Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dynamic Pricing (How Not to Get Screwed)

   Have you ever been asked to enter your zipcode before you can see the price of an item online? It has nothing to do with availability, or shipping costs. It determines how much you are going to pay for an item compared to your coworker sitting in the next cubicle.  Read on...

   It all started with a sluggish browser and Amazon. I seemed that every time I tried to visit using the Firefox web browser my system would slow to a crawl, like the horrid dial-up days of AOL and CompuServe. Initially I chocked it up a Linux weirdness and moved on. Finally, on a slow Saturday morning (today) I googled the issue and found a discussion thread on the topic. While reading about the various solutions, tips and tricks, I noticed a post by a user complaining about getting different prices on Amazon from the same seller, for the same product, at the same time. It seems he was using two different computers and noticed the discrepancy. The term "dynamic pricing" was used and that piqued my curiosity.

   Just yesterday one my coworkers mentioned that he had bought a pair of shoes on, got them two days later and liked them so much he decided to buy another pair. However, when he went back to purchase the second pair he said the price had gone up by roughly $20, so he decided they weren't such a good deal after all. I didn't think much about what he said until now as I started reading up on this trend.

   Then I remembered my own experience with a big box home improvement store and a Dyson vacuum cleaner. The difference in price was $50 depending whether I was looking at it my cell phone vs. my desktop PC at the office. After a trip to the store I could not find the vacuum cleaner listed at the lower price. I sent feedback online complaining about the two different versions of pricing and I assumed that their system was operating two different databases with one be out of date. Little did I know I was being manipulated.

"Mobile users might see a higher price than desktop users."

   If you shop online you may be presented with different prices for the same item (by the same retailer) depending on how you are shopping. Mobile users might see a higher price than desktop users. Same thing goes for Mac users. Retailers use a combination of your IP address/zipcode, GPS location, operating system (Macs are more expensive, therefore you have more money) and browsing history (did you just look at the same item on a competitor's website?) to manipulate the price you presented with. Entering a zipcode for a more affluent part of town could result in a higher price, than entering a zipcode for the area across the tracks. And, it's not limited to online retailers only. The big name "brick and mortar" companies do it too. Some of the names I read online were the likes of Staples and Best Buy to name a few.

   The most interesting thing is that it is no longer a "dirty little secret". Google the term "dynamic pricing" (here, I'll do it for you: and what you see should infuriate you, or at least it did me.  However, as they say "knowledge is power", and with a little online reading you can probably find some clever ways to manipulate the manipulators such as disabling cookies, set browser to clear history on exit, using an ad blocker, etc. Of course, it may not always be a bad thing. I recently purchased some security cameras from Best Buy online and when I went to pick them up at the local store (same day) the clerk pointed out that the actual charge to my credit card was $20 less due to "cheaper in store pricing" or something. I was happy and didn't make the connection until now. But what if I had opted to pay for shipping and had it sent to my house? Would I have been aware of the difference?  In college economics one of the things we learned that an item's value, or worth, is whatever someone is willing to pay for it.  Why else would the same house, made from the same materials, sell for $50k in one state and $500k in another?

   Feel free to share your experiences below. I'd love to know if anyone else has noticed this.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Everyone Poops (even spiders)


   Sometimes it's easy to overlook the obvious. Things, like the fact that even spiders poop. When you stop and think about it, it does become logical. I mean, if spiders eat then what's left over has to go "somewhere". And that somewhere is poop. I now know this thanks to the power of Google. 
   It all started last weekend when I moved the entertainment center away from the wall so I could clean behind it and get rid of some obsolete equipment that was taking up space and collecting dust. While vacuuming I noticed a patch of white spots on the floor that I mistakenly thought was sheet rock dust (I had run some cables through the wall a while back). However, the white spots simply wouldn't come up. I really didn't give it much more thought, and honestly didn't care since it was behind the TV cabinet anyway. I knew a spider lived back there because next to the white spots was a pile of dead pill bugs and the occasional fly. I don't mind spiders per se. As long as they are not something that is going to hurt me such as Black Widows or Brown Recluses then I don't care if a Wolf or Jumping Spider takes up residence amongst the speaker wires and power cables. 
   It wasn't until last night that I thought about the spots again. As part II of purging obsolete crap from my life I slid a cabinet over and noticed similar white spots and consequently another pill bug graveyard. However, I still did not make the connection. I was thinking it might be some kind of mold or floor cleaner residue. I could easily rule out floor cleaner residue since I've never actually "cleaned" the floors. Oh, I might sweep, or vacuum, or even damp mop the floors every so often, but I don't use any kind of official cleaning product. 
   Once again, I really didn't give it much more thought - until just now. I have no idea why, although I'm pretty sure it was sheer boredom, but I googled "wood floor white spots" and discovered the wonderful world of spider poop. I guess the Poop Book was right, we all do poop.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dumping Dish (How I Cut the Cord)

