Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Express.....Membership Has It's Privileges

I love my American Express card. Mostly because it's a Starwood Preferred Card that allowed us to have 5 nights free in Tokyo + free hotels in several other cities last year. I use it for everything and pay it off ever month.

A few months ago my Apple Time Capsule died. Right after the warranty expired. I was sad...and mad...it was a $300 purchase! I have since learned Apple Time Capsules are known to fail. A few were recalled....not mine.

Then a few days ago the subwoofer in my car stopped working. I was bummed. Then I thought...."Didn't I buy both with an American Express Card in January 2009??!??!"

Sure enough I did! American Express automatically adds one year warranty to ANY purchase with the card. I filed two claims Sunday night. This morning I was credited for BOTH purchases! It would have been better to get replacement items, especially since I bought both at a steep discount. Getting a credit is fine. I won't be replacing the Time Capsule. I'm not sure on the subwoofer though.

Found a Zune 120 on Craigslist for $100. I am happy again. Kelli is returning the Zune HD. Would have been nice. But I like the space of the Zune 120.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Zune Graveyard

I bought my first Zune several years ago. A nice 80 gig model. Loved it...so much so I got Kelli a 8 GB Zune (to eventually save money by canceling XM). She loved it. About a year ago I broke the data connector on the 80 gig Zune. I was bummed. I bought a 32 GB Zune HD. Loved it. Bought Kelli a 32 GB Zune HD for Christmas. She loved it as well as she played games, watched movies and listened to music. Then about 5 months ago I dropped my Zune HD while walking into the house. Dead. I then found a  120 GB Zune on Craigslist. The 120 GB Zune is rare....the one I found was even more rare as it was red. I loved it. Then last week Kelli washed my jeans....with my Zune in it. I tried emergency rice surgery (placing electronics that are soaked in a bag of rice *might* save them). I took it apart and let the rice soak up the water. After two days it powered on...but displayed an error message. Dead.

Zune 120GB go for $350+ on Amazon as they are rare. I paid just $100 for mine from someone who didn't know better. Kelli ordered me a 32 GB Zune HD....I dunno. It will be nice to have a HD again...but eh. I will think about it long and hard before opening it up.

Besides that, my subwoofer in my car died last week. Still haven't fully investigated why. I did do some research and found that since I bought it with an American Express card, I get a free extra year of warranty! I also realized that my Apple Time Capsule that died was purchased at the same time, also under the extra year of warranty. I filed a claim, will see what happens.

Not sure about the backyard camera. I might have to go with traditional cameras. If I do I will have to wait until our tax return comes back. The camera I have back there now has a very narrow viewing angle. Traditional cameras have a better picture and wider angle.

Kelli is pushing "firmly" for me to keep the Mazda5.

Bought a new remote control for the living room. It's so easy to use my mother in law can use it. It truly combines all the remotes into one. One button labeled "watch TV", turns the TV on, the cable box on and the surround sound on. Simple icons for our favorite TV channels. Same thing happens for watching a DVD/Blueray. One button turns on the DVD player, switches to the correct input. Close to nirvana.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LA Trip

Took a day trip to Los Angeles Saturday for the LA Autoshow. First....I miss flying. Love staying home with Natali....but I miss flying.

Great day. Spent 4 1/2 hours walking around the show. Double my average time. Like a kid in a candy store.

The trip showed my The VW CC is not really a car for me. The CC sits much lower than I thought.

I did REALLY like the 2011 Kia Optima. Yeah I said it...a Kia.

The 2011 Optima is an entirely different car. Nothing in common with the 2010 beyond the name (which I think should have been changed as there is not much street cred in Optima).

When I saw the photos on line, I thought they were just being generous. Nope. The styling is very masculine and tech. The features on the car blow away anything available on the Camry, Accord, Altima etc. Only the Hyundai Sonata (which shares everything under the skin on the Kia) can compare. I previously blogged about the Sonata....but now that the Optima is out...wow.

