Monday, December 31, 2018

Geeni TAP Smart Wi-Fi Light Switch

I've completed Phase 1 of my Smart Home deployment which includes:

  • A Google Home Mini for each of the four bedrooms.
  • A Google Home Hub for the Kitchen
  • A Google Home Hub for the Family Room
  • A Google Home Mini for the Garage
  • A Merkury Innovations Wi-Fi plug for the Christmas Tree Lights
  • A Merkury Innovations Wi-Fi plug for the Coffee Maker
  • Three Merkury Innovations Color Smart A21 Light Bulbs for the Dining Room
  • Four Merkury Innovations Color Smart A21 Light Bulbs for the Living Room
  • A Nest Gen 3 Thermostat
Since the fixtures in the bedrooms are solid LEDs and not light bulbs, I've had to wire in smart light switches in order to gain control of the lights through Google Assistant. So, Phase 2 of my Smart Home deployment began with the installation of my first Geeni TAP Smart Wi-Fi Light Switch. It's a light switch that doesn't require an additional hub to work. You can control it from the Geeni app and/or Google Assistant. Since my lights and wi-fi plugs are all managed through Geeni, I figured that I would stay with that structure. 

The good news is that I managed to install the light switch without passing any current through my body. The bad news is that, due to the nature of the neutral wiring in my house, the install was a pain in my rear. Most smart light switches currently on the market require the presence of a neutral wire in order to work. The one running though the bedrooms in my house doesn't offer much slack, so getting access to it so that I could twist it with the switch's wire was very difficult. The other issue is that the wire connectors included with the switch were too small to properly twist the paired wires together. I had to buy a pack of standard gauge connectors in order to twist the wires together properly. This meant that the switch box that houses the light switch had less room to hold the new Geeni switch. It took some creative placement in order to get it mounted flush with the wall. 

I eventually prevailed and I'm pretty happy with the results. The Geeni TAP Smart Wi-Fi Light Switch performs as expected. At $29.99 it's a bit more expensive than I would like, but, one can't argue with results, right? 

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Credit Card Number Is Go F*** Yourself

A "Lower Your Credit Card Interest Rate" scammer called me. He was trying to sign me up and get my credit card number. Whenever he asked a question, I hemmed and hawed and otherwise delayed so that I could keep him on the phone as long as possible. Just when he thought I was going to give him the credit card number, I ended up saying that my number was "5 1 7 GO F*** Yourself".

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ring Video Doorbell

My father has Parkinson's and is very nearly bedridden. In order to make life easier for him, my mother purchased a Ring video doorbell so that he can see who is at the door and converse with them via his phone or laptop. He'd like to eventually get to the point where he could touch a button and unlock the door, but first thing's first.

Mom bought the Ring video doorbell without consulting me. Had I been informed of the decision prior to her purchase, I would have recommended the Nest Hello. Yet, part of any good challenge is to see how one can make do with what one has been provided with. Mom has had issues getting Ring to work reliably with my dad's phone, so, as the family tech expert my Smart Home skills were put to work this Christmas with the goal of getting the Ring video doorbell working. I got it working, it just took an age.

The big thing that the Ring video doorbell has going for it is that you don't need to hook it in to an existing doorbell wire in order for it to operate. Ring can run on its own battery. That's a very attractive feature for folks like me who have houses without wired doorbells. The thing is, my parents' house has the necessary wiring. I don't know why their electrician elected not to use it. I can't imagine my mother would be too happy having to remember to recharge the Ring every-other-day.

Setup isn't all that difficult. You connect Ring to your wireless network, register for an account, confirm your registration, download the app to your phone or computer and then sign in. Easy enough, except the Ring kept having issues either talking to my father's phone or connecting to the wireless network (despite a very strong signal). Still, it's not the setup that I have an issue with so much as Ring's overall performance. On my father's near-premium phone, Ring is slow to respond to commands and incredibly slow to show the video feed. This, I'm sorry to say, is unacceptable with my father's condition. He needs something more peppy.

Myself, I'm so unimpressed with the Ring that I have actually contacted and electrician to run a wire to my doorway so that I can install a Nest Hello.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Installing The Nest Gen 3 Learning Thermostat

With my successful installation of the Nest Gen 3 learning thermostat, Phase 1 of my smart home plan is complete. Wal-Mart was running a deal where you could buy a Nest 3 and a Google Home Hub for $300. Since the Nest Gen 3 usually runs about $250 and the Google Home Hub usually runs about $150, I felt that this was too good a deal to pass up. Plus, my electric company will give me a $125 rebate on the Nest Gen 3.

Before you even buy a Nest, you need to check your existing thermostat wiring in order to make sure that your system is compatible. In order to do that, you just have to pull your thermostat off of the wall. Once that's done, take note of the letters pogs that your wires are going into. You will also want to note if you're using a cross over cable to connect two pogs together. As you can see in the picture of my own wiring, I've got a crossover between RC and RH. Otherwise, I've got wires going in to G, W, and Y (and instead of my Y wire being yellow, it's orange). Once you've got your wiring properly documented, head on over to the Nest website and check out the Nest Compatibility Checker.

So, assuming you have a compatible system, installation is a snap. It took me less than 10 minutes. First and foremost, TURN OFF YOUR FURNACE before you begin the installation. You should have a service switch somewhere near your furnace, but, if you don't you can still turn it off at the breaker box. Once the furnace is off, get the wires out of your existing thermostat. You'll want to make sure you document which color wire goes in to which letter pog. Nest provides you with a bunch of stickers that you can wrap around the wires, but, it may be less of a hassle to just take a picture and refer back to it.

My own system seems to have had at least one other thermostat attached to it at some point, so the area around the thermostat has some screw scarring. If this is the case for you too, you can make use of the included mounting bracket that will cover up various nicks and wounds around the thermostat. Then, you partially mount the Nest backing and place the wires into their corresponding places. There's no need for a screwdriver here. You just hold the pin down and push the wire in until it clicks. Once you get all of the wires in their proper places, you place the Nest control panel onto the backing and turn the power back to the furnace. Nest will then take you through the initial configuration which includes creating an account on which will help you control the thermostat from the Internet and will also integrate it into Google Home.

It hasn't even been 24 hours since my install, but I'm already loving this thing. At the very least, the ambient temperature sensor seems to be more accurate than the one that was in my old thermostat. And I like that I can set the thermostat over the Internet. It also has an option to use my phone's location to determine when I'm away and lower the home temperature accordingly. In order to use this feature properly, I'll need to get everyone's phone connected, but I haven't gotten buy-in from everyone in the house yet. I'm told it feels a bit too much like "Big Brother" watching. I say, if Big Brother wants to know when I'm driving to work and when I'm driving back, more power to him, so long as the house is at a comfortable temperature when I walk in.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Medicare Scammer Calls Me

A Medicare supplemental insurance scammer called looking for me. She started off by talking about the upcoming raise in Medicare rates. I kept asking her why she was increasing my Medicare rate and telling her that I was on a fixed income. She asked me what supplemental Medicare plan I had, and I told her I had Medicare Part Q. She eventually got tired of trying to explain things to me and hung up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

We Bought A French Bulldog

With the move to the new house this past weekend, I felt that it was a pretty good time to welcome a new dog to the family. My daughter had been wanting a French Bulldog for quite some time, so I started looking into them. They're the result of the breeding together of English bulldogs and French rat terriers. The French Bulldog breed is a playful, intelligent breed with an even temperament. French bulldogs have issues breeding, owing mainly to their narrow hips, so, puppies can be very expensive.  It's not uncommon to have to shell out $8,000 for one. I wasn't going to do that.

