Clothes Store Quick Review(s): Kuhlman and Zebra Club

So today was a gorgeous day in the SEA and I thought I’d pick up my sister’s Christmas present down near Pike’s Place Market. After grabbing it and picking up a few tasty treats for lunch, I thought I’d make good use of the weather and walk over to Kuhlman which I’d been wanting to check out for a while. I also took a quick peek into Zebra Club which is listed as a retailer for Palladium Boots. Unfortunately they only had women’s boots, but I did take a quick look through the store. I didn’t browse too much since they didn’t have the boots, but there is definitely a lot of clothes there, and probably warrants a deeper look if you are into the “stylish” non-granola Seattle look.

So I walked over to Kuhlman after that and the store is on the West side of first. It’s really small, even more so than Everything’s Jake, but there is quite a bit of clothes inside so that’s not really the issue. I will try to come back again, but from looking at the men’s selection, it seems like the clothes are a bit overpriced and I need to return for a longer look, but some of the clothes seemed of a quality that did not befit the price. I checked several of the suits, including a Moods of Norway suit and while the lining was very colorful, I did not feel a free floating liner inside the suit which would indicate it was wholly fused instead of at least partially stitched. They stock this Italian brand and I did not see any plackart on the shirts, which is a little disappointing for shirts that are retailing for around $150 or more.

However, the blog and the care with which they promote their clothing still has me intrigued so I can’t write the place off until I go back and do a thorough impression of the clothes. The girl working the desk was friendly, but the tailor in back was very quiet so perhaps I should have gone out of my way to ask some questions about the construction of the clothes and such. The style here is more multi-faceted than Zebra Club, so that is a definite point in favor of the store. They had some cool Barbour gloves, and they did carry some cool looking coats (although no topcoats, but I sort of expected this).

Conclusion: Need more time to assess. Thus far Zebra club seems like a shoe place only (they carry Onitsuka Tigers and Palladium Boots) as the variation in the clothes is too limited. Kuhlman has some potential but seems VERY overpriced, but again I will need to review this place again.


Setting up a Magento Commerce site with custom template using GoDaddy hosting

My sister runs a business and she recently asked me to setup a web store using a custom template that her client had picked out from The template that was chosen was designed to work with the Magento Commerce framework, a fact that I didn’t realize until after getting the template and reading the instructions. It turns out that the information was available right on the selection screen:

Choosing template

Guess next time I need to read the sites I read more carefully 🙂

The client was hosted on and when I started reading the forums, it looked like there were lots of problems, but after figuring a few things out, the installation went very smoothly for me. There is already a guide detailing how to install Magento, and it was pretty helpful to me, but it’s not very explicit. This guide should be a lot more granular with a few pictures to help out.


Before we start detailing the installation, let’s list out the things you should download prior to reading further if you plan to follow along:

  • Latest Version of Magento Commercever as of the time of the writing of this post
  • Hosting on – PHP + MySQL
  • Custom Template for Magento Commerce

The official Magento Installation Guide is here and here is the cheat sheet version. If you read them carefully (I didn’t, seems to be a recurring issue of mine 🙂 ), you’ll notice that PHP 5.2 is a requirement for the framework. There is a workaround if your hosting is locked to 4, but fortunately GoDaddy is not. They have a guide on how to change your PHP version here. It’s fairly simple, and even though they warn you about a delay up to 24 hours, you should be ready no more than 30 minutes after initiating the change. If you’re not familiar with GoDaddy’s layout, I’ve included a few pictures to go along with their guide. First you’ll want to select the hosting account that you’ve setup:

GoDaddy selecting product

That will expand and show you the domain you’ve setup. I’m not going to show it because I don’t want to expose my client’s details, but just click on the button that will open up hosting dashboard. After that is done loading you should see this screen:

Godaddy hosting dashboard

Underneath the primary 3 buttons are a set of tabs for your domain. Select “Content” and then select “Add-on language” to go to the PHP version selection screen:

GoDaddy Select language

That will open up the PHP version selection screen. Select 5.X and you’re ready to go. Note the 24-hour delay I mentioned earlier. When I did it, it was ready in about 10 minutes, but budget the time in case there really is a 24-hour delay.

GoDaddy selecting PHP version

Magento Installation

Once this is done, you’re now ready to start the Magento Installation. There are 2 ways to get the files onto your server.

