Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another year gone

Brief, and to the point — a year of ups and a few downs, not too unlike previous years.

It's time to focus on the positive things in life, no matter how insignificant you think they might be. As the saying goes, "It could always be worse", and if you take a moment to look around, you'll see that it's true.

Happy New Year to all of my friends and family, wherever you may be. If you're out partying tonight, play safe so you can contribute to the ups of 2012.

Keep the party alive, don't drink and drive!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

iCaved for an iPhone

My cell phone contract was due for renewal in January. My wife's has been expired for a year or two, but she had been waiting for mine to expire in case we could get some kind of deal.

She had been wanting a smart phone for a while. I had one for 3 years, and HTC Touch Diamond, that I've been cursing at for 2 years. I swore I'd never get another touch-screen phone. They're fun for anything but using as a phone. As a phone, they're slow and awkward. Or at least mine was. Probably because it was using an older Windows Mobile as the operating system.

I looked around at some Android options. The touch-screen/keypad combos. I was leaning heavily to those that were free with a contract. Nothing really stood out with my carrier, Telus.

I've always thought that Apple products were overpriced, so the iPhone wasn't even a consideration. At first. But I have an iPod Nano that I won years ago, and I use iTunes to sync my music. If I had an iPhone, I could use it for my music, and as a phone, and to run some apps that I couldn't find on the Android. But it was a touch-screen only phone. And it was by Apple. And it wasn't free.

The upgrade price for a 16GB iPhone 4S was $160, and if I got one, I'd have to get my wife the same. It only made sense to not have to learn two phones to do stuff. I could go for the 4 or the 3GS which were cheaper and also free, but considering the phone would have to last at least 3 years for us, it didn't make sense to get the older technology. I suppose the 4S will be at least two versions old by the end of a 3 year contract.

I Tweeted questions out on the net to see what owners of iPhones had to say about their phone. What they liked and disliked about it. What the battery life was like. Everyone liked their phone and didn't really have anything negative to say about them.

After a little debate with my wife over pros and cons, we decided that we'd get the iPhone 4S. It wasn't free, but it did do everything we wanted it to do and that's imporant when you're "stuck" with it for 3 years. She has always leaned toward a Blackberry because many of her friends have or had one, but I don't think it mattered too much since I was paying for them. :)

I did a little web researching and found that the 3 big carriers, Telus, Rogers, and Bell all offer pretty much the same things at the same prices. Whatever happened to competition?

My wife called up Telus last Friday to see what kind of deal we could get to stay with them, over switching to the competition. We've been with Telus since they were ClearNet (14-15 years?) and we've never really had much trouble with them.

As soon as she explained to the rep why she was calling, she was transferred to someone who could make it happen. Without any trouble at all, she got them to throw in Call Display, Free Evenings and Weekends (after 6pm instead of 9pm), and waive the $25 activation fee. Plus, without any hassle, she got them to add that to my account as well to save me a call. She then called the Telus store at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre to make sure they had a white and a black iPhone 4S in stock. They did, and they put them aside for us.

We stopped by there later that evening and I have to say it was a very pleasant experience.

We were greeted almost immediately when we arrived. My wife explained why we were there and the rep went to find the person my wife spoke with on the phone, Mohamed. Minutes later, he came out from the back with both phones on-hand and escorted us to a quieter area at the back of the store to assist us.

While we were talking with him, my wife asked about the $50 accessory credit that the store offered for new phone purchases. He explained that it was only for new customers, but suggested that we could always call Telus and see if they'd offer us a similar credit. While he processed the paper work, my wife called them on her cell phone. Oddly enough, she spent more time on hold with this particular call than she did when she called from home.

While she was on hold, Mohamed explained the AppleCare Protection Plan. It was around $80, per phone, but gave us coverage for 2 years and a one-time replacement if the screen got broken. That was my biggest fear with the iPhone. I had dropped my old HTC two or three times in the past, and it survived, but the iPhone is glass. We agreed to buy the two plans and after the fact, Mohamed said he'd knock 20% off each one of those as well. Who discounts something after you agree to buy it? :)

My wife finally got through to someone on the phone and Telus said they couldn't give us an additional credit for the "accessories" since we already got credited for some things. Not a huge deal because Mohamed had already said he'd discount accessories 20% for us which was better than nothing.

In the end, we got the two phones, two AppleCare plans and two Otterbox cases. And he also put two additional reusable Telus shopping bags into our bag for fun. All in all, a very enjoyable experience. Mohamed wasn't pushy. It never once felt like he was trying to sell us something we didn't want. He was friendly and joked with our daughter while we waited. Above all, he was patient with us, answering every question we had, and didn't seem to mind waiting while my wife was on the phone with Telus to try and get us the accessory credit. He even spent time showing us the basics of using our new phones.

Yeh, we spent way more than we had originally planned, and it is touch-screen only, which I swore I'd never buy, but after a few days of playing with this phone and the 57 apps I've installed on it :) I'd have to say that it is worth it. The touch-screen does take a little getting used to, but it works way better than my old HTC Touch Diamond.

Kudos to Telus and their store reps, in particular Mohamed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tech Support, the Ubisoft way

As you can see in my previous postings, I love Rocksmith.

However, Ubisoft's technical support leaves a lot to be desired.

I posted a problem in a message thread in their support forum. They have a "sticky" thread there titled: "Rocksmith Official Bugs and Issues Thread". The "forum manager" made the first post, saying:

Please post all bugs, repeatable crashes and any major game play issues in this thread. Do not make new threads since this can result in your problem getting lost and the Topic getting closed.

This is not a means of Direct support but a means to collaborate all issues. You should also report any bugs or glitches directly to Ubisoft Support. The direct link is in my Signature.

Thank you for taking the time to report any issues.

Toward the end of the very lengthy thread, they advised users to submit support tickets for their issues.

I did that, on December 4:

I am unable to pick Tone Slot 2 in the Amp. When I tap the directional pad or left stick on my Xbox controller, it skips Tone Slot 2 and goes straight to Tone Slot 3. So I try to go back and it skips 2 and goes to Tone Slot 1. I thought it was my controller, but if it were the controller, you would think that it would go past Tone Slot 3 to the guitar picker... or it would skip past songs when trying to choose one. I also tried another controller just in case and it does the same.

I posted this same problem in your forum and it appears that others have the same problem. I'd love to see this fixed in an upcoming patch as it makes this feature somewhat useless.

As you can see, it has nothing to do with my guitar or playing the guitar. It has to do with selecting an option in the game's menu.

I first received an auto-response from the support system with various links to commonly asked questions (aka FAQs)

The next day, I recieved what I believe to be a human response from a rep:

Hello Scott,

Please follow the instructions in the following FAQ for assistance with this configuration issue: http://ubisoft.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/15549

I'll save you a click and tell you that their suggested solution explains how to adjust my guitar's intonation. This is completely unrelated to my problem. Not to mention it could result in me messing something up with my guitar. The issue was also closed as "resolved".

I reopened it with this response:

Your suggested solution has absolutely nothing to do with the problem I reported. In fact, my problem has nothing to do with actually playing the instrument. The problem is with selecting an option in the game's menu, using the game controller. Please re-read the problem that I reported and perhaps try it yourself. Like I said, it has nothing to do with the guitar.

A couple of days later, they closed the incident as resolved, without explanation.

That's right around the time a new thread started in the Ubisoft forum, titled WTF kind of answer is this Ubisoft support criticizing the response that someone else had received. I replied with my experience. The Ubisoft Forum Manager replied, telling me to re-open my incident if it wasn't resolved, and they explained that the first response may be a simple FAQ. Why there's a need for multiple FAQ responses is still a mystery.

So I did, with a strong suspicion that it would be closed again within days, without a response. I sent:

This problem is not solved.

It was closed a day or two later.

I posted an update. The topic died off after a few people responded to my update.

Yesterday I decided to re-open my incident. It irks me that some companies feel it's ok to treat their customers like this. I used to work in tech support and this was never acceptable. I sent the following message:

I don't know why you keep closing this. Closed means resolved, and as you can see, there is no resolution posted by you in this incident.

Surprisingly, I received a response the same day.

Hello Scott,

Please follow the instructions in the following FAQ for assistance with this configuration issue: http://ubisoft.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/15549

Deja vu? It's the exact same thing that they sent me the first time.

I responded with:

Is this a joke? You can't be serious. Did you even read what my problem was? Or read the reply I made when you first suggested this same "solution" which is completely unrelated to my problem?

My problem is NOT a configuration issue. If you feel so strongly that this is a solution to my problem, can you please explain to me how adjusting the intonation of my guitar affects TRYING TO SELECT AN OPTION in the game with a game controller.

Thank you.

I couldn't hold back. I posted a complete summary in their forum with an admittedly sarcastic  ending:

I have a sneaking suspicion that the link they sent me is also the solution to world hunger.