I joined a few Facebook groups that connected breeders and buyers. I found that an overwhelming number of them were shipping dogs out of the Ukraine for about $2,000. I imagined showing up at the airport, meeting the dog minder and ending up with a Borzoi. "Vat? Iz dog, yes? Iz French! Dog iz born in France".  No, thanks. I was tempted to tell my daughter "Let's just adopt a dog from the shelter. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll have a French Bulldog".

I did eventually find a breeder in Texas who was doing a mid-western caravan dropping of puppies. They had a few females available and we picked one that seemed from the video to have a playful personality. The price was fairly reasonable, and I wasn't asked to put down a deposit or sign any weirdo contracts. She was even willing to meet me at my new house. I declined that, however, as I still somewhat suspected that a beat-up white van might pull up to my house, a bunch of thugs would jump out, I'd have my money stolen and I'd be left with some worn out Neapolitan Mastiff. I instead suggested meeting at a well known, well traveled landmark in the area and arranged to have some friends blend in nearby as backup.

Introducing Her To Television May Have Been A Bad Idea
About three hours before scheduled delivery, the courier called me to tell me that she was lost. She was tired as she had been driving all day, so would I agree to split the difference in distance and drive out to meet her halfway? My spider-sense started to tingle, but I agreed, suggesting that we meet at another well known landmark roughly halfway between us. I couldn't ask my entire spy network to accompany me, so I brought along my two favorite goons instead.

We sat at the landmark for about 30 minutes eating drive-through food and keeping lookout for a van or truck with out-of-state plates. The courier called, saying that she couldn't find the landmark....which was easily visible from the highway. She then asked if I would be willing to meet her in a hotel parking lot that she had stopped at. I looked it up on Google Maps. It was well off the main drag but still somewhat decently traveled. Still, it was better to be cautious. I stopped about a block from the hotel and dropped my goons off with instructions to walk towards the lot but stay out of sight. If anything goes wrong, then SWARM!!!

My preparations would prove to be unnecessary. Instead of a gang of Russian dog runners, I was met with a frazzled woman minding four puppies who just needed a good night's rest. I paid her the agreed upon fee, called the breeder to confirm the transaction and then was met with the cutest puppy ever put on this Earth. She has already turned out to be a fine addition to the family. She loves zipping around the house chasing after everyone. And she is so very quiet. I only just heard her bark for the first time last night when I put on the television to watch the last half of Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I had worried that she might take after Walter The Frenchie. But, thankfully, her bark has very little whine to it. So far.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Plates

I closed on a house last week. The best part about it is that I was able to do it without cheating on my taxes or getting my mommy to co-borrow with me. Because that's how an adult does things, right?

A few weeks before my final walk-through, I told the previous owner that she could feel free to leave any items that had been in the garage and I would take care of disposing of them. Along with some other odds and ends, there was a decent dining room table and chairs stored in there that I felt we could use for a few months until we get around to furnishing the dining room.

After moving the dining room table out of the garage and into the dining room, I found a box tucked into a corner. It had obviously been there for quite some time, as it had been pretty well worn and faded. And inside that faded box? A pristine set of Christmas dinnerware. Someone had obviously opened the box, took one plate out to look at it, put that plate back in and then forgot about it. I imagine a previous occupant getting the Christmas plates as a gift, opening the box up for a round of halfhearted Ooohs and Aaahs and then deftly stashing it away while making a vague mental note to use the plates the next time that relative came over for the Holidays.

In a way, finding these plates was kind of fitting. Christmas came early this year when the family was brought together under one roof. Our little band of misfits found a place to call home and these tacky plates are a good reminder of how even the most unexpected offerings that life throws at us have their place. Our place is together, with these plates in our cabinets.....very deep in our cabinets, but there nonetheless.

So, we all gathered around the ramshackle dining room table and ate dinner from our Christmas dinnerware with smiles on our faces, laughter in our hearts, and joy in our souls. Myself, I decided to forgo the use of my usual coffee mug so that I could be the one who drank from the Christmas mug. And it was the best cup of coffee I had ever had.

All These Plates....But Just One Coffee Mug?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

How Google Home Makes Calls

We ordered pizza tonight. It went well with the ice cream cake we were having for the birthday party. Normally, when I'd call the pizza place, I'd just whip out the cell phone and place the call. But, now that I have Google Home, my Google Assistant can do it for me. I merely said "Okay, Google: Call [Pizza Place]". Google Assistant confirmed the number, dialed them up, and put me through. I placed my order with them and, when they confirmed my number, they spat my cell phone number at me. What the what? How did Google Home know to use my cell phone number?

Some folks believe that Google Home connects to your cell phone via Bluetooth and makes the call using your cell network. That's not the case. Google Home uses Voice-Over-IP technology (VOIP) to make calls. Phone call information is essentially the same thing as website information, streamed movies, MMORPG data, etc etc. The Internet doesn't natively know the difference between all that. It's all just data. So, it's not much of a task to send audio up and get audio down so long as you have two receivers in place (in this case, Google Home and a traditional land line phone) that can interpret the data properly.

But why did the pizza place think I was calling from my cell phone? Well, that's the contact that's in the Google account that I use for Google Home. If you don't have a phone number tied to your account, Google Home will dial a number for you, but your number will come up as [Private] on the receiver's Caller ID. You can also input any number you want to have show up on the Caller ID, but you have to have access to that number because Google will text or call the number in order to confirm that you're not spoofing.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2: Painful Screw-ups #3

I've got 14 days, 14 hours and 22 minutes of game time on Red Dead Redemption 2. I'm at 24% story completion, 49% overall completion and I'm currently about 2 quests into Chapter 3. I'm really enjoying just exploring, hunting, fishing and finding treasure. I think it's fair to say that I've gotten the hang of the game. Yet, I still have my share of epic fails in Red Dead Redemption 2. Here's the latest video of my painful screw-ups:

Monday, December 3, 2018

MAGA-Mart Commercial

It seems that Clovis has finally tired of trying to become a cold-call salesman and has decided to go into business for himself. He opened up a President Trump memorabilia store called MAGA-Mart located along the dirt road off of County Highway 1600 East. In order to help get the word out about his large selection of President Trump memorabilia and give MAGA-Mart some much needed publicity, Clovis has put together a radio commercial. Have a listen:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Chevy Chase Calls Me About Click2Sell

A guy from Click2Sell called me using the name Chevy Chase. Click2Sell is some kind of shady affiliate program that has been trying to get Clovis to join up. Still, I was so happy to hear from Chevy Chase because I loved his work from Caddyshack to the Vacation movies to the Community tv series. I was excited to ask him all sorts of questions, but, since I was taken by surprise by his call, I couldn't come up with anything truly insightful. Well, Chevy must be getting senile because he had no idea what I was talking about.

It turns out that he was saying "CHERRY Chase". He spelled out his name, "C H E R R Y" but couldn't spell "Chase". I then started mocking him by asking him to spell some other words. He eventually got frustrated and hung up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man: Turf Wars

Marvel's PS4 Spider-Man back again this month with Part 2 of its "City That Never Sleeps" DLC: "Turf Wars". Crime Boss and longtime Spider-Man baddie, Hammerhead, is out to take over in the wake of the power vacuum that resulted in Kingpin being thrown in jail. Making matters worse, Hammerhead and his goons have gotten hold of Sable-tech in order to help them take over the city. Yuri, Spider-Man's ally on the NYC police force, is damaged. She's got a personal vendetta against Hammerhead for a number of reasons and she's gone off the rails.

