Monday, December 31, 2007

To sum up

It's hard for me to sum up 2007.  Or, actually, it's hard for me to sit around with friends and sum it up, because for so many of the people that I know, 2007 was defined by a single, massive, year-defining event.

This was the year one of my friends fought breast cancer, and another fought lymphoma.

This was the year that two of my friends (and one of my cousins) had babies.

This was the year that two of my friends' marriages ended.

This was the year that one of my friends lost his father.

This was the year that one of my friends passed the bar exam.

This was the year that two of my friends retired.

And I can look back and remember that this time last year, I had my condo on the market (and was sure I'd be in a house by now), but that came to a screeching halt in March, and I spent the better part ("better" only in duration, surely) of this year with plastic sheeting covering half my living room while I was at the mercy of the homeowners association, the management company, and several contractors.

And, sure, while I can look back over the year and think of fun things and trips and accomplishments, they've mostly faded -- either blurring with other years' memories, or mixing with more "insignificant" memories like playing with my cat or reading a really good book.

But, basically, for me, it was a year more defined by other people -- whether it was events in their lives or their somewhat frustrating control over events in mine.

No real resolutions this year -- just a vague promise to be a little more cognizant of when this is going on, and (and if you'll forgive the unfortunate similarity to the Serenity Prayer) a decision to take a more active role in the things that I can.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stupid DVD player.

I bought some British DVDs off Amazon.co.uk.  (Damn that BBC America channel for getting me all addicted, and then not selling the DVDs in the U.S.)  But this is OK.  I have a code-free DVD player, so I can watch British DVDs.

The DVDs arrive on Thursday.  (Which was, as a matter of fact, the day I first wrote this entry, but then hit the wrong button when multi-tasking and ... oops.)  Arrival on Thursday was just amazing, as Amazon had promised them for January 6.  So, yeah, made the whole eight-bucks-for-international-shipping feel a little better, when the DVDs clearly took a flight, rather than a slow boat.

So, they arrive.  I gleefully take them home and plop the first one into my DVD player.

Here's an interesting fact about my code-free DVD player.  It has always been a bit tempermental.  Which is to say, it has always exhibited behavior that, in a normal DVD player, might suggest impending doom.  But I'm used to it.  I'm used to it whirring away and telling me there's no disk in there when I have just put a disk in there.  I'm used to stopping and restarting and stopping and restarting until it finds the disk and maybe even recognizes the "play" command.  That's just its way.

The problem with a DVD player that always seems on the verge of death is that you can't tell when it is, in fact, actually on the verge of death.

Which mine apparently had been.

I'll spare you the recap of a very frustrating half-hour.  It ended with me using a screwdriver to pry my brand new DVD out of the player's maw, as the damn machine was exerting a death-grip on disk one of Life on Mars, and I was not going to let it get away with it.

Disk safely freed from its clutches, I considered my options. 

I really wanted to watch that DVD that night.

I know a store that sells code-free DVD players.  OK, the down side is that it's in a mall, and it's the week before Christmas.  But I distinctly remember seeing code-free players there.  I even thought, "I'll have to remember this store for when my DVD player dies." 

I drove to the mall.  8:30 on the Thursday before Christmas, I ventured to a mall.

(And it was pretty darned crowded.)

I parked in my super secret parking area (I'll never tell) and booked all the way to the other end of the mall where the store was.

Where the store ... was.

No store.  Sign announcing mall expansion where the store ought to be.

Not good.

I ask the dude in the store next door if he happened to know what happened to the store.  He said it relocated somewhere out of the mall.  Does he remember the name of the store?  He does.

9:00 at night, on the Thursday before Christmas, I fold myself into the Photo Booth at the mall, to get enough quiet to ring information and see if they can't find the damn store for me.

They can't.  Either I have the name wrong, or the place is out of business.  No listing.

I get the number for a couple of local electronics stores on a total longshot.  Figure I'll ask if they happen to carry code-free DVD players.  They don't answer their phones, but whether that's because they were closed or too busy to pick up the phone in the DVD player department, I couldn't say.

I ponder my options.  I use my phone's internet browser to check Amazon for code-free players.  I feel somewhat mollified by the fact that they do, in fact, have some and that (therefore) I can get one.  But that's in a few days.  I wanna watch my DVD now.  (Whine whine whine.)

I go to the food court and eat my favorite mall fast food.  I figure the protein will help me think.

I have one chance left for watching my DVD that night.  It's very long, but I try to convince myself it might work.  My new computer has a DVD drive on it.  Two, in fact.  Maybe those would be code-free.  Maybe?  I mean, Dell sells the same computers everywhere, right?  They wouldn't bother with different DVD drives for different countries, would they?  A computer's a computer.  Right?

I'm half tempted to stop at the Dell booth in the mall and ask the guy, but I figure he won't know anyway.  I go home and crank up the computer.  I find a British DVD I don't need very much.  (The screwdriver incident is still fresh in my mind, and I have some irrational fear that sticking a region 2 disk into a region 1 DVD drive might blow up the disk or something.)

My DVD drive gives me a friendly error message about how I've inserted a disk with a different region code than my DVD drive.  That's pretty much what I expected.  Darn.

But then it offers me choices.  Would I like to insert a disk from the proper region, or would I like to change the region on my DVD drive?

Really?  I sidle up to the computer warily and hit option B, waiting for the catch.

It lets me reassign the DVD drive to Region 2 (Western Europe).  This is a good thing.  It tells me I can only reassign the region code a total of five times and asks if I'm down with that.  I am so down with that.

Interesting story here.  A few months ago, I bought this computer.  About a month later, my Dad wanted to buy a similar computer, and he'd pretty much copied the specs I used in ordering his computer.  Excepting one thing.  I got two optical drives, while he only got one. 

Now, I got the DVD-RW drive (or whatever) and also the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive.  Because I wanted to be able to burn DVDs, but also thought, y'know, pretty stupid to have a DVD drive only and not be able to play and burn CDs, too.  So when I saw my dad only had the DVD-RW drive, I said he'd made a mistake and asked what he expected to read CDs with.  And he said that the guy at Dell assured him that the DVD-RW drive was also a combo drive and that it would handle CDs too.  And I felt like a total bozo for not having read the fine print on that one, because, yeah, I could've just got the single drive, and then I could've even gotten the sleeker case and ... oh hell, it's bought now.  I justified it by thinking I could at least burn stuff a lot faster with two drives.

Well, look what happened.  I now have a real live legitimate reason for having two DVD drives in my computer.  One of them is now British.  Ha.

(And the first episode of Life on Mars is awesome.)

Arr! Arr! Arr!

Tim Taylor would be proud.

The building in which I live (and hope to soon depart) has three stories.  The configuration is a little weird, but out of 24 units, there are only 4 on the second floor.  (There are a bunch of two-story units, which accounts for the disparity.)  Anyway, all the units open onto a central courtyard.  Meaning they're outdoors.  Meaning they get dark at night.

There is a walkway on the second floor (which services just the four of us).  There are footlights around the walkway.  Seven of them. 

About a month ago, I mentioned at the last homeowners meeting that a lot of the bulbs on the second floor were out.  I was told we were down to our last lightbulb, and that changing them is a bit "tricky." 

A month has gone by, and now they're all out.  Now, OK, sure, it's probably a safety hazard.  But more than that, I'm hoping to put my unit back on the market in January, and I'm thinking that anyone who comes to see the place at night isn't going to be really impressed by our high standards of building maintenance if, y'know, every damn light bulb is out.  So I emailed our HOA President (who is also our lightbulb contact, being as he's an executive for a chain of lighting stores) and tell him that I'd like to replace all the second floor lightbulbs, and could he get the bulbs, and could he show me whatever the "trick" is, so that I can do the job.

I am pleased with that email.  Largely because the HOA President and I haven't been on the best of terms over the last six months or so because of the contractor debacle -- and I worked very hard to get just the right "let's work together and make the building pretty" spirit in there.  It got results.  He went out and bought new light bulbs today, and met me this afternoon for a lightbulb replacement lesson.

Not particularly difficult, as it turned out.  The only trick involved is that there are two screws holding on the plate covering the light bulb, and you have to be certain to line up both screws when re-attaching it.  No more difficult than, say, taking the license plate frame off your car, although you're working on a somewhat smaller scale.  The real trouble part came when, after he showed me how to do the first one and left me to it, a little spider came crawling out of the second one once I'd removed the plate.  So I was a little ooked out removing plates and reaching my hand in the small, dark space in order to unscrew the old light bulb, but, thankfully, nothing came skittering over my hand.  (I had an unpleasant Dune flashback.  But I figured, hey, if I'm going to own my own damn house, this is exactly the sort of minor maintenance I have to be capable of.  Hell, I even brought my own screwdriver.  Because I'm, y'know, prepared for this.)

Forty-five minutes later and I'd replaced all the lightbulbs.  (When it gets dark and the puppies switch on automatically, we'll find out just how well I replaced them.)  I was feeling so handy, I even replaced one of my window screens that the contractors had forgotten to put back.