Within a couple of hours, I received a private message from someone whom I assume is directly involved with the development of Rocksmith, apologizing for the lack of response from support and reassuring me that my problem was a rare issue related to DLC and said that it would be fixed in the upcoming patch.

I thanked them for the reply.

Now when I posted my "summary", I admit that I did do a faux pas, and named the rep in my posting. Only their first name, and to be honest, I'd be extremely surprised if it was their real name.

The Forum Manager didn't like that, and edited my message and the replies of a couple of other people. They also posted:

Like I have stated previously, the first reply may be a simple FAQ. If your question has not been solved there may not be a solution to your Ticket. Even if the answer is not to your satisfaction, the details have been logged and if others report the same situation a fix is more likely.

Trying to call out Ubisoft Staff whether it be Forum or Support will only lead to further action.

Can you please PM me your Incident Ticket number?
Thanks

Here is my entire reply to that:

First, I apologize for naming the rep, there was no intent to "call them out". I was simply putting a name to the "bizarre" responses I received.

Secondly, what purpose does sending a completely unrelated FAQ response serve, AFTER the support system has already sent an auto-response with links to FAQs? That's rather pointless, don't you think? The only thing it does is make the company look like they don't care about the customer.

I worked in software technical supprot for 6-7 years and we used the same support system that Ubisoft uses, so I know how the back end works. I know the real reason why they close them off, but I won't get into that.

If there was no answer to my problem, then they should be straight forward and say so and at the very least reassure me that the issue was forwarded to their engineers. The incident should not simply be closed with the hopes that I'll just go away.

Having said that, I did receive a private response from someone at Ubisoft (or from Rocksmith) shortly after I posted my message, apologizing for the trouble and they reassured me that my problem is a rare issue somewhat related to DLC and will be fixed in the upcoming patch. I thanked them for their assistance.

That is how support should work and if it did work like that, this entire message thread wouldn't even exist and you wouldn't have to threaten your customers with further action for being rightfully upset.

If you still want the incident number, feel free to PM me, otherwise I no longer need a response as I did get one from someone who cared enough to give me one.

I wasn't sure if I should post that because I thought it might touch a nerve, but thankfully it didn't. I received this response from the Forum Manager within the hour:

We do care and I understand your frustrations. This is why I asked for you Ticket number. I still have to uphold the rules though.

I am glad you were contacted about your issue and given an answer. Please let us know if you are still affected after the patch release.

Seriously, Ubisoft, you have to do something to improve your technical support. Why couldn't I have received an answer the first time I submitted the support ticket? Surely, your first level tech support people must have some kind of escalation route for problems that they can't resolve or at least provide some assistance for?

I suppose it could be worse — I could be a PS3 user. The PS3 version appears to be plagued with problems. There are endless reports of crashes and lost progress.

This is the second Ubisoft game that I've had a poor technical support experience with. My patience is wearing thing, Ubisoft.

 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ford doesn't believe in preventative maintenance?

A couple of months ago we took our 2008 Ford Escape to the dealership to get some front end repairs done under the extended warranty. In that same visit, we reported another problem where it felt like either the brakes were slipping, or the automatic transmission wasn't dropping down a gear when braking. It's hard to describe unless you actually feel it happen.

Anyway, the front end work was done and the second problem could not be reproduced. Admittedly, it was somewhat intermittent. Our extended warranty repair cost us $100 deductible.

Over the last few weeks, the ABS light and traction control lights were coming on, and staying on for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour.

My wife made an appointment with our Ford Dealership for last Friday and brought it in. I did a little searching on the web and found that this is actually a fairly common problem with the Ford Escape. Nearly all of the posts that mentioned this problem said it was due to a cracked "tone ring". 58,500 hits when searching for "Ford Escape" and "tone ring".

Sure enough, one of the tone rings was cracked. They replaced the tone ring and the ABS sensor. This visit also cost us $100 (plus other charges for an oil change that we had done in the same visit)

During my internet search, I found one posting that said if you experience a slipping feeling while braking, it was likely due to a cracked tone ring.

That got me wondering if the tone ring replacement might also fix the other problem that we reported.

In the last two days of driving since it was replaced, we have not experienced any of the "slipping". I'm very confident in saying that the tone replacement did in fact fix it.

Now, I'm a little disappointed that this could have been fixed in the first visit, saving us the $100 deductible. But, seeing as how it was somewhat intermittent, I guess that could be excusible.

However, there are two tone rings and only one was replaced. It was explained to my wife, when she asked if both were replaced, that they could only replace one because they have to send the damaged part back to Ford. Since the other is not (yet?) cracked, they couldn't replace it.

That's a bit upsetting. The fact that this problem seems so common, it's probably safe to assume that the other will eventually crack. If it happens while our extended warranty is still valid (until August) it will cost us another $100 deductible. If we're not lucky and it cracks after the warranty is up, who knows what it'll cost us?

Some say that they were told the entire front axle needed replaced at the same time, costing them $500-$600 for the repair.

It would have been nice if Ford and/or the dealership were a little proactive in preventing a future visit and expense.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The "Rocksmitheree" continues...

Still playing Rocksmith. Still enjoying multi-player with my daughter.

It surprises me how much she remembers from some of the songs we've been playing. She seems to have a knack for it. Her small hands make some of the chords pretty tricky though.

One song in particular that we both enjoy is "Use Somebody" by the Kings of Leon and she plucks away some of the notes even when the game isn't on. I thought I was nearing the complete chart for this song since it hasn't change in a while, but then I found a video on YouTube that shows quite a few more than I've seen so far. I guess I'll have to get better at what I have before they'll show up. Looks like a lot of fun though.

When I'm not playing, I'm surfing the web for more knowledge. I found these two:

http://www.chordbook.com

http://all-guitar-chords.com/

A friend sent me this one that he uses: http://guitaralliance.com/

Today one of my co-workers (who also has Rocksmith) sent me a couple of YouTube links to videos showing some 12 bar blues that look like fun. From there, I found the creator's web site: http://www.justinguitar.com/

There is a wealth of information on that web site, and it's ALL FREE. Of course, you can make a donation or buy one of the many books he also wrote, but all of book content is from the web site.

I've only been reading some of it for about half an hour and I already want to buy the book. :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rocksmith Progress Update

It's paying off

I played Rocksmith for a few hours last night.

While I really enjoy playing this game, I sometimes feel like I'm struggling with it and that I'm not making any progress toward getting better.

I know this is normal. I keep telling myself to be patient. It will come. (see previous post about my Rock Band experience)

Well, last night -- for a brief moment -- something clicked.

I was playing a new song for the 4th or 5th time, to achieve the minimum score to continue, and at one point in the song I didn't look down at the strings to find my next fingering position. I instinctively moved my fingers to the next string and fret position, and my picking hand found the right strings to pluck.

It felt so natural.

Then I realized what I had done, got a little too excited, and screwed up my moment of happiness. :)

It was a cool feeling though and it confirmed what I had posted previously.

Persistence and patience.

It's nice to know that the callouses on my finger tips are not for naught.

Multi-player

I felt bad for my daughter last night. When she came home from her cousin's house and saw me playing, she picked up the Fender and sat with me, and followed along as I played. Unfortunately, because we only have one cable for the game, she played "unplugged". She still seemed to enjoy it, but she's not getting any real feedback about how she's doing aside from hearing the guitar's own unamplified sound. Also, for one song, the tuning was Drop D and since she wasn't plugged into the game, she couldn't tune down the guitar for it.

I decided this morning that we're going to buy another "Real Tone" cable, so my daughter, or my wife, can also play at the same time. $30 for the cable is a little pricey, but I think it'll be worth it if she continues to remain interested in learning to play.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rocksmith similar in some ways to Rock Band

I am coming to the realization that learning Rocksmith (aka, learning to play a real guitar) isn't much different than learning to play Rock Band or Guitar Hero. That's not to say this is as easy, but the learning process is similar.

I still remember years ago thinking "I can barely play 3 damn buttons, I'm never going to learn to play 4... or 5. This is insane." Yet, about a year or two later, I was playing some songs on expert and gold starring them. With that in the back of my mind, I push on with this real guitar thing.

I know that things that seem impossible aren't impossible, with a little patience and persistence.

I have frustrating moments, like I did with Rock Band. Probably more so now. With 6 strings and so many frets, the combinations seem endless. It's really tricky trying not to look at the buttons strings so I can concentrate on the TV instruction. It's easy to get lost.

Another thing I recall from my Rock Band experience was that when the frustrations were too great, put down the guitar and take a few days off before trying it again.

It's the same thing with Rocksmith and a real guitar.

This afternoon I finally felt like I was making some real progress. Not just with my in-game score, but actually feeling I could do this, eventually.

I got hooked on a seemingly simple song, "When I'm With You" by Best Coast. I was really getting into it. Rockin' it out. It's a fun song. My daughter actually said "Was that really you playing that?" I felt like a rock star. I played it five or six times. I then decided one more time before calling it a night.

