Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yep, it's a house

Had the inspection at the new house today. Took a few hours. After it was done, I sat down with the inspector, who said, "it's a very good house" -- and then proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with the house.

Wasn't bad, really. I think the highlight was when he found these brown spots on the ceiling in the family room, and said that they could be evidence of water damage, but it was odd because they were just in this one corner of the ceiling. And later, the seller's agent came by, and happened to mention that one of the workmen spilled coffee on the family room ceiling.

But, basically, everything that's wrong with the house is the sort of thing you'd expect to be wrong with a house that's 58 years old. Things ranging from "a lot of the outlets aren't grounded" all the way up to "the plumbing is galvanized steel." (I'd been holding out a hope that maybe they'd re-piped the place with copper pipes -- hell, they'd put on a new roof -- but they hadn't.) There are going to be about 20 items on my punch list for the sellers (sadly, "replace pipes" will instead go on my list of "shit to do to the house in a few years").

But, I've figured out that everything can be broken down into 3 categories -- (1) stuff for the sellers to do; (2) stuff for me to get a handyman or contractor to do immediately; and the aforementioned (3) shit to do to the house in a few years. So, I just gotta cram as much as I can into Category (1), and we'll move ahead with this purchase.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh, right. Cat.

This morning, I grabbed my lunch from the fridge to take it to work. Upon pulling it out of the fridge, I knocked a half-full glass of cold water. It teetered a bit as I looked at my full hands, unable to steady it, then crashed to the floor and shattered.

Well, that's another few bucks of my deposit gone.

I told the cat to stay out of the kitchen, as if she could understand me.

I grabbed a couple plastic bags, doubled 'em up, and started filling them with pieces of broken glass. The glass had shattered quite impressively, so there were many pieces. Partway through gingerly picking up the pieces, I remembered "dustpan! they gave me a dustpan!" Grabbed broom and swept up all remaining shards. Put broom away and switched to the vacuum, to pick up the tiny bits of glass that were too small to see.

Felt pretty good about the twice-cleaned kitchen floor. Picked up my lunch, dried it off (so that's where the water went!) and proceeded to leave.

At which point, my cat went into the kitchen and made a beeline for the fridge, which she immediately started reaching under to play with the pieces that had scattered beyond the reach of broom or vacuum. Yeah. That'd be her.

(Of course, it is when I got on my hands and knees to pick them up to save delicate feline paws that I actually got cut.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Holy Crap!

I bought a house.

I'm not as amazingly freaked out about this as I was when I bought the condo -- I think it's probably because I've already gone through condo ownership so the idea of having six digits worth of debt doesn't seem nearly as overwhelming as it did before. Well that and the fact that, in this economic climate, a good, solid lender thinks that approving me for this loan is a total no-brainer.

(Actually, I was a bit surprised about that. You may have heard of my employer? The State of California? There's all sorts of stuff coming out of Sacramento that they might run out of money to pay us sometime soon. It pleases me that the suits at my bank are of the opinion that, yeah, I'll keep getting paid.)

But, um, the point here: I BOUGHT A HOUSE!!! Escrow opens today. It's big and it's pretty and it has a massive family room which I think may have once been the garage (as my mother put it, it's a "two-car family room"). And, to my great glee, it even has a small half-bath off the laundry porch which I can turn over to the cat full-time. That's right; my cat will have her own bathroom.

(And if that sounds wasteful, just remember that you'll thank me for it if you ever visit. Because I've spent a few years sharing with her, and while it's pretty adorable to actually be using the bathroom right next to your kitten doing the same exact thing, the charm wears off pretty quick, I assure you.)

I'm sure my posts for the next month will be all about the excitement of termite inspections, home inspections, title reports, and lending documents. On the other hand, they also might be about paint colors and furniture shopping. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

OK, OK, one more

Here's the thing about Barack Obama becoming our President:

The astonishing historical significance of him being an African-American President was sort of lost on me along the way. Which isn't to say that I hadn't noticed he was black; and as a general proposition, I was certainly aware that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had candidacies that were barrier-breaking. But, by and large, the Presidential campaign was a pretty hard-fought one, and I was supporting Obama for his positions as opposed to his racial background.

If anything, the one thing about his demographics that I did focus on was that he was the first Presidential candidate that was of my generation. I mean, I hang out with people younger than he is. I'm sure that, somewhere deep inside, I'd always assumed that I'd live long enough for there to be a President who was my age (and, hopefully, younger), but I didn't think it would happen now.

