wonder where you came from just look at your parents and you'll probably see yourself. Anybody who knows me knows that this is definately the case when it comes to me. My father and I have spent a number of nights thinking up 30 different ways to solve problems, and this past evening was no exception aside from one critical detail. This time my father came to me with an idea that was rooted in state-of-the-art technology. Before I reveal to you his idea, you must understand my father. He has a computer which connects to the internet via dial-up, the majority of the phones in his house are rotary, and in order for him to get a cell phone I had to thrust it into his hand and say it was paid for. I think you get the idea, so now you're prepared to understand the importance of him having this idea.

He's been watching my wife and I playing with our new smartphones, and he thought about how powerful just the phones were getting nowadays. He thought it would be a pretty good idea if you came home, you plugged your cell phone into the home docking station and then immediately all the already installed home phones routed through the cell phone. Then you could have an external monitor and keyboard, and the phone could basically be your computer. This would especially be useful for those of us that just use the computer to surf the web, read email, perhaps writing some letters. I thought this was a fantastic idea, and figured there might be such a beast already. As it turns out, my assumption was half correct. First, to make the home phones route through your cell phone, it seems the best option in this market is the Dock-N-Talk from PhoneLabs. It connects to your phone through bluetooth, and basically makes all the landline phones just like a bluetooth headset.

The second half of his idea has not seemed to come into existence yet, however there is no lack of people that would love to have this ability. Like I've already written about, my wife has the Samsung Moment with an 800mhz processor...I think it'd be fantastic to have a monitor + keyboard for this platform. The closest thing to this is the netbooks that have started to get popular. There are even a few out there running Android on a netbook. However, a netbook still doesn't fix the problem of the need to eventually have to walk out the door and you need something to fit in your pocket. So far I haven't seen much in the way of a product that fits into this product realm.

So if you know of something like this on the horizon please let me know, this sounds like a great combination of technology and accessories.

Oh, and Dad? Just to let you know last night when we talked about you not owning a dedicated CD player? You have 2, both of them are my old stereos you have setup in the garage. :)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Blackberry App Development - My Beginnings

Journey to the center of Blackberry Application Development: Part I

I started using a blackberry for the first time August of 2009 when I firmly requested I get to use one for work. I'm thankful that I joined the Blackberry community when I did, because I'm not sure how I would have liked the older berries. I currently run a Curve 8900, and even that I feel I should have held out just a few more months. A few more months and the 9750 Tour would have been released with so many more features that I "need". A released 5.0 OS, 3G, and a touchpad instead of the trackball...just to name a few.

So as it is with many different things, the more I work with something, the more I wonder about how to customize it and make it mine. Of course I have the usual gammit of apps I've downloaded and I've found a theme that I love. But that never stops the brain from saying, "Why doesn't this app exist, or why doesn't this app do this better?" So I have some ideas floating around, and I've wondered how hard it is to build those apps. A while ago I started looking into it just from an overview standpoint, and was unable to get it going. That being said, I never really got to the point of banging my head against the wall. I was able to glean that there were a number of IDE's to choose from, the simulatators available seemed pretty robust and full-featured, and the most important thing was that even simple applications have no visual development available. This is a pretty crazy thing to think about for me, I've always been a purely Visual programmer for the most part, if only there was such a thing as VB7 I'd be a happy camper. (Don't even comment about .NET being better...I don't have time right now to post that particular rant)

So after some very busy months in life and at work, I'm now back to a point where I have a pretty good idea that I wanted to present to some friends of mine. Whenever I present an idea, I always find it necessary to include screenshots because that always makes an idea seem more "real". So I loaded up the Blackberry JDE ready to start up a simple HelloWorld project, only to find that it didn't open for whatever reason. Alright, try opening this, open that, got the simulator fired up from the JDE...great sign! Only problem, I can find my app anywhere in the simulator. Hrmmmm, alright so I start googling around. Find a tutorial on how to get started, so I try that since it starts me out from scratch...end up getting to the exact same error! Argh. ok, so now it's time to start Googling the error, lots of people seem to have the same problem, but strangely no clear answer to how to fix it. It appears like it has something to do with either having a different JDK installed or changing the Windows Environment Variables. Suddenly I'm having a bad feeling about this whole experience. One of the posters said that using the Blackberry JDE was a mistake to begin with, when there is such a thing as Netbeans with the RIM plug-in. Sounds great, let's go!

