Archive for August, 2011

August 28, 2011


Have you heard of It’s an inspiration virtual pin board kind of like delicious, but with picture bookmarks. All serious crafters, decorators, bakers that I know have accounts with pinterest. Well imagine my surprise when I was checking logs and found an incoming link from Pintrest! Turns out someone on pintrest found me, and liked me! I am honored. Whoever you are out there who pinned me (and, dare I hope, maybe even more than one of you?), thank you! You made my day! I’ll have to post more craft projects, so that I can be worthy of more pins.

I have been meaning to post the tutorial for the beaded ornament net. I started doing a different pattern with a St. Petersburg Chain. It feels very Christmas-y. I am already in the holiday spirit, even though it’s only August. I may only be able to hold off on the Christmas carols a little longer.

I have a few other projects I have on the to-do list. I should come up with a better sugar-free cake pop recipe, since that is also one of the most popular posts on my blog. A pudding based icing and cake from a box? Yeah, I can do better than that.

August 24, 2011

Shaky Ground

When I considered moving to California from the east coast, I was deciding between two jobs: California and Florida. As my dad, so eloquently put it, I was deciding between hurricanes and earthquakes. Well I choose earthquakes. Turns out, the east coast just experienced an earthquake bigger than any I’ve felt in California!

We just had two 3.6s. Twin earthquakes on same fault. The local newspapers are now all abuzz about the big one we’re overdue for. It’s not bad enough that the Hayward fault has already generated a possibly 7.0 in 1858, some geologists think we might be underestimating the potential of the Hayward fault. Some believe that the Hayward and Calaveras faults may be connected, and could generate a 7.2 or 7.4 if they slip together (2 to 4 times greater than a 7.0!). And let us not forget the San Andreas fault which is just a little further West.

We were in Hawaii for the Tsuanmi after Japan’s 9.0 (and by the way, holy aftershock batman!) I was in California for the 5.6 Alam Rock, which originated from the Calaveras fault.

My fear of earthquakes is part of the reason we didn’t register for nice china when we got married. (Okay, only a small part. Buying a complete set is so much cheaper than purchasing individual settings separately, we figured we would just purchase our “pattern” when started entertaining.) It’s also making me re-think the HDTV. The nice thing about the rear projection TV is it’s heavy. Like 100lbs heavy. Any earthquake big enough to take that sucker down is going to leave a smoking crater where our house is. Of course that might be overkill, given the prediction for The Big One is a 64% probability of a 6.7 or greater in the next 25 years. Still, it’s always good to be prepared.

We keep flashlights on both floors, so in the event of a power outage we wouldn’t have to wonder far. That is, assuming the flashlights haven’t done any of the wondering. We also have bottle of drinking water hidden in the back of the pantry. It’s pretty unfathomable to me that we couldn’t just get in a car and go someplace to get food. I didn’t live though the last one which destroyed highways. With my campus 90 miles from home, we’ve also discussed what we would do if separated – including staying on campus overnight if it’s not clear that the roads are safe. Internet and land lines might go down, and cell circuits tend to get jammed in natural disasters, so it’s good to have a plan in place.

Here’s hoping we never have to test our earthquake disaster preparedness.

We’re going to get a HDTV. Really. Honest. We’ve been talking about it for a few years, we’ve just yet to pull the trigger. We’re talking about getting a 3D HDTV.

The issue that’s holding us back is our real projection TV still works. The frugal-ista in me doesn’t want to spend money I don’t have to, so if it still works, why replace it? Well, rear projection TVs have an aspect ratio of 4:3, meaning the height is approximately 3/4ths the width. HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, meaning they are much wider. These days, most cable providers assume everyone has an HDTV, so they’re broadcasting more and more in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Sometimes this means the image is shrunk so it fits the width of the TV, and some of the screen is blank. More often, however, it means the ends of the image are being chopped off. It’s surprising how often something important is in that chopped off corner and I end up not knowing know who John Stewart was making fun of in the daily show. So I think it’s finally time to buckle down and get a new TV.

