Archive for December, 2009

Today is the last day of 2009.  It’s amazing how fast the year went.  In this past year I have become a student of routine.  I get up in the morning at roughly the same time every weekday, head to work, make progress on whatever I need to, eat pretty much the same thing for lunch, pretty much the same thing for dinner, spend time with my lovely wife and then go to sleep.  I am convinced that routine; that same pattern over and over, accelerates the passage of time.   

In 2010 I am going to make time pass more slowly. I am going to try new things and regularly break routine.  I am going to get better at the things I’m good at, so I have more time for the things I’m not.  And, I’m definitely going to turn on my ‘motivational speaker post spam filter’ in the future so no one has to read more posts like this 🙂

  • Start writing a book: This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now.  I’d like to eventually write a fantasy novel.  I’ll most likely start with a short story though.

     

  • Increase breadth of reading: I want to read more outside of the genres of which I’m already deeply familiar.  I’m certainly going to read more of the ‘classics’, and I think I’ll try to read at least a biography or two.
  • Get better at my job: I want to spend less time at work and get more done with better results.  Nice idea eh? This is a constant one of course; I’d hope I’m getting better at my job daily.  I’m writing it out more as a mechanism for thinking hard about good ways to go about it.
  • Make our house a better place to live: Rach and I are already making good progress on this one.  Since we’ve moved in we’ve done a ton of things to the house which make living here more pleasant.  New bedroom furniture is the most recent 🙂  I would like to end 2010 with an army of robot minions that maintain our fully automated smart home.  I’m guessing that’ll be more than a single year in coming though.
  • Travel more: There is nothing quite like travel to broaden your horizons.  We’ll certainly be heading out of the country at least once next year.
  • Attend church regularly: Rach has become an increasingly active participant at church, and I want to start attending regularly with her.
  • Double my Xbox gamer score: Yep, it’s still low enough that it’s in the realm of possibility to double it in a year 🙂 3590 at the moment.
  • Stay in shape: I want to exit next year in roughly the same shape I’m in now, or at least in the same ballpark!  Rach and I plan to do the 60 mile, 3-day walk.  I also want to do a 5k sometime during the year.

What are other people’s resolutions?

 

It’s funny, Rach and I have bought and sold 2 houses before this one.  I thought we were decently seasoned in the whole process.  It turns out that buying a new house is a pretty different experience.  I naively assumed that there would be, overall, fewer issues with buying a new house since everything would be up to the newest ‘code’ and therefore would be ‘better’.  All I can say is ‘oops’.  This is just a brain dump of the various things I’ve learned during this process, mostly so that I can review them the next time we decide to buy new construction. 

The first thing I learned is that builders will cut every imaginable corner they can assuming that they think they’ll still be able to sell the house.  This wasn’t really a problem with the houses that we bought before, most likely because the previous owners had gone through the hassle of dealing with it.  Once you know this rule, it should be obvious why having a fantastic inspector and real-estate agent is important.  Our real-estate agent is awesome, our inspector wasn’t.  The problem is that the places where the builder saves money are not always apparent.  We noticed several things when we were investigating the house, but learned many things after we bought it.  For example we noticed that our builder didn’t install a garage door opener (on a 2-door garage with a single door), no washer or dryer, and no ethernet.  We didn’t notice, at least straight away, that our builder hadn’t installed a garbage disposal, cable outlets in the upstairs rooms (at all), or handles on the cabinetry.  I can understand the washer and dryer, some buyers might bring their own.  The rest were places our builder decided to save money. 

In this same vein, the second thing I learned was how important the wiring of the house is.  It’s not just what’s installed, but your ability to change what’s there at a later stage.  Many new homes in this price range, as I learned later, have a central control panel and what’s known as a ‘smurf tube’.  The control panel is a single place where all of the wiring (all cable outlets, ethernet, RJ-45, etc.) come together.  The smurf tube is a blue conduit that runs from that control panel all the way to the attic, and sometimes all the way to the crawlspace.  This makes adding a new outlet trivial, since you can just run it to either the attic or crawl space and then have easy access to the room you want to run the cable to.  Our new house doesn’t have a control panel or a smurf tube.  I wanted to get CAT6 run to the upstairs office.  This ended up requiring an electrician to cut through various studs, drywall, etc. to run the line and then required a separate contractor to come in and fix the paint to match the original.  Overall it cost 1k+ for just 3 outlets because of how complicated it was (we got a monetary concession from our builder which we used for this work, which is probably the only reason I’m not pulling out my hair about it). 