Get Netbeans downloaded and when I go to install it says I don't have any JDK's installed. Hmmm, k, that might be why the Blackberry JDE didn't work. Found a JDK and installed it. Now Netbeans installs great, and while that was happening I fired up Blackberry JDE and the error was gone! Or at least so it seemed, now I have a new error....and it doesn't have an error number or anything other than "An Error Occurred". Oh great, this thing has descriptive errors that rival Siemens Step7...#$#%$!!! oh well, I'm installing Netbeans, remember? This will be great...

Once Netbeans finishes installing, I quickly install the RIM Plugin, which works like a charm. Alright, *claps hands* let's get to work. Jump back on Google where I saw about 6 different links for Blackberry development using Netbeans. The first tutorial I went to had a broken link. No big deal, there are others...I'll try one from the Netbeans documentation site....broken link again. A little frustrating but no biggie, things move around. Fast forward an hour and I still haven't found a good link to a working tutorial!!! So now I"m staring at a piece of software I have no idea how to use to develop for a platform I'm unfamiliar with in a language I haven't used since college. Fantastic.

Now, there is one last IDE option I was sort of avoiding because it's been labeled as buggy and finicky and considering my last two failures, I wasn't in any mood for buggy or finicky. That option is using the RIM plugin for Eclipse. The only reason why I'm considering it is because Eclipse is the IDE of choice for Android development which I will also be delving into for the same project. And remember, at this point I'm only hoping for some pretty screenshots...maybe it won't be too bad.

So my plan as of right now is to uninstall everything Java related on my computer and start again. Perhaps the next post will be a clear concise tutorial to get working on developing apps for the blackberry, but I have a funny feeling it will turn into a post blasting blackberry app development and saying that everybody and their brother should just switch to Android.

Check me out on Twitter over the next few days if you like to read swearing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Wild Tymes Sports Bar & Grill

Today we decided to take the family out to the MN Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul. The kids had been seeing the advertisements for their new "Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice" exhibit and my wife was right on the ball when she realized that today was the 3rd Sunday of the Month. For those that aren't aware, the 3rd Sunday the museum is open free of charge thanks to Target . Of course the downside is that it's extremely busy, but hey free is free. So in our classic fashion we got in the car at almost exactly lunchtime. So by the time we finish with a few errands on the way, we realized we were going to need lunch. We hardly ever take ourselves out to eat, so we figured today might be a good day to check something out in Downtown St. Paul. Once we found our usual parking spot in the Macy's parking garage (also free every Sunday, no purchase necessary) we set about finding someplace to eat. I pull out the blackberry and fire up "Poynt" so that it could "Poynt" me in the right direction. After skipping through the usual list of McDonalds and anything with the word "Deli" in it (since they usually have nothing for the wife to eat) I came across two potentials. Mickey's and Wild Tymes. Both have pretty good reviews, so I called up Wild Tymes as they are a sports bar and I wasn't sure they'd be open for a Sunday Lunch. Sure enough they were, and we were off.

At first we didn't realize we had made it there, the place itself was a little unassuming and not well marked. When we walked in we were immediately greeted and seated in a booth. Immediately upon seating us, the waitress noticed that my middle child Alex had his Chuck Taylor shoes on, and quickly commented. I mean, here is the gaggle of people (5 total) and she actually notices the shoes. The little shy boy now has a friend.

Once seated, we start figuring out what we're all going to have. Of course Zora puts up a stink about wanting to sit in a booster chair, so we get another one for Alex. Shortly into the decision making process he apparently was reaching for Matt at the end of the table and toppled end over end out the side of the booth. He wasn't harmed and it was totally his fault (nothing a little motherly love couldn't fix) but almost immediately his buddy the waitress heard what happened and produced a cookie. This was promptly shared with the other two, and now she has 2 punches in the plus column with the little guy.

While reading the reviews on the Blackberry, I read that the portion sizes tended to be quite large, so I suggested we just get a plate of fries and a plate of chips and salsa (conveniently the two least expensive things on the menu..I'm not cheap, I swear!! ) and see where that took us. When the waitress came over to take our drink order, Zora decided she was going to be cute and order a "Diet Coke" which of course makes just about anybody take a step back when a 4yr old orders a diet, but she is her mother's daughter after all. We ordered our appetizers and awaited our meal.

