Life in the Triangle

In 1999, my wife Kathy and I moved to The Triangle Area of North Carolina from California. Interesting area, the Triangle. Here are some of our experiences.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mogastone Vanity Top Granite

If you haven't read my previous review of Mogastone, you should read it before this post - most of my praise for their services is there.

Anyway, we found the opportunity to remodel our bathroom recently, and the first name to come up for our granite was Mogastone. In fact the ONLY name that came up was Mogastone - they did such a great job on our kitchen granite that we would have gone to no other company.

Moga has not lost a smidgen of their professionalism, courtesy, helpfulness, or willingness to work with the customer since doing our kitchen. Even though it's been nearly eight years since our kitchen remodel, Anca Moga remembered me and our project. I know companies who would not remember a repeat customer just a few months after providing service.

As we have already come to expect, Nick Moga and family has worked their magic again for our bathroom. Nick came out in a timely manner, measured and estimated our vanity costs.  I was not surprised that the figure came in under our budget.  We had our new granite vanity top installed within days of measurement.  I cannot promise that Moga will always have such a great turn-around, but for us, they did - both times!

We not only had our bathroom vanity done, but also the curbing for our frameless shower and the thresholds under the doors of the bathroom.  They didn't even have to come measure for the extras - they were able to fabricate them from templates I had supplied to them.  In spite of the critical dimensions of the curb, etc, the pieces fit perfectly!  What other granite company does that?  As a matter of fact, I can imagine that most granite shops would not even attempt such a project.  But not Moga - they will go out of their way to provide top-notch customer service.

If you're reading this review, you're probably in the market for granite counters or vanity tops.  Please let all the research I had done prior to choosing Mogastone save you the trouble and just give them a call.  They will be very pleased to speak with you and work to help you create the stunning kitchen, bathroom, or other project into the vision you've always dreamed of!

Again, I urge you to read my previous review, Mogastone - Granite Countertops for a really great launching point for your next granite project.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Sha ZAY amm, Ma'am

I am still adjusting to the Southern dialect.  The other day, the Kindergarten teacher talked about meteorology.  First of all, can you believe they are teaching aspects of meteorology to Kindergartners??  When I was in the second grade, I was still saying, "I gotta go potty!"

Anyway, she was talking about different forms of precipitation, and all the kids started laughing when she said the word "hail," because in the South, "HAY-ell" is how they say "Hell."


Southerner: "It looks like it's going to hail."

Me (thinking) : "What's going to hell?"


Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Sleep Inn of Boone, NC – Review

My wife and I struggled to find last minute accommodations over the July 4th holiday after other vacation plans fell through.  All the beaches were booked, so we thought we’d try the mountains.  Boone seemed to be an interesting city, so using one of those Veloci-Pedia hotel room finders, I came across The Sleep Inn, one of the Choice Hotels line of hotels (Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Clarion, and others.)  The hotel was within our price range for the accommodations we desired.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I found it to seem much nicer than I had expected for the money over a holiday.  The lobby reminded me of the high-end hotels at which I’ve stayed during business travel.  Oak permeated the area.  Over the few days we spent at The Sleep Inn, we visited or called the front desk about seven or eight times, not for problems – just for information, extra towels, etc.  On every occasion I felt the front desk and housekeeping staff went the extra steps to be courteous and helpful.  They always made us feel as if we were the only guests at their facility.

When we first entered our room, once again I found it to be nicer than I had expected for the price.  In fact, we’ve stayed at much more expensive hotels with rooms not as nice as this room.  First, it was very spacious.  How many times do you remember rooms for which you overpaid yet found yourself tripping over all your belongings?  Both our bedroom and bathroom felt large.  Even the walls were painted a nice color rather than the typical drab colors found in most hotel rooms in which we’ve stayed.  And to add some space, our room had a large-radius curved wall rather than a corner one usually finds in a hotel room.  A design of form and function. 

I think the thing that impressed me the most about the room was the genuine granite vanity in the bathroom rather than the off-white cultured (fake) marble one usually finds.  Even both night tables and the large work table were of the same pleasantly colored granite.  The doors were heavy and resembled oak, rather than steel.

Of course, no room is perfect.  Our refrigerator was VERY small.  Though it looked like a full sized hotel refrigerator on the hotel’s website pictures, on the inside we noted that a great deal of space was “missing” - about the size of a 12 pack of beer cans.  Though the door held a lot, there was hardly any shelf space at all.  And forget about the freezer.  It was just one of those flimsy metal boxes covered in about a half inch of frost with a drip tray underneath, also taking significant shelf space.  It was large enough only to hold an ice tray, which was missing in our fridge.  The remaining space barely held a small container of leftover wings from Bandana’s.