  1. Use the File Manager built-in to GoDaddy’s hosting dashboard
  2. FTP the files onto the server.

I would recommend using a combination of 2) first to upload the files and then 1) to unpack the files from the archive. Whatever you do though, unless it’s absolutely necessary, DO NOT unpack the files locally and then upload them. It will take FOREVER. When I did it, it took well over an hour, probably almost 2 to upload the files. I ended up using a separate FTP program just because it’s a little faster than the browser based File Manager, but either option should work. Once you have uploaded the file, locate it using the File Manager, and don’t forget that it will only show so many files per page.

GoDaddy File Manager pages

I didn’t and consequently ended up copying the unpacked files because I was too dumb to locate the archive. I ended up reinstalling the entire store a 2nd time the right way, and that’s why I know it’s much faster! Once you find the Magento file, select the check box and you’ll notice the “Unarchive” button will light up. Use this to unpack the files into the directory that you want to put the framework into.

GoDaddy Unarchive button

Special Note: I would select the framework directory name very carefully. It’s possible to change it later, but it’s a giant pain in the ass and I never got it working correctly. Just pick something innocuous like \shopping so you don’t have to rename it later.

Once the files are extracted, make sure the directory is executable otherwise the PHP install file will not be able to run. You’ll want it executable for all types of users and you can set this using your FTP program.

Magento directory permissions

Setting up your Database

Once the permissions are set, navigating to the install location in your browser will initiate the installation page for Magento. Continue until you reach the dialog screen prompting you for the database information. Magento will script out the database once it has the proper connection data, so you don’t have to worry about running a script on your own. You will need to create the database and setup the admin account so Magento can do the work for you. If you haven’t created the database already, return to the GoDaddy Hosting dashboard and select the MySQL option from the database tab:

GoDaddy Creating database

If you haven’t created databases before, this will be empty. Either way, you’ll need a fresh database for Magento so you’ll want to select the “Create database” button:

GoDaddy Creating database button

This will start the DB creation wizard – it’s pretty straightforward except for one minor detail. Whatever you name your database will also be your admin account name. It’s a little curious, but this is fair warning to create a database name that isn’t totally crazy because that will be your username account credential. There is an option to create a read only account, but it’s not necessary for Magento and I skipped this step. After creating the database, you’ll need to get the connection string since the database and the website are not co-located and will need to connect across the Internet. You can return to the MySQL page in the Hosting Dashboard and select the little pencil:

GoDaddy database details

It will load a page (this page always looks a little screwed up in Firefox, I dunno why) with your connection details. Take this info and put it into the Magento installer. Once this is done, Magento will finish installing.

Installing Your Custom Template

If you don’t have a custom theme you can skip this section. When the installation is finished, the Magento installer will give you a page with links to your frontpage (the store essentially) and a backend page (the admin page). Click on both and sign into the admin page using the admin credentials you set up. At this point you’ll want to unpack the template if you haven’t already. Again, like with the initial Magento installation, you can use either the GoDaddy File Manager or your FTP program to upload the template.

Inside of the template folder there should be 2 folders: /app and /skin. Magento theme folders

Copy these into these folders into the folder where you installed Magento. So if we used the example I used earlier in the post, you would copy /app and /skin directly into /shopping. You shouldn’t have to worry about overwriting any files as the theme will have all of it’s files in a folder named after it. Once the files are uploaded, head to the admin page and select “Design” from the “System” tab.

Magento setting up theme

This will bring you to the design management page. It shows all of the themes you have installed into your Magento store, but right now it will be blank. Select “Add Design Change” in the upper right hand corner to add the custom theme you have uploaded.

Magento adding theme

The next screen will let you select the theme. Pick it out from the drop down and hit save. You do NOT have to enter in any dates to start or end the theme.

Magento selecting theme

At this point, you can just reload the front page and the theme should be loaded. These themes are pretty barebones, so don’t expect a drastic change from the default – they are meant to provide a good basis for a designer to alter, so it actually might have less functionality than the base theme which I think is designed to be somewhat usable out of the box as a web store.

Final Notes

At this point your installation should be complete and you should be ready to begin actually using the site. Just a few notes about things that messed me up a little bit.

Why don’t my categories show up?