When the fries came out, they were heaping so high on the plate my wife actually exclaims, "Holy crap that's a lotta fries!!" to which I smile inwardly and thank the reviewer who took the time to give me that little tip. Needless to say, I have now entered that tip in to the Foursquare database as well, so if you happen to Foursquare and check-in to Wild Tymes you should be aware of the portions.

Throughout our meal our waitress was in constant contact with us, and it was clear to us that she genuinely cared about our well-being while in her care (or at least she was really good about faking it. :) ) Overall, our dining experience while there with a family of 5 people was fantastic, and much of the success was thanks to our server. So thanks Joline for a wonderful lunch!! The only gripe I would have of the place was that the menu stated they had Coke products, she offered us Sprite by name, but as we were leaving my wife did notice that they actually served Pepsi products. She thought her pop tasted a little off but wrote it off..so I would suggest they fix their menu or at least make sure people are aware. I know I prefer the Coke persuasion much more than Pepsi, but that may be yet another post.

GPS Navigation for Blackberry Follow Up

Some of you may have read my initial post on Navigation options on the Blackberry after Amaze decided to start charging for their navigation service. I listed several possible options that were revealed after searching. I think I've given each one a good run, and to save you the reading...nothing good.

Nav4All - Recently announced that TeleNav NavTeq (Editted per Ralf's comment) did not renew their subscription to provide Nav4All their data. So instantly 24 million users had the doors shut on them...and surprise surprise Telenav also announced that they have a navigation app and would gladly accept $10 / month to use the service.

Life in Pocket - Definately works to give Turn by Turn navigation, however there's a catch...no map! It shows a nice picture of a the intended turn...terrific.

Poynt + Google Maps - Isn't navigation at all, Poynt is just a search engine that acts like a wrapper to Google Maps. That's good, because everybody knows that Google really wasn't made for searches...:-P

Google Navigation - Still the true winner, and I've never even seen it in action aside from videos. The wife will be getting her Android next week, a Samsung Moment. Needless to say, this geek is excited considering she was initally leaning towards a Palm Pixie. (However, while researching things for this blog post I found out the Moment is still shipping with Android 1.5, so no Google Navigation out of the box, but it appears they will be updating to 1.6 or 2.0 soon....hrmmm) As far as Blackberry receiving Google Navigation there has not been any official news but the reality is it will happen like everything else...about 6 months behind the iPhone. And the iPhone is rumored to receive it "as soon as Apple gives the go ahead" according to a Google Spokeperson. Can't we all just get along?!

So there we have it, no good options but to work with except the current Google Maps interface with no turn by turn. But as I'm attempting to feign a sense of objectivity...here's a few options that aren't free:

Amaze - While I can't fault a company for wanting to make a buck, this one in my opinion was not worth almost $3 / month service fee.

Telenav - The convenient newcomer to the scene once Nav4All shut it's doors unexpectedly is $10 / month.

Garmin - This is a one time fee of $100..not exactly chump change, but at least you don't have to pay for it monthly. There is a 7 day free trial, so I guess if I cared more I'd give it a shot.

I'm sure there are more, but I only care about paid apps so much, after all I have a pretty well functioning blackberry without paying a dime for any pay apps. Of course..there are apps I wish existed or worked better, but that's a whole different post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Undercover Boss

Let me start by saying that I don't watch TV. Let me also say that for the most part I really despise most reality TV. I was about to type "all" reality tv but then I was reminded by the brain that some of my favorite shows are reality tv. Shows like Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs...I'm only a little infatuated with the Discovery channel so leave me alone...(boom de yadda boom de yadda, boom de yadda...) But I can't think of a reality tv show that I've enjoyed on broadcast tv, I mean Survivor? Big Brother? Amazing Race?! Can't these shows just die? Networks sure are happy to take away the good shows (The Unit and West Wing just to name a few)and leave these crappy ones. The only good part about losing good shows is it keeps the number of shows to watch low so as not to get overwhelmed.

However, tonight I watched the premiere of Undercover Boss. For those of you that haven't heard anything about it, it's a show that puts the Presidents and CEO's of large corporations on the front line. They get to see how their broad brush policies change the ways of everyday workers. Their first show featured Larry O'donnell, President and COO of Waste Management. He spent 7 days undercover in his own company posing as a run-of-the-mill worker. Now perhaps it's because I feel passionately that management of companies should be held accountable for the policies they end up creating so we can meet our company goals. I've said more than once that it'd really be nice to say we need to become x% more efficient without having to worry about what it's going to take in order to do that.