To expand on this more, circuits matter.  I really wish our inspector had explained this.  One of the reasons that we wanted to move was to get more space, and one of the reasons we wanted more space was to have our gym equipment inside instead of in the garage.  We have a treadmill and an elliptical.  We have these in a room that was probably intended to be a library or maybe office.  The builder wired all of those outlets, plus the lights in that room, the entryway, and the outside to a single 15amp circuit.  In fact, outside of the major appliances like the microwave, range, furnace, and washer/dryer every other circuit in the house is 15amp.  The price difference for a 15amp vs. 20amp circuit is maybe 10%, but code only requires 15amp.  This is okay in many situations, but treadmills and printers (particularly laser printers) have comparatively massive power requirements.  At the moment every time I run or turn on the printer the lights in those rooms flicker.  Ideally you’ll want 20amp circuits for your office and workout rooms.  You’ll also want room in your panel for additional circuits.  To fix our flickering problem we’ll need to add a separate 20amp circuit for the treadmill, and probably another for the computer equipment upstairs. 

Remember to consider storage.  Okay, okay, this has little to do with new construction vs. used.  This is just a note that we should remember to make sure that the new house has some place to store rarely used items like Christmas decorations.  At the moment we have some extra closet space and a small area in the garage.  We’ll almost certainly need to buy or build a shed assuming that we can find room on our property.

It turns out that new houses settle.  This is something I really didn’t understand when we bought the place.  Our real-estate agent explained it, but for some reason it didn’t stick with me until I started to see what it meant.  Pretty much all of the grout and caulking needs to be redone, and the walls are starting to crack at various places.  Many builders will come back after the first year to fix these things up, though our builder has said he’s loathe to do that (not surprising).  We do have a builder’s warranty that covers the more egregious stuff, but I’m guessing we’re going to end up fixing a bunch of it ourselves.  So make sure that if you’re buying new construction you have a good deal set up with your builder such that he’ll come back and fix first year settling issues, or that you get such a good deal you can afford to fix them yourself.

Real-estate agents matter.  I know a lot of people are using things like Redfin in order to lower their initial costs of buying a house.  I know some people have been very successful with this, but I’m 100% sure that Rach and I would be horribly unhappy had we gone that route.  Our real-estate agent has helped us with so many things that weren’t strictly part of the home buying process.  Everything from pointing out missing items, poor painting, etc. to offering to stop by when we were out of town to handle things like frozen water meters.  It’s also just generally awesome to have someone that can help you look past the things that you want right now and balance them with things like resale value which you’re unlikely to consider… right up until you decide you want to sell.

There are many hidden costs in new houses.  I’ve mentioned a lot of these throughout the post, garbage disposal, garage door opener, etc.  The one that really surprised me though was blinds.  In our previous houses the blinds were already there.  I had some vague idea that blinds would be a couple hundred dollars.  Boy, was I off.  Given the number of windows on our house, most quotes we got to have them installed were 2-3k.  It’s possible to save a lot of money by installing them yourself, though then you take on responsibility for making sure that your measurements are accurate and that you aren’t going to accidently sent the house on fire with your drill when you’re installing them.

New houses tend to be air-tight.  It’s funny that ‘better’ construction leads to problems, but it turns out that air-tight houses have problems.  For example, we have shag carpet.  The humidity in the house is low because of how insulated it is.  That leads to huge static electricity shocks, sore throats, dry eyes, etc.  We’ll likely end up getting a whole-house humidifier or something, but that’s definitely in the future bucket.

I’ve been re-reading this post and realize that it comes off somewhat negative.  Rach and I aren’t at all unhappy with our house.  We got a great deal, and despite the issues mentioned above the builder has been super responsive in helping out and fixing any issues.  We’re happy with him overall.  I should probably do a post on the things I love about our house as well :)  To wrap this up, every single one of the things I listed above can be fixed with time and/or money.  One of the things to keep in mind when you’re buying a new house is to look out for the things that you cannot change (or that would be intensely prohibitive to change).  For example, you can never change your new home’s location.  So make sure that’s one of the things you spend a lot of time considering!  We’re only about 10 mins from Microsoft, right next to 405, very close to a grocery store and Subway, and we can walk down to the water.  Can you say Jackpot?