The TV was fine, though somewhat “dated,” but the WIFI was really a nuisance. It was slow, which, to the hotel’s credit, was probably due to the holiday traffic.  Also, and this is probably Choice Hotels’ practice rather than a fault of The Sleep Inn of Boone, was the complexity of getting to the Internet.  After calling the front desk to find out the userid and password and entering those to login, we were taken to another screen to agree to the terms, and then, of course, taken to The Choice Hotels website.  Finally I was able to get to Google, though sometimes it took two iterations of this routine to do so.  But the real pain was that the session would time out if you were away from the computer for a while.  I guess in this day of others “stealing” WIFI time, all this is necessary, and it doesn’t specifically ding The Sleep Inn of Boone or Choice Hotels, but it was no less a nuisance.  I’ve certainly gotten better response at our local donut shop.

Oh and by the way, if your idea of family fun is to hang out at the hotel pool, you may not find so much here.  This outdoor pool was about the smallest I’ve seen at a hotel – only seeming about the size of a large home living room or two standard bedrooms.  It felt smaller than an 80+ room hotel should have – almost just big enough so the ads can say, “We have a pool.”  The irony is that our view from our room included the nice, large indoor pool at the adjacent La Quinta Inn.

The Continental Breakfast area was typical, but very nice.  A suggestion for this hotel, or for that matter ANY hotel, would be to help sleepy-eyed guests by providing enhanced directions to get coffee or to make waffles.  This is a rant, I know, but it is not natural for one to approach a coffee pot with black PRESS HERE embossed on a large black button atop the unit.  How many times did I hear guests say, “Just press the top,” to other dazed, confused, and otherwise decaffeinated guests.  Paint the letters white or put a fluorescent sticker on the top that says PRESS HERE.  And although the waffle machine has instructions on a tiny plate with burnt waffle mix stuck to it, it wouldn’t hurt to put a big sign on the wall that says, “To make a waffle …”  How many times did I hear, “Just flip it over.”  They have signs three feet tall that say, “No Lifeguard at Pool,” but you can’t get a darned waffle and a cup of coffee.

But seriously, and with those nit-pickings aside, The Sleep Inn of Boone was a great hotel, a terrific value, and a lot cheaper than the hotels at the beach.  By the way, if you go to Boone, be sure to check out The Mast General Store in Valle Crucis.  It’s only about 20 minutes from the hotel, has fun memorabilia, and great merchandise as well.

The Sleep Inn of Boone – a great value, and I recommend it for your next visit to the mountains of North Carolina.


Friday, July 09, 2010

I learned my Olympus E620 – using the Manual!

This doesn't apply specifically to the Triangle region of NC, but I had no other of my blogs to put it, so, here's to reading the manual!

There's a tired old expression, "When in doubt, read the manual." I was of the type who would say," Well let me try this first …" before opening the manual. However, I knew that the Olympus Instruction Manual would be of great value in order to master this "newfangled contraption" of DSLR. Here's how I learned my Olympus E-620 - using the manual!

As did many others, I too came to DSLR from the OM film camera days. I didn't need to learn the dynamics of shutter speed priority, F-stops or backlighting, - I needed information specific to my DSLR.

When my new Olympus E-620 arrived, and while the battery was charging, I started familiarizing myself with the overall layout of the manual so I would know how to get to the correct section when I would need it.

While holding the manual in one hand and the camera in the other, I located and identified the various external controls. I had no idea what many of them did, ("I wonder what IS is,") but I practiced "pushing the buttons and turning the wheels" anyway.

Once the fresh battery was installed, I did all the preliminary tasks, (loaded the card, set the time/date, etc,) shot and viewed the first few photos, deleted them - you know, the basic stuff.

Then I casually perused the manual to find out what individual controls did. I'd look at a button on the camera, oh, let's say the 'flash' button, flip to the page cross-referenced from the parts and functions chart, and briefly scan to get a "look and feel" of the chapter when time came for me to study it more closely. I wasn't there to learn yet, just to walk the hallways and peek into the classrooms.

I'd select another button, say ISO. I remember using ISO, (I believe they called it ASA,) for the film camera, so I jumped to the ISO section, skimmed over it, and said to myself, "I think I'm going to enjoy DSLR."

Upon browsing the instructions for the AEL/AFL button, I said, "Uhhh … I think its time to move on to the viewfinder." Basically I performed the same steps for all the major areas of the camera: locate - scan the manual - move on, with the viewfinder, the Super Control Panel, the menu structure, etc, just to see what I was in for.

Once my high-level overview was completed and a bunch of test shots were taken, I was ready to dig down and deep into the manual to get a more comprehensive understanding of the controls. As I became more comfortable using the camera for common tasks, I studied the manual on some of the less familiar functions.

Eventually it was time to attempt/practice some of those features that were new to me to see if I understood how they worked. I must have taken about 68 pictures of my stocking feet and the back of a chair while learning things like white balance, live view, navigating, setting and testing menu options, etc.

Outdoors, when I saw incidents that would make good practice for certain camera settings, let's say C-AF or maybe sequential shooting, I'd see how rapidly I could setup and take the shots. I might end up with a bunch of photos of the neighbor's dog coming to lick my face or the passing of a stranger's SUV, but at least I was practicing.

