Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chili Time

Sorry for the near-abandonment of the blog. My primary computer's web browser doesn't allow me to sign in for some reason so it's a hassle to create new posts.

With the weather getting colder here in Phoenix, I've had a craving for my chili. This isn't an old sacred family recipe. I cobbled this together after some trial and error during my long-ago time in Dallas. It's not even close to an authentic Texas chili recipe. I read dozens of chili recipes online and blogs and threw together the elements that sounded good. Eventually I settled on this and it usually comes out pretty tasty. I try to keep the spice level down, as I'm not a hard-core heat enthusiast. I prefer flavor over incendiary ingredients. I found grocery store generic spices work best for me usually. I tried high-quality spices and chili powders from the awesome Central Market in Plano, and man, I felt like the ill-fated at the end of Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's nothing special and can be modified to one's tastes. I've used both beef and turkey for the meat and both work wonderfully.

Tim's Chili

1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground chuck
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
2-3 tbl chipotle chili powder
2-3 tbl chili powder
1-2 tbl ground cumin
1-2 tbl onion powder
6-8 cloves fresh minced garlic
1 tbl coriander
1 can refried beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can whole kernel corn
1 jalapeno chile, finely chopped
1 Anaheim chile, finely chopped
1 medium to large white onion, diced
1 medium to large red onion, diced
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
4 cups water
2 cans chicken stock

Brown meat and drain fat. In an 8-quart pot (that's what I used), combine meat with the
rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and
simmer for 90 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Buffets

A few weeks ago, a friend of a friend whom we met at Dim Sum posted some pictures of an Indian restaurant he went to, India Oven in Mesa, and said it was great. The pictures, including some delicious looking garlic naan, sold me. A week or so later I was able to try it. I've been back another time as well.

Recently, the Phoenix New Times reviewed Guru Palace Cuisine of India, another Indian restaurant in Mesa, coincidentally also off of Gilbert Road and only .8 mile away. I tried Guru Palace this weekend with a brave Tara (who has had some bad Indian meals).

India Oven's buffet typically has four or five non-vegetarian dishes, four or five vegetarian dishes, salad fixings, dessert, and some other items whose purpose I'm not sure of. On both my visits, they have had a chicken dish (chicken tikka masala both times), a bone-in goat dish (not tried), a lamb dish (lamb vindaloo my first visit), and tandoor chicken.

The chicken tikka masala is excellent. The chicken had the right texture and the spices were perfect for my palate. I had to restrain myself or I would have eaten way too much. I'm typically not a huge lamb fan, but I decided to try it here. I'm glad I did. I loved the lamb vindaloo as well as the lamb dish on my second visit that I can't recall. Both times the lamb was fork tender and the flavors of the dishes were perfect. I recall having another vindaloo dish years ago that was much spicier, but the spice level here was just what I like. I am still shocked at how much I enjoyed the lamb. Garlic naan comes with the buffet and is brought to the table hot from the oven. It, too, was great. The naan was nicely browned without being burnt and the garlic flavor was strong but not overpowering or bitter. For dessert I had some kheer and gulab jamun balls. Kheer is one of my favorite ethnic desserts and this was as good as the rest of the meal. The gulab jamun was good as well, but they do a cold presentation which I'm not a fan of. I like them hot. Service was friendly and attentive and my water and naan were both refilled as needed. I did try some of the vegetarian dishes and they were also quite good, but I forget their names.

Guru Palace has a somewhat larger selection at their buffet. One our visit, they had bone-in chicken curry, boneless chicken tikka masala, a bone-in goat dish, and tandoor chicken for the non-vegetarian selection. Among the vegetarian items were paneer, vegetable korma, some bjahis (sp?) and a few other. They also have a salad area and another area for creating your own filled pastry whose name escapes me. Dessert is there as well.