Rach and I are having an awesome Christmas so far.  We opened presents and stockings listening to Christmas carols.  Beta was running around attacking every bit of tape that managed to find its way to the floor.  She has a real fascination with tape, she actually likes to lick it (Beta, not Rach).  I think she likes the way it sticks to her tongue.  Last night we had Eric and Jane over for Christmas Eve dinner.  Rach made a brisket, potatoes, and broccoli and every bite was heavenly.  Later we went over to an early service at church where Rach played in the bell choir.  She played two songs, neither of which I can remember the names to, but they sounded beautiful.   

Speaking of opening presents, both Rach and I got a Zune HD for Christmas.  The Zune HD is an amazing portable music player and we’re busy today setting them up (mostly with Christmas music :)).  It’s funny because we’ve owned every generation of Zune and the HD version is just light-years ahead of V1.  We also really like the Zune software and Zune pass since it basically means that we can download and listen to any music we want.  Finally the Zune has wireless so it can renew its licenses over your home network instead of needing to plug it into a computer.  I think the one place that the Zune is currently falling down is in 3rd party accessories.  Finding a speaker dock for it is difficult at best and I’m pretty sure there are basically 2 options, and one of those is an alarm clock. 

As you may have heard my car radio was stolen a while ago.  I’ve been looking to replace it, and now that I have a Zune I was thinking it would be great to get an aftermarket radio that supported the Zune in a natural way.  For iPods it’s possible to get a Kenwood (or other brand) radio that has a USB interface.  You can plug the iPod in directly, and the radio will allow you to control the current music being played; it also integrates with the rest of the radio features.  For example, if that radio supports bluetooth and cell phone interaction it would pause playback on the iPod when you picked up a call.  Additionally it charges your player.  Sounds great right?  Sadly no such thing exists yet for Zunes.  This is definitely a failure on Microsoft’s part.  The Zune certainly doesn’t have the market adoption of iPod, so I’m sure that’s the reason there aren’t tons of options – but there should definitely be at least one option.  I’m currently waiting for CES on Jan. 6th in the hope something might be announced there.  CES is a large conference focused on consumer electronics.

If anyone is interested, there are various options for getting a Zune to work with your car.  This is, as far as I can tell, the complete list at the moment:

 

Solution Issues
FM transmitter and plug This is what Rach has at the moment.  It works pretty well, but you cannot control the Zune with radio which makes it a bit dangerous while driving.  Also, if you happen to drive to an area where the station you’ve chosen is broadcasting then you can get interference.
Aux input This is exactly what it sounds like.  You can get an aftermarket radio with an aux input on the front.  You just plug the Zune into it.  Unfortunately you still can’t control the player with the radio, and additionally the player doesn’t get charged.
Soundgate kit This is clearly the best option if you have a factory installed radio.  It does everything I list above, though it requires some installation.  We’ll probably look at this for Rach’s Honda.
Buy a Ford or Camero It turns out that Fords and Cameros have Zune integration built in.  Unfortunately we’re not in the market for a new car in order to have better integration with the Zune 🙂

 

CES is coming up, so hopefully we’ll see something better than!

One of the coolest things about the Zunes is that you can have them laser etched when you order them to personalize them.  See below for the pictures of the inscriptions that Rach and I got each other :)  For reference “Groovy kind of love” was our wedding song, and I’ll let Rach explain the significance of Ghostbusters.

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I’m a bit of a list person (just ask Rach).  I really like to put together a todo list for a week and add and remove stuff as I get it done.  It helps keep me focused and makes me feel like I’m making progress.  At work I use Outlook tasks, which work really well because I’m constantly taking email and turning it into a task.  I also regularly have things that need to be done by a certain date, so the ability to set a due date is crucial.  Outlook tasks also let you set up a recurrence, so for things that you need to do every few months (e.g. have your furnace serviced, or clean your gutters) it’s easy to get reminders.  However, I tried using Outlook for more personal tasks that I do on a daily basis and it really doesn’t work for me.  It’s too difficult to create tasks unassociated with email;  there are simply too many options.  The real kicker though is that there is no iPhone access to Outlook tasks. 