That's when I discovered just how dynamic Rocksmith's difficulty can be. Seconds into the song, it looked foreign. "WTF? More notes?!" *panic* I struggled through the tough parts and it wasn't long before it started to look a little more like I had been playing previously. Maybe it should be called Dynamic Reality Check. Yeh, I still have a long way to go.

I finished up the night with playing one of the mini-games, "Scale Runner". My daughter even took interest. She got a small acoustic guitar for Christmas a year or two ago, had some interest for a while and it has since been gathering dust. She brought it out, I tuned it up the best I could, and we sat playing/learning scales together. :) I might have to pick up an extra USB adapter cable once my new guitar arrives this week so we can play multi-player.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bucket List update, Nov 7, 2011

Overdue for an update...

  • Weigh 210lbs or less — This was originally 200 but was revised months before achieving it at the end of October, so I'm marking this as complete.
  • Quit smoking — Completed almost 3 years ago.
  • Visit the UK — Still to do.
  • Visit my Dad's grave site in Louisiana — Still to do.
  • Own a Ford Mustang — Probably a long way away from getting this one done. :)
  • Visit every province in Canada — Still to do.
  • Cycle 1000 kms in one year — Done mid summer 2011.
  • Cycle 2000 kms before the end of the summer 2011 - Done
  • Cycle 3000 kms before the first snow fall — Done. Can't recall the exact date... maybe I blogged about it?
  • Ride in a hot air balloon Still to do.
  • Ride in a bi-plane — I see one taking off and landing at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum all the time, but I think it's a bit pricey.
  • Learning to play at least one full song on guitar — New! :)

Gonna be a rock star

Ok, maybe not. :)

I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was in my late teens, along with a beginner book and some guitar picks. Weeks later, after building callouses on my fingers, I set the guitar aside.

Every few years after, I'd pick it up, with half-assed determination to learn how to play. I replaced strings a few times.

To date, I still cannot play the damn thing, mostly due to frustration, lack of patience, and no lessons I suppose.

Years ago my wife and I developped an addiction to the Guitar Heros and Rock Bands. Yeh, plastic instruments and all. Spare me the "pick up a real guitar and learn" crap. It's tiring. Thanks to Rock Band, my nephew bought a drum kit and took lessons.

Anyway, when Rock Band 3 came out with its "Pro Mode", my interest in learning guitar was renewed. Maybe this was what I needed? But the real Fender Squier Strat designed for it was a little expensive. However, when I heard about another upcoming game called Rocksmith, that used REAL guitars without anything more than a special USB cable included with the game, I was able to justify the Fender purchase. It would serve two purposes. Rock Band 3's Pro Mode, and to use with Rocksmith.

Rock Band 3's Pro mode was a tad frustrating, but mostly because of the "hybrid" Fender strat requiring tweaking to get to work properly with the game. It still isn't 100% good with the game, but to be honest, it was enough to make me set it aside.

In the meantime, I picked up a small 10w Fender amp to accompany my guitar, for real play. I should have held off on the amp purchase.

Enter Rocksmith.

After reading a couple of early reviews, I was a little hesitant. Latency seemed to be the issue. After reading a few positive reviews, I bit the bullet.

This "game" is awesome. It connects your electric guitar via a special USB cable to your console (PS3 or Xbox 360), and then connects to your home stereo, which acts like your amplifier, and also provides a whole whack of pedal effects to accompany game play. It turns out that my system configuration is the recommended best at minimizing latency. After tweaking the in-game latency setting, I think I've pretty much eliminated it.

I put the word "game" in quotes because it really is more of a teaching tool. Perhaps it doesn't go into as much theory as a guitar less might, but it teaches people like me enough so that one day they may be able to pick up a guitar and rock out a song or two.

I live for that day. :) Perhaps I should add this to my bucket list...

The game is not without some frustrations though, and I suspect it's mostly due to the Fender that I'm using. For one thing, the specially designed frets (for Rock Band 3 Pro Mode) sometimes make the strings catch when string bending. I also think that it doesn't stay in perfect tune, possibly due to the inntonation being a little off. That could be due to the weak neck because it contains eletronics for Rock Band 3 Pro Mode. I followed some instructional videos on YouTube for adjusting inntonation and it's a little better, but still not perfect.

Last week I decided to look into getting a new guitar; one that is designed 100% for real play. I emailed AxeMusic.com, where I bought the Fender and the amp, for any recommendations. They're Canadian, and I like their service. I told them looking for a decent beginner guitar in the $300 price range. After a few email exchanges, I settled on a See Thru Black Cherry ESP EC-100QM. I even checked out a few youTube videos of people playing this guitar. I liked the look at the sound.

I called late Friday and placed the order.

Maybe once I get a little better, I put up a video. Maybe. :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

GOOOOOOOOOALLLLLL!

Almost 50 weeks and 58lbs later, I finally beat my weight loss goal this morning. At 209.2lbs, I am the same weight that I was in the mid-80s. That equates to 5" off my chest, 3½" off my hips, 2" off my neck and 7½" off my waist.

I've been battling weight issues for most of my life and this is another victory for me. :) But it didn't come without some help. I owe thanks to...

  • Xbox 360 & Kinect for getting me motivated. It put fun into exercise. Seriously.
  • Ubisoft's Your Shape Fitness Evolved game (despite bugs that still aren't fixed... hint hint)
  • LiveStrong.com for helping me track calorie intake. Being more aware of what goes into me was important.
  • My tape measure. When the pounds stopped dropping, seeing the inches continue to come off helped keep me going.
  • My addiction to cycling this past summer. What else can I say? It's fun.
  • My brain for not letting me stray too far. Too many plateaus to mention, but I knew this day would eventually arrive.
  • My T-shirt hording tendency. Nothing motivates you more than seeing a "One day it's gonna fit me!" T-shirt finally fit.
  • Successfully beating nicotine addiction almost 3 years ago. I knew if I could beat that addiction, I could lose weight.
  • My family and friends for the support. Even when they told me to stop because "You don't need to lose anyone." :)

Img_4374

Part of me would still like to make it to 200lbs, as I had originally planned, so I'm still going to try and continue with my current progress. However, I won't be as concerned about small fluctuations with my weight.

 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nearing 1 Year

It's been almost 1 year since I began my quest to lose weight and I still haven't reached my goal. I am so close. The last two weeks have been terrible, resulting in a small, yet still manageable gain. I was 215.8 lbs this morning.  My lowest to date was 211.4 lbs in the first week of October. I could have easily reached 210 lbs by cutting my food intake in half for a day or two, but I guess there really wouldn't have been any point to that because I would likely have gained it back in a day.

The indoor cycling, or lack of it, has played a role I'm sure, although to be honest it doesn't appear to help with losing as much as it does with maintaining. It's more difficult to motivate myself to cycle indoors than I thought it would be. It's not only boring, but I'm having to make time for it, unlike when I cycled to and from work. Or maybe I've hit another plateau.

I would love to reach my goal before November, or at least before my first recorded weight on November 14th.

I need to focus. I'm going to do this. Dammit.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cycling season is over... sorta

The last time I cycled outside was a week ago. The weather took a turn for the worse after that. On the weekend I decided it was time to bring my bike inside and mount it onto the trainer so I could continue cycling inside.

My first indoor ride was on Saturday morning. I hooked up an old CCM odometer so I could track the distance, speed, and time. After ~3 hours of cycling I rode just over 72kms. I didn't intend to ride for that long, but I was watching TV at the same time and a movie grabbed my attention. :) (Spy Game, in case you're wondering)

I've ridden twice since for about an hour each time and I think that's what I'll stick with.

Cycling indoors is boring, unless you're watching TV at the same time, but the trainer can be a little loud so I have to set the TV volume louder so I can hear it. I've been wearing my iPod Nano and listening to fast-paced tunes to set my pace and it's working out pretty good.

I've discovered that when riding on the trainer my average speed is about 5kmh higher and I can "travel" farther distances in the same time. The downside is that there is absolutely no coasting. ;)

I also sweat like crazy without any wind resistance. It's unreal. It obviously shows that I'm getting a good workout, but I swear I could stay dryer if I jumped in a pool.

An hour riding each day is about 25-30kms. Over the course of a month, there's no way I'll get close to what I achieved while riding outside, but I'm fine with that. I getting really close to my weight goal so I don't need to work out to the same extent that I was over the summer.

I'm really hoping to reach that goal by the end of the week. I was close last week but then cut myself a little too much slack over the weekend. :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From Fahrenheit to Celsius with a Sears programmable thermostat

We have an old Sears programmable thermostat, model C387-47145-1. It was installed when we bought this house and we don't have the manual for it. There is a sticker on the flip-down door to the buttons that tells you how to program the schedule and time. There's also one on the inside of the cover when you remove it. What neither of these stickers tell you how to do is change it from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Up until today, that wasn't a problem. When it showed the LOW BAT warning, I replaced the three AA batteries and it was happy.