The chicken curry was surprisingly bland. Nothing really jumped out at me other than the bone-in pieces of chicken were a pain to eat. The chicken tikka masala was good, but the chicken pieces seemed to be dry or something. Oddly, they also had perfectly straight edges where they were cut. The texture wasn't as tender as India Oven's version and it just didn't seem as good to me. I really liked the veggie korma, though. Quite sweet but with a nice flavor. They do give you a choice of plain or garlic naan and we chose garlic. We got about six or seven large pieces and at least half had very burnt/blackened patches that were quite acrid to eat. Some of the garlic had a very bitter flavor like it was fresh and uncooked. The kheer for dessert seemed to have a heavier hand on the spices. It was good, but unbalanced. The gulab jamun, on the other hand, are served warm and were perfect. If I wasn't limiting my sweets, I would of had a lot more.

Service was another story. We were seated right next to where all the staff came and went from the kitchen/prep area. Our waiter, the other waitstaff, and possibly the owner walked by repeatedly without offering to refill Tara's empty soda glass which was right on the edge of the table. I even saw one look right at it and continue without pausing. At one point when our waiter checked on us, I asked for ice (my water was luke-warm) and he said OK and kept going. After watching him cycle through the kitchen a few times without bothering with my ice, I stopped a waitress and asked for some. She dutifully dumped 4 ice cubes into my water and moved on. We could see glasses at other tables full of ice. Needless to say, this didn't make us feel overly welcome.

One thing that really bugged me was that several tables were letting their young kids run rampant around the restaurant. I'm not sure if they were related to the owners or not, as some people who spoke to them went into the back. They were quite unruly and nobody ever tried to get them under control.

India Palace is my obvious favorite of the two. It's got a slightly smaller selection, but it seems more balanced and I enjoyed it more. The service is much more friendly and polished. Their buffet is $7.95.

Guru Palace was full for our 2pm Saturday visit, so they seem to have quite a following. However, for me, the service, kids running around unsupervised, and bitter garlic flavor of the naan didn't do it for me. Their buffet is $8.99.

India Palace will keep my business for now.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Week With A Toyota Prius

I've heard a lot of the pros and cons of driving a hybrid car. Some of our friends have a Prius and love it. Other articles I've seen have been very negative of the Official Car of the Green People. Being a person who loves fast, preferably German, cars, I've been more on the side of efficient diesel powered cars than hybrids. Call me a torque whore, but nothing beats that kick in the pants feeling of brute force.

For the last week, we were visiting my relatives in Maine. Since we flew into Boston and always rent a car, my curiosity of the Prius got the better of me when I found I could rent one thorough Herzt for only $15 more than our usual standard/full-size car. I reserved one. Since we would be driving quite a bit, I figured we could easily recoup that extra cost in gas savings.

The first order of business was to go test drive a Prius at one of the local dealers. Since neither of us are petite, especially me, I wanted sure we could fit comfortably in one. A few weeks ago Tara and I were down in Tempe on the weekend, so we stopped by the Toyota dealer down there. A nice older gentleman greeted us and we explained the situation. He showed us their selection and we picked out a pretty blue one the same color as Tara's Camry. It had most options except the solar cell-powered roof vents and remote A/C. The salesman demonstrated how to start/stop, select gears, and park it. I took it on a test drive with Tara up front and him in the back seat. In the mixed loop of highway and side streets, it drove quite well. Tara and I had ample room and I was able to get comfortable behind the wheel. The steering wheel didn't telescope as far out as I'd have liked, but it was certainly doable. After the test drive, Tara admitted that she actually loved the Prius and wanted one. And she hadn't even driven it.

So fast forward a few weeks and we arrived in Boston to the Heat Wave of '10. Humid and miserable with 90s even up in Maine. Our rental Prius was a dark grey 2010 model that was pretty much as stripped as they come. No navigation, solar room, nothing. Still, except for a sunroof, it had the same options as Tara's Camry. It had the proximity key, gentle-touch locking on the driver's door handle, and all the fancy hybrid displays for charging, range, 15-minute graph of mileage, etc. Curiously, it had no remote trunk release, even just a button on the cabin. Just the manual switch above the license plate in the back.

