Ric Bretschneider

My thoughts in your brain…

Archive for the ‘Home and Family’ Category

This is so easy to do…

with 3 comments

There are some things that are such a pleasure to do, to pass along, to endorse… it kind of feels like cheating, like “duh” this doesn’t even have to be said.

Yeah, this is one of those.

I love the Duarte group.  Their talent, their staff, their ethic, their genuine passion, all so refreshing and inspiring. And when they produce something you, Joe and Jane Everyone, can hold in your hand for a couple of bucks, well that’s really cool.

Today Nancy Duarte announced on the Duarte blog the publication of the iPad version of their book Resonate.

And I’m going to stop right there. No further loving hyperbole.  No more glowing endorsement.  Just one instruction that will cost you absolutely nothing.

If you have an iPad, click here to get to the iTunes page. There it’s easy to download the free sample of a section of Resonate.  Watch that.  Read it.  You’ll be captivated from the first match strike, from the inspired visualization of how an idea travels between people, the power of a speaker and audience connecting, and then you’ll start to learn to do it yourself.

Yeah, that was really easy.


Written by ricbret

April 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

QuickTechThought: Our Red Toaster

leave a comment »

Our pretty red toaster died this week.

Sunbeam Oster. It wasn’t even three years old.  I know, I know, they don’t make things like they used to.  But it’s just a toaster, it’s supposed to be pretty fundamentally simple.   Remember the toaster in Red Dwarf?  The joke was they had put all the crazy AI and voice tech in the toaster such that it drove the user crazy suggesting that “now was a great time for a piece of toast.”  Well, this one just has a bunch of buttons for various preset bread types, and a dial for darkness.  Nothing terribly cutting edge.  (Wait a minute… bread type settings?)

Reading up on this brand I see comments about failures and people opening it up to find “scorch marks on the circuit board” and how they really didn’t think they had the components to fix the board themselves. Which lends to three questions:

1. There are people who consider trying to fix the circuit board in a $40 toaster?

2. How did we get along for decades with toasters before we had integrated circuits?

3. And why doesn’t this thing connect to our WiFi so it could have downloaded an update that might have prevented the scorching, or at least a security patch?

Feeling a little weird about disposing of the toaster too.  I guess it goes on the pile of outdated or broken tech junk waiting for a tech recycling day at the local middle school.  Given it has circuits it’s likely there are components that shouldn’t go into landfill.  And it’s still so shiny and pretty, it feels wrong to dispose of it just yet.  Maybe we can rip the guts out and make it into a planter.  Isn’t that the solution for so many of these problems?

Written by ricbret

January 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm

How Facebook Will (May Have Already) F#@k You Up

leave a comment »

Really, I’m not doing much here.  Just trying to draw your attention to someone else’s work on how Facebook’s recent bout of ill-conceived changes continue to mess with your privacy, your communications, and your ability to actually use the system without getting screwed-up.

It’s essentially the same problem.  The code monkeys at Facebook have decided that they know better than you how you want to get your information, or more importantly, they’re deciding what information is important.  They’re trying to prove how smart they are by writing algorithms that watch what you do, analyze words in messages, and essentially hide a shit-ton of stuff you probably would prioritize higher than they do.  Any time you have someone who has doubtable social skills managing your social interaction, you are doomed.

From Slate Magazine - Used to promote their story And Facebook is no better at predicting what you want to see than any other company.  Do you recall that old chestnut “My Tivo Thinks I’m Gay“?  Well here we are a decade later and Facebook thinks you don’t want information from someone you just met, haven’t actually met but who really needs to get in touch with you, or haven’t spoken with for a while because they only recently decided to forgive you… the list goes on with the potential ways Facebook will or may have already f#@ked you up.

This time, it’s messages.  Did you know there’s a whole bunch that Facebook pushes off into a separate area without EVER giving you a surface level indication that they’ve arrived?  Yup, we can thank Slate Magazine’s  for sharing her experiences today in Furious at Facebook Again!

Seriously, when are these guys going to be sued for abusing their customer’s information?  This is an area where we set serious and definitive precedence.

Written by ricbret

December 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Nest Learning Thermostat

with one comment

Last Friday I installed a new thermostat in the house, the first one since we moved in.

Now the prior thermostat was programmable, hourly and daily you could configure it to heat and cool as you like.  It made a lot of sense at the time, but so did parachute pants.  Yeah, it’s been a while.  Unfortunately programmable thermostats don’t take into account when you’re gone, you have to remember to override the programming (time-consuming and bothersome) or turn the thing off (and come back to a frozen cat.)  But it was better than the manual option of course.

Now a company called Nest has come out with a Learning Thermostat.  One that tracks your use, and presence, and uses that information to anticipate the best settings for you at any given time.  It’s also a green device, and will help you try to use less energy while staying comfortable.

The Nest Learning Thermostat

The new thermostat. The green leaf means we're saving electricity. And that we're cold.