I have been using a pad of a paper for a while now.  I just write down stuff I want to get done for the next day and copy over items from the day before.  This works really well for me, but it bugs me that I have to constantly copy items over; sadly I rarely finish the stuff I set out to do so having a lot to copy over is a pretty regular occurrence.  I thought about writing my own todo app, but  I figured there must be someone out there that got it right.  I started by looking at Windows Live Calendar which has TODO items.  This mirrors some of the functionality found in Outlook, though with a significantly simpler UI and web based access.  Sadly the Windows Live folks haven’t gotten around to adding an API for it yet.  I might look again when they do, but until that point I can’t write an iPhone app for it.  I browsed around a bit and stumbled across Zenbe lists. 

Zenbe lists is exactly what I wanted.  You register on their site and you can start creating named lists.  Lists are collection of single item tasks.  They are trivial to create, reorder, edit, etc.  Zenbe also has an iPhone app for $3.00.  The simplicity of their apps and site was a real selling point.  A really great feature of these lists is that they are sharable.  Rach and I set up a grocery list that she shares with me.  I can edit the list and add whatever I’d like, and the next time she’s at the store she can just glance at her phone and see the items.  If I happen to get there first, I’ll check them off and they’d be removed from her list as well. 

I think Zenbe is going to work out really well.  I’ve only got a few complaints at the moment.  First, the iPhone app requires an explicit sync after it’s been opened.  So you need to remember to hit it after checking off a few items or the website won’t know about your changes.  Kind of a frustrating  model; though it does mean that changes on the phone itself are super fast.  Second, I haven’t yet figured out how to move items from one list to another on the phone.  It’s trivial on the site, but I’ve only been able to figure out how to move items within a list on the phone.  Both of these seem like pretty reasonable restrictions at the moment – we’ll see how they play out long term.

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Write boring blog post about lists – Done!

Okay, how is Anson beating me in the number of posts?!  🙂

I thought I would post on our Christmas decorations. When we got home from MD we decided we needed to decorate…and the old decorations would not do! As you might recall from our pictures from last year, I had hand-made  decorations. Well, I couldn’t hang them this year because I don’t have a ladder or a way to get them on the ceiling. So, they had to go. PLUS, we had gotten rid of the old, fake Christmas tree. We were decoration-less!

First things first. We went on a mission to find a fake Christmas tree. The  plan was to get a real tree this year, but after cutting down trees with the Dallavalle family, we determined that Anson’s allergies were still too bad. We went to Home Depot. Michaels, Lowes, Target, another Home Depot…no luck! Most of the stores only had a few trees left and those only had white lights. We really wanted a tree with multi-colored lights. And Anson’s Christmas wish was for a tree with LED lights (yeah, he’s a dreamer :-)). We had almost given up, but then we stopped by Sears. Like all the other stores, they only had 3 trees up and they all had white lights. Then I was approached by a 16-year-old-ish red-headed boy named Richard (like our own personal Christmas elf!). He asked what I was looking for and I told him about the dream tree. He pointed to a box sitting in the middle of an aisle and told me that it happened to contain the one and only multi-color tree left…with LED lights 🙂 YAY!!!

So, we got the tree! Then, we ran back to Target and picked up a few more ornaments (they had the best selection left out of all the stores we went to). We went home and put up the tree, lit it up, and hung the ornaments. Done, right? Nope!  The tree wasn’t quite Christmas-y enough. So, the next day I went out to find a tree-topper. I walked several stores, including Holiday Lane (Macy’s holiday store) at the mall. And I noticed something…NONE of the artificial trees in the stores had tree toppers. In the past, I was never able to find a tree-topper light enough to stay on top of the tree without making it bend. So, I changed my mission from finding a tree-topper to just finding out what people use to put on top of artificial trees. I found a number of trees had bows on top. So, I ran to Ben Franklin and had some bows made. I grabbed some extra ribbon and spiral tinsel. I ran home and put them all on the tree to surprise Anson. He got home from work and loved the tree! How much did he love it? Well, while we were in MD, his mom let us take all of these old moving/musical ornaments from when Anson was little.  When they arrived in the mail the other day, Anson didn’t want to put them on the tree! Anson? Saying no to musical/animated ornaments?! It was craziness! He decided that we should get a miniature tree next year just for those ornaments 🙂

So, here are our Christmas decorations for 2009:

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The nativity my Mema gave us for a wedding present 🙂

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Christmas wreath on the panty door (because it wouldn’t fit on the front door).