Last year we discussed getting a 3D HDTV. I was amused at the notion of completely skipping the 2D HDTV generation. But they were expensive, too expensive. I missed the 2D TVs I wanted for black Friday so I thought I’d wait another year rather than settle for a mediocre sale. Today I’ve found a article in the economist that 3Ds are starting to become worth it. There’s still not a lot of 3D content, but the 3D technology comes on TVs that have better HDTV capabilities. So the economist argued a 3D TV was worth it, for the better HDTV. There seems to only be a $100 difference between comparable 3D and 2Ds from the same manufacture, so 3D TVs are no longer “premium” priced. Score!

The trouble is, I still don’t know much about HDTVs. We talked to one sales man who said Plasmas still have the burn-in issue. (Consumer reports appears to back this up). Bummer. There also seems to be a difference in quality. Some TVs have a ghosting effect, some don’t.

Ghosting occurs when the images for the left eye and right eye aren’t filtered 100% correctly. It’s also the reason I try not to watch 3D movies in the movie theater. The movie theater uses polarizing filters to filter the right image from the left image, because the glasses are cheaper to produce and needed in bulk. But anyone who works with polarizing filters for photography can tell you, cheap polarizing filters won’t completely separate the image. Some 3D TVs use polarizing filters, but many use the active shuttering technology. It makes for more expensive glasses, but for the headache prone like me, it seems like the way to go.

The store we were in was playing two different movies on two different TVs, so I’m not sure if the one had ghosting was because of the movie, the TV, or the glasses. Each 3D TV manufacture appears to make multiple different glasses, presumably of different quality. I don’t even know if the TVs were active shuttering or polarizing technologies. We’ll be doing a lot of research between now and Black Friday (because I still refuse to pay a lot!) I need to firm up an idea of what size TV we want, and what would be a good deal.

Oh, and if you like the idea of a 3D TV, but don’t want glasses, you may only have to wait a few more years. Think I can convince Domingo to keep the rear projection TV until 2015?

August 13, 2011

Hallmark on a Budget

I’m totally in a Christmas mood lately. It doesn’t help that the weather has dropped 20 degrees, or that I’ve been getting advertisements this past month for a “Black Friday in July” and two early Christmas decorations sales (also, coincidentally starting in July). I am so ready for the hot coco and fuzzy socks! One of the summer Christmas activities is the release of the hallmark ornaments. They usually have quite a few adorable ones.

Of course, my favorite time to buy ornaments is the after Christmas sale at Hallmark stores. 50%-66% off and no shipping costs? Count me in! We got our tree topper last year for 50% off that way. I tend to visit the store periodically to ensure there’s enough stock of the ornaments I’m interested in that I will be able to get them in an after Christmas sale. If it starts to become hard to find, I’ll strike early, but only when I’m confident it won’t be available afterwards. Waiting for the after Christmas store is common, so I recommend shopping no later than a day or two after Christmas. We also visit multiple Hallmark stores to get the most selection. What’s popular at one store may not have been so popular at another. Usually the “after Christmas sales” will be after Christmas, but some of the non gold crown stores will discount their ornaments a day or two before Christmas. Traditionally, I have the best luck at these stores. I always have “new” holiday decorations that I purchased in after holiday sales. Sure they’ve been sitting in storage for a year, but their still “new” to us.

Ebay and Amazon are a great place for older ornaments. The selection is better on Ebay, but you can occasionally find better discounts on amazon. (I imaginary some of the sellers on amazon may not be collectors and not aware that buyers might be willing to pay more.) I’ve found major scores, adorable snow men and sleighs for 50-90% off the original list price, but the cost of shipping can bring the total price back the in-store price at Hallmark. If you buy a couple from the same store, you can get a discount on shipping. I will occasional buy from one seller who lists the ornament for slightly more in order to get a discount on the shipping. After all, it doesn’t matter how much of the bill goes to the seller and how much to the post office, it’s all money out of my pocket.

