Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to season a cast-iron pan

Looking for a good way to season your cast-iron pan or skillet?
I came across this a while back and thought it was the best set of instructions/info I'd seen on this topic:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Smoking at Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square

I recently sent a letter to the company that owns Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square in Bellevue, WA, complaining about smoking around the elevator and stairway in the parking garage that links the two malls. If anyone else has run into this and been annoyed by it, send them a note at:

Kemper Development Company
575 Bellevue Square
Bellevue, WA 98004

I am writing to complain about the smoking that takes place at Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square, especially on the sky bridge linking the two malls, and outside the Piano Bar in Bellevue Place. The smoking occurs at all times of the day, but gets worse in the evening, and is a real problem during the family dinner hours (roughly between 5pm and 8pm).

This is especially noticeable to me now that I have a young child and need to use the elevator and sky bridge as I move around the mall with my 1 year-old in her stroller. As you know, the Bellevue Collection is a very popular destination for families with young children, and most of them that park in the Bellevue Place parking structure will need to use the elevator to get to the third level which provides the main access to the three malls.

A large number of smokers tend to congregate right outside the Piano Bar entrance, which is directly in front of the elevator and not more than ten feet from the stairway. Even families with older children that use the stairway are thus exposed to unacceptable levels of second-hand smoke.

A similar problem occurs on the sky bridge between the malls in the evening, when smokers from the various bars and restaurants congregate on the bridge. Crossing here is like running the gauntlet through a smoker’s den.

I doubt the Washington State and King County smoking regulations are being followed in the above scenarios. At the very least, there should be no smoking within 25 feet of elevators and stairways that are commonly used.

I hope you can find a way to encourage smokers to find a place to go that is not directly in the path of the majority of the non-smoking public, and does not expose children to second-hand smoke.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sims Medieval Fails To Start, or Why I Love Electronic Arts

I got my wife a copy of "Sims Medieval" for her birthday a few weeks ago (DVD from Amazon), and she was really pleased and looking forward to playing it. Sadly, we've run into nothing but problems, and EA's support (both email and phone) has been useless.

So, allow me to vent a little here and perhaps share a fix or workaround that search engines will be able to find, assuming someone comes up with a tip :)

Some info on my wife's machine: It's running Windows 7 64-bit, and is a beefy laptop with a decent video card. Sims 3 ran fine on it.

Issues #1: DVD fails to be read
Right out the gate, we hit a snag since the DVD wouldn't be recognized by the drive in my wife's "gamer" laptop. After hunting around for a while I found other people had run into this, and the suggestion was to download the game from EA's Origin site (basically a Steam knock-off). The product key in the DVD case works to get the digital download for free. So, I downloaded it (takes ages) and installed it without errors. Yay! Not quite...

Issue #2: The game fails to launch/start
The game creates a desktop icon which runs a little launcher application. Clicking on the "Play" icon in the launcher is supposed to start the game, but nothing (visible) happened. Research online showed this was not something other people had run into, and several tips were provided on forums:
  • Try downloading the game again and re-installing - Made no difference
  • Disable your anti-virus (!) - I checked any the AV product had not blocked any of the apps related to the game, and disabling real-time scanning made no difference
  • Disable UAC (!!) - made no difference

Note: I really don't recommend doing the last two things - you're opening yourself up to compromise by malware

Looking into the Windows Event Viewer, I noticed there were entries for each time I had tried to launch the game, indicating that the executable had crashed. The information indicates that the app (TSM.exe) is hitting in invalid instruction exception which is not handled... Looks like a bug to me...

Fault bucket 2466582291, type 1
Event Name: APPCRASH
Response: Not available
Cab Id: 0

Problem signature:
P1: TSM.exe
P3: 00000000
P4: TSM.exe
P6: 00000000
P7: c000001d
P8: 00c6fdfd

Since I'm a geek (or perhaps just a masochist), I decided to take a closer look at the crash dump. For some reason the code is executing an invalid instruction deliberately - after setting up an exception handler. I am guessing this is part of the DRM solution (SecuROM, which is from Sony, ahem! :). I would guess this is aimed at making debugging and reverse-engineering harder, but if it makes the games unplayable then you wonder how they can stay in business?

