Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Hash Browns?

I know that most of the Western world has had hash browns before, but how many have had good ones?  I mean the kind that you'd pack on 30 pounds or so just to keep shoveling in your mouth.  What are the keys to these hash browns?
1. They've got to be crispy.  Soggy hash browns are the worst.  You know that they're just as unhealthy for you as the crispy ones, but somehow something got in the way and as a result you're eating strings with a texture that is approximately that of dog slobber.  They're just horrendous, and not at all worth the calories
2. They've got to be seasoned.  If you have to put ketchup on them to get them in your mouth, they've done them wrong.  They should have enough flavor that your mouth screams out for more, just like a great steak.
3. When in doubt, add fat.  My dad made killer hash browns (still does), and what made them even better?  Cheese.  Heck, add bacon while you're at it.  Bacon makes everything better.

So how can you guarantee great hash browns every time?  Not only that, but to also get them about as healthily as you can with potatoes, cheese, and meat?  Thanks to the good folks at Foodbeast, now we know.

Step 1: Preheat waffle iron.
Step 2: Instead of using the stuff that they sell as "hash browns" in the store, microwave until warm and then smash up tater tots.
Step 3: Toss those tots on the scorching waffle iron
Step 4: Season All - enough to give it some nice flavor, you want to see it.
Step 5: Smash that iron down, give it at least 2 waffle cycles or until at your level of crispy heaven
Step 6: Top with cheese and/or bacon.  You can either give it another grilling or let it melt on top
Step 7: Try not to eat it all in the first minute out of the waffler.

This uses no oil!  How about that!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dragon's Keep

One of the great things that my wife and I get to do is travel around the world.  On our most recent trip, we spent a few nights in Krakow, Poland at the Sheraton on the riverfront and got to have this be our skyline.  One of the interesting stories about the castle is that it had its own dragon for a long time - you could even go down into the dragon's cave or buy a dragon souvenir.  It likely came from the Vistula River getting into the caves and starting a reaction that let off steam.  Nevertheless, it was a fun story!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Don't Get Insurance from Liberty Mutual

I know, I know...posts like this are a dime a dozen. Some go viral, some languish, and some sit in the middle. Nevertheless, I want to hopefully save someone some degree of pain and suffering from having to go through what I have so far.  Thus, my story begins...

May 30, 2012: I was driving along a residential road between my work and home and stopped at a 4 way stop.  I went through the intersection and was T-boned by a driver who didn't see the other stop sign and hit me at about 20 MPH.  He was driving a Ford F-250 and pulling an 8000 lb cement mixer behind his truck.  I calculated later that I was hit with 32 tons of force.  It did the damage you see above.
The police came, took statements, and left.  I called my insurance to report the accident and then called his to do the same, as the claim would go through his.  He was ticketed, he ran the stop, so it's pretty cut and dried as to who would be responsible.  They took my statement and asked me to call the other driver (their customer) to have him give his statement.  It was at this time I had my first contact with Liberty Mutual.  Their initial point of contact was Ashley, and he was very pleasant.

June 1, 2012: I called Liberty Mutual back as I hadn't heard from them.  I dialed Ashley's extension, got voice mail like I expected, then hit 0 as instructed to talk to another team member.  40 minutes later, I finally talked to a live person.  They said they would cover 100% at that time and had me authorize getting my car moved from the tow lot to Larry H Miller Collision in Orem.  They also set me up with a rental car from Enterprise after I requested it.  Based on my later conversations with them, if I hadn't said anything, I doubt I would have seen one.
I also sent the following tweet before they answered:
I've been on hold w/@libertymutual for 40 minutes now. I wonder if I'll ever get to a person.
Fortunately their social media person was on the ball and helped me to the best of her ability.

June 5, 2012: I called Liberty Mutual again as I hadn't heard any details of what would happen with my car yet.  They said they hadn't heard from the adjustor yet, but would get back with me when they did.

June 6, 2012: The car was totaled.  They called me this time, and I talked with Ashley again.  He said that he was finished with the claim and now it would go to their total loss department
I went to Larry Miller Collision, where the estimator told me that the damages were $14,500, which was just over Liberty Mutual's 75% threshold, so I should expect around $20,000 plus tax and title for my car.