Today I noticed that the LCD display was blank. I replaced the batteries. I don't know how long it was blank, but it was long enough to lose its schedule programming, including the Celsius setting.
I scoured the internet and found a manual for a different Sears thermostat model. It said to press and hold the two TIME buttons at the same time to switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius. Ours doesn't have those two buttons.

I found many requests from others looking for the manual for this particular model, and a few others. What I didn't find was a solution to my problem.

I walked back over to the thermostat and tried resetting it again by removing the batteries. Maybe I missed something when it first powers up. Nope.

I started pressing buttons in combination with each other. After a few minutes I saw a single number on the display instead of the usual time and temp. It said 78. I pressed buttons again, this time the single number was 26.

Bingo.

If you have one of these thermostats, you need to press and hold the HOLD TEMP button and then press the TIME button to toggle it between Fahrenheit and Celsius.

You're welcome. :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

If you have a bike helmet, why not use it properly?

I'm not one of those who thinks everyone should wear a bike helmet. To each his or her own. If I didn't have to buy one to participate in a charity ride years ago, I might not even have one today. I paid for it, so why not use it? And yeh, there's the whole safety aspect of it. :)

I've seen two examples of bike helmet stupidity this summer that puzzle me.

  1. cyclists who wear their bike helmet tilted back on their head, and
  2. cyclists who ride with their helmet hanging from the handlebars or strapped to a carrier

Regarding the first one; if you're not going to wear it properly, why bother wearing it at all? There's no law that says you have to, if you're over 18. It also makes you look rather stupid.

As for the second; why the hell did you bring it with you? I don't understand what the point is. If anything, I think it's more of a hazard swinging from the handlebars, and at risk of falling off and into your path or someone else's.

Neither of these is going to do your head much good if you fall off your bike.

Can someone please explain these to me?

 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No ink level monitoring for Epson Workforce 633

We bought a new printer a couple of weeks ago: an Epson Workforce 633. It's a multi-function printer. For the most part, I got it up and running via wife and all our computers printing, scanning and faxing with it in no time.

I had one tiny problem, and the problem existed only with my PC. The driver preferences allow you to see the ink levels. With my PC, that didn't work.

I couldn't find any answer to the problem on Epson's web site. I did find references on the web from of other people with the same problem using other Epson printers. Nobody seemed to have a solution.

It wasn't a critical problem. It didn't prevent me from using the printer. But I can be pretty picky about things. If something is supposed to work, I wanted it to work. If it doesn't work, I want to know why.

I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the printer, updating the driver, and changing firewall settings. Nothing worked.

This morning I submitted a support request via Epson's web site before leaving for work.  I received a step-by-step reply at during my lunch hour. I connected to my PC remotely and tried the solution. It worked.
Although the instructions worked, they did need a little tweaking. I decided to post them here for others to find, along with my comments.

The solution was to remove and reinstall the printer, but I also had to remove the port that was created during the original installation, and then recreate the port.

If you already know the name or IP address of the printer, the first 4 steps can be skipped.
  1. Press Setup button. (on the print panel)
  2. Use the up or down arrow buttons to select Network Settings, then press OK.
  3. Use the up or down arrow buttons to select Confirm Network Settings, then press OK.
  4. Write down the IP address displayed on the LCD.
  5. In your computer click on Start menu > Device and Printers.
  6. Under Printers and Faxes right click on your printer icon then click on Remove Device.
  7. Click on Microsoft XPS document writer icon then click on Print Server Properties. (this is a button along the top of the window)
  8. Click on Ports tab.
  9. Look for EpsonNet Print Port that indicate the IP address of your printer. Select it then click on Delete Port.(My printer's IP address was NOT listed, but it did have EPSON in the port name. Also, when I tried to delete the port it wouldn't let me because there was another print device, the Epson fax, using the same port. I had to remove that printer before getting to this point)
  10. Click on OK. (aka CLOSE)
  11. Click Add Printer (select "Add Local Printer") then click Next.
  12. Select Local Printer attached to this computer and unchecked Automatically detect and install my Plug and Play printer then click Next. (this entire step wasn't even needed)
  13. Click Create a new port and on Type of Port select EpsonNet Print Port.
    • If you see your printer select your printer then Next.
    • If you don't see your printer select Manual Setting then click Next
    • Enter your printer's IP address then click Next (if you know the name of the printer, you can enter it instead)
    • Click on Finish
  14. Under manufacturer select Epson and under printer select your printer then click Next. (Even though my printer is the Workforce 633, the driver is listed as Workforce 630 series)
  15. Select default Printer then click Next.
  16. Select do not Share this printer then click Next.
  17. Select Yes to print a test page then click Next.
  18. Click Finish.
Somewhere between step 14 and 18, I was prompted to allow the printer access through the Firewall. I chose Private network.

That reinstalled the printer and I had access to the print levels in the driver preferences. However, I also had no fax printer because I had to remove it before it allowed me to remove the port. I wasn't provided any instructions for reinstalling the fax printer. A couple of minutes of poking around the Epson software I had installed got that fixed.
  1. Click the Start Menu > Epson Software > Fax Utility
  2. Click the Add Another Printer (Fax) button and follow the prompts. If you had this set up previously, you'll be clicking Next throughout the entire setup.
That's it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Feeling a little deflated

In the months that I've been cycling to work, and even in the years prior that I cycled only on weekends, I've never gotten a flat. I've often seen cyclists at the side of the bike path or road fixing a flat on their bike. Every time I see it, I can't help but feel for them. "That must really suck."

This morning I got to know what it feels like to be one of those cyclists. :( But I wasn't able to repair my tire.

I was about half way to work, not far from Major's Hill Park, when something didn't feel right about my bike. The rear wheel felt like it had a little too much side-to-side movement. I glanced down and it seemed ok. My first thought was that maybe the rear wheel was loose. I stopped at a traffic light and looked at it again. The wheel was fine, but the tire pressure seemed a little lower than a minute earlier. The light changed and I kept riding.

I decided that when I got to the top of the steep hill leading down to the Rideau Locks, I would get off the bike and have a better look at it. The last thing I was for my wheel to come off or have a full flat when I hit ~40kmh going down that hill.

As I approached the hill, I looked down at the tire again. It was flatter. I got to the top of the hill and dismounted. I pressed on the rear tire. It was definitely going flat.

Fuck.

I have a repair kit and pump with me all the time, but I don't have the tire levers. I'm not sure why I bother to carry anything with me when I don't have the tools to remove the tire.

I grabbed my cell phone and called my wife, whom I was sure would almost be at work by now — she was just passing my work, so yeh, she was almost at work. I told her I had a flat. She got off the highway, turned around and I met her in the Byward Market about 10-15 minutes later. We put my bike in the back of the truck and I drove her to work.

I'll be heading to the bike shop at lunch to pick up a new innertube and some tire levers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beware of National Home Services

This past Saturday a representative from National Home Services rang our door bell. I don’t normally let anyone get much of a word in when they ring our door bell and try to sell us some kind of service. In fact, I have a small sign on our door to ward off Direct Energy and Rogers reps. I usually interrupt them to say “No thanks” and close the door on them.

He identified himself and asked to speak with the owner of the house. I told him that was me. He said National Home Services was taking over for Direct Energy and that he was booking appointments to have our hot water heater rental checked to see if it needed replaced, free of charge. If it was replaced in the last year or two, it probably wouldn’t need to be replaced.

Perhaps that was the hook that kept my attention.

I told him that I wanted to check with Direct Energy before making any commitments. He said that they had nothing to do with it.  I told him that I’d still like to verify with Enbridge or Direct Energy. He actually said he would wait if I wanted to confirm with them over the phone. He even added that if I checked my gas bill, I would see that National Home Services was listed as a partner. I went paperless a while ago, so I couldn't verify at the time.

I asked him if he had any information he could leave with me. He said he didn’t because he wasn’t the sales guy, he was just booking the appointments and head office would follow up.  I asked him if he had a business card. He said he didn’t, but he did offer to write down his name and phone number so I could call him once I had contacted Enbridge.

I got a piece of paper and he wrote it down. He also explained that it was his cell number and he was heading back to Toronto.

It all seemed pretty ballsy if it was some kind of a scam.

We thanked each other, shook hands, and off he went to the next house.

I went to Enbridge’s web site and pull up my recent bill. There was no mention of them. However, they are in fact listed on the Enbridge web site as a "participating company”.

From a customer point of view, that adds a little legitimacy to the situation.

I next visited Direct Energy’s web site. I couldn’t find any warnings. I have heard their radio spots in the past warning people that they do not solicit door-to-door, but this guy never claimed to be from Direct Energy.

My next stop was Google. I searched for “national home services” and “water heater”.

Bingo.

I found old forum posts from people warning about National Home Services. I also found and old Toronto Star article online with the same warnings to consumers. These are warnings from 2007, 2008, and 2009.

I’m still puzzled why there’s nothing more prominent on Enbridge’s web site, or Direct Energy’s web site for that matter. My brother in-law sent me a link to something he found on Direct Energy’s web site. Even in that article, they quote an old Toronto Star article.