Here's a disassembly dump of the code in question:

0:000> u 0106fe0b
0106fe0b 683efc0601 push offset TSM+0xc6fc3e (0106fc3e)
0106fe10 64ff3500000000 push dword ptr fs:[0]
0106fe17 64892500000000 mov dword ptr fs:[0],esp
0106fe1e 0f0b ud2 <-- The app crashes here
0106fe20 03648f05 add esp,dword ptr [edi+ecx*4+5]
0106fe24 0000 add byte ptr [eax],al
0106fe26 0000 add byte ptr [eax],al
0106fe28 83c404 add esp,4
0:000> lmvm tsm
start end module name
00400000 01e71000 TSM T (no symbols)
Loaded symbol image file: TSM.exe
Image path: C:\Program Files (x86)\Electronic Arts\The Sims Medieval(TM)\Game\Bin\TSM.exe
Image name: TSM.exe
Timestamp: Wed Apr 27 12:58:42 2011 (4DB87572)
CheckSum: 012BE735
ImageSize: 01A71000
File version:
Product version:
File flags: 0 (Mask 17)
File OS: 4 Unknown Win32
File type: 1.0 App
File date: 00000000.00000000
Translations: 0000.04b0 0000.04e4 0409.04b0 0409.04e4

The UD2 instruction is an special instruction used to generate un unsupported instruction exception (see here and here). It's been supported for ages, so it's not an issue with the processor in my wife's laptop (Intel Core 2 Duo) being too old.

EA Customer Support:

In one of EA's forums, it was mentioned that you could email them with bug reports. Perhaps this was during the Beta only? I emailed them but have yet to hear back...

In a fit of insanity I thought I might get something useful out of calling EA Customer Support. After some scripted steps (collecting DXDiag information) the call turned tragi-comical as the rep told me that my wife's video card and then processor were not supported. (The CPU is .2 GHz slower than the recommended Windows 7 specs, and her video card is not on the "blessed" list).

I mentioned I got the DVD from Amazon, and he told me off, saying buying games from Amazon was a bad idea and you "never know what you are going to get". (WTF? I didn't but it from some reseller on Amazon, it's the same product sold in all other stores!) He then suggested I download the game from Origin (despite me saying I had done this already), and then said I could install the game "on the Internet" so it wouldn't matter what video card or CPU my wife had.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The joys of flying Delta

This is a rather long-winded and complicated story, but I hope that by sharing it I will help people avoid the same nasty experience. Or perhaps if you do encounter the same problems, you will be motivated to complain and get some compensation...

Here is a letter of complaint I sent Delta recently:


I recently flew on Delta/KLM from Seattle to Cape Town with my wife and 6 month-old daughter, as well as my mother-in-law. While I have only positive things to say about KLM, I am disgusted at the way I was treated by Delta.

In mid-May this year, I purchased tickets from for travel in October, and included information about the infant in the reservation. Her full name and date of birth were provided, and in the breakdown of the total price the infant ticket charges are shown separately from the adult ticket charges. After getting the confirmation email, I called KLM (and eventually got re-routed to Delta, since they are their US partner) to make sure the baby’s ticket was OK and to reserve a sky cot – this was done without any problem and I thought I was all set... At no point did anyone mention that I needed a paper ticket for the infant, and I did not receive anything in the mail prior to our October departure.

Come October, on check-in at Seattle, I was told I needed paper tickets for the baby and that I needed to pay an extra 10% for the baby. When I asked why this wasn’t factored into the original price of the tickets I got no satisfactory answer and the agent accused me of not booking for the infant. The check-in agent was initially very aggressive and made it sound like I was at fault. I repeatedly told her I had booked with KLM, mentioned the baby and even showed her the printout of my confirmation that listed the baby’s name. She would not budge on the 10% fee, so I ended up paying it grudgingly.