June 8, 2012: I called and found out who my total loss representative was and to see the status of my claim.  I was told she would be back in touch with me.  They said they would cover the accident 100%.

June 12, 2012: I finally heard from Andrea Jesse about the valuation on my total loss claim.  Her estimate, based on a call to a car lot called Autosource?  $15,668.  That was the total amount, with taxes and title built in.  I told her that that was way too low based on my research, and asked for her email address to send her the documentation on that.  Below is my email to her:

Thank you for chatting with me earlier today.  Here is the research that I have done with screenshots and other documentation as needed:

Here are the sites that I’ve checked with regards to my vehicle.  It was in outstanding condition and had low mileage, and you can see that reflected in the Kelley Blue Book, NADA, and Edmunds quotes for replacement value via a dealer.  As is expected, based on the different people these 3 guides are targeted at (KBB as a dealer’s sticker price down to Edmunds as the actual cost that a consumer should pay if they’re a good negotiator), there is some variation.  As such, I would propose that as there are no direct comparables in the market, we should base valuation here. 
KBB: $21,413
NADA: $19,600
Edmunds: $18,479
Average cost of a 2006 Infiniti G35x with my options: $19,830

From that we can then calculate the sales tax.  The sales tax for Murray, UT (where our local Infiniti dealer is) is 6.85% per the Utah State Tax Tables:
Before we can get that though, we have to look at the cost of additional items on the car.  I have enclosed also a copy of the contract of sale of my G35 from Tim Dahle Infiniti.  The dealer documentary service fee is $398.50.  License and registration is $205.50.  In addition, I bought an extended warrantee that took the stock Infiniti 4 year/60,000 mile warrantee and added a 3 year/40,000 mile term to the end.  This should also be factored in on a prorated basis.  That puts us at a $2195 extension prorated over 3 years at just over $60/month.  I had 15 months left at the time of the accident, thus $2195/36*15=$914.58  That puts us here:

Average cost of a 2006 Infiniti G35x with my options: $19,830
Remainder of the warrantee: $914.58
Dealer Documentary Service Fee: $398.50
License and registration: $205.50
Utah State Sales Tax: $1462.38

This is in line with what your estimator at Larry H Miller Collision told me when I went in to collect personal effects from the car.  He told me damages were at $14,750, which put it right at the 75% threshold where he indicated a total would occur…which puts his valuation for the vehicle at $19,666.67 ($14750/.75).  Where your estimator using your program told me that, I believe that that’s a fair indication of what we should be looking at.

I have also attached the closest possible comparables, one from a private seller who you would expect to be lower than a dealer, and the other from a dealer.  Because my car had lower miles than either of these, and because I bought my car new from an authorized Infiniti dealer, I propose the dealer value as that is where I will be going to replace my car.  Therefore, using the dealer valuation, plus transfer fee as a base is the minimum necessary for me to leave this transaction feeling good about things.  
Carmax Infiniti G35x: $18,748
Transfer fee from Oak Lawn, IL to South Jordan, UT: $699
Remainder of the warrantee on my car: $914.58
Dealer Documentary Service Fee: $149.00
License and registration: $205.50
Utah State Sales Tax (South Jordan, UT): $1294.76

This leaves us with a narrow range of possibilities – essentially between $22-23K.  I know that your job is to secure the lowest cost for Liberty Mutual in regards to this payout.  My job is to cover the cost of a replacement vehicle that is comparable to mine.  Thus, I would propose the following: we split the difference at $22,500.00.  I honestly will not accept anything lower than $22,000.  I feel that the estimate you gave me earlier today was not honest, and I have talked with a former insurance General Adjuster and with an uncle who is a used car dealer and both said that this was a very low offer.  I don’t feel that I am being unreasonable, considering that this is the actual cost to replace my car, that I was – through no fault of my own – hit by one of your members, that this was my dream car, purchased brand new with 8 miles on the odometer (enough for it to be tested and driven on/off of a boat and car carriers), that I have no chance of doing that again, as the vehicle is no longer in production, and with several factors not considered in my above valuation (tires I bought 6 months ago for $550 and an iPhone integration kit that cost $185 for the product + install).
Therefore, at this point it is my opinion that it is most advantageous to Liberty Mutual and its associated stakeholders to accept this valuation – by continuing to dispute and fight it, it prolongs the cost of the rental car, it costs time and money in the form of your salary and that of your associates, and if it were to drag out long enough, it would take additional time billable at $200/hour or so from your corporate attorneys.  In addition, the longer the time it takes to resolve and the more that you all try to dicker over a very reasonable Replacement Cost Value, the more frustrated I get – which isn’t good for future business, especially in our social media driven world.  As a result of these factors, I feel that it would be better instead to come to a quick agreement that minimizes the cost associated on both our sides.