When you start making categories, make sure they are sub categories underneath the default root category. If you don’t do this, you’ll need to select the root category that you’ve created to be the default category for the store. There is a really good post at Noam Design about this issue. You can verify you’re default root category by going to the admin page, and then selecting “Manage Stores”.

Magento check root category

Once you’re in the manage stores section, select the “Main Website Store” and follow the directions from Noam Design.

How come my products don’t show up?

Once you’ve got the categories working, you might also encounter an issue with getting your products to show up. Adding products is pretty self explanatory and the site will guide you through most of the required fields. However, for some reason, it skips over one set of required fields that will prevent your products from showing up. In the “Manage Products” page, there will be a bunch of tabs with different fields that you can fill out with product data. Make SURE you select the inventory tab.

Magento Product inventory

Fill out the quantity and change the stock available from out of stock otherwise the product will never show up. I ran into this problem and this post here on the Magento Commerce forums told me why the products weren’t showing up.

Thoughts on Magento Commerce

Hopefully this helped out some of you with setting up Magento. Several years ago I had setup a customized OS Commerce e-store and this was much easier. There were still a few hairy spots and changing the root directory was much more painful than I had though it should be due to the store caching the user credentials, but overall I think if you were a small business looking to setup a web store, you could do a lot worse than Magento. The site itself is free, and the templates for it are relatively cheap and plentiful so it is not unreasonable to customize the site without having to do lots of custom coding (which makes the site brittle and susceptible to breaking changes I might add as well as being expensive). There are a few components that were not touched such as the credit card/pay pal support, but I have a feeling it will be relatively painless given the mostly cohesive UI. I think that unless you were really moving towards a large scale solution, the overall cost for the enterprise Magento (somewhere north of $3000) would make the free site a much better bet.

Costco Cuisine: Del Real Cheese & Bell Pepper Pupusas

A short forward: Food is probably the most important thing a single guy can pick up at Costco. Most people probably think it’s the dry goods, but let me debunk that myth. Unless you’re a girl, the non-food related items are at best a marginal proposition. I mean, let’s be honest, we’re not using that much toilet paper, we’re not using that many paper towels, the gas isn’t that much cheaper, and I just don’t use that many cleaning supplies and/or batteries. I only buy a TV once every 4 years and I’m getting my electronics from online. But I eat just like everybody else does, and since I’m a guy, I probably eat more than the single girls out there. So what about eating out everyday? I’m sure lots of guys do that, but let me tell you, it sure will put the hurt on your bank account, and often enough, in spite of our best efforts, you’ll find the single guy eating at home because of sickness, laziness, drunkeness, or stupidness. So why not plan for it?

So the perfect single guy’s food should have some mix of the following: tastiness, storability/freezability, quickness, healthiness, and cheapness. I’m going to just say this right now: I don’t look at how much the food costs that I buy. One of the great benefits of Costco is that by definition you’re getting retail or less for the item; what I do pay great attention to is the quantity. Let’s use orange juice as an example: I buy the organic juice there because it makes me feel good, and it’s pretty tasty compared to the non-organic. But it also comes in 2 containers which is a plus because I know the 2nd container is fresher than when I buy the tropicana O.J. which comes in a big ass bottle. So let’s contrast this with milk which I NEVER buy. Why? Because they make me buy 2 big ass containers. I know it’s a good price for milk, but I’ll never drink it fast enough and consequently I’d throw out 75% or more of the milk I bought which defeats the purpose of buying milk there.

So this leads us to the pupusas review! You can see the pupusas in the original packaging below:

costco pupusas packing

I originally thought it was some kind of Mexican foodstuff, but it turns out Pupusas are Salvadoran. They look a tastier on the Wikipedia page that they do in person; it turns out they are supposed to have some sort of salsa served with them. Not to give away the review, but I don’t think salsa is gonna help these guys. Inside of the bag is actually 2 separate containers, so you can freeze one of them while you consume the other. Normally the bag will look a bit bigger, so keep that in mind when you spy these at Costco. So here is what one of the smaller containers looks like:

costco pupusas individual packing

I took one of them out, and I had 2 other ones earlier. Now, I didn’t take a picture of the back of the bag, but there are cooking instructions. You’ve got 2 options:

  • Microwave
  • Cooking on top of the stove

I highly, highly, highly recommend the stove top. I ate one of the pupusas after I’d microwaved it and it was fucking horrible. The dough is so thick that it doesn’t really heat up well, even after parts of the cheese start vaporizing from the microwave. I’d eaten another one after cooking on the stove, and it was marginally better, but I’d not used enough butter and used too much heat, the the thing started smoking like a cinder even though the outer dough itself was barely singed. Here’s a picture of the pupusas just before cooking:

costco pupusas up close

I don’t know if you can see, but the edges are kind of pre-cracked. I imagine that it’s from the freezing process, but it’s a little irritating when you cook the things because the cheese starts oozing from out of the cracks. It takes a bit to cook them, you really want to nurse them along because you want the dough thoroughly cooked and heated. The dough tastes pretty terrible if you don’t, sort of like not completely cooked pizza dough that’s been set out and gotten a little stale if you don’t. I tossed on a little sliver of butter to help moisten the dough as well while cooking. Here’s a shot of the pupusas post cooking:

costco pupusas post cooking

It looks quite a bit more like the Wikipedia picture, and since I’d cooked it at a much lower heat (like 60%), it didn’t generate the volumes of smoke like before. Here’s a final picture of me cutting it open to see how it cooked:

costco pupusas cut open

So, now to the most important thing: How does it taste? Well, I’m a bit sad to say it still tastes pretty crappy. The cheese is pretty flavorless, and there isn’t nearly enough bell pepper because the cheese only has the barest hint of pepper taste. The shell did taste much better this time, but as soon as it started cooling down the crappy cardboard taste come back. Overall I’m pretty disappointed – I’m actually a little tempted to toss the 2nd lot, but hey, maybe I’ll be starving someday and it’ll be something to eat.

Verdict: Bad, but not so bad you’d throw them out. Don’t buy these single guys! There is much better food to get.

Deleting a Category from Windows Live Writer

A quick post here since I ran into this issue while writing my post introducing Costco reviews. I had mispelled “Costco” as “Costo” in the categories field. Naturally this was after adding it, so I thought, hey, no problem, I’ll just edit it.

Removing Bad Category

Problem is, you can’t. See my issue circled in red. Here’s a post on the MSDN forums about it:

Now, that’s a bit of a long thread with some misunderstanding going on, so let me take a quote from the MVP Kirk M.

I think the perceived problem here is that since Writer can add  a category and the blogging platform in question will accept this addition (via it’s API?), by the same token, Writer should be able to use the same path to delete a category as well. I realize that it’s not the same thing in practice but why the function(s) are perceived this way.

Kirk has a pretty good answer but let me summarize what you need to do:

  1. Add-in the correct category.
  2. Select the correct category for your post. See the highlights in the picture below.
    1. Removing Bad Category unselect
  3. Continue writing the blog post as usual
  4. Upload the blog post
  5. Close Windows Live Writer
  6. Restart Windows Live Writer
  7. Check the categories drop down. It should be updated. Check out the screen shot below.
    1. Removing Bad Category successful removal

The issue here is that they didn’t want the tool to override any of the behaviour of the hosted websites that Live Writer supports. I get that – but it’s a crappy user experience not to able to edit a tag they haven’t uploaded yet. This is especially crappy given that you can refresh the list, but it won’t update at all since they probably didn’t want to have refresh remove any non-uploaded categories. An easy way to do this would be to give an option to configure this behaviour, but hey, I know what seems easy on the outside sometimes isn’t for a variety of reasons. I’m just posting the workaround.

Costco Crap–Cuisine, clothes and cat food

In the old days, you used to have to buy things in small sizes. If you were lucky, you might be able to buy a party size bag of chips, but that was pretty much it. If you were really adventurous, you might order chicken wings by the bag from Swansons in that yellow truck, but that was weird, and they didn’t taste so hot anyway. Then, one day in the 80’s, Costco was born. It’s now a huge business, but since it started in Washington State and I grew up in Michigan, my first experience with the whole warehousing store business was actually with a copy cat: Sam’s Club.

