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Friday, June 1, 2018

Easy way to download video from streaming sites

For a long time I've never quite gotten why people would want to download video from streaming video sites to their local machine. Netflix has always added new content over time and it was more than enough per month to keep me on as a subscriber. Most sites also allow you to download videos for offline watching when you're on a plane or offline. Recent trips for work and a family vacation showed me exactly why you'd want this. While some sites like Netflix let you download videos, not all do. Also you can only watch the videos in the Netflix app, not move them over to a PC to watch on a bigger screen. In other scenarios you might not have unlimited data to stream video while on a trip. Or you're in your late model car with a infotainment system that will play video files for your kids but you need the files on a thumb drive. For years I've known of this product, but it wasn't until recently that I figured out I needed it. The product is called "PlayOn". You'll need to get the pay version as the free version won't download video. How this works is you install the software, and then plug in your various streaming service username and passwords into the "PlayOn Configuration" app. When you run the main application you'll be able to search through your various streaming services and "record" your videos. I say record and not download as this occurs in real time. A 30 minute video takes 30 minutes to grab. You're not going to download all of Netflix in a week, but you could grab the latest episodes of your favorite shows the night before a long flight or drive and copy them to your phone or a thumb drive. Like most things I'm sure there are people who abuse this software. You should be aware that your username and actual name are recorded at the beginning of everything you download. This should only be a problem for you if you were going to illegally share your recordings. If this sounds like something you're interested in here's the link to their site: https://shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=1110020&u=1800307&m=29751&urllink=&afftrack=

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How to judge an installer

Just this last week a customer asked me to come out and install two ethernet runs and two phone line runs.  I went out to their newly constructed office and was rather shocked by what I found.  While the office was quite beautiful it was a complete failure in terms of design.

Let me explain.

All modern construction should take low voltage applications into consideration before you start building.  Low voltage runs for networking, telecommunications, and video services should be shown on the blueprints.  All three types should be home run to a telecom closet or box in a utility room.  Typically this will be the same location as your office or home's fuse box.  If cabling won't be pulled at the time of construction boxes and conduit should be installed for future upgrades reducing the effort and cost to install this wiring in the future.  Installing Phone, Internet, and TV then entail only putting a providers box in the closet and connecting two or three cables.  This should take no more than 20 minutes and no tools other than possibly a wrench for the coax connectors.

Reasons for this are to ensure that if you want a flat panel tv mounted to the wall both it's power and TV signal are located behind it resulting in a clean looking install.  You don't want a brand new office or home with a nice wall mounted TV and a shower of cabling hanging under it.

The office I was called to service had just been built.  The drywall was up and about to be painted.  No consideration was paid for low voltage systems.  This was the first failing.  The second was when Comcast had come in to install TV, Internet, and their business phone system.  First off the Comcast installer set up two cable jacks.  One on the wall for a wall mounted TV, and another under a desk for the cable modem and phone equipment.  Neither was properly installed from a mechanical standpoint.  A proper low voltage install in an existing building uses what is called a "low-voltage ring" installed in the dry wall.  This prevents any damage to the wall while pulling cables and provides a secure place to attach the finished connection plate.  Without this ring the plate can pull out of the wall or sit oddly.  Here is a photo of the work Comcast provided.

As you can see the installer just drilled a few holes in the wall and pulled the cable through, then installed the plate with the improper screw to the drywall.  This would have pulled out of the wall without effort.  The customer told me that the install took 10 hours.

I spent 6 hours pulling the requested lines and corrected the above install with the low voltage ring and a multi connection plate to make the install look finished.  Here is my workmanship.
The orange piece in the wall is the low voltage ring.  To install this I had to make the hole larger.  Large enough I could get my hand easily into the wall to grab wiring.  By spending 10 minutes correcting this I saved the customer at least 2 hours of work.

In all honesty though if this office had taken low voltage into consideration before mounting drywall I could have wired the whole office for Network, Phone, and TV in the same period of time instead of fighting pulling cabling through drywall and insulation.  The wall mounted TV would have been done and the Electrician would not need to return.  The Comcast installer would have only had to drop a modem on a shelf in the back room and clicked a few cables into place.  If you're building a new home or office take these topics into consideration.  If you're looking at an existing office space make sure to check that these things were thought of.  Even if an older office wouldn't have TV or network considerations there is no excuse for any office built since the 1970's to have no considerations taken for telephone.  