So anyways, if you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend that you go over to CBS and watch the episodes online. One reviewer said that it was "Surprisingly Moving" and that is exactly the case, you don't expect it to move you quite as much as it does.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Spice House Responds

Not long ago, I blogged about our experiences at The Spice House. I sent the link to the contact form on their website, and one of the owners Patty Erd wrote me back! I'm not sure how much of this letter was canned, however to me it didn't sound at all canned, so I'm amazingly grateful for her to take the time to engage the conversation with me. Some things I agree with, some things I disagree with, however when I read through her letter the first time it sounded as if she was a little on the defensive. Perhaps my original post sounded negative, and if that was the way it was received I apologize profusely. My goal from my review was to HIGHLY recommend the Spice House, but as with most things I think that even good things can be made better. So check out Patty's letter below, and I'll have some short responses below that.

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your review, very nice blog site you have. I wish I could find the time to blog more. In actuality, the business we are in, is extremely time consuming as we make all of our product, not quite from scratch, as the farmer gets the credit for the hard work of growing and harvesting the spices and herbs. We get it is bulk from all over the world, the sourcing and procuring high quality on a crop by crop basis is one of the hardest things we do. Once it arrives, we grind small batches fresh weekly to ensure very fresh product moving in and out of the store. So we grind cinnamon once a week, today we ground a weeks worth of black pepper. These then get mixed into our seasonings, and unlike you and your wife, the average customer buys far more mixes than straight spices. Very few people make their own taco seasoning, for example, but most home cooks make tacos and they use some sort of premade seasoning. We also hand package our gift boxes, and even though my staff is primarily culinary school graduates, I do not have any cheap nighttime labor to do this tedious gift box making, we all pitch in. We also have an incredibly busy website, and on any given day we ship out several hundred packages, again all packed up by us. So rarely does the free time expand enough for all we would like to do!

We appreciate and understand your suggestion, but we have been in business 53 years, and it has been a long evolution to figure out what does and does not work. The little bags are the cheapest way to buy spices, but they are not at all good for long term storage of spices. So if we premade your box, and those spices stayed together for a few weeks, all the bags would become similar in flavor, and cloves would be the dominant flavor. Sort of like that smell you get in our store, which is a mix of everything? We also have over 450 products, and for us to pick what the average person would want, would be pretty presumptuous, sort of like me telling your wife what five colors of blouses she should have in her closet! On your list, for example, I never use paprika, whole cumin, rosemary, sage or nutmeg as I really dislike these flavors. We do let people buy these one ounce packages so that they can try new things without huge expense, but once they have figured out what they like, most of our customers get a jar, and then continue to refill the jar when they bring home the next batch of spice. We only sell these one ounce packages in the shop, the website does not offer them. We also have really, really nice gift cards, so your gift recipient can be sure to pick which flavors they like. The gift card is packaged in a nice bag with our 52 page catalog and some lovely smelling spices we drop into the bag, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, to make a much more special presentation than a generic gift card.

So next time you are in, please ask if I am in and if so, I will be happy to give you the nickel tour and show you where the straight spices reside. I do want to let you know that most of Chicago's top chefs even buy curry powder from us, which is quite a testimonial to our curry. I had to drive to our Milwaukee store last week, as the film crew of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations filmed me and a top Milwaukee chef mixing up our special Maharajah curry powder which was going to be used in a special luncheon dish for Anthony the next day. They filmed the whole day, so if I don't get edited out, this will air on the show in a few months. So hopefully, you might give our curry powder a chance! And Alton Brown does actually order vanilla extract from us regularly, although he certainly does not need to worry about budget like most of us do.

Thanks again for the review,

Patty Erd
The Spice House

So there you have it. Overall I want to thank Patty for taking the time out of her busy schedule to write back to me. A few things I want to throw out there...

- Wonderful point that the little bags wouldn't be good for long term storage, but I guess I'd just say let's remove a few spices and throw them in the shaker jars. Or do you know of another low cost method in which you could pack them so the tastes wouldn't wander?

- As far as not being presumptuous about what the average cook would want in their spice cabinet, granted not everybody would use the same few basic spices/herbs, but I would say that we could make a pretty good guess. I mean, every time you put together a gift basket you are being presumptuous about what somebody would want.