Once I had everything adjusted to my liking and our bags loaded, we were off. The first thing you notice is the engine revving at a constant speed due to the continuously variable transmission. Unlike conventional cars, where the engine noise will get louder as you gain speed, this is constant. You get used to it and it's not a big deal after a while. In the stop-and-go traffic on Route 1A north from Logan, it ran great. The engine shutdown/startup at stops is seamless. For the most part, I didn't notice it happening. While not a stoplight dragster, it has enough power to keep up from stops and accelerate like any other car. More than once in light traffic, I found myself doing 75MPH on 1A before I realized it. So highways speeds weren't a problem at all.

The most annoying thing I found was the visibility out the back hatch. The rear hatch has two panes of glass, the main rear window and a lower section. There's a solid metal bar where they join together and it was right in the middle of my rear view. You get used to it, but visibility was also an issue with Tara, who is about 5' tall.

For all the press it got/gets, the Prius basically drives like a regular car. I've owned a 1978 Chevette, 1984 Oldmobile Firenza wagon, 1995 Saturn SL1, 1999 Saturn SC2, 2002 Audi A4 3.0 Quattro (whom I still miss), 2006 Audi A3 2.o, and my current 2008 VW Passat sedan. Add in various rentals and friends vehicles, I can safely say I've driven a wide variety of cars. The Prius is pretty much middle ground among them. It's not sporty at all, but it handled the twisty roads of my youth in Georgetown at pretty good speeds with no problem. It was an excellent highway car, smooth and pretty stable in crosswinds and rain.

The best part was the mileage. The EPA rates the 2010 Prius at 51 city/48 highway. I had thought I'd read it had a 12.5 gallon gas tank, so when we had fill up after only about 450 miles, I was disappointed. With an indicated range of 7 miles until empty (Tara hadn't noticed the low gas light when she headed into Georgetown), I filled it up at the closest gas station to Georgetown. It took less than 9.5 gallons. This was with it a step away from running on fumes. The trip computer and displays had been indicating upwards of 47 or 48 MPG in our mixed driving. On the highways, I kept at a pretty steady 75 MPH with cruise control. When not stuck behind slow cars into and out of Georgetown, I also kept a bit above posted speeds. We drove roughly 900 miles during our visit and used only 19 or 20 gallons of gas. Overall we averaged between 45-47 MPG and occasionally saw close to 49 MPG. This without any attempt at hyper-miling and with the Power Mode button enabled.

Granted, I was just renting the car. My Palin-loving relatives kept spewing out what I assume was Fox News propaganda about how the Prius is an evil car, blah blah blah. Luckily, I just tune them out. My sister risked divorce and disownment by actually sitting in the car and admitting it seemed pretty neat. My friend Joe gets a bit over 40 MPH in his Mini Cooper and that car is loads more fun to drive. The Mini is rather short on luggage space, though, and not really a practical four-person car. The Prius' trunk isn't a large as the Camry, but it held our huge suitcase and Tara's computer bag fine. Fold down the rear seats, and you'll get a lot more space.

What I came away with is the Prius is a completely practical car despite being a full hybrid. It has plenty of room, even for a large person like myself. It has more than enough power to keep up with or pass most traffic on the highway, and will get nearly 48 MPG doing it. I drove it like I drive our cars and still got over 46 MPG overall. Would we buy one? I'll let you know when Tara decides to trade in her Camry. :) Starting at only $23,o00 or so, it's a very tempting proposition.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Palee's Crown - Mesa, Az

While our good friend Seth doesn't post as many reviews as he used to, we still pester him for opinions when he tries new restaurants. At a group dim sum recently, he highly recommended Palee's Crown in Mesa. He did warn us that they loved their heat there, so to be careful when ordering spicy items. We're always up for a great Thai restaurant, so we decided to give them a try. As a bonus, the Entertainment 2010 book had a coupon for Palee's.