These are considerations not only for those looking for a home or office property, but for those looking to sell a home or office.  Homes and Offices that have this type of structured wiring in place are more valuable vs their competition and can give you a leg up on your competition.

If you're looking for help designing an office or installing low voltage wiring please give me a call.  I'll work out a quote.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cable Prices Itself Out of Business: New Options

I've covered methods of cutting your cable bill a few times now.  Methods such as bringing your own equipment to cutting TV down to just your antenna service.  Unfortunately these options always were a bit more complicated to use than simply turning on your cable box and flipping channels.  Many still found paying a premium for additional channels and a simpler box to be worth the premium.

Unfortunately for our cable TV providers a simpler solution is now available.  It's cheaper.  It's easier.  It's not their product.

Over the last year multiple streaming TV services have appeared.  Unlike Hulu and Netflix which are essentially "On Demand" services these new cable alternative streaming services actually carry the same channels as your cable provider for less.  These services are delivered to streaming devices, game systems, and even smart TVs.  In many cases your existing smart TV can work with these services without needing an add on device and a new remote.  Just use your TV and the remote it came with.  Try that with many cable providers.

The services available today are as follows:


The channels these providers carry vary.  They all offer a free trial period where you can determine if they fit your need.  If not, move on to the next provider.  No worries about contract termination costs or waiting for an installer. Sign up on their website, tie your device to your account, and go.  That's it.

Before you subscribe to a service check to see if your device supports it.  With Youtube TV, Hulu, and Sling you have a pretty good chance your device of choice will work.  DirectTV Now is not as popular yet.  Playstation Vue is limited to Playstation devices, Android, Apple TV, and Amazon devices.

They all offer "on demand" style usage of the channels they stream.  Programs that aren't offered "on demand" you can set to "record" for later viewing.  All done via the service requiring no local box.

If you don't have a Smart HDTV or other streaming box may I recommend a Roku?  It will be one device that all these services support and it has a number of additional Roku channels available.  You will find so much programming at your finger tips that you won't miss your old cable TV package.  Snap this box into your TV's HDMI and USB Ports and you will be off to the races.  




You'll need internet access from your Cable provider or AT&T.  I strongly recommend 45mbps or faster especially if you're going to have two TVs or more running at the same time.  This should run you about $60 a month.  Then add on top your chosen service.  Personally I suggest starting with Youtube TV as it gives you a long trial period as well as access to "Youtube Red" programs as well.  That and most every streaming box includes a Youtube client.  This will run you $35 a month.  So total you'll be spending $95 a month.  For comparison, how much is your cable package running you now per month?  With equipment a conservative bill would be $150 a month.  I've seen bills easily cresting $265 a month with equipment and add ons.

If Youtube TV doesn't fit your needs.  Try Sling next.  Look their packages over.  I'd recommend the $40 package as you can stream to more than one device at a time and it has more channels.  Use the free trial to see if this fits your needs.  If not move on to the next service.

If none of these fits your needs even with combining in other services (for instance Youtube TV, Netflix, and various Roku free channels) then go back to your cable provider as a new customer.  I strongly suspect that if you give this a chance you will find it's not only more affordable, but much easier to use.  You don't need to learn a new complex remote.  You'll either use the remote that you have from your TV, or you use the Roku remote.  Compare these to your cable company DVR remote.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Veg-Tech

There once was a man who had a small garden.  One day a new neighbor moved in.  This neighbor also had a garden, but enjoyed it so much that he produced far more than any one house could consume.  The man tired of the effort simply bought produce from his neighbor for a third what the grocer charged and saved himself labor.  The neighbor didn't initially grow what the man did, but over time he started to plant it.  The relationship wasn't perfect as quite frequently he would mix in some reject produce with what he sold the man, but the price was so good the man just ignored this.

One day years later the neighbor moved away.  The man's source for cheap produce was now gone.  Basic common sense would instruct the man to plant his garden new and while waiting he could buy what he needed from the store at a higher rate, and deal with substitutes when the grocer runs out of his preferred produce.  Instead he sits looking at his empty garden and complains about the lack of white sweet potatoes.  He then hires people in the neighborhood to bring him what he wants.  Some of these people find exactly what he wants while others are so toxic that the local grocers refuse to do business with both them and by extension the man as well.