I can’t, for the life of me, find that article by going to the main page and digging for it myself. Seriously. They’re running the risk of losing customers to a competitor — you would think they’d be a little more concerned about it.

After some more digging I did eventually find someone else’s blog post from March 2011. That’s part of the reason I decided to make my own post. The more warnings out on the web, the better off we all are.

In retrospect, I should have asked him if he knew my name. If he was in fact “taking over” for Direct Energy, I would think that Enbridge would have supplied him with more contact information. I found out from a neighbour later that he had visited their home as well, with the same story. They own their water heater, they don’t rent it from Direct Energy. The guy even questioned whether they were sure they owned it.

I never did call the rep’s phone number to see if it’s even a legit number. If I can find the paper, maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll post it here. :)

I'd like to add that they are a legitimate company; it's their sales tactics that are sleezy and scammy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New weight goal

On Saturday morning I weighed 215.4 lbs, my new lowest-to-date weight. :)  I expected the usual weekend weight gain but for the most part I managed to keep it off and this morning I weight 215.7 lbs.

Friends and family are still telling me to stop losing, despite my "ideal weight" being in the 200 range. My doc says 190, but that's based on his assistant saying that I'm 6'2" tall. My wife measured me recently and I'm just under 6'3"; the height I have always thought I was.

Anyway, I've decided to set my goal at 210 lbs for the time being. When I reach that weight, I'll reevaluate and decide of I should continue to 210. Or maybe I'll wait for my annual physical exam and see what my doctor says. I'm hoping that when that time comes, he'll let me discontinue my hydrocholorathiazide prescription since I'm fairly certain that my blood pressure has dropped significantly since the weight loss. When I first started taking them 8 or 9 years ago, my then-doctor said it was a lifetime thing, unless I "made some drastic lifestyle changes". I think losing almost 60 lbs is pretty drastic. Anyway, I'll cross that road when the time comes.

Once I reach my goal, going into "maintenance mode" makes me a little nervous. I'm sure most of my routine will remain the same: count calories, weigh myself and workout. But when winter hits, my cycling time will also be reduced. I'm not going to be a crazy cyclist and ride in the snow, so instead of 2 hrs of cycling to and from work most days, it'll be 1 hr per day after work with my bike on the trainer. Maybe it'll balance out if I make a point of cycling every day, unlike during warmer weather when I skip it on rainy days.

Speaking of the bike trainer. I had originally planned on buying one. I did a little research and the one I wanted, the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine, was around $400. A couple of weekends ago we helped some friends move into our neighbourhood. While we were unloading his car, my friend picked up a box from the trunk and said something like "Here, a gift for you..." and handed me the box. I was a Schwinn Magnetic Bike Trainer. I wasn't sure if he was serious or joking and didn't know what to say. My wife said "Are you serious?" He said he was. Apparently he had bought it a while ago, but never got around to using it. He heard through the grapvine that I was looking for one, so he gave it to me. :) It's not a fluid trainer that I had planned on getting, but a free mag trainer is perfect. Free is always good. I tried it out one day and I think it'll work fine.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Extra-long weekend summary

You could probably also call it the end-of-summery...
  • Thursday — Helped some friends move into the neighbourhood
  • Friday — Went for a long cycling ride
  • Saturday — Woke up early to go shoot photos of hot air balloons, which I will post a link to below. This was followed by our neighbourhood Family Fun Day, and parking lot dance, with to much "La Beer Day" celebrations. :-\
  • Sunday — La Beer Day recovery
  • Monday — Chillin' at home. Would have liked to go cycling, but the weather wasn't too good.
And here are the balloon photos:

Friday, September 2, 2011

The true origin of Labour Day

Wikipedia describes the meaning of Labour Day as:

Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers.

It goes on to describe the differences between our countries and so on... what a load of crap.

I'm here to tell you the true origin of Labour Day.

It was a French holiday celebrating beer. That's right... La Beer Day.

It was a heavily celebrated holiday with much love shown for this amazing beverage. As a result, speech slurred and eventually transformed it into what we know today as "Labour Day".

I shit you not. Don't let anyone tell you different. Why else would there be line-ups at beer stores on the Friday before the weekend?

Have an awesome La Beer Day weekend, have fun, and play safe. :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saving a few bucks on Xbox Live Points

If you...

  • own an Xbox 360
  • occasionally buy Xbox Live Points to purchase game DLC or Xbox Live Arcade titles
  • are Canadian

... keep reading if you want to save a few bucks.

Microsoft sells Xbox Live points direct from the Xbox Live Marketplace for the following prices:

  • 500 Microsoft Points - $7.25
  • 1000 Microsoft Points - $14.50
  • 2000 Microsoft Points - $29.00
  • 5000 Microsoft Points - $72.00
  • 6000 Microsoft Points - $87.00

Not taking tax into consideration, that works out to 1.45 cents per point, unless you buy 5000 points which works out to 1.44 cents per point. (oooh big savings there)

You can save a few more cents more by buying a 1400 or 2800 point card at Best Buy or Future Shop. At regular price, they sell them for:

  • 1400 Microsoft Points - $19.99
  • 2800 Microsoft Points - $39.99

That works out to ~1.43 cents per point. In comparison to Microsoft's pricing, 1000 points would cost you $14.28. Still not much of a savings. You'd probably spend more on gas driving to the store.

I think that's pretty much the standard pricing for those cards everywhere, unless they go on sale, and that's pretty rare.

There is another option that I don't think many people are aware of: Dell.ca.

Dell.ca sells Xbox Live point cards, as well as gaming consoles, games and accessories. Buying your Xbox Live point cards from Dell.ca will save you even more. On top of that, they have FREE SHIPPING and they also accept PayPal.

This is Dell's pricing scheme for points cards:

  • 1400 Microsoft Points - $17.99
  • 2800 Microsoft Points - $38.99

You can quickly see that the best bang for the buck is the 1400 point card. 1400 points is ~1.29 cents per point and 2800 points is ~1.39 cents per point. In comparison to Microsoft's pricing, 1000 points would cost you $12.85 — a savings of $1.65 before tax.

Granted, the convenience of having points instantly-when-you-need-them isn't there, but if you plan ahead you can save a few bucks and maybe buy that cool hat or outfit for your avatar. :) In my experience with Dell.ca, their shipping times are really good. Almost everything I've ever ordered from them has arrived within 2-3 days.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Google Flower Project

I got this in some junkmail from Google yesterday. Apparently there are wild flower seeds embedded in the paper it is printed on.
201108171541_449
I tore off a piece and planted it in a mug of soil at work and we'll see if and what it grows. :)
201108171555_450

Bucket time

Time to update my bucket list. While I didn't really set this as a goal, I did achieve what I said in the comment for it.

I had mentioned that I expected to break 2000 kms before the end of summer. I did that on Tuesday. I'll update it to say that I'm aiming for 3000 kms before the snow falls.

  • Weigh 200lbs or less — Less than 20 lbs to go.
  • Quit smoking — Completed 2½ years ago.
  • Visit the UK — Still to do.
  • Visit my Dad's grave site in Louisiana — Still to do.
  • Own a Ford Mustang — Probably a long way away from getting this one done. :)
  • Visit every province in Canada — Still to do.
  • Cycle 1000 kms in one year — Done mid summer 2011.
  • Cycle 2000 kms before the end of the summer 2011 - Done
  • Cycle 3000 kms before the first snow fall
  • Ride in a hot air balloon — Just added!
  • Ride in a bi-plane — I see one taking off and landing at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum all the time, but I think it's a bit pricey.

 

 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cutting cable... or the bill at least

Our rented Rogers PVR died a few days ago. None of the hours of recorded shows we had were showing up. I rebooted it and they appeared, but then disappeared soon after. I suspected that the hard drive was dead or dying. It had been acting up for a while in the last couple of months, rebooting on its own for no reason, and splitting recordings in two parts.

Sandra took it to one of their stores to exchange it for a new(er) one. At the same time, she tried to cancel stuff that we don't use because our bill keeps growing. We were disappointed, but not too surprised, to find out that you can't cancel anything at their stores. You have to CALL them to do that. Stupid.

We got the new one hooked up and so far so good.

The next day, Sandra called to cancel the movie package. I turns out that it wouldn't make much of a difference to our bill. Maybe $15 less per month. Sandra told the rep that we need to do something to get the bill down because it's too much.

Get this. The rep offered to keep everything the same but reduce our bill by ~20% in exchange for signing a contract with them for a year.

She also threw in two "on demand" movies, free of charge, for the loss of all our recorded shows.

We accepted the offer.

I had often heard that they'll cut you deals if you call and threaten to leave for another company. We didn't even do that. We just told them that we didn't want to pay as much as we do.

Apparently our monthly bill will now be around $185 instead of $217. It's still too much, imho, but I'm not ready to battle my family for all the channels they like to watch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bucket List — updated

I was looking through old postings on my blog and came across one titled "Bucket List".

