Jurassic World, People Wars

Greg is away in Seattle for the week, so the apartment is quiet and lonely this week. Max and Yubin rescued me from isolation last night by inviting me along to dinner and a movie, and it was a nice experience.

We saw Jurassic World in 3D IMAX. The latter two parts were probably unnecessary, but the movie itself was surprisingly well done. I was expecting one of those terrible sequels, but they did a good job introducing just enough nostalgic things (yay Jurassic Park music clips in the soundtrack!) while still having a story that could stand on its own. I don’t think most of the characters were really well-developed or consistent, but it didn’t end up mattering anyway because dinosaurs. :D
(Also, as per Jurassic Park, the terrible people get what they deserve, along with a few innocent ones. And you think they’d have learned a few things from the first time, but apparently not…)

I think this is something like the third movie I’ve seen in theatres in something like a decade. (Previously was Frozen and the Lego Movie.) I’m not sure it’s worth the price anyway… the $15 ticket pays for 1/3 of a nice board game, and board games give a lot more enjoyment, and more social interaction besides. But it was still a nice experience.

Owen paid us a visit this past weekend on his way to Harrisburg for family things, and it was nice. We played board games, hit up Dobra Tea, had food, and made a trip to the pool after he and Greg failed at kayaking downtown due to rough waters.
Mars and Dan are supposed to be visiting Pittsburgh starting Wednesday, so that’ll be nice too. Yay for people.

I also got off my butt and finally finished the latest People Wars expansion: Interruptions. I don’t think I really fleshed out Interrupt events as much as I needed to, but meh. Now there’s a new event type that can be played during other things (much like abilities and powers, but with an aspect of surprise), and card effects that let you play them during other players’ turns. So that’s fun.


Hooray for things.

House and car adventures

We saw two other houses this past week. One was a rather old-style house in Shadyside that had dark wood paneling everywhere, a weird kitchen, a bathroom in the landing of the basement stairs (?!?), and a $500k price tag. So yeah, not so great.

Saw another today (that I talked about last time; between two other houses that recently sold), and we actually liked it. Other than the seller being silly about the price tag, the house was comfortable. No “modern” updates to the house, which we both think is a bonus. 6 bedrooms (!), 2.5 bathrooms, nice wood floors on the ground floor, carpet in the bedrooms, and a reasonably-sized backyard. The downside is the lack of garage or off-street parking, and the basement, which has mold and will need some drying out.

It’s actually amusing because, while the place is listed at around $407k, the house next to it sold for $330k, and the other house next to it is currently under agreement with a $395k price tag, so I was thinking this house was probably around $350k. (It’s both literally and figuratively in between the other two houses.) Went in with our agent today, and she thought it might actually be worth around $375k, until she was able to get in contact with the seller of the other house. Apparently it only sold for between $355k and $375k (we’ll know for sure on Thursday), and it had upgrades such as central heating and cooling, and a remodeled kitchen and bathrooms. So this seller is crazy, and we’ll just hold off until he comes to his senses and is more amenable to a reasonable offer.

But the excitement of today came after seeing the house. Austin is leaving Pittsburgh for a few months, so we’re watching his car and place while he’s gone, and had planned on using it today to drive to Ohio. But we got to the car, and quickly discovered that his front tire was very, very flat.
Cue efforts to try and reach him. He usually leaves his phone on silent overnight, and we don’t have smartphones and so couldn’t ping him on chat, and it wasn’t even guaranteed he was awake yet. In the end, we went up to his door to knock and discovered him rounding the corner of the hallway while moving clothing for laundry.

Our attempts to replace the tire with a spare to drive it somewhere failed when none of us had the strength to loosen the bolts holding the tire in place.

In the end, he ended up calling a tow truck (which took almost 90 minutes to arrive), and we ended up in Qdoba for a late 4 PM lunch while his car got a new tire. Arrived in Ohio a few hours after our original plan (and after driving through an extremely heavy rainstorm while leaving Pittsburgh), but with no real problems. It was actually kind of a fun experience.

And it turns out it was for the better anyway… Austin had forgotten his climbing shoes in the car, and his phone had apparently also fallen out of his pocket and ended up under the driver’s seat. Given that he leaves for Seattle tomorrow, it was extremely fortuitous that circumstances forced us to sync up with him before leaving for the weekend.

Houses

Haven’t updated in a while, so I guess I’m overdue.

Not much has been happening since returning to work, but there was a bit of house angsting.