We arrived at 7pm on a Friday to an empty restaurant. I'm pretty sure they turned on the lights when they saw us walking up to the front door. As Tara stepped into the restaurant, she stopped abruptly and I nearly walked into her. She was reading a sign on the table in front of the door that said they no longer accepted coupons of any kind. Bummer.

The young waitress told us to sit wherever we liked. We took a booth in the corner and looked over the menu. It was the fairly standard Thai menu with all the usual suspects. We ordered curry puffs, fresh rolls, massaman curry with chicken for Tara, and panang curry with chicken for me.

The curry puffs (crispy puff stuffed with chicken, onion, potato, curry powder, and coconut milk served with cucumber salad) sounded a lot like our beloved Osha Golden Pockets at Osha Thai Cafe. Seth has a nice picture the Osha Golden Pockets. Alas, Palee's curry puffs were different. They had a puff pastry shell instead of the crispy wrapper at Osha. The filling reminded me of the texture of baby food, but I did like them. They aren't as good as the Golden Pockets, though. Tara wasn't a huge fan. The pastry shell merely reminded her of the spectacular pork pastries we'd had at the dim sum at Phoenix Palace, which she is still trying to marry once the legal issues can be resolved.

The fresh roll (rice wrapper stuffed with steamed shrimp, lettuce, mint leaves, carrot, cucumber, and angel hair noodle served with hoisin sauce topped crushed peanut) were OK. They seemed poorly wrapped and mostly lettuce. The sauce seemed more like a spicy peanut sauce than hoisin sauce. Tara really liked the sauce and even had a roll herself, which she usually doesn't with fresh spring rolls.

So far, we weren't terribly impressed with Palee. Then the entrees arrived.

Being mindful of Seth's warning, Tara opted for no spice in her massaman curry (potato, onion, carrot, bell pepper, and peanuts with Massaman curry pasted in coconut milk). She loved it. It had excellent flavor but no heat at all. She was extremely happy with her choice. Everything was perfectly done and she glared at me whenever I took a piece. I heeded her warnings and desisted. She even had enough to bring home for a small snack.

My panang curry (rich Panang curry paste in coconut milk with bell pepper) was also top-notch. I asked for it extremely mild, since we'd been warned about the heat levels. Even at "mild", my mouth was burning and my head sweating in short order. I suffered through it, as the sweet flavor of the curry was just what I look for. I'll try it with no spice on our next visit. I managed to polish off all if mine, despite the heat. Definitely a winner.

We passed on dessert. Our bill came to just under $40 after tax. While a couple groups came in after us, there were never more than two tables including our during our whole visit. This is a shame considering how good their food is. We need to go with our friend JK so he can try it pet-pet hot. He's psychotic like that.

Palee's Crown
1245 W. Baseline Rd,
Mesa, AZ 85202

Friday, April 9, 2010

HDTV Experience So Far

I'm having surprisingly little buyer's remorse over my HDTV purchases after nearly two months.

The Sony HDTV works awesome for a lower-end model. I lucked-out in it having a matte screen finish given that there are windows on the opposite side of the room that can be bright during the say. The picture quality is fantastic and you really notice the extra details in full HDTV shows. Even when I use my old SD TiVo as a source or watch SD channels, it doesn't look too horrible. Even Tara, who is not really impressed with all my toys, admitted that she can see the difference and does like it.

The LG Blu-ray was discontinued literally within a week of my buying it. Luckily it's replacement in the LG lineup only offers a few new things and I don't care about them. I actually like the BDP390's front panel design better. The new BDP570's whole front panel has to be down if you have a USB drive plugged in. My BDP390 has a slot cut-out in the front panel that you just need to remove a small plastic plug to insert the USB drive. Speaking of which, I've downloaded AVI files to the drive and once you plug it in, the Blu-ray player automatically discovers the movies on there and you can play them. A very nice feature. The picture quality is excellent, no matter what source you are using. The built-in wireless N adapter easily streams Netflix programming in high-def. It's a great player all around.