This is another fun entry into PS4 Spider-Man game. Combat is a lot tougher with this one, primarily due to the stepped-up weaponry. "Turf Wars" adds another new enemy type, gang members with powered shields AND jetpacks. These guys can be taken out with the same "slide under 'em and kick 'em from behind" tactic but their shield hurts to punch it, unlike the riot shield guys. Plus, they can do a charge move that can knock out Spidey's web gadgets. My solution? Launch 'em.

Screwball, of course, is back again as well and her challenges have another layer of complexity added to them. For example, stealth challenges now include both photobomb areas AND motion sensors.

In order to illustrate the increased combat difficulty, I've uploaded a video of me taking down a Hammerhead base.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Water Delivery Service Calls Me

A guy from Absopure, a water delivery company called me. He asked for Clovis, so I said "That's my dad" and handed him over. Clovis was having a rough day and was acting pretty senile. When the rep said "We had an inquiry online", Clovis said that he did not read the National Enquirer because it's a rag. After Clovis spouted off a few more random phrases, the guy excused himself and hung up.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Google Home Hub

I picked up the Google Home Hub from Wal-Mart during their Black Friday sale. It was selling for $99 which is down from it's usual retail price of $149. Also, Wal-Mart was offering a $10 Vudu movie credit along with the purchase. Now that I've sat with it for about 24 hours, what do I think?

At the very least, Google Home Hub makes a great digital picture frame. When it's idle, I have it showing a stream of my best pictures. But what makes for a "best" picture? What are the criteria? I don't know. They're hand selected by Google's algorithm. In Google We Trust!

But, what else can it do? Well, first off, I purchased a number of Merkury Innovations Color Smart A21 Light Bulbs to integrate with Google Home so that I can say "Hey Google, turn off the living room lights" or "Hey Google, turn on my bedroom lights". Turning the lights on or off with the voice command is a pretty neat trick, especially when I'm waking up, going to sleep, or walking into the house when it's dark out and the living room lights are out. I'm also fond of having Google read me the news on command. The speaker is decent enough where I'm not noticing any issues with sound quality. The display, however, is smaller than I would like, which is an issue when I'm trying to follow a recipe on video. Google Home can also play your Google Play Music playlists, and that's where you'll notice that the speaker on the Google Home Hub sounds a little flat.

We haven't quite mastered the shared aspects of Google Home yet. When someone in the house asks to add an item to the shopping list, Google Home adds it to their own individual shopping list rather than a shopping list belonging to the entire house. I'm sure there's a way around that. One of the neater things I can do is leave a voice note on Google Home Hub saying, for example "Don't forget to feed the dog" and when a Google Home device is next accessed, the message will play using my own voice.

I guess my ultimate verdict on Google Home Hub right now is "So far, so good". I'm waiting to integrate more services into it like a Nest Thermostat and a Nest Doorbell before making a final decision.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2 - More Painful Screwups

With Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 dropping Chapter 2 of its "City That Never Sleeps" DLC, "Turf Wars" yesterday, I'll be off of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 for a few days. Even though I still haven't progressed out of Horseshoe Overlook yet,  I've done quite a bit in Red Dead Redemption 2. And with those achievements comes some pretty spectacular and funny failures. I've compiled a new video of some of my favorite fails. Have a look:

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Beatles (White Album) Super Deluxe Edition

I broke down and bought a copy of The Beatles Super Deluxe Edition (or, if you prefer The White Album Super Deluxe Edition). The price tag of $140 made me think twice about getting it. That hefty price made me balk at getting the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Super Deluxe Edition several months ago. Plus, this would be the fifth time that I bought The White Album in some form or another. However, my interest in the White Album was strong enough, and the extra offerings were interesting enough that I felt that I could pull the trigger on this one. And, for the most part, I'm glad I did. I've been living with the album for about a week and I am ready to share my impressions:

The first thing that struck me was the decision to remove the fade over from Back In The U.S.S.R. into Dear Prudence, which I think is a fine idea, but, why fade Dear Prudence up? Why not just start it from the beginning? Glass Onion sounds so different that I almost thought it was a completely different take. And Kenneth Wolstenholme shouting "It's a Goal!" was added back to the end. Yet, John's muttering of "Monsieur, monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?" at the end of "I'm So Tired" is de-emphasized to the point where the final falsetto "Meep" is completely removed. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" sounds great, much less muddied than the original sounded. The falsetto background vocals on "Savoy Truffle" are de-emphasized which actually sounds better to me. I still can't stand listening to "Revolution 9", so I skipped it as always.

It's nice to have the entire Esher demos. I had a bootleg recording of them over 20 years ago but you could tell that it was second generation at best. What we get with this version of The White Album is a recording off of George's original reel-to-reel tape. I've always loved the way that these tracks sound. To me, this is the final appearance of The Beatles as a cohesive unit. They're all joining in and playing and singing together and they sound like they're having a good time. After this, the band would branch off and would act more like studio musicians for each other rather than an actual band.

The rest of the set is filled with alternate takes and studio jams. The thirteen minute version of "Helter Skelter" is underwhelming. The released version is often cited as the first heavy metal song ever recorded, so I had expected the thirteen minute version would shape up to be some kind of thundering monster jam. It sounds more like a blues shuffle, which, while interesting and very listenable, is underwhelming in light of all the hype. Other stand-outs are "Los Paranoias" which is goofy, "Not Guilty (Take 102)" which was criminally left off of The White Album, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Take 3)" which sounds better than the released version, And I love how "Revolution 1 (Take 18)" sounds before it delves into a trippy jam.

I have yet to listen to the album on Blu-Ray and I don't know that I ever will. It's nice to have, but I just don't see a situation where I'll actually use it.

So, should you buy The Beatles Super Deluxe Edition? If you're a big Beatles fan, a completest and/or want to delve into the nuts and bolts of The White Album, the yes, absolutely. If you're just not into the alternate takes and studio jams, then you would do well with the scaled-back Deluxe Edition which includes the remixed album and the Esher demos. If you'd bought The White Album before, should you upgrade to one of the new editions? The 1987 CD versions of this album that most of us grew up with don't do justice to the album, but the 2009 re-master edition sounds good enough that you would be fine with just having that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Cannabis Oil Rep Calls Again

The Cannabis Oil rep called again. Once again, I answered as the stereotypical stoner. This time, however, the rep quickly recognized it as a riff off of Cheech and Chong. Clovis then got on the line and the rep remarked "You guys are characters!". Clovis took offence and said he was a Republican, not a character. The rep seemed to get triggered and said he wanted to give Clovis an analogy. Clovis said that he doesn't want to put anything in his analogy because he poops out of that hole. The rep then went on to talk about building a five bedroom house. Clovis got bored and went to get his accountant to talk to the rep. The rep droned on for a second about building the five bedroom house and then hung up.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Medieval Times

We took our teenage daughters to see Youtube star and beauty influencer James Charles at the grand opening of Morphe in Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. I had never heard of James Charles or Morphe, but I was familiar enough with Woodfield Mall to get everyone there and safely navigate the crowd of angsty teenagers. Back in my early post-College days, I lived within 10 minutes from Woodfield Mall and would end up there at least once a week to catch a movie, drink in one of the restaurants or shop for over-priced merchandise. Back then, Woodfield Mall was usually pretty busy. And, despite everything I have read about the impending demise of brick-and-mortar retail, Woodfield Mall seems to be bucking the trend. It even has an open Sears store!

