Friday, November 20, 2009


Today's been a day of cleaning and fixing stupid little broken things around the house. In my last post, I talked about the new vacuum I purchased. Well, that was set in motion because I had to clean the furnace. The furnace kept tripping the breaker, because it was overheating. It was overheating because the A/C radiator, which is obviously part of the overall HVAC system, was clogged with years worth of dust and pet hair. This is the second time I've had to do this dusting since I've lived here. It's not exactly easy to do, but it's waaaay cheaper to do it myself than it is to hire someone to come out and do it for me. This time though, I used some duct tape and sealed things off a bit better. Hopefully, that will eliminate -- or at least postpone -- any further ventures into the HVAC system for a while. Even better, maybe it will reduce my heating and cooling bills a bit.

I've also had a clogged sink in my bathroom. This too has happened before, and no, Liquid Plumber didn't help either. In order to clean the clog, I have to remove the sink trap and clean the crap out with a screwdriver. The pipe was so clogged that I was surprised that any water flowed at all. To complicate matters a bit though, the sink trap pipe broke when I disassembled the thing, which required a run to the hardware store. No big deal, it just turned a 20 minute job into an hour and a half job. Such is the life of a do-it-yourselfer.

Evaluating the Bissell Powerforce Turbo Bagless Vacuum

My old vacuum, a Eureka Altima, died today. The motor's drive shaft shelled out. I briefly considered fixing the old vacuum, but understanding that doing so would be a costly and/or time consuming endeavor, I opted to buy a new floor cleaner instead.

I'm a gadget geek and a neat freak. I hate to admit it, but there was a little piece of me that was pleased at the prospect of buying a new vacuum cleaner. Weird, huh? With that said, I may be a neat freak gadget geek, but I don't need to have the best of everything. I need something that's the biggest bang for the buck at the time of purchase. This time was no different.

If you're reading this post, you fall into one of two categories... my small circle of regular readers, or someone who's stumbled across this post because you're in the market for a new vacuum. For the sake of the latter group, I'll refrain from discussing how I decided on this vacuum and get straight to the review.

This vacuum wasn't the cheapest model at Wal-Mart, but it was well under $100. My last vacuum, the aforementioned Eureka Altima, ran around $80 at the time of purchase if memory serves me correctly. That vacuum lasted somewhere between five and ten years, and I believe that I got my money's worth out of it. The biggest gripe I had about that one is that the little vacuum attachment for cleaning stairs didn't work very well at all. It was also heavier than the new vacuum. But I'm digressing... let's get on with the review of the new Bissell Powerforce Turbo.

The price was right. I paid about $65. Putting it together was a breeze... two screws to attach the handle to the body, and I was ready to roll. The power cord is longer than the one on my old vacuum too. This, however, is a mixed blessing. It's nice to not have to change outlets so often, but the long cord kind of gets in the way when I'm cleaning a small room. I'm sure I'll get used to that though.

I also like the weight, as compared to the old vacuum. Another nice feature is the double-sided edge cleaning. Edge cleaning as a general rule works okay, but I still find that I need to occasionally pull out the crevice attachment to get the dusty areas next to the baseboard. (I've got white carpet, so it's kind of apparent when the edges of the carpet are dusty. I REALLY like the attachments on the Bissell. The hose attachment is very flexible and stretchy, and has a built-in extension with a handle. With the second extension and crevice attachment, there was virtually no loss of suction, and I was able to clean those corners while standing up. Way to go, Bissell!

I'm also pleased with the turbo attachment, which is Bissell's beater brush attachment that goes on the extension hose. You may recall that I was disappointed with the performance of the Eureka Altima's version of this attachment. Well, Bissell got something right here, when they made the turbo attachment in such a way that you can take it apart for cleaning and maintenance. That was an awesome idea!

I've got two short-haired black dogs. The resulting pet hair on my carpet is extremely noticeable. The Bissell Powerforce Turbo cleaned the pet hair beyond my expectations. It also captured a LOT of dirt and dust that appears to have accumulated as a result of the slow decline in my old vacuum's performance. Somehow, I expected the dust, yet was pleasantly surprised by how well it captured the pet hair.

After vacuuming my house twice, I've only discovered two downsides to this machine. The dirt receptacle is small, and needs to be emptied often. It looks bigger than most, but with the big vacuum hole in the middle, the container's functional volume is nowhere as large as it appears.

The other problem was static electricity. During the first five minutes of vacuuming, I kept getting zapped by static discharge. I did a little research and found this to be a relatively common problem with vacuums in general, and found a workaround. I figured that I'd try the workaround if the static shocks continued to be a problem, but by the time I finished cleaning he house, the static problem appears to have fixed itself. Maybe the vacuum needed that micro-coat of dust on the insides in order to shield itself from static... I don't know... all I know is that the vacuum has stopped zapping me.