I’m not going to rewrite their web page (which you can view here) but wanted to show you a little walk-through video I made to answer all my geeky friends questions.  Click here to enjoy the video on YouTube.

Written by ricbret

December 6, 2011 at 1:35 am


leave a comment »

No posts in August so far.  Guess it’s because it’s been incredibly busy.  Both fun and work have conspired to eat up all "down" time this month.  So what have we been up to?

  • Justin has a job as a lifeguard at a local private pool.  Wow, talk about the life.  My first job was working in the stock room at Thrifty Drugs.  He and I did the Scout Camp thing last month and he got his last merit badge requirement for getting his Eagle.  Now it’s just paperwork and the review.
  • Debbie has been keeping up with her Yoga and helping out down at the Saratoga City offices, just keeping her hand in on administrative work.  She’s also been keeping busy taking care of her Grandmother’s chores, and helping her mother get things ready for moving.
  • I’ve been really socked at work, but have also been busy finishing up home chores (painting the kitchen, putting up new light fixtures, garage clean-out to make room for a new car, etc.)
  • We’ve done several trips to Oregon this summer, follow-up on Jeanie’s impending move from Myrtle Creek to Bend.
  • We’re all prepping for World Con at the end of the month.
  • We went downtown for the Zero-One art displays.
  • There’s undoubtedly more that I’m forgetting.

Anyway, wanted to do a fill-in post while I could. Friends over for lunch today and this afternoon I’m going to try to hit the garage and get caught up on some work.

Written by ricbret

August 13, 2006 at 11:08 am

Posted in Home and Family


leave a comment »

All I want to say is: $1800 for a refrigerator and it doesn’t even connect to the Internet? 

Written by ricbret

May 22, 2006 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Home and Family


leave a comment »

The Year End Christmas Letter


Well, it’s the end of the year and time to reflect on how we spent 525,600 minutes.  That chunk of time reference comes the song Seasons of Love from the musical RENT.  This is fitting because we spent a fair amount of this year in cultural events, not the least of which was musical theatre.  But more on that in a minute.


Just to bring you up to speed, this year finds Deb and Me in our 21st year of a happy marriage, Justin cruising through his Junior year in High School, and all of us still on Tioga Way in San Jose, California. 


Local family has mostly moved away.  Mom and Dad live about 5 blocks from us, and as they get up there in years we find ourselves helping out over there more and more.  Dad had some surgery a while back and has had a very rocky time coming back from it.  He’s not as mobile as he was.  Mom still tries to stay active with her PEO and their Grange, but driving is not her forté. Deb’s grandma too is local, living in a retirement center nearby, and Deb spends time with her as well running errands to the bank, the doctor, and shopping. All this keeps us busy, as we keep trying new things as well.


January was a lot of work and planning.  Things were busy for me at Microsoft, we’re currently working on the next version of Office, arguably the most popular software product in the world. This found me rounding out my 12th year working on PowerPoint, the presentation software. This release has been very challenging for reasons I won’t bore you with (interested parties can read plenty about this on Microsoft’s web sites by now.)  But I had been disappointed to miss out on a business trip to New York in December and January found me realizing that I could have a much more enjoyable time if I took my whole family there for a week and didn’t mess around with any business at all! (It’s funny how you never think of these things on your own…) I’ve always wanted to go to NYC, had had several aborted attempts to go, but just never got around to it.  Debbie started planning our trip in earnest in January, I focused on getting us into the David Letterman show and figuring out what Broadway shows we wanted to hit. 


Also around this time I decided I wasn’t happy with my weight. I started reading up on nutrition, thinking about my personal eating habits, and worked out a plan to lose weight over the year – mostly though eliminating junk foods and soft drinks, and eating more fruits and vegetables. That’s about all it took, I dropped about 40 pounds over the year with just a modest increase in activity. 


February was another interesting month of activity.  Debbie started it off by taking a trip to Oregon make a surprise appearance at her sister Carolyn’s birthday party in Bend.  Justin followed that up with a Boy Scout snow camping trip, during which a tremendous snow fall collapsed several snow tents and caves – no serious damage was done although one of the rental tents was wrecked and the troop had to buy a replacement. You can see lots of pictures on our troop web site: http://www.bsa318.com. Of course the kids had a blast.


March found us heavily preparing for our New York trip.  I was making an effort at work to get a bit ahead before taking ten days off.  We’d scheduled the trip around Justin’s regular vacation but school picks up before those as well with testings and finals.  Debbie was frantically learning everything she could about the city, making reservations and generally getting us in line for a great time.


