fighting the lack of good ideas

family reunion and a new trip

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I flew up to NJ for my family reunion (held near South Bound Brook every last Saturday in June). I’ve missed the last few due to other things getting in the way (like living in Singapore and getting married ;)) – so it was great to be able to catch up with some people I haven’t seen in 3+ years, but sad that not everyone could make it.

Excluding the cruddy service we got on US Air from CVG, the trip was pretty good. The Sheraton at Newark Airport bumped us to the “lounge level” (that floor you need your room card to get to). The picnic was fun. And dinner that evening at one of my favored restaurants in Whitehouse Station was tasty, too.

Sunday early we got to Newark Penn Station to do something neither of us has ever done before in the US (and my wife, well, ever) – take a “substantial” train ride! I’ve taken the train back and forth between Albany and NY Penn a few times, and I’ve taken the train in the UK, but never anything longer than a couple hours in the US.

The Cardinal line runs 3 days a week, and hits myriad stations on its way from NY Penn (the stop before we got on) to Chicago (we got off in Cincinnati).

Some things we learned:

  • coach class seats are comfy – for the first few hours; after this, a room would have been a LOT better
  • had we bought a room, our meals would have been included
  • it’s intensely bizarre to eat going backwards at 75mph
  • the NRHS does narrated tours of part of the Cardinal run (West-to-East) a couple days a week
  • there are way more train stations in this country than I would have expected: but never quite where you want them to be
  • meals are eaten with whomever they set at your table – so unless you’re in a group of 3+, you’ll be eating with total strangers

We’re both constantly checking Amtrak now for any future trips – both leisure and business – to see if taking the train is a better deal than flying… and a non-trivial percentage of the time, it is turning out to be so 🙂

The only truly bad part of the trip was the taxi ride from the Cincinnati Amtrak station to CVG – the guy who picked us up waited until we got to the airport to claim his credit card reader was down (future reference – if the machine is off/”down”, it’s probably that the driver wants cash in his pocket, or for change, but he is still REQUIRED to take your card info by hand). Then he offered for us to “just buy gas” for him instead of pay him. Then he didn’t shut the meter off when he drove us to an ATM (at the airport terminal) to get cash out for paying the sheister. When I talked to the taxi owner the next day, he set us straight on how that should have worked, and fired the driver for cheating us. Oh – and he also told about all the “mechanical and electrical” issues his car had.. yeah – extremely unprofessional 🙁

melting pot – but better-er :)

Earlier this week my wife decided to surprise me with a dinner she thought-of more-or-less on-the-spot.

We are both big fans of The Melting Pot. Tuesday she popped out to Kroger and bought a small package of potatoes, some various broths, and an absolutely AMAZING meat rub spice mix. Also she found some strawberries (on sale – how cool), and “melting chocolate” (no idea how this is different from “normal” chocolate, but whatever).

Unbeknownst to me while I was finishing work for the day, she was busy in the kitchen mixing-up a broth to boil the veggies in, and eventually cook some filet we had in the freezer (which she had also been thawing – again on the sly in the kitchen while I was working).

Her approximate recipe for the main course:

  • 1 small chicken broth
  • 3 small vegetable broths
  • veggies per preference (ours were carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes)
  • small can of pineapple chunks – including the juice
  • spice-rubbed filet

Green goddess (Melting Pot’s ‘signature’ spread):

  • 1/2 C sour cream
  • >1/2 C cream cheese
  • chopped chives


  • ~1 C melting chocolate
  • splash of Southern Comfort (flambeed to remove alcohol content, but leave flavor)
  • fresh strawberries

Cooking method:

  • heat broth to near-boiling (I think this is “simmering” – but I’m not positive on the technical term)
  • add veggies
  • after veggies are between ‘hot’ and ‘tender’, add rubbed filet chunks (15-25 minutes, depending on heat and preference)
  • remove from heat 2-3 minutes later and serve

Dessert method:

  • melt chocolate in microwave- and flame-safe container
  • add splash of SoCo
  • flambe
  • dip strawberries

This was an awesome dinner – not to mention less expensive than Melting Pot by, oh, 70% – and I was very sad I got too full to finish all of it 🙂

Thanks, babe!

BTW – LivingSocial had a Melting Pot special this week (which we have taken advantage of). Not sure if it’s still available, but check it out – it’s half off 🙂

*UPDATE@201107071203* the LivingSocial special has been sold out.


I’ve been hearing about a new company called LightSquared a lot recently. Both arstechnica and alarm:clock have both had interesting articles on the company in the last week.

The goal of LS is to create from scratch a nationwide 4G wireless network – and funder Philip Falcone thinks they can do it for about $15B. That’s a pretty impressive number, in my book, especially when compared to how much AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have spent over the last decades building-out their networks.

The ars article points-out that the GPS industry is upset that LS is using a similar spectrum to the one used by the global position satellite system, and are worried it will make GPS receivers act poorly by overpowering the satellite signal.

Personally, I think that if your devices are built so poorly that a non-identical signal can interfere with their functionality, you have an issue on your hands – not on the hands of the folks with the similar signal. Also, LightSquared could take it upon themselves to be a private, terrestrial location service – either by repeating signals from the GPS constellation, or by adding location data to the signal they are broadcasting (40 000 towers with multiple antennae per tower ought to be able to send some useful data over the air along with everything else being carried).

Moving back to the future of the business, it looks like a very exciting time in the telecom industry in the US – like we may finally get some “real” competition to the Big Three already operating. If AT&T’s T-Mobile acquisition goes through, cell phone and wireless broadband competition would be hurt – so I’m thrilled that groups like LightSquared are coming out to play, too.

As a sidebar: Tarus, you should get in front of Philip – they’re going to need some serious monitoring 🙂

zynga and the [potential] folly of relying on others

Zynga is getting ready to IPO.

They’re the group that does “Farmville” and other games on facebook. The problem with their planned $1B IPO, though, is that they rely completely on facebook’s continued existence to make any of their earnings.

Last year their profits were in the neighborhood of $400M. That’s a lot of dough. But when facebook declines, or folks quit playing games on it, what will happen to the company?

Seems like a LOT of investors could get taken big time on this one – if they hold onto the stock the way you’re “supposed to” – as an investment, and not a short-term gamble.