Overall, I'm pleased with how things are working so far. But then again, it's the first day that I've owned the machine, so I can't say how pleased I'll be in the long run.

On an unrelated note, I've got to mention something I noticed when I was actually shopping for the vacuum. It's six days before Thanksgiving today. The Christmas decorations are out at the stores, and the Salvation Army bell ringers are out. I still wish that they'd wait until after Thanksgiving is over to start peddling Christmas stuff, but I know I'll never get my way on this. But what I thought was REALLY funny, was that all of the display model vacuum cleaners had little Christmas ribbons on them... as if they'd be a good gift for the wife. It was obviously a man who came up with that stupid, yet funny, idea. Guys, take it from me... buying your wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas is NOT going to get you laid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bonding With My Axe

I spent over two hours playing my guitar today! I love it when I get to spend long periods of time making loud guitar music.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Class Reunion of Sorts

Yesterday, the wife and I went to hang out with some of my classmates from high school. I haven't seen most of these folks since graduation... a bit over twenty years ago. I didn't know exactly what to expect at this party, but it was an absolute blast... it blew away my wildest expectations. We drank a LOT. We reminisced. We trash talked each other, but it was all in good fun. There was no regression to high school... no cliquishness... none of the bad stuff that a little piece of me feared. I'm so glad I went! Hell, someone was dancing on tables before 10:00 PM!

It's kind of weird... I'm looking up old high school friends... reconnecting with Marine buddies. Don't get me wrong, this isn't some lame attempt to relive glory days. Without exception, we've talked about the past, but we're reconnecting as who we are today. There's a bit of me who wishes I'd done this sooner. But I guess I wasn't ready for whatever reason.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evaluating the Mustang Regal Duke Motorcycle Seat

This blog entry is designed to review the Mustang Regal Duke motorcycle seat for a 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883. It may be helpful for other models, but I can't specifically comment on how this seat will perform with other motorcycles.

Let's face it. The stock seats that come with most Harley-Davidson motorcycles aren't that comfortable. Sitting on one a stock Harley seat is approximately a half step up from a church pew. Since most of my riding is in-town, or short commutes of 40 miles or less, a new seat hasn't been my highest priority, but I've always known that I'd have to upgrade if I planned on doing any rides lasting for an hour or more. On the rare occasion that I did an all-day ride, my bony butt was numb after that first sixty minutes. After two hours, my tush was begging for the ride to end.

I've been shopping for an upgrade for around two years, and early on, I decided that the Regal Duke, made by Mustang, was the seat for me. It had solid reviews for comfort and for durability, and the price was better than most similar replacement seats. Still, $300+ was never something that I've been prepared to drop on a whim. Last week though, I found that seat for just under $250, including shipping. That deal was just too good to pass up, so I jumped on it. (Just in time to put the bike in storage for the winter, but that's beside the point.)

I got the seat today, and I'm prepared to make a preliminary review. The installation process was so easy that I'm not even going to talk about it here. The old one was off, and the new one was on in less than 15 minutes. Instead, I'm going to talk about my initial impressions of how the seat looks and feels.

When I jumped on the bike after swapping seats, I noticed two things. First, the seat made me ride an inch or two higher. I expected this. I also expected to sit forward an inch or two, but that didn't happen. I thought that the higher ride might be a bit uncomfortable, but I quickly adjusted, and after a block or two, I decided that I liked the extra lift. Being a bit long-legged, I kind of liked the extra lift while sitting at stop lights.

The next thing I noticed was that it didn't feel as soft as I expected. I figured that the difference in cushioning would be far more radical... kind of like moving from a park bench to a La-Z-Boy. When I first sat on the seat, I noticed virtually no difference. After riding for a few blocks though, I realized that while the entire seat didn't feel much softer, it was noticeably more cushioned in key areas. Due to the chilly weather, I only rode for a few miles, but it was long enough to come to the conclusion that the seat will probably serve me well on longer hauls.

From an aesthetics perspective, I've got to admit that I'm a bit disappointed. The stock seat hugs the frame almost perfectly. This makes sense... though uncomfortable, the stock seat is specifically designed for my exact bike.

If you take a look at this picture, you may notice a gap between the bottom of the seat, and the cover below. With the stock seat, you don't even see the clips that hold the cover in place. If you expand the picture, you will also notice that the wiring harness is significantly visible. The harness is virtually invisible with the stock seat.

This picture, taken from the other side, shows the same thing. The oil filler cap is more pronounced, there's a plainly visible frame bolt, and the wiring harness sticks out like a sore thumb

A couple of things I do like aesthetically though, is the rise at the back of the rider's seat, and the passenger part sits up quite a bit when compared to the Harley-Davidson aftermarket passenger pillion. The extra rise on the passenger seat eliminates the gap between the top of the seat and the bottom of the backrest.

