Sunday, January 28, 2007

Data provide a glimpse of my routine

A collateral benefit of my SIRIUS tuner's memory and the fact that it is powered via my cigarette lighter is that I can measure how long it takes for me to do certain regular recurring tasks as I drive around running errands. If I stop for gas or check my mailbox I press "pause" on the tuner before I turn the ignition off and then resume listening once I've started up again. Below are some things I've done over the past week and approximately how long each one took.
  • Pick up shirts at drycleaners: 2m 16s
  • Make three copies and fax three pages at copy shop: 16m 10s
  • Park & run into post office to send letters: 1m 50s
  • Pick up razor refills at grocery store: ~5 to 6m (approx. since I had to go to two stores to find them)
  • Put $20 gas in my truck: ~3 to 4m (est. since I didn't actually do this this week but recall from past fill-ups this is about right.)
  • Buy sandwich at a drive-thru fast food joint: 4m 7s
I thought it was interesting to see that some of the things I do don't take as long as I perceive them to take. Filling up with gas particularly. I used to think when I was cutting things close with time and my gas gauge was approaching "empty" I wouldn't have time to stop to fill up. The truth is, even 5 bucks will ensure I won't run out of gas going anywhere in town and I can be in and out in two minutes or less. Also, as my brother Brian has said to me, can you afford to not stop for gas? If you actually run dry there's no question you'll be late.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Laserdisc gaming -- Cliff Hanger

A recent article on Gamepolitics reminded me of this classic gem. The game's page on Wikipedia had some interesting info and a few additional links. I can still remember playing the car chase scene where you had to weave your car back and forth to dodge grenades tossed by the car you were chasing. Also fighting ninjas. Lots of ninjas. And scuba diving -- it's slowly coming back! Apparently the game was created using clips from several Japanese anime cartoons.

I had no idea the game was so rare -- apparently only 550 arcade cabinets were manufactured -- and we had one in rural Cave Creek, AZ back in the 1980s. Man, that was a great gameroom, attached to a pizza joint of course. I spent countless hours and quarters playing Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr., Joust, Congo Bongo, Dragon's Lair and many others. Those were the days.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sac Natural Foods Co-op to close Elk Grove store

I was sad to learn that the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is closing its Elk Grove store at the end of January. I found out while shopping there in the first week of the new year that the Board of Directors had voted at its January 2 meeting to assign the store's lease to a new grocery store, Grocery Outlet. The Co-op has held several public meetings over the past week for shoppers and Co-op owners to attend and learn about this decision. The first two were on the evenings of Tuesday and Wednesday at the Elk Grove and Sacramento store locations, respectively. The last meeting was yesterday, Saturday afternoon at the Elk Grove store.

I went to the first meeting last Tuesday night not only because I'm an owner of the Co-op, but also because I was curious how such a beautiful store with great product and amazing staff could be closing after only 18 months of operation.

The meeting was much more than just a presentation by the Board of Directors. There were about 40 owners and a few shoppers there and we all sat in chairs in a large circle. It was actually quite personal and everyone had a chance to say what they were feeling and to ask any questions. In addition to the Board members there were several employees there who had invested quite a bit of their lives in the Co-op and the principles it stands for. Many of those present were quite emotional when they talked about what the store means to them. I'm sad to see it go because not only is the food they sell superb, but the entire staff is knowledgeable and clearly passionate about the ideals behind the Co-op. I always left the store with a positive feeling.

The Board went through a summary of the reasons they had thought a store in Elk Grove would work, the multiple marketing studies done to analyze possible locations, and the extensive community outreach and advertising that was done to promote the Co-op to Elk Grove. Employees even took wage and benefit reductions to reduce expenses. Everything that could have been done was done. The sad truth appears to be that there simply wasn't enough time to build a sufficient customer base who came in on a consistent basis to make the store profitable.

Even though it is sad and disappointing to see the store close, some good will still come out of having built and opened it. The building itself is the most environmentally "green" in Elk Grove and maybe in Sacramento, from having energy efficient cooling, heating, lighting and refrigeration to using recycled and natural materials throughout the structure. Hopefully that building along with some of the Co-op's principles of sustainable grocery practices and cooperative community support and involvement are new seeds that will germinate and spread new ideas about being mutually beneficial and responsible consumers and community participants.

P.S. -- mention was made of a final celebration, likely to occur near the end of January, so keep your ears open and I'll post any info I find out. Also, inventory is being cleared over the next several weeks, so there may be some good bargains to be had.

[UPDATE - THURSDAY, 1/18] I went to the Elk Grove store last night and apparently there has been a 20% off sale all this week. The store was mostly empty, and all of the fresh/perishable food areas (deli, dairy, meats & seafood, produce) were already cleaned and closed. I'd say there was about 20-30% of the store's product remaining. It was slim pickins, but if you're looking for some frozen goods (including a number of turkeys!?), beer/wine, dry goods or other non-perishable groceries it may be worth your while to browse what's left.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

1-9-07 -- The Revolution Continues On

Today marks one year since Howard Stern officially began his satellite radio career. Despite what his detractors say, Howard's venture into this new medium has been an unqualified success. The growth of new SIRIUS subscribers has exceeded all expectations since Stern signed on, blowing through the projected number for the end of 2006 of 3.5 million subscribers by over 2 million for an estimated total of 6,024,000 subscribers as of December 31, 2006. SIRIUS had 600,000 subscribers in 2004 when it signed Stern.

