Reflections on being a homeowner, 6 months in

Alyssa and I have been homeowners since April and I figured it would a good time to reflect about what I’ve learned and my likes and dislikes.

I enjoy yard-work

When we first moved in the middle of April, the first thing I focused on was the leaves that weren’t raked last fall.  I had to buy my first rake!  It gave me a nice sense of accomplishment to both complete this task as well as to see how much better the yard looked upon completion.

After the grass in the yard started growing I had to mow the lawn.  At first I used an old mower that my uncle gave me, and after some struggles, decided to just buy a new one.  (Let me know if you are in the market for a new mower, I could pass on the research I did when I bought mine.)  The new mower is a variable self-propelled mower with bagging, mulching, and regular discharge options.  It is a joy to cut my lawn and the results are more than worth the effort.

There are a number of other things that I do around the yard, all of which I really hated to do a part of my chores growing up.  The years of not doing them, and the fact that someone (my dad) isn’t telling me to do it, makes these things more enjoyable.

Conservation is fun

I’ve always been pro-recycling and pro-environment, since I have a deep ingrained love of the outdoors, stemmed from my lifetime of camping/hiking/outdoor sports as well as my duty to protect  God’s creation.

Since owning our home, I made two cheap garbage cans into compost bins (drilled some holes in it) and we have been composting all our kitchen scraps and appropriate yard waste.  It is impressive how much less garbage we generate when composting.  Plus, pitchforks are fun.

We also bought a couple rain barrels and have been using rainwater to water our plants outside.  Next spring when we plant a garden instead of just using a bunch of planter boxes, I want to rig up an irrigation system with the rain barrels.  We’ll see if that happens.

You think differently about things

When we rented, we didn’t want to spend much time, effort, or money improving things, unless it came to cleaning.  We knew we weren’t going to be living there for very long, so it just didn’t make any sense.  Since we’ve been homeowners, we’re frequently making small improvements here and we appreciate the control and learning as we go.

I hate painting

Shortly after we moved in we re-painted 4 rooms.  Paint is relatively cheap and we couldn’t justify paying someone else to do it, so Alyssa and I bit the bullet and did the paint ourselves.  We learned some things as we went, and one of the things I learned was how much I dislike painting. I also learned that swatches aren’t enough for Alyssa to be happy with the color.  We needed to get samples.  (Repainting the kitchen right after we painted it the first time told us this.)

There is always something more I could do

…but that doesn’t mean I have to be constantly busy.  I could work on my house full time, but that’s not the point.  It will never be perfect.  Sure there are things I prioritize, but some things aren’t worth my time or money right now.  Maybe they will be down the road and that’s fine, but I’ve quickly come to the realization that I can’t do it all now.  I also don’t want to.

Am I happy?

I don’t have any regrets thus far.  When we made the offer, I was definitely hesitant.  Committing to paying that amount of money will do that to a person.  What if something went wrong?  What if the inspector missed something crucial?  I got over my fears and since the house checked almost all the boxes in our search, we went for it.  Alyssa and I are both really happy with the decision.

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Breakfast Cereals, Ranked

I eat breakfast every single day, and most days I eat cereal.  When I say cereal, I don’t mean that dog food stuff that some people eat or the cardboard that others eat.  I eat cereal that tastes great, and may or may not be that great for me, though mostly the fact that I’m eating breakfast is what is really important.

The rules for this list are simple.  First, every cereal on this list is still manufactured and sold in stores.  Someday I may do a tribute to great cereals that are no more.  Second, every cereal on this list I have personally tasted.  While you’d think this would severely shorten my list, you’d be wrong.  I’m a cereal lover and connoisseur.  Finally, I’ll add there are not many cereals on this list one would consider healthy.  I usually steer clear.  Cereals like Special K, Total, Kashi, etc. are not on this list because I don’t eat them.  And I probably won’t in the future, unless you convince me otherwise in the comments.

Without further ado, here is my list of breakfast cereals, ranked: Continue reading

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Life of Pi and the Problem with Relative Truth

Back at the end of 2012, I previewed Life of Pi via a sponsored post.  Part of the sponsorship was a free copy of the novel (movie tie-in paperback).  In summer of 2013 I got around to reading it and Summer 2014 I was able to view the film, on my parents’ DVR.

The book is well written, with an good storytelling and interesting plot.  The film is just an abbreviated version of the film, with brilliant visuals.

I won’t spoil any major plot points, but the themes and some of the logic of the main character Pi to me seems flawed.  The major theme of the story, solidified by the ending, is that you can choose your own truth and choose what to believe as truth.

For example, the story starts off with Pi as a Hindu, and very early on it progresses with him becoming Christian and Muslim, all while staying Hindu.  He sees no problems with being all three at once.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Hinduism or Islam, and I have a lot more to learn about and from my Christian God, but I do know that Jesus clearly says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  There is one and only one way to know God in heaven, and that is through Jesus.  Faith in what he has done: he lived the sinless life we could not live and he died the death we deserve.  Then he conquered death and the devil by coming back to life from the dead.