I still only have a Cox Cable HD DVR. I still can't quite afford the new TiVo boxes yet. Picture quality is quite good. I had to install a signal amplifier in order to be able to plug more than just the DVR. This house has horrible cable signal strength. Luckily the amp does the job really well. I lose the On-Demand features as the amp isn't bi-directional, but it's an acceptable trade-off.

The el cheapo HDMI cables continue to do a fine job. I don't see any issues with the signal at all when using them. The Sony TV can actually shut down the DVR when you switch picture sources away from the HDMI port the DVR uses. Quite cool.

I've even plugged my laptop into the TV with a VGA cable to watch Hulu content. Even that was very good. One of these days I hope to either get a laptop with an HDMI port or just build a little Home Theater PC (HTPC) to watch Internet content on it. That's a little ways off, though.

All in all, the HDTV upgrade of the home theater went smoothly and I'm quite satisfied. It's not an end-all be-all, balls-to-the-wall home theater setup, but it looks and sounds great and that's really all I care about.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My old chili recipe

Back when I lived in Dallas, for some reason all the guys I worked with went on a homemade chili binge at one point. We all threw together a recipe and brought it in. This is the one I came up with. The first batch I used cheap supermarket spices and it was perfect for my heat tastes. I made a batch using better spices from Central Market and I couldn't even tolerate a full cup. My boss at the time, a strawberry blond guy from Pennsylvania, loved it. He'd turn bright red, sweat pouring from his face, and just couldn't get enough. The last few batches I made with turkey also tasted pretty good. I haven't made it in years and had to dig through old emails to find it. Not sure how authentic it is, but hey, a white boy from Maine concocted it, so what do you expect? Still, I really like the flavor profile.

Tim's Chili Recipe

1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground chuck
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
2-3 tbl chipotle chili powder
2-3 tbl chili powder
1-2 tbl ground cumin
1-2 tbl onion powder
6-8 cloves fresh minced garlic
1 tbl coriander
1 can refried beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can whole kernel corn
1 jalapeno chile, finely chopped
1 Anaheim chile, finely chopped
1 medium to large white onion, diced
1 medium to large red onion, diced
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
4 cups water
2 cans chicken stock

Brown meat and drain fat. In an 8-quart pot (that's what I used), combine meat with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Three Inexpensive Restaurants for Sushi, Greek, and Dim Sum

One thing I love about living in a fairly large city is that there is usually a wide variety of restaurants for each cuisine. So if you feel like eating on the cheap, but have a craving for something that's usually somewhat expensive, you can usually find a good compromise between cheap and food poisoning. Here are three of my/our go-to favorites when it comes to great, cheap ethic (is Chinese really ethnic nowadays?).

Teharu Sushi
9845 South Priest Drive, Tempe, AZ 85284-3606

(480) 705-9865

My love of sushi is well-known. Along with Thai and Vietnamese, I could eat sushi everyday. Generally if you want good sushi, you'll be paying upwards of $30 per person. For me, that's on the low end, as our infrequent trips to Hana Japanese Eatery on 7th Ave/Missouri generally run over $70 before tax and tip. Their food is always amazing, though, and even going once a quarter or so, they always remember us. I'd read about TeHaru Sushi in Tempe and after our good friend The Cosmic Jester mentioned what a great deal it was, I decided to give it a try. I now go at least once every couple of weeks. They have a huge sushi bar, with booths as well, through which a conveyor belt winds it's way. The conveyor belt carries plates with nigiri, maki, desserts, fruits, drinks, and random other items. The price of each item is denoted by the color of the plate it is on. Costs are $1, $1.50, and $2.00. Maki comes in essentially half-rolls with four pieces. The nigiri is generally $1 ($1.50 for more exotic pieces) and comes with two pieces to a plate. You don't get the super-sized pieces of fish some places serve, but I find the fish to rice ratio is pretty good. If I want huge hunks of fish with tiny pieces of rice, I just opt for sashimi instead. The variety is also quite large and the selection varies. On my visit this weekend, they had tuna, yellowtail, red snapper, salmon, surf clam, tamago, krab stick, and some other type of nigiri. The rolls included Hawaiian, Philly, California, Dragon, Caterpillar, tuna, spicy tuna, I Love Salmon, Rainbow, and a few others. The quality isn't what you get at a top sushi joint, but it's still pretty good, especially for the money. I've never spent more than $20 on my solo visits and I've never left hungry.