- Regarding the large number of spice mixes, one of my good friends Don reminded me that creating a spice mix isn't always an easy task and a good spice master is hard to find. Perhaps I'm just not used to using spice mixes (aside from the Italian Seasoning Blend and Chinese 5 Spice) that it was just a bit overwhelming to me. I will chalk this up to my inexperience with spices. Perhaps I just expected a shelf of straight spices and the other shelves were the mixes, instead of just intermixed with everything. But this I suppose organization structures are different for everybody.

Overall though, I want...no check that...I NEED to convey how much I love your store. I think I said that when we arrived my wife froze at the possibilities and didn't know what she wanted to buy. Once we got home to MN, she cleaned out our spice cupboard and we sent away for a stocking order from you. We have a friend who lives a few blocks away from the Milwaukee store so he went and bought the small packs of them for us and sent them over. We just want to make sure we actually would like them, especially for those with more than one option. Paprika for one...we've never used it as a spice as anything at the grocery store is just coloring. We went with the Hungarian Spicy or something like that, and it's fantastic. We had the spices sent to work and everybody who came by my cube could smell the bag I had on my desk and asked about it. Maybe a MN branch is on the horizon? I still haven't found a good option here in MN....more on that later.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I have failed to #GetHealthy

Well, time for an update to my experience thus far in the John P. Health Challenge , and to put it lightly...so far I've failed in almost every way possible.

Basically, I haven't changed my eating habits, I was still drinking Pop, still finishing my plate at restaurants....*sigh*. I could blame the fact that it's hard to start a new way of doing things when you are out of town, I could say that it's hard to not eat yourself silly when you're wife is such a good cook, I could even say that I just am not feeling like I'm connecting with my fellow #GetHealthy tweeps. But those are excuses, plain and simple. The truth is I needed to make the decision again to #GetHealthy and really want to achieve my goals.

So I'm starting this new stage of the Health Challenge the way I've started other changes in my eating habits...a long hard fast. I'm aware that not eating is not a good way to lose weight, but the truth is I needed a way to shrink my stomach, start fresh, and test my willpower a little so that the rest of the Health Challenge will seem like child's play. I even bought some coffee to have at home...which will probably be the hardest part of this Health Challenge is the giving up of Pop and Beer.

Though one thing I have been doing that's been reasonable is keeping up with my excercising. I have my co-workers and my employer to thank for that. My employer, TURCK Inc. actually pays for me to have a membership at a fitness club across the street. This allows my coworkers and I to stop over there during lunch for some Wallyball, Raquetball, Basketball, Swimming and of course the core excercises. So let's see where I'm at so far with at least my physical goals:

Wallyball - Goal 6hrs - Actual 2.5hrs - 42%
Raquetball - Goal 30hrs - Actual 2.5hrs - 8.3%
Core Excercises - Goal 25 Excercises - Actual 1 Excercise - 4%
Swimming - Goal 50 laps - Actual 0 Laps - 0%
Pushups - Goal 1000 - Actual 10 - 1%
Basketball - Goal 10 hrs - Actual 0.75 = 7.5%

59 days in Health Challenge - 25 days completed - 42%

Well, it's obvious I'm a bit behind, but I don't think that I'm too bad off. I wasn't around for the first 2 weeks for excercising at the gym, so I took that into account with the goals. But I do need to ramp a few of them up...pushups for one and swimming for another. Well, I guess there's no time like the present...so I'll sign off of here and throw myself on the ground for some pushups. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: The Spice House and our journey to fresh spices

As many people know, my wife and I are somewhat cooking amateurs. We love to play around with this dish and that dish, and do dinner parties. Recently, we've found that we'd like to take our fascination of the kitchen to a new level and actually started trying to learn the techniques that make up the recipes instead of just following a pre-defined set of instructions. This has led us recently to re-examine our uses of spices. Specifically, Alton Brown from the show "Good Eats" recommended that we start using whole spices whenever possible, as the flavor will be much better, and they will keep longer in the pantry. Much to our surprise, almost all pre-ground spices will expire after about 6 months, as opposed to whole spices which could last up to 2 years. Imagine our surprise when we realized that almost all of our spices in our cabinet were expired! Of course, this doesn't mean they go bad like most foods, rather they just lose potency or flavor, so it was kind of a waste of effort to spice our foods at all.