The line to see James Charles was huge. I had never heard of James Charles since before last week, and we had no desire to stand in line with a bunch of teens, so we let our daughters fend for themselves and went off to explore on our own.

The Nopiest Nope That Ever Noped. 

After our daughters had properly basked in the presence of James Charles, we headed out for dinner at Medieval Times which is pretty close to Woodfield Mall. The last time I was there was about 4 years ago and I remember it being packed to the gills with people while we waited to get in. It really wasn't so bad this time. I'd say that the place was about 2/3 full at best. I was able to get 50% off tickets just by searching for Medieval Times coupon codes on the Internet. So, I splurged on a few upgrades and got us an early entry and seats closer to the action.

The food is still as good as it was the last time I was there. The dragon's blood (tomato bisque) was some of the best I'd ever had and the chicken was decent. I had forgotten that you have to eat like a peasant and that no utensils are provided. And the coffee is still amazing. I managed to bribe our Man-Wench to slip me the label of the coffee brand that Medieval Times uses so that I can buy some myself.

Of course, the best thing about Medieval Times is the show and tournament. I felt that the performers were a little off their game this time. I'm sure that comes with doing the last show of the night. I also found it a bit odd that they made a point of mentioning that some of the battles were to the death, yet some of the supposedly "dead" opponents came back to fight again. Maybe the Queen has a really good doctor that she put to use for the tournament. Maybe there's a necromancer on staff. I'm sure that total realism isn't a concern for Medieval Times. All in all, we had a great time and are already planning on  going again sometime soon.

Go BLUE! The Blue Knight Would Eventually Win The Tournament

Thanks to the magic of Youtube, I dug up an old commercial for the Medieval Times Schaumburg Castle:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Painful Screwups

Looks like I finished Marvel's Spider-Man just in time. Red Dead Redemption 2 came out last week and I'm a few hours into it now. It's a truly beautiful game with a lot of depth and a lot of things to do in the open world. After progressing through the initial "teach you how to play" chapter, I've spent most of my time exploring, hunting and raiding the occasional ranch for materials. My muscle memory must still be stuck on Marvel's Spider-Man because I keep running into things in Red Dead Redepmption 2. And, occasionally, things run into me. On purpose. Check out the video below to see my most painful screwups in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Stop IRS Debt Calls Me

A rep from a so-called tax relief company called Stop IRS Dept called me. I strung him along a little bit by pretending to look for paperwork which culminated in me flushing a toilet. I then pretended to fart and said it was "Farting Friday". I told the rep that the IRS was planning to garnish my wages, which I thought had something to do with food presentation.

I was handed off to a "Senior Tax Advisor". I said I was expecting a Mexican because of the word "Senior" and said I was disappointed. The rep said that life is filled with little disappointments. I replied "Yeah, your wife knows that very well".

He hung up on me.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man Screwball Combat Challenge Gold

The Screwball Challenges are the scourge of Marvel's Spider-Man DLC: "The Heist". Getting the bronze level is tough enough. Getting gold on the challenge seems impossible when you first start out. Here's a video I made of me getting gold on a Screwball combat challenge. What you need to do is try not to engage the enemies until you get into a photobomb area. Once you do, start jamming on your gadgets, favoring the impact webs, tripwire webs and web bombs. Also, make sure you have the regeneration power enabled plus the add-on that gives you a gadget refill whenever you do a finisher.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Cannabis Oil Rep Calls

A Cannabis Oil rep called looking for someone named Bryant. I pretended to hand the phone off to my dad. I was trying to sound like a stereotypical stoner. At one point, I said "Dave is not here!" trying to ape Cheech and Chong, which I figured that the rep would know about. Guess not.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Played Through The Heist

I played through the first part of the "City That Never Sleeps" DLC for Marvel's Spider-Man game for the PS4. Part 1, subtitled "The Heist" is all about Spider-Man trying to stop the Black Cat from her quest to steal data drives from the various Maggia crime families across New York. Purchasing the season pass for $25 will save you nearly $5 as each pack costs $9.99 individually. I downloaded the DLC update early last week and spend Sunday afternoon playing through it. Here are my thoughts:

  1. It's pretty short. I played through it to 100% completion in about 3 hours. 
  2. For the money, I don't mind it being so short
  3. FUCK those mini-gun brutes
  4. Screwball Challenges suck hard. The only 2 things I hate about the main game are Screwball, and the Drone Challenges. So, of course, the two have been combined into the ultimate annoying challenge in the DLC. 
  5. I wish that the three new unlockable costumes, The Resilient Suit, Scarlet Spider (Kane) Suit, and SpiderUK suit, had new powers associated with them. But they're just cosmetic. 
  6. There's great story content and the characters and their motivations seemed authentic and believable. 
  7. They're heavily teasing a Miles team-up and I hope we get that in the next DLC
  8. Since installing The Heist, the game has been locking up every few hours. 
  9. I especially love JJJs commentary tracks on this one. "JOIN THE NAVY!"
  10. The "Pizza Time" side-quest was pretty random. 

Me Playing Through The NG+ Content With The New Scarlet Spider Suit

Friday, October 26, 2018

Credit Card Services Rep Doesn't Want To Talk

A credit card debt relief rep called me. I was in the middle of microwaving my lunch back to life, so I didn't have much time to suffer this guy. When he asked if I pressed "1" in order to get a lower rate, I said that I did indeed press "1" but that I did it because I was lonely and wanted someone to talk to. At first, he seemed to want to play along and asked what I wanted to talk about. When I asked his name and where he was from, he got indignant and hung up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Spider-Man PS4 Combat Challenges Gold

On the eve of starting Part 1 of the three part DLC for Spider-Man PS4, I decided to try and upgrade Spidey as much as possible. In order to do that, I needed to get as many challenge coins as possible. The best way to do that is to get Gold status on the Taskmaster challenges. Here are some videos of me doing that. Maybe they'll help you get Gold status too. I'll say right off that I used web bombs where I probably should have used impact webs instead. But, you can't argue with results, right?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Bible Museum Says Five Of Its Dead Sea Scrolls Are Fake

Having grown in a Catholic home, I often take interest in biblical exhibits. So, when kiddo and I were in Washington DC back in July, I looked into visiting the Museum of the Bible. After all, it was just kitty-corner to the hotel we were staying at, and admission was free. Then, I found out that the place was founded and run by the nutcases who own Hobby Lobby and figured that there wouldn't be anything worth looking at there. And it appears that I was correct.

The museum recently announced that five of its most valuable artifacts, once thought to be part of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls, are fake and will not be displayed anymore. Tests were ordered on the fragments after biblical scholars, who had examined 13 of the museum's previously unstudied fragments, said there was a "high probability" that a number of them were modern forgeries. Steve Green, the Bible museum's evangelical founder and chairman, would not say how much his family spent for the 16 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in its collection. But scholars say even small fragments with little text can fetch millions in the antiquities market. And it's not the first time that the Steve Green and his family have caused controversy with their artifacts collection. In 2017, the Green family's company, Hobby Lobby, agreed to pay $3 million and return artifacts smuggled out of Iraq as part of a settlement with the Justice Department.

