Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tricking Jacob

When we decided to spend this Christmas back in Cincinnati, Tim and I also decided that we were going to leave most of the presents behind to be opened when we came back on December 29th (today).  It just wasn't worth the hassle and excess luggage expense to bring them back.  Still, we wanted the kids to have some presents to open, so we brought two for each of them.

Jacob had wanted two video games this Christmas for the Xbox 360, Fallout 4 and Black Ops 3. Since I had decided to buy a PS4 for the family this year (yeah, I know, Jacob will get the most use followed by me), I bought those games for the PS4 instead of the Xbox.  These were the presents that we took to Cincinnati for Jacob.  He would see them before he knew we had a PS4, and I wanted to keep that a secret until we got back.  I explained the situation to Tim and told her how we would handle it.

When Jacob opened the first game, he immediately recognized that it was for the "wrong" system.  Immediately I asked Tim what she had done, how had she ordered the "wrong" game.  "You were supposed to order them for the XBOX!"  I acted even more exasperated when Jacob revealed the second game was for the "wrong" console.  

As I suspected, Jacob fell for the act. He was willing to believe that his mom didn't know the difference between game systems, while he knows that I do.  The next day he was laughing and told us how he couldn't wait to tell his friends how his parents had bought not one, but two games for a system we didn't own.

When we were opening presents at home, I decided to see how far I could push our luck by giving Jacob the extra PS4 controller before the PS4 system had been opened.  After opening the controller, he had a huge grin on his face and said that he had figured out what happened.  While my lame explanation that it was another mistaken order fell on unbelieving ears,. I had one more trick up my sleeve.  I had Aleena open a present that was roughly the size of a boxed PS4 system, telling them this family present was more tailored towards her and Nalin.  At this point, Jacob thought that he had me.  He boldly predicted that he already knew what it was as Aleena opened to reveal the Anki Overdrive starter kit.  He tried to pretend that this was what he expected, but it was clear that he was expecting a PS4.  

I let him off the hook a minute or two later and let them open the PS4.  I don't know how much enjoyment we will ultimately get out of it, but it is already off to a good start.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Trip

This year Tim and I decided to take the family back to Kentucky to visit family for Christmas.  We decided to save some money and spend our remaining frequent flyer miles instead of dollars to buy airline tickets.  I had enough to buy three tickets with mine, Tim enough to buy one, and Aleena to buy another.

The bad thing about Aleena buying a ticket in her name was that even though we called Delta to have them link her reservation to mine and Tim's, they would not let her check in online.  It appears as if she was an 11 year old traveling alone.  "Well you understand why we can't change the status via phone right?  We don't really know that you are traveling with her."  No, I do not understand that.  I understand that you won't change it via phone.  I also understand that before I called to link the accounts you might not have figured out we were flying together, but now I told you we are flying together, our seats are together, we have the same last name, and the reservations were made within minutes of each other.  It wasn't a huge deal though.  The lines were pretty long when we got there, but Tim was walking around, saw an Delta agent and convinced her to help us.

We had the chance to see how well the TSA Precheck works.  Jacob, Nalin, and Aleena were able to take advantage of my Precheck, while Tim was not.  We took all the bags with us since we wouldn't have to empty them. We zipped though the line extremely quickly while Tim emerged 50 minutes later.  Definitely worth the $85 for five years.

We didn't get the cold and white Christmas that we were hoping for.  The day after we arrived, the cousins came over to visit.  You can see from the photo below that the weather was warm enough for t-shirts and shorts.  Jacob slept all  day which is why he was absent from the photo below.

It is nice that although they are of different ages and don't see each other, they get along really well. Jacob usually ignores his cousins, but he did have a conversation with Ethan about Minecraft.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Getting Older

Had to take some photos before we leave to go to Cincinnati tomorrow.  This reminds me of something I read about in a Scott Kelby book.  He was talking about a peaceful looking photo, and describing the unpleasant experience he was having taking it.  While I was not standing in cold water for hours on end, I was subjected to a lot of attitude.

Friday, December 18, 2015


After years of cursing product manufacturers for making their labels smaller and smaller, and facing the prospect that my arms would soon not be long enough to hold a bottle out far enough to read, I realized that I needed to get reading glasses.  