You know, back then, the whole thing was pretty strange. Most stores wanted you to come in. Take a look around, smell all the tasty things you could eat, get all dong-razzled by the rows of goods. Sam’s Club in those days was very exclusive, it had a person at the door, and they sure as shit made sure you had a card before they let you in. I must have been like 14 or 15, scheming like an idiot with my friend to get in there; all we wanted to do was take a look around! Haha, now we all know that what’s inside those stores is pretty mundane, but to a kid it was a giant mystery to solve. So why talk about it now? Little kids now would probably roll their eyes at me, but Costco still has a little bit of magic. Sam’s Club was kind of a letdown, the people were always kind of rude on the East Coast (did you know they are suppose to say your name? I never found that out until I went with my friend Erik and they greeted him as Mr. Young), and the store just seemed a little stale. After walking into a Costco for the first time, I knew what I’d been missing.

It seems like these single stores have no purpose for the single person except to waste money – and if you were thinking purely about grocery shopping like a normal family/person, you’d be totally right. Somehow though, among all my single friends, Costco managed to stand out as a place that they’d continue to frequent, in spite of the fact that on the face of it, it was ridiculous. I mean, how the hell is 1 person going to consume that much stuff???

After shopping there a while, I realized why it was perfect for a single person: it had almost everything you’d need, in sufficient quality, and sufficient quantity. It also had a greatly reduced selection so you could totally get in and out without having to browse dozen’s of brands. Hell, 1/2 the time the only good choice was the Kirkland’s selection brand, and that made it even easier!

Anyway, what I’ll do sometimes from now on is post a short review of something I picked up at Costco. To forestall your next thought, no, I’m not gonna review the Costco hotdogs like thousands of other people. I’m going to put up some thoughts on something that might be awesome for a single guy (or gal… hey, they might be reading. I’m single! Smile with tongue out) or something sort of strange you might have wanted to try, or something sort of crappy. They’ll always be sorted under Costco and the post will start with Costco so if you want to skip, feel free. So to give you a preview of my next post, I’m going to review this food stuff I found in the pre-made refrigerated section that I thought might be good to freeze for later. See? Perfect single person food.

One peron’s experience with Volkswagen FSI Engine carbon buildup issues

I own a 2007 Volkswagen Jetta GLI with the 2.0L FSI engine. It’s a lovely car, and a big part of that is the engine: it’s small, so it’s not too hard to get 30+ mpg on the freeway, but it’s also turbocharged so it has plenty of juice when the car needs to go. I’d been driving the car (mostly) trouble free and the odometer had just rolled up on 50,000 miles when the check engine light came on. Now, normally this isn’t such a big thing on a modern car and especially a VW. They do all sorts of checks, and maybe I got some crappy gas, or I didn’t tighten my gas cap enough. Point being, there could have been a hundred little things that could make the check engine light come on, but after a few days the light would always turn off. This time, the light stayed on for days, and then the days turned into a week. So I brought the car into my dealership (here) to have them check it out.

A quick note: there seems to be this view that all dealerships (or the stealership as a lot of people like the call them) are bad – but that just isn’t true. Just like any mechanic, there are good dealers and bad dealers. I’ve been dealing with Auburn since I bought the car and they seemed like they were on the up and up. Sure there might some places that were a bit cheaper, but I liked knowing these guys had my back since they were using all OEM stuff and doing all the work. They would also do everything from the service manual the way I would have done it myself.

Diagnosis Round 1

Anyway, they diagnosed it as sparkplugs going bad, and replaced them. This is a 60,000 mile replacement item, and the car had been running rough, so I didn’t think anything about it. Total cost: $300 and 4 hours of my time.

So let’s tally the thing’s we’re seeing here:

  1. Persistent Check engine light. Stays on through multiple restarts and gas fillups.
  2. Engine starts roughly

Got the car out of the dealer and it seemed to run a bit smoother. Let’s fast forward 4 days…

Diagnosis Round 2

Driving to work several days later, my heart drops as I see the check engine light come one. WTF. Ok, time to chill, maybe the engine is just getting used to the new spark plugs – nope. 5 days later and the light is still on, causing my brow to furrow in consternation each time I take a look at it. I call Auburn VW and setup another appointment to have them take a look at my car.

This time my service advisor is Joel – he checks me and and fills out the paperwork for my loaner and I’m on my way. Later that day, he gives me a call to tell me what they found and he says a lot but two words standout among all the explanations: Carbon Buildup.

Carbon Buildup? What is that anyway?