If you're going strictly for looks, this may not be the ideal seat. The increased visibility of the frame and wiring harnesses detracts from the sleek look and feel that the stock seat has. But if you're going for comfort, or for a slightly higher ride, this seat should fit the bill nicely. I fully intend to post a follow-up review after taking the bike for a long ride, and I will also post a follow-up comment after taking the kids for a spin. They will be able to give me a bit of feedback regarding passenger comfort.

Oh yeah... I suppose I should mention that I got the seat for a great price at GM Cycles. I'm thoroughly satisfied with shopping experience through them.

Addendum, added April 12, 2010:
Having taken some longer rides, I now feel prepared to write the follow-up I promised when I did the initial evaluation.

Over the weekend, I took the bike for a couple of cruises on the highway. each ride was approximately 80 miles, and a kid accompanied me on each trip. The ride is definitely more comfortable with the new seat, but I can't say that it's exactly a La-Z-Boy.

There are three functional aspects of the seat that make it superior to the stock Harley seat. The first item was something I didn't notice right away. The Mustang seat isn't as slippery as the stock seat, so when I found a comfortable spot, my butt stayed in place... it didn't slide around on the seat as much as the stock one. The second thing I liked was the rise at the back of my portion of the seat. It provided a surprising amount of additional support, considering its size, which saved a lot of wear and tear on my tailbone. And the added cushion made the ride significantly more comfortable over the long haul.

When riding with the stock seat, I was ready to get off the bike after a mere 30 minutes of riding. With the new seat, it took closer to 60 minutes before fanny-fatigue started kicking in; and I was ready to hop back in the saddle after just a few moments of standing.

As for the passenger experience... my older daughter said that her butt fell asleep, but I think that has more to do with road conditions than the seat itself, because my younger daughter had no complaints whatsoever.

If you're looking for a truly all-day seat, this one may not quite meet your expectations. But then again, at least in my case, the peanut tank on my Harley requires me to stop and stretch every couple of hours anyway. While the stock seat was similar to a medieval torture device on long trips, the new seat is simply "less than perfect." There may be better seats out there, but based on my research, they'd cost a lot more. After using this seat on a couple of longer trips, I'm happy that I made the purchase.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Remember Those Days

The Marine Corps birthday got me thinking about my active duty time. Nostalgia kicked in, and I spent a bit of time searching for some of my Marine buddies. I found two of them, and spent about 30 minutes catching up with one of them today. This guy was one of my closest friends when I was in the Corps. So much so, that I can't find the words to express how incredible it was to hear from him. Yeah, really... I'm kind of speechless. I type a sentence... I relive a memory... I try to find the words... there aren't any... another moment of reverie engulfs me... I once again fail to find words that express the recollections. It was a lifetime ago... it was yesterday. I've tried to track this guy down on and off again for well over ten years.

I actually tracked him down through his wife -- who I also remember with great fondness. She summed it up better than I can when, during our email conversation, she said "We felt bad we lost contact with you and [a mutual friend]. I remember those days ... as fun and care-free."

Fun and care-free. I can't find a better way to summarize those days. I missed you. I can't believe how much time has passed. I can't believe your boy is all grown up. I hope that we can actually meet in the near future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday

Happy 234th birthday, U.S. Marine Corps.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

Wall street seems to think that our economy is recovering. I don't get it. Unemployment is hovering around 10%, and there's no sign of that changing in the near future. As I watch the numbers though, here's what the pundits seem to overlook. The price of crude oil is walking in lock step with the Dow. When stocks advance, a barrel of oil goes up accordingly. When stocks drop, so does crude. This formula precludes a solid recovery. Our economy won't seem to tolerate gas prices much higher than $3.00 per gallon. But based on what I've seen in oil vs. stock prices, investors expect the price of gas to rise in lock step with an economic recovery. It won't work. The economy cannot recover to pre-recession levels with a high cost of fuel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Think the Internet is Broken

Yeah, I know that it's effectively impossible to break the internet. But I've noticed some serious deterioration in the performance of some major sites lately. I've consistently observed the deterioration on multiple computers, in several locations and with different Web Browsers. Here's what I've noticed specifically...

Google: When I use the Google Search bar, whether it's in IE7 or Firefox 3.5, I've been getting a "Server Not Found" error. But if I refresh the search, I get the results I expect.

Blogger: Blogger has been pretty slow to load lately. And once the basic page does load, the widgets take a while to finish up.

Has anyone else noticed this? Anything else that you've noticed?

