Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Email Scams

Like many others who have email addresses, I get email scams all the time.  Seems many of these are from Nigeria... something I find a bit funny really, but not sure why.

I'm pretty good at figuring out a scam very quickly.  I usually have a good laugh at it and then am tempted to email back to see how far the scammer will go to try to get my money.  But I know better than to engage these scammers.  So often, if I find a really good scam, I'll save it to a folder on my Microsoft Outlook to read again later.

Really, how many long lost relatives can a guy have?  Besides, are all of these guys millionaires like the scams say?  Are they really looking for me so that I can claim my riches?  Come on... how stupid do they think I am?

Or how about the ones that say they need someone to accept money for them and in return, I can keep some of the money for helping them out?  Get real!

Have you had any good scams sent to you lately?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cubs Vs Cardinals At Wrigley Field

I had taken this cell phone photo earlier this summer and decided to post it since it shows the quality that a 3.0 megapixel cell phone camera is capable of with its small lens.  Not bad really as long as there is enough light like in this outdoor scene. 

By the way, the photo was cropped in Photoshop and exposure and color corrected in Lightroom.  Oh, the Cubs won too!  :)

Be sure to click on the photo for a closer view!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Looking Forward To Cooler Days

It has been extremely hot this summer. With all the fishing gear I now own, I haven't really had a lot of chances to get out there to do much fishing! The weather has just been too hot and that takes away a lot of the enjoyment.

As we approach the fall season, I'm looking forward to getting out to catch some salmon from the piers at Waukegan Harbor. The fish come in to spawn and so the opportunities will be better. Hopefully the weather will be better too!

Last night, I grilled up one of the fillets of the Brown Trout that was caught by one of my fishing buddies, Beau, the last time we were out on a boat with our Captain, Keith. Both guys are Navy guys. You can see the fish and Beau in the photo.  I marinated the fish fillet in a mixture of 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, and some ginger root. Grilled it for 7 minutes on one side and then another 7 minutes on the other side. I placed it on some aluminum foil and oiled both the fish and the foil. Turned out great! :)

Be sure to click on the photo for a closer look.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stretch Limo's... Are They Worth It?

Over the years, I've been in a LOT of stretch limos. Each time, I've always said to myself, "This really isn't that comfortable."

While it may look cool to be seen being picked up by one or riding in one, those cars are just very difficult to get in and out of. There's usually only two doors to use to get in and they are way in the back near the wheels. So to get to the front of the long stretch limo, you have to slide all the way down the seats to get to the front seating areas.

There's usually very little floor space too. The bar takes up a lot of space as well. Plus, if a bride and groom tries to pack in their wedding party into the limo as well, often it's a tight squeeze to get in. In addition, usually the wedding party needs to take items with them on the trip. I've seen ice chests, camera cases from the photographer and other big items which also need to be put in the seating area. Why not put it in the trunk? Some of these limos don't have one! Some have big subwoofers in there taking up the space.

The larger limos like converted Hummers make a better choice if you want some more room. There is a lot more headroom in these vehicles. It's a little more comfortable.

Are limo's really worth it? Well, usually only a handful of photos are taken of the limo from wedding photographers. Many times, it doesn't even make it in the wedding album. And the cost of the limo is pretty high too. Consider... you are paying by the hour for the limo too. If your wedding runs late, you are going to be paying extra. I've often thought that if you eliminate the limo from the wedding and put that money into a better wedding album, you might be getting more for your dollar. But it's all up to what you consider more important. If it were me, I'd put that money into something else.

That's the way I see it.

Image borrowed from the internet.

Slow Service At An Italian Restaurant

Saturday, my family and I went to an Italian restaurant run by a national chain. We were seated promptly and the restaurant was fairly busy, but not overly busy. We were greeted by our waitress and a trainee and we placed our order for their pasta special which essential meant it was to be unlimited pasta, unlimited salad or soup and unlimited breadsticks. Great! Well, it would have been had it not been for some bad service.

Besides our entree order, we also ordered flavored ice tea drinks. It took about 15 minutes for our drinks to be brought out... not by our waitress, but by the trainee. She mumbled something about our waitress having some kind of accident in the kitchen, but did not elaborate. 10 more minutes went by and we still had not been served breadsticks or salads.

We watched as other waiters and waitresses brought out salads and breadsticks to other tables. Then we watched them bring out entrees as well. Not once did someone stop by to ask if we had been taken care of. In fact we even saw them taking dishes away because the other tables had finished already! Well, we had enough of the wait, so I got up and asked another waiter to get the manager.

As I was standing at our table waiting for the manager to arrive, our waitress and the trainee came to our table with the the salads and soup, and at the same time, the manager arrived as well. I explained to him that we had been there for 25 minutes without service and that we had waited long enough and were leaving. He apologized profusely, and mentioned that the waitress had an accident in the kitchen, but understood why we were still dissatisfied with the level of service (or lack of service) that we were given.