I grunted a few times, then put the electric kettle on for a nice cup of tea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Frustration

As of yesterday, the work in my condo was done.  Absolutely, completely, dancing-in-the-streets done.

Today, it isn't.

I came home from work to discover that someone came into my unit today -- unannounced -- did no work I could identify, moved my piano bench to the middle of the floor, left an extension cord next to my fireplace and bent the metal plate on the bottom of my front door.

I kid you not.

The metal thingy on the bottom of the door -- that keeps drafts out -- is bent near the edge of the door.  Sorta like maybe someone with steel-toed boots gave it a good kick in an attempt to open the door.  And now, whenever you open or close my door, it makes a really loud sound, as the bent plate scrapes against the metal ... thingy that sits under the door over which the metal plate is supposed to freely glide.

So, as of yesterday, I could relist my condo as soon as I wanted.

As of today, I can't, as we now need to hunt down the moron who screwed up my door, and make them fix it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

... And put the seat down

New Rule:

If you're a contractor, and you come to do some work in my home ...

And you feel the need to respond to nature's call ...

So you step into the bathroom ...

And that bathroom is located right next to the room I'm sitting in, so I can hear you ...

Can you at least run the water after you've done your thing, to give me the freakin' illusion that you've washed your hands?

World's Stupidest Question

You work for a contractor.  Your partner tells you to be over at the homeowner's place at 9:00.  (He and the homeowner had considered 8:30, but ultimately went for 9:00.)

You arrive at 8:30. 

You ring the bell.

A female voice yells out, pretty loud, "Wait a minute!"

You have a key.  Upon not immediately gaining entry with the doorbell, you stick your key in the lock.  You have trouble working the lock.  While you're working it, a panicked female voice yells out, "WAIT!!"

You finally get the key to work and the door opens.  You see, slightly hiding behind a door, the woman who owns the place.  Holding a towel around her otherwise naked self.

And you say ...

... "Can I come in?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

On a Christmas Mission

I hadn't actually planned on doing this week's "Weekend Assignment" (you may have noticed I've been a little lax with those), but I ended up participating.

Weekend Assignment #195: Do something extra nice for someone you know. Which is to say, something above and beyond your general level of niceness. Could be for a spouse, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a child, or someone you've met randomly as you're walking around the mall.

Sunday, I wake up late, as per usual.  Stumble over to the computer and get an email from an acquaintance in Germany.  The acquaintance is firmly in the column of "friend of a friend" -- I don't know her well enough to be considered a friend herself, but she's a good friend of my good friend and neighbor.

And she's writing about my good friend and neighbor, who has been a bit depressed 'cause it's the week before Christmas and her place doesn't look very Christmasy -- 'cause her husband didn't get their stuff out of storage, and the contractors still have to finish the put-back of her unit, and she's just had some surgery so she's not feeling very go-get-'em right now, and all that.  And I knew all that.  I just didn't think there was anything I could do about it other than sympathize and maybe nudge her husband into getting the stuff out of storage.

But Germany has an idea -- why don't I grab a mutual friend or two and bring over a few Christmas decorations.  This seems like a good idea.  I ring up a mutual friend and she's up for it, so we pile into my car and head off to Target -- with the theme song from "Mission Impossible" vying with "We Need a Little Christmas" in the back of my head.

We check out the garden center.  While we'd like to do a Christmas tree, we can't go full-scale (the whole contractors-coming-back thing), but we think maybe a Charlie-Brown-Christmas-sized tree might work.  Maybe something we can set on a table or something.  Target does not have mid-sized trees.  It's either tiny little foot-high evergreens in pots, or a six-footer.  We re-focus on wreaths and poinsettias, deciding on a nice fresh wreath and a "rainbow assortment" of poinsettias (red, yellow/white, and a yellow one painted blue with little sparkles sprayed on).  We head into the store for stuff.

Long story short, we end up loading up my car with the aforementioned plant-life, three big Christmas stockings and a set of little ones (we thought we'd put our own names on the little ones -- with a shout-out to the lady in Germany who put this together), a Christmas Elf hat for the dog, an animated toy that plays a Christmas song, and three of them little tree-shaped things light up.

After a quick write-names-on-stockings and put-together-light-up-trees session ("Where's this piece go?"  "No idea.") we knocked on her door and delivered Christmas.  We started with the poinsettias and the animated toy -- but we ended up having to make two more trips to bring over the stockings, mini-trees, and wreath -- and to decorate the dog.

I had to go out for a few hours, and one I got back, I couldn't help but notice that the wreath -- which we'd hung on her door -- was no longer on the door.  "Uh-oh," I thought, "she doesn't like the wreath.'  But she invited us over for dinner and I found that she'd moved the wreath inside the house.  She'd glued on some fake flowers, put the mini-stockings on it, and hung it over the fireplace.  It looked terrific, but I was just thrilled that she'd taken the stuff we'd given her and run with it, getting into the decorate-for-Christmas spirit herself, which is really what she'd been wanting all along.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Tea Kettle Completes the Image

During these times of television darkness (i.e. writers' strike), I have turned to BBC America.  It happened slowly at first, but now the channel is on at my place more often than ... well, to put it in perspective, more often than Nick @ Nite used to be.

Honestly, I can't even tell you how it started.  I would say it started with Doctor Who, but that's wrong, because for some obscure reason, the BBC (which, y'know, MAKES Doctor Who) sold the rights to the SciFi channel.  BBC America gets the rights later, and if you still haven't watched it by then, it can ultimately show up on your local PBS station.  Point is, though, I was minding my own business watching Doctor Who on SciFi, so have no idea exactly when and how I started picking up BBC America programs.

It may have been when David Tennant (dude currently starring in Doctor Who) was on the Graham Norton Show -- one of them night time talk shows, in the mold of Leno or Letterman.  Except British and really funny.  Norton often has two guests on each night -- and he chats with them both simultaneously, none of this one-at-a-time-to-plug-your-movie thing.  And the second guest is often a comedian, so you've got Norton and the comic throwing out quips while Glenn Close (or whoever) is sitting there in the middle, trying to keep up.  Also:  (1) they all drink on the show, which loosens everyone up; and (2)  Norton often does goofy things with audience members or via a remote camera.  When Glenn Close was on, they took a woman out of the audience, put her in a perm wig in front of a green screen, and had her (over)act the final scene from Fatal Attraction.  He's also just very quick and funny, and at least once per episode, he's said something I've just laughed out loud at.  (It's often something filthy, but funny.)

So, OK, weekly late night television show taken care of.

Then I picked up the news.

BBC America had been advertising their new newscast (BBC World News America or something) which isn't just BBC News exported, but a real live actual news program by the BBC folks geared just toward us.  To be completely fair, I haven't watched American network news in ages (other than watching CNN in hotel rooms, I still get most of my news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) but this is actually ... Ihate to admit it, but it's kinda like World News with Training Wheels.  Except there's nothing particularly patronizing about it.  But I do get the feeling that whoever is behind the show thought, "Y'know, these Americans don't know all that much about what's going on in the world" so they often start each story from scratch.  Like, whenever they're talking about something happening in, say, Pakistan, it starts with a little globe spinning over to Pakistan, just in case you're not quite up on where the hell Pakistan is.  Then they give you a little bit of background before launching into the story.  The coverage is also quite remarkable compared to what I'm used to -- the BBC claims one of the advantages to their news program is that they've got people everywhere, and they really do.  VERY few remote stories are just a reporter standing in front of a local landmark -- they're out there in the streets, talking to locals, getting their opinions on things.  So, like, before the Russian elections, we had a whole story on Siberia -- how Putin has changed it, and what locals think of him.  I find the whole thing very impressive.

Am slowly venturing into their actual primetime TV shows, too.  Having actually yielded to their constant bombardment of ads for "the final season" of Life on Mars, I finally sat down to watch the season premiere.  (Hint:  Has nothing to do with Mars.)  Was so impressed, I went right out and ordered the DVD of the first season.

And as for why the hell I'm watching Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic before bedtime, well, that's anyone's guess.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Feel Old

I just came back from the live show of "Disney's High School Musical  - on Tour!"

(And, no, I didn't actually pay to see that.)

And I didn't feel old because of all the perky teenaged kids (or, more precisely, the perky folks in their 20s playing perky teenaged kids) and the hackneyed plot and the fact that the audience actually went "Ooooooooo" when the stars kissed at the end.  Which is to say, I know I wasn't this show's target audience.

What made me feel old was when I thought about certain ways in which I thought Disney was underestimating its target audience.

Look, I remember -- when I was in Elementary School -- the first time my class was racially integrated.  Which, in this case, meant there were two black kids mixed in with all us white kids.

And I also remember growing up, and hearing about "interracial romances" as something you whispered about, and it certainly wasn't in the mainstream.

And I remember watching the first interracial kiss on TV (although, by the time I saw it, it was in reruns).  But the fact that it was, in fact, the first interracial kiss was actually pointed out to me, because that sort of thing was still significant, even by the time I watched it.

