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Saturday, 27 October 2012

GMT - BST - PDT - PST - EDT - EST time

We are suffering the bi-annual confusion over clock changes, complicated by having to think about multiple timezones.

This time I'm more aware of what the initials in the title stand for. GMT and BST I'm used to - Greenwich Mean Time (Winter) and British Summer Time (Summer). So PST is Pacific Summer Time, right? Wrong. It's Pacific Standard Time, versus Pacific Daylight Time, which is used in our Summer. PDT is what we're on now, and we'll change on November 4th back to PST. This is a week later than the UK, for absolutely no good reason that anyone can explain, so for a week starting tonight we have to think about a 7 hour time difference instead of 8 hours.

So if we have Pacific time here on the West Coast, New York et al are on Atlantic time, right? Wrong. They're on Eastern Daylight Time.

Anyhoo, it's nice that for about six months of the year we have an extra hour of daylight before everybody wakes up, and for the other six months it's still pitch black when everyone is blearily making their way to work or school.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

2012 Armitage Park Car Show Pick

Back in July I attended a couple of car shows on the same Saturday, and that was just two of the four that were going on that day within about 30 miles of home. Rather than show you pictures of every car there (or every one I took pictures of) I'm selecting my favorite, so I can go into more detail.

At Armitage Park, a riverside park with camping and boat launch access, half way between Coburg and Eugene, I saw this very unusual car, and the owner was kind enough to let me sit in it.

1960 Imperial Crown 4-door Sedan

1960 was a transition year in the US for car makers. The enthusiasm for chrome and big fins of the late 50s was giving way to straight clean lines and practicality. Imperial was a luxury marque used by Chrysler from 1955-1975 for their luxury cars, to try to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac. I think luxury cars tend to trend behind the cheaper models because they get fewer sales and fewer remodels. If I've got my internet facts right there were less than 1600 of this model made, so it was amazing to even see one in the flesh, let alone sit in it.

While I was looking at it another enthusast was discussing a possible sale with the owner. Both were hedging their bets, but just for rarity this has to be a very valuable car, let alone the restoration work put in.

The wheel shape on the trunk lid doesn't actually house the spare wheel apparently, it's just for decoration. The Crown is bespattered with these over-decorative touches, when cheaper cars of the same year were starting to show clean stright lines everywhere. 

Check out those tailfins, and the jet engine shapes round the tail lights. Wheeee! But the devil to polish I should think.

That steering wheel really isn't circular, it's not just a trick of the camera angle.  A bewildering array of buttons, with mysetrios symbols just like a modern dash.

At least I can figure out where the hood release pull is, and the radio.

This little gizmo was a popular feature, it's for parking near the curb without scratching your vehicle. I think the driver can just see it out of the window to judge his distances, or maybe he listens for the srpoing..g..g!

What a ridiculously complicated and over-engineered wing mirror. Wonderful!

Perhaps the best touch, rotating front seats for easy access. They are original specification, but I think the console drinks holder is a recent addition.

Now just imagine the smack your head would get on that dash if you had an accident, especially with no shoulder restraint. Modern cars may not have the style of the 50s cars, but at least they have a few safety features.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Odyssey

Now our 5 month old son Edward is 18 3/4 lbs, it's been getting to be quite a struggle to get him in and out of the backseat of our cars, so we decided it was time to trade in the Mercury station wagon and get a minivan. No need to have two big vehicles, so we're keeping the Red Mazda 3 for Beth to commute to work, or if one of us needs to make a solo trip. Wherever Eddie is, the minivan will be.

As usual, Beth took the lead role in researching both the best minivans on the market, and once we'd settled on a Honda Odyessy, what vehicles were available in the area. A 2010 Odyssey showed up in a search as being at our local Kendall Honda dealer, we called to check they had it, and went round to take a look.

They had it, but not ready for viewing, so we said we'd come back a few days later. We did the next Saturday morning, and having checked it out and played with the seating arranegments we were happy, short of a test drive.

This we arranged for the following Saturday, while we organised our finances and got the Mercury cleaned up ready to trade in. Once we had washed it twice and vacuumed the inside we stored it in the garage and Beth switched to my red Mazda for her work commute. Then on the Friday morning Beth got a call to say another party were interested in the van and were likely to buy it that day. Great. Oh well, it's not the only Odyssey on the market, so if it didn't sell we asked the car man to call us to let us know by 6pm, but if he didn't we assumed it was gone and the test drive was off.

No call, so on Friday evening we consoled ourselves that we had lost nothing except that we had a cleaner Mercury. On Saturday Beth went for a bike ride to look at the weekend's garage sales, and while she was out I received the call to say the other couple had not bought it after all. I called Beth on her cellphone, she came back and we packed Ed into the Mercury and headed off to the dealer fairly promptly.

The next three hours we spent doing a test drive, and then negotiating the deal. Beth was lead negotiator, while I kept Edward entertained. By 3pm we were the owners, and headed back home, all in need of a break.

Minivans are all very similar really, and when you see one on the road it takes a trained eye to spot the make, but every major manufacturer has one in their lineup, because they are very practical for families.