I told him that the lack of attention to waiting customers was unacceptable and he agreed. While they may have been attending to a problem with an accident in the kitchen, we were still left with no service in the dining area. Upon leaving, the manager gave us a $40 gift card to use at one of their restaurants in the future to make up for the poor service we had received.

While I appreciate the $40 gift card, I still did not feel good about how all this went down. I believe that the manager should have appointed another wait staff member to handle the waitress' tables while she was being attended to so that the paying customers would not simply be left on their own to wonder why they were not getting any service. This could have been done easily and the waitress could have taken as much time as she needed to attend to whatever the accident had done to her while her customers were being taken care of by her coworkers. Instead, her customers had to wait and watch while others were being served.

Hopefully everyone learned a lesson from all this. You can't ignore your customers even if you have an accident in the kitchen. Fill the time gap with another waitstaff member and do it promptly.

That's the way I see it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce

Perhaps it is just a Cantonese thing, but many Chinese from the southern parts of China love their oyster sauce!

Growing up, I was used to putting oyster sauce on things like fried rice, bok choy, congee (rice soup) and "Hong Kong Steak." Without it, those foods just don't seem the same to me.

All these years, I've always used Lee Kum Kee brand's Premium Oyster Sauce. Lee Kum Kee was the inventor of oyster sauce and I'd guess most Chinese people would know the brand. Oyster sauce was invented accidentally when the owner of the company was cooking up some oysters and forgot about it. As the oysters were "over-cooking" they browned to the point where a unique flavor was discovered. Today, Lee Kum Kee has a huge hold on the oyster sauce market.

Recently, I was given a couple of bottles of another brand of oyster sauce. Never wanting to turn down a "freebie", I happily accepted the bottles. Hmmm.... I couldn't believe it, but I was able to tell the difference. Lee Kum Kee's was far better! Perhaps, I'm just used to their brand's flavor, but to me, this other brand did not compare. I won't mention the brand here, but let's just say it's a major brand name.

While Lee Kum Kee also makes less expensive versions of their oyster sauce, I've always purchased their premium version. After tasting the other brand, I know going forward, I'll just stick with the brand I like best... Lee Kum Kee!

Image borrowed from the internet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sam Tsui & Kurt Schneider

I'm a big fan!

After seeing Sam Tsui and his friend Kurt Schneider on two TV shows performing, I had to check out YouTube to see their videos. Sam is a great vocalist and the arrangements and videos made by his friend Kurt Schneider are top notch.

Sam does all the vocals himself and with the help of Kurt's great video skills, it appears like multiple Sam's singing! Great overdubbing!

Please check out their YouTube videos by clicking here: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sam+tsui&aq=1


Monday, August 16, 2010

Chicago Police Auction

When I was young, my father took my brother and me to an auction held by the Chicago Police to buy our first bicycles. I remember it clearly and have always thought one day I'd go back to one of these just for fun. Well, this past Saturday, my wife and I attended the Chicago Police Auction which is run by Ace Auctioneers.

The merchandise being auctioned off are stolen items or found property that have not been claimed by the rightful owners. Most of these items are bicycles but other items are also available. At this month's auction, we saw items like stereo equipment, several Sony PSP game units (brand new), a Sony PS3 game console, coats, sporting goods, shoes (new), tools, jewelry and snow blowers! How someone steals a snowblower without getting noticed, I'll never know!

The auction starts off with time for the attendees to examine the merchandise. If you want to examine the jewelry, you need to get a number and wait until a seat is vacated at the jewelry table. I would suggest getting there early to do that as those examining the jewelry seem to take quite some time doing so. The other items like the bicycles, tools and smaller items are easily examined.

Right after the end of the inspection period, the auctioneer takes some time to give the attendees a quick idea of how the auction will be run. No "secret" bids are accepted... you need to raise your hand and he has to see it and acknowledge you for it to count. If he doesn't see you, simply yell out to get his attention. Bids only move in $10 increments as well. Don't hope to raise a bid by $1.00!

After all instructions are given, the bicycle auctions go first. Each auction is done by numerical order as each item had been assigned a number which you should write down if you intend to bid on the item. The auctioneer briefly describes the item and then starts the auction.

This past Saturday's auction had about 75 bicycles. I believe the total items being auctioned off was near 300. Most bicycles seemed to sell between $30 to $80. The better bikes went for $100 to $140 and of course the best bikes went for even more. The highest bid for a Gary Fisher bicycle was around $440 I believe.

It was fun to see how excited some of the children were after their parents won the bid for a bike for them. One woman who sat near us was equally excited to win the bid for a fur coat for only $40! Whether it was real fur or not, I'll never know. Once you win the auction, you must go down to the front and immediately pay for your item in cash. You are then given a receipt and can pick up all of your items before you leave.

The jewelry auctions were interesting as it clearly had "regular" bidders who brought the bids into the hundreds of dollars. The auctioneer would simply go back and forth with 2 or 3 bidders and we all we amazed as the starting $10 bid quickly escalated to the hundreds! He even knew these bidders by name and they did not have to immediately go down to pay for them. Apparently, they are "trusted" by the auction and they are able to pay after the auction was completed. The highest bid for one bag of jewelry went for around $1150, but I can't recall the exact amount. Many other bags of jewelry sold for $50 or $60, so obviously, these bags did not have the best jewelry.