Scamming evangelicals out of money is practically a sport with criminals and unscrupulous artifacts dealers. This is what happens when you buy antiquities that have been illegally excavated or looted. There's no documenting chain to back up their authenticity. This sort of thing happens in every conflict area. People want to make a quick buck by looting antiquities and selling them to collectors abroad, and decide to up their income by throwing in a few extra fakes.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Gone Platinum On Marvel's Spider-Man

Marvel's Spider-Man is the greatest game I have ever played on the PS4, or even the PS3. I like it better than any of the Fallout games and any of the Elder Scrolls games. My dedication to the game paid off last night when I finally achieved platinum status, which means that I collected every trophy available with the game. And just in time for the latest game update, too! I've never gotten a platinum trophy on a PlayStation system before, so I was pretty damned excited to finally get one.

 And that The plot to Marvel's Spider-Man is better than any Spider-Man movie and the ending was truly amazing. Spactacular, even. Possibly even Web Of! I can hardly wait to download the new DLC next week. Meanwhile, I'll be playing Marvel's Spider-Man in Game Plus mode which came out as part of the patch on Friday. Game Plus (or New Game+ or NG+) is an unlockable video game mode available in some video games that allows the player to start a new game after they finish it at least once, where certain features in NG+ not normally available in a first playthrough are added, and where certain aspects of the finished game affect the newly started game, such as keeping in the new game items or experience gained in the first playthrough.

Gone Platinum On Marvel's Spider-Man. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Finally Saw Venom

I took my daughter to see Venom this afternoon. It is hard for me to think about a Venom movie set in a universe where Spider-Man doesn't exist. After all, in the comic book Marvel 616 Universe, Venom is the fusion of journalist Eddie Brock and Spidey's old alien costume. Brock hates Spider-Man for exposing the true identity of the Sin-Eater, thus disproving Brock's front-page exclusive story false. And Spider-Man's alien costume, which he picked up on the Beyonder's Battle World, hates Spidey for rejecting it after Spider found out it wasn't merely a cool costume, it was an alien symbiote that wanted to permanently bond with him.

Sony's Venom movie makes a plausible enough origin story for both Brock and the symbiote. Thankfully, the movie doesn't dwell too long on it and soon gets down to the action. The real disappointment is the PG-13 rating. I was hoping for an R-rated version on the level of Logan or Deadpool. Venom's goofy humor is present, though this time it's a result of Brock being a total loser rather than him having been driven craze by his hatred for Spider-Man.

Overall, it was an entertaining movie, and I think it was worth the price of admission. I'll be interested to see what they do with the inevitable sequel which almost certainly will involve Carnage. My daughter, who has had no exposure to the comic book version of Venom, really liked the movie.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man Disappearing Boxes

While playing a sneak mission as Miles Morales, your job is to escape the area without the Rhino seeing you. Rhino charges through a few areas and disturbs a number of boxes here and there. Those boxes eventually disappear. You can see it happen at 18 seconds in, 26 seconds, and 58 seconds. I normally would not care about such a little detail, but avoiding knocking over boxes is a pretty large part of these sneak missions. It sort of knocks the immersion off.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Debt Consolidation Rep Calls Hank Hill

A rep from a debt consolidation company called looking for Hank Hill. I put on my best Hank Hill (from the TV show King of the Hill) impression and went along with the scam. The rep asked how I was doing and I lauded the recent accomplishments of the Trump administration which got an uncomfortable laugh out of the rep. The rep then asked me about unsecured debt, which I compared to a dog on the loose.

Randomly, I asked the rep if he was the boy who had been "whackin' in my toolshed" which was a callback to Mr. Anderson from Beavis and Butthead which is the same voice as Hank Hill. I then proceeded to confuse the word "debt" with "dog" and talked a bit about my dog, Ladybird. The rep eventually had enough and decided to hang up

Friday, October 12, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man PS4: Taking Out A Sable Base With Stealth

I'm still getting quite a kick out of playing Marvel's Spider-Man on the PS4. I'm far enough into the game where Silver Sable's agents have taken over various parts of the city. As part of the game's progression, the Sable Bases must be taken out in every section of the city. I uploaded a video of me taking out the first wave of Sable agents at a Sable Base using stealth techniques like the web take down, the perch takedown and the generic stealth takedown.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Dick Pond Athletics

I was up in the north suburbs earlier this week for a 5K and decided afterward that I was in dire need of some proper running shoes. The cheap shoes I had been wearing just weren't cutting it, and were probably damaging my already messed up knees. I decided to stop at Dick Pond Athletics in St. Charles, IL.

What an unfortunate name for a store, right? Despite my giggling at the name and making several snarky comments under my breath to my companion, I actually had a very good experience at the Dick Pond. The Dick associate measured my feet, had me walk on a treadmill to measure my gait and then presented me with a few pairs of shoes for me to try out. I exited the Dick Pond satisfied with my purchase and ready to run in my next 5K with proper equipment.

Do I Have To Write Another Dick Pond Joke? Make Up Your Own! 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Student Loan Forgiveness Scammer Calls Me

When I went to college, I didn't take out any student loans. So, I fail to understand how some company can call me and offer to help me get them paid down. Maybe they're just cold calling and hoping to get someone who has student loans in arrears.

Anyway, I got this telemarketer on the line and was surprised that she was actually an American. After going through the motions of determining my eligibility for the program, I told her that I got kicked out of college for indecent exposure. She ended the call abruptly after that.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Spider-Man PS4: Taking Down A Prisoner Camp

I continue to be amazed at how fun Spider-Man for the PS4 is. As you progress in the game, more opportunities for base fights present themselves. About two-thirds of the way through, there's a prison break at Riker's Island and hundreds of prisoners take to the streets of New York, setting up bases throughout the city. It's up to Spider-Man to take them down.

In this particular prisoner base fight,  I spent about 6 minutes taking the goons down via various stealthy means, including perch takedowns sneak takedowns, web strikes,  and trip mines. Once I was discovered, I went about taking down the bad guys directly and ended up reaching the base goal of getting 5 stealth takedowns and 10 air yanks. One of the craziest things that happened during the fight occurred at about 7:35 in the video. A rocket is launched, I dodged it, and it hit one of the bad guys, who then shakes it off and continues to fight. Although, I do acknowledge that other missiles that struck other bad guys seemed to have effectively taken them out.

Here's a video of my prisoner camp fight:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

In celebration of Talk Like A Pirate Day, Jason (Bosun Gee) and I (The Dread Pirate Nerdbeard) raised the mast on the Steadfast and, faster than a bareback seahorse sailing an uncharted sea course, we set off on our mission as pirates with zero ambition. Our destination: The local Long John Silver's where they offered free fish and fries for anyone who dressed like a pirate and a free deep fried Twinkie for anyone who talks like a pirate. We didn't have any elaborate costumes by any means. Jason wore an eyepatch and I wore a party favor pirate mask.

Upon arrival, I approached the cashier and said "Arrr matey. I be wantin' a chicken plank and a medium drink along wit whatever freebies ye be given me". The guy laughed so hard that he said he was going to give me two deep fried twinkles instead of one. Truth be told, I could barely finish the one. But, the fish and fries were as good as I expected.

The Fabled Treasure of Long John Silver

Monday, September 17, 2018

Extra Strength Excedren Limited Edition

This is an interesting marketing idea. Excedrin has issued a number of "limited edition" extra strength geltab packages with the tag line "We See Your Pain". I don't think that these are actually hitting store shelves. I assume they're just promotional items, as I got one in the mail yesterday as a freebie after filling out an online form a few weeks back. I had chosen "Adulting", but "Bad Date" and "Commuter" were also available. If I were in charge, I would have also made "Too Much Screen Time", "Bills Piling Up", "Hungover Again" and "Kid Forgot Her Homework".