Thanks for your time,

June 14, 2012: I heard back from Andrea Jesse.  She said that the quotes I had sent her were lower than what she had offered, but nonetheless, she talked with her manager, Mike Curtis, and they were willing to generously offer $18107 for my car.  I said I didn't see how that was possible as the quotes I sent were higher than what she said, when she said those 2 magic words: "trade-in value." I asked her why they were offering trade-in when I should get the Replacement Cost Value of the vehicle.  I'm not trading in my car, I wasn't planning on doing so for a long time.  Therefore, you're giving me $4000 less in value because you're not valuing it on the Replacement Cost.  She said to contact my insurance company.  I told her that I would and that I wouldn't accept her offer.
I got a message from Mike Curtis saying that he heard I was dissatisfied with their offer and asked me to call back.  I did, and left a voicemail.

Here's where we're at now.  If I'm wrong, let me know here, but I can't see any problems in my logic.  Does anyone else see this differently? Right now, I'd love to see this spread far and wide because I don't want this to happen to anyone else - but I'm willing to change that opinion if I'm mistaken and shouldn't be frustrated about it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Utah GOP Convention in a Few Pictures

I went to the Utah Republican Party Convention on Saturday to help out a few candidates with their campaigns, but I made sure to get some photos while I was there.  All were taken with an Nikon D700 at 3200 ISO.
Ben Franklin - inventor of the cell phone*
Orrin Hatch vs Dan Liljenquist - the primary battle begins!

I guess Sandstrom thought if it works for Salisbury Homes and Little Caesar's Pizza, it must work for him too!
The image is a bit blurry, but his mom told him to smile for the photo after this.  He clearly wasn't the happiest camper in the world!

*Note: I know Ben Franklin didn't invent the cell phone.

Creative Commons License
Utah Republican Party Convention by Beau Sorensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jolly Old Fellow

One of the areas of photography that I'm really working on is getting good portraits.  My kids are part of what's driving it - my daughter is a poser extraordinaire, but my sons are no good at it, so I have to be good at capturing it.  This is an image of my grandfather that I took at a restaurant with surprisingly good lighting.
Creative Commons License
Jolly Old Fellow by Beau Sorensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Monday, April 16, 2012

The St George Temple

Rachelle has told me I ought to start posting some of my photos on the blog since it doesn't get as much use anymore as a "stuff to say" outlet.  This is an image from just a few days ago when we were in St George.  The temple there has been around since 1877 and they somehow manage to keep it extremely white.  I don't know how with the copious red dust, but they do it!

Creative Commons License
St George Temple at Dusk by Beau Sorensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Monday, April 02, 2012