Why is this on a tech blog?


This is the best analog I have when I read about the tech shortage in the US.  For the better part of two decades local talent was largely ignored or replaced.  American workers have had little reason to develop these skills as the learning curve is quite steep and companies would rather hire a foreign worker and train them anyway.  Now that foreign talent is being threatened these jobs are being offered to locals again, but the bar is being set so high that few have the ability to meet the artificial barrier.  In some cases those of us who kept learning technologies and practicing them are being ignored because we didn't use them for work.  Many of the job offers that float through my mailbox require a decade or more of experience in specific frameworks, and what's infuriating is that talent with similar skills are being turned down because they don't have the exact skill.  A highly skilled jQuery developer being turned down for a ASP.net position despite the technologies being somewhat similar.  We have people who are capable in this country, but thanks to the job drought that the H-1B visa brought they don't have the resume to prove it.  Those of us with the resume to back up our skills won't touch these jobs because employers are paying wages that are suitable for either entry level workers or for H-1B visa workers.

The other issue is that recruiters are adopting new tactics that are poisoning the well of talent.  The old method would be to email job listings to candidates that meet a basic keyword match with the job.  The recruiter wouldn't need to know much about the required skills, but really should at least spend 10 minutes googling them before taking up a listing.  Finally qualified candidates would reply or not.  Usually due to not meeting the qualifications, not willing to relocate, the position not offering enough compensation, or simply being happy where they are.  The current method eliminates sending out the job listing and instead sends out a very questionable email asking a candidate to call the recruiter at their first convenience.  There are a few problems with this tactic.

  • The candidates who are qualified for the position are usually quite busy.  We can read a job listing from a recruiter in a minute and make a snap judgement.  Playing phone tag with a recruiter can take a few phone calls, and when we finally get you it's a 30 minute or greater conversation.
  • The emails that are sent out asking you to call read the same as spam email.  I have multiple LinkedIn messages I was pulling at in my free time for this article.  One was for a job at GM.  One was for Ford.  The others were selling Amway style MLM memberships.  YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WHEN CANDIDATES CAN'T QUICKLY IDENTIFY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RECRUITER AND AN AMWAY SALESPERSON.
  • The recruiters who try to gather if a candidate is qualified for a position are not qualified for the job.  This is something that is more easily explained with specific examples.
    • One boisterous recruiter sent me a Linkedin message boasting he could get me hired tomorrow if I would only correct my profile and spell "PLC" correctly.  I'm a PLM Product Architect.
    • A recruiter approached me for a Senior Front End design position that had a list of requirements that clearly meant this position was for a full stack developer.  I asked him what in my profile made him think I was qualified.  Turns out my "server administration" skill was all he had read on my profile and nothing else.  He then started to ask me a series of questions that were a veiled attempt to get me to read him my resume.
    • You've probably heard the joke about the recruiter who turned down a candidate because the job required "Microsoft Office" as a skill and the candidate had "Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access" on his resume.  It's not a joke.  I've personally experienced this.
    • Insist on a decade or more experience for products that have only been on the market for 5 years or less.  This one is always always fun for me as a very quick google of the technology would tell you if your clients requirements are even possible to meet.
    • One recruiter hiring for an automotive position would not provide me with a job sheet or requirements instead insisted on interviewing me for the position.  He asked me if I've ever worked with "the softwares RS-232, CAN, and ethernet".  My response was to hang up.
  • Recruiters stubbornly refuse to give candidates any information that might help us determine if we've been submitted to a particular position before.  
Unfortunately tech recruiting is a mess, and has become more so in the last few months.  Too many quickly blame the lack of response on a lack of talent.  The sad fact is that particular skill sets may be rare, but the underlying technology is common.  You might not be able to find a full stack MEAN developer with 5 years experience, but you can easily find a developer with 5 years of JavaScript.  If not you can find someone who is entry level and has basic JavaScript certification.  You just need to know the basics of the technology to understand what you need, and you and your clients need to be flexible enough to know you will need to start training and growing your local talent again.  Stop looking at specific degrees, and in fact stop insisting on degrees.  You don't need a degree in Computer Science to write C.  One of the best microcontroller developers I've ever known has a degree in journalism.