Heated and Cooled seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, dual sunroofs with power covers, 34 MPG highway, french stitched leather seat, faux leather dashboard, dual climate control....the list goes on. The Optima has more features than the new Acura TSX....for less money. The base Optima has the same amount of horsepower as the TSX...the turbo Optima is within a few ponies of the V6 TSX. For less money.

Now I know...."You said you were keeping the Mazda5". Yeah I know. Bleh. I don't know.

Chevrolet also had a few Volts on the floor that were powered on. The Volts interior was more tech than I thought they would be. The menu systems were very snappy (the Ford MyTouch system was VERY slow...to the point of being distracting!). I guess I never paid attention in the past, but the Volt is only a 4 seater. Most mid-sized sedans can't hold more than 4 adults anyway.

Beyond the Optima and Volt, I still like the Toyota Venza. Who knows.

While flying out to Los Angeles I noticed I was no longer labeled as being able to sit in the cockpit jump seat. This is likely due to the fact that I am on leave. Kinda sad though....also makes travel slightly more complicated.

Got the backyard camera in. Went with a different manufacturer than the porch camera mostly because the daytime colors are off quite a bit on the porch camera. The backyard camera is a FosCam....and it's beefy. Should be able to position it in the corner and get a view of the entire yard.

This will be the 6th camera. I am still loving my software from Blue Iris. The guy that writes the software updates often and is very receptive to issues. Well worth the $60 I paid for it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bad neighborhood

Apparently my websites live in a bad neighborhood. Tuesday afternoon began a 2 day headache. I was cutoff from all of my blogs. Just my blogs. That's it. If I connected via my T-Mobile phone/hotspot....all my blogs worked. AT&T was cutting me off from my sites.

I checked routers, firewalls, HOSTS files...all were fine. I tried using network tools (Trace Route, Ping and such) to find the problem.  I could tell the issue was outside my network. I just had to convince AT&T of such.

Multiple phone calls, literally hours on hold. Nothing. Till Thursday morning. AT&T finally told me my sites were blacklisted.

AHBL.org is a blacklisting company. AHBL and GoDaddy have been feuding for years. Apparently there are a few sites that the AHBL doesn't care for that share space with my blogs. Rather than blacklist individual sites, AHBL blacklist the entire IP address/server. Ugh.

GoDaddy could do nothing for me. AHBL could do noting for me. AT&T could do nothing for me. Somehow all of my request did something...maybe.

To try and fix my own issue I moved from Linux to Windows hosting. That broke EVERYTHING.  I then moved back to Linux....and somehow everything is running.

I am still planning on moving.

Done with rant.

The porch camera is awesome. It is setup to view about 2 1/2 feet from the front door so it gets anyone walking up and a face shot. I might get a smaller camera pointed to see the front door and any packages. Next up is back yard camera. Don't ask why.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kinect it

Kelli and I have a new toy. The Microsoft Kinect. The Kinect is a new way of interacting with video games and media. Instead of holding a controller, you simply move. Lots of movement.

We took a trip to Frys so I could pick up a new cable for my new security camera (more on that in a bit) and happened to see a Kinect demo. I knew a lot about it, but Kelli didn't. Once she saw how easy it was too use (two kids were using it) she liked it. We bought one.

Very easy too set up, but it needs A LOT of room. We have a good 12 feet between the TV and couch, it's barely enough room for two people to play. The device scans the area and shows on the screen how many people can play. I think I can mount it to the wall, rather than on the entertainment center, and get another foot or two of playable area.

Kelli and I played a Kinect game  for an hour last night and were both in a sweat when done. Lots of jumping, turning, and twisting. Pretty good work out....but fun. We are going to try out two workout games and see how we like them. The Wii workout games were always awkward because of having to hold the controllers in odd ways. The Kinect uses an infrared camera and regular camera to monitor body movements. It's VERY fast and accurate.

I found a steal of a deal on a car seat. I monitor slickdeals.net several times a day. To date I have ordered a few things from the links they provide (mostly from Amazon). The deals are all from regular people who love saving money. They find neat coupons, price mistakes or giveaways.