It was basically a list of things I wanted to do in life. I realized that I have completed at least two of them, and I'm on my way to completing a third. This was the list:

  1. Weigh 200lbs or less (target = summer)
  2. Quit smoking (already in progress -- if I can go 2 months, I'll consider it done)
  3. Visit the UK (where I was born, and where my cousins, aunts, and uncles live)
  4. Visit my Dad's grave site in Louisiana.
  5. Own a Ford Mustang. :D
  6. Visit every province in Canada (6 to go... not including the territories)
  7. Cycle 1000kms in one year (this may not seem like much to some people, but considering I tend to cycle once per weekend, in spring & summer only, that's about 80kms per weekend -- double what I usually ride...)
I thought I had updated it at one time but can't find the posting right now. Anyway, it's time for an update! :)

  1. Weigh 200lbs or less — As this was posted in 2009, I didn't make the summer target. It's unlikely I'll make the target this summer either, but I'm well on my way as you can see in other postings. :)
  2. Quit smokingDone. Done years ago. I made it past the 2 month mark and kept going.
  3. Visit the UK — Still to do.
  4. Visit my Dad's grave site in Louisiana — Still to do.
  5. Own a Ford Mustang — Probably a long way away from getting this one done. :)
  6. Visit every province in Canada — Yeh, still to do.
  7. Cycle 1000kms in one yearI had completely forgotten about this one, but as a matter of fact, I'm almost at 1400kms for this summer and I expect to break 2000kms before the end of the summer, easily. :)
I think I need a few more items added to the bucket list.

Mr. Baggy Pants

Last night Sandra and I went through our closet — or rather Sandra went through the closet — and picked out stuff that I haven't worn in ages because it was either worn out or too big, or both. There were old jeans, hoodies, and track pants.

A couple of the pairs of jeans were really old. Size 42" waist old. I haven't been that size in 6 or 7 years. I kept them because I would wear track pants underneath them to go snow shoeing.

I decided to try them on for fun and I got Kyle to take a couple of photos.

It's hard to believe that I was once this size. Of course, having my arms in the waist make them appear much larger than they are.

285310_10150335703951153_574866152_9679197_8215315_n

When I started my recent weight loss, my jeans were a size 38" waist. They still are, but my new jeans fit me differently than the old 38s. Having said that, I may be able to wear a 36" soon.

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's strange how some things work

My recent plateau was frustrating and I had pretty much accepted that I may not get past it. I'm was actually pretty happy with the progress I made and my weight doesn't really bother me now.

This morning I weighed myself and saw that I had pushed past it, despite not being too careful about what I ate this week.

The scale read 221.6 lbs.

This means that I have now lost 45.4 lbs in total, again making it the lowest weight that I can recall in over 30 years.

I'm pretty sure my dental issue that forced me to eat less for a couple of days played a part in it. I've read that sometimes your body needs a bit of a "shock" to get past a plateau. Rather than limiting yourself to a set amount of calories per day, vary it once in a while. Exceed your calorie limit for a day or two, and then eat less than the limit for a day or two so that the average works out to what your limit is. That could very well be what happened.

Either way, I'm pleased with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I feel lazy

I went for my longest cycle ride this year on Saturday; a ~78 km ride from home to Meech Lake and back. It wasn't exactly what I expected. I expected mostly uphill to Meech Lake, and downhill back. It was probably more uphill to Pink Lake, then mostly downhill to Meech Lake. Then the reverse coming back. I ran out of water just as I left Meech Lake, which wasn't good. I got to one of the Visitor's Centres near the entrance to Gatineau Park and they had a water fountain, with a tap on the side to fill water bottles. The water was nice and cold too. I must have drank 3 bottles before filling the two that I brought with me for the ride home.

Now that I've ridden to Meech Lake, I'm kinda left with a "what now?" feeling.

There was no riding on Sunday, which I didn't mind too much. Instead, we went to the Rideau Provincial Park to hang out at the beach and fish with friends for the afternoon. Sandra said she missed not going for a bike ride.

I had broken a tooth on Friday afternoon and on Sunday it decided to get worse, so I wasn't able to ride my bike to work on Monday or Tuesday because I needed the truck on Monday in case I could get a dental appointment (which I wasn't able to) and then again on Tuesday because that's when I got the appointment.

Not riding for 3 days really makes me feel lazy.

I'm planning on riding to work again starting tomorrow. It's going to be a hot one for the rest of this week too.

As a side note, I've been keeping track of my cycling since May 1st. I may have missed one or two rides, but by my calculations, I've ridden 1175.05 kms in total.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

WTF? No progress?

It would appear that I slipped, again, and didn't post an update on my fitness progress last weekend.

It's not intentional. I think I'm just too distracted with other stuff, like cycling mostly.

Maybe there's no point in posting a weekly progress anymore?  My weight loss has more or less come to a halt, despite my continued attempts and workouts. I still monitor my calorie intake, and it's mostly well under what it should be after deducting my workouts. I still weigh myself often and log my weight weekly.

I am extremely happy with my weight right now and plan to at least keep it where I'm at, which is somewhere between 225 and 229 lbs right now.

I'm going to continue to try and reach my goal of 200 lbs, but these final 25-30 lbs don't seem to want to come off without a fight. I have a feeling it's going to be a very slow process.

So, no more weekly updates. If I do happen to make some progress one week, I'll no doubt post something.

As mentioned, cycling is taking up a lot of my time. I cycle to work often. I cycle on the weekends often. I've even managed to get my wife to cycle with me on the weekend. We've been down to the By Ward Market to buy veggies and fruits on two Sundays in a row so far. The pace is slower than I usually ride, but it's still a lot of fun.

I challenged myself on Saturday. After my wife and I rode out to Petrie Island, I still wanted to continue to ride. So, I decided to see if I could make it to Pink Lake in Gatineau Park.

I made it, but not without some difficulty. The difficulty was following the marked trail, which ended up taking me deep into the woods around Pink Lake on unpaved and extremely rough, and weather-worn, paths. I ended up walking about 3 kms because the path was un-ridable on my bike.

Riding down from the lake was a blast. I managed to exceed 55 kph just coasting. Too much fun. :) The total ride was just over 50 kms. If I include the morning ride to Petrie Island, I rode over 80 kms in total on Saturday.

My next goal is to make it Meech Lake. That's about 36 kms, one way.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A nice surprise

When I got home today I had received a letter from the University of Guelph. At first I thought it was some kind of junk mail letter.

I opened it and this is what it said:

 

Pet_trust_fund_letter_for_sam_on_behalf_of_blair_animal_hospital

 

Dear Paterson Family: 

We were truly sorry to learn of the passing of your beloved cat, Samantha. In recognition of your loving relationship with Samantha, Blair Animal Hospital has given a monetary donation to the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) Pet Trust. 

The OVC Pet Trust honours the amazing relationship between pets, their people and veterinary caregivers. This kind gift will support learning and lead to advances in our knowledge to improve the health of our companions. I think you will agree this is a wonderful tribute to your special friend. You can find out more about the OVC Pet Trust at www.pettrust.ca. 

As veterinarians and animal lovers we understand how painful losing a pet can be. We hope that you derive comfort knowing that this gift in memory of Samantha will help us move veterinary medicine forward. Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time. 

Sincerely, 

Dr. Gordon Kirby, DVM, MSc, PhD
Associate Dean, Research and Innovation

The Blair Animal Hospital was Sam's primary vet. When we took Sam to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital, we had to sign forms acknowledging that the Alta Vista Animal Hospital wasn't trying to take us away as clients, etc. and that they had permission to send all of the medical info back to the Blair Animal Hospital.

This really is awesome. Thank-you Blair Animal Hospital.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BMO cares

Last Thurday I discovered that my BMO Mastercard had been compromised.

I was buying gas at Esso using my Esso SpeedPass, which is linked to my Mastercard, and it was refused. I then tried to use my Mastercard and it was refused. I ended up paying cash.

When I arrived home there was a message from BMO Mastercard's Fraud department asking me to call them. I did, and was advised that there was a $1600 and an $1800 charge for The Source and Best Buy that triggered the lock on my card. I was advised to visit a local branch where they would take card of the forms I needed to sign, refuting those charges.

I walked up to a local branch that night, about 30 mins before closing time. Without going into too much detail about that experience, I spent about an hour there because the branches don't normally deal with Mastercard issues. Due to the postal strike it seems that they were put in that position without being notified. The staff at the branch were incredible in helping to resolve the issue with BMO over the phone.

The rep I spoke with on the phone, while at the branch, told me that I would receive my new card via courier in 2 business days. I should have received it on Monday. It is now Wednesday.

I called BMO Mastercard's customer service number. After a brief time on hold I was speaking with a rep who asked for my Mastercard number.

I told her the situation and said I could give my old number if that helped.