A while back my Dish Box died so I called Dish to upgrade. They were advertising the Hopper whole house DVR with free installation and free equipment, and free HD for life. However, when I called I was told that offer was available to "new customers" only. Since I had been a loyal Dish customer for over 15 years I figured they'd be willing to throw me a lil' sumptin-sumptin to keep me happy. So I haggled with them over the phone and after a while we worked out a deal where I would pay full price for everything, including installation of the HD satellite. Yep, they even agreed to let me pay an extra $10 a month for the privilige of receiving programming in HD (which only amounted to about a third of the total channels I got).  They were even nice enough to arrange it so I could pay an additional $8 a month to use the DVR function of the dish box they sold to me (at full retail price). My Dish bill went from $50 a month to over $120 a month.

Then I got an Amazon FireTV box. I installed every free channel App I could find and with Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime costing around $10 each, my total streaming bill is only $30 a month for a whole lot of on demand programming.  So why was I paying Dish $120 a month? I started keeping track of the shows I actually watched on Dish and realized I wasn't watching very much "live" TV. In fact, 99% of it was DVR'd, and even those shows were on major network channels.  However, I wasn't ready to cut the cord just yet. My first experiment was to buy a 1byOne over-the-air (OTA) antenna ($35). I plugged the antenna in the TV and let it rip. I was amazed to find that it picked almost 30 channels, including all of the major networks. I got Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS in high definition! In addition to that, each network has at least two "sub channels" in standard definition that show movies, game shows, etc. I also got a whole host of independent channels.

The biggest drawbacks to going OTA only, IMHO, are the lack of a program guide (remember the old days of looking up TV listings in the paper?) and being able to record shows without dragging out the ancient VCR. Fortunately I had bought a stand alone DVR several years ago, but without a program guide it was really no better than a VCR. About a week later, while rearranging some of my equipment, I realized the DVR also had a TV tuner built into it. That meant it could record programs other than what was on Channel 3. In other words, it could change channels on it's own and record Judge Judy at 4:30 on one channel and then Saturday Night Live at 10:30 on another channel. It was like living in modern times again.

But I still wasn't confident in pulling the proverbial plug with Dish just yet. The set up I had worked but it wasn't ideal. The DVR only recorded one channel at a time and did not handle HD, although it does have a DVD player built in, and the program graphics were something akin to Microsoft DOS. I wanted something similar to my Dish box where I could click thru a menu and select programs to add to a recording schedule or simply watch now. I also wanted one box, one remote.  What I didn't know at the time is that something like that has existed for years. It's called a "Media Center". In fact, if you have a computer running Windows 7, 8.1, or Vista you already have it. It's called Windows Media Center and apparently it was the most popular, solid media center around. I said "was" because Microsoft has decided that it doesn't want you to use it anymore and they've done just about everything in their power to disable it. No more program guide, no more Netflix integration, etc.  However, that did lead me on the search for something similar.  After trying in vain to find a "live TV" app (that actually worked all of the time), or even just a local program guide for FireTV I gave up and decided to go the route of the Media Center. I still have, and still use my FireTV box though (more on that later).

I realized that if I got a dedicated computer I could load all of my music, home movies, and pictures on it. Plus, computers come with DVD drives so I can watch movies, and when connected to the internet I can stream Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others. All I needed to do was add a TV Tuner card and I can watch TV as well. Simply connect the computer to the TV via an HDMI cable and BAM! a media center is born. Now all I needed to do was to find the right software to run it all - and that's the hard part. I started reading forums and blogs to see what everyone was talking about.