There’s a house a few streets over that had been for sale last October for around $250k that we passed over because it was rather terrifying and needed a *ton* of cleanup. Well, some company bought it (at around $240k), cleaned it up, and put it back on the market last week at $435k.
Since we’ve been looking at houses, the rule has pretty much been “no flips”, because we have no way of knowing whether the work was done well or not, and flips are usually overpriced with rather shoddy workmanship. So it was rather a surprise when we went to this house and… rather liked it, even though it certainly met all of the usual “overpriced and badly renovated” bullet points.
The price was a no-go for us, but we spent a while pondering anyway if we should make some offer on the house at a number we could actually stomach.

But that turned out to be unnecessary, as another house came on the next day that was amazing… and had been lived in for many years. The price was right, and the neighborhood was awesome. We spent the time walking through the first three floors going, “Yeah, yeah… this is our house.” But then we saw the basement, which was the wettest basement we’ve seen in any house yet, and needed a lot of work. And the house was situated on a semi-main road, so the traffic noise was problematic. So, in the end, we passed on the house due to the traffic noise. And that was unfortunate, because the basement was fixable, and the rest of the house was pretty much perfect.

Another house soon came on the market that looked reasonable. Actually, it was situated between two (similar) houses that recently sold: one that we saw and passed over because it was in such bad condition, and another that looks like it would have been amazing, but came on during the few days before our wedding, when we had exactly zero time for house things. But the asking price of this one is crazy (higher than its neighbor, even though it has had significantly less done to it), and they are refusing to show it until late June even though the listing came on already. So who knows.
Our agent seems to have taken a strong disliking to the owners of the house, so I’m kind of hoping we end up hating it. (Certainly, pricing your house ~$60k too high and prematurely listing it don’t exactly give potential buyers a good first impression of you or your property.) It also seems strange that three houses in a row would sell within 2 months or so of each other. Makes you wonder what’s wrong with the area.
We’re going to follow that and see it once we can, I guess.

We saw another house today that meets pretty much all of our requirements (neighborhood, nummber of bedrooms and bathrooms, yard, parking, layout, workmanship)… except for price. For some reason, the owners of this place thought they could get $750k for a 4-bedroom 2.5-bathroom house?! It doesn’t even have a finished basement, or any particularly amazing renovations that would justify such a crazy asking price. (It does have a large yard and 2-car garage though, but that’s not sufficient justification for pricing $200k higher than the market for that area.)
Our agent agreed that the pricing was insane, so there’s nothing for us to do here now. We may follow it to see if they come to their senses and lower the asking price by $200k or so. But that would still be on the higher end of what we would be willing to pay, so meh.

So the search continues. But at least the number of “good” houses we’ve seen lately is promising, compared to the state of the hunt at this time last year.

Honeymooooon

We had a honeymoon! We went to the UK and France! It was pretty amazing! (Though the best part was probably being totally disconnected from the internet and email for 11 days.) A ton of photos from it are posted at photos and my photo journal has been updated as well.

We made stops in Manchester, London, Grenoble, and Paris. We walked a lot (didn’t really take public transit, other than long distance trains, in Manchester and London), and hiked a couple of days, and saw all sorts of awesome things and places. It’s going to be so weird having to return to work now.

We flew out Monday, April 20 from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Manchester, landing on Tuesday after not having slept much due to a crying baby on the plane. The Manchester airport was really nice… not too busy, and reasonably easy to get through. From there it was a train in to the city and our hotel to drop off our bags, and then a tram over to Media City UK to watch some filming of the TV game show Countdown. It was pretty awesome to see a rather behind-the-scenes look at how game shows are made. (Due to the reportedly strict “no cameras” policy, we didn’t bring along any, and therefore missed photo opportunities with the hosts at the end. Oh well. At least we got Rachel Riley’s autograph. :D)

Wednesday was spent hiking in the peak district up by Hathersage, reached by train. It was really beautiful up there.

Thursday was spent wandering the city, seeing the Museum of Science and Industry, and the John Rylands Library.

Friday we hopped on the train down to London, then did some exploring of the British Museum, which was conveniently open late for Friday.

Saturday we spent wandering through Hyde Park and visiting a couple of museums in Kensington: the Victoria and Albert museum and the Natural History museum.


Sunday we took a train to Oxford and wandered to see the universities and explore the area.

Monday we spent wandering London itself to do the “touristy” things, walking from our hotel at King’s Cross to the Twinings tea shop (of course), around to see the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben/The London Eye, then over to see Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Here’s our entire route for the day. It felt like the most walking we’d done, although the peak district hiking the previous Wednesday apparently was a bit longer (see below).



