Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

Home Renovation – The Plunge

Over two years ago we started collecting high-end Andersen windows from Home Depot that we reduced in price for whatever reason. (we only had one problem with this method, but that’s a story in itself) This was our way to get started without breaking the bank. After all, the windows were going to be one of the most expensive material costs.


The summer of 2005 we didn’t do much physical work, but we did get serious about the design. (the pool table really was not going to fit) Using the various windows we collected, we figured out where they might go. (We were hoping we cold get something to work) It wasn’t completely hap-hazard… we came up with a design that required the purchase of just one more window and I started to put everything down on graph paper.


We also started to figure about how we might heat it. We considered extending the current hot water baseboard heat, but we had concerns about freezing pipes. We considered radiant heat, but I wasn’t in love with the idea because of installation issues and because we didn’t know what the floor was going to be. I knew I had to insolate the concrete slab from the actual floor somehow; plus the radiant heat seemed expensive and I wasn’t sure I could do it myself.

The ambiance of a fireplace or wood stove was appealing. However, because wood stoves or fireplaces require lots of maintenance and the risk of fire hazard goes up when running it all the time, not to mention the temperature swings and the fact that I want it warm when I sat down on Sunday morning with my coffee ruled that option out quickly.

There are other wall heaters we could go with, some efficient, some not; but we were looking for ambiance, not another eye sore.

stove1.jpgWe looked into natural gas burning, direct vent, wood stoves, such as the ones from Jotul. (pronounced, YO-dull) They have the BTU’s, and they have the ambiance and are low maintenance. They are moderately efficient and can work on a programmable thermostat. This could possible be the solution, but where would it go? Is it truly feasible to install? Well, because of a “spring sale”, we made a hasty decision and bought one last year and hoped the project would be far enough along in the fall to install it. Of course, we weren’t ready and the stove served as an end table for 1 ½ years.

It was, however, enough motivation to break ground, and in the Summer of 2005, I started by ripping the siding off the inside wall.


So I had a load of lumber for framing, the windows, and a beautiful summer. So, what did I do…?


I guess I wasn’t really serious about this project…


February 26, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Life in general | Leave a comment

Supreme Commander Review

Just to follow up on my RTS post, Supreme Commander is out and is getting great reviews. Here is GameSpot’s Video Review. It looks like the downfall is that you need a killer system to run it well. I learned that the system does actually calculate projectile trajectories in combat, so it probably looks much better then simple animation.  I still suspect you spend most of your time “zoomed out” so that you can concentrate on winning, as opposed to enjoying the view of a killer battle scene.supremecommanderscreenshot2.jpg

February 21, 2007 Posted by | Gaming | 1 Comment

Snakes and Arrows

rush.jpgRush’s new album is called Snakes and Arrows and will be released May 1st. “Far Cry” will be the first single released, any time now. They will tour this summer, starting in June. That is all I know. That’s all anyone seems to know.

February 20, 2007 Posted by | Music | 1 Comment

Home Renovation – Reality check

Reality of the budget and the sheer size of the project kept us from moving ahead. We considered contracting out the job, but that cost is just something we can’t afford right now. But would it be worth it, like the kitchen?

The thought that having a room to be able to do some of the things I’ve mentioned and enjoy it with our children is the driving factor once again. I mean, do I want to renovate this into a great room when I can afford it? Which may be well after the kids are out of college… Which may be never… This is our home. This is where we live.

Now, I am pretty handy after owning a home for over a decade and while I do make mistakes, at least they are not like these. I enjoy working with tools, building things, and getting that feeling of accomplishment of doing it yourself. But, it would be a ton of work and still be expensive. However, financially, there probably wouldn’t be another way.

Contracting it out would still require a lot of time and it would be super expensive. A ½ off sale at Linens and Things when buying sheets is a pretty good deal, but when you are talking about ½ off (or more) of a $30K project… now that’s a big savings.