You can always spot a minivan because the doors slide, so the handles are at the front of the doors. Ours are electric, so a tug on the handle, press of a button on the dashboard, or even a button on the remote control, will slide the doors open, one button for each door.

We liked the Honda because it has good safety records, and the seating is arrangeable in many different ways. The rearmost row of 3 seats folds down with ease to form a big flat cargo area, with a 60/40 split as is popular these days, and the middle row can be removed completely if required, to make a truly van-sized space.

The van fits in our garage as you can see above, with plenty of space still either side, especially with the sliding doors. Very useful when it's pouring with rain, or even brighting with sun, and you're trying to get a baby out without waking him.

To get into the trunk when in the garage we need to have the garage door open, not a big issue because we're still checking the back clearance every time we park. There's a handy joint in the concrete floor to line up on, and so far we've been perfect every time. The tailgate is lighter than on Beth's old Mercury, and we checked the roof clearance before letting it swing right up. It's also thinner, so I don't keep bashing my bonce every time I duck in for something. I hated that on the Mercury.

In our current arrangement we've taken out the central console in the second row of seats (it forms a middle seat when wanted) and moved the right side seat across towards the middle to take our 5 month old son Edwards' baby seat. Very soon we'll be putting a bigger baby seat in there for him, as he's getting almost too big for the current one, and that will last until he's 3-4 years old, converting from rear-facing to forward facing at a certain age/size. It's easy to nip between the two front seats and into the second row, so if Ed needs attention the passenger can attend to him without leaving the vehicle.

My parents always managed with an estate car (station wagon), once their family of three boys and two parents got too big to fit the tiny Singer Chamoir that I remember from my very early childhood. Of course minivans didn't exist in their modern form until the Renault Espace came out in 1984.

Our first staion wagon was a Renault 12 estate. The Renault I remember mostly for having black plastic seats, practical for wiping spills but prone to soaking up the sun's rays and burning the backs of your legs if you were foolish enough to be wearing shorts on a hot day.

After the Renault coughed its last we had a Peugeot 305 estate, bought brand new from a local dealer with about 16 miles on the clock. It was the first of its particular specification in the country, and someone had put the fuses in wrong with the result that the central door locking worked once to unlock all the doors, then failed until we figured out the problem and got the correct fuse in place. The Peugeot had cloth seats thank goodness, though by then my legs were long enough to avoid the searing pain of hot plastic against tender thigh.

Eventually the Peugeot got too old to continue maintaining and my parents invested in a Mercedes, not sure of the model, a reflection of the greater disposable income they had now they were not supporting three greedy and growing boys. Mercedes are built to last, and they are still driving this one.

So a MiniVan never entered my consciousness until I was in the USA, but here every fourth family seems to have one, unless they have an enormous SUV or pickup truck, and often as well as a second vehicle (which is often an SUV or huge pickup truck). The minivan usually becomes mom's workhorse, while dad has something to get him to work and back. In our nuclear family the roles have been reversed.

We feel we've done well to get a 2010, because searlier models lacked the auxiliary input vital to have an mp3 player connected to your stereo. It's one of those elephants in the room that car dealers don't like to talk about, but vehicles with cassette players (such as our 2002 Mercury Sable) can play mp3s using a casette adaptor, not pretty (you have a wire hanging out of the casette deck) but cheap (around $10 for the cassette adaptor).

By 2007 some manufacturers were putting auxiliary inputs on their car stereos (such as in my 2007 Mazda 3), but not all were so forward thinking. If your vehicle has a CD/radio but no auxiliary jack you're stuck, because there is no adaptor that will fit in a CD player to play mp3s. On long journeys you're stuck with CDs or a variety of poor radio stations always detuning as you move out of their range, so you better burn some CDs for entertainment. In fact our van has a CD stacker in the dash, so we can pre-load six cds as well as having our iPods, but to be honest unless we buy CDs while travelling I can't see myself using that.

One of our friends has a rented 2011 Odyessy, having previously had a 2006, and they report that the vision and a few other things are actually worse in the redesign. The 2006-2010 is thus more desiresable to us, in good condition, than a 2011.

We were pleased that our van did NOT have build in DVD players or a navigation system. It's easy enough to get after-market DVD players if your kids nag you enough, but we'd rather have our family chatting, playing Highway Bingo, or reading quietly, than have back seat passengers locked into their own little fantasy world. Build in navigation system are a pain if they go wrong, and as we already have our own Garmin GPS systems we don't need to pay for another one.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Lexus vs Ford

Lexus is a luxury car maker. They are currently running a series of ads with the byline:

If you want these features as standard...   the features being things like central locking, leather seats, windscreen wipers etc.

Now most car companies offer a basic stripped-down model, with options to upgrade and prices attached for each upgrade. A basic 2012 Ford Focus Sedan starts at $16,500, add $1,00 for 16" wheels (instead of 15") and keyless entry, another $1,095 for automatic transmission (most Americans like this), and so forth. What you end up with is a range of vehicles, all called the Ford Focus, but with prices anything between $16,500  and $25,000 (a guesstimate). Most people don't want the most basic model, but it's there if you don't want all the knobs and whistles.