Pi’s problem was that he was more interested in following rituals and being part of the different religious communities.  He cared more about how religion made him feel.  It enhanced his earthly life.  He really didn’t get the eternal point of Christianity or accept the Truth.  Author Yann Martel doesn’t get the point either.  The truth is without Jesus, mankind meets eternal suffering in hell.  With Jesus is paradise. You see, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

I’m going to end with a quote from my lovely wife Alyssa.  I couldn’t say it any better, so I’m going to just let her say it.

That’s the beauty and the pitfall of relative truth – sure you can decide what you want to believe and that’s all fine for the here and now, but what about later?  How can believing what you want in this life have any bearing or control over an eternity that you can’t be certain about?  Of course one might choose to believe there is no eternity and then just forget the whole thing- but I don’t really think that even someone who believes in relative truth would be really comfortable with that. “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”(Ecclesiastes 3:11) We know innately that there has to be something more than this life, but I think people think they can ignore that inkling because they can’t control what happens in eternity. Ultimately, that’s folly. It’s foolish to believe whatever you want, to just be concerned about this life, because just because you believe in some arbitrary thing does not actually make it real (“what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul…” or something like that).

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Appreciate the things we don’t get anymore

Last week my company held its second annual User Group conference, where we invited all of our clients and to come to Milwaukee for sessions, networking, and to meet our team.  This year it was held at the Pfister Hotel, a luxury hotel built in 1893.

Being in such an old building and experiencing the awesome architecture reminded me of my time in Europe with my college choir, seeing cathedrals, opera houses, and old churches.

Sitting at lunch last Tuesday, talking with one of my coworkers and a couple clients, I commented on how cool the ceiling was in the Imperial Ballroom.  Interestingly, my coworker really didn’t care about it at all.  I love the level of detail, the work involved, and the fact that most of it was likely hand-carved.  I appreciate it because this level of decor and detail is pretty much extinct.  Everything nowadays is more function over form, mostly because of cost.

I appreciate functionality as much as the next guy, but late 1800s architecture really is special.

The Imperial Ballroom at the Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, WI

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LOST is 10 years old…and I remember it like it was yesterday

I‘ve read a bunch of articles about LOST, but The Verge posted a great one about how with all its flaws and craziness, the thing that keeps you watching is the characters and their relationships.  I’ll buy that.

Maybe a binge of LOST is in order….

Also, what are your thoughts on the show?

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Raised by Penguins? Bat nipples? George Clooney?

I wasn’t fan of its predecessor, but this sequel gets a couple of things right where Batman failed.  It certainly isn’t a great film, and I’m rather impressed these films made enough money that they made four of them.  In any case, I think Batman Returns may be the best film in this series.

First things first, Tim Burton really toned down the “iconic shots” in this film and majorly increased the plot (i.e. it had a plot this time).  There are 2.5 villains: the Penguin…a monster played by Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken plays himself (actually he plays Max Shreck, a power monger business man), and waffling Catwoman…played with a lot of crazy by Michelle Pfeiffer.

Overall, I liked this one better than the first one, but the whole raised by penguins thing still bothers me. 7 ramheads out of 10.


The 3rd film, Batman Forever, has Val Kilmer, and he plays a weird, but not terrible Batman.  This has a very cartoon or video game feel, with a very enclosed world.  There are a handful of villains, all of them pretty boring.  3 ramheads out of 10.


TBaneJShe 4th film, Batman and Robin, is bad.  George Clooney is a terrible Batman.  He has no presence on the screen at all.  You don’t care about him or even realize he’s there most of the time.  This film has the worst, cheapest, feel to it.  There are a new handful of villains, including a pretty lame Bane. The only this that is interesting is the Batgirl story line, played strongly by Alicia Silverstone. 2 ramheads out of 10.


Interestingly, I liked the 2nd one best, but it is less memorable than the first one and the last one.  The 3rd is totally forgettable and also bad.

Here ends my blast from the past to the Batman films of my childhood.

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Na na na na na na na na Batman! (1989 edition)

As a kid I remember watching the live action Batman (1989) and being very entertained.  It is probably because, as a kid, there wasn’t much for me to think about or understand in the film.

It is a highly stylized (for 1989), almost cartoonish version of Batman, with very weak characters and plot.  Michael Keaton does fine, as a rather bored Bruce Wayne, with some pretty funny one-liners.  His portrayal of The Batman, however, is a bland, kind of lame superhero.  But you know, even a lame Batman is cool.  I think it is that suit.

The Batwing flying straight up….for no reason other than this shot.

Much of that is the fault of the writing/direction.  Burton seems to spend so much time getting some iconic shots of Batman, the Batmobile driving fast, the Batwing flying and posed in the moon, that he doesn’t develop the characters at all.  They don’t seem to have much common sense (making the audience not even root for them) and are generally very flat.