Tuesday we took the Eurostar to Paris, then a train to Grenoble.

Wednesday we spent hiking the mountains around Grenoble.

Thursday we spent travelling back to Paris on the TGV, then seeing the Musee d’Orsay.

Friday we flew home via Charlotte.

Overall I found that European public transit is awesome, albeit a little expensive to take regularly. But all of the UK seems to have frequent train service (a train from Manchester to London every 20 minutes!), and there’s tons of public transportation (subway, buses, railcars) besides. Even Grenoble, a city of ~156,000 people, has multiple tram lines running frequently, tons of buses, and a busy train station. I wish we had stuff nearly that good in the US, outside of places like New York.

We stayed in four hotels over our trip, and I think all four of them were rather different. The Manchester hotel, Hotel Le Villé, looked like it was trying to be really hip and modern with glass and wood everywhere. The room itself was rather small, but functional. It was in the basement, which proved awesome for sleeping since the sun didn’t wake us up.


The hotel in London, La Meridiana, was more like an apartment building or house that had been converted into (still small) rooms, complete with tall and narrow staircases. They served a full British Breakfast (fried egg, sausage, bacon, beans, toast) every morning, and we got incredibly sick of them, especially because we’d had some in Manchester as well (back when it was a new thing).


The hotel in Grenoble, Hôtel d’Angleterre (amusingly “the Hotel of England”) was much larger than the previous two, and also fancier (it had a minifridge and bidet). Breakfast was not included, but we tried their buffet once (€14/person?) and it wasn’t bad… it was nice to have a break from the meat-and-carb breakfasts in the UK, anyway.


The Paris hotel, Grand Hôtel Lévêque, seemed fancier still, with its recently-remodelled (and therefore rather unusable) room. We were only there a night, but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with its shower for longer than that… I was getting the entire bathroom wet when I showered, and the sink and toilet seemed more decorative than functional. It also had a hilariously small elevator that barely fit one person and a bag.

As I said, we also walked a lot. Here’s the pedometer-recorded steps and time walked and distances (which are estimates, and likely overestimates) by day:

Flights Monday 4/20 7117 steps 5.25 km/3.26 mi 0h 48m
Media City UK / Countdown Tuesday 4/21 11,403 steps 8.14 km/5.06 mi 1h 13m
Hiking in Peaks Wednesday 4/22 32,420 steps 23.98 km/14.90 mi 3h 57m
Manchester Thursday 4/23 17,420 steps 12.88 km/8.00 mi 1h 41m
Train to London / British Museum Friday 4/24 15,179 steps 11.17 km/6.94 mi 1h 28m
Museums Saturday 4/25 30,312 steps 22.42 km/13.93 mi 3h 06m
Oxford Sunday 4/26 29,935 steps 22.13 km/13.75 mi 3h 11m
London Monday 4/27 30,063 steps 22.20 km/13.79 mi 3h 38m
Trains to Grenoble Tuesday 4/28 9648 steps 7.10 km/4.41 mi 1h 09m
Hiking in Grenoble Wednesday 4/29 32,396 steps 23.9 km/14.85 mi 3h 53m
Train to Paris / Paris Thursday 4/30 20,239 steps 14.95 km/9.29 mi 2h 22m
Flights Friday 5/1 9976 steps 7.33 km/4.55 mi 1h 00m

Food was rather interesting during the trip. We did our obligatory afternoon tea (twice), although we couldn’t really stomach the £15-20/person charge for full tea, so we just did tea and scones or tea and cake. We did our obligatory crepes (savory and sweet). But otherwise we ate a variety of things, from Italian (very nicely done in Manchester) to Indian (buffet, in London) to Vietnamese (at a very cheap and friendly shop in London) to Thai (at Bien Bien in Paris, a place I’d been before with a Thai tour group). Also had a ton of sandwiches… they were convenient for hiking days and train days, and also every grocery or drug store in the UK seems to have a sandwich meal deal for around £4. Also tons of full English Breakfasts, which I never again feel the desire to eat.
Hotels seem to serve food early though… we had to set an alarm every day of the trip so we would wake up in time to not miss breakfast. The breakfast that went the latest (at our Paris hotel) we actually missed because we had to leave for the CDG airport before it started (at 7 AM). But we made up for that instead with an amazingly nice breakfast (at the cost of €40 :X) in the airport instead.

London apparently is doing a thing right now with Shaun the Sheep, and there are 50 statues up all over the city by various artists. We only found 8 during our wander-the-city-by-foot day.