I didn't start wearing glasses until I was 22 or 23 years old.  I was sitting in the back of the class in law school, and I had to squint like mad to read the chalk board.  I wore a combination of glasses and contacts for 10 or 12 years until I decided to get Lasik eye surgery.   That was definitely money well spent.

I did some research, and it doesn't sound like there is a great surgical option for presbyopia, so I guess I'll use glasses for reading and computer use.  The good news is that I can function without the glasses so long as I don't have to read really fine print.  

Monday, December 14, 2015


One of the shows we enjoy watching together as a family is Survivor.  Tim and I started watching on the second episode of season one and watched pretty faithfully for the first twelve or thirteen seasons.  We really didn't start back up until we moved back to the U.S. in 2013 and I watched an episode with the kids.  It is now part of an axis of TV viewing which also includes Master Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen.

Aleena's favorite player this year has been Kelley Wentworth, a returning player from season 29.  I saw on twitter that Kelley offered to autograph things for her fans.  I sent her a photo (with a self-addressed stamp envelope) and asked her to autograph it for Aleena.  

When the envelope arrived today, I told Aleena that she had mail.  She had no idea what was inside as she was opening it.  Her face lit up when she saw the autographed photo.  In addition to the autograph, she wrote a very nice little note to Aleena.  

Kelley is now my favorite Survivor player too.  Go #teamwentworth.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Canon Users

If you are thinking about buy any Canon camera equipment during the holidays or beyond, you might want to consider visiting the Canon Price Watch website.  

Canon Price Watch scours the Internet for deals on Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.  In addition to providing links to websites such as B&H, Adorama and Amazon, the have a "street price program" where authorized Canon retailers make products available for significant savings over typical retail prices.  I used the street price program, and it saved me a lot of money.

In addition to looking for current bargains, you can set up alerts to let you know when a particular camera or lens is on sale.  You can even set it up to alert you when your item falls below a certain price.  This allowed me to buy a refurbished Canon 5D III at almost 30% off the normal refurbished price and 40% below new.

One thing to pay attention to when you buy from a sale from Canon Price Watch or any other bargain.  Sometimes the items are known as gray market items.  Official Canon products sold in the USA come through Canon USA.  Sometimes vendors import Canon products from someone other than Canon USA.  These are known as "gray" items.  The product themselves are identical to "official" ones.  The only difference is the gray items may not be covered by US warranty.  Canon often does provide warranty work for these gray items, but they are not obligated to do so.  Sometimes the seller will provide their own warranty on gray items, and the quality of that warranty will vary.  Worst case you might have to ship it to Japan to get warranty work completed.

Personally, I prefer to avoid gray market items, I'd rather have the certainty of the warranty over the possible 5% or 10% savings.  Still, I love what the gray market has done.  For a long time, you really didn't see big discounts on Canon's higher end camera's and lenses.  As the dollar has gotten a lot stronger compared to the yen,  vendors could obtain the gray market gear overseas for much less than from Canon USA.  This made the gray market good much cheaper than official goods, resulting in loss of sales for official Canon retailers.  Canon USA responded by discounting a lot of its equipment, through a combinations of price cuts and/or rebates.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Before and After

The photo on the left is the the kids in the winter before we moved back to the U.S. (2012).  The photo on the right was taken on Thanksgiving of this year (2015).

They have grown up so much.  Aleena is the same age in the photo on the right as Nalin was in the photo on the left.

Aleena Too

Okay, here is Aleena 5 years ago versus now.

5 Years

Looking through some photos and found one of Jacob as a cub scout in 2010 and as a boy scout in 2015.  He's definitely changed in those five years. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Living Abroad Gives You Perspective

One of the best things that I think that my wife and I ever did was move abroad for six years.  No, it wasn't necessary to be gone for six years, but living outside the United States, particularly in a developing country really can open your eyes.

Our family moved from the U.S. to Thailand in 2007.  In the U.S., President Bush was in office, having won a close, but largely uncontroversial election in 2004 against Senator John Kerry.  In 2008, President Obama won the presidency in decisive fashion, and was re-elcted in 2012 in a moderately less decisive fashion.  Each election was followed by a peaceful transition or resumption of power.  The same constitution ruled the land during the entire time.