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Our stockings hung by the window with care 🙂 Right next to the rapping snowman.

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Our Christmas tree and presents! The picture really doesn’t do it justice 🙂

 

Merry Christmas to all of you!

One of the things that sucks about the new house is that there really isn’t any storage.  At the moment we’re putting a lot of things in the guest room closets, but we still end up stacking stuff in the garage.  That would be fine, but the garage is a little undersized so there isn’t much room.  Basically everything is stacked to half way  up the wall and so digging out any one particular thing is pretty difficult.  It seems there are a few options to consider.  First, a lot of people seem to use their attic as storage.  That’s where we used to keep all of our Christmas decorations in the old house.  However, the attic in this house is super small; there is barely room a stack of books much less a Christmas Tree.  Second would be some kind of external storage, either offsite at a public storage facility or maybe a shed.  I really don’t want to have to pay for public storage, and sadly our yard isn’t really big enough to support any kind of big shed so we’d get very little space going that route (though maybe we’ll have to do that in the future since at the moment we have no place to storage our lawn mower or other gardening equipment). 

That pretty much leaves the crawl space.  As it turns out the crawl space in this house is enormous.  It’s roughly 5 foot high, and literally goes the entire length of the house.  To give you an idea, here are some pictures:

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The last picture really gives an idea of the size, it goes back easily 50ft and there are 3 different rows of that size.  If we could convert even a small portion to storage we’d be set.

I’ve heard plenty about the dangers of using a crawl space for storage.  The crawl space has a dirt floor as well as vents that go to the outside.  It seems this leads to 3 pretty important problems.  First and probably the most important moisture seeps in.  That means anything organic is going to decay; which includes cardboard boxes.  That doesn’t bode well for Christmas decorations.  Second, crawl spaces tend to end up with various types of insects and rodents running around in them.  This is because they open directly to the outside, and the grates sometimes crack or fall off.  Clearly we don’t want rodents in our things either.  Finally, the crawl space floor and walls aren’t insulated (obviously the ceiling is otherwise the floor would be cold a lot!) so it can get very hot and very cold.  As a last note, there are also no lights there at the moment.

I think all of these are solvable problems.  I’ve read that installing a 20-30mil vapor barrier around the area you want to isolate can prevent moisture from seeping in; I’m not exactly sure what that would mean in this case; likely we would need to section off an area since it’s so stupidly large.  I’ve also read that you pretty much have to keep a dehumidifier running there pretty much constantly; I’m a little worried about this as I’m not sure how much power that would require or what type of dehumidifier we would need to get.  Adding light would be trivial as there are plenty of access points to get to the power. 

This is a future project as we’re waiting for our old house to sell at the moment.  Has anyone done this before? Does it sound like a terrible idea?  Any suggestions (or recommendations on things to avoid)? 

You probably noticed that the vapor barrier, as it is, is pretty poorly installed.  I’ll probably get around to fixing that at the same time.

Rach and I have been furniture ‘window’ shopping recently.  We’re pretty terrible at picking out what we want.  We’re so unsure of what colors are going to go well together, that we mostly just go back and forth between different sets.  Of course, furniture is so stupidly expensive that I suppose spending a lot of time looking around is probably a good thing.  We are currently looking for a new dining table and chairs, a bedroom set for the master, and a sectional or new couches for the living room. 

Rach would really like to get a glass dining room table.  We’re pretty sure we have to worry less about color when you can see through the furniture.  Sadly they don’t sell glass sofas.  We’ve found two tables that we really like so far; Jane and Eric own one of them and Alex owns the other one.  The most likely choice is the Halo table from Crate and Barrel.  This is the one that Jane and Eric have and they seem really happy with it.  I’m not sure if it’s bad form to get the same table as a friend, but I’m pretty sure those two glass tables are the only ones sold at the furniture stores in the area so we’re sort of stuck.  Here’s what it looks like:

DiningTable

For the sectional Rach and I are going back and forth; I really like the ‘big boy’ sectional which is an enormous chocolate colored couch with 4 recliners and seating for at least 5, but more likely 6.  It’s open on 2 sides, and roughly 11ftx11ft so I think it would fill up our living room nicely (particularly if we got a chair to go with it).  Unfortunately the only model we can find has armrests all over, and we’d both much prefer the couch to be armrest free.  On the other hand, because the couch opens widely instead of having extensions on both sides, it means that the coffee table we want would probably fit with it.  The other sectionals we’ve liked end up being closed on 3 sides, so the center is pretty small.  Here is what the chocolate couch looks like:

Sectional

We both really like the coffee table.  We ran across it at Macy’s Home store.  The table is high off the ground, but underneath it has 4 ottomans.  The ottomans all roll out and can be used for chairs.  In addition, they open up and can be used for storage.  It’s very clever, and solves two problems that we currently have.  First, it has storage for games and our house is currently lacking in storage (though I’m thinking about trying to convert part of the crawl space… more on that in a later post).  Second, it gives us a really nice place to play those games :)  Here’s what it looks like:

Coffee table

If anyone has any suggestions on a rug that would go well with the chocolate couch and ottoman we would love to hear it.  We have cherry hardwood floors (so tinted red), a mostly black entertainment center, dark wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and very slightly purple walls (tinted purple, look mostly white).  Ideas?

It’s approaching the end of the year so it seems like a good time to take stock of last year’s resolutions.  Sadly I can really only remember two of the ones that I made, so either I didn’t make any more, or they weren’t particularly compelling (or maybe it’s just because I got a whole decade older this year and can’t remember things anymore).  The two that I do remember were 1) get into decent shape and 2) read 50 books. 

I think 99% of people put the first one on their list pretty much every year, so I’m happy to say that I actually made some progress on it.  I’ve been running 5ks on my treadmill pretty regularly now; 30 mins at 7.2mph is my current average.  I haven’t been lifting as regularly as I want, but I’m roughly the same shape and size that I was in college so I think overall I can call this one good. 

It turns out that 50 books is a lot.  I didn’t think it was at the beginning of the year, but I read fairly regularly, at a decent pace, and overall I’ve only managed to get through 35 this year.  There are a couple weeks left and I imagine I’ll read one or two more in that time, but still not quite the 50 I was hoping for.  The whole point of the resolution was just to make sure that I found time to read between work, moving, chores, etc. and that went decently well.  If you’re curious this is the set that I’ve read this year:

 

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I think The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was a definite favorite.  Sanderson was asked to finish the Wheel of Time series when Robert Jordan passed away.  The book is obviously a bit different from some of the previous ones, but two things make it excellent: 1) the character development is awesome; Egwene is probably the best written and 2) plot lines start to close down so progress is made on the overall story.  That’s something that Jordan had been missing in recent books, that tended to focus more on braid pulling and new characters.  Sanderson is definitely one of my favorite new authors – Mistborn and Elantris are amazing and I highly recommend them. 

Fooled by Randomness was different from what I generally read (as you can probably tell from above).  Overall I found the the author’s premise intriguing and tended to agree with his conclusions.  He basically states that whenever people see someone who is successful in the stock market they attribute that success to skill; however, what is attributed to skill can just as easily be attributed to ‘luck’ or ‘randomness’.  Imagine putting 100 people in a room and having them each flip a coin 100 times.  We know that on average those people will flip heads 50 times and tails 50 times; however, it’s entirely possible that someone in that room is going to flip a seemingly impossibly high number of tails and someone else may flip a seemingly high number of heads.  Neither event implies that those people are somehow better at flipping coins than the other folks in the room; it’s just random.  My takeaway is that “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”  Though I think his point was really that the vast majority of people investing and day trading have little understanding of how the market actually works, and even if they are doing well now they are likely going to do poorly in the future.  His strategy is to search for the ‘black swan’ events; to lose small amounts of money in places where he might actually make money by following the general pattern everyone else is following but to make tons of money when the unexpected happens.  Sadly the author is extremely egoistical and it bleeds through his writing making it very difficult to read more than a few pages without throwing the book against the wall.

Phoenix Endsong had flat out amazing artwork.  I’ve rarely seen a graphic novel with such incredible detail.  The story is decent, though mostly average, but the artwork definitely makes this worth reading. 