And I remember how things slowly changed.

How we'd started to see black people show up in films, TV shows and plays that weren't only geared toward black audiences.

How this generally started with tokenism, where we'd start to see maybe one or two black people in a show, and (surprise!) they'd end up with each other.  (C'mon, we all remember the "black couple" that seemed to be added to all the soap operas.)

And I look back at my own High School class, which was completely integrated.  (Indeed, I remember one day in 11th grade, looking around my Social Studies classroom and realizing I was the only white student in the class.) 

And I remember how things evolved to the point where you'd go to see Rent on Broadway, and one of the main relationships was not only between a white person and a black person, but both of those people were women.

And then I saw "High School Musical" tonight.  And the leads are a white guy and a Hispanic woman.  And each one has a best friend who is black.  And the two black characters (who were pretty much the only black people in the show who had lines) ended up with each other.  How very tidy.  And while many of the other characters also paired up at the end, the guy who was gay didn't end up with anyone.

And the whole thing just took me back, and not in a good way.  Because, whether by design or the fluke of an actual color-blind casting process, this was exactly the sort of result that would have happened in a show geared to me back when I was in school -- it would have been considered progressive to put black performers in the supporting roles; it would have been considered natural to have them end up with each other.  And they probably would have included a gay character, too -- and it would have been an overly-effeminate guy who provided comic relief and ended up alone.

I really question, though, whether this is enough for kids now -- or if kids today are going to look at this cast of mostly white people, and think, "That's not what my school looks like."  If it will strike them as almost notably odd that the two black people in the school end up together.  And the gay character, too, might seem a little less than real.

I can't fault Disney for making a show where the express theme is that everyone should be who they are, and follow their desires, and not judge each other, and be friendly and supportive and all that other good stuff.  I just wish it didn't look like a 1970s show saying exactly the same things.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Interim Dance of Joy

I am informed that as of 2:15 this afternoon, the balcony above my unit passed the water test.

YAY!!!!!

To put this in perspective, it was around MARCH when I had to take my condo off the market due to the leak, and shortly thereafter when we commenced efforts to determine the source of the leak, and correct said problem.  So, seriously, we're talking about EIGHT MONTHS of water tests, repairs, and ... waiting around for more water tests and repairs.

The "put my living room back together" part of this process should commence sometime next week. 

(All this assumes, of course, that nothing goes wrong when it rains this weekend and we have a real water test.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where's the Kitty?

My cat likes to play "chase me around the house."

She goes somewhere just slightly out of my view and meows like crazy.  When I get up and go to her (as I will, eventually, as the meowing gets more and more insistent) she gleefully runs someplace.  I chase her.  She often stops, just to make sure I'm still following.  And as soon as I reach out to touch her ... she bolts off again.  Sometimes, it's kinda hard to find her, especially when she's run the chase into a room where the lights aren't on.  The other day, I chased her into the bedroom.  She usually waits on the opposite side of the bed, until I walk around and spot her there -- then she runs off under the bed and out the open door.  This time, she did not go out the door.  I looked everywhere, until I spotted this -- the view from under my bed.



Yes, she's hiding using the world-famous "If I can't see you, you can't see me" technique.

Here's the "with flash" version:



I'm under ur bed; gardin' ur supplies?

Because I Know You Wanted to See This

Yes.  This is what a chemical burn looks like.



No, that's not lipstick smeared above my lip.  That's burn.  Actually, it's burn coated with Neosporin-a-year-past-its-expiration-date, but, y'know, any port in a storm. 

Burns hurt.

Next entry is way more cheerful.

Not Exactly the Look I was Going For

I started off this morning using a facial hair remover product.  (Oh come on.  It isn't TMI.  All us brunettes do it.)  I have used said facial hair remover product regularly for the last 20 years or so.

Applied it for 8 minutes as per usual.

Felt all tingly, like it's working.

Removed it with a damp Kleenex and ... Ow!  It burns!  It burns!

(WTF??)

Put on the "post removal skin soothing cream" and ... it still burns!!  Yipes!

I admire my look in the mirror.  OK, sure, my upper lip is hair free, but you sort of don't notice that as you are distracted by the redness and swelling.

I look at the package insert which cheerfully suggests that, if irritation occurs, I am to remove the product immediately (that ship has already sailed, friend), apply a cold compress and seek medical attention.

Am now typing one-handed while holding a cold compress to my face.

Yesterday, my mother asked me, "Have you ever had a day where everything you tried to do went wrong?"  I might just.

The Benefit of My Wisdom

Two grocery tips for you:

Tip One: Yoplait Yogurt Whips taste like dessert.

I mean it.  I eat a lowfat Yoplait every morning for breakfast.  One day, when I was shopping for my week's worth of yogurt, they were out of white chocolate raspberry lowfat, so I figured I'd experiment with the raspberry Whip.  (Fewer calories but a touch more fat.)  The consistency is sorta mousse-like (and sorta not) but, seriously, it tastes like dessert.  At least the raspberry and strawberry ones do.  But if you're looking for a berry-tasting light fluffy treat, suck one of these puppies down.

Tip Two:  As 100 calorie bags of microwave butter-flavored popcorn go, Pop Secret is the best, Orville Redenbacher is a reasonable second, and Jolly Time blows.

Sadly, the store was out of Pop Secret (they had the Kettle Corn and Homestyle flavors, neither of which is to my liking) so I figured I'd buy the other two brands and compare.  I started with the Jolly Time, which I actually had to salt, it was so tasteless.  Thought I was eating styrofoam packing peanuts.  The Orville was substantially better.  (Anything edible would have been substantially better.)  Didn't have quite the yum factor of the Pop Secret, but each kernel seemed to have at least a touch of flavor to it -- unlike the Jolly Time, which had a lot of flavor, although most of it was left lining the bag rather than attached to the popcorn.

Bonus Tip:  Check those expiration dates.  Nearly walked out of the store today with some mushroom salad with a "sell by" of two days ago.

Completely random aside to my sister:  Whole Foods has pre-cut packaged jicama.  Man, that took me back.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Contractor was Not Hit by a Bus

He had just decided not to show.

He didn't return the consultant's calls all day, and instead left a message at about 4:55 (after which he was, of course, completely unreachable) saying something about a crew's truck breaking down and being overbooked and he'll be out 9:00 a.m. the following morning.  (I think the key word in that sentence is "overbooked."  Yep, he decided not to come.)  This was a bit problematic as the leak detection people were also due out the following morning at 9:00 a.m.  And we didn't get word from the contractor in time to cancel them.

So the leak detection guys come out Friday morning and, sure enough, can't do any sort of water testing because the contractor hadn't plastered up any of the work.  (Funny thing about water testing -- it's really hard to water test a wall for water tightness when the wall isn't there.)  Yeah, so they went home without doing anything, and we rescheduled them for Wednesday.

At around 1:30 (which is apparently the "contractor" definition of 9:00 a.m.), the contractor's guys show up to replaster the wall on my balcony (and a similar one on the balcony leaking into my living room).  The guys do a fine job replastering the wall.  Let me be perfectly clear with this -- I have no quibble with their plastering abilities.

They left without putting the outlet cover on.

You may recall -- I certainly did -- that the outlet was the reason we tore up the wall in the first place.  It was leaking in the general vicinity of the outlet and we'd hired this contractor to remove the old outlet, replace it with a nice, new waterproof one (which we'd already purchased and had sitting right out there for him) and seal it real good with silicone.  While the contractor had convinced us that opening up the wall was also prudent for stopping the leak, this didn't mean that his guys could leave without putting the outlet cover on.  You know, the thing they were originally hired to do.

I pointed this out to the contractor's guys.  They were plasterers, not outlet cover putter-onners.  I deduced this from the fact that the guy ... oh, let's make it multiple choice:

(a)  did not have a screwdriver, so put the outlet cover on with a knife.
(b)  put the outlet cover on backwards
(c)  seated the outlet cover awkwardly on its gasket, so that the gasket was half covering the place where you plug stuff in
(d)  re-installed the old, leaking outlet cover, rather than putting on the nice, new waterproof one.

Yes, kids, all of the above.

I had kittens.  I'd been, all things considered, remarkably even-tempered about things to this point, but honestly.  I walk out on my balcony and see the old outlet cover back on, backwards, with gasket sticking out, and knife marks around the screws, and ... given the choice between bursting into tears and letting loose with an expletive-laced tirade, I'm somewhat proud to admit I chose the latter course.

The consultant made a few phone calls, the contractor's guy borrowed a screwdriver from me, and next thing we knew, he had the right outlet cover on. 

Now, obviously, if the man comes to the job without a screwdriver, he surely didn't bring silicone sealant.

Thereafter, the contractor (of course) failed to respond to Monday's phone calls asking him to come out and silicone the damn outlet.  (Why would he?  If he's that overbooked, there's no reason to take some of his precious time for a five minute job.  Which would have already been completed had he sent out his guys with the right stuff.)  So our consultant drove to Target, bought a tube of silicone, and slathered it all around the outlet.  It isn't the prettiest job, but I am long past caring.  On Wednesday, it passed the water test!!!