Our new home in Thailand offered a different government experience.  A year before we arrive, in 2006, the civilian government overthrew the elected government.  In 2014, a year after we left, another military coup displaced the democratically elected government.

While our time in Thailand was sandwiched between two military coups, it was hardly a stable government.  In addition the Prime Ministers overthrown by coups, two other prime ministers were deposed by court rulings.  One was displaced because he hosted a weekly cooking shown on cable television, and another on abuse of power charges.  A third Prime Minister lost power from special elections precipitated by protests, both peaceful and violent.  At different points in Thailand's political infighting, both airports and parliament buildings were occupied and shut down.  Bangkok's major shopping center was shut down due to protests for months.  A general supporting protestors was shot by a sniper while surrounded by the press.

Just because we are more stable than Thailand does not make our system perfect.  It doesn't mean that we cannot find areas to improve.  What it does tell me, however, is that we should put things in perspective.  The political chasms that we see as so great only appear so because of how far we have progressed.  We can do better, but we do a grave injustice to those who have come before us by discounting where we are today.

Childhood's End

I was looking for a good science fiction/fantasy book and saw and advertisement for the movie adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 classic Childhood's End. While I was certainly aware of Arthur C. Clarke's preeminence as a science fiction author, I had never read any of his books.  In fact, I am not sure if I even saw the movie adaptation of  2001: A Space Odyssey.  

I bought Childhood's End for my Kindle and paid the extra $1.99 for the audio version and am definitely glad that I did.  I listened to the story while working out and doing things around the house.

Not to spoil things, but the premise of the story involves humanity's first contact with an alien race.  Although written over 60 years ago, the story holds up remarkably well.  While some of the human technology is certainly outdated, the theme of the story is just as relevant today as when written. 


Unfortunately, there are a lot of missing images in my blog now.  The reason is that I deleted a lot of the photos that I had posted to Flickr and linked to the blog.  At some point I may go through and try to replace some of the broken links.  That is assuming that I start blogging on a regular basis.

Replacement Ink

Last year I bought a very nice photo printer, the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 because I wanted to be able to print professional quality photos at home.  Sometimes when I've had photos printed somewhere else, the coloring has been off or the brightness not to my liking.

Overall, I have been very happy with this printer. The quality of the photos is outstanding and I am able to make prints that are 19"x13".  The biggest problem with the printer, however, is the cost of ink.  The 3880 uses 9 ink cartridges, each of which cost between $54 and $60. While each cartridge lasts a while (holding 80 ml of ink), spending $500 to replace the entire set gets very expensive.  I would ask the kids "Do you really need to print this photo?"


I bought another less expensive color printer (Canon MG7520) for the kids to use or for when I don't need as high quality photos.   That solved one problem, but not high cost of ink when I actually do want to print.

There are generic printer cartridges for a lot of printers, but I couldn't find any for the 3880.  Well, I found some for $25 each, but when I attempted to add them to the cart, they were always out of stock.    But while I couldn't get individual generic cartridges, I find a few systems that allowed you to replace the OEM cartridges with generic refillable cartridges.  Some of those systems were quite expensive and required you to keep the printer lid open (which requires a little more modifications to the printer).  I managed to find a system made by Ink Owl on Amazon that was less expensive and

I bought a set of generic cartridges for $100 and a set of replacement ink for $228.  Each bottle of ink contained 250 ml, more than three times an OEM cartridge.  This makes the price of 80 ml of ink (a full OEM cartridge) ~$8.  If you spread out the cartridge cost over the 1st 3 fillings, it comes to $11 for the first three refills per color and $8 thereafter.  This is a huge savings.

Of course this is only a good deal if the ink looks good and doesn't cause printer issues.  Additionally, using this system isn't quite as convenient as popping in a cartridge.  Fortunately, most of the steps are only required the first time you install the generic cartridge.  After that, you only need to refill the ink.

