That 70’s Weekend at the Baltimore Inner Harbor

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This past weekend we went to Baltimore for a weekend with my extended family.  My Dad had sent my sisters and I a request to host some sort of birthday celebration for he and my mom since they were both turning 70.  As I am sure many families can attest, coordinating the logistics between five families (total of 18 kids and adults) who live in four different cities (Raleigh, North Virginia (x2), Milwaukee, and San Diego) is a bit of a challenge.

Where to go?  When?  Fly?  Drive?  We thought about the beach, the mountains, skiing, a C&O Canal trip, and many other ideas.  We quickly realized that between school for the kids (some on traditional schedule, some on year round), work for the adults, other obligations, there just weren’t many weekends to choose from so we ended up choosing the period between Christmas and New Years.  With that period falling on a weekend this year, it worked out well.  All the kids were out of school and work is for the most part, pretty quiet.

Once we settled on a weekend, we still needed to decide where to go.  We eliminated a lot of choices by picking a winter time slot.  We had thought a trip to Great Wolf Lodge would be fun and it would be but it is pretty pricey and if you aren’t into water parks, there isn’t a lot else to do unless you leave the resort.  Leaving the resort doesn’t make a lot of sense since that is what you pay for so we ruled that out.  Skiing?  Could be pricey and would divide up the family between skiers – good and fair, and non-skiers which defeated the purpose of getting together.  So we ruled that out too.  My parents live in the DC area and there are ton of things to do there but over the years we have done most of them and we wanted to do something else.  Baltimore is close and the Inner Harbor has lots to do so after checking out a few options, we settled on Baltimore.

We ended up making a game out of the weekend and divided the family up into five teams.  We had a series of contests or Clues as we called them, with a winner for each event.  This made the weekend a lot of fun and mixed the families up into groups they normally wouldn’t be in.  Having a series of activities on the agenda also kept us from looking at each other and trying to decide what to do next.

We had activities which could be done at the hotel and some which were done at various attractions,  We had a scavenger hunt at the National Aquarium and another at the B&O Railroad Museum.  We had another around the Inner Harbor itself which involved going all over the place to track down information.  We had a Family Feud inspired trivia contest and a “snack association” game where some sort of snack food was associated with each family member and teams had to figure out who went with which snack.  My sister from Milwaukee lives near the Jelly Belly factory and brought 18 different types of jellybeans to be identified by color and taste.  After you have a couple, they all start to taste the same, except of course, the jalapeno ones which taste terrible!

We stayed at the Residence Inn on Light Street which is about 5 blocks from the Inner Harbor.  I love Residence Inns – they work really well for my family of six.  Breakfast is nice, the extra room is really nice to have, and having a refrigerator to keep food and drinks help us from having to eat out for every meal.  The Light Street Residence Inn is one of the nicer ones I have stayed at – I highly recommend it.  I have added it to my list of list of Hotels that Don’t Suck.

All in all, we had a great weekend, my parents were thrilled and everything came off without a hitch.  About the only thing that was bad was the drive home.  DC traffic is bad.  Really bad.  I simply cannot fathom commuting up and down the I-95 corridor every day like some people do.  I would be insane.  They really need to figure out how to bring the Metro down into Prince William county.  Probably never happen but it would help a lot.

Solved my DSL woes

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I finally solved my DSL woes.  I got Cable instead.  It took me a while to find someone at Earthlink who could help me move from DSL to Cable.  Seems like it should be a fairly simple thing to do since Earthlink offers both DSL and Cable but it isn’t.

I ended up having to set up new service and now that is is running, I need to migrate our e-mail addresses from my old account to the new one.  The support person I worked with assured me this should be simple to do, we’ll find out in a day or so when it bubbles on to my to-do list to take care of.

Finally Finished Brisingr

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It took me a little longer than normal, actually a lot longer than normal, to finish Brisingr, but I did finally finish it last night.  Typically when I read a book, I read it very quickly, staying up late or getting up early.  I have been wrapped up in our battle with the Wake County School Board’s Reassignment plan which moved our high school so I have actually haven’t done much reading except on the days I go to the gym and use the elliptical machine, usually twice a week.  It takes a while to read a book when you only spend 45 minutes reading it a couple times a week!

So I finally finished it and it was a bit of a let down because the story doesn’t end!  About 100 pages from the end I figured it couldn’t end because the story would have to wrap up really quickly which would have been a real disservice to the story.  So I would rather it flow into a fourth book than have a rushed ending.

There was a quite a bit of character development for Eragon’s brother which should be interesting as it appears he will be a central figure to the conclusion of the story.  This book is a less tedious read than the second book (Eldest), much of which took place with the elves and thus had lots of odd words which can be tedious to read.

If you have enjoyed the first two books you’ll like this one too but it would have been nice to know ahead of time that the story wouldn’t end in this book.

DSL Woes

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I am getting increasingly frustrated with my Earthlink DSL service.  At our old house it was very reliable but since we moved it has been up and down on a regular basis.  It usually isn’t too bad, it comes up and the performance is usually pretty good.  But for the last week or so, something is wrong and my patience for Earthlink is waning.

Look at this results from DSLReports.com’s Speed Test.  Bleh.  I need to call the cable company.

Brisingr

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A number of years ago one of my children received Eragon as a gift and we ended up reading together.  I am not a big fan of Fantasy (e.g. I couldn’t get going with Lord of the Rings) but I enjoyed reading Eragon.  When Eldest (the second book) came out my family gave it to me for my birthday.  I didn’t think Eldest was as good as Eragon but it was still a good story.

Brisingr came out a few months ago and I added my name to the waiting list at the library.  I got an email a couple weeks ago that a copy was available for me so I stopped by and picked it up.

I haven’t had much time to read it yet – lots of other stuff going on but I am now about 100 pages into it and the story is keeping me engaged.  Since I am invested in the series, I will finish the book for sure.  It has been a while since I read Eldest so I had to get reacquainted with the story and this book does a nice job of providing a summary of the first two books before the story picks up.

RockBand Update

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I have posted much about RockBand lately.  Not playing as much as I was.  At this point I have finished the original RockBand game on Guitar at both the Easy and Medium levels and started the Hard level.

I am now to the point where I can usually make it through a song on Hard as long as it doesn’t get ridiculously complex.

We’ve been playing some RockBand 2 at home lately.  For the most part I like the game better but I do miss the Solo Tour which really walks you through the game in a logical progression.  In RB2 I find myself without the time to play the 3-6 song sets required to finish many of the tour stops.

Last night my son and nephew were playing Guitar and Bass so I played some Drums with them.  I haven’t played the drums in a while and was pleased to see I wasn’t totally incompetent with them like I had been previously.  I guess just playing the game has helped somewhat.  I was able to finish the first City on the RB2 tour playing Easy Drums and got 4-5 stars on all songs but one.

The Drums are much harder in my opinion.  I find myself getting out of sync from time to time and really struggling to get back on track to hit the notes.  When I do that I really need to pause, skip a note or two and then get back at it but often I will bang through a whole phrase slightly out of sync and miss all the notes.

Dell E4300 two week review

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I have had my Dell E4300 for two weeks now.  At this point I think I can offer an opinion which is based on fact and real usage and opposed to first impressions and emotion.

What I like

  1. I really like the size and weight, it is thin and weighs less than four pounds.
  2. It is fast and it hasn’t crashed on me during normal use.
  3. The mechanics.  It feels solid – nothing flimsy about it at all.
  4. Real docking station.  I really like not having to plug anything when when I get to work or go home. 
  5. Built-in BroadBand card.  I really like this – it is nice to not have to worry about an external card.
  6. The color – I picked the bright blue and while it make no difference to how the machine works, it is nice to have something a little different.
  7. The neoprene sleeve that comes with it.  Sometimes I don’t want to carry my computer bag so having the sleeve is a nice compromise.

What I don’t like

  1. Dell Control Point Connection Manager – this is the one thing I really don’t like about the machine.  The DCP CM is a nuisance.  For whatever reason it wants to create “Profiles” for each different configuration, why I don’t know.  Each time I use the BroadBand card the screen flashes and a DCP window “informs” me about a profile change when all I want to do is make a connection.
  2. The “clicking” sound of the 7200 RPM SATA HDD.  It sounds like there is something wrong with it but I guess that is just the way it works.  Odd.  It is loud enough to be noticeable.
  3. Windows XP.  I may be one of the few who happens to like Vista but at this point, XP is old and running it on a brand new machine is a bummer.  Unfortunately, my employer is reluctant to deploy Vista.  I could probably push it but for now, I am living with XP.
  4. Undock:  The way the release button on the docking station works it sounds like something is breaking.  Each time I undock it I cringe a bit.
  5. Stand-By:  I am seeing some flakiness coming out of Stand-By when using the docking station.  I would guess about half the time the machine doesn’t come out of Stand-By correctly.  I have a dock at work and a dock at home – my normal (and preferred) usage is to go into Stand-By when I leave the office, remove it from the dock, go home, put it in the other dock, and come out of Stand-By.  It should work but doesn’t always.