My wife and I had a good time talking with an African-American gentleman who sat in front of us. He would bid on some jewelry and then after he would win the bid, he'd go down, pay for it and bring it back for us to look at. It was obvious that he did not look at the items in advance, so he was taking a chance that his purchases would be good. Many of the items in the bags he had won in the $50 range didn't look too good to me. But he'd keep asking me if I thought the diamonds were real or that the gold was real. I'd just smile and say, "I don't know." Really, it didn't look too good to me.

He was funny though. As he would turn around to talk to us, he'd hear the bidding happen and try to bid at the last moment, only to lose the bid to someone else. I told him he'd better pay attention if he wanted to bid, but he didn't seem to care. He was having too good a time! On one bid, he moved the item to $60 and hesitated and lost it to someone for $70. His comment after that was, "I chickened out." He was hilarious!

We stayed for about 4 hours at the auction, but did not bid on anything. We were not really there to buy anything, but we just wanted something to do. We had a good time just watching the action going on.

I plan to attend another auction in the future. Now that I have a better idea of how the auction works, I'll try bidding on some items if I find something nice. It seems the auction is held every other month. While bicycles dominate the auction and you have to wait until all bikes are auctioned off before any other item is offered, you can simply go early to look over the merchandise, leave and then return later in the day to participate in the other auctions. For the 75 bikes to be auctioned off, it took about 2 hours. You can use that as a basic gauge about how long it could take. The auctioneer takes more time auctioning off the bikes, but moves a lot faster on the other items.

Check out The Chicago Police Auction if you get a chance. Be prepared to spend at least 4 or 5 hours there if you want to bid on items other than bicycles.

Image borrowed from the internet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density Filters can be a big help in lowering exposure requirements to get a good image in bright light.

For instance, if your camera's meter says you need to take a photo at 1/1000 sec at f16 with an ISO 200 setting in order to get a good exposure, what if you don't want so much depth of field from an f16 aperture? Perhaps you prefer to shoot at f2.8 instead. This would mean you are increasing the amount of light getting to your image sensor by 5 EV.

To achieve this goal, you would need to move your shutter speed to 1/32000 second, leave the ISO at ISO 200 and move the aperture to f2.8. That's impossible with the current cameras we have available. The shutter speed is way beyond the camera's ability. Alternatively, you could leave the shutter speed at 1/1000 second and drop the ISO to ISO 6 and move the aperture to f2.8. Again, an impossible task as most DSLR cameras won't go below ISO 100. You need 5 EV (exposure value) to achieve your goal, but you just can't do it with the current cameras.

The alternative is to use perhaps a ND 0.9 filter. An ND 0.9 filter gives you 3 EV less light transmission. With the filter, you can then easily get the extra 2 EV by simply moving the shutter speed to 1/4000 second and the aperture to f2.8 and leave the ISO at 200. This will give you the equivalent of 5 EV less light and work within the camera's capabilities. Your exposure would look exactly the same, but your depth of field (DOF) would dramatically drop yielding a nice shallow DOF.

If you do a lot of photography outside with bright sunlight, consider investing in a good quality Neutral Density Filter. There are many different ND filters available depending on how much light transmission you want to cut. But the most versatile one is probably the ND 0.9 version in my opinion. Its 3 EV ability works well in many situations.

(The image above was borrowed from the internet.)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Celebrity News

My daughter says I'm too into celebrity news.

It is true that I do watch shows like Extra, Inside Edition, and Access Hollywood, but I just find it fun to see how messed up some celebrities can get.

Recently, I have been receiving a complimentary subscription to OK! magazine, a celebrity news tabloid. I don't think I can trust anything I read on the cover of the magazine as it tends to stretch the truth a bit too much. Headlines say one thing, but the truth (after you read the article) actually says something else.

Certain celebrities seem to always be in the news. People like Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton seem to dominate the news. And who can miss the recent concerns surrounding Mel Gibson?

It's just interesting to me to keep tabs on what the celebrities are up to. After all, I'll never be in their shoes...

(Paris Hilton's image is borrowed from the Internet)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Kids Don't Want Clothes...

They Want Toys!

Whenever it comes time to buy gifts for kids, I'm always the first to say, "Kids don't want clothes, they want toys!" But it seems I'm always voted out and the kids don't end up with toys.

While clothing is practical, kids don't see that as a good gift. Parents do. Well, some parents do I should say, because I'd rather see kids have toys.

During Christmas time, if it were up to me, all the kids would end up with toys, not clothes. And for birthdays, I'd rather just give toys or cash... so they can go out and buy their own toys!

By the way, men want toys too! Computers, guitars, motorcycles, electronics... yeah, these are grown-up toys! :)

I guess I'm just a kid at heart. :)