Oh, and stop asking us to call you before sending out a job sheet.  Send out a job sheet with your phone number and what the range of pay is.  If we're interested we'll call.  The only reason to hide the pay is because you know it's too low.  Stop asking us for what we make now.  That is neither your business or the business of your client.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Boiler Fun: Zone Valve Repair

As many people in the US I grew up in a house that had a forced air HVAC system, and my only experience with boiler heat was in public buildings such as schools.  For the last 4 years however I've lived in a home with a two zone boiler system and it's been an interesting experience so far.  I rather like the fact that the heat is consistent throughout the house, and I have little need of a humidifier as I don't have air being dried out by an open flame in a furnace.  I also like that my relatively old and inefficient 1960's boiler costs as much to run as my mothers brand new 94%+ efficiency furnace in the same stretch of time.  Another benefit that I just discovered is how easy it is to repair some basic functions.

For those of you who aren't familiar with a boiler the basic parts consist of the Boiler itself, a pump, an Air release, and Zone Valves.  There are a few other parts, but these are all you need to understand the basic functions.  When the thermostats call for heat the Boiler heats water and triggers the pump to circulate water.  The Zone valve opens allowing water to flow to the zone and that area of the house heats up.  A zone is an area of the house that is controlled by a thermostat.  This can be defined in any way, but in most homes it's usually by floor of the house.  Newer furnace homes have this feature, but adding it to a forced air system is expensive requiring specialty baffles or even a second furnace system.  Boilers just require a thermostat and zone valve.  As for the air release that knocking and banging you hear in public buildings with old systems is due in part to air being in the system.  Home boilers have air releases that help purge this out of the system allowing them to run almost perfectly silent.

One particularly cold day this winter I woke up to find it 64 Degrees Fahrenheit.  Not too bad, but out of the norm considering my thermostat stated it was set to 70.  Heading downstairs I could notice a temperature change immediately and the main level was 70.  I immediately know either the thermostat or zone valve has died as I have heat in the lower level.  Heading to my boiler room I find the zone valve buzzing which usually means the motor has died.  Flipping the manual switch I immediately find heat restored to my upper level.

A little research on the subject via Google I learn two things.  First over time the motor in a zone valve does give out.  Looking at the manufacture date on the valve and noticing that the parts are all original my valve (a replacement part requires wire splicing which my unit did not have) has been operating almost 60 years.  A good run for a motor that isn't constantly exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees.  Secondly a zone valve consists of two parts.  The valve itself which is a ball valve and is designed to outlast the rest of a boiler heating system, and a power module consisting mostly of the previously mentioned motor and some gears and springs.  The power module is designed to not only be replaceable, but also easily repairable in place.

Unfortunately while the zone valve was designed to be both serviceable and replaceable, parts are not easily located.  After calling a number of plumbing and heating supply companies I found that any store that actually had it in stock would only sell the part to a licenced contractor.  I also found that the price they were charging was more than double (and in some cases triple) what the same part could be had for online.  Luckily my zone valve started working again and as such enabled me to overnight the part I needed.  Once it arrived it was only a 20 minute install including the time needed to gather the needed tools which were a wire stripper, a torx wrench, a philips head screw driver, and some electrical tape.

I'm not sure what this heating repair would have cost me exactly, but I know the average rate for a service call to get a tech to your door is $75-100, and the average cost of the part at a shop was over $80 so you could very easily have a bill of over $200 for this repair.  The cost of a OEM part from amazon was $27.  The included paper instructions were enough to get the job done, but a number of people have shown how to do this repair on Youtube making it a great easy to do repair.

Now as I stated before I have two zones in my home.  As such when I placed my order I specifically ordered two motors.  One for the immediate repair, and one to keep on the shelf for a future repair.  As these don't go bad over time I figure I'll keep it boxed near the boiler for a future repair.  If you live in a home with a boiler like I do you might want to consider doing the same even if you're not in immediate need of a repair.  Buy two motors and have them ready.