She immediately apologized and explained that due to a larger volume of requests for couriered cards, there was a backlog and that it may take an extra time to arrive. She offered to check on the status of mine, so I gave her the old card number.

After confirming some information to ensure that I was who I said I was, she advised me that my card had not yet been shipped. She apologized again and asked if I was travelling and in urgent need for the card. I explained that I have a recurring charge that was upcoming, but I could probably make arrangements to pay it another way if necessary. She thanked me and said if I could do that it would help a lot.

Then without even asking, she told me that my yearly $35 fee would be refunded for the inconvenience and I would also receive AirMiles for the charge I would not be able to apply to the card.

She also noted that I have been a customer for 9 years and thanked me for that.

To be honest, my biggest concern about not yet receiving the card was a fear that it had gotten lost, but I came away from this experience feeling like they actually cared.

Yeh, I could have gone off on a rant about how I shouldn't have been told 2 business days if it wasn't going to be 2 business days, but seriously, why bother? What would that accomplish? They made a decent attempt to compensate me for the inconvenience, and treated me like a person and not a number. I've been on the other end of the phone before, and I know that "shit happens". It was nice to see that the reps at BMO have the power to do little things like this without jumping through hoops.

Kudos to BMO.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Speed bumps (again) — Week 32 progress

I was head out for a weekend of camping on Friday, and obviously that meant being gone for the weekend so I couldn't really post an update.

But I did weight myself on Friday morning... and I was up a few pounds. Not sure why. Well... yeh, I guess I do know why. I tend to indulge a little more when I work out more. In part because I'm not hungry, but I also feel like I somehow deserve a little more because of the extra effort put forth. So basically, I lose out on any of the benefits of the extra work out.

So that's that.

The cycling has definitely increased. If the weather is nice, I ride to work and home again. That's anywhere between 37 and 40 kms per day. Awesome.

I didn't get a chance to ride my new bike until Sunday afternoon, after we returned from a (wet) weekend of camping. It's awesome. I love it. I'm still tweaking the handlebar height and seat height. It feels better all the time. My average speed on the new bike has increase 2-3 kph.

Even though I'm off work this week, I rode it to work to drop something off. Later in the afternoon I took it out again for a ride downtown to the Rideau Canal Locks. I shot this with my GPSr's built-in camera, so the quality kinda sucks.

Dcim6n4542657w07569823t3b33aab5h003536
I also started keeping a log of my cycling. I had to dig back a few weeks on what I entered for fitness @ Livestrong.com. So far, since I started riding in the spring, I've travelled 541.5 kms. :)

 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This is how you get my business

I decided this week that I need a new bike. My 18 year-old lime green CCM mountain bike has seen better days. While it's still quite functional, there are things that I fear may fail at an inopportune time at some point in the near future. Besides, I really need a bike with front shocks to ride on some of the crappy roads we have here in Ottawa.

I first found a bike that came in a 23" frame: the KHS Alite 150. The reviews were pretty good, it's a good looking bike, and the price wouldn't break the bank.

I discovered that there were at least three retailers in the Ottawa area that carried KHS bikes. One of them was Dinardo's Skis and Wheels. They listed all of their bike models on their web site, along with prices. I liked that.

The other two retailers web sites referred you to the KHS web site for details, and they didn't list prices.

Being a somewhat smart shopper, I sent the other two emails on Tuesday morning asking if they had the bike with a 23" frame in stock, and how much they were selling it for.

On Wednesday, just over 24 hours later, I received one reply. They told me that they didn't have that model in stock, advised me that they had hybrid bikes in stock with a 23" frame and suggested I call the store. I still haden't heard from the other one.

I sent Dinardo's an email Wednesday morning asking if they had the KHS Alite 150 with a 23" frame in stock.

Within a few hours, I received a reply from Frank Dinardo. He told me it wasn't in stock, but if I ordered today I could have it by the weekend. In addition, he told me it was available in black for the 2011 model, or red in 2009 model.

I sent off a reply asking if their 15-30% sale would still apply if I ordered today but didn't pick up until Monday since we were going away for the weekend. I said I could drop by after work.

Once again, I got a reply within hours. Frank told me that the sale was for in stock merchandise only, but he also included special pricing for the 2009 and the 2011, if I dropped by today to pay and place the order.

That is how you gain a customer.

We drove out to the store in Bell's Corners after work to have a look and chat.

The staff were really helpful. I explained that I had an email exchange with Frank earlier and one of the employees said that Frank had mentioned it. We talked a bit about what my primary use would be. He explained that for the KHS Alite 150, he doesn't like to recommend it for anyone over 160lbs. My wife asked him what the alternatives would be. He showed me a 2010 Jamis Allegro 1X. I guess you would call this a hybrid. Jamis calls this a "Cross-training" bike. For my use, which is mostly street and bike paths, he recommended it over the KHS Alite 150.

I had never really considered a hybrid style bike. The frame, even though it was a 21" was certainly large enough. It's actually a closer match to my 22" CCM frame than the KHS Alite. The tires are narrower than a mountain bike, but wider than a racing bike. I'm not sure what the wheel size is, but they do look pretty large as well.

He asked me if I wanted to take it for a test ride. He pumped up the tires, handed me a helmet and let me take it outside. I liked it. It felt good. It felt a lot like my old bike, size-wise. It felt large.

The regular price of this bike was over $700, but it was on sale for $549. It was a bit more than I had planned on spending on the Alite 150, but all things considered, if I could make this last half as long as my last bike, I'd be happy. Plus, I genuinely felt like I was getting good service.

That was enough for me. I picked out a carrier, a saddle bag, bottle holder, and handlebar extensions. He took the time to explain a few things about the disc brakes, some basic maintenance to keep it in good running condition, and said I should bring it back in 2-8 weeks for a free warranty inspection because cables, etc. will stretch from usage and adjustments might need to be made. After paying, he took the bike to the back room to install the accessories for me and make a few adjustments.

While we were waiting, Frank appeared and introduced himself. We chatted about the bike, and cycling in general. Seems like a nice guy. It was a little after 6:00pm when I got the bike and was on my way.

I have to say that my overall experience was a really good one. I was impressed with the email communication and professionalism in the store. They clearly wanted my business and they got it.

How good is the bike? I can't really say yet since I haven't ridden it for more than the test ride at the store. I won't have much time to ride it before the weekend, but I'm off work all next week so I'm definitely going to take it out often.

Img_8347

Incidentally, I did get a reply from the second store I emailed yesterday. The reply arrived earlier this evening, after I got home. They told me that they didn't have the KHS Alite 150 in stock, but recommended another very similar model, same style, different brand, and it was on sale. The price was a little more than I paid for my Jamis. I guess it didn't really matter in the end since the price compared to KHS at Dinardo's was quite different, but to their credit they did reply with useful information. Unfortunately for them, not as quick as Dinardo's.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Accelerating — Week 31 progress & other stuff

My weigh-in on Thursday was 225 lbs, but Friday was about 225½ lbs. My Birthday was on on Thursday, so I over indulged a little. :)

That was a 5 lbs loss for less than a week. That's the most I've ever lost in a single week. The cycling to work and home no doubt made the difference. I did it three days last week and I plan on doing it again this week if the weather cooperates.

Last week my bike started making a weird grinding sound when I was pedalling, but only when I started pedalling — putting more force on the pedals. I figured it was either coming from the crankset or the rear axel. Perhaps a broken bearing? I made an unsuccessful attempt to disassemble the crankset yesterday, but I gave it another go this afternoon and was successful. The bearings were fine. I cleaned it all out, greased it up and reassembled it. Unfortunately, the gridinging continued when I took it for a test ride.

I then decided that it had to be the rear axel. I took it apart, cleaned it, greased it, and reassembled it. One of the bearing casings was inside the hyperglide and I couldn't remove it. I hoped that poking enough grease into it would suffice.

I took my bike for another test ride and the grinding continued.

I was stumped.

Knowing that it wasn't the crankset or the rear axel, I felt confident enough that I could at least continue to ride my bike without too much fear of someting going wrong. I put away all my tools and decided to take it out for a longer test ride.

About 20 minutes into the ride, the grinding stopped. I decided to continue riding. In fact, I rode just over 46 kms. 2 hrs and 20 minutes later I was back home and my bike was still silent.

I don't know what the problem was, but it seems to be gone, at least for now.

I am long overdue for a new bike, but I'm having difficulty finding a 22" XL frame. A 21" frame may do, if the seat post can go high enough, but I have yet to find one that feels right. I'd really like a bike with front shocks, since my current ride has no shocks. My bike is about 18 years old. :)

Here's my dusty ride after this afternoon's outing.

Dcim13n4545043w07559953t3b294501h005311-1
BTW... the geek in me did in fact record the ride to work one day last week, but it's a pretty shaky video. I'm not sure if I'll post it or not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The ride home yesterday and day 2

Cycling home yesterday afternoon was busier, traffic-wise, but the overall ride was good.