What the "Repair Your Credit" People Won't Tell You

I used to be a debt collector. No, I wasn't one of the unethical bastards who called at all hours of the night, making threats to little old ladies. I was purely above-board, and so were my colleagues. During my time as a debt collector, I heard all kinds of stories, took all kinds of abuse, and worked with the true hard-luck cases. I also learned my rights and responsibilities as a consumer, and I've exercised these rights on more than one occasion. Today I'm going to give you a bit of advice on how to protect these rights. Before I do that though, I have to protect my interests up front with my little disclaimer... a disclaimer that I shouldn't have to give, but do anyway...

I'm not a lawyer. Don't take this as legal advice, genius. Laws may have changed a bit since I was a debt collector, so don't take this information as gospel.

Okay, here's the skinny... All consumers are allowed, by law, to view their credit reports once per year at no charge to the consumer. Forget about, and all of those other sites. They are NOT the sites to get your free credit report. The actual place to get your free annual credit report is You may notice that this site is the actual FTC government site. I recommend that you exercise your right as a consumer, and get your free credit reports.

Here's the meat and potatoes of this article... As a consumer, you have the right to dispute any negative information that's on your credit record, and you can do this for free. All you have to do is contact the credit reporting agency (which can also be done online) and tell them why you're disputing the debt. Generally speaking, the following reasons are considered valid reasons for a dispute... 1)You did not authorize the debt [think identity theft]. 2) Another party is legally responsible for the debt [someone with a similar name, or things like that]. 3) You are unfamiliar with the debt. 4) You were dissatisfied with the product or service. 5)The information is incorrect [for example, they're saying that you were late with payments, but you made all payments on time]. There are other types of dispute, but these are among the most common, widely recognized disputes.

Once you have filed an official dispute with the credit reporting agency, they are required by law to contact the original creditor and ask for verification of any negative information. Generally speaking, this process must be completed within 30 days. If the original creditor fails to verify your dispute, the negative information must be removed from your credit history.

Now, here's what the "Repair Your Credit" people don't tell you. All they do, is the exact process I mentioned above. Basically, they send out several individual disputes against every negative item on an individual's credit report. If any one of these disputes fail to get acknowledged within the time frame allowed by law, the negative history must be removed from the person's credit report. And these "Repair Your Credit" bastards charge you hundreds of dollars for this!

If you've got a poor credit history, save your money. Get your credit report, and if there's something showing up that you don't agree with, exercise your rights... dispute the debt.

Cutting the Cord

I finally took the plunge and ditched the land line.

Truth be told, I've been wanting to do it for about a year, but the Mrs. has been a bit reluctant. After pointing out that we'd spend about $500 per year less by cutting the cord, she finally agreed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting It

[Doing my best James T. Kirk expression]

Lungs... expelling... phlegm. Sinuses... clogging... Nose... running. Lymph nodes... swelling. Sneezes... painful. Body temperature... rising. Neck and back... aching. Must... fight... flu.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Couple of Off-The-Cuff Recipes

Last week I made a couple of great-tasting, easy-to-duplicate vegetarian recipes. I was happy enough with them that I thought I'd share. As I say this, bear in mind that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, so saying that I made a good vegetarian dish is quite an accomplishment.

Recipe I:
Creamy Potato Soup

Five or six medium to large potatoes
1/2 small onion
1/2 small bell pepper (I used orange pepper in this recipe)
One bag of fresh mixed veggies - baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower (approximately 8 oz)
2 tablespoons of minced garlic
1 can vegetable stock
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cut the potatoes and onions into large chunks. Do NOT skin the potatoes. Boil the potatoes until fully cooked. Rinse potatoes.

While the potatoes are boiling, steam the bag of mixed veggies and the onions. (Use the same steamer for all of these vegetables.) They should be finished around the same time as the potatoes. I used a large stock pot with a steamer on top, which allowed me to boil the potatoes and steam the veggies at the same time. Set aside the potatoes and steamed veggies.

Combine the condensed mushroom soup, the condensed celery soup, the can of vegetable stock, the garlic, the cheese and two cans of milk. Heat to simmmering. Add the steamed veggies and stir. Add the potatoes. Stir and cover. Cook on a low heat for 30 to sixty minutes, stirring occasionally. This will make the potatoes incredibly soft, and the steamed veggies will effectively dissolve in the broth. You will notice that I added no salt or pepper to this soup. I found this recipe so good by itself that I didn't need to add salt or pepper. But as always, salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe II:
Tomato Vegetable Soup

1 Can diced tomatoes
1/2 small onion
1/2 small bell pepper (I used orange pepper in this recipe)
One bag of fresh mixed veggies - baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower (approximately 8 oz)
2 tablespoons of minced garlic

Steam onion, pepper and fresh veggies until soft. Put steamed veggies, garlic and diced tomatoes in a blender and liquefy. Add salt and pepper to taste. If refrigerated, this soup will thicken to a point where it can be used as an antipasto over baguette bread.