MythTV caught my eye because it was well adapted to Ubuntu and I liked the idea of sticking it to Microsoft by not using their OS. But having used Linux for years I was well aware of the short-comings of trying to get things like Netflix to work reliably, and without a lot of hacking. However, I couldn't get past the fact that the "news" blurb so prominently displayed on the home page was over a year old, as were several other "announcements" on the site. Next, I checked out Kodi (XBMC) which ironically is based on Microsoft's defunct Media Center (XBMC is/was Xbox Media Center) and it seems to have a very active user-base, which means people are discussing it, programming hacks for it, etc. However when I tried to visit their website Google had it flagged as "harmful" for some reason.  Since then that flag has been removed, but it's still a crap-shoot if the site will even load when I try to visit it. After finally visiting the site it seems you still need a 3rd Party "backend" to view and record TV so I chose to move on.

I read some good things about NextPVR and downloaded a copy of it. I didn't spend a whole lot of time playing with it though and it relied heavily on a built in web browser for TV Guide and other functions (which may not necessarily be a bad thing, just wasn't what I was looking for at the time.) From there I went on to MediaPortal and it was a hefty program. I installed the most recent version (MediaPortal 2) and it was slick and they have a well documented installation guide. (I might have to revisit this one!)

Instead, I stumbled across JRiver Media Center and after kicking the tires I decided I liked the look and feel of it best. Unlike all of the other programs I mentioned above (which are free) only JRiver is a paid program. It cost $50 to purchase, but I felt like a paid program that was generating income for someone would receive more attention in the way of updates, bug fixes, etc., than a free, open-source program maintained by enthusiasts. Of course that's in complete contrast to my love of Linux, so go figure.

JRiver has an active user forum and is constantly releasing updates, patches and improvements. The downside is that much of the online documentation is either out-dated, tries to cover too many versions, or is just really sparse. One of their Wiki Pages simply re-listed the menu items under a set-up screen with absolutely no explanation as to what the settings meant or did. And, who want to search thru pages and pages of user forums to figure out how to do something? But, I am willing to give them a 30 day free trial and see how it goes.

After narrowing down my choice to one program I was ready to purchase some hardware. I got a "small" Dell Inspiron ($500) with 8gb of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and a 3.40ghz processor which easily fits into my stereo cabinet and is practically silent. It comes with a DVD/CD player, an HDMI port, as well as USB 2.0 & 3.0 ports and bluetooth. Windows 10 was preloaded and all I had to do was uninstall various bits of "bloat-ware" and OEM programs that I will never use (remember, this is going to be a dedicated Media Center) and then copy all of my music files from various sources into "My Music". I did the same things with My Videos and My Pictures. I figured it would be best to use the default locations for these items and that the software's library would have an easier time finding and indexing them this way. Once that was done, I plugged in the USB TV Tuner (Hauppauge Dual Tuner $75) and installed the drivers from the manufacturer. (A dual tuner lets you record one TV show while watching another, or record two shows while doing something else.) Then I added a USB Remote Control sensor (Ortek MCE Remote $20) and installed the JRiver Media Center software (version 21). After firing up the software it auto-scanned my music and other media folders into it's library. Next I had it scan for TV Channels. It found 5 additional channels that my TV didn't find, btw.

I found it more convenient to add a wireless mouse & keyboard while I'm still in the tweaking phase so I can change settings and such from across the room, however, while running in Theater mode all I need is the remote. I can flip from program guide to live TV to music to DVD to home movies to a web browser all from one screen with one remote (although not all of the buttons work as you'd expect). The remote even has a "mouse pad" that comes in handy when using the web browser. It seems that at this time there are no apps for things like Netlix avaible for JRiver. So you have a couple of choices, use the broswer to open Netflix/Amazon/Hulu (each of which is easily mapped to it's own button on the screen) or attempt to program a button that will launch the Windows 10 App for each of these. Supposedly ther is a way to do it for Netflix and 3rd party program that emulate a remote control while using the app. However, I haven't seen anything similar for Amazon or Hulu so to me it's useless if it doesn't work for all of the "big 3" streaming services. Which leads me back to FireTV... while I managed to eliminate several boxes and a handful of remotes from my entertainment center, I've had to add FireTV box back into the mix. But, I'm okay with that, for now.

So... I googled "cancel Dish account" and found the 800 number to call (yes, you have to call and speak to someone) and was pleasantly surprised to get ahold of an understanding, more importantly, articulate, person who only made one attempt to "retain" me as a customer by offering me 24 months at half price with no contract. I politely declined. A week later they shipped me a box and a return UPS label so I could send my receiver back to them. They also wanted the switch and the thingy from the middle of the dish, but there was no way I was going to climb on the roof and start taking stuff apart. I sent them the receiver only, so far it seems to have made them happy.

