Archive for July, 2010


July 30th, 2010

There is something decidedly strange in getting excited about receiving the social security card.

But when it comes to a newborn, and the card signifies the very first official document that the little person has, it definitely passes for another milestone.



July 29th, 2010
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We have been back in the States from England for exactly a year, and Natasha made a fairly sad observation the other day: For the first time in over a decade, she spent an entire length of a year without venturing abroad. Not even to Dominican Republic or Canada…

Not having been pregnant for most of that time, I did manage one overseas trip (and Becky managed two!). But I feel tons of empathy. This is something that is definitely missing from our lives nowadays.

We do have our hands full with the baby, of course…

Travel Miscellany

Veni, vidi, vici

July 28th, 2010

Heh! The whole thing took me less than half a day to turn around, and a couple of hours were idly spent on waiting for DNS changes to propagate.

I have one strange artifact in the Travelog, which I will have to look into at some later time. I also do not yet see the mail server resolved to the new platform. But other than that, is now residing at a new host. And I actually managed to get the cost down to one-fourth of what I was paying before. It’s not that great deal of money, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

If you catch any strange behavior with the website, please let me know. Cheers!

Website Bulletins

You will probably not even notice it

July 28th, 2010
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… but there will likely be an intermittent downtime at in the next couple of weeks.

The reason for that is that I am moving the domain to a cheaper hosting platform.

When I started the website about four years ago, I was not expecting that the main blog would become practically the only regularly used feature. I did know that I wanted to host the picture gallery within the site, I suspected that I might need more than one blog running, I had plans for other “fun” sections, I even considered eventually building an online store to parallel Natasha’s eBay activities.

So I went for dedicated hosting, with enough room to grow in my hosting plan. At $9.95/month, it did not feel like a tremendous expenditure.

As time went by, all the site grew into was three different blogs and a picture gallery. Quite a while ago, I concluded that it will not grow into anything else. With such limited needs, paying ten bucks a month for hosting was definitely a waste.

Since both blogs and galleries can be well hosted for free on a variety of specialized platforms, I considered moving wholesale to WordPress and one of the photo sites, supplemented by a set of index pages on some free hosting platform for purposes of re-direction. This worked for Becky’s blog (which she has not been updating for months) and for Picture Gallery, both of which are now hosted externally to the main site. But the main blog and Travelog section both make heavy use of WordPress plugins, which are not available at I am loath to lose some of the older posts that rely on those plugins.

I also thought of moving to a no-fee domain hosting platform, but researching that I realized it was an obvious case of “you get what you pay for”. I’d rather spend a little money but be able to rely on prompt assistance and not run into regular “this option is only available for premium accounts” responses.

Without boring you any further, I will be moving the remaining two pieces of this site, the main blog and the Travelog, to a host that will provide me with everything I need to run two blogs within one site but charge me one-third of what I am paying for hosting today. The downtime may occur during the time I switch DNS routing from old host to the new one, and also if, for some reason, the newly configured site does not work as needed right off the bat. You should not notice any design differences, though; I am transferring the entire configuration without changing anything.

If you use RSS to subscribe to my blog, and you experience longer-than-usual interval of silence from me, you may have to re-subscribe. While the URLs of the two blogs will remain unchanged, I am not sure if RSS will catch up with different DNS routing by itself.

Website Bulletins

DIY with a little online help

July 25th, 2010

A little house problem: The dryer suddenly starts leaving clothes damp after a full cycle. What do I know about dryers? Nothing. I’m only aware of the fact that this is a ten year old unit, that we did not want to extend “service plan” for it last year, and that a flat-rate service call costs $150 before any replacement part costs and additional labor.

I look through available trouble-shooting documentation. It tells me to check the exhaust pipe for blockage. I am useful enough with the tools to be able to do that. No luck, though. There is no blockage in the pipe or at the vent.

What’s the information-age guy to do when he needs DIY repairs? Use internet, of course. I go to the manufacturer site in search of additional documentation. Fail. I google the exact model of the dryer. There are dozens of links to sales of newer models, and one or two forum links discussing various issues, but nothing I can use for my specific case. Finally, I start typing more generic queries into Google, hoping to hit upon a general repair advice.

One of the search results is a link to a site called Just Answer. Clicking on the URL, I get a comparatively simple page with a promising subtitle of “Ask an Appliance Question, Get an Answer ASAP!”, a form asking me to type in my question, and a button that says “Get an Answer”.

It would be too easy if that was all it took to figure out my problem, of course. There is no free lunch to be had – in order to get a qualified help, I have to pay. A follow-up question asks me to identify how much an answer to the question is worth to me; the cheapest option is $14. I have to stop for a while to figure out how the site works.

It turns out that the concept is quite simple. I make a good-faith deposit via PayPal to an “escrow” account, get to ask my question and receive assistance from one of the registered experts (nearly a dozen of them are supposedly online, so the answer should really be expected nearly instantaneously). I then have an option to follow-up with additional questions on the same subject. If I am satisfied with the assistance, I can “accept” the answer, which will result in the escrow money being transferred to the expert. If I am not satisfied for any reason, the FAQ says my deposit is fully refundable.

The terms sounds reasonable to me. I obviously do not want to pay up front for something of unproven-to-me quality. On the other hand, $14 do not sound like a tremendous amount of money to part with if I can get a useful advice. Not in a general sense of things, but in comparison with the aforementioned service call fee.

So, I type in the detailed question, mentioning the already performed exhaust pipe check. My question is picked by someone with a nickname of “Dr Appliance” who comes back in literally two minutes with the following advice: It is possible that the blockage exists somewhere within the vent system, so I should try to run a cycle in the dryer with a disconnected exhaust pipe; lint will fly around the laundry room, but if the clothes come out dry, then the problem is isolated, and the service call will be not to the appliance repair but to a chimneys and vents contractor.

As I read the response, a light bulb goes in my head. Dryer vent comes right out on the patio directly from the laundry. I walk outside, and take out the outer grill from the vent. It is completely covered in tightly pressed lint. It takes me sixty seconds to clean it and put it back. In about an hour, as the dryer cycle finishes, the clothes come out of it as dry as they can be.

Something I could have easily figured out myself. But I didn’t. Whoever that Dr Appliance was, he steered me to the correct action. As far as I’m concerned, he earned his fourteen bucks. I “accepted” his response, and officially paid some stranger for an advice. The website allows for “bonuses” to be added on top of the fee, but I didn’t feel like further validating my general ineptitude with extra donations.

I have to say I see future use of this website for myself. Especially since it is not only specializing in appliances. I could get advice on computer programming. Or parenting…

Chronicles, Customerography

Baby milestones

July 21st, 2010

Umbilical cord fell off.

First trip in the royal carriage around the neighborhood.

Other than that, standard fare: eating, pooping, not letting parents sleep at night.




July 19th, 2010

Admit it, all of my one-post-a-week schedule aside, you keep coming back to this blog because you expect pearls of wisdom from me that you cannot get anywhere else.

I’ll give you one: This whole thing called parenthood is awfully hard.

There she is, just a few days old, lying on a blanket and moving both of her feet and arms according to some inner beat that I cannot hear. She eats, she poops, she sleeps. She is quiet most of the time, but starts crying for no apparent reason at random points in time. Is she hungry? No, she just finished eating not long ago. Does she need to be changed? No, I just changed her diapers a few minutes ago and the new one still looks and smells pristine. Is she uncomfortable? Is she in pain? What does she want? I’ll do anything, just tell me what it is that I need to do.

She can’t tell me.

I’ll pick her up, rock her for a while, make silly sounds at her or try to reason with her as if she could understand my words, drive myself crazy for a while without making any visible impact on the little person’s disposition, and then suddenly whatever bothered her is gone and she falls asleep. Or her mother decides that it’s been long enough since the last feeding.

I only lost a few billion of my nerve cells in the meantime.

I don’t do well to the extreme when one of my children is in any sort of physical discomfort. I feel helpless. I hate feeling helpless. Especially when I don’t know what is going on. And she won’t be able to tell me for a while.

Of course, now is one of the easiest parts. Caring for a newborn is, after all, fairly straightforward and has little variation. Wait till she starts walking [tripping, slipping, falling]. I should know, I already have well-developed examples of my own…

When parenthood first happened to me nearly sixteen years ago, I half-jokingly told everybody who asked that I did not feel ready to be a father. I have a nagging suspicion that I did not manage to get ready in the intervening years. Emotionally, at least.

Somebody is awake. Gotta go.


Introducing Emily

July 14th, 2010

My meat-space friends have been aware of the fact that Natasha and I embarked on a serious new project roughly nine months ago. Now it’s time to announce the results.

Emily Sofia Burlak was born in the early morning hours of this fine Wednesday. She weighed in at 7 lbs 1 ounce and measured 20 inches. Both the mother and the child are doing very well.

Here is our perfect little princess.

Celebrate with us!!



Mid-year movie roundup

July 12th, 2010
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With my continuing meager creative output, I figured I could for once fall back on an almost-forgotten recurring feature. After all, we did decide a couple of months ago to trade in cable movie channels – which, in the States, seem to never have the movies I want to watch on the channels that I happen to have – for a Netflix subscription (especially, seeing how Netflix now streams to Wii – although the selection of movies available for streaming leaves a lot… let me repeat that – a lot!… to be desired).

It would appear that I should have watched more than 17 movies since the beginning of the year, but that’s the whole tally. Usual drive-by impressions are below the fold.

Airport 1970
Alice in Wonderland 2010
Amélie 2001
Body of Lies 2008
Book of Eli 2010
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008
Inglorious Basterds 2009
Iron Man 2008
Nowhere Boy 2009
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief 2010
Public Enemies 2009
State of Play 2009
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008
The Dark Knight 2008
The Hurt Locker 2009
The Lovely Bones 2010
The Men Who Stare at Goats 2009

Read more…


Photobooks again: Picaboo vs Adoramapix

July 4th, 2010

After my latest photobook review, in which I proclaimed Adoramapix my new favorite among the several services, the folks at Picaboo, which was my “winner” of an earlier review, got into action. I was contacted by a nice lady from Picaboo, who informed me of some of the new features of the Picaboo X product, including availability of lay-flat book style, which I so happily used at Adoramapix. After a brief email exchange, I elicited an offer of a free tryout book. Obviously, I then had to try and see how the two services compared.

Read more…