Joe bought me the first book in the Dresden Files and I’ve been reading them for the past couple of weeks.  The plot is fantastic – sort of a mix between a detective story and a fantasy novel.  I’m already a huge fan.  I’ll be reading the rest of the series over the next few weeks.

I’m starting to put together my list of possible resolutions for next year – here’s what I have so far: 1) broader reading – more books outside of the fantasy genre, 2) start attending church regularly again, 3) do more home improvement projects, 4) increase my Xbox gamer score.  Any other ideas?

Greetings from Maryland!  We’ve been on the east coast for a few days now and have been keeping pretty busy. On Sunday, a few hours after getting of the plane, we went to cut down Christmas trees with Angie, Eric, Kira, Mary and Tim. We had a lot of fun picking them out, but decided that Anson’s allergies might not be able to handle a real tree (no matter how much he wants one). That night we had a great family dinner with the Hortons. Anson finally got to meet Daniela! Also, his mom made one of his favorite dishes, chicken/sausage/potatoes, so it was a good night 🙂

Monday, we went to Angie and Eric’s house to do a Hotovy family dinner. They grilled steak and chicken (also one of Anson’s favorites) and it was super yummy! I think Anson is getting spoiled by all of these amazing dinners. It is going to be pretty tragic when he gets back to WA…

After dinner, we played the traditional Hotovy family Christmas game. This year, the prizes were novelty t-shirts. I managed to snag one that says “More Cowbell,” which I fully intend to wear to my next bell choir rehearsal. Anson got one that says “I’m what Willis was talkin’ about.” There are a few others (such as, “I often wonder if the frisbee is getting bigger. And then it hits me.”) which I am sure all of you will see over the next few months :-)  There were candy canes involved which allowed you to steal shirts or force trades. It’s too bad Tim wasn’t able to make it…I’m sure the game would have gotten pretty intense over a few of those shirts. Mary was too nice 🙂 After that, we decorated one of Angie’s Christmas trees and then played some board games. See some pictures below:

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My mom’s earrings were blinking Christmas lights. And Kira, cute-as-a-bug in her Christmas dress!

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Anson and I, rockin’ our Christmas sweaters.         Angie and Eric, wonderful hosts.

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Kira and Mary, opening presents. As you can see, Kira opened her gift a bit faster 🙂

 

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Angie with her “Pregasaurus” shirt. The second picture is my dad officiating the game and Mary winning a t-shirt.

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These are a couple of tree decoration pictures 🙂 This is just the upstairs tree….

 

On Tuesday we got to spend the day with Anson’s family. We played Buzz Word in the afternoon and got to run around town a little bit during the day. For dinner, we had brisket (I think Anson will go on a hunger strike when we get back). It was delicious!  Afterwards, we opened presents (see below):

 

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The beautifully decorated Christmas tree! And Anson’s mom, opening her birthday card. It was “edited for content.” 🙂

 

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The Grandmas both enjoyed reading their cards 🙂

 

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Aaron likes to have his picture taken. Really, he does. <evil laugh>

 

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Anson’s Dad opening his present and Schrodinger wrapping himself up in the extra paper 🙂

 

It has been a busy, fun-filled trip so far! I’ll post more later this week. Though, unfortunately, probably not many more pictures. I forgot to pack the battery charger and the camera was blinking at me tonight. Fortunately, both of our dads like to take pictures, so maybe they will email me some to post <hint, hint>.

Rach and I decided to switch our blog software to WordPress so that we can more easily update themes for the site.  WordPress is a pretty amazing blogging engine and has tons and tons of pre-built layouts and designs; they happen to be pretty easily customizable too.  Sadly this is only about a week after Eric went through all the trouble of updating his blogging software to support the Windows Live Writer interface (probably XML-RPC) so we’re feeling a bit guilty about doing it.  On the other hand, Rach has been asking me to update our page for a while now and I was getting pretty tired of the 4th of July theme.  So, it’s a toss up really – but either way, Eric was able to update his blog software in a few hours, so I figure I just need to ask him to add themes to it and we can switch back 🙂

 

I’m off to finish packing.  Rach and I are leaving for MD in a few hours on a Red Eye.  I expect that we’ll be extremely tired tomorrow but, no doubt, happy with the snow, family, decorations, and food!