Reality check and back to basics… the design needed to be revised with practicality, must haves, and would like to haves.
• It needs heat – something like the natural gas wood stove might cover both ambiance and practicality.
• Outdoor feel, slightly rustic, but not a log cabin – drywall for the most part, but maybe some extra wood and stone in certain places. Lots of windows is still a must have.
• A place to play a board game or cards – heck, we have a table that can go out there for now until we can get the perfect thing.
• A place to store board games and stuff – that might have to be added later as well
• Home theater – I have some home theater equipment now, it will need to be upgraded in phases. The TV and the media PC are both very expensive.
• A cozy place to enjoy a movie – we have some furniture that could be used in the meantime until we had the money to upgrade
• Lighting – still a must have, though it can probably be done without spending a fortune. (I like to design and install lighting)

From this, we came up with a basic plan of how we were going to use the room, and more detailed plan I put down on graph paper. The previous family room with the real fireplace may become a formal dining room with the fireplace end cornered off with a cozy sitting area. The hardwood floor and fireplace would make a great room to host Thanksgiving dinner.


We can’t settle on what to call it. It really is a family room, but we have another room we already call that so it is confusing. I still call it the “porch project”, but it is no longer a porch. I like the name “Oktoberfest Room”, but the esthetic committee voted that down. “Adult Game Room” isn’t accurate because it is really designed for kids, even if the kid is over 30. (not to mention “adult” may conjure up the wrong image)

It will become the “great room” someday, but for now it is just “the porch project.”

All this and we haven’t even started!!!! We just need to take the plunge…

February 19, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Life in general | Leave a comment

Winter Snow Park

valentines-day-blizzard-012_sm.jpgI don’t know who gets more excited about snow… me, or my kids. When it comes down to it, I’m just a big kid. The Valentine’s Day blizzard brought us all the snow we’ve been missing. (though that day in December when it hit 78 degrees was pretty cool)

I like to play with big machines, too. A snow blower is a ton of fun to use. (the only hard part is keeping them running year to year) I happily help out all of my neighbors with their driveways. I went through 4 tanks of gas. (which is fine, they pay me back in beer)

So what do I do when we are blessed with 2 feet of snow…? I make a winter snow park in my front yard. I snow blow all of the driveway snow in to a huge pile for sledding and snowboarding; known as “Grinch Mountain “. Then, I also snow blow paths around the yard which then get made into forts and thus becomes the perfect battlefield for a snowball fight. (So what if I destroy my lawn some more; it was pitiful to begin with… and what good is a lawn that you can’t play on?) I am probably the only person that actually blows snow back into the driveway after cleaning it all up.

valentines-day-blizzard-010_sm.jpgThis is the best… the kids get to walk outside and have an enormous snow park to play in and when they cold it is an easy cleanup and they can come right back in. We also get to watch them out the picture window from a comfy couch… that’s if I’m not outside sledding myself. It is awesome; and, I had a blast making it.

(more pics on Flickr)

February 15, 2007 Posted by | Family, Life in general | 3 Comments

Commuting Down the Hall

On day like today, where there is a blizzard outside (literally), I really appreciate the ability to work from the home office. I especially like being able to dress down, make my own good coffee, and set the temperature in my office to exactly what I like.


Since I consult, I am at different locations all the time and even though my commute is only about a 20-30 minute drive, I still have to pay to park and then make a long walk to wherever I’m going. Thank goodness for my MP3 player; you should get one if you don’t already. (just don’t drop it in a bucket of acid.)

Often, I am even more productive from home than at the office. With high speed Internet, VPN access to all the locations I work at, and a telephone, there is a lot that I can get done. It can’t, however, be a complete substitute for being on site because there are still things that are better done in person, and some things that can only be done on-site. But, working from home is an awesome benefit.

If you live in New York, you may be interested in these websites for traffic and weather:

February 14, 2007 Posted by | Life in general | 1 Comment

Home Renovation – Spoiled by Octoberfest

I’ve been spoiled by Octoberfest. While Oktoberfest represents something much larger, for me, Octoberfest is an annual get together of a small group of people I call my best friends for just one weekend. It is the one weekend a year where my family grants me the leniency to “play with my friends” pretty much uninhibited. We always have a fantastic time, and it always goes by way too quickly.