I picked a slightly different route than the one I took into work, so there was less fast traffic and less potholes. I was happy to see that Byron Ave no longer has construction and most of that road is a downhill coast. :) This allowed me to skip nearly all of the pothole-ridden Scott Street without much effort.

Riding through the downtown core was a little scarier, but not enough to make me want to change that part of the route. I heard that the city is putting bike lanes on Laurier, or maybe they've already done that. I might take that route one day and see.

This morning I cycled into work again. I rode most of the same route that I took home last night. I skipped Byron since it would likely be a long, gradual uphill ride, and rode on Wellington & Richmond, again skipping Scott Street.

The geek in me is thinking of putting a video camera on my bike and filming the entire ride to work and home again, just for fun. The only thing I'm a little worried about is how the crappy roads will affect the camera.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weekday cycling

The weather forecast for this week looks pretty good. Last night I decided that I would cycle in to work this morning. I've done the route before on the weekend, but never during rush hour.

Aside from nearly getting clipped by a cabbie as he drove past me too close, it was much better than I expected. The downtown core was a piece of cake.

According to my GPSr, the route was 19.4kms and it took me just a little over an hour. That's better than my weekend test runs that took me about an hour and a quarter.

The worst part of it all was getting all my shit together to take with me, and then carrying it all in a backpack. I felt like I was packing for a vacation. It might not be as bad if I do this again tomorrow since most of it is ready to go already. I should really pick up saddle bags for my bike if I'm going to do this more often.

I'm looking forward to the ride home. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a lot more traffic after 5:00pm than there was between 7AM and 8AM.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It never hurts to ask

During the making of Samantha's video, I searched the web for music to use. I know from experience that YouTube can be pretty strict when it comes to enforcing copyright. In 2007 I created a video for our other cat, Quincy, and posted it on YouTube. Warner Music made a claim and YouTube stripped out the audio from the video. :(

They seem to be a little more relaxed now and add restrictions on where the "offending" video can be played, add a copyright notice, and prevent you from making any advertising money from them. I think that's a good solution. I wish they had done that with my other video.

This time I decided to look for something royalty-free and avoid the whole mess.

I couldn't find anything I liked, until I came across Joseph Akin's web site. While his music isn't free, I was instantly drawn to "Masterpeace". It was exactly what I was looking for. I thought about taking a chance and just using it, but I really didn't want to end up in the same situation as before. What were the chances of getting permission? I had nothing to lose. I found a contact email address and sent off a request with a brief explanation.

What I received later in the evening was not only permission to use it, but a recommendation of another song that he composed that he thought might be more suitable. He even sent along the MP3.

I had a smile from ear to ear. He didn't ask for anything other than the credit I said I would add to the video, and to let him know when the video was done. I immediately sent off a thank-you email.

In the end, I did use the song that he recommended — Spirit Touch — for the video.

Thanks again to Joseph for allowing me to use his music.

 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bumpy — Week 29 and 30 progress

I didn't post an update on my weight loss progress last week. It was a good one too.

That makes this Week 29 and 30 progress. :)

Last week I weight in at 229.2 lbs. My new lowest-to-date.

This week wasn't so good. I gained a little back, putting me at 230 lbs.

That's what happens when I skip a few workouts.

It'll stop... eventually

I realized on Monday that this is the first time in 18 years that we haven't had a pet in our home. It is also the first time in over 30 years that I haven't had some kind of pet.

We adopted Sam in 1993, the same year we got married. We picked her, and her "brother" Quincy, at the Ottawa Humane Society. I'll be honest and say that she wasn't my first pick. I had seen a solid grey kitten but it turned out that she had ear mites. They said they would give us the drops for them, but because we were getting two kittens, we'd have to buy more to treat the other cat at the same time as a preventative measure. I continued my search and noticed a black and white kitten. She stuck out a little more because she was a little larger than the other kittens. In the end, she was smaller than most cats and I couldn't have chosen a better cat. Or maybe she chose me; that's how it works with cats, isn't it?

We picked the names for Samantha and Quincy while we sat in the car at the Blair Animal Hospital, when we took them for their first visit to get a checkup. I don't remember why I chose "Samantha". Perhaps because it could be shortened.

I had other cats when I was growing up and none lived as long as Sam. We had a famiy dog, Peanut, who also lived to around 18 years old.

I took a break from surfing the web on Monday night and got up to get a cup of water. Without even thinking, I glanced over to where she would normally be lying on the floor, waiting for that familiar little "Mrrr?" as she would get up to follow me. Her floor space was empty.

"Oh yeh... right."

In the kitchen, as I finished filling my cup, I looked down at my feet so I wouldn't step on her if she was sitting behind me, waiting to ask for food.

I then instinctively looked to where her bowls used to sit, to see if she still had food, and they weren't there.

I heard noises, again, later as I was sitting at my computer. Not imaginary noises. I'm sure it's just the house settling, but the first thing I assumed was that it was Sam hopping off the couch or the automan, or playing with a toy... and then I remembered. It gave me goose bumps.

The other evenings this week were more of the same.

I keep replaying Sunday's events in my head. It's like a bad dream. She has a problem with her foot. They'll fix it. We'll pay a big vet bill. We'll all go home. That's how it was supposed play out.

We had canned food and an unopened bag of dry food that we bought from PetSmart a week or two ago. Sandra called them on Monday and they let us return it. I went to the Humane Society web site on Tuesday morning and made a donation.

For such a tiny furball, she sure left a big hole in our home.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Samantha (1993-2011)

On Sunday morning Sandra noticed that Sam was walking funny. She said it was if her left rear foot was "inverted", like she was walking on the top of her foot.

I went downstairs and found Sam lying on the kitchen floor. She looked up at me and meowed as if to say "feed me". She didn't appear to be in any pain or discomfort. Her back leg look ok. I got out a bag of cat treats and tossed one in front of her. She got up and limped awkwardly to eat it, just as Sandra described.

At first I thought maybe there's some kind of paralysis on her rear leg. Then I thought that perhaps she had an accident during the night and broke her foot. Regardless, it was painful to watch, despite the fact that she didn't appear to be in any pain. She even hobbled off to the living room and hopped up onto the couch.

We decided to take her to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital Emergency Care.

We woke up Kyle and Kaitlyn and told them we were taking Sam to the vet. They gave her a hug and Kyle loaded her into the carrier.

Sam really dislikes being in the carrier, and being a house cat, the outside stresses her out. She panted for at least half the ride to the animal hospital, which we had never seen her do, and she meowed the entire time — that was normal for her.

The vet was actually more concerned with Sam's breathing, even though this was the first time we had seen her like this. After the assessment, examination, a mild sedative, and chest x-rays, it turned out that the problem she had with her foot (he called it "knuckling") was due to a blood clot in her leg, which was caused by a heart murmur that she had been diagnosed with years ago. The labored breathing was caused by fluid in her lungs, as shown on the x-rays. All of this was leading to eventual congestive heart failure.

Back when she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, it was explained to me that this day could eventually come, but today this was totally unexpected, which makes it more difficult.

Two options were explained to us. The first was treatment which would have been extremely expensive with about a 50/50 chance of recovery, and yet there would always be a chance of more blood clots in her future with potentially worse results. From what I recall, the existing blood clot in her leg would also remain because the repair could do more damage than leaving it. The second option was euthanasia.

Given all of the facts, the decision was pretty clear.

Saying final goodbyes to pets is not new to us. We'd had to make this decision four times in the past. It's never been easy, but for Sam it was really difficult.

Up until a few years ago, Sam had always been the quiet one. Timid and shy. She was always wary of our kids and anyone else who came over. A few years ago, we believe that she lost her hearing. As strange as it sounds, this was probably one of the best things to happen. Without hearing, she was a calmer cat. She didn't startle.

She opened up a lot to Kyle and Kaitlyn. She let them hold her. She actually seemed like a much happier cat. She started approaching them for attention. She hung out in the den with Kyle and I while we used the computer. I have to admit that I was actually a little jealous of Kyle because she would willingly sleep on his lap as he used the computer. She didn't like my lap.

She also became very vocal. She'd often wander around at night talking to herself and anyone who would listen. Thankfully, this happened for only a few minutes at a time.

No matter where she was snoozing at night, which was usually on the floor near the den closet, when I got ready for bed she'd wake up and follow me to the kitchen and ask for food. She sensed it. I'd pour a little bit of dry food in the bowl, add a little water to it, she'd be content until morning.

By the time I was in bed, she'd start meowing in the dark in the living room. Perhaps she was saying good night, like they did on The Waltons.

It's almost sad to think of how much attention she missed out on in her life because she was so timid and shy for most of it. For the last 4 or 5 years of her life, there was certainly no shortage of attention and she enjoyed every minute of it.

Tonight, for the first time in 18 years, our home has no pets.

I keep expecting to see Sam sleeping on the floor when I turn around. Or as I walk into the kitchen to get a drink, she'll meow at me for food.

All there is is silence, and it's eerie.

Rest in peace, Sammy.

Img_2296