This weekend one of them found that Diapers.com was allowing two promo codes to work at the same time that discounted Britax car seats by 45%! In reality only one should work.

We have been looking at car seats for a while. If we had not known the Britax name we would have passed on the deal. Everywhere we looked the Britax seats were the same price or within $5. We bought a $330 Britax car seat for $180! Free shipping! Awesome. The deal only lasted a few hours before Diapers.com "fixed the glitch". They could have cancelled the orders....but they didn't. They took the loss. Diapers.com was recently purchased by Amazon. Amazon has awesome customer service. The seat arrives Wednesday. Can't wait.

Family. I've never been big on family. Don't really talk to my family much beyond my Dad. Eh. I'm much more involved with Kelli's family. We see her siblings and parents several times a year even though they are spread on on both coast.

My sister in law recently ended her relationship with her girlfriend. They had been dating for a little less then 2 years. I respect my sister in law and her choices....but I'm kinda bummed because I am going to miss hanging out with her girlfriend...she was really funny and laid back. Both my sister in law and her girlfriend deleted their Facebook accounts. Then this morning her girlfriend resigned from a game we have been playing for a while. Guess she's cutting all communication. Sad.

Out of Kelli's siblings Kelli and I do have the longest running relationship....will be 9 years next summer. Nine years. Over 3200 days. We should....hmmm...Kelli should get an award. We are far from perfect. No better than any other couple. We are just both too damn hard headed to leave/give up. It's well known we have little in common. We have had bad times...and good times...and "you're lucky we live in a state that uses death penalty because I would sooo..." times. We work through it. Not easy....especially since Kelli is a tree hugging liberal democrat (instead of a blessed by god Conservative Republican like me). Kelli did remark that if we ever wanted to split up, we could do it in less than the time it takes to watch the average movie. We have sperarate bank accounts. Very little co-mingling of anything. I'd be like Steve Martin in the Jerk:


"And that's the only thing I need is *this*. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. - The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this. - The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I'm some kind of a jerk or something! - And this. That's all I need"

I have a new security camera. Mounted WAY above the front door looking down. Happy. Two more coming for the backyard soon. Then the system will be complete!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Earning my keep

The odd couple....Match.com would have never matched Kelli and I together....she picked me.

Not much in common. She is organized and works at a set pace. I am....more free spirited in where my stuff is and go at a random pace.

Over the last week Kelli "communicated" to me that she is not happy with the state of my stuff.

It's been mentioned before, but I grew up with live in maid service. Not my mom, but a slew of people who lived in my house and cleaned it while my parents worked and the kids were at school. That's my excuse for how "free spirited" I am.

Monday I cleaned up our....ummm...my crap table in the living room. Kelli was shocked.

Tuesday. I have a lot of clothes. I get it from my dad. He has a lot of clothes. I could have worn a different shirt everyday and not repeated for over 3 months. Don't judge. Truth be told I wore maybe 15-20 different shirts. Yesterday I finally gave in and donated over 1/2 of my clothes to Goodwill. Kelli was shocked.

Today. There is a desk in our bedroom that was meant to be a place for Kelli to work on paperwork and stuff. It's become a place for my....stuff. Today I cleaned it off as well, leaving just what must stay (networked laser printer, local switch, Ooma phone box....the minimum). Kelli should be shocked.

It's the least I can do....Kelli has paid the mortgage for the last....hmmm....3 1/2 years. Gotta keep my sugar momma happy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's a keeper

Kelli and I had our monthly financial meeting a few days ago. We discussed our current situation as well as future planning. I proposed keeping my Mazda5 and paying it off hopefully in less than 2 1/2 years. Doing to would free up money to pay for other things including my pilot loan.

The loan is currently at a comfy 5.75% interest.....but it's not the tax deductible kind. I currently spend double my current car payment a month in installment payments between my pilot loan, American Express card (paid off in full each month!) and the 2 zero percent interest accounts. Paying those off would free up a lot of cash. We miss our disposable income of yesteryear.