My favorite of those is the second one we found: the royal one. It’s located, appropriately, close to Buckingham Palace.

As far as souvenirs, we brought back 2 art prints from the National Gallery and Musee d’Orsay, a ton of tea (both from Twinings and Casino, a French grocery store), and madeleines. Kind of amusing.

I’ll probably edit this later with more things as I remember to add them, but it was a very nice trip. Tons more photos of everything can be found at photos.

Carnival, moar post-wedding thoughts

There was a Carnival! Lots of photos are at photos. A lot of people weren’t in town though — out of the Fairfax group, it was just Al-Tim and Ian that stuck around after the wedding. It seemed a lot of the usual CS and KGB crowds were also missing. I think the timing of our wedding, instead of allowing people to stick around for both, instead forced people to choose, and most of them chose the wedding. Oh well.

Went to photograph buggy both days. It was interesting this year, with a lot of accidents: One buggy took the chute turn too wide and crashed, and the other buggy spun out trying to avoid it (and lost a wheel); one buggy almost came to a stop in the chute, but the hill 3 pusher went and got it and completed the course; one pusher lunged for the pushbar at the finish line and basically got dragged across across the finish line by the buggy; and a few buggies got disqualified for missing the pushbar at the finish. In the end, less than a second was between the first and third places on the men’s side.

In general though, Carnival this year seemed really sub-par. Suresh didn’t speak at the opening ceremonies, which were rained out and therefore held in the tent. The booths were fewer in number than usual, and not up the their usual quality (and a few didn’t open until Saturday, and one didn’t open at all). Buggy seemed more sparsely attended, particularly on the first day. The SCS reunion, defector’s parties, and Tartan reunion all seemed to be less crowded than previous years. So while it was good to see the people that came (and stayed), it generally left me disappointed.

But there were lots of board games!


I also wanted to get out some wedding-related thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for the last few days. This is (hopefully) my last post about wedding things.

  • We overshot our original budget of $12k, then $15k, then $20k fairly significantly. Yet, with the exception of the alcohol costs (which we had no control over), I don’t feel like we overspent on anything. Food and drink alone accounted for almost $12.5k, and other necessities (the officiant, the photographers, the venue rental, the marriage license fee) combined with that were already over $20k. So I think we did well, in the end, at $23.3k. I certainly don’t regret our choices for the food, venue, photographer, or officiant.
  • One of the debates early on was whether we wanted a more or less comprehensive venue. We could have done much cheaper at something like the Union Project in Pittsburgh, where everything was DIY. We could have picked something like the Children’s Museum, where you have separate vendors for the venue, the food, and the other stuff (plates, silverware, tablecloths, etc). But in the end, it was really, really, really worthwhile to pick an all-inclusive place that took care of everything. I think it ended up being a little more expensive, but not having to worry about obtaining plates and tablecloths, or coordinating catering was worth it in the end. The benefit of everything being in one venue is also better coordination between things (food, moving people around, setup of rooms, etc). I think all-inclusive was definitely a good idea, and I would definitely do it again this way.
  • Adding additional guests costs very little compared to the overall cost. I was rather stingy with the guest list at first, both because “ahhh venue capacity” and also because “ahhh so much money”. But I was convinced upward (from my “ideal” wedding size of ~100 people to a theoretical ~150 people), and we ended up with almost 200 invites being sent out. In retrospect, I actually kind of regret not inviting more, given we only had 122 end up showing up, and therefore could have easily fit in a few more people. (We kept telling ourselves that a 60% attendance rate seemed really low, and we’d get higher. But you know what? We didn’t.)
  • Actually, I didn’t want a wedding at all. I would have preferred to just elope and then have a nice meal with friends or something. But, in retrospect, I’m really, really, really glad we threw a party instead and got to share the day with a bunch of awesome people. There’s something really nice about knowing that all of these people are here for you, and because of you, and came willingly to celebrate with you. So I’m really, really glad things turned out this way, and I’m really glad we did this, and went with a larger thing instead of just having some immediate family there.
  • Argh why didn’t I get photos of the food, or the cake, or more photos of the bar setup, or of completed place settings/tables? I guess I was just distracted by people and stuff, but it would be nice to have a record of those things (especially given how much of our overall cost the food was).

Oh, and that whole IRS possible-identity-theft thing? Turns out it was all okay. Their system rejects addresses with a # character by reporting an “account already exists” error message. Oops. Would have been nice if I’d known where to call in the first place to find that out.
(See here for some more infos on that.)