Below are some of screenshots of what I see on my TV (including customized menu buttons):

Anyway, here is one person's experience in cutting the cord and I would love to hear from you if you have any comments/questions/experiences to share!

Updates: 1.) The Dell's built in DVD drive was way too noisy to use for movie playing (sounded like a plane taking off in the living room), but luckily I had a USB DVD drive by LG that is very quiet. 2.) I kept having various glitches & freezes and after a little bit of research, I unistalled Dell SupportAssist (and Dell SupportAssist Agent) and that solved a lot, if not all, of my problems. 3.) After a couple of weeks of tweaking I felt confident enough to click the "purchase" product button and registration was smooth and automatic.  In all, it's well worth the $49.95 price tag.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Addictive World of Periscope

I've only been using Periscope for a couple of weeks now, two weeks actually, so I really don't have any standing to go spouting on about etiquette and rules and such. However, sometimes the freshest views are the most unbiased, and in the same vein that lack of experience has never stopped me from being opinionated before, I offer the following:

First. What is Periscope? It's a platform via iPhone App that lets you broadcast live video from your cell phone (think YouTube, except "live") to your followers and/or random people who have Twitter accounts. It's like having a "live TV truck" in your pocket, you know, the kind you see driving down the street with the big dish on top. Currently it's available via iPhone App and their blog says that an Android App is due soon, although a search of the Google Play Store turns up lots of 3rd party apps already on the market.

Second. Why? If you've ever seen a YouTube video and thought "that's kind of cool, I'd like to do one of those" but was turned off by all of the logistics involved then you might enjoy Periscope. It's like YouTube for amateurs, or lazy people in general, because it doesn't require any effort other than typing a subject line and pressing a button. Of course this means that while there is some entertaining stuff on Periscope there is also a lot of crap. Not that much different that YouTube actually. However, unlike YouTube, Periscope is instant, including real time comments from viewers. No recording, uploading, publishing or waiting.

Screen shot from "Moving a Mattress with a RAV4"

Who uses Periscope? Everyone. Besides random people doing random things (talking, shopping, feeding bunnies) it seems to be really popular with people in the broadcast industry. Lots of TV show personnel use it show "behind the scenes" type of things and while they are at it, let you know that the Ellen show is about to air at 3pm. How convenient. Mostly it's just average people all over the world sharing a couple of minutes of their daily lives. For example, last night I watched a family attempting to set up a tent in the dark while 25 other viewers offered useless advice and smart-assed comments. Reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws. Just before that, I was tuned into Rene from A&E's "Storage Wars" as he stood by the side of the road answering questions about the show. He talked about who he likes, who he doesn't, behind the scenes drama, etc. I also learned that he is German and that accounted for his "accent", which I honestly thought was a speech impediment. Who knew?

Other things I have witnessed on Periscope are: a dad reading Dr. Suess to a sleepy toddler; two women grocery shopping in Mexico City; an African band playing in a night club in Tokyo; someone walking through the square in Venice; and more kittens, puppies, bunnies and turtles than you can imagine. Mostly the audiences are small, around 25 simultaneous viewers. Sometimes it can balloon up into the hundreds, but then any kind of meaningful dialogue (via comments and replies) is lost in the din.

"Was just watching "should my son eat a ladybug" on #Periscope and just as it starts to get real: connection lost.  Now I'll never know.." @mx4789

The best way to discover Periscope is to try it for yourself, and should you have the urge to broadcast your own little slice of life here are some things to consider:

Give your broadcast a meaningful subject line. "Big Ass Spider!" will get my attention, whereas "Heeyyy" won't. Unless of course heeyyy comes from sexxyAmber19, but we both know Amber is neither sexy nor 19. Likewise, I won't tune into any broadcast that is labeled "I'm back" or "hey peeps" or just a bunch of random icons/smiley faces. I will tune into see what "brunch in Milan" is all about though.

Numbers (of viewers) aren't everything, but they do mean something. Yesterday I clicked on the broadcast "cooking chicken fingers" simply because the guy had 100+ viewers and it turned out he was none other than Jason Nash, whom I've never heard of, but seems he is marginally "famous" on social media. Whereas I've also conversed with the Storage Wars guy and one of the actors on the TV show ER and they both had around 10 viewers online.