We went over to Wiley (still the longest single, non-stop trip we have ever taken in the Mazda5) last weekend. I did learn that credit unions do not differentiate between a lease buyout and a used car for rates. My main bank (good ol' Bank of America where I have had an account for 16 years....and never gotten a free toaster!) list rates for used cars in the 3 % range and lease buyouts in the 5% range. I looked at my employee credit union rates and they have used car rates for a 2008 model year as low as 4.24%. Happy medium. I applied for a loan yesterday. Once approved I will go ahead and finish the buyout paperwork now. The used car market is very strong right now so I don't see Mazda offering me a lower price at lease end. I applied for a 3 year, but should be able to pay it off in about 26 months. Even two years from now my Mazda will likely have less than 40K miles.

I did remark the other day that I like how "simple" the Mazda5 is. My last two cars had high tech engines and features that would have been expensive to fix. The most high tech thing on my Mazda are the headlights. They are motorized (for leveling) HID units. Beyond that, it's a basic (albeit nice) car. I plan on keeping my car until 2015....when Natali will be 5 (out of day care!) and my car will be 7.....almost 8 years old.

While over in Wiley two friends who were there were discussing wanting a new car. They currently have a Nissan Pathfinder and the back seat is a little tight for two car seats (they have twins). A Mazda5 could suit them well. Two car seats would easily fit in the second row Captain chairs. Plenty of room in the back for groceries and stuff. They scoffed though...because of the sliding doors. I used to be a little embarrassed by the sliding doors....but they are so useful I don't care anymore. It is a ton easier to put Natali in place while in a tight parking lot in my car than in a traditional car with regular doors. I also like that over the last 18,000 miles I have averaged 26.5 MPG. The highest ever was 29.24 (better than EPA highway....and we don't take highway trips!). The lowest was 22.94...right at EPA city....where most of my driving is done. This is much lower than Kelli's Prius at over 47 MPG average....but my car holds quit a bit more. There is a Prius Multi Purpose Vehicle coming out next year (the three photos below....photos borrowed from carscoop.blogspot.com....obviously.)....could be Kelli's next car.

We started using the baby monitor more. The unit we bought has a movement monitor as well. It is sensitive enough to measure breathing. If there is no movement for 20 seconds the monitor next to us sounds an alarm. This way we can rest a little easier placing Natali on her stomach. She sleeps MUCH better on her stomach than on her back.

Our Uverse boxes are plugged into the home network. They can pull music off my computers...but not video. Annoying. I would like to watch my video podcast in the bedroom but the TV in there only has a UVerse box. Boo. Cheap option would be a Roku box at $50. Bleh.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Adjusting to her

Before I started my 2 month vacation from work, I assumed I would sit on the couch and watch my video podcast all morning. Take a trip out for lunch/walk and relax. Nah.

Natali dictates what I do. Not that I'm complaining. As previously mentioned we watch Headline News or the local news in the morning. We watch till about 7:30AM and then take a 30 minute to an hour nap. She's normally ready to eat after that. So between 8:30AM and 10AM I feed her, change her and then we play around. She then sleeps from 10AM till around noonish....maybe. At that point I either head out for a short trip or eat lunch and then wait to feed her and head out for a long trip.

She controls me. I'm okay with that.

I am pretty sure our UPS man thinks we are crazy. He has stopped by EVERY day this week with stuff from Amazon. I wanted night lights to light the hallway so I don't forget there are baby gates on each side of the kitchen. Set of four was $6 on Amazon...shipped. Kelli bought the new trash can. I bought a new baby crib mobile. Kelli bought a dog barking device. All from Amazon. It's about time to renew my prime membership. Another $75....but so worth it.

Kelli's little Macbook is 2 years old. Still running just fine. The same could not be said for a 2 year old PC laptop.....without reinstalling Windows at least once. I don't see her replacing it anytime soon. Battery still holds over 95% of original charge. Very nice. I do see my mother in law replacing her IMac with a Macbook some time in the future....maybe even a Macbook Air. She has no need for a huge IMac and being tied to a desk. With a Macbook Air she could literally slip the computer into her purse and head out of the house on a trip, or use the same computer on the couch.