Enter "The Spice House". This fantastic destination is a specialty shop in, you guessed it, spices and their uses. I was continuuing my journey through the second season of "Good Eats" when Alton introduced us to Patty Erd, owner/operator/blogger of the The Spice House. I immediately looked it up, and realized that when we drove back from Michigan to Minnesota, we'd be passing right past it. So it made perfect sense to stop in and see what all the fuss was about.

When we first walked in, we were immediately greeted by the "heady" aroma and a very welcoming greeting from one of the workers. We immediately began working our way around the spacious shop trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. We decided that since they are a bulk spice shop, we would just start out by buying most of our well used spices in small quantities so we can try and see if these "fresh spices" make any real difference. Almost every spice we looked at, we were encouraged to open the jar and sniff, or pour some out of the taster jar to inspect it. My wife thought it was very nice also that any spice/blend/mixture was clearly marked as "Salt Free" as this is a very important health fact for many people. It was a very nice experience overall.

However, we were actually a little dismayed at the overwhelming amount of "spice concoctions" that were trying to be offered to us. We did not expect to have to wade our way through all the mixes to find just the bare spices. Perhaps we are a strange exception, however we really weren't there to try out the "Taco Seasoning" or a "Salt Mixture".

The second thing that was rather dissapointing, was that it seems to us afterwards that a simple selection of basic spices, packaged in the sampler 1oz bags would have helped us out immensely. None of their gift boxes or sampler packs were the 1oz containers to be found. Most were large 4oz glass jars of 5-6 spices, some of which were the aforementioned "blends" that they really didn't do us much good. Here's my suggestion for a true "Noobie Sampler Pack" of which we plan to put together for a few gifts in the future:

1/2 oz Bay Leaves
Ground Cayenne Pepper
Crushed Red Peppers
Chili Powder
Whole Cumin
Hungarian Half-Sharp Paprika
Whole Rosemary
Rubbed Sage
True Ground Cinnamon
Coriander Seeds
5 Whole Nutmegs
Italian Herb Blend
Whole Cloves

I think that this encompasses the vast majority of standard home cooking. Yes, there will be things some people won't use, and there are things that people really ought to try, yet it would make the pack too expensive. (Ever try real Vanilla Extract from the bean? Hoo-boy....) If you were to buy all of these items at the smallest qty available (generally 1oz) you would end up paying $23.26 + tax according to the catalog we picked up in January of 2010...there was no date printed so I have no idea how up-to-date it is. I figure you could offer this for $19.99 and make the first experience slightly easier for many people.

As this blog matures I will probably throw together some other packs that I'd like to see made up as we find out more on our journey of spices. I will also probably highlight our search for good spices in the Minneapolis area and how it hasn't been very fruitful, and maybe I'll also highlight one of my favorite finds while at the spice house...the roasted cacao nibs. A slight cacao flavor with the texture of nuts, but without the pesky aniphilactic shock some people experience with nuts. But..."That's another post entirely."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Discount Cards

For Christmas I was given a new wallet, and the tradition I've been having with my kids is that whenever we get something for Christmas we start playing with it. It's fun for the kids because they get to start playing with the stuff they get, fun for the grandparents because they actually get to see them play with what they bought them, and good for the kids because they are focused on the value of that gift rather than what they are going to get next.

Now as you all know, whenever you get a new wallet you get to go through all the things that are in your wallet and give it a good "Spring Cleaning". What I was most amazed by were the gaggle of Discount Cards I had been saving up! Speedway, PetSmart, AutoZone, Great Clips, car washes, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, REI.....even the local liquor store! Ridiculous! How can it be possibly be cost effective to handle the data that these programs create? Do they really suck people in? Most of the cards I had in my wallet I forgot I had, so even if I went to one of those places I wouldn't have remembered to use it anyways, so why bother! Perhaps I'm a special case and most people in the world really want to have yet another thing to stress over...how many points I've received, what can I buy to get more points, once I get 1 gajillion points I can trade it in for a teddy bear.

Here's an idea: If you truly are putting these programs together because you believe that if I buy more I should be able to spend less at your place of business, let's start using some other method shall we? Scan my driver's license maybe? Probably not because then we're fumbling around trying to get it out of the little sleeve, and that's not good for a busy business either. You could track my debit card, but I really don't want you keeping that information with my name around anywhere. Probably the easiest thing is just ask me for my cell phone number; simple, quick, easy to enter once the cashier gets used to keying them in.