Each OEM Epson cartridge has a computer chip which is required for it to operate.  This tells the printer when the ink is empty, and probably other things as well.  In order for the replacement cartridges to work, you need to remove the chip from a non-empty OEM cartridge and place it in the replacement cartridge.

Remove the chip from the replacement cartridge.  You can pry the plastic part in front of the chip with a screwdriver.  This exposes an area where the OEM chip will go.   The replacement chip will sit on top of the OEM chip and communicate with the printer.

Remove the OEM chip from the original cartridge.  I was able to pop it off easily with a utility knife approaching from the outside.

Place the OEM cartridge in the replacement cartridge and put the replacement chip back.

After you add the working OEM chip, you fill the cartridge with ink and then purge any excess air.

Add the correct ink using the syringe and needle (provided).

Purge the excess air by using the tool provided which attaches to the syringe.  You will need to remove the orange air plug and then puncture the plastic coating over the grey circle opening. Push the tool all the way in and draw out with the syringe.  At first air will come out.  When you get a stream of ink, you are complete.

You are then ready to insert the cartridges and run some ink cleaning and tests.  The manufacturer recommended starting with one cartridge.  I did that and all was well, so I replaced another two.

I had a problem with my fourth cartridge.  Everything seemed to go well with replacement Cyan cartridge until I put it in the printer.  The printer said that it was missing a cartridge.  After resetting a chips a few times, I finally called the manufacturer who promptly put in an order for a free replacement cartridge.  This confirmed what I had read about their excellent customer service.

As I was preparing to replace a different cartridge I realized that I had made a mistake.  I had used the replacement Light Cyan cartridge instead of the Cyan one.  Now I had a Light Cyan cartridge full of Cyan ink.  I was able to expel the ink, but I used some water through it to clean it.  I called back the manufacturer and told them what happened and I ordered a $10 replacement for the Light Cyan.  

I might have gotten away with having a little Cyan in the Light Cyan cartridge, but for $10 I really don't want to have some nozzle clog because I don't adequately dry the cartridge of the water.   I also could have lied when I called back and just said that I had meant to say Light Cyan to get a free cartridge, but it is only $10.  I'm not saying that my integrity doesn't have a price, but it isn't $10.  Well, not today anyway.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

TSA Precheck

Today I went for my TSA pre-check appointment.  The whole process is pretty simple.  After submitting an online application you make an appointment (or just show up) to get finger printed and photographed.

 In 1 to 45 days I'll know if I am approved and can sometimes get in quicker lines at the airport.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

6th Grade Project

A few months ago, Aleena was assigned a science project.  She chose to make a Rube Goldberg machine, one in which  turning on a fan set off a chain of events that would result in the ringing of a bell.

She has been working on it gradually.  They had to turn in designs earlier in the semester.  Last weekend she went through the items that she needed in order to complete the machine.  When she started working on it this evening, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was not due until next week, and here she was showing some real initiative.

Well, not exactly.  I was helping her for a while and asked when it was due.  "Tomorrow" she replied. I was very much less than pleased.  I helped her work on it for a few hours until we finally completed it.  Fortunately, it worked after a few minor adjustments.  

At 11:12 p.m., 2 hours past her bedtime, she is waiting for the video to upload to her Google drive for turn in.  She wanted to edit using iMovie, but it wouldn't open because it was incompatible with the installed version of the OS.  So we had to wait 15 or 20 minutes while upgrading the OS and iMovie. Priceless. 

She takes it to school tomorrow, but it is okay if it doesn't work at the school because she filmed it working here.  

Our Window Tale

On January 30th of this year, a maintenance crew was working on the hill behind our house and struck a rock with a weed whacker.  The rock flew over our wall, striking one of the glass doors on the back of our house.  

We had seen the maintenance workers on the hill earlier, but  I was gone when the actual event happened, and Tim was upstairs taking care of a sick Aleena.  Tim thought that I was home at the time, so she didn't come down to investigate when she heard the sound.

The outside pane fractured, although it remained in tact except for the small hole where the pebble entered.  The interior pane was unblemished.  Although it is not evident from the photo, the resulting pattern from the fracture was quite attractive, and I would have been tempted to leave it that way were it not for the fear that it would collapse every time I closed the adjacent door.  