Put the champagne back in the fridge.

The balcony upstairs failed.  That would be the balcony leaking into my living room.  The leak that made me take my condo off the market in the Spring, and which is preventing me from re-listing it now -- still exists.  The consultant got on the phone to the company that resurfaced the deck, and asked politely to speak to their "troubleshooter" guy.  He asked (and I will have to remember this for when I'm the person making this phone call) "not for the supervisor you send out when a customer complains about a job, but for the guy you send out when nobody else can figure out what's causing the leak."  Apparently, there is such a guy.  Said guy called us back that afternoon, and has an appointment to come out on Tuesday to diagnose the problem and plan a solution.

Argh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thunk Thunk Thunk

That's my head against the wall.  Metaphorically.

Upon reconsideration, I no longer think I like this contractor.

Around 2:30 yesterday, with the new waterproofing installed in my now torn-up balcony wall, the contractor called it a day, saying he'd be back today to plaster up the wall and install a waterproof box around the electrical outlet.

Long story less long:  He didn't come.  He didn't call, either.  We have a consultant managing this project who called him no less than five times throughout the day.  Never picked up.  Never called back.  He's MIA and the project is half-done.

The leak detection company had already been scheduled to come out tomorrow -- so they're going to water test as much as they can.  (They can water test the new waterproofing.  They cannot water test the area around the electrical outlet because the outlet is exposed and Duh.)

Now, OK, there's a chance that the contractor got hit by a bus or something.  In which case I'll feel really bad for calling him all sorts of new and exciting names.  But, barring that, I remain convinced that he's a poopyhead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vacation Day

I am taking a vacation day today.

I hadn't planned to.  In fact, I actually went to work this morning.  But the construction consultant called to say the contractor wanted to get in my unit, and I came home to supervise.

I think I like this contractor.  I like him because he appears to be getting to the bottom of the problem.  With a jackhammer.  While previous non-destructive investigation into the leak on my balcony has resulted in a determination that the outlet is leaking -- despite the massive amount of silicon sealant around the outlet -- this dude has decided that the only way we're really going to find out what is leaking is to rip out the outlet and chip out all the stucco around it until an obvious source of leakage appears.  He's been at it for about an hour and finally said "I think I found the problem."  Which is, of course, not where anyone ELSE thought the problem was -- but seeing as he was actually able to confirm his hypothesis by showing me the torn paper (inside my wall) where the water was able to get through, he gets my vote.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Short list of things I never thought I'd get excited about

A grocery store.

They opened up a new Whole Foods right near me and, honestly, my first thought was that I ought to go back with a camera to illustrate this blog entry.

Well, no.  That was my second thought.  My first thought was "can I live here?"

I have never been in a grocery store like this.  While riding on the escalator (more about this in a minute) the woman standing in front of me turned around and said, "It's like Disneyland!" 

Well, the parking lot certainly is.  It has underground parking.  The first level is the complimentary valet.  Beneath that is self-parking, and they've got employees in bright orange vests at every turn, directing you to the next available spot.

You take an elevator up to the store.  The store has two levels, which are connected by escalator.  This seemed odd to me.  Wouldn't you need an elevator (and a big, huge one at that) so you can bring your shopping cart from one level to the other?  No.  You don't.  The escalator does it.  Now, I was told (by the "Disneyland" lady) that these things are common in Chicago and other cities, but this was a piece of technology I have never seen.  Next to the escalator is a secondary escalator for shopping carts.  There's a track in it that grabs your shopping cart, holds it perfectly level, and rides it next to you (at the same speed as the regular escalator) so it meets you at your destination.  People were so amazed by this, they were running empty carts in it just to watch it go.

I went to the store because I needed something for dinner and didn't want to cook.  A friend (who had been to this store on Opening Day) suggested I check it out, because they have a lot of prepared foods.

A lot.  Of prepared foods.

Actually, the second floor is sort of like a food court.  They call it a restaurant as they have tables for eating.  In addition to (and this is just off the top of my head) -- a salad bar, they have a prepared salads bar, an antipasto bar, a mediterranean food bar, an olive bar, and a dessert bar.  That's the cold ones.  Also: multiple soup bars, a seafood bar, a rotisserie chicken bar (also smoked chicken), a carvery, a pizza bar, and an Asian food bar. 

Did I mention the Chocolate and Gelato station?

And that'sjust prepared foods.  Other unusual departments include a wine lounge, a roasting station (where they are roasting all different kinds of nuts), something to do with hot vegetables (I didn't really dwell), freshly made jams and spreads, freshly made salsa, dispensers of dried fruits and nuts, a whole gluten-free section, and a room marked "Massage."

It opened just this week, and I was so totally not the only one walking around slack-jawed, unable to comprehend this glorious bounty that had just moved in across the street from the place where I have my storage cage.

Gotta go.  Leftovers are calling.  (In this case:  some salad, pre-packaged pomegranate seeds, and some siu mai.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What "E" is the language in which I am speaking to you?

No, it's not a trick question.

You ever notice how game shows dumb down a bit when they've got celebrities on?  Actually, the level of dumbing down varies.  Jeopardy gets easier, but not outrageously so.  Who Wants to Be A Millionaire makes it damn near impossible not to get at least $32,000 for your charity.

Which brings us to The Weakest Link, my current Doctor Who obsession, and the wonder that is YouTube. 

The latest Doctor Who DVD release comes with bonus materials that include a little pre-show green room activity from when the cast was on The Weakest Link (in Britain, of course).  And the gang all seemed genuinely nervous that they'd go out there and come off as idiots.  Now, I've occasionally watched British Weakest Link on BBC America, and the questions do seem somewhat difficult.  They're not uniformly difficult, but there is definitely a risk that you can get saddled with two really hard questions in a single round, which will make you look like pretty bad, compared to the rest of the contestants.  So, I thought, OK, the cast has cause to be a little concerned.

Until I cranked it up on YouTube, and actually saw the questions.

I now set forth the first round questions from the Doctor Who cast's appearance on The Weakest Link.  You will note there are only nine questions, because everyone got their question right, and they banked the full five thousand pounds.

1.  In Astronomy, the Earth takes one year to orbit which celestial body?
2.  In Relationships, an instant attraction to another person is usually known as "Love at first" what?
3. What "E" is the name of the language in which I am speaking to you?
4.  In the acting profession, it is often said that one should never work with children or what? [This asked to the person standing next to the robotic dog.]
5.  On treasure maps, which letter of the alphabet traditionally marks "the spot"?
6.  In sporting physiques, who usually weighs more, a jockey or a sumo wrestler?
7.  Because of a faulty circuit, the Doctor's TARDIS is usually stuck in the form of telephone box, previously used by which of the emergency services?  [Trust me.  That's an insanely easy Doctor Who question.  It'd be like asking William Shatner what color shirt Captain Kirk usually wore.]
8.  In Math, what is 10 plus 50?
9.  When the Cybermen were revived in 2006, what was their battle cry, "Control," "Alt" or "Delete"? [Again, insanely easy Doctor Who question.  The multiple choice actually makes it funny.]

After the entire cast completed these questions, thereby proving themselves not to be drooling idiots, the audience actually applauded.

And then I realized that, yes, the cast had a right to be nervous backstage.  Because, I mean, it's one thing if you happen to miss a question that a normal human being, watching from their living room, might get wrong.  But if you don't know the Earth revolves around the sun, or that "X marks the spot," it's a moment of stupidity you will never, ever live down.

Can lolcats be far behind?

OK, I finally gave in and made one of them motivational posters.



Something tells me this might become a new hobby.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Mmmkay.

Having reactivated my Netflix account, I spent this evening watching one of those movies everyone can't believe I haven't seen.  Y'know, filling in the holes in my film-seeing history, as it were.

So, I sat down and watched Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

And then I watched it again, with the director's commentary on.  Just to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Interesting experience, that -- listening to a director ramble on for two hours about his film.  I've only listened to directors' commentaries two other times, I think -- Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings, and Gore Verbinski on Pirates of the Caribbean.  The two could not have been more different.  Jackson knew exactly what he wanted for every shot, and his commentary was pretty much insight on how he created it.  Verbinski's commentary made it sound like his approach to directing was very seat-of-his-pants, and the commentary was largely his own expressions of surprise that things turned out as well as they did.  Gilliam's commentary is somewhere between the two.  On the one hand, Brazil is definitely his film made from his vision (I particularly liked the bit where he said that, because of his background in animation, he storyboarded a lot of the shots) -- but he also made clear that there's always room in his films for on-set inspiration, so points out a few things that ended up in the film without having been on those storyboards. 