My first blog rant.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

GPS Navigation for Blackberries

Well, I recently wrote about the GPS application - aMaze, which was the free GPS navigation app I was using for a while. I then heard about how aMaze had decided to start charging for their services if you upgraded to version 5.0. Well, unfortunately for me after finding 4.5 on the intraweb it worked for a few more days before they "fixed the glitch". Now you startup 4.5 and it prompts you to say that versions 4.5 and lower are no longer supported and you must download the new version. Just to see how ridiculous they decided to make their prices I went and checked...$3.99/month. That's a lot more than free, so I gave them the boot. I was off in search of a new free navigation app. Of course, it's tough right now because most information out there is a little old so all you read about is people saying that aMaze is a great free app, however there are still some options.

Nav4All - Claims that it's free, I tried it once before when trying something else out. Feels like I didn't like it for some reason, however can't say I gave it a fair shake. Will re-download.

Life In Pocket - Sounds like a good deal, however it appears at first glance it's trying to do too much. Just give me directions, I don't need to search facebook through you, I have a facebook app! However, this definately seems pretty snappy. This may just be my winner. Most of the reviews online were good, some bad ones just seemed too old to still be credible. I imagine a few things have changed since 2006. Though a few things I read said that it doesn't give you a map view...just the next set of vocal directions. I suppose if the voice can play while my Google Maps is displayed..that would be pretty damn good!

Poynt + Google Maps - Heard this combination mentioned, however looking on the Poynt site it doesn't appear to have much mapping available. A little more digging revealed that Poynt has turn by turn directions using your favorite navigation engine. Might need some sort of login for the navigation engine, so we'll see. Regardless looks like a nice app for things like Movie times or restaurants.

Google Navigator - Currently only available for Android 1.6 or newer phones. This is the hands-down winner, so once it's on Blackberry there will be no need for anything else. Long live Google!
I have downloaded each option into the phone now, and will report on the findings in a later post. If you have any ideas or apps that you think I should try, please let me know so that I have a few more in my list that I can try again.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 John P. Health Challenge Goals

Happy 2010 Everyone!

As some of you are aware, one of my goals for 2010 was to get more involved with Web 2.0 in hopes that I could learn about how it could help in different sections of life. One of the ways I'm doing that is by following a few blogs. One of the blogs I started to follow was http://onemansblog.com. On there, he talked about embarking on a health challenge.

Reposted from John's Blog:

The Rules
Eliminate as much sugar from your diet as possible. No more candy, cake or cookies. You are allowed Two otherwise illegal candy bars per week IF you follow all of the other rules.

No sugary drinks like Coke (here’s why) or alcoholic drinks (huge calories)! In fact, nothing but water, unsweetened tea or coffee to drink! You are allowed Two otherwise illegal drinks per week IF you follow all of the other rules.

Decrease food portions by 30-50% for all meals. Instead of eating whatever portion you are given, slow down while eating and stop after you feel full.

Snack all you want, but only fruit, veggies or nuts are allowed!

Exercise at least 5 times a week. This doesn’t mean long exercise daily! It means frequent bursts of exercise. Pushups and situps a few times a day for example.

Publicly update the rest of us and encourage others to keep going! (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

The Health Challenge ends on Feb. 28, 2010.

A few things changed from last time based on our experience:
This time you get TWO drinks and TWO candy bars per week. That’s double!
I dropped the exercise requirement from every day to 5 days per week.
The Health Challenge is TWO months long instead of three.

So here I am sitting down to let everybody know what my challenge goals are going to be. I'm not really changing much in my daily excercise routine, but I'm going to be changing the way and amount that I eat, along with starting a new core body routine. So between now and Feb 28th I want to achieve the following:

30 hours of Raquetball - Probably try to get a tournament going between now and then to help add a few hours
6 hours of Wallyball - As it's a team sport, it's not as easy to get a ton of hours in on this
50 laps in the pool - It sounds like a tiny amount for some, but I've never swam before aside from hanging out a the lake or with the kids in the pool
1000 pushups - One of the few things I plan to do outside of the health club
40 Medicine Ball Workouts - Quick 10 min workouts that will work out the core

As far as results, I hesitate to even quantify those because in the past I've had a really tough time actually getting much, however I really hope to drop 25 lbs so I can get back to high school football weight of 220lbs.

Wish me luck!