Z's Greek
4026 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
(602) 955-7600

Z's Greek is our place for Greek-ish food. Tara usually gets a chicken schwarma sandwich combo and I get the gyro sandwich combo. Z's also has our favorite hummus, so we get an order of that as well. The combos come with either fries or salad and a drink. The fries are average, but the salad is great. It's loaded with feta, which Tara loves, and is big for a side salad. The sandwiches, the meat, tomatoes (which we skip), lettuce, onions, and sauce wrapped in a pita, are quite large. For our standard order, it is about $21 or so. Given the large amount of really good food, it's quite a steal.

China Chan
10227 North Metro Parkway
Phoenix, AZ 85051-1515
(602) 331-1313

I've loved a good Chinese dim sum ever since my college friends introduced it to me in Boston's Chinatown. The hustle and bustle of the old Imperial Tea House with carts rolling everywhere, various Chinese dialects being shouted, and long waits fill my memory. My friend Trang would do the ordering, as she was more familiar and knew what would be good for me and what innocuous looking item would send me running to the bathroom. Pot stickers, shumai, bbq pork buns, and the others soon seduced me to the wonders of dim sum. I've since had dim sum in Montreal, NYC's Chinatown, and Oakland, among others. The dim sum fortunes of various Phoenix restaurants have waxed and waned over the past few years. Our former favorite Golden Buddha suffered a massive decline and our last visits a couple years ago ended in cold food, pitiful selection, and a trip to El Nopalito since we were still hungry. And that visit was a noon on a Saturday. Last year we heard from our friends Jan and Helen of a great dim sum near MetroCenter mall. It was a small place but the dim sum was fresh, hot, and cheap. China Chan is located next to an Olive Garden on MetroCenter Drive just south of Peoria Ave. They don't have cart service and you order your selections off of a menu (they even offer a picture menu). The up side of this is everything arrives hot from the kitchen. The spring rolls are notorious for needing to sit for 15 minutes to cool down before you can eat them. They don't have the huge selection of a Phoenix Palace or Great Wall, but we accept the trade-off for fresh, hot food. Plus they are cheap. $1.88, $2.88, and up for the larger items. That's a lot less than most places and the savings adds up when you stick to the lower cost items. We can stuff ourselves and have leftovers for $20. Even our group outings with 4 or 5 people are laughably cheap.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

HDTV Accessories

As with all technology upgrades, getting an HDTV involves getting new cables and, for me, a new Blu-ray player to take advantage of the higher resolution. Once TiVo announces their new products next month, I'll probably be upgrading to one of those as well. But that's another post.

First, the cables. Currently, everything I own is connected by the ancient S-video cables and RCA for audio. HDTV's latest cable is the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) that does both audio and video. In stores like Fry's and Best Buy, these are hideously expensive. $10, $20, and $30 are common prices. HDTV's dirtiest little secret: They are screwing you on the prices. CNET.COM did testing and recommends buying cheap cables off the Internet. I had several bookmarked in my browser, but last week one of the blogs I follow had a link to a site that sold three cables for $7.50 with free shipping. I jumped on that offer and they arrived a few days ago.

As for Blu-ray, I did lots of research on Cnet and other sites. Most new Blu players meet the Blu-ray Profile 2.0 specs that require an Internet connection. Most players have an ethernet cable port, but many newer ones can used USB wi-fi dongles. Some even include the dongles have have wireless built-in. Since my cable modem and router are in another room and the front door is between the home theater and said room, I wanted a player that could do wi-fi. After going through the reviews and pricing them locally, I decided to get an LG BD390. It got great marks on Cnet and has wi-fi built-in. It also can stream Netflix, another feature I wanted. After looking at other stores, I went back to Fry's and to my intense happiness, they'd dropped the price by $20 since my first visit two days before. That brought the price within the same range as my second place choice, the Samsung BD-P3600, so I splurged and spent the extra few dollars on the LG. I connected it to my existing TV via a composite video jack and within a few minutes, I was watching Dirty Harry in Magnum Force streaming from Netflix. Setup was easy and the picture quality was excellent even with a lowly composite connection.