Of course, unlike the others, Gilliam's commentary also made it very clear that he sees himself as a Hollywood outsider and is totally happy to tell every studio executive, critic, and unhappy audience member to go jump -- as he's going to make the movies he wants to make.  Which isn't always going to be a money-making proposition.  And I can respect that -- and it's the right attitude to have when you want to see a film that is more like "art" -- which is to say, you want to see the ideas the artist has chosen to express in the way the artist has chosen to express them, whether you agree with them or not.  It's art that makes you think.  Challenges you.  Makes you uncomfortable.  All that stuff.  (Of course, sometimes, I just want to be entertained, which is when I'll go see a movie where some hot guys blow stuff up.  I'm a woman of many moods.)

I digress.  One of the really interesting bits in the director's commentary (which was made in 1996) is that Gilliam says that people were saying to him that Brazil was ahead of its time and that it is relevant now (i.e. 1996) -- while he'd thought it was just as relevant when he made it (1985). 

Which was really quite curious as I would have said it is more relevant now. 
There was this one bit in the commentary when Gilliam said something about how the government (in the film) needed the fear of terrorism to justify its continued use of torture as an interrogation technique -- and I nearly choked on my tea.  Because, y'know, regardless of where you actually stand on these things, you'd have to be living under a rock to have missed similar discussions in the media today -- only they're talking about the United States, not some fictional totalitarian regime that exists only in Gilliam's twisted head.

I guess the fact that everyone seems to see Brazil as timely is what, in fact, makes it one of those classic films everyone says you ought to see.  Either that, or it says something really scary about society.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Photo dump!

Kath asks:  Does this mean you won't get to wear the Mary Poppins costume?

In fact, it does not.  The party in question was conveniently on Saturday, so I was able to attend.  (And then I spent a good deal of Sunday washing the dress.  I'd never worn it outside the house before and, apparently, dragging a teensy bit of train behind you is the equivalent of being a human Swiffer.  I picked up a ton of dirt from just walking around on the patio at the party house.  OK, yeah, I also knocked over a can of Coke.  But nobody saw me and I cleaned it right up, so we'll pretend that never happened.)

I didn't bring a camera to the party.  I should have; everyone else did.  But I did capture a shot before I left, all decked out in the Mary outfit -- it's much like the last except now I have the carpetbag.  Said prop really sealed the deal -- everyone knew instantly who I was supposed to be.



Damn.  A bit blurry, but you get the idea.  (I'm working with different photo editing software, so it'll take some time till I'm back up to speed.)

I also wanted to show you exactly why I'm so proud of the hat.  I therefore give you...

BEFORE:



and AFTER:



And ... and this one is really for my sister, who has never seen this particular look on me ... I straightened my hair for the day, because it is much easier to put in a bun when it's straight.  So, this is me with all my curls de-curled...



And that's all she wrote.  Back to curling up on the couch, wanting to take a short vacation from my body.

Let's see how long it takes my mom to call

I'm sick.

I saw it coming.

Last week, our secretary came in late on Tuesday, sounding awful, and was out the rest of the week, being sick.

She was back in the office on Monday.  Still sounded bad, but promising she's on antibiotics and therefore not contagious.

Our boss, who is off on vacation, called on Monday.  I needed to speak with our boss.  (It was fairly important.  It was a question that might give me an extra month to do some work.)

Here's the key:  he didn't call on the office line (from which he could easily be forwarded from the secretary's phone to my phone).  He called -- for whatever bizarre reason -- on our secretary's cell phone.  After she talked to him for ten minutes or so, she handed me her cell phone.

And I actually pondered it for a second or two.  I thought, I could just say, "Don't worry about it," and just ask him when he came back to the office later this week, thereby avoiding the germ-coated phone.  But we really needed to take care of this, so I took the phone and talked to him, and, yes, postponed the matter for a month.

Got back to my desk and proceeded to more-or-less wash my face with anti-bacterial hand gel, but that stuff's got limits.

Yesterday morning, woke up feeling fine.  Driving to work, I started feeling a little off.  (I actually googled this.  In my experience, the very first sign that I'm getting sick is a heightened sense of smell.  The internet refuses to back me up on it, saying, in fact, that some people get a reduction in their sense of smell when they get sick, but what does the internet know?)  So, heightened sense of smell, followed by general malaise.  I packed up a bunch of work (always hard to know (a) exactly how long one will be sick and (b) how productive one will be during this time), and drove home, stopping to pick up a quart and a half of chicken soup on the way.

Which, if you insert about 24 hours of sniffling, drinking tea, and generally feeling sorry for myself, brings us to today.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two and a half hours...

... is exactly how long it took to hook up the new computer!  (That would be the nice, pretty new Dell "small business" model running Windows XP, but running it a heck of a lot faster than my old computer.)

And when I say "hook up the new computer," I mean ...
- take apart the old computer
- bring an end table in the computer room
- re-set-up the old computer on the end table (so I can transport files via a four foot cable)
- unpack new computer
- hook up new computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speaker
- (do not hook up printer -- it's late and the power strip doesn't have room for it anyway)
- attach it to home network
- turn it on
- be amazed that it works and does, in fact, use the home network
- delete the surprisingly small amount of pre-installed software I didn't want (an added benefit of buying a "small business" machine rather than a "home" one)
- set the monitor resolution impossibly high as recommended
- notice how really, really tiny that makes all the text
- download Firefox
- set my internet options to make text bigger so I can see it on the high resolution screen
- set a coupla bookmarks
- download a picture for wallpaper
- notice that at the highest resolution available for the photo, it doesn't fill the aforementioned screen
- kick screen resolution back down to something human
- configure Outlook
- open Word -- be confused at how different the screen looks from whatever version of Word my office is still uses -- and I'd thought we were all current
- download the driver for my "PCTV To Go" and confirm that I can watch my TV on my computer
- consider messing with the resolution again

And finally ... and for me, this is a pretty big thing, NOT downloading AOL.  To be honest, I haven't used any non-web-based AOL content in years -- at least, not in any sense greater than just killing time.  I update the journal from the web, I handle email from the web -- everything else is just gravy.  And the more that gravy is ad-filled and system-freezing, the less I need it on my system.

Now ... to figure out how to make the keyboard stop wobbling.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Unexpected Level of Customer Service

My credit card expires this month, so they sent me a new one.  It had one of those stickers on it with a number you have to call from your home phone in order to activate the card.  (Y'know, as a security measure, to make sure the card got to the right house.)

So, I pick up the phone and dial the number, expecting to hear the pre-recorded voice thank me for calling Citibank and telling me my card has now been activated.

Instead the computerized voice said:  "Hello, you sexy man."

Yeah.  Apparently the sex line is one digit off from the card activation line.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yay!!!

Thank you all for thinking I look like Mary Poppins -- as that was, indeed, the goal.

(Although, when I first put it on, I was afraid it looked more Eliza Doolittle.)

So, I'm feeling a bit relieved that it's identifiable in the absence of the two key props -- as I'm still not sure how well I'm going to do in terms of getting them.  Said props would be:  the parrot-handled umbrella and the carpetbag.

The parrot umbrella is the item that actually exists, but ships in two to four weeks.  (Thanks, Disney Store.)  And then I looked in my closet, and discovered that my own personal umbrella stash does not include a normal, straightforward, hook-on-the-top doorman-type-umbrella.  I've only got foldy ones.  So, other than dropping by Target and hoping for a cheap, old school black umbrella, prop number one is out.

Carpetbags are, at least, buyable -- but they're like $100 each, so to heck with that.  A coworker offered to loan me hers, which is awful sweet of her, but it's her actual purse.  I'm a little concerned about taking someone's use-every-day purse to a Halloween party where it could get stepped on, or beer-coated, or subject to some other disaster. 

And, frankly, after all the time and money I put into the hat, I'm running out of steam on this particular Halloween costume.

So, I'm pleased that the costume is identifiable even if I don't manage to get any of my props.  Thanks!

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Who Do I Think I Am?

OK.  Thanks to all your help, I obtained the plastic boater hat, covered it with black fabric, wrapped some lace around it, and glued on silk daisies.  I'm rather proud of it, all things considered.

I realized, at this point, that I hadn't tried on the dress (around which this entire costume was based) in a couple years, so decided to give the entire ensemble a try.  The good news:  it fit.  (Actually, the slightly better news:  it was a little too loose.)  The bad news:  I had misremembered it slightly, so it's a bit less perfect for the costume as I'd hoped.

Now, as previously alluded to, there are, in fact, some props that will help pin down the identity I'm aiming for.  I don't have them yet.

Which raises the question:  can anyone figure out what the heck I'm going for, in the absence of any identifying props.

So.  Can you?

Note:  that is not a feather sticking out of the hat.  It's the top of my dry-erase board in the background

Any guesses?  Anyone? 

Oh my.

Remember this?  The $768 charge to QVC that I so did not make?

Just received in the mail, a card from QVC, thanking me for shipping with them and including my new membership number.  Also suggested I use my "registered e-mail address" next time I shop with them.

Translation:  The scumbag who stole my card number also knows my full name and address.