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How High Is My Electricity Bill?

The energy bill scammer who called Clovis was pretty aggressive. He wasn't in the mood for any of Clovis' shenanigans. Just listen to how angry he sounds when he asks for Clovis' zip code. And when Clovis goes on to describe how hot it has been this summer, the scammer just hung up.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Spider-Man PS4 Game

I've been playing Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4. This new endeavor by Insomniac Games seeks to make you feel what it's like to actually be Spider-Man. I'm not the kind of guy who buys many video games to begin with, and I'm certainly not one to pre-order a game, but I pre-ordered Marvel's Spider-Man because I was so excited about the prospect of having a fully immersive Spider-Man video game.

A Selfie With My Spider-Bro
And it truly is an Amazing game. Spectacular, even. The narrative, while taking some very interesting character diversions from the Spider-Man mythos (Otto Octavius being a mentor to Peter, Mary Jane working for the Daily Bugle, etc etc) is incredibly engaging. I would watch the cutscenes of this game as if they were their own Spider-Man movie. Despite a small initial learning curve, swinging around as Spider-Man is incredibly fun, and I found myself mastering the technique after just a few hours of play. I'm still trying to get the hang of combat and I seem to get creamed whenever I drop down in the middle of of a gang of thugs. Button mashing is NOT your friend in this game. Being methodical about combat takes time, but pays off, especially if you want to go the stealth route. I've embedded a video below of me playing in the Spider-Man Noir suit and taking out a gang of Fisk's men silently. I love Spidey's quips and the various snippets of conversation Fisk's goons are making.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Cutting The Cord With Philo TV

I don't have much use for cable these days. In fact, I spent almost the entire Summer burning through 8 seasons of Shameless on Netflix and catching up on various other shows on Hulu. There are really only a few shows on cable that constitute "appointment" viewing for me, those being "Better Call Saul", "Rick and Morty" and "Venture Brothers". Those shows are important enough to me that I've hesitated to cut the cord completely. Until now.

Enter Philo TV. Philo is a streaming service that offers 40 channels for $16 per month or an extended package of 49 channels for $20 per month. Here's the channel rundown:

Philo $16/month package 

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery Channel
  • DIY
  • Food Network
  • FYI
  • GSN
  • HGTV
  • History
  • IFC
  • Investigation Discovery (ID)
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movies
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • Nickelodeon
  • Nick Jr.
  • OWN
  • Paramount Network
  • PeopleTV
  • Science
  • Sundance Channel
  • Tastemade
  • TeenNick
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land
  • Velocity
  • VH1
  • Viceland
  • We TV

Philo $20/month package (Includes All Channels In The $16 Package)

  • American Heroes Channel
  • BET Her
  • Cooking Channel
  • Destination America
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • Logo
  • MTV Live
  • Nicktoons
You can watch any of the channel streams on Philo live, or you can watch the individual shows on demand. You can also save any show to your own personal DVR space and it will be available for 30 days. 

But how do you watch Philo? Well, the channel is available for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, IOS, Android and various internet browsers. My own personal solution is to watch Philo via the Chrome browser on my Chromebook and run the HDMI stream through it to my TV. The result actually looks pretty good: 

I think, overall, Philo is a pretty good deal for $16/per month. Your mileage may vary depending on what you're into watching. But, for a guy who likes certain channels and who isn't into watching sports on TV, it's a no brainer buy. The channel line-up doesn't include AdultSwim/Cartoon Network but I can catch those shows via the channel's streaming events. And I'm hoping that they'll eventually roll out support for the PS4. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

There's Nothing Enchanting About Disenchantment

I'm a huge fan of early Simpsons episodes. I'm also a die-hard Futurama fan and have been clamoring for more ever since its most recent cancellation. So, it was with much anticipation that I logged on to Netflix to binge watch Matt Groening's latest creation, Disenchantment. It's the story of Tiabeanie Mariabeanie De La Rochambeaux Drunkowitz (better known as "Baen"), the rebellious, irresponsible, alcoholic Princess of Dreamland, her companion Elfo and her "personal demon", Luci.

What can I say about this show? It's trite, predictable, and ultimately, underwhelming. But, that's how I felt about Futurama when it first started. There may be some potential in Disenchantment. Aside from the lazy humor, I think that Disenchantment, which purports to be about a rebellious princess going on quirky adventures, is really about an entitled drunk stumbling from contrived situation to contrived situation. It's just not funny. And it's hard to connect with a show when the main character is so unlikeable and unrelatable.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Kansas City Royals at White Sox 8/18/2018

I was up in row 1 of section 537 which offered a great view of home plate at Comiskey Park (Guaranteed Rate Field can KMA) on Saturday to check out the White Sox as they took on the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox suffered a pretty stunning 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Royals. It started out looking like the White Sox would have a great game, especially after Covey picked off Merrifield and Delmonico hit a solo homer to right field. Alas, it was not to be, as the Royals played a consistently better game and ran up 3 runs.

It was Tim Anderson bobble head night at Comiskey Park, and, I'm sorry to say, Anderson played like an actual bobblehead.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Linkedin Recruiter Calls Me

A head hunter ran through my Linkedin page and tried to get me to apply for a VMWare contract job. Rather than deal this shyster by telling him to Eff off, I sent him Clovis' number, telling him that he was a great fit for the position. When the recruiter called Clovis and said that Thomas Mac had passed along his contact info, Clovis became enraged, wondering if the recruiter and I were friends and wanting to know where I was at because I owed him money after wrecking his car at a Taco Bell.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Blue Apron Is In The Red

Over the last several weeks, I've been a pretty big fan of Blue Apron, the meal kit delivery company that has been the source behind my "Expectation VS Reality" posts. Despite my rousing endorsements, Blue Apron's stock has been in free fall recently. As of this writing, the stock is trading for around $2.20 per share, which is a huge drop from its 52 week high of $6.25 and very near is 52 week low of $1.72. So, what's happening? The meal kit market, which is fad based to begin with, has become heavily competitive. Hello Fresh recently surpassed Blue Apron as the market's biggest meal kit delivery company. Also, grocery stores like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods are looking into providing their own meal kits at a fraction of the price. The other issue is customer retention

So, what can Blue Apron do to turn this situation around? I have a few ideas:

  • Offer some cheaper kits: Most Blue Apron kits are priced at around $11 per serving with a minimum of 2 servings per kit. Cheaper alternatives are hitting the market and Blue Apron needs to pay attention. Blue Apron could easily provided cheaper, less complicated kits for around $6 per serving in addition to their usual kits. 
  • Enter Into Strategic Alliances: Blue Apron has already teamed with Costco in a pilot program to provided Blue Apron meal kits at select Costco stores. Blue Apron needs to expand on this partnership and possibly enter into similar partnerships with other grocery stores.
  • Focus on Customer Satisfaction: Customer retention is a huge issue. Blue Apron spends quite a bit of marketing in order to gain customers, but only 15% of those customers end up sticking around. My own experience is that on-time delivery is unreliable and variety is somewhat lacking. But, whatever the reason why Blue Apron is bleeding customers, they need to address it ASAP. 
  • Lose The Weekly Subscription Requirement: Blue Apron has recently allowed its customers to refrain from committing to a weekly subscription and just order kits on an as needed basis. Personally, this is what made me return to Blue Apron. In order to encourage subscriptions, perhaps Blue Apron could offer some sort of monthly incentive if a customer successfully took 4 weeks of delivery. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The TommyMac Turns 45

My birthday is today, and I find that one day a year is not enough to properly celebrate my awesomeness. So, I spent the weekend celebrating. It all started when I got my car back from the body shop after I took it in to repair the deer damage. I had friends over for an epic celebration. I ran a 5K for the first time ever and didn't collapse while doing so. I caught a 20th anniversary showing of The Big Lebowski, which I had never seen before (odd since I am a big fan of the Coen Brothers). I watched the season premieres of The Venture Brothers and Better Call Saul. And, of course, I heard from friends, family and various well wishers. It's very humbling to have such an outpouring of affection from everyone. If I weren't such a super hero, I might actually tear up at the thought. Don't get your hopes up, though.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Soy-Honey Chicken And Rice

Blue Apron scored again with yet another on-time delivery. A guy could get used to this. The fine folks over at Blue Apron actually called me last week to see if I was satisfied with the boxes I had purchased in the past. I told them that one of the reasons I buy from them is that they allow their customers to buy kits whenever they want rather than forcing them to commit to a weekly subscription.