Our Octoberfest weekend activities have spoiled me to some degree where the other 51 weekends in the year leave me dreaming of a year round environment like the one we setup. Now of course there is real life, but my day dreams of Octoberfest did get me thinking about what are some of the best things about Octoberfest that I can apply to my family and our lifestyle.

OK, so lack of responsibility goes out the window, but there are some concepts that I have applied to the design of my home renovation project that come from inspirations of Octoberfest.

• Movies/TV – a comfy place for a family of four to watch movies or TV, an experience better than the movie theater.
• Board games – a place to play board games, cards, make crafts, puzzles, etc
• Food – a place to eat, have snacks, etc
• Atmosphere –a place you go to relax and have fun; cool in the summer, warm in the winter. Either feel the summer evening breeze, or to be able to see the snow piling up outside
• Social Gaming – video games are more fun when everyone is playing; I no longer have the desire to lock myself in a small room to play games by myself.
• Entertaining – the ability to have a party (including Octoberfest)

So from these inspirations I have grand ideas to have:
• A dedicated room; not the room that is also the kitchen, also the dining room, also an office. (I’ve already established that our open kitchen serves as the busy central hub of the house)
• Lots of windows with curtains that can be drawn if needed.
• A fireplace for both heating and ambiance.
• Outstanding room lighting with the ability to create the mood.
• Large, wall mounted TV, bright, non-glare plus 7.1 surround sound.
• Integrated Media Center PC for HD recording/playback plus PC and console gaming from the couch.
• Comfy new furniture, plus the ability to accommodate more people comfortably.
• Keep an overall rustic, welcoming, feel to the room (even with all the technology)
• Windows seats, extra storage space and an expandable table.

So between inspirations of Octoberfest, and practical uses that my whole family could really enjoy, I had many design ideas down on paper and wanted to take this project seriously; but, I needed a reality check.

February 12, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Home Theater, Life in general | Leave a comment

Looking at RTS Games

I’ve never been a huge fan of Real Time Strategy games. (RTS) This is mainly because most of these games are all about learning some sort of system and then executing the commands as fast as possible. In other words, there was little strategy in the game. The winner would be the person who was able to execute their commands quicker; which is really just a pattern of clicking, not a strategy.

Now, I know there are those of you out there who are huge fans of Age of Empires and the like. I don’t totally “not get it”; I do, but there are key elements about them that I don’t like. So, second to my complaint about hyper clicking in a pattern, I also hate that you don’t have time to savor and watch a battle. If I’m going to amass thousands of troops to engage my opponent in an enormous open field battle, I want to watch it. But with RTS’s of the past, you pretty much had to abandon enjoying watching the game to go back to town and do some farming. Yeah, fun.

 It is for this reason I enjoyed Civilization III. The Civ games are turn based and you actually set up a strategy, then executed it, and then watched it work (or fail). Of course, it wasn’t a real pretty battle that got played out.

RTS’s though are making strides these days and are changing and I’m not above re-looking at them to see what they have done. If they fix “my problems” with them, I may be all over them.

Company of Heroes
I’ve been playing this demo and the one thing that jumps out is the graphics. (The sound is also great, by the way) You can zoom in very close to a battle and see the battle like never before in an RTS. It really is a thing of beauty to watch. Unfortunately, watching is not what you get to do most of the time. Usually, you are looking elsewhere to get ready for your next move so you don’t lose.

This pet peeve of mine is actually present in many games, not just RTS. I’ve seen it in racing games and first person shooters as well. When racing, you are going so fast and looking at on coming traffic that you don’t have time to look at the beautiful seascape. But not all games fail at this. Half-Life 2 managed to have slower paced scenes when you were at a vantage point to take in the scenery, look around and enjoy, and then later engage in the action. Some people may disagree, but I can easily suspend my disbelief in a “real-time” game if they just “paused” the other action so I could enjoy this action, or the scenery, or take in more of the story.


Supreme Commander
This game I have only heard about and I’m hearing mixed reviews. One thing people seem to love about the game is the ability to zoom all the way out, kind of like a Google Earth perspective. However, I’m not sure what this gives you. The battles are supposed to be massively huge and I like the futuristic setting of the three factions pitted against each other.