I tell Joel to start the needed work and I immediately hop onto my computer when I get home from work. I don’t need to look to hard. My first query: VW fsi engine carbon buildup. Here is what I get:


Oh man…this doesn’t look good. I try Bing too:


There are a whole bunch of threads but some of the best ones are at Fourtitude and Fourtitude also is the same as VWVortex. They have some really great pictures of what the engine looks like with the carbon buildup. At this point I’m pretty depressed, because it looks like a systemic issue that all direct injection engines have. Owners from all different models are reporting this problem

The low side estimate that is being quoted in those threads is around $700, so when Joel calls me back, I’ll cross check that price and see how much higher a normal price is. From the threads, I also accrue a few more things to add to the list of symptoms that indicate carbon buildup:

  1. Persistent Check engine light. Stays on through multiple restarts and gas fillups.
  2. Engine starts roughly
  3. Excessive carbon deposits on the tailpipe. I always wondered why my tailpipes were so dirty. It’s like a thin black soot that is very difficult to clean.
  4. Engine cylinder buildup. This is sort of linked to number 2 as it causes the roughness.
  5. Loss of power. I didn’t really notice this one, but apparently if the buildup is not fixed it eventually leads to this.
  6. Replacing spark plugs too soon. Spark plugs are often mistaken for carbon buildup.

The clean up takes 3-4 days, I can’t remember anymore, and when Joel calls me back he tells me that the entire engine has been scoured by hand of the carbon deposits. Additionally, some of the cylinders had massive buildup (check point 4) and the total cost is around $800 (check $700 low side estimate from the online threads). We start talking about the issue and he is very sympathetic because he knows from my long service record at the dealership (check using your dealer) that I regularly service the vehicle. He gives me one ray of hope: he tells me to call Volkswagen Customer care and let them know about my situation. My total cost at this point is still just the $300 from before, but right now I’m on the hook for up to:

  • $800: engine cleaning
  • $10/day that I’ve had the loaner. Thus far it’s been about 7 days.

Calling Volkswagen Customer Care

I call the number and they pick up pretty promptly. I describe my problem and the person on the phone dutifully records my issues without giving me any shit or doubting my claims. He tells me that a regional case manager will be in contact with me soon. Well, I don’t have to wait too long before Daryl calls me and lets me know he will be contacting my dealership and investigating my issue. I’m crossing my fingers that something happens.

Joel gives me a call a day later and good news: VW thinks that I deserve some help, but they are still deciding how much. He tells me he wants to hang onto the car until they decide, but that we’re almost at the end. Another day after that, both Daryl and Joel confirm that VW of America is going to cover around $250 of my problem! Joel also tells me that he’ll waive the loaner fee and a few other costs. My new damage is around $450 and although it’s not the whole thing, it’s a lot less. I’m also really happy Auburn VW and Joel hooked me up because they could have just let me fight it on my own.

VW of America follow up and conclusions

Daryl gives me a followup call to see if I’m happy with everything, and I tell him roughly the following:

  • I’m happy with the dealership and the customer care experience. It was really good.
  • What I’m not happy about is the fact that the car has this issue, and that there isn’t any good information about it.
  • I understand that there is wear and tear and a car, and it can be expensive – timing belts, water pumps, tires, brakes. All those things cost money and there is sort of a tradeoff between how you use the car and how those things wear. The problem with the carbon buildup is this:
    • You can’t monitor it. It’s inside the engine. You can guess, but until you pay them to crack open the car, you won’t know.
    • There isn’t anyway to maintain the issue other than not driving the car – which is ridiculous. I drive the car, I know I need to change the oil. I don’t see “carbon buildup” anywhere in the owners manual of things to watch out for.
    • It’s crazy expensive – sure I got help this time, but what happens in another 50,000 miles? So every 50,000 miles I’m going to have to shell out $800 just to drive the car?

Daryl tells me he’s going to let VW know about my concerns and that he understands everything I’m saying.

I really don’t know what is going to happen with the vehicle. This issue has made me very hesitant to hang onto the vehicle, and it has also made me wary of picking another car from VW/Audi group as they all exhibit the problem. I hope at some point VW comes out and announces some official recognition of the issue, but until then I’ll keep driving the VW since it’s ok for the near future.

UPDATE  (February 2012): I ended up keeping the car. It’s got like 80,000 miles on it now. The carbon build-up is a bitch, but the car is just too damn good – hope they add it to the regular maintenance checks to inspect for carbon buildup.