SIRIUS announced today that Stern will receive yet another incentive payment as a result of this record growth. Anyone who thinks Stern would even consider leaving this sweet gig just isn't paying attention. No censorship and multi-million dollar incentive payments? Are you kidding?

My personal experience with SIRIUS has been nothing but positive. I had wanted to try satellite radio for several years before actually subscribing in December 2005. I listened on and off to Stern's terrestrial radio show for probably ten years and had become a regular listener again during his last few years on that medium, so my choice of a satellite radio provider was simple once Howard announced he was going to be on SIRIUS. I listen mainly in my truck, but I can take my tuner anywhere with a SIRIUS boombox (thanks to Eric) and can listen at any computer via Internet radio. In addition to Stern's two channels the music, talk, entertainment and sports content variety seem endless. A partial list is here.

One of the things I love about listening to Howard is that he puts all aspects of the show on the air. When his producer Gary screws up the timing of bringing a guest in the studio or forgets to tell Howard something related to running the show, or Scott the Engineer (yes, "engineer" should be capitalized) can't make a piece of equipment work, the issue isn't just passed over and dealt with off the air. Howard brings the offending person into the studio and hashes it out on the air, usually involving all members of the show in the discussion and ultimately goofing on the person until they can't stand it anymore.

A shining moment recently was when Stern was set to interview Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who and Pete Townshend backed out of the interview literally minutes before it was to begin. Not only was this during the much promoted two-day SIRIUS "free preview," but it was also supposed to announce the new Who channel (98) on SIRIUS. Stern ended up talking just to Roger Daltrey, talked about Townshend walking out, and turned it into an interesting interview.

In addition to giving listeners a glimpse of what goes on silently at every other radio program, which is in itself fascinating, Howard's tirades and criticisms often make for hilarious bits for the show and just great radio.

In the week before Stern's first official broadcast on 1-9-06 he did several test broadcasts to check sound levels and try out all of the equipment in the brand new studio. That probably could have been done by engineers or other staff, but Howard chose to bring in the whole regular show staff and they actually broadcast several mini shows to try everything out, even taking phone calls.

Today after the regular show SIRIUS replayed the 1-9-06 show and then ran the top 10 moments of the past year as voted on by listeners.

Related posts: Howard's first broadcast; Stern still has it; "satellite radio" posts

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Migration to New Blogger complete

I've taken the final step of fully converting to The New Version of Blogger, namely selecting a new template. On the outside it doesn't look like a new template, but the inner workings and widgets are certainly shiny and new. There's a few new template designs that were tempting, but for now the added functionality for me and useability for my readers is enough.

The template upgrade process was fairly painless. Blogger keeps a copy of your old template, but I made a copy of the HTML myself before upgrading so I could cut-and-paste anything the conversion process dropped. One cool thing is that it allows you to preview new templates with your actual current blog content, not just generic placeholders, so you have a good feel for how it's going to look.

Pretty much everything transferred over, though I had to add back in any java scripts (remember your site statistics scripts!) from the old template and any other custom HTML I had that was outside of the basic page elements. My lists of links, friends' blogs and gaming blogs all came over. I had to futz around in the template HTML to adjust my margins again and it's not quite right yet, but it's pretty close. Each section, or page element, of the blog (i.e., header, outer, main, sidebar, footer, etc.) has its own "wrapper" parameters to be adjusted.

The best features of this new template are two new page elements that add extra useability for readers. The first is the labels index, allowing easy sorting for a particular subject. The second is a revamping of the archive which now allows readers to "drill down" to see a list of posts made in a particular month. I'll continue experimenting, so you might see slight changes here and there from time to time. Let me know if anything looks amiss and what is good, too.

Related link: Blogger Beta conversion

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sacha Baron Cohen interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air

You probably know him as Borat, the star of the recent movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but he is also Ali G and Bruno.

I thought the interview would be boring since Cohen was interviewed out of character as himself, but it proved to be both funny and interesting as he explained some of his comedic process and some behind-the-scenes things from making the Borat movie.

You can listen to the whole interview on NPR's web site as well as see a picture of Cohen as he really looks.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Artie Lange's Beer League DVD released January 2, Lange on Letterman January 3

Widely available, but I picked up my copy yesterday at Circuit City. It's a "Collector's Edition 2-Disc Set" and they have a promotion that includes a free Beer League t-shirt. I'm not sure if the free t-shirt offer applies with an online order, but the offer is in their weekly ad. There was a box of the shirts at the cash register when I checked out in person. I haven't watched the movie yet, but I'll put up a few words once I do.

Circuit City has a separate promotion, also in the weekly ad, for Sirius tuners that gives the purchaser of any tuner a free copy of the Beer League DVD.

On a related note, Artie will appear on David Letterman's Late Show tonight, January 3.

Related posts: Boycott Beerfest, see Beer League; Artie on NPR