So You Want to go to Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the most amazing cities in the world.  It's a huge area though, filled with a lot of sub cities and interesting areas for photography and people watching.  Hopefully this guide will help you out.  One thing to note when using these sites is the Japanese are extremely punctual.  If they say they will leave at a certain time, they will leave with or without you.  Thus, their timetables are very accurate.  In addition, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.  I would think nothing of walking around with gold bars in my hands.  It's a great place to visit!
NOTE: While I am using a conversion factor of approximately $1/100 yen (it's the quickest way to convert), the exchange rate as of 4/2/12 is around $1/82 yen, meaning that prices are 20% more than what I'm quoting here.
1. How do I get around? 
My preferred method of transportation is by subway.  Bicycle is preferred, but typically that's only if you're a resident.  As a tourist, the Japanese subway and train system is extremely comprehensive and user friendly.  You can get almost anywhere in the city relatively quickly using rail transport. These maps here (JR routes only) and here (JR+Subway) give you an overview of the places they serve.  One of the best ways to do this is via a JR East Pass.  JR is the national train system and they have extensive lines almost everywhere in the country, so if you want to get somewhere, they may not be the quickest route, but they will likely do the job.  At $200 for 7 days, it's a great price if your travels take you outside of the Tokyo area.  If you will be primarily in the Tokyo area and won't be using the bullet train (shinkansen), a more economical way would be to get the Tokyo Furii Kippu (Tokyo Free Ticket).  For just $15/day you can use all the subway lines and JR lines in the 23 wards (downtown) area.  The final option is the JR Kanto area pass.  This is $80 for 3 days and covers Tokyo, Yokohama, north to Nikko, and east to Chiba.  One way that I may do this is buy a Kanto area pass that covers at least one of the days I go to the airport (which I'll cover shortly), because a train ticket to Narita is about $35 by itself.  These tickets can be purchased in many train stations, or at the JR East Travel Service Center in Narita airport.
The nice thing about all of the train lines in the Tokyo area is they are very English friendly.  The stations and ticket machines all have lots of English so that you can know what to do and where to go.  In addition, trains run early (around 4 am) and late (finishing at around midnight) so you won't get stranded.
One word of caution: I wouldn't use a cab unless I had to.  While they're great to get a picture of, the taxis are extremely expensive.  To get in it will cost you $6.  To travel 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) it costs $12.  Meanwhile the comparable train ticket is $1.50.
2. What about the airport?
Narita International Airport is about 90 minutes by train from central Tokyo.  If you were to take a cab, it would cost around $300, so I would recommend one of the following options.  I've only done this 3 times, so my traffic times may be wrong, but I think I'm relatively close.
Option 1: JR Narita Express.  If you are going to the Tokyo station, Shinjuku, or Shibuya areas, this is often the best option.  If you are using some sort of JR pass, it's an even better option as it is covered by the JR East Pass and JR Kanto Area Pass.  From the airport to the station, you're usually around an hour out.
Option 2: Keisei Electric Railway. This is a great alternative if you're in Ueno or Shimbashi or if you don't mind a transfer with luggage to another train.  They are less expensive than JR if you don't have a pass or will just be using a Tokyo Furii Kippu.
Option 3: Friendly Airport Limousine Bus. Traffic along the route can get heavy, so the timings may be off, but it should take about an hour and 45 minutes and they have some great time listings on their website.
3. I want to see some interesting people.  Where do I go?
One of the great things about Tokyo is the different people you come across.  If you're looking for the widest variety of interesting folks though, there are really 2 areas that you must visit.
1. Shibuya. This is ground zero for the gyaru culture, which really has to be seen to be believed.  Most of the action is on the northwest corner of the station.  It's home to Hachiko, the largest intersection in the world, and something that really puts Times Square to shame.  The largest outdoor video displays in the world are found here.  The area as you walk towards the HMV sign is a veritable cavalcade of people and interesting things.
2. Harajuku.  Harajuku is...hard to describe.  Kind of like Shibuya, but kind of not, they have some amazing people here too as well as some great side streets.  If you cross the train tracks, you walk right into Meiji jingu, the biggest Shinto shrine in the world.  It was rebuilt after World War II, but it's still very interesting to see, and most of the time it's very peaceful.
4. I want to see some interesting things.  Where do I go?
Tokyo has an interesting mix of things to see.  One thing to note though, is that most of the "old" stuff in Tokyo is reproduced as a result of the city being destroyed by an earthquake in 1923 and then firebombed in 1945.  As a result, cultural heritage is not something it has a lot of.  Nevertheless, there are still some parts of old Japan that survive, though you may want to consider a day trip (described below) in addition/instead.