Engage your viewers. The most mundane things can be the most entertaining if you respond to comments - some of which are quite funny. Viewers will drop like flies if you broadcast a turtle eating lettuce without having a conversation with them, and it doesn't necessarily have to be about turtles. In fact, I can guarantee that within minutes, if not seconds, the conversation will be off topic, and that's what makes it spontaneous and entertaining.

I recently tuned into a broadcast by a young lady called "sandwiches" and the comments went something like this:

host: what is your favorite sandwich?
viewer1: where are the sandwiches?
host: well I don't actually have a sandwich at the moment
viewer2: we were promised sandwiches
viewer3: how tall are you?
host: um, five seven I guess?
viewer1: how tall is that in sandwiches?

You get the idea..

Tell me what you think of Periscope below. Have you tried it yet? If so, what was your first Periscope experience? (Mine was a guy in Central Park yelling out whatever obscenity you typed. I got him to yell "assclown" and "fucktard". He was getting some strange looks from passersby.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Queuing at the Chemist

   The other day I submitted a prescription for refill. The next day I got an automated message from Walgreens letting me know it was ready for pick up. I drove past the store and the parking lot was full. From the road I could also see that the drive-thru lanes were quite busy as well, so I just kept on driving. I ignored Walgreens for a while, but it finally reached a point where I was going to have to retrieve the prescription.  This time the parking lot was a little less crowed so I went inside. There were three people standing in line at the pharmacy counter so I got in line too. And I waited. And waited. And waited. It was taking them an average of 7 minutes per customer to process the people in front of me. I know because I timed them. 
   So as I stood there (waiting) I couldn't help but wonder: what if life had some kind of "fast pass"?  I thought if works at the airport and it works at Disney why couldn't it work in daily life. Think about it. You could take some kind of aptitude test, a physical exam and post some kind of bond and they give you a bracelet to wear that lets you bypass, well, everything. I could have walked behind the pharmacy counter, found the bin that starts with "B", flipped thru the packages until I found the one with my name on it, waived it under the scanner, swiped my credit card and have been done.
   Since that probably won't happen anytime soon, I came up with this flow chart that Walgreens can post in the pharmacy department that should help expedite the check out process.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Is it ethical (or even legal) to use Ad Blocking software?

   I began using a product called Adblock Plus (ABP) a while back when I had finally had enough of the obnoxious ways many websites choose to display their ads. One of the worst offenders is the local newspaper (see screen capture below). I got tired of having the page jump/scroll up and down (as ads opened and closed) or cars driving across the page while I'm in the middle of reading an article.
   Then there was the problem with Yahoo's ads delivering malware to its visitors. I decided to fight back and installed ABP. Now online life is so much more pleasant. However, as someone who receives ad revenue I find myself being somewhat hypocritical. I like the idea of not being bombarded by advertising, yet I don't want anyone blocking the ads on my Youtube videos, or on this blog page for that matter.
   So that got me to thinking... By my use of ABP am I being unethical? Am I breaking some kind of law? Since I'm blocking ads, therefore denying the website revenue, could that be considered "theft of services" or something? Or, is it a type of self-protection, or maybe even civil disobedience? I don't mind ads in general, but let's face it, some websites have gotten carried away with it. It has gotten to the point where instead of it being "content with some advertising" it has become "advertising with some content". I no longer click on any "article" that touts things like "Top Ten things to do in Austin" because I have learned that I am going to be bombarded with ads as I read "item #1" and then be forced to click a link (and wait for a whole new page to load) just so I can be bombarded with more ads as I try to read "item #2". I rarely make it to item #3.
   Although, not all advertising is obnoxious and obtrusive and ABP recognizes that and allows some forms of advertising through their "firewall". Their website even states: 
"Adblock Plus exists to save its users from annoying ads. However, we don't think that all ads are bad, and we are fully aware that website owners need them to survive. Therefore, we have established strict criteria to identify Acceptable Ads: unobtrusive ones that don't need to be blocked."
   While they make a good case for justifying their product - they convinced me - it could just as easily be said "if you don't like the ads, then don't visit the pages." And that is true - to some extent. However, there are caveats, and instead of reinventing the wheel, I will just point you in the direction of the FCC and regulations it has imposed on radio and television advertising. For example, the 2010 "CALM" Act passed by Congress combats those overly loud TV commercials which sent everyone scrambling for the remote. I'm not a big fan of government regulation, but sometimes it is a necessary evil.
   In the meantime, I think I will keep using Adblock Plus (and another little plugin called "Ghostery") to keep my web browsing a little more under my own control and to avoid crap like this:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Process of Elimination (or, Hold Off on Sending that Email)