I called QVC to make sure the account was closed (and to also see if they had said scumbag's name and address for shipping purposes).  This required calling customer service.  I called customer service from my home phone.  Customer service rep immediately says, "Is this [my full name here]?" 

How did you know that?

"That's just what popped up on my screen."

This, too, is troubling.  I have call blocking, so QVC's called-ID should not be picking up my name.  Did the scumbag, I wonder, have my home phone number as well?

(If so, that would be extremely disconcerting, as the stolen card was my internet-only credit card, and I do not use my home phone number in internet transactions.)

I confirm that QVC does, in fact, have the scumbag's name and address (as the "shipping address" for the fraudulent purchases).  They won't give it to me, but if the police investigate, they'll happily fax it to them.

I wonder whether it's even worth calling my local police department to file a report.  My credit card company seems to be on the case -- they even took the charge off my bill before I even saw it.  I called them up to make sure they were going to "nail this guy to the wall."  They confirmed that they would. 

One last thing to check -- last April, TurboTax came with a free credit report monitoring service from Experian.  I signed up.  Logged in today to see if there was any unusual activity -- requests to open new cards, that sort of thing.  They said no, which means either that the idiot who has my name, address, and old card number hasn't got my social security number ... or that the free credit monitoring service blows.

Come to think of it, I think I'd better put a possible alert on my account with all three credit bureaus.

Nope, house not on fire

As a resident of Southern California, I should probably mention that my house is not, in fact, on fire.  The mountains near my home are apparently one of the few mountain ranges in Southern California not currently aflame, for which I am grateful.

I've a friend who was evacuated, though -- my closest involvement to things.  She said that before she left, she looked up and it looked like there was a volcano in front of her -- a sight she very much hopes not to see again.  She actually hit the road a good 20 minutes before the officials got out there with bullhorns and told everyone to get out.  She's back home now -- her fire being one of the ones they've apparently got under control.

I'm a bit worried about the others, though.  I heard on the radio that they've evacuated the town of Lake Arrowhead (where my sister got married) and all the surrounding towns.  Hundreds of houses destroyed, thousands more at risk -- and they don't seem to have the resources to fight this fire.  The guy on the news this evening was saying they've got a line of firefighters protecting the main street, but they can't protect any of the side streets 'cause they don't have the water.  This is not good.

Monday, October 22, 2007

There's No Justice

Viva Laughlin just got cancelled.

Let me be perfectly clear on this -- even I found this show unwatchable.  I like Hugh Jackman, I like musicals, I like mysteries -- I thought I would absolutely be in this show's target audience.  And I even thought the opening number wasn't bad.  But by the time Hugh Jackman was singing along with "Sympathy for the Devil" -- and the sound was mixed in such a way that we could hear Mick Jagger way more than Hugh Jackman and it looked just like a really crappy lip-sync -- well, I was ready to tune out.  Melanie Griffith's scenery-chewing pretty much sealed the deal.  I couldn't even make it through the first episode.  No, let me amend that.  I couldn't even make it through the first episode while I was doing something else.  It was just playing in the background and I had to turn it off.

What I'm trying to say here is:  it wasn't good.

But the injustice of it all, the real reason I'm blogging about this, and my general concern for what the cancellation of this show means about the Great American Viewing Public is this:

Cavemen is still on.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Computer, computer, computer

Found this article on cnet, which pretty much sums up my fears about Vista.  Or, more precisely, gives me a real live actual expert opinion for the gut feeling I've been having all along.

Then, today, my computer started giving me behavior that suggested it wants to be replaced.  I used my computer in the morning, then, when I ran out for lunch, I put it to sleep, rather than shutting it off.  Came home and moved the mouse -- which should wake it up.  It woke.  Sort of.  My wallpaper showed up.  No icons on top of it.  Just wallpaper.  I could move the mouse around, but there wasn't anything to click on.

Tried ctrl-alt-del.  Nada.  Pushed the power button the tower.  Zip.

This has happened before.  Actually, it's been surprisingly common with this computer.  The solution is to crawl under my desk and turn off the power via the line-splitter.  Power off.  Power on.  Computer turns on.  Icons appear.

I need to check an email on AOL.  Double-click on AOL.  Opens.  I sign in.  AOL gets in, then freezes before showing me the Welcome screen.  I ctrl-alt-del out of it.  Windows task manager takes a few minutes but then agrees that "this application has failed to respond."  Duh. 

I reopen AOL.  The process repeats.  I ctrl-alt-del out of that, too.

Give up and check the email via the internet.  Turn off computer.  It takes some time to shut down, deciding that an AOL piece of software is frozen.  (Duh again.)  I tell it to end the application and it finally shuts down.  Go out for the evening.

Come home.  Turn on computer.  Open Firefox (life is better since I ditched IE).  Very slow to open.  Open PCTVtoGo (my "not slingbox") so I can watch TV in the background.  PCTVtoGo tries to connect, but fails.  AOL is freezing up on me now, too.  Shut everything down but don't reboot.  Eventually, all programs decide to run, and I manage to have Firefox, PCTVtoGo, and AOL all working simultaneously the way G-d intended.

I spend time trying to seek out a new PC.  With the leads from the cnet article, I find which computer manufacturers will still sell an XP system.  Dell is the only one that has an XP option left for "home" computers, but their two XP home models don't have all the options I want.  Which means, basically, that I have to pretend to be a small business -- small businesses can still get XP systems from several different manufacturers.  (Rather amusingly, you can still get XP Home on a "small business" computer; you don't even have to buy XP Professional.)

The prices are comparable to home computers, so this seems a good option, until I'm over on the HP website, and I see that one its small business desktop advertises "up to 18 months lifecycle" and another has a lifecycle of "up to 9 months."  Nine months?  Are business PCs meant to crap out on you in less than a year?  Honestly, that doesn't seem like a really good plan.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oh, the (costume) pressure

Thanks for all your advice on the hat.  Actually, I put together several of your ideas and came up with a reasonable solution.

I dropped by the fabric store and bought some craft glue and a yard of el-cheapo black polyester.  Figured I could get one of those plastic or styrofoam boater hats (also called "skimmers" apparently), cover it in black fabric, and be done.  I even bought a nice piece of ribbon to wrap around said hat.

Then went to Party City for to purchase one styrofoam or plastic boater hat.  Or any hat of similar shape.  I should note here that I have previously purchased hats of this type at stores of this type.

Party City offers thousands of Halloween costumes.  Which are apparently taking the place of all their normal merchandise, including the boater hats.  Not to be found anywhere.

Walked from one end of the mall to the other looking for a hat I could cover in black fabric.  Many hats.  Many ugly hats.  Many ugly expensive hats.  Nothing even vaguely skimmer-like.

Came home depressed.  Tried ebay again, now that I'd discovered the "skimmer" term.  Found someone selling three of said hats (in plastic) for five bucks.  Five more bucks for two-day shipping, and I should have the little buggers by Tuesday.  With that and all the decorating supplies, this hat is going to cost me $30.

That solved, I went over to the website selling the other prop.  You know, the I said I could easily get for $40.

I can still get it. 

It ships in two to four weeks.

This is not good. 

This costume needs two of three identifying props.  I've (hopefully) solved the hat problem, but now I've got to deal with the other two.  Neither can be found for a reasonable price, so I'm looking at trying to jury-rig one of them.

Something tells me it isn't going to be easy.

The Internet is Letting Me Down

(But first, thanks for the info on Vista.  Sadly, Wil, Mac is not an option for me, as my NotSlingbox is not Mac compatible.  Come to think of it, I can't imagine that it's Vista compatible either.)

OK.  I'm working on my Halloween costume.  I have the basics, but it needs some accessories/props to totally pin it down perfectly.  I'd say it needs at least two of three totally identifying accessories.

One, conveniently, is available for purchase for $40.  Am not happy about the cost, but at least it can be done.

As for the other two, I'm totally screwed.  One seems to cost over $100, so that's, y'know, out.

The other I can't seem to find, and it is way annoying me.  I need a hat.  A black hat.  A black straw hat.  A black straw hat with a small brim.  Actually, a relatively small black straw hat with a small brim.

Yeah, good luck with that.  I'm even willing to waffle on material (a relative small black hat with a small brim would work fine, even if not straw) and the usual suspects -- including internet hat stores and ebay -- are totally letting me down.  I can get the closest on eBay, but they want a lot of money.  Or, they don't want much money at all, but the auction ends too late for me to get said hat pre-Halloween party.

I usually can find pretty much anything on the internet, but this is definitely problematic. I was actually considering a straw-colored straw hat and a can of black spray paint.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Simple Question

Does Vista suck?

If so, how badly?

Let me put this in perspective.  I do not intend to upgrade an XP machine to Vista.  But, over the next, say, year, I'll be in the market for a new computer, and I'm hesitant to buy a system running Vista as I've heard not really good things about it.  I just have a bad Vista Vibe.  XP systems are still available (especially from Dell), but I need to know if buying a system running XP is a technologically stupid move.  Basically, is the world going to eventually catch on to Vista (making an XP purchase ultimately obsolete) or are enough people so pissed off at Vista that buying it would be a waste of money?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two bucks

I went to the theatre tonight.  (I do that.)