So if the Lexus comes with everything as standard at $25,000, and the Ford with everything added is $25,000, how is the Lexus better than the Ford?

I guess it has to be because when you see a Lexus you know the owner paid $25,000 for it, but if you see the Ford it might be the bare bones $16,500 version, i.e. they're cheapskates.

So it comes down to snobbery.

By the way, most new cars aren't paid for outright but paid in installments, so that Lexus driver is just paying a bigger monthly installment for his shinier car.

Embarrassment, Stupidity, Irritation

Three forms of comedy that don't amuse me.

Irritation: The Big Bang Theory. The central character is an annoyance to all his friends and the audience. Not funny.

Stupidity. Dumb & Dumber. Just doesn't amuse me.

Embarrassment. The Office. Worse, that one camne to the US from the UK, and I didn't like the UK version either.

While I'm on it, badly dubbed canned laughter is a form of irritation. The episode of The Big Bang Theory which I had the misfortune to watch half of last night had the worst canned laughter since Blackadder Goes Forth.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Since I've been in the US I've mostly avoided KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), because the one or two times I ate it upset my stomach. A shame, because I used to enjoy an occasional KFC in London. We think they use Canola oil here, which is banned in Europe, and that I react badly to it.

Notwithstanding which, we went along to KFC yesterday because Beth was having a craving too, and damn the consequences, that's the spirit. They now do grilled chicken (KGC) as an alternative, so we got a 10 piece bucket with half grilled and half crispy pieces, plus two sides (mash and gravy and cobettes), and the usual "biscuits". I was suprised how expensive it was at around $25, but we got three meals each out of it so maybe that wasn't so bad. A couple of the pieces were so small that we thought at first that they had just been dropped into the bucket by mistake, but apparently they counted towards out ten pieces.

As it turned out there were no consequences, at least no obvious and immediate ones, so maybe my stomach is getting attuned to what Americans have been eating (willingly or unwittingly) for decades. What neither of us touched were the sachets of "Honey Sauce" and "Colonel's Buttery Spread" that had been hoiked into our bag without our knowledge or request. The honey sauce had an ingredient list, the first three ingredients being high fructose corn syrup, regular corn syrup, and sugar, with actual honey coming in a disappointing fourth and comprising only 7% of the total mix. It did just beat fructose into fifth place, which is presumably added for those with a sweet tooth. You may be wondering why "Honey Sauce" can't just be pure honey, which is quite sweet enough to make your eyes bulge. So am I.

So much for the honey sauce; I wasn't sure what I was supposed to put it on anyway. The "Buttery Spread" (artificially flavored)  didn't even have an ingredient list, which surprised us both, but you can bet that butter isn't a main ingredient.

The grilled chicken wasn't bad, quite toothsome, but  it wasn't giving quite the same feel of pumping cholesterol and fats straight into my arterey walls. Next time it'll be all deep fried and crispy.

The sachets we consigned to landfill, and future archeologists can try to figure out why anyone would eat this stuff.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Remaking our Beds

When we moved from London to a rented apartment in Eugene the only items furniture we kept were some pine bunk beds, mostly because they were very expensive, and partly because they were self-assembly so we could reduce them to their component parts and get them in a small shipping container. In fact we have three pine beds, two as bunks and one raised bed, the latter designed for use in smaller rooms so you have space underneath for a chair or desk, or just for storage. The beds had been up and in use in London for a couple of years, and very sturdy and useful they had proved to be.

The beds duly arrived with the rest of our shipped items (on several pallets) on a drizzly day in February 2010. From our arrival in early December 2009 until that date we'd been sleeping first on reclining armchairs (nice for a doze, not so great for a solid 8 hours every night), and then on newly purchased mattresses on the floor. We were very excited to have proper beds again, but upon reassembly we discovered to our chagrin that the American mattresses were 3-4" wider than the European beds, and 3-4" shorter too. We made do, letting the mattresses hang over the edges of the beds, and putting up with the slight list this imparted. In fact Beth very generously let me have the close-fitting thin foam mattress that came with one of the beds, so with that underneath my American mattress I did not suffer the reverse camber effect.

The beds came with us to Sweetwater with our next move, disassembled, and we reassembled one in the guest room, using the foam mattress to keep the bed level. We could house one guest in reasonable comfort, but this was never intended to be a permanent solution.

Fast forward to 2012, and now with a baby boy added to the Milner clan we wanted to get these beds sorted out. Not that baby Edward was going to sleep on one for a while, but so we could put up more than one guest and not make them seasick.

I made the best decision of my life when I married Beth, because among her other talents and interests she is a woodworker, and spent much of her own coin over the last two years outfitting a woodworking shop in our detached garage. The upshot of this is that she had the tools and skills to remake the beds parts necessary to widen the European bedframes to fit US mattresses.

After much measuring and remeasuring I went along to our local Jerry's timber yard in Beth's station wagon, and purchased the wood necessary to remake our beds. We needed 14 end pieces, and 45 slats. The beds are pine, but I discovered that Jerry's don't do pine. Fir is wannabe pine, so I bought four 14' lengths of 2"x6" kiln dried fir for the end pieces, and had them cut to 3'6" lengths, providing 16 pieces to work with. For the slats I got eight 12' lengths of thinner fir, not sure of the exact dimensions, but enough for 46 slats.