Aside from a couple Bruce Wayne quips, the only part that really entertained in this film was the psychotic, goofy portrayal of Joker by Jack Nicholson….sometimes.  Joker gets kind of annoying, though, when he’s dancing to late 80s music with his thugs, who look totally out of place with the big boombox and lame moves.

Plotwise, for most of the movie the Joker doesn’t seem to have much of a plan.  He really just wanders aimlessly, randomly killing or sparing people, with not much purpose.  Batman doesn’t seem to have much urgency either, there was a scene where he basically flies in circles in the Batwing for no reason.  Much of the movie seems disjointed, and I think this was the sacrifice that Burton made in getting the right “look”.

The right look is even better when you have solid depth to the characters and a great story.  Having seen how good Batman films can be in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, this one really disappoints.

Batman (1989) runs 126 minutes and is rated a [soft] PG-13.  I give it 6 ramheads out of 10.

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New music from a new artist: MOTHERFOLK

Motherfolk is a brand new band who just released their first records. Great tunes:

Here was the Kickstarter video that got them their initial funding:

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My Budget Home Media Server Setup

[Originally Published March 23, 2013, Updated January 23, 2013]
I made one purchase on Black Friday 2012, and I didn’t even leave the comfort of my own home.  I fought off the online crowds at Amazon to pick up a Roku HD for $40.  We have Amazon Prime and the Roku works great for streaming Prime video.

My Roku HD

I also, though, have a USB TV tuner for my computer, which I use with Windows Media Center to record TV shows or movies.  After it is recorded I use MCEBuddy to compress the video (which is usually a couple GB) and remove the commercials.  MCEBuddy runs in the background and works automatically after the initial setup.  Needless to say I have a decent collection of movies and TV shows in video file format.

This lead me to search for a solution to use my Roku to watch the videos I recorded earlier.  Since my tube TV does not have any HDMI connections, I can’t plug my laptop directly into it.  Plus, that isn’t the most convenient.

The old laptop-turned server, fits nicely under my TV

I came across a free channel for the Roku called Plex.  It works in conjunction with the free Plex Media server application that runs on your computer.  After I got it working on my main laptop, I thought it might be nice to have something running that can always be on and not have to run from my main laptop.  I decided that my wife’s 6 1/2 year old laptop that was just sitting around in a drawer would be the perfect candidate.  It is slow, the power button needs excessive force from a screwdriver to use, and it was not being used by us. I stuck an extra hard drive I had that was 3 times bigger than the one she had, installed JoliOS Lubuntu (I switched from the no longer supported, Ubuntu 10.04-based Joli OS because I was having performance issues and the new Jolicloud2 interface is slow and annoys me…so far Lubuntu has been much faster and aside from one bug that I had to override, it has worked great), and set it up as a shared server on my home network.  I then installed the Ubuntu version of Plex, and got my media server up and running.  I use the free home-use version of Teamviewer if I ever need to log into the server to restart it or change some settings.

The other feature with Plex that I love, is the ability to “Publish” your server to the internet for access via Plex’s website or one of their mobile/tablet apps.  I can watch my content anywhere with an internet connection, just as long as my server, router, and home network are all online and functioning properly.

Finally to make this all seamless, without the manual transfer of files from my DVR setup on my laptop, to my server, I use SyncBackFree to sync my files over. (MCEBuddy has a save to server option, but I couldn’t get it work reliably).

Someday I hope to build a media server that has the DVR functionality built into it, but my Tuner only has drivers for Windows and I’m fine with my current setup for the time being. 

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Both sides of the war in Vietnam

Many war movies stylize war, glorify it, or soften it.  We Were Soldiers (2002), thankfully, isn’t this type of film.  Vietnam was a brutal war, and this movie really gives us a small glimpse of that brutality.

The film follows Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, and his cavalry in the Battle of Ia Drang.  The US really wasn’t prepared for the war, especially since the Vietnamese were fighting on their own rugged home turf, with years and years of experience.  Ia Drang was the first major battle for the Americans in the war and really set the stage for the rest of the war.  The US was actually letting family members know about their deceased via telegram at first, that’s how unprepared they were for this very deadly war.

While the film primarily follows Moore and the US, occasionally it shows opposing Vietnamese soldiers, writing in a journal or mourning their losses.  This technique further depicts the brutality of the war. People are on both sides, and no matter what side they are on, they really do believe they are fighting for the right side.  People fighting against people.

I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of this adaptation, but I do know that it accomplishes its goal and making war realistic for the viewer.  It really makes you appreciate what you have, and the many people who died defending it.  Thank a veteran and thank God.

We Were Soldiers runs 138 minutes and is rated R.  This film is not family friendly, it is quite violent with some language.  I give it 8 ramheads out of 10.

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