Drove there about a half hour early, in order to negotiate the underground parking lot (with the thousand other cars sharing the space).  There was a long line of cars waiting to pay for the privilege of getting in.  The line ran pretty much all the way down to the street to the next intersection.  It was so long, that when I made a left turn from that intersection, there was barely room for my car in the line -- I was nearly sitting there exposed with the back of my car in the way of oncoming traffic.

As I inched along, waiting patiently in line, a car in the next lane was signalling to get into the line.  I hadn't watched him so wasn't sure whether he'd just been trying to bypass the bulk of the line -- or if he'd got stuck in the wrong lane by turning when there was no room in the line.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt (and the benefit of the fact I still had 20 minutes), and let him in right in front of me.  He waved.  I waved back.  Usual transaction completed.

About five minutes later, I actually got into the parking garage.  By this time, I had my eight dollar fee all ready in my hand (because, as the sign says, if you have your money ready, it will speed the line along).  Parking guy says to me, "Six more dollars."  I look at him like he's joking.  Dude, I'm giving you eight dollars; parking is not fourteen.  He repeats it, "I need six dollars more."  I push my eight dollars toward him.  He takes six of it and folds two back in my hand.  "The man in that car," he says, pointing to the dude I'd let in, "paid two dollars for you."

Put a smile on my face for the next few hours.  Amazing what two bucks can do.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The mall

In my last post, I referenced going to the mall this weekend.

This isn't just any mall trip.  It's my "take a day when most other people don't have the day off, stay overnight at a hotel near an outlet mall, and shop your brains out all day long" trip.  I've been doing this for a couple years now -- either on Columbus Day or Veterans Day -- to get a good start on my holiday shopping before all hell breaks loose.

I returned to the mall of last year -- Ontario Mills Mall.  Its website says it is something like the largest indoor mall west of the Mississippi.  It doesn't have just two or four or even six anchor stores.  The mall is divided into ten different "neighborhoods" and each one has an anchor.  What I'm trying to say here is:  big mall.

About 1/4 of the way in, I reached the first Shopping Cart stand.  This is where (for the low, low price of $3) you can rent a big ol' shopping cart from the same company that rents luggage carts at the airport.  And I hadn't really bought anything yet, so the shopping cart seemed like an unnecessary expense.

This is not a mistake I will make again.

By the time I hit the next shopping cart stand, I was loaded down with five shopping bags -- and the stand was empty!  Some meanie had rented all the damn carts.  I ended up trudging a couple more "neighborhoods" around the mall to get to the next stand, so I could rent a cart.  I then had to backtrack to hit all those stores -- I hate backtracking, but it was totally necessary.

This time through the mall, I also went in the opposite direction from how I did it last year -- this was because by the time I got to the stores at the end of my circuit, I was too pooped to really shop heavily in them.  So, this time, I spread my business around a bit and went the other way.

Was disappointed that one "specialty" store where I'd bought some presents last year has now closed -- was a shame as I'd been counting on them for a few gifts this time.  Other than that, though, things worked out fairly well (although slightly better for me for than for gift-giving).

I got to the mall when it opened at 10:00.  Including a stop for lunch (at the Rainforest Cafe -- somewhere in neighborhood 6), I left over nine hours later.  The shopping bag was loaded down with:

Three dresses
Two skirts
Four pairs of shoes
Two pairs of socks
A lovely 3/4-length wool/cashmere coat (took them forever at Burlington Coat Factory to find the price for it, as it didn't have a tag)

AND

Presents for "Law Student"
Presents for "Wife" (of "Couple")
Present
 for "Husband"
Presents for my sister and her husband
Presents for the two clerks of court who work for our Division
Presents for a friend's baby (you know who you are)

.... I think that's it, although I might be forgetting something.  Took me about 20 minutes just to unload the car and get all that crap up to my condo.

It's a start on the holidays, anyway.  Hopefully, I can do all the rest online and won't have to brave a mall again until January.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Great Shoe Purge of Aught-Seven

I cleaned out my closet today.  It was a rather more optimistic occurrence than the last time I did this -- which was when I'd put on a ton of weight and tossed all my "thin clothes" in an act of acceptance.  Of course, I subsequently a lot of the weight -- which is terrific -- and now I don't have any thin clothes to wear.  I'm still not sorry I did it, though.  I think I needed to really accept that I was fat, and throw out all the clothes that were nowhere near fitting, in order to motivate myself to make a change.

Besides, now that I've lost the weight, I can buy myself a whole bunch of new clothes.

So, today's closet purge, from the clothing point of view, was rather more fun, as I packed up lots of stuff that was now too big to wear.  I mean, on the one hand, great that I have to pin the waistbands of my skirts.  On the other hand, y'know, probably shouldn't walk around the office with my skirts obviously pinned.  It lacks a certain ... professionalism.  So, all the too big stuff goes into storage.  (Just in case I need it again.)

But the real come-face-to-face-with-reality part of tonight's event was the throwing out of the shoes.  Now, I spent six weeks of this year in a damn "Frankenboot" aircast.  And a lot more time wearing various and sundry ankle braces.  And, you know what?  After all that time in the aircast, my ankle was better -- and then I wore the wrong pair of shoes and it went out again, pretty much killing six freakin' weeks in a stormtrooper boot in one day.  It isn't worth it -- I don't care how cute the damn shoes are, they've got to go.  So, the mules that put too much stress on the ankle -- tossed.  Also anything with a strap that inconveniently presses against the weak point -- tossed.  Come to think of it, all those pumps with the pointy heel that it's really easy to lose balance on and twist the ankle again -- gone, gone, gone and gone.  The boots that I was wearing when I twisted the ankle in the first place -- exactly why am I still keeping those?  And while I'm at it, the few pair of shoes that are actually a 1/2-size too big that I was talked into by some salesdude who said I could get by with sticking an insert under the insole -- gone as well.  Life's too short (and ankle is too fragile) to mess around with shoes that don't fit.  And of the few remaining pairs ... yeah, the ones with all the leather rubbed off in spots?  Time to replace them, too.

By the time I was done, I had more than half of my shoes in the trash pile.  And totally accepted that I have an officially wonky ankle that I'm just going to have to make some adjustments for.

... good thing I'm planning to hit the mall this weekend.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Um, ... no.

Yesterday, a pre-recorded phone call from the people at Citibank fraud alerts.  They'd like me to call back about suspicious charges.

(Of course, the first thing I do is verify that the phone number is legit -- as this strikes me as an amusing way to get someone's account information.  But the number is kosher, so I give 'em a call.)

Did I make a $768.00 charge to QVC?

QVC?  $768?  I'm pretty sure I would have remembered that.  I mean, I've been toying with the idea of buying something from QVC (one of them Fuller brushes that cleans out the lint trap in your dryer), but I'm pretty darned sure that (a) I didn't buy it and (b) it wasn't no $768.

They cancelled the card.  I'll get a new one in ten days.

Today I called them up again to see if I could maybe put a rush on the new card.  I can't.  But while I was on the line with them, we went into a little more detail on which charges I did and did not make.

Apple iTunes store?

No.

eBay?

No.

PayPal?

Maybe.  How much?  A small charge authorizing a new account.

Oh hell no.

My most recent legitimate charge appears to be to a political campaign.  (A friend asked, in lieu of birthday presents, that we donate to the campaign of the candidate of her choice.  As I have nothing against said candidate, and might even throw my vote in that direction, I made a small contribution.)  In any event, I'd be extremely surprised if people running for POTUS didn't have satisfactory encryption on their websites.

So, now I am without internet credit card (annoying as their are two internet purchases I want to immediately make) and will eventually have to find myself a notary so's I can swear or affirm with all due solemnity that these charges SO aren't mine.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Only Funny if You Watched "Pushing Daisies"

So, I went over Couple's place for dinner and "Pushing Daisies."  I was about five minutes late -- all things considered, it's a wonder it was only five minutes.  (First, the road between me and the freeway was blocked when I left work; second, there was a tanker truck filling up the gas station when I stopped for gas; third, when I stopped at the grocery store to pick up dessert, the stupid parking ticket machine did not read my validation and I had to back up and go to the guy in the little booth, wasting further valuable time.)

Anyway, I missed the first five minutes of the show.  Wife and Law Student filled me in, but I'd had the good sense to DVR it, so I thought I'd check the recording when I got home.

And when I watched it, I took note of the names in the credits.  I said things like, "Hey!  That was Swoosie Kurtz!"  And I noticed Jim Dale's name in the credits.  And I thought, "Who did he play?"  And I watched the first five minutes, and I didn't see him in that bit.  And I watched about a half hour of the show again -- mostly to catch some of the lines I'd missed ('cause we had been talking when we'd watched it), but also because I was still trying to spot Jim Dale in that thing.  I mean, he's a 70ish white guy, and I didn't see any 70ish white guys in there at all.  But he was undeniably in the opening credits.