Here's one of the beds, with the US mattress hanging over the edge, and an untouched piece of 2"x6" fir showing what Beth had to work with. We had a few inches to spare on each piece, as planned. You can see the two pieces in the endframe that need to be replaced.

On the left, the original endpiece, with the blank next to it ready for working. To the right of that a single slat, with the unworked replacement next to it. This will be cut lengthwise to produce two slates.

And so to the workshop. The first step is using the joiner to ensure the edges are and one side are square to each other. Note use of safety goggles, ear protection, and the dust collector.

Next is the planer, to square up the fourth side. For reasons I still don't quite fully grasp, the joiner can only do three of the four sides. The planer is also cutting to the right dimensions.

The router puts a curved profile on the edges, to reduce the chances of splinters. This machine was new to Beth (though the stand was purchased secondhand at a garage sale), so our neighbor Robert kindly came over to show Beth how to set it up and use it safely. The three pieces of wood at the bottom are just there to dry, they're not part of the machine or the process.

Cutting to length on the table saw. I should mention that none of the machines were on, these photos were just posed to show how they are used.

Starting the drill holes with a jig. The jig is a bit of scrap wood that Beth made the right holes in (using the drill press you can see in the corner) to act as a template. Center it on the end of the piece, clamp, and Bob's your uncle.

Having stated the holes, they are drilled to the corerct depth with the jig removed. The bit of blue tape on the drill bit denotes the necessary depth.

The reassembled bed with new ends. The slats have to dry more before being cut or they will likely twist in time, but we set this up to check the mattress fit; you will see that the mattress is actually on the carpet for now. If we wanted it really tight we could take another half inch off, but it's easier to get sheets on and off if there's a finger width all round.

You may notice that the end of the bed overlaps the cupboard door behind it by a few inches. Those are the inches by which a US bed is shorter. We could cut a bit off the long sides and redrill all the holes to make it fit, and we might yet, but it's not really necessary. The cupboard door was already removed when we moved in, and when we put it back it we found it so wide that it's unwieldy in a small room, so it's tucked away under the stairs in Beth's wood shop. Eventually we'll probably have this bed up on its longer legs to make space underneath.

The end pieces fit, but have not yet been sanded or varnished. The slats we will measure to fit when the wood is dry enough, and they only take an hour on hands and knees to screw into place.

That's it so far. If we wanted to have a fourth twin bed, Beth has the skills, the tools, and a template to work from to create one from scratch. I doubt we'll be going into the furniture trade anytime soon, but it's nice to know we can do running repairs.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Mighty Beanz

Every now and then I come across a toy that leads to a minor obsession. So it has been with Mighty Beanz.

Mighty Beanz are small collectible bean-shaped characters. Moulded in plastic, with a printed surface, they contain a ball bearing, so the bean rolls with an irregular flip-flop motion. I had something similar to Mighty Beanz when I was young. The beans I had as a boy were bigger, about the size of a Cadbury's Creme Egg, but worked on the same principle, and as I recall I had maybe four or five of them. I had a wooden race track with three sloped levels that I raced them down, and spent many happy hours doing so.

Here's a handful of Beanz to show you what they're like. The short one in the front is a Mega Bean, a supposedly "Ultra Rare" Bean, though if you buy Beanz in six-packs you always get one of these.

This is a storage case, Series 2. The storage pods are cleverly designed to hold a bean, normal or Mega, with a pop-lock motion, so they are easy to put in and out, and spin round in place to view the name and number on the back.

This is a flip track, with a couple of obstacles installed. Now, for under $20 at Toys R Us you can get the flip track with one obstacle, a storage case, and a dozen Beanz including one Mega Bean. You put a bean on the flip track, run it down to the end, and then flip it back to catch it again (all being well) in the wide part held in the palm of your hand. I like this, it develops hand-eye co-ordination, and makes an interesting klik-klak sound as the bean rolls. You can do other tricks with the flip Track too.

So far, so good. This is where the sane purchaser would call it a day. You've got a dozen different Beanz, enough to play several different games (there's a booklet included with some suggestions), and somewhere to store them. If all you wanted was one bean and a flip track, you could spend less than $10.

Unfortunately these are collectible Beanz, and there are more than a dozen different Beanz to collect. If you counted the sockets in the bean case you'd find it held 50 Beanz, but in fact there are 100 Beanz in Series 2 (currently on the shelves in Toys 'R' Us), another 100 in Series 1 (no longer available in the US through most bricks-and-mortar retailers), another 100 in series 3 (available online but I haven't seen them in the toyshops here yet), and in Australia where they originated, they've reached series 5. In fact I've learnt that these are merely the 2010 Beanz, and there were older series around 2002-2003. These older Beanz are very rare now, especially in mint condition.