Old Japan: 
Consider a trip to Asakusa's Senso-ji temple and environs.  It's nestled in the middle of standard Japanese housing and buildings, but it is a very cool looking area.  In addition, you can find some of the best souvenir shopping around in the mall leading up to the temple.
Imperial Palace.  The palace was untouched by World War II, but unfortunately you don't get to see much of it.  It's a brief walk from Tokyo station, with its 1900s facade.  They do have an amazing bonzai garden in front of the palace as well, if you like that sort of thing.  If you are in this area, consider a side trip to the Tokyo International Forum, where Trey Ratcliff got this shot.
Meiji Shrine.  See above!
New Japan:
Besides the aforementioned Shibuya and Harajuku, consider a couple of other destinations.
First is Ginza.  There is some amazing (albeit expensive) shopping, but Ginza is one of the best places in the city for seeing the modern side of Japan.  It isn't as garish as some other districts, but a little more toned down.
Akihabara.  This is the electronics capital of the world.  Tons of garish lights to distract you into their stores to spend lots of money.  In addition, they've got an amazing market below the train tracks where tiny vendors sell electronics scraps like transistors, vacuum tubes, and all sorts of other good stuff.
Shinjuku.  If you like skyscrapers, this is the best part of the city for them.  It's the most stable ground in the area, so as a result most skyscrapers were built here.  Some interesting buildings of note are the Tokyo City Building, the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (shown here)
Roppongi.  More foreigners spend their time here due to the proximity of the US Embassy, and as a result, there is a lot to see.  Be cautious, as it's not a criminal area per se, but it is one where you may want to avert your eyes from time to time as it's a prostitution and seedy nightlife hotbed.  They do have Roppongi Hills (a 55 story building with a great cityscape view - if you're looking for sunset shots with Mt Fuji in the background, this could be the place to get it.  It's about $10 to get to the observation deck) and Tokyo Tower though, so it's worth a trip in.
Inokashira koen.  If it is still hanami (cherry blossom season), this is the place to see and be seen in Tokyo. It's outside the south exit of Kichijoji station on the JR Chuo line.
5. I want to get out of the city for a day.  Where should I go?
There are 3 very doable daytrips out of Tokyo and one that is more difficult that are worth considering.
1. Kamakura.  Kamakura is the former capital of Japan and is unscathed despite the calamities that have befallen Japan in the last 100 years.  It's approximately 90 minutes from Tokyo and it's got some amazing buildings and people seeing that you will not get in Tokyo.  If you want to see Japan as the tourist brochures see it, this is the place to go.  Consider traveling in via the JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo or Shinagawa stations, getting off at Kita-Kamakura, and walking past some of the best Japanese shrines - Engakuji, Meigetsuin, Kenchoji, and Hachimangu, on your way to Kamakura station, where you will take the Enoshima line to Hase, where you can see the daibutsu (a huge metal buddha statue) and Goryo shrine, which has some great views of the city.
2. Nikko.  Nikko is more difficult to get to than Kamakura, but if you don't mind, it's amazing.  You can take the bullet train to Uchinomiya, then transfer to a small local line to Nikko if you have a JR pass or take the Tobu Nikko line from Asakusa to get there.  Either way, it's about 2.5 hours outside of Tokyo, so it's a bit more time consuming.  If the cherry blossoms are gone in Tokyo though, you have an excellent chance of seeing them here.  The highlight of Nikko is the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the shrines and temples built by Tokugawa.  Out a bit further is the Nikko National Park, which has some amazing sites as well.
3. Mt Fuji.  Unfortunately I've never done this, so I can't speak to it, but it's supposed to be phenomenal.  You can take the bullet train from Tokyo to Odawara and then take local lines from there into the park.
4. Kyoto.  Yes, Kyoto is about 3 hours away by bullet train.  Yes, it's a really long trip and a lot is just scenery passing you by.  Yes, Kyoto is amazingly worth it.  If you were to do this, you'd want to take as early a train as possible so you can fit in as much as possible.  My wife and I did this as a day trip and it worked.  Kyoto has a good bus system that will get you to the prime sites (Kiyomizu dera, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Nijo castle, and Ryoanji) and there's a lot more to see here.  Really, it's not a day trip, but if you want to see this and you don't know when you'll be back, it may be worth the trip.  If you do come down here from Tokyo, consider the Japan Rail Pass.  It's $340 for 7 days, but you'd spend that on one bullet train trip.
6. I want to eat.  Can I do that?
 Eating is easy in Japan!  You can eat any non-Mexican food at any price point you want.  You may want to consider a yakiniku (grill your own meat) place - though if you do, do it at lunch as it's significantly cheaper.  Yoshinoya is a chain of meat bowl places that is available around the country, and they are really good.  In addition, there are vending machines and convenience stores on almost every corner, and they have a lot of things available to satiate your hunger.
7. Packing.
See my earlier post on this topic!