It wasn't until about, oh, two-thirds of the way through the episode, when I started asking myself, "What has he done lately, anyhow?" -- that I realized his part on the show.  Man, I'm slow.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Friend Back at Home (Yay!)

My friend/neighbor is back home from surgery, having been released from the hospital today.  I think that once you prove to them you can make from the bed to the bathroom (and back again), they pack you up and send you on your merry way (even if you're shouting, "but I have insurance!").

I needn't have worried about figuring out what I should or should not do in this situation.  See, there's four of us who actually form an odd little pseudo-family.  My neighbor and her husband (who we'll call Couple) are about ten years older than I am, and they have a daughter who is off at college.  Now, about three years ago, a law student moved in downstairs from me.  She lives alone (her parents are in the midwest someplace), and since she's away from her parents and Couple is away from their daughter ... well, they seem to fill spaces in each other's lives, and Law Student is a regular guest at Couple's dinner table.

I fit in somewhere between them age-wise -- almost directly in the middle, come to think of it.  I'm actually more a friend of Couple (well, Wife) than I am of Law Student -- but we spend a lot of time together as a foursome, and it's pretty much expected that if some of us are going to grab some dinner or see a movie, we'll ask the others to go along.  Things just sort of evolved that way.

Law Student (who probably needs a new title, seeing as she graduated this year) was away on a major post-bar-exam vacation and just came back the week before Wife's surgery, and, in retrospect, I'm really amazed at how our bizarre little group came together on this one.  While Wife was in the hospital, Law Student and I were responsible for making sure Husband actually ate (we had visions of him sitting at the dinner table, work spread out all around him, with a half gallon of ice cream and a spoon), so we went out for dinner with him every night, and got the story on how Wife was doing at the hospital.  (We also just naturally started sharing tasks -- I told her I'd take care of ordering flowers for Wife -- and it reminded me of how my sister and I deal with presents for our parents.)  The other day, we ran errands together and drove over to visit Wife in the hospital.

Today, I didn't leave work till about 7:00.  Law Student had called me earlier to let me knowWife was out of the hospital, so I called Law Student before I left to see how Wife was doing.  She asks why I'm not home yet.  She was making dinner and they were waiting for me.  So I high-tailed it home and we all gathered in Couple's living room, to watch the "Dancing With the Stars" results show and eat meatloaf.  (And Law Student made mushrooms just for me.  That girl is too sweet.)  When we finished eating, I cleared the plates and filled Couple's dishwasher just as naturally as if it were my own house, and we hung out until Wife was tired and ready for bed.

A few more weeks of this and we might have it down.

I will never, ever, ever say this aloud, and I am somewhat annoyed at myself for even thinking it, but there's this teensy little part of me that thinks that maybe there was a reason I didn't sell my condo and ended up stuck in this building for another year.  Maybe right now, this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friend OK

My friend made it through surgery OK.  (Yay!)

I can't visit her yet, though.  She's only allowed family.  This, actually, did not stop another mutual friend from going tonight -- she's a bit younger than I am (she recently graduated Law School) so she sneaked on in claiming to be the patient's daughter (who is, in fact, away at college).  I'll be allowed in as soon as she's out of ICU.

Actually, she's not even in ICU yet.  She was supposed to go in there after surgery (not because she's at death's door or anything -- the surgeon just wanted her to be frequently monitored) -- but they didn't have any space in ICU so she's just spending the night in the Recovery Room.  She's the only one in there and there's tons of nurses, so she's getting really good care.  Probably too groggy to notice, but still.

They said that she'd move into ICU as soon as a bed frees up, which will probably be in the morning.

Of course, my immediate thought is that if a bed happens to free up before then -- y'know, unexpectedly -- you probably wouldn't want to take it.

------

In other news, just discovered that my basic nature is friendly.

Was in the grocery store, picking up a few items and I ran into (not exactly literally, but very near) the President of our Homeowners Association.  The Association I'm not really fond of right now.  And, as a matter of fact, the Board isn't particularlu fond of me now, either, as they see me as one of the homeowners who is constantly complaining about the pace (or lack thereof) of the repairs and, y'know, making their job all difficult and stuff.

And my first reaction on seeing him in the store is actually to smile at him

He's sort of distracted; on his cell phone and all.  And before I know it, I'm walking past, saying, "Hi!" in case he didn't happen to notice me smiling.

He looked right over at me ... and kept right on going with his conversation.

And I walk away, trying to figure out whatever possessed me to not only smile at this person I'm engaged in a bitter dispute with, but actually go out of my way to say "Hi," just in case he hadn't noticed.  Weird.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Still here

I haven't disappeared -- things have just gone busy on me again.

To put this in perspective, I haven't even watched The Daily Show this week.  (I've recorded it -- I just haven't gotten to it yet.) 

First, the update on the condo.  There is no update on the condo.  The HOA Board requested approval for a special assessment (to pay for all the repairs, and some future stuff, and painting the building sometime in the future) to the tune of about $6000 per unit.  And if we vote it down, they will (without the need for homeowner approval) assess us in the amount of about $2000, and kick up our monthly fees 20%.  This would make my monthly dues a whopping $565.  I am certain this is more than many normal people pay for rent -- and an insane amount to pay one's condo association (in addition to one's mortgage).  It's a sort of "I'm screwed either way" choice.  Not enough people showed up at the meeting to vote on the assessment, so we have to wait until everyone else mails in their sealed ballot before we find out exactly which way we're screwed.  In the meantime, work on my unit is again on hold, but work on the other units is proceeding (well, the promised workmen didn't come today, but we think they may actually come tomorrow) and there is at least a rational reason to hold off the work on my unit until the work on the others is finished -- although if the work on the other units drags on longer than the "week or so" that we've been promised, I may be rethinking this.

Second, and foremost in my thoughts, a very good friend of mine has some, er, cancer surgery tomorrow.  (She's a neighbor, too -- so when she's home recovering from the surgery, they'll be doing repairs to the outside of her unit.)  Please feel free to think happy thoughts in her direction. 

I can't really recall having a friend be sick before -- at least, not a close friend, and certainly not a close friend who happens to be married.  I say this because -- right now, the day before her surgery -- we're entering a world where my role in this process is a little unclear.  I mean, if my mom is in the hospital, I know what my job is (comfort mom; keep dad sane).  If it's a co-worker, I've got that down too (send basket of flowers or goodies).  But here, I'm not sure there's any ground rules for it.  I'm trying my best to make it clear to her that I'm available for anything she needs -- and of course I'll visit -- but I don't want to be in the way because I'm not, y'know, family.  Her husband is clearly the one up at bat on this -- and he's obviously very stressed by this -- and I want to be there for him, too, but he's generally a private guy and I don't want to intrude.  So, walking a bit of a fine line here.  Luckily, I think she's going to have lots of visitors and people offering to help out, so hopefully I'll figure out what my role is in this soon enough.

Roomba still not cleaning for more than 20 minutes at a shot.  Electric toothbrush, though, must have sensed that I was emailing tech support and considering replacing it, and it has returned to working perfectly.  Roomba should take the hint.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Aside to Sally Field...

... grow up.

Seriously.

Look, I understand being against the war, and wanting to speak out against the war, and maybe even wanting to remind people that there are military mothers at home waiting and praying that their kids come home safe.  All this, I am good with.

The thing I am not good with is the statement that (bleeped or not) if mothers ran the world, there would be no wars.

OK, two things wrong with this.

First, did you happen to notice there's a mother running for President?  You would think that by 2007, women's rights -- and the perception of women in this country -- have progressed to the point where a female candidate for the highest office in the land wouldn't even have to dignify with a response questions that would suggest that a woman lacks the cajones to be the Commander in Chief of our military.  Set aside for a moment (I know it's hard, but work with me here) your obvious opposition to the current war.  But sometimes, it is just and necessary to lead your country into war, and it would be really nice to think a female candidate for President wouldn't have to face the sort of stereotypical thinking that says a woman just isn't capable of the military mindset.  It's bad enough that women have to deal with this from some backward-thinking men, but really outrageously frustrating to get it from someone who is supposed to be supportive of women's rights.  Really, Sally, the idea that having an infant come out of your womb is somehow inconsistent with an ability to make war is simply downright insulting to women -- even if the idea is coming from a good, peace-loving place.

Second, it's pretty darned offensive to fathers, too.  Since you think that mothers would never make war, but clearly fathers do, you must be working off a premise that women -- by means, I guess, of the actual act of gestating a child and giving birth to it -- have a greater, deeper love for their children than men do.  So, go ahead, brush aside as irrelevant the fathers of soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq -- and those fathers who stand up against the war.  Because obviously you figure their pain and devotion to the cause can't possibly be as strong as those of parents of the other gender.

So maybe, just maybe, you should join the rest of us on this side of the 1970s and realize that mothers can be for a war, fathers can be against it, and that broad generalizations based on gender are hurtful and stupid -- no matter how good the intentions behind them.