April was the big event.  We arrived in NYC, got settled in our hotel right on Times Square, and then my friend Brian met us and we did a loop around Manhattan getting used to using the subway and busses, learning how the street numbering thing worked, and getting a feel for where things were.  This really made the trip for us, we’ve never been more easily acclimated to a completely strange environment so quickly!  Transit is what makes Manhattan such a pleasure – we could really feel for those who were missing it during the recent strike.  When it’s working, you have such access to everything you need.  Never regretted being without a car.  There are pictures from the trip elsewhere on the Tioga blog, so I won’t go into great detail. We met up with scouting friends who coincidentally had scheduled their vacation for that week as well.  We saw just about everything we set out to see; from Wall Street to Central Park, from Soho to MoMA.  Theatre was a big deal for us, I’d bought tickets for SPAMALOT months before it opened, we were front row center and actually got spit on by Tim Curry! Spontaneous shows were interesting.  We got in to see Avenue Q and Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof (Justin’s choice!)  Front row as well at Late Night with David Letterman, although we were only visible on camera for a quick second. Our departure came far too soon, but we know we’ll be back again. Wish we had gone years ago.


April and May we started thinking about getting our kitchen remodeled.  Actually we’ve been thinking about it for years, but this time we actually started talking with remodelers.  This didn’t go far, but did get us started.  May was rounded out by more work and school and the annual trip to the local BayCon Science Fiction convention.  In years past Debbie has done a lot more costuming for the convention, taking Best of Show one year as a novice, but with our NYC trip there simply wasn’t time to prepare this year so we spent most of our time in conferences and watching other folks.  Justin is old enough now to head off to his own events, and spends a lot of time in the gaming room (where does he get that from?)


June was full of June things, the end of school, father’s day, enjoying the summer.  We redid most of the back patio by buying new furniture and installing a huge gazebo covering.  Very nice. We also had the gardener redo many of the planter areas, plant a new tree, and pour new concrete sidewalks and strip out by the curb. We can now walk completely around the house without leaving pavement – another triumph of man against nature.  I started this light personal blog in June, a place to share thoughts and jokes with friends.


July found us making a loop through Oregon, again visiting the Sinniger’s in Bend for the 4th, then looping over to Deb’s Mom’s in Myrtle Creek on the way home.  It’s quite a trip, much of it lovely.  We do a lot of books on tape, which makes the conversations when we break for lunch quite interesting.  When was the last time you read a book at the same exact time as your best friends?  Deb decided to take some classes as well, trying to decide if she really wanted to round out some degree requirements. Some classes at night, a couple online.  Boy, that stuff sure looks easier when you’re just looking at the curriculum. Still we expect her regular high marks when they arrive in a few weeks.


August was a Scouting month.  Justin is almost to the pinnacle of Boy Scouts: The Eagle.  This level is capped by a public service project that the candidate has to plan, document, get approved, manage the actual work, and write a final report for the council.  Justin’s project was to paint a map of the US on a local gradeschool playground.  Again, there are photos of this elsewhere on this blog site.  We’re very proud of him, he’s done a great job.  Debbie was a trooper here as well, running him around to stores, interviews, and the work site.  I bought hamburgers for the workers.  We wrapped up the month seeing the musical Wicked when the touring company came to San Francisco for a few months.  Debbie and I had seen the pre-broadway production with the original cast but this was Justin’s first time, and as with most theatre, he loved it. 


September Debbie and I celebrated my birthday with a quick trip to Las Vegas. Big experiment in picture blogging, and of course those are still on this site.  We had a blast.  Also that month Justin and I went to see the touring company of RENT when they came to San Jose.  He’s been a fan of the soundtrack which I play quite often, but was excited about putting the songs into context.  Earlier this month of December Justin and I took Debbie to the movie version which, even with its differences from the stage production, we all enjoyed.  Justin got into his Junior year at Branham high school easily, enjoying most of his classes.  I attended the yearly PowerPoint Live conference that I’ve been invited to for three years running now. Again, for anyone nerdy enough to want to learn more, there’s much available on the web.


October found Debbie heading off with her cousins to Oklahoma, to visit relatives and graveyards – one of Debbie’s hobbies is genealogy. This left Justin and me alone in the house for the better part of a week, during which we spent 16 hours of one day watching the three extended Lord of the Rings movies back-to-back, and then we watched all four Alien movies, the two Predator movies, and finished our marathon with Alien vs. Predator.  We’d done earlier marathons so we’re not novices when it comes to sticking our butts on the couch and staring at the TV.


We started November off with another geekfest: Justin and I drove down to Anaheim for GenCon SoCal, one of the biggest board and card game conventions in America. This was a terrific time that Debbie was more than happy to miss. Big bonding road trip.  The month ended with the now well-documented kitchen remodel, phase one: Cabinets and appliances.  This is to be followed shortly with new flooring and a final repainting of walls and ceiling.  Expect everything to wrap mid-January.


So this finds us in December, near the end of the year.  We got to see another Pre-Broadway musical opening earlier this month: Anne Rice’s Lestat. Again, already blogged.  Right now I’m sitting in Jeanie and Tom’s kitchen in Myrtle Creek, OR.  The presents are all unwrapped and the Turducken is about an hour away from being served.  The house is quiet, as houses get when kids grow up, and when families get too large to all come together at once, but it’s a quiet blessing.  It’s been quite a year.


Here’s hoping you’re blessings are exactly to your liking this year.


Written by ricbret

December 25, 2005 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Home and Family