We then waited for an hour and a half as they struggled to get paper tickets issued for the baby. There was some problem up with the reservation and the printers at SEA would not issue paper tickets. (They tried 3 separate physical printers and got the manager on duty to try fixing it without any luck.) During this process the agent also ran my credit card twice (the first attempt at getting the paper tickets issued failed due to the issues mentioned above, so she had to do it again). I mentioned I was worried about being charged twice and she assured me the first charge would be cancelled.

The check-in agent had to spend over an hour on hold with someone elsewhere who “rebuilt” the tickets in such a way as to allow them to be printed by the agent at SEA. I was in jeopardy of missing my flight by this stage (30 minutes or so until the flight would have closed, and we still had to clear security…) Needless to say, neither my wife nor I needed this extra stress and aggravation on our first international flight with a 6 month baby!

This ticketing nightmare repeated on every Delta leg of our trip. In contrast, the KLM staff in Schipol (AMS) airport were very friendly and efficient and got us boarding passes for our flight to South Africa, and on return from South Africa to Schipol we experienced the same fast and friendly service. However, our Delta connecting flight from Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP) to Seattle was another nightmare with us almost missing the flight as I waited for a Delta agent to get boarding passes issued – again there was some problem with our reservation that prevented them from simply printing boarding passes. (When we departed Cape Town for our return leg, I was only given boarding passes for the KLM flights, not the MSP to SEA final hop.)

Remember the double credit card swipe mentioned above? To add insult to injury, now that I am back home and I have time to look at my credit card statement, I see that Delta has indeed charged my credit card twice for the 10% fee. So, it appeared I had now paid this charge three times! (Once during my initial reservation on, and twice on check-in in Seattle.)


After we came home, I checked my original credit card statement from back in May when I bought the tickets, and realized that KLM had not billed me for the 10% fee (even though it was shown on the receipt and included in the total...) So, in the end I only ended up paying the 10% fee twice...

I contacted Delta to complain and initially heard back pretty quickly, but soon ran into dead silence. Over a month passed without any response and in the meantime I disputed the duplicate charge with my credit card company. As luck would have it, I was in the final phase of wrapping this up when Delta finally got back in touch with me. (Perhaps as a result of the credit card company talking to them?) Delta finally apologized for the poor service I'd experienced and send some travel vouchers to compensate myself and my wife. (Yay, we get to fly Delta again! :P )

All in all, it was a draining experience, but I guess persistence pays off!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Think twice about recycling

There was an interesting segment on NPR recently, featuring Annie Leonard, the creator of "The Story of Stuff" project. The latest video in the series is "The Story of Electronics"

It turns out a lot of things that are collected to be recycled in the USA are in fact sent overseas to be processed. Even things like plastic drinking bottles. Things like old electronics are especially bad since the people harvesting metals and other valuable bits from the electronics are exposed to a stew of toxic gases and chemicals.

Before recycling your next electronic gizmo, you might want to check whether your local recycler is has an e-Steward certification. I wonder whether PC Recycle and other local recyclers used by companies like Microsoft are e-Stewards?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Almost time to drink my eggnog!

I mentioned aged eggnog a while back, and have some made and aging in the fridge right now.
By the end of November it will have been 3 weeks, and time to sample it for the first time... I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

I will let you know how it is :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Winter Ales

Happy Thanksgiving!

When winter comes I am always happy to see the return of the seasonal winter ales and beers. This is a pretty unique thing that beer-drinkers get to enjoy - when last did you see a special winter wine or winter vodka? (Yes, of course there is mulled wine and alcoholic eggnog, but you get my point.)

I like to buy at least one pack of each of the winter ales, and maybe even try some new ones. Ones I've tried over the years are:
Of these, I think my favorite has to be the Ebenezer - it's nice and dark without being too strong.
As you can see, we are spoiled for choice up here in the PNW! :)

What's your favorite winter ale?