There are also specials, supernumeraries to each series, so since the 2010 series 2 starts with Bean 117 (they each have their name and number on the back) I surmise that there are 16 specials in Series 1. The specials don't come in the regular 3, or 6, or 10 packs of Beanz, so you're going to have to find them by other means.
If you wanted to collect every different design of bean and special in every 2010 or later series, that'd be 500 Beanz and about 100 specials, plus the storage cases to hold them in. The beans are about 80c each new in packs if you search around, so if you never bought a double you'd still have to spend  around $480 on Beanz, and another $5-15 on each case (prices vary wildly online), so let's call it $600.

Uh oh, these guys aren't part of a regular series either. They are in Mighty Beanz Machinez packs. You get a vehicle and a Bean, and the Bean rolls over and over as you roll the vehicle along. At least here you know what vehicle and what Bean you will get. In the 3, 6 and 10 packs most of the Beanz are hidden, so you will soon start getting duplicates.

Hmm. Beanz Bodz. These are rubbery sheaths that you can pop a Bean into, and make it look like a viking, wizard, rock guitarist, and so on. The Bodz come with Specials too, so if you want the bean from a Bod, you have to buy the Bodz packs, one bean and Two Bodz (one hidden) to a pack.

You may recognise that the Bean on the right is Darth Vader from Star Wars, and that brings me to the next collection dilemma. In addition to the regular Beanz series, and the specials, and the Machinez (maybe 10-15 types so far at $7 a pop), and the Bodz (39 that I know of), there are also licensed Beanz for Star Wars (60 officially in the set but I have Beanz numbered up to 88 already), Star Wars - The Clone Wars (no idea how many), Marvel Superheroes (60 again, supposedly), D C Superheroes (54), and Disney Pixar Cars (54).

So where does it end? Could an individual child collect all the Mighty Beanz? Probably not, unless they had very indugent parents. If you try to buy every Bean in a series new in the shops (and btw I'm not sure that is actually possible), to get the 100th bean you have a 99/100 chance of getting a duplicate, so statistically you'd have to buy 100 Beanz to get that last one, making it very expensive.

As kids, the playground swap might be the way to go, but that presupposes that you have enough friends to swap with, and that they have the bean you want and are willing to trade. As an adult collector that's not possible, so I have to resort to eBay.

On eBay I was able to obtain the entire 2010 Series 1 (with just one missing Bean) for $80, because a father/son combination had managed to get them all, and then the boy's interest waned. I'm now in the process of trying to fill Series 2 and 3, mostly from one seller, who offers Beanz at around $1.25 or so each, but up to $10 for the rarer Mega Beanz. At present, even on eBay, not every Bean I need is listed, but I have high hopes that I'll do it, and it'll work out a lot cheaoper than trying to find the Beanz in the shops.

For me I think it'll end there, for now. I'll have 300 individual designs, plus a lot of special (non-series) Beanz, plus all the ones I bought that were duplicates before I realized I could never complete my collections this way. I may even sell some of my excess Beanz on eBay if I can organise myself to do it.

So why does a 45 year old man want to collect Mighty Beanz? They're shiny and colorful, fun to play with, and one day my son will be old enough to play with them too - and that latter excuse will allow me to buy a lot of toys.

Philips DVD Player

When we moved into our house two years and two days ago, we needed to get two DVD players that were either multi-regional, or could be decoded to make them multi-regional.

DVDs, and Blu-Rays, are theoretically restricted to play in certain regions around the world. This is to prevent free market trade across international boundaries (at least, I can think of no other good reason). However it is possible to ignore these regions, which we needed to do since the bulk of our DVDs are from the UK in region 2, and US machines are programmed to recognise only region 1 disks.

The Philips DVD player Beth chose for the job was one we could "hack" to remove the region restrictions, and for a while it gave good service. However after about a year one of them stopped working, and we were bought a replacement. Then the replacement started playing up, and by experiment we found it was the HDMI connection that wasn't working. HDMI is the one-cable interface that gives the best quality sound and picture, and thus very desireable.

Beth took that player to her craft room, as it could still work with other cables, and we replaced it with a more expensive pre-deregionalized Pioneer DVD player.

Now the other Philips player has started acting up, blacking out the screen and pausing play intermittently. Sometimes it all comes back after a few seconds, sometimes the screen stays black but the souind comes back.  We think this may be due to dust on the laser, and that a good blast with canned air may fix the problem, so we're going to try that, but I have to say I'm disappointed in these machines, and won't be buying Philips anymore. I expect things to last more than a couple of years before going wrong, and I've never had so much trouble with a DVD player before,despite being used for years in a much older and dustier house.

Until we can try the canned air trick we've moved the Pioneer into the family room, and happily it's working fine.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Normal Service May be Resumed, Eventually

It's been a while since my last post, but I have a very good reason. On 23rd March at 12:27am my wife gave birth to our first child, a son, Edward Alexander. It's not been an easy road, we had a couple of miscarriages on the way, so this boy is very prescious to us. He's also my father's first grandson and only the second grandchild, so he carries the responsibility of passing our family name onto future generations.
As you can imagine my time has been, and will be, greatly occupied with the little lad. I have another blog for Edward news, so anyone who wants to is welcome to follow his Ed Ventures at:

Right now it's mostly daiper change and feeding news, but my wife and I hope to continue relating his progress for many years. The Ed Ventures blog is the prime news source for most of Ed's relatives to find out how he's doing, as his family is spread over the US from coast to coast, and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile this blog is still live, and I'll be posting things here as they occur to me and I find the time, but I'll be keeping baby news on the Ed Ventures blog as much as I can.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Second Day of Spring.... SNOW DAY!