Today, I'm surprised at the agility with which I can navigate the controls on this camera - it's starting to feel like an extension of my hand. I still make mistakes though, like pressing the 'drive' button instead of 'flash' and missing the baby kissing the dog, but you can't get them all. And as can be expected, I still return to the manual many times to better my understanding of certain functions.

Of course, the Olympus Owner's Manual isn't the epitome of perfection and clarity. When certain topics just didn't make sense, I located and began asking questions on Olympus forums. Also from the forums came pointers to a bunch of sites that had reviews and/or further explanations of the camera. Sometimes the aggregation of three or four different references helped me grasp concepts I just wasn't getting. (So THAT'S how to use that button!)

I've had the camera for only a few months, but the manual already looks tattered. In my opinion, (having formerly been a technical writer,) the Olympus E-620 manual was very well written, illustrated, cross-referenced and organized for as complex a product (for me) as is this DSLR. Anyway the point of all this, as mentioned by several forum members, is that "it's all in the manual!" I can only add, "And while you're studying the manual, practice, practice, practice!!

That's how I learned how to use my Olympus DSLR - by using the manual!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Diversity Concerns in Chicago Schools

Well boys and girls, it would seem that Wake County is one of many across the country struggling with reassignment to achieve diversity. Check out this article about Chicago's take on this concern:

School officials have turned to socioeconomic data to assign students because research suggests a close association between race and those measures. Still, parents fear that the shift in admissions policy, accompanied by a decision to give siblings and neighborhood children preference for admission to magnet schools, could erase even the modest gains in school diversity.

Parents of minority children also fear that the changes will reduce the chance that their children will gain admittance to high-performing schools.

Well, I suppose they could always move into a poorer neighborhood.

Experts in social policy say the use of social and economic factors does not compensate for the fact that the neighborhoods from which special-enrollment schools draw their students are themselves not integrated.

“Until we have a world in which housing is more integrated, it’s natural to believe we’ll see schools pretty segregated regardless of the intent or the policy actions of school administrators,” said [....] a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University.

So is this professor suggesting that some citizens may be forced to live in poorer neighborhoods, while some others may be assigned to live in the richer neighborhood's houses??


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Neighborhood Schools

Well, congratulations, Wake County, you just may get your neighborhood schools. Since you don't want your kids bussed to the county's existing schools, I guess WCPSS will just have to build schools in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You Think Wake County School Reassignment is Bad?

If you think Wake County School reassignment is bad, be glad you don't live in Chicago.
Since 2005, dozens of Chicago's public schools have been closed and thousands of students reassigned to campuses outside their neighborhoods - and often across gang lines - as part of Renaissance 2010, a program launched by Mayor Richard Daley
So imagine this: Your kid is caught up in a reassignment that puts him and a group of his classmates who happen to belong to, let's say the RED gang, in a school mostly attended by members of, oh let's say the BLUE gang.

That's crossfire that NO parent would want their kid caught in.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Crystal Ball Knew About Recession??

A reader of the News & Observer observed that a "letter-writer criticized Wake County schools for missing the mark on 2009 enrollment forecasts, which were used as a basis for the 2006/07 bond referendum. Somehow (back in the day when the Dow was approaching 12,000, the school system was growing by 6,000 students per year and unemployment was half of what it is today), the school system was supposed to forecast our current recession and the effect it would have on student population growth." She further states that she would have liked to borrow such a crystal ball "before my 401(k) took a nosedive."

Very well said!



Saturday, October 03, 2009

Let's Be Patient, Shall We?

This, from a Letter to the Editor in the News & Observer, after an incident at an intersection in Apex:
Traffic had slowed and then stopped for a scared, confused puppy trying to find her way to her house nearby.

The brief wait proved too much for one driver who sped around the waiting traffic in the wrong lane and proceeded to strike and kill the puppy.

The owners watched in horror as the incident unfolded. And then ... the driver checked his rearview mirror and sped away.
My heart goes out to the owners of that poor, unfortunate dog.

And to the driver, well, may you never become impatient while waiting for a stopped school bus.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ninety-nine and fourty-four one hundredths percent pure

Do you remember those old Ivory Soap commercials that stated their product was 99 44/100% pure? 99.44 is a pretty high number in my opinion. Darned close to 100%, don't you think?

North Carolina State Employees were told they're getting a mandatory 0.5% cut in their salary this year. So let me do the math: Job layoffs across the state yields salaries of zero percent. Job preservation by the state of North Carolina yields 99.5% salaries paid to State employees.

Those State employees who complain about not being able to absorb a pay cut that amounts to all of five dollars per thousand they earn should get over themselves.

UPDATE: The new State Health Plan rates have just come out. Family deductibles for the Standard 80/20 plan have doubled to $1800 over last year's $900. A pay cut of one half of 1% of a State Employee making 40K a year is $200. Yet when the same employee is asked to cough up an additional nine hundred bucks for health care deductible, where's the outrage over that??