Here are links to everything you'll need for this repair.
The OEM Motor (This matches my zone valve.  A honeywell v8043.  Check to see if this matches your valve, or search google for the motor you need)

A Wire Stripper

A Screw driver set that includes Torx bits.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A new project: Well that didn't work

A while ago I tried using Kickstarter to fund a project I was considering.  I have an older 1960's home that needs a lot of updates.  At the time I was looking at doing a full Air Conditioning system and I was considering using http://www.younits.com to purchase my  Unico equipment and do the majority of the install myself.  For a lot of reasons including the fact that I only had one person kickstart the project that failed and I wound up hiring the project done by a local company.  This is where the story gets interesting.

I wound up choosing a middle bid of 4 companies.  The low end bidder was offering a Goodman compressor which at the time I was nervous about.  The high end price was using all high end equipment, but was double the price of the low end.  The middle end bid was using Trane equipment and promised to not use wall space to run the High Velocity vents for the lower level.  The price was double what the equipment would have cost me, and the majority of that was labor.  I was told the project would take a week.

At the end of the first day of work the majority of vents were pulled into place.  This was supposed to be the time consuming task.  The team came out the next day and installed a few pieces in the attic.  My electrician came by and installed everything they needed electrically to finish the project.  At that point everything stalled for a week.  They would come by and make a few adjustments then leave.  Reasons varied from they were missing equipment (they weren't.  I found it for them in my garage where they left it) to workers were sick (looked fine the day before and the next day).  So my install wound up taking a month and a half.  The final product is a mixed bag as they damaged a lot of drywall in the process.  Some done as part of the install, not disclosed at the beginning as a possibility but was in the contract so that's on me, and some caused when the worker stepped through my ceiling.  They were responsible for the patch and did a terrible job.  They also drilled through walls carelessly almost damaging clothing in my closet and sawing through my hardwood floor accidentally just past the trim in one spot then tried to pin the damage on the install of a wooden banister.

The Air Conditioning works, and after having a great dry wall contractor out to repair the damage I'm mostly past the project.  I've used various review sites to spread this tale and warn others away from this company, but that's not what this is about.  My lessons learned here in regards to the Kickstarter are two fold.

1)  Don't use Kickstarter for a continuing project:
What I was thinking of doing, and might pick up the project again on a smaller scale is a poor fit for Kickstarter.  As a continuing project something like Patreon is a much better fit.  Kickstarter is better for getting a product off the ground as a one time cash infusion.

2)  Start the project before asking for support:
Have something to show before you try to get support.  Many podcasts use Patreon for funding.  Most of which were already in existence.

3)  A bad contractor experience gets you a DIY greenlight:
My wife was worried about me tackling the AC project.  After seeing how badly contractors handled the install I've got a greenlight for a future project.  I'm definitely starting small however.  I might kick this off with my bathroom remodel coming up this year.  That I already have the products for and won't require financial support to kick the project off.

Anyway welcome back to 1g1k.  In years past I've only updated this site when I had something to get off my chest or hammer out once instead of sending out multiple times.  This year my goal is to write a few articles a month at least.

Soylent: Because why not?

I'm not sure about you, but my facebook feed and youtube ads have been focused lately around either Soylent or Wise food stores.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps my search history on the history of personal computers in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras has pegged me as a paranoid survivalist type.  While I have little interest in dry food stores in case our new comb-over-in-chief winds up causing world war 3 I had been considering trying out Soylent.

So far it's going well.  Before I get into details let me illuminate how I found out about this product.  Despite the recent ad push on Facebook, and the fairly cool ads for their breakfast product "Coffiest" I heard about their powdered product from a friend in September.  He was using it while at work and had enjoyed the product so far.  The Soylent powder product was developed by a software guy in California and it shows as he includes version numbers on the product.  Each update gets a new minor revision.  My friend came in under version 1.5 and loved it, but dropped off when 1.6 came out citing it as being too sweet.  I decided to order the product in early October and wound up having to wait until Christmas for version 1.7.  Apparently enough people complained about the change that they had to reformulate the product.

A number of people like me will automatically flash to the movie "Soylent Green".  The creator acknowledges he did name his product to take advantage of this, but also in part because his initial formula was based on what the movie's product claimed to be made out of (Soy and Lentils).  The formula has been changed to address people's complaints and issues.  The version I'm reviewing here is again 1.7.