For DVR, at least for the short-term, I'll probably trade in our Cox SD DVR for a Cox HD DVR. Once I get the TiVo equivalent, I'll just ax the Cox one.

The new TV should be here on Monday. It arrived in Phoenix tonight, though. Wish I could get delivery tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Now (almost) in HD

Being the technowhore that I am, I've been wanting some sort of HDTV setup for years, but haven't had the spare change to piece one together. Finally this year the stars semi-aligned and I got enough money between my State and Federal tax refunds to afford a decent HDTV.

I did my usual research on screen sizes, ratings, prices, brands, ad nauseum. Since I'm replacing my old 35" Sony Behemoth, I mean, Trinitron, I didn't want to give up any size. I found that diagonal screen measurement isn't as important as the height between standard def 4:3 TVs and high def 16:9 TVs. I eventually found the simple ratio that I was looking for to determine the right sized HDTV. Take your old 4:3 TV's diagonal measurement and multiply it by 1.22 to get the equivalent 16:9 HDTV. So for my 35", I'd need a 42" HDTV to keep roughly the same picture height. So I had my minimum desired HDTV size.

Next I started looking at the various brands. I wanted to avoid the lower-end, no-name brands that I've never heard of or the store brand at Best Buy. While they are cheap, that quality usually shows in uneven pictures and early deaths. Out at various restaurants, I'd seen Vizios and Samsungs with great pictures. LG got some really good reviews as well. For slightly lower energy bills, I decided to go with an LCD over Plasma. I wasn't overly concerned with added bells and whistles because honestly, ANY HDTV is going to be an improvement over a 12 year-old CRT-based TV. The Sony still has an awesome picture for it's age and design, but time marches on.

I spent a lot time driving around the area looking at the local stores (Wal-Mart, Ultimate Electronics, Best Buy, and Frys) to get some idea of local pricing and how their pictures looked. I liked the LG sets and they were in my price range, but they lacked S-video inputs. Since ALL my current devices are S-video, this was an unfortunate deal-breaker. Vizio had some sets in my range, but I'm still a bit leary of their longevity. Ultimate had a low-end 46" Sony that had some positive reviews online but the closest store that had it was shown in Chandler. Wal-Mart had the same Sony on sale, but the only store that had it shown in-stock didn't have it when I went to check (it was only 3 miles from my house). After that, I decided to re-evaluate my search.

The biggest problem is that I don't have an SUV or pickup and the TV won't fit in my car. I'd need to rent a truck (uHaul had cheap rates that fit my needs) but the mileage charges to Chandler would be quite high. I decided to search online and see what I could find. I found the same TV online with free shipping and no sales tax, so I just bit the bullet and bought that one. It was shipped earlier today and should be here by early next week.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Finally a new year

Well, 2009 left on pretty much the same note it carried all year. Tara and I both have nasty colds so no partying for us last night.

Hopefully 2010 will be a better year. Tara goes in for some elective surgery on Thursday that will hopefully make her life a bit better. And no, it's not a boyfriendectomy. Her stepmom and grandmother are flying down next week to help care for her post-op. She's very excited to get this done and to spend time with family.

We're hoping to visit my family in Maine this summer at some point. She's really only visited off-season and hasn't experienced what a true Hell tourist season is for us locals. Plus she really misses being able to see our nephews. We also have to schedule in a visit to Minnesota for the annual 5-year reunion for her family. I haven't been to Minnesota in the summer yet but I'm sure humidity and mosquitoes there are just as fun as in Georgetown.

We'll see how it all turns out. I'll keep you posted.