Blizzard will definitely be making a Starcraft 2, though no one really knows exactly what it will be like. Some are suggesting it might be the next MMO, the post WoW generation of MMO’s. I even heard someone comment that Starcraft 2 could take off where PlanetSide left off.


Warhammer: Mark of Chaos
This game does have some sort of pause mode. While you move your troops around, you are essentially in a paused mode. Once the battle begins, you get to watch it play out. You can even zoom in pretty close, but, as you get closer you realize that the troops are just running through their animations and not really fighting. In other words, it’s not that fun to watch.

Another suggestion for a strategy game definitely caught my attention and this possibility certainly exists. (they are in line with my theories on the future of gaming consoles and who controls the market) The suggestion is for an RTS game released as a “Game for Windows” where you control your armies and place them in battles which are actually fought by players on the xBox360. So the RTS is on the PC, and the action is on the 360, and the two work together as one game. I especially like the idea of controlling those 360 users. (because we all know that PC gamers are superior)

I can picture myself on my couch playing a beautiful RTS on my huge HDTV; and by the time the developers put out such a game, hopefully I will own that TV.

February 8, 2007 Posted by | Gaming | 1 Comment

The Writing is on the Wall for DRM

We’ve come full circle.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) was created by technology companies under the pressure of some media distributors and owners (Hollywood). Governmental law has also added to the pressure, but the laws were made under the pressure of the lobbyists of those same media people.

The goal was to prevent the small percentage of people who copy media and re-distribute it illegally, either re-selling it or giving it away for free, from being able to do so by electronic security measures. The result is that the same small percentage of people who do this are also the ones with the motivation to find out how to circumvent these security measures.

So what have we gained?

broken-cd.jpgThe people who don’t know and don’t care about DRM are the ones getting stuck with movies that can’t be played from here and songs that only work over there. All Digital Rights Management has done for the mainstream user is limit our rights and create confusion. Nothing works. Steve Jobs agrees.

Now, with all of the forms of DRM, all of the different connectors, operating systems, chips, storage devices, and media presenting devices, technology collides and things break; which is preventing the consumer from paying good green money for the exact thing they wanted to control and sell in the first place.

Well, they certainly control it… right into the ground. It can’t last; the writing is on the wall.

We’ve come full circle.

February 7, 2007 Posted by | Home Theater, Life in general, Movies, Music, Tech | Leave a comment

Video Games I Have Completed

kings-of-the-beach.jpgWhile I consider myself a big fan of video games, there are actually very few I have ever completed in their entirety. A game has to be so immersive to keep my attention for the length of time it takes to complete one; especially these days when some games can take from 8 to 50 hours (or more) to complete. In case you don’t know, video games continue to grow on a scale that rivals Hollywood movies. The production process and expenses are very similar. And so are the profits.

One reason I believe I don’t finish many video games is that I almost enjoy understanding the development, learning about the technological revolutions and watching the history of these games more than actually playing them.

diablo.jpgThe latest trend in video games is for them to never end, specifically MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online). These games typically charge a monthly fee ($10-15 on average) to be able to play; as long as you are interested in it, you can just keep paying to play. Since these games are designed to never end, I can’t really put them on my list because I can’t complete them. However, these games also typically have some sort of ranking system that eventually maxes out. If you can call that completing the game, then I can add PlanetSide to the list.*

So, here is the short list of games that I can remember playing in their entirety. For me to finish them, they must have been pretty good.

  • Adventure (Atari 2600)
  • Kings of the Beach (NES)
  • Double Dragon (Arcade)
  • Diablo (PC)dd_l2_boss.jpg
  • Half-Life (PC)
  • Half-Life 2 (PC)
  • Wheel of Time (PC)
  • Burnout 2 (GameCube)

These games don’t have a specific ending, but I have played them enough to call them complete.

  • PlanetSide (PC)
  • TrackMania Nations (PC)
  • Madden 2003
  • Civilizations III

[Edit: 2/7/06 – I forgot, I also completed Super Mario III on the NES… check these out, classic, two guitars, piano, bassoon, a capella, 11 string bass, flute, balalaika, — and just for fun…]

February 6, 2007 Posted by | Gaming | 2 Comments