We awoke unexpectedly to several inches of snow that had fallen silently and stealthily overnight, and indeed was still falling.

My car was outside, and was going to need clearing before I could attempt to drive anywhere.

The trees all around were carrying a great weight of snow, so though they looked pretty the branches were sagging badly. The snow was almost vertical, and with no wind to shake the branches it was all piling on.

Pretty view down across the cul-de-sac, the trash cans left out overnight wearing caps of snow. Aaah.

Around 7:20am Beth headed off for work. Her car having been in the garage overnight needed no clearing, and the snow crunched gaily undertire.

Ugh. I cleared my car wiondows and hood and then tried to put it in the garage so I wouldn't have to clear it a second time, with the snow still falling. In fact I couldn't go forwards up the driveway slope at all until I'd cleared the snow in front of the wheels, and these skidmarks show how my front wheels were dancing around trying to get a grip. Hmmm.

Three inches at 7am had turned to four by eight, measured on our patio table, which is near enough to the house to be slightly shaded from driving snow.

Just before I measured this Beth came back home. She'd spent about 40 minutes slipping about on the roads at 20mph top speed, but with no snow cleared off even the major NW Expressway (the city owns just one snowplow), she wisely turned back as soon as she safely could. I decided to call in as well, as it was just too treacherous to risk a smash. The Manager I spoke to was still stuck at work from the overnight shift, as it was too dangerous to drive home!

Then it was time to check our trees and garden, and shake a few branches to to to ease their snow burden. As I looked out back I noticed our gazebo seemed a but shorter than usual.

Something wrong there. I put up the ladder to discover that the roof had caved in under the weight of snow. I had hoped I might brush it clear, but with the roof girders bent down like an inverted umbrella, that was going to be difficult.

Further investigation showed that the canvas roof had ripped at some of the seams and part of the roof had caved in. I shook down some snow, but the damage was done. We'll have to decide if we can repair this, or if we want to replace the Gazebo.

With the gazebo beyond help, I went round the cul-de-sac knocking snow off the trees to try to save their branches. Our neighbor Darren came out to head off to work, but he has a big 4x4 pickup and a different route, so we watched him slush off and had a chat with another neighbor before taking a turn round the block.

Too late for this tree, this big branch had broken off under the weight of snow. We heard a crack a couple of minutes before we saw this, but we think that was a different tree. Just to the bottom left of the basketball hoop you can see the light patch were the branch broke off.

On Lynbrook, our nearest bigger road, the snow was churned into tracks, but still very treacherous if taken too fast.

To prove our point, a large 4x4 pickup came past at speed and started fishtailing. We didn't get it on video, and luckily there were no other vehicles for him to hit, but he left these tracks.

This tree was split in two by the snow.

At least the children can enjoy snowdays, with most schools closed. These two had a superb snowfort going, and a wheelbarrow full of snowballs. Now all they needed was a target. Time to be elsewhere.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Death of a Cellphone

I've only owned four cellphones in my life, up until Saturday. The first one I bought (a Philips) I bought I passed onto my parents. The second that replaced it I lost (but found some years later packed in a boardgame box, but sadly now useless). The third I still have, but as it's tied to a UK net I had to replace it when I arrived in the USA. Those first three phones were all on the Orange network.

On Beth's advice I got a 1-year prepaid plan with T-Mobile, and a cheap (<$20) phone. The plan got me 1,000 minutes for $100 a 1 year's airtime, which may seem expensive per minute, but as I used only 300 minutes in 2010 and 600 in 2011, I'm still using that original $100 today, after adding a few more dollars once every year to keep the plan active for another 12 months.

As a comparison, there are several unlimited plans for prepaid phones around the $45-55 a month mark, a 2-year contract with any of the main companies typically runs at $60-80 a month, and the cheapest prepaid offering we have at Walmart is a Tracphone for $10, for which you'd need to buy a $20 card every 3 months to have 120 minutes airtime to use in those 3 months. As I average less than 40 minutes a month, even that is more than I currently need. 

Old phone left, new phone right

The phone served me well for a couple of years, with the occasional misbehaviour when the alarm would sound at the wrong time. I use my phone more as a watch and alarm clock than an actual phone, so that alarm malfunction was always a niggle.

On Saturday beth and I went shopping, and the phone failed to ring when she called me. It had been acting up a bit for a few weeks, and I think the circuits fried themselves inadvertantly. The profiles would reset without prompting, and the speaker got very quiet.