My point, though, is that I was paying so much attention to wanting Obama to get elected because I believed that it would be right for our country, I sort of overlooked how amazingly cool it is that a dude who was born before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 actually grew up to be President of the United States. And today -- in these hours between him becoming President and actually getting down to the business of the job -- the awesomeness of that point is actually hitting home.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On the eve of the inauguration

I'm sure everything that can be said here has already been said. So I'll limit myself to the following thought:

I have a friend who, years ago, promised he'd quit smoking when there was a Democrat back in the Oval Office. So, tomorrow starts what I truly hope will be a healthier time for my friend.

And our country.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The "Shithole"

I hate my apartment (dubbed "the shithole").

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it nearly the way I hated my condo. The condo was an extremely annoying albatross hanging around my neck, which I could not freakin' unload. The shithole is temporary, and can be dumped at any time. It's a different kind of hate.

But I hate it.

I hate that it has no desk.

I hate that I can't record anything on television.

I hate that the washing machine is so small, I have to do five loads of laundry every ten days or so.

I hate that the bathtub drain blows to the point that, whenever I shower, the water raises over my ankles.

I hate that there's no place to hang wet clothes, so I've been forced to put my bras in the dryer, resulting in the death of one bra some weeks ago, and four brand new bras this week.

I hate that there's no trash compactor, so I've got to take my trash out to the trash chute far more frequently than I'd like -- resulting in (a) my washing all of my trash before throwing it out, so the kitchen doesn't smell; and (b) my stacking the tower of trash under the sink like game of Jenga.

I hate that my cat can't scratch where she wants, and will probably destroy the furniture before I leave.

(I hate that there's a "no limit to the amount we can charge you for pet damage" clause in my lease.)

I hate that, when I turned the TV on tonight, it just decided that there'd be no sound.

I hate that there's a bell tower somewhere nearby, which chimes annoyingly on the hour, and wakes me up (although, to be fair, that's saved me from being really late for work a few times).

I hate that the cat hates it, and is still "stress eating."

I hate that it only comes with two sets of keys, so, if I ever decide to vacation, I can't give the cat-sitters their requested two sets.

I hate that I have dishes and silverware for only four, requiring me to run the dishwasher every four days -- or every two on weekends, if I lunch at home.

Basically, I hate the place.

But, when I rented it, my other choice was a smaller unit (a studio rather than a one-bedroom) about 40 minutes away. And every time I starting hating the shithole, I keep coming back to the fact that if I'd taken the other unit, I'd have committed suicide by now.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Concert

I should probably mention the concert that started all of this 24-watching trouble.

A friend called and invited me to a classical music concert. I should point out here and now that I'm really not much for classical music. Honestly, when I was in school, I used to mock the "Music Appreciation" class -- you know, like you've got to learn how to appreciate music; how stupid is that? Well, fact is, I probably could have used the class. I really don't know how to appreciate classical music. I can follow a melody (when there is one), and pick out... well, if not individual instruments, I can certainly tell the difference between the strings and the woodwinds. And I generally sit there, not knowing what exactly to look at, and hope the music somehow evokes an emotional response.

Often I end up idly mentally choreographing figure skating routines to it. Hey, it beats napping.

Anyway, so, this friend invited me to a classical music concert. And (ack) it was modern classical -- which I tend to define as "the composer is still alive." I'd attended one modern classical concert before, and the only way to describe it was "cacophony." I don't really recall the name of the piece, but I imagine the subtitle was "melody is for sissies."

But I agreed to go to this particular modern classical concert because, well, basically because the soloist was Yo-Yo Ma, and I try to check out the best of anything when given the chance. And, y'know, damn good cellist. So I went.

And, honestly... it didn't suck. The main piece we were hearing was the West Coast Premiere of something called "Azul" by some dude named Osvaldo Golijov. I actually knew from the opening notes that I would be OK with this, as the music was (unlike my previous experience with modern classical) instantly identifiable as music. Had melody. Had style. Had scope. I lost it somewhere in the second movement (I always tend to lose them in the second movement) and started choreographing again. But I got back on track again in the third. And the fairly magnificent coda entitled "Shooting Stars," which, I quite imagine, is what the universe sounds like. The conductor held the silence at the end of the piece for quite some time, because you sorta needed a moment to process the music of the universe.

The audience adored it. Enthusiastic standing ovation that went on for quite some time, and they brought out the composer and the audience hooted and applauded some more. (Well, ok, they yelled "bravo