Tonight's meal was Soy-Honey Chicken and Rice with Togarashi Peanuts. This one took a little bit of skill and flair, but the description made me want to try it anyway: "Fragrant with dried orange peel and hot and sweet paprikas, togarashi (a classic Japanese seasoning) stars two ways in this dish. It lends bold flavor to roasted vegetables mixed into our side of brown rice and coats the crunchy peanuts that garnish our sweet and savory chicken". I followed the directions to the letter and fired up the grill to prepare the chicken.

Here's the Expectation vs Reality for comparison:


So, how does it taste? I thought that the rice was the real star of this dish. The Soy-Honey sauce had just enough lime zest in it to give it a hint of lime which really brought all of the flavors together. The chicken was pretty standard since it just grilled chicken. The peanut garnish was interesting and added a nice bouquet to the dish. I'd say that this one was a winner, so kudos to you, Blue Apron.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Finding My Keys With Tile

I'm always losing my work keys. Once, I lost them for about three months and ended up finding them in a jacket I hadn't worn for a while. If I had some way of easily locating my keys, then I wouldn't have had to have bugged my co-workers to let me into my office a few times a week while I continued to look for them. Enter Tile.

Tile is a little square keychain thingy that you can easily attach to various things that you don't want to lose. For example, your keys. You put the Tile on your keys, download the app and connect the Tile to you phone via bluetooth. The Tile then keeps its location updated by getting your phone's location via its bluetooth connection to it. So long as your Tile is within 100 feet of your phone, you can use the Tile app on your phone to make your Tile play a ringtone so that you can easily find it.

Let's say that your phone and your Tile are separated. Perhaps you left your keys on your desk at work and you went all the way home without realizing that you left them somewhere. Well, you can call up the Tile app to give you the last known location of that Tile. Even better, you can share tiles with other people which means that, if you need help from the Tile community to find a missing item, you can share your tile out and other people can help you find it. Imagine losing your keys somewhere at work and enlisting various Tile using co-workers to scouring the office campus sending out Bluetooth ringtone pings to find it.

But, what if you lose your phone but not your Tile? Well, your phone is considered a Tile itself, so, you can use any of your connected Tiles to find your phone. Just double-click on the action button on of your connected tiles and your phone will ring, even if it's on silent. I know that this will be a very useful feature for me, because I lose my phone at least once a month.

So far, I've got a Tile on my work keys and one on my personal keys. I'm thinking that I'd like to add one to my wallet and one to my messenger bag, and perhaps one to my suitcase. I do have to wonder what having three bluetooth signals at pocket level for over 8 hours a day will do to my sperm count.

If you're interested in checking out Tile for yourself, and if you're keen on having me consider you to be "cool", then why not sign up via my referral link?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox

My sister, two of my brothers and my daughter and I caught the Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox game last night. It was also Marvel Super Hero Night which included an Iron Man bobblehead set atop a White Sox baseball platform. Attendance seemed pretty sparse, with a number of open seats easily visible. The folks behind Super Hero Night at Guaranteed Rate Field (Comisky Park) may be inclined to blame the Thanos snap for the low attendance, but, the blame rests squarely on the abysmal White Sox win/loss record.

It was looking like the Blue Jays were going to walk away with an easy win after they scored several times in the early innings. With Toronto up 4-1, Yolmer Sanchez homered on a fly ball to right field giving the White Sox a glimmer of hope in the bottom of the 4th. With Toronto up 5-1, Nicky Delmonico knocked one into the stands at right-center field for a home run in the bottom of the 7th. A rally in the bottom of the 8th put the White Sox ahead 9-5. The Blue Jays couldn't catch up during their last at-bats and handed the White Sox a stunning come from behind victory.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Goldfish Recall

Remember when you could buy crackers without worrying about salmonella? Pepperidge Farm recalls! Er....I mean, Pepperidge Farm remembers!

Pepperidge Farm has instituted a voluntarily recall for four varieties of Goldfish Crackers due to fears of potential salmonella contamination. The company took the action after one of its ingredient suppliers notified Pepperidge Farm that whey powder used in a seasoning may be contaminated. Really? No whey!

The Goldfish Crackers recall covers Flavor Blasted Xtra Cheddar, Flavor Blasted Sour Cream & Onion, Goldfish Baked with Whole Grain Xtra Cheddar and Goldfish Mix Xtra Cheddar + Pretzel. Pepperidge Farm has posted a chart with the product codes on its website.

The FDA website has more detailed information about the recall that involves more than just Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish. Some of the other companies and products involved include Hungry Man Chipotle BBQ Sauced Boneless Chicken Wyngz and Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls

If you have eaten a recalled product and are showing signs of illness (bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, and abdominal pain), call your doctor and ask them to order a "stool culture to rule out salmonella" with the diagnosis "possible salmonella exposure from [recalled product name]". If the culture comes back positive for salmonella it will be further serotyped (DNA fingerprint) to find the exact strain of salmonella. The report will then get sent to CDC, and if the strain matches the strain from the contaminated whey, the CDC will handle logistics of informing public and tallying the numbers of confirmed cases across the country.

Personally, that’s the last time I eat a Goldfish. Petsmart was starting to get mad anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Again With The Energy Scammers

These energy scammers just won't let up. This time, Dustin, from NGE called tried to get me to sign up for a discount on my Com Ed bill. He said he wanted to check my eligibility. I asked him what he meant by checking my "legibility" and wondered if I had written something for him. When he asked my zip code, I asked him if he meant my work or home zip code. I also kept asking him what his name was and then repeating it back incorrectly. When he asked me whether or not I got government assistance, I wavered on my understanding of the term and he finally gave up and told me that I didn't want his services and hung up.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Steak & Spicy Butter

You've got to love Blue Apron when they manage to enrich your dinner experience with an on-time delivery. The Steak & Spicy Butter with Creamy Mashed Potatoes & Zucchini was a pretty simple dish, which is exactly what I was looking for during the dog days of Summer. The description is brief and to-the-point: To elevate classic steak and potatoes, we’re dolloping a soft, spicy compound butter onto the seared steaks and mashing creamy mascarpone cheese into the potatoes. Tender sautéed or grilled zucchini rounds out the meal. There wasn't a lot of skill involved in this one, and that's not a bad thing.