So far I'm enjoying my experience using Soylent.  I decided to try this product out as a meal while I'm at work.  Where my office is located I have a number of food choices available to me ranging from quick service (Panda Express, various pizza shops both chain and family owned, etc), fast food (McD, Taco Bell, Wendy's, etc), sit down (Chili's, Applebees, Friday's, etc).  Honestly I'm tired of all of these options.  There were days where I'd sit at my desk hungry because nothing sounded good.  I experimented with keeping a stock of frozen meals at the office.  That didn't last long as the flavor was bland at best and microwaved meals had a texture I couldn't stand more than once in a great while.  Finally I tried bringing in leftovers, and after the third time leaving them in the fridge at home I decided to try something else.

So I received my order of Soylent just before Christmas and tried it out when I got back to work.  I've set up my pitcher at work and one pouch (which is supposed to be one days worth over 4 meals) has lasted me two days (Breakfast & Lunch).  As such I'm getting about two and a half weeks worth of usage per one weeks purchase.  I'm now on my second week of this diet and so far I'm enjoying it.  I have a meal as soon as I arrive at the office, and another about mid day.  I start to feel hungry again as I get ready to leave.  Sometimes I'll have a "half meal" serving (a meal being defined as a 500cal, or two scoop serving) as I leave and I'm good until I get home and then I have a normal meal at home.

Cost of eating out per day was topping $15 a day.  Usually leaving my home I'd grab breakfast on the way in ($5ish) and then lunch at mid day ($10ish).  On top of that the questionable nutrition value of these foods left me feeling heavy most of the day.  Even salad's were leaving me feeling like I had just eaten a fried chicken box.

Soylent is costing me $2 per meal.  As such I'm paying on average between $4-5 per day.  After each meal I'm no longer hungry, and I don't feel heavy or sluggish.  I've not had a day where I've used strictly Soylent, and truthfully I'm not intending to.  As such I can't relate the experience as to how it is living off of this strictly.  I can say that so far I'm loving it as an alternative to fast food options.

This product is not being sold as a weight loss solution.  In fact the market that they want to tackle is medical food replacements for those who cannot have regular food (coma patients, etc).  As such there is very little garbage diet fluff involved on their page.  Personally I can attest I have lost some weight.  Of course considering my diet previously had been McDonalds / Taco Bell for breakfast and throw a dart at a board of generic american food for lunch.  Dinner is usually cooked at home.  Shifting away from that would almost guarantee some form of weight loss.     I'm sure that if I stopped using Soylent and went back to my old diet I would rebound instantly.  The thing is I have no intention to go back.  I didn't start this with weight loss in mind.  I started because I'm tired of my local food options near work.  Occasionally I'll probably go out for lunch.  I like this because it gives me an option.

The biggest question I had for my friend when he told me about this product is "What does it taste like?".  The website just says "neutral flavor" and I find that description both accurate and infuriating.  The most accurate way to describe the taste would probably cause people to run from the product.  Think about how pancake batter smells in the bowl.  If you're honest it smells great, but if you've ever tasted uncooked pancake batter you know it tastes awful and completely unlike how it smells.  Soylent's flavor can be best described as tasting like how raw pancake batter smells.  It's rather pleasant and after a week straight of using it I can say it's not something you'll tire of.

If you're considering trying this out let me give you a few tips.  They give you a large tumbler for making up a pouch for one day's meals, and a scoop for measuring out a half meal portion.  No matter how you're going to use this do yourself a favor and get a tall blender bottle of some sort.



The reasoning is that the powder is not unlike protein powder in consistency and the better it's mixed the better your experience will be.  The giant tumbler they give you does not make mixing easy.  You wind up with sludge at the bottom of the container.  The other unfortunate issue is that the daily package of Soylent powder does not pour easily into the tumbler.  For my usage I keep the blender bottle at my desk with the scoop.  It makes mixing easy and clean. That and if I decide to have lunch out I don't have mixed product in the fridge that I'll have to throw out.

For my usage so far I'm enjoying the product.  I'm not going to say this will be the only product I use.  I might try some of the DIY Soylent products you can find here:  https://diy.soylent.com/
It's an interesting solution to the question "What's for lunch?".