Time for a new phone then. Luckily we were already headed near a T-mobile outlet in the Valley River Mall, so I popped in, chose a similar Nokia phone from a selection of four cheap phones (under $50), and the staff were able to port all my details from the old sim card to the new one, so I was able to walk out of the store within ten minutes with a new working phone for under $25.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Car re-Licensing in the US

Having had my car almost two years, the time has come to relicense it. In the UK it would currently cost £245 to get a 1 year tax disk for my 2007 Mazda 3, though actually my engine size (2 litres) appears to be a 1.6L in the UK. In the US it cost $86 for 2 years, so $ for £ about 1/6 of the cost.

The process is simple. The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) sends me a letter reminder that my registration is due (the vehicle registration is equivalent to a UK tax disk), I go online to renew it (takes 5 minutes), and a few days later my new stickers arrive in the mail. All I do is put the 2014 stickers over the 2012 stickers in the bottom right corner of the license plate, and it's done, for the next two years. There is no MOT (for US readers, that's a test that your vehicle is roadworthy, and non-polluting) in our City, and only Portland in all or Oregon requires an emissions test. In case you're wondering about pollution, the air here is the cleanest I've ever known in a city, with mosses and lichens growing on rocks and trees even at the busiest intersections.

I could, if I chose, pay for a new pair of plates and get a new number, background picture, or even make up my own registration plate, but all these options cost extra, so I didn't. Maybe one year I'll get my own special plates, but for now the dollars are more use elsewhere.

For people wondering about gas prices, we are currently paying around $4 per US Gallon here in Eugene, prices varying between $3.88 and $4.19 depending on where you go. We usually fill up at our local Fred Meyer because it's close and we get 3c per gallon off just by having a Fred Meyer loyalty card (which is free). If we spend enough in a month (on anything they sell, not just gas) we get 10c off per gallon. The average UK price in February was £5.11 per US Gallon, though gas (petrol) is sold in litres there, at £1.35 per litre.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Dark and Cold

The clocks went forward this weekend, in the middle of my 3-day 7am shift run. The consequence was that, while on Saturday I drove to work in blazing sunshine, on Sunday and Monday it was still pitch black. Did I get to enjoy the extra hour of daylight in the evenings? Of course not, I was so tired that last night I was in bed by 8pm and fast asleep by 8:30pm. By 8am it's light again though, so I guess anyone not driving to work before 7am is fine, which will include me as I have no more 7am starts scheduled.

 It snowed last night to add to the fun. Here in the valley (about 350ft elevation) we just got a smattering, enough to require scraping the car windows and being careful driving, but up in the mountains there was up to 4 feet of snow in one go. Many schools are closed, or delaying their starts, which makes great fun for working parents. In the US a few snow days are expected every year, and built into the education schedule. In London this amount of snow would cause transport chaos. Odd to remember that on Friday I was sitting out on the patio at lunchtime eating a salad.

I finally get a 2-day weekend, albeit on a Tuesday/Wednesday, my first in over a month, unless you count the time I spent off work with the 'flu on 21st-23rd February. Split weekends have the advantage that you don't have to work so many days straight, but a proper 2-day break is really required to recharge the batteries. I booked off the coming weekend anyway so my boss couldn't schedule me for 7am starts, so Beth and I can enjoy some weekend time together, and maybe have a mutual shopping trip.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Has Spring Sprung?

Only a few days ago we had some snow flurries, and there's more possible this week, with possible settling on the valley floor. Meantime narcissi, crocuses and primroses springing up in our garden and around the neighbourhood, with the daffodils just behind, and the trees are putting out buds. The clocks go forward next Saturday night.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Annual Inventory

On 29th February my WaMart store undertook its annual inventory, and for the first time I was present for much of the day. We'd been building up to this for weeks, counting and recounting stock on the shelves and in the backroom, rearranging the backroom bins, and trying to keep things as neat as possible.

The day itself was very dull. Most of the Electronics staff were in for a full shift, but we were very restricted on what we could. The actual counting is done by an external company, so for the day of the count we were allowed only to serve customers - no zoning (tidying up and returning misplaced stock to the shelves), no working of freight, no picking fresh stock from the backroom, no module setting or anything else. Just customer service. As the count was daytime on a Wednesday, there weren't that many customers to serve, especially with so many staff in.

The count went slowly but smoothly enough, but by the time I left at 10pm it was still in the post-editing stage. I was at work again at 8am the next day, and we were still not allowed to do much, as some wildly variant counts were being re-checked. Initial reports are that our shrink (missing stock, usually stolen) was up slightly on last year, but not terrible. I heard that the Cell Phone center alone had lost about $10,000 of stock, remarkable as the phones are all locked away in cupboards until a customer asks for one, but possibly explained by the sacking late last year of a member of the cell phone department who hadn't been bothering to count the stock properly (which is supposed to occur every day).  Actually with the price of some cellphones exceeding $750 (at shelf value), that loss could be fewer then 20 contract phones.

If fact I'm surprised the loss wasn't bigger. A couple of weeks ago our door greeters were removed, or at least relocated to spots about 50 yards inside the store, rather than in the atriums where they have been since long before I started. Apparently this is a nationwide initiative enacted from on high, and it is supposed to show the customers, well, something about being valued that makes no sense to me or anyone else I've talked to about the change.