Being reasonable about my lease termination. I got an email that I only have 4 payments left. Even though I lust after a new car, I don't see it happening. Keeping my eye on lease buyout rates. Right now around 5.25%. I'm going to ask my friend in the business if it's possible to get a lease buyout loan from say Bank of America and then refinance it with another company...say E-loan which has refi rates at 3.64%. Hmm. I would like to pay it off in 2 years. Might take 2 1/2 years though. Payoff is $12,700....Hmmm. This way Kelli can get the next new car. Only fair. We are both eyeing a new bigger Prius minivan like vehicle which will debut at the Detroit Autoshow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kelli and her toys

Growing up my parents kitchen had a nice long center island. On each side of the island was a small trash can. Nothing special. Open air trash can. And all was well.

When Kelli and I moved in together 8 years ago I brought my simple Wal-Mart trash can. It had a lid that flopped in the air. All was well.

Some time ago our trash can was replaced with a fancy foot operated device (Kelli or my mother in law brought it in the house). Nice, but with because it had to be opened via foot pedal one had to walk into the kitchen to use it. With the dog gate in the way, it was annoying. Kelli didn't seem to mind until Natali came along. Suddenly this contraption was a major problem for Kelli.

Now Kelli bought a new fancy infra-red trashcan. Wave your hand or anything infront of it, and it opens automatically.

One would assume I had all the fancy tech stuff.....not so.

Installed a dimmer for the living room. I read the instructions 10 times. Confused. Watched a bunch of youtube videos. Still confused. Decided to wing it. I knew which was the "hot" wire, but there seemed to be an extra wire not present on the instructions or any video. It works. I'm happy because the lights aren't so bright in my eyes, Kelli is happy because there is light.

Been playing my slot machine a bunch lately. I've been "spending" $40 a day. Goes quick....biggest win has been 75 credits. Boo.

Still penciling in a trip to the Los Angeles Autoshow.

Got my final paycheck of the year today. A little scared. I am sure we can make it work. Just might have to tighten out belts. Kelli and I wear big people pants so it should be fine. Still scarry though.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Slowing down

October was a busy month.

I was based in New York City but went on vacations to Los Angeles, California, Las Vegas Nevada, and San Antonio Texas. Kelli and Natali also came up to New York. Crazy. Tiring.

This morning Kelli went back to work. I stayed in bed. Peace at last, peace at last, oh how I love this peace at last.

For the next two months it's the Darren and Natali show. I have plans. In order to have motivation I am going to list them:

1- Purchase two new outdoor security cameras. One for the front door outside and one for the backyard

2 - Clean and USE the man cave

3 - Install a dimmer in the living room

4 - Teach Natali to walk.....or crawl

5 - Exercise

All should be doable. I am betting the dimmer will get installed first.

Kelli is using her Ipad more and more. It's part of her life. She even mentioned that getting an Iphone would make sense since she is used to the interface. Hmmm.

My mother in law Peggy is getting more hip! First she bought an Imac (almost 2 years ago....hasn't had a single problem beyond dead batteries in the keyboard!). Last week she bought a Kindle.

Peggy reads a lot and travels a lot. With her living in Oregon and grandkids in Texas, California and New York....she flies several times a year. I wouldn't be surprised if she travels more than 15,000 miles this year. Prolly more than that.

I bought a Wifi only Kindle. For her I recommended the 3G. This way she can buy a book anywhere without having to worry about finding internet. It's only $50 more....no monthly fee....no brainer.

Along with reading there are a few games on the Kindle. Peggy and Kelli love word games. They both play Text Twist often. There is a Text Twist like game on the Kindle. Perfect.

Natali is doing well. She is babbling quite a bit. Not bad for 2 1/2 months. She also appears to enjoy watching TV. She will crane her neck to be able to see TV. Interesting.

It's nice to slow down.