I contacted the home owners association (HOA), who told me that the city is responsible for the maintenance of that area.  When I contacted the city, they pulled the relevant records and told me that it was the HOA.  In response to my follow up email, the HOA agreed that their subcontractor was responsible for the maintenance, but that no-one had been doing maintenance on that day, and that in any case, they were forbidden from using weed whackers in that area.  

Finally, after several back and forth emails (in which I informed them that my wife and I had seen the landscapers that morning), the landscaping company agreed to pay for the damage as a matter of good will.  A month later I looked out my window to see the landscapers back out there clearing the area with their weed whackers.  I didn't say anything to them, but made sure to take plenty of photos in case the offer to pay fell apart.

It turns out that getting the company to agree to pay for the repairs was much easier than getting the repairs done.  We had someone from the home builder come over to help us.  Their guy informed us that because of the way the door was constructed, we could not merely replace the glass, but rather would need to replace the entire door.  They made some calls for us and we found out that they could no longer get the door.  Shortly after this happened, I injured my knee and the window went on the back burner for a while.

When we started back up again, continued to have problems finding someone to fix this.  We couldn't find a way to actually get a new door.  We got in touch with the actual manufacturer who told us that it was too small of a job and he wasn't interested in pursing it.  We had glass companies come out, promise to give us an estimate, and then never deliver.  I know that I could have been more diligent with them and continued to follow up, but it was a combination of frustrating and non-urgent.  If both panes had broken, I would have pushed harder.

Finally, in October, Tim had a handyman over to look at remodeling the kids closets.  She asked him to take a look at the door and give an estimate.  He said that he could fix it for $1,250.  Not really in the mood to spend a lot of time finding a second estimate, we had him do the work.  They actually cut out a section of the door just outside the edges of the glass, replaced the glass and patched it up.  They did a great job and it is very difficult to tell which door was repaired.  

Door now repaired, I turned to trying to get reimbursed.  I was a little concerned that the "goodwill" offer that was promised back in February would have evaporated when they saw the $1,250 bill and that we did not have multiple estimates.  I emailed the HOA who in turn forwarded the information to the landscaping company.  The agent told me that they would send out a check.

Weeks went by and no check arrived.  They hadn't told us that they weren't going to pay, they just hadn't paid.  Four weeks after I sent the invoice, I followed up with the HOA.  She told me that the landscaping company was waiting for an address, and that she had just forwarded it to them.  The check would go out by the end of the week.  Sure enough, on Friday the check for $1,250 arrived.   The only problem was that the check was made out to Brian, while all of my accounts use my legal name of Edward.  In the past this sometimes, but not always causes problems depositing checks.  I deposited the check via mobile app into our investment account and it seems to have worked.  If not, I'll have to go to see if I can resolve it personally at the bank.  I don't want to have to ask them to issue a different check.  

When this all started, I thought the hard part would be to get paid, not getting the repair itself done.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Car Battery

With my wife gone overseas for 2 weeks with another 2 before her return, I am "enjoying" my time with the kids.  After looking at the mess that was the house this morning, I had to explain the impending consequences of grounding.  Beating is out of the question, unless my wife extends her trip another few weeks.  Kidding, sort of.

We all pile into my car this morning and it wouldn't start.  Just really enhanced my mood.  Fortunately my wife's care does so I am able to go get the kids to school.  When I returned I decided to try to charge it with the little Anker charger that I bought a few months back.  After unsuccessfully trying I read that it only charges engines up to 3.0 liters.  My 3.5 liter engine was too much.

Just last week I had canceled my Mercedes MBrace subscription, which for some reason I thought was the service that included roadside assistance.  Off to Walmart to pick up some jumper cables.  After several attempts to jump start my car, the only result I could achieve was a very brief and unsatisfying set of clickings. 

I called the dealership who informed me that much go my ignorance, I was still covered under Mercedes roadside assist.  I guess my driveway is on the side of a road (or a rather minor street). Technician arrived in under an hour and ended up replacing the battery.  

I guess all is well that ends well. 


We'll see how long I keep this up this time.  Easy to start blogging, but not always easy to keep it up.