The immediate result is that the greeters are not greeting people anymore. They're also not checking any receipts to ensure stuff in people's carts has been paid for. They're not lining up carts ready for customers' use, or wiping them dry if they've been out in the rain (a likely contingency here in Oregon in the Winter), or collecting and charging the electric shopping carts that are there for people of limited mobility.

Customers are now confused as they come into the store, annoyed there are no dry carts lined up and ready for their use, and confused all over again as they leave the store and try to show their receipt to someone who isn't there. Signage has been added to direct customers to the Customer Service desk for various issues, but it's a rare customer who actually reads the signs, probably because they're too busy trying to control their dripping cart and an armload of children, while not running into other customers who are dawdling in the entryway. The electric carts are now running flat more frequently, as customers who use them and then return them to the atrium rarely bother to plug them in for the next user.

Hopefully the policy will be re-thought and reversed before shrink spirals out of control, and customers get so annoyed by the perceived unfriendliness that they stop shopping at WalMart. Meantime, if you're shopping at WalMart and wondering where the door greeter is, don't worry, they're still there, they're just not able to help you with anything much now.

Friday, 24 February 2012


Since Monday I've been stuck in the house with 'flu. I had a short daytime shift on Monday, but felt pretty peculiar before I left, partly because I had to make a huge cardboard bale by myself so I got pretty sweaty. When I got home I took my temperature and it was 99F, and by bedtime it was 102.3F.

I called in sick on Tuesday after a very broken night of mostly non-sleep, slept two long periods during the day, and Wednesday was a day off anyway, after an even worse night during which I moved to my reclining chair downstairs to give Beth a better chance of undisturbed sleep. My temperature and other 'flu symptoms (aching muscles, shivering fits, sweating, cold hands, hot and cold flushes, coughs, massive sneezes, that stuffed-up head feeling, the works) just wouldn't go away.

Wednesday night was slightly better, but by now my nose was so raw inside that it was exquisitely painful just to breathe in and out. My feet were freezing, and I found a water bottle (brough over from the UK) with no cover, for which Beth made me a cover in minutes while I huddled in bed trying to get warm. I called in sick again on Thursday. This is the longest period of sickness that I think I've had since moving to the US, certainly since starting work, and it was getting more than tedious.

On Thursday evening I just couldn't keep warm, and eventually got under a shower at the hottest possible setting, which managed to drive the back chills and shivers away long enough to dry off and jump straight into bed with the hot water bottle and my warmest pajamas.

At around 3:30am I awoke from a dream where I was trapped in a dank room with water beading the walls. Beth was taking a bathroom break, and as I moved to get comfortable I discovered I was soaked in sweat, as were the sheets, pillow, and comforter. As Beth was already awake we were able to change the sheets, my pajamas, and spread out the comforter to air, finishing the night under some spare covers.

I've seen films and TV shows (Little House on the Prairie comes to mind) where the doctor and family gather round a sickbed, waiting for the fever to break (or the patient to expire), and I guess that's what happened last night (the break, not the expire). I'm certainly feeling a ton better this morning, ready (almost eager) to go to my 1pm shift, and not feeling like I'm viewing life through a fog.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Cutting the Cable

After some discussion, we've decided to cut our cable TV, and as of yesterday we have no cable service. We're actually putting it on a 6-month hold, no service and no bills for six months, after which it will resume unless we cut it completely, which we probably will, as the $80 a month charge is too much for what we get.

The cable channels are, as a general rule, dire, and the time we save on goggle-boxing will go into reading, music, chatting, boardgames, cycling, taking walks and other more healthy passtimes.

Meanwhile we still have 13 regular terrestrial channels, HULU for many TV shows we can watch on the internet, plus a wall of DVDs to watch if we feel like screen time. The main problem is not being able to record anything for time-shifting purposes.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wet and Windy

We seem to be getting the edge of the major storms that are dropping snow in Seattle and Portland, and causing authorities in Corvallis, just 50 miles away, to delay or close classes in schools and universities. Here it's just a lot of rain the last two days, nearly an inch yesterday, and 1.38" so far today (at 3pm).

We did have some snow over the weekend, and I had fun driving my RC vehicles around outside the house.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Twelfth Night

Following the madness of pre- and post-Christmas shopping which required longer and harder work hours, I'm now entering a period of relative inactivity, with reduced hours. I'm off four of the next five days, and this comes as a welcome opportunity to recharge my batteries, reorganise my sleeping times, clean and tidy the house a bit, take down and pack away the Christmas decorations, and dispose of the tree.

I also have the opportunity to enjoy some of my Christmas presents. Beth puts a lot of thought into her gifts, and she got me several wonderful (and hard to acquire) books about automobiles, and particularly the history of motoring in America, plus a book entitled "Rivals of Sherlock Holmes", a collection of detective short stories by contemporaries of Conan Doyle, that did not acquire the same eminence as Sherlock Holmes.

My brother Richard sent me a boardgame which is going to take some study to understand but looks a lot of fun. My brother Brian sent me an Amazon voucher, and with it I bought the book of "A History of the World in 100 Objects", a wonderful podcast which I enjoyed listening to in 2011.