Here's the Expectation vs Reality for comparison:



But how did it taste? It's steak and potatoes. The steak tasted just like I expected it to. The potatoes, however, were actually pretty damn good.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Washington DC: A Retrospective

I first came to Washington DC back in 1987 as part of an 8th grade class trip. I don't remember much from that trip aside from nearly getting sent home after leading a mass protest during an inter-school mixer party. The trip organizers had promised us an appearance by Madonna, which, wasn't TOO terribly implausible given what our parents had paid for the trip. Of course, "Madonna" was an impersonator and my friend Matt and I led the crowd in chanting "Bullshit" during the poor lady's performance.

Anyway, coming back to Washington DC for this new jaunt was a lot of fun. I visited several fun places and ate at a lot of different restaurants. I've made a little retrospective video highlighting just a few of the attractions and dining options available in Washington DC. Included in this video, you'll see:

  • Pizza Autentica

  • The Washington Monument

  • The George Mason Memorial

  • Washington DC Food Trucks

  • The Albert Einstein Memorial

  • Ollie's Trolley

  • Newseum

  • Ben's Chili Bowl

  • Congressional Cemetery

  • The USDA Cafeteria

  • The DC Wharf 

Monday, July 9, 2018

DC Metro Issues

A lady that I went to college with moved out to Washington DC and started a blog called "Metro Eats My Soul" that detailed her struggles with the Washington DC Metro system. Due to her writing style and her seemingly losing battle with the DC Metro, it soon became one of my favorite blogs. It's gone now, probably a victim of her political ambitions, but I remembered it fondly as I braved the Metro for myself this past week. It took me a while to get the hang of it, even though I practically grew up on the Chicago L system.

I know that the DC Metro is plagued with delays, accidents and line closings, so a lot of what I'm going to bitch about are going to seem like "noob" issues. But it's these sort of issues that can really shed some light on how weird the DC Metro really is. Here are my main issues:

  • So I have to pay $2 to get the Metro card, but that just gives me the card. I don't get to have $2 on the actual card? I have pony up $2 for the card and then put money on it? LAME!

  • You have to pay by distance between the station you get on at and the one you get off at? It's not a flat fee like in Chicago. 

  • There's peak and off-peak pricing. How do you know if you're traveling during peak or off-peak hours? 

  • I have to scan my card to get IN to the Metro and then OUT of the Metro as well? 

  • If I don't have enough money on the card to cover my trip from one station to another, then I have to get out of line, put more money on the card and then try getting out again?
The worst part of the whole DC Metro system is that, whenever I'm wandering around the stations, I always harken back to Fallout 3 and half expect to encounter a feral ghoul luring around a random corner. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Caught A Washington Nationals Game

We caught a Washington Nationals game at Nationals Park last night. Now, being from the South Side of Chicago, I'm usually a White Sox fan. But, I'm always happy to catch a major league baseball game, so, if I'm at a park on a nice day, I don't really care which teams are playing. Last night, it was the Miami Marlins facing off against the Washington Nationals. 

The story of the Washington Nationals team is actually a pretty crazy one. There have been several incarnations of the Washington Nationals over the last 130 years or so dating back to the old Union Association and American Association leagues. The current incarnation of the team dates back to 1969 when they were the Montreal Expos, the first Major League team in Canada. After some back office troubles during the early 2000s, the team was moved to Washington DC where it was renamed The Nationals. It took them a few years, but they've turned into a pretty solid team, even though they've yet to get past the first round in any playoff. 

It was a pretty good game last night. The Nationals won by one run in the bottom of the ninth. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

The National Archives Building

I've been trying to get into the National Archives for the last several days. It's apparently a very popular place, because every time I walked by, there was a line around the corner to get in. This morning, however, I arrived early, about 30 minutes before opening. The l
ine was manageable and actually moved pretty quickly.

The National Archives Building holds some of our country's most precious documents including the original Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. All of these documents can be found in the rotunda. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed anywhere in the National Archives Building. This rule is very strictly enforced in the rotunda. If you even pull your cell phone out of your pocket while viewing the founding documents, security will usher you out. The founding documents are very old and are fading and flash photography will just degrade them more and the National Archives doesn't want to take the chance that some idiot forgot to turn his flash off.

Aside from the founding documents, there are lots of other important and interesting historical documents on display at the National Archives Building. Here's just a small sampling on what you'll find:

  • The Emancipation Proclamation
  • The Louisiana Purchase treaty
  • Various treaties with Native American tribes
  • Oval Office Audio Recordings
  • Japanese Surrender Documents
  • Captured Nazi Documents

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Washington National Cathedral

We visited the The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. That's a mouthful, right? It's more commonly known as the Washington National Cathedral. Congress designated Washington National Cathedral as the "National House of Prayer". Every since, the cathedral has hosted major events, both religious and secular, that have drawn the attention of the American people, as well as tourists from around the world.

The Cathedral's design is a mix of influences from the various Gothic architectural styles of the Middle Ages, identifiable in its pointed arches, flying buttresses, a variety of ceiling vaulting, stained-glass windows and carved decorations in stone, and by its three similar towers, two on the west front and one surmounting the crossing. Most of the building is constructed using a buff-colored Indiana limestone over a traditional masonry core. Structural, load-bearing steel is limited to the roof's trusses (traditionally built of timber); concrete is used significantly in the support structures for bells of the central tower, and the floors in the west towers. Numerous grotesques and gargoyles adorn the exterior, most of them designed by the various carvers who contributed them. There were two competitions held for the public to provide designs for gargoyles to supplement those contributed by the carvers. The second of these produced the famous Darth Vader Grotesque which is high on the northwest tower, sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved by Patrick J. Plunkett.

Several notable American citizens are buried in Washington National Cathedral and its columbarium: 

I Heard That Helen Keller Was Buried Here. She Didn't.
I Can't See Why She's Buried Here. Neither Can She. 
  • Larz Anderson, businessman, diplomat
  • Thomas John Claggett, first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland
  • William Forman Creighton, fifth Bishop of Washington
  • Joseph Edward Davies (ashes), diplomat, presidential adviser. He gave a stained-glass window in the Cathedral in honor of his mother, Rachel Davies (Rahel o Fôn)
  • George Dewey, United States Navy admiral
  • Angus Dun (ashes), fourth Bishop of Washington
  • Philip Frohman (ashes), cathedral architect, following the death of Bodley
  • George A. Garrett, diplomat, first United States Ambassador to Ireland
  • Julia Dent Cantacuzène Spiransky-Grant, granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant
  • Alfred Harding, second Bishop of Washington
  • Cordell Hull, United States Secretary of State
  • Helen Keller (ashes), author, lecturer, advocate for the blind and deaf
  • A.S. Mike Monroney (ashes), U.S. representative, senator
  • Norman Prince, fighter pilot, member of the Lafayette Escadrille flying corps
  • Henry Yates Satterlee, first Bishop of Washington
  • Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr. (ashes), dean of the cathedral and grandson of President Woodrow Wilson
  • John Wesley Snyder Secretary of the Treasury under President Truman
  • Leo Sowerby (ashes), composer, church musician
  • Anne Sullivan (ashes), tutor and companion to Helen Keller, first woman interred here
  • Stuart Symington, U.S. senator, presidential candidate
  • Henry Vaughan, architect, associate of Bodley
  • John Thomas Walker, sixth Bishop of Washington
  • Thomas C. Wasson, diplomat and Consul General for the United States in Jerusalem
  • Isabel Weld Perkins, author, wife of Larz Anderson
  • Edith Wilson, second wife of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady of the United States
  • Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States. Wilson's tomb includes variants on the Seal of the President of the United States and the coat of arms of Princeton University. Wilson is the only American president buried in the District of Columbia.
President Woodrow Wilson's Tomb