A couple of days before Christmas I bought a new laptop. It came with Windows 8.1 preinstalled. I'm not a big Windows fan and would ditch it all together were it not for Netflix and a couple of other minor "deal-killers" (such as being able to connect to my cell phone.) So, I normally install some flavor of Linux alongside Windows so I can switch back and forth as needed. I personally prefer Ubuntu and use that as my main OS, which means I do everything in Ubuntu - edit videos, play music, manage personal records, spreadsheets, etc. Anyway my Christmas holidays went something like this: installing Ubuntu next to Windows, deleting Windows and installing only Ubuntu, deleting Ubuntu and installing only Windows, installing Ubuntu and Windows together again. After much trial and error I got a somewhat stable setup going. The only problem was the laptop wouldn't boot unless I pressed F2 and went into the BIOS settings.  (BTW, It didn't matter whether I saved any changes to the BIOS, or exited without saving.) Only then would the boot process continue. However if I simply rebooted the computer it would work perfectly. It was only when the computer was shut down (turned off) that I would encounter the boot issue the next time it was started. The last thing I had done during the whole installation/update process, during which the computer seemed to work fine (because it was only "restarting"), was to install a video editing program and then turned the computer off for the night. It wasn't until the next day that I discovered the boot issue. So, my logic went like this: computer seemed to work fine, installed a program, computer didn't work fine. Problem must be the program. I was about to send "hate mail" to the program developer when, for whatever reason, I unplugged my USB Modem during startup and the computer started normally. I turned the computer off, plugged the Modem back in, hit the power button, and no boot. After various repetitions of this I realized it's the Modem. The BIOS sees it as a boot device even though the hard drive is listed first. I'm glad I didn't send that email to the programmer.


I ran out of both coffee and coffee filters at the same time. The next time I was at the store I picked up some coffee (Organic Mexican Dark) but forgot to get any filters. Since I use a percolator, filters aren't necessary but they do make clean up much easier. Anyway, the next morning I loaded up the percolator with freshly ground coffee (sans filter) and let it rip. It sucked. The coffee that came out was horribly weak. I've used this brand quite often and never had it come out looking like tea. After several more attempts I concluded it must be a bad batch - wasn't roasted properly, or too old perhaps. A week later I got a different strain (Ethiopian Dark) of the same brand. It too, sucked. I had used the Ethiopian only a couple of weeks before and it had been deliciously strong and bold. What gives? Must have been a bad shipment, not batch. Finally, while grocery shopping I remembered to get some filters (unbleached of course) and bought a completely different brand of beans. So, this morning I popped a filter into the percolator's basket, but was too lazy to drag out the grinder so I used some of the left over shitty stuff from yesterday. This time it came out looking like tar - the stuff a truck driver would be proud of. The only difference between yesterday and today was the addition of a filter. Why does using a filter make the coffee stronger? I can only guess that it traps more water and slows down the drip-time (I just made up that word) allowing the coffee to steep longer. Although this doesn't seem logical with a percolator (since the water continuously recycles through the grounds) it does seem to be true. Now my faith in my favorite brand has been restored and it didn't involve a USB Modem this time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going 'Roo

   Bought some Kangaroo "medallions" at the meat market. Not sure exactly what a "medallion" is, or what part of the Kangaroo we're taking about here, but I've got them thawing in the fridge. I'm a bit leery about the whole thing since I'm not exactly sure someone with fair skin and blonde hair was particularly meant to eat Kangaroo. I'm not even sure if it is politically correct. Plus, I'm concerned about tapeworms and nematocysts and stuff. However, it's not like I found it on the side of the road or anything: "Hey, look! Someone ran over a Kangaroo, let's eat it." It's just that Kangaroos are potrayed in the media as fuzzy, loveable, giant bunnies. Somehow it just seems wrong; although that is not going to stop me from dousing it with Worchestershire sauce and throwing those suckers on the grill.

   A couple of hours later... Once thawed the meat was dark in color and had an ever-so-slightly gamey smell to it, not unlike Lamb. Two of the medallions were marinated with balsamic vinegar and the other two with "Wooster" sauce and then grilled over charcoal until well done. The texture of the medallions is pretty much the same as any cut of beef that contains the word "roast" in its name and in the future would be better served by slow cooking. All in all, I couldn't get over the creepiness of the whole thing and felt like I was committing some kind of atrocity. I'm thinking the reason for that is the fact that Kangaroos walk (hop) upright and somehow seem to to be on a higher level from livestock or game animals. In the grand scheme of "icky things" I'd compare it to eating a monkey - which I've never done, but I've got a good imagination. 

   Feel free to leave a comment and tell us about the strangest thing you've ever eaten, and whether you liked it or not.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soldier of the Day

  I ran across these "name tags" in a folder of old school papers, report cards, etc., and they are from my first year in kindergarten. 

Their idea of "Soldier of the Day"

   Early in the school year the teacher announced a program called "Soldier of the Day." Each day one student would be chosen and designated as the Soldier of the Day. This would be the student who kept his/her workspace neat, sat quietly after finishing a task, did not disturb others and obeyed the teacher. The title came with privileges such as being first in line, erasing the chalkboard, emptying the trash and other distractions from the routine day. 
   Each time it came to announce the Soldier of the Day I would shove everything into my desk, sit up straight, and put on my most charming smile. Of course, the concept that you had to do all of these things prior to the announcement never occurred to me. However, once I realized that the "honor" did not come complete with a rifle and a uniform I quickly lost interest. 
   Based on the name tags I found it looks like I must have been chosen at least three times and I'm sure that each time I was secretly hoping they'd hand over a bazooka, or at least a really cool knife - but, no such luck. And, yes, those are staples in the name tags. It seems that in 1970 it was perfectly okay for a teacher to staple things to your child's shirt. I sincerely doubt they could get away with that today. 

What I thought it was going to be like

Photo Credit

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ghosts of Cycling Past

  It's 10am, I'm done riding and I am soaking wet. My shoes are full of water. I had no intention of riding today. No intention to the extent that I dumped all of my cycling clothes into the washer and turned the knob. After all, it is supposed to rain today - all day. And, I had forgotten The Rules.

  For whatever reason I woke up earlier than usual today and flicked on the morning news. According to weatherlady it was going to start raining at any moment so I put on a pot of coffee and made breakfast. About an hour later I'm on my second cup of coffee and have yet to see any signs of precipitation. The weather radar showed a perfect little gap in the green directly over my neighborhood. 

"Shit. I could've gone for a quick ride if I had known the rain was going to hold out," I grumbled to myself.
"It's still not raining, and so what if it does? So what if you get wet?" Rule #9 chimed in, "it's 73 degrees, technically it's still summer. You used to ride in the rain all the time."
"Yeah, but my clothes are in the washer and I had bacon and fried eggs for breakfast. Do you know how well bacon and eggs are going to sit after 20+ miles?" I asked.
"Oh my God! HTFU!" Rule #5 interjected, "go get your old shorts out of the closet, yes, the ones with the hole in them and grab that jersey you never wear because you think it makes you look fat and go for an effing ride!"

  Then I remembered running into a former Texas French Bread rider yesterday. I haven't seen the guy in years, but he is still wicked-fast on a mountain bike.
"Wow! You must have put on fifteen pounds or so since I've last seen you," he said, poking me in side. 
"It's more like thirty," I confessed.
"Well, you must be riding fairly often because you're able to keep up with me," he said. 
"Yeah, but not as much as I used to," I replied and began listing all of the excuses: injury, working out of town, record heat wave, etc. And, for every excuse he had a solution: more stretching, weight room at hotel, ride at night.
We rode on for a bit discussing bikes, politics, exercising and chicks with cute butts before he had to peel off and head for home. I put in another fifteen miles before stopping for the day.

  So, I grabbed the thread-bare shorts, pulled on the jersey that gathers too much at the bottom, and ran out the door with my bike. I didn't even bother to turn off the TV or set the alarm. I just went. Of course it started raining almost immediately, but I didn't care. I rode fifteen miles in the pouring rain and loved every minute of it. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Photo Credit: Wendy Harman