Series ornaments can also be expensive, especially if (like me) you feel compelled to complete the set. I bought the 2009 first in series Seasons’s Treatings ornaments, because it was too adorable not to. I’m hoping they’ll do cinnamon rolls like Grandma used to make. Nothing is says Christmas like cinnamon rolls. The 2010 and 2011 ornaments are not really my style, but all the ornaments in the series have a date on them in plain view. If I only purchase a couple Season’s Treatings, the missing date will bug me. I didn’t want to run the risk of ornament being unavaliable in an after Christmas store, so I bought it in store rather than wait for the after Christmas sale “just in case”. Not the most frugal things to do, especially given that I don’t really like them. If an ornament from the series doesn’t have a date in plain view, I feel free to get only the ornaments I like and no one will be the wiser. I prefer dateless ornaments for this reason. It’s like I’m creating my own series by picking and choosing which ones I buy.

2006 Merry Kitchen Magic & 2007 King of the Grill.

There are lots of singleton ornaments that appear like they belong together in a set – especially his and hers type ornaments like Merry Kitchen Magic and King of the Grill. You’ll generally have to purchase them from a reseller, since they typically come out in different years. It also feels somewhat more unique to create your own set, since they weren’t marketed that way. Other possibilities for creating your own set – Snow Much Fun to Cook & Grillin and Chillin, Cookie Doe and Good Grillings Deer Can you tell I’m a baker and my husband is a griller? There are others for different hobbies, you just have to search.

Popular/rare ornaments are expensive, especially mint still in the box, but you can sometimes find good deals on slightly used ornaments. Why pay for Mint In Box (MIB) if you’re going to put them on your tree? Over the years of use, you will scuff the ornament yourself. If you’re not a “collector”, or like me, not a serious collector, even the box becomes optional. After all, the idea is to decorate my tree, not to have a pretty collection of boxes. If an ornament is typically $20 or more for MIB on ebay, you can usually get 10%-30% off for like new. I’m always weary of the MIB label anyway. The last MIB I ordered had an ornament hook attached to it which had scratched the ornament.

I’m totally going to be the mother who buys the “Babies First Christmas” in an after Christmas sale one day. Here’s hoping my future kids forgive me.

August 9, 2011

Returning Home

We’re finally home! Actually we were home for two days between China and Las Vegas – but that’s splitting hairs. Our overnight flight from China landed at around 10am, after 14 hours of flying and a four hour layover in Japan. I made the rookie travel mistake of thinking “I’ll just take a cat nap”. I woke up five hours later. It took me until Tuesday to really adjust back to California time, just in time for our trip to Vegas.

(Photos from the trip in our family album)

China was fun. We were there for the SIGIR conference, but managed to take an extra day to sight see. (We had to see the great wall, I mean how often to get to go to China?!). It was my conference, so Domingo relaxed and spent most of the day working in the hotel room. Next, we were in Vegas for Domingo’s conference, and it was my turn to hang out in the hotel all day working on my paper. I had a paper deadline which I needed to focus on. To add insult to injury, this was the view from the hotel.

Yes, the Vegas gods were mocking me.

We did manage to see a few shows in the evening. I love Cirque du Soleil! I love Vegas, but jeepers is it expensive. Our trip to the great wall, which included 4 hour round trip transportation, guided tour of the Ming tombs and lunch cost less than any of the shows we say in Vegas!

The iPad ended up being very worth it, even the $100 case came in handy. We only took it to China (editing a 9 thousand word paper on an ipad would have driven me insane!). I got a few important emails while we were out that I needed to respond to, and the keyboard made it much easier. The iPad also made for a great entertainment device on the plane. I had plenty of games and video lectures to keep me entertained. With fourteen hours in the air, that’s a huge deal. It was small enough that it fit easily on the tray table, even when I had the case folded to look like a laptop. I almost snapped my laptop in two a few years ago when the person in front of me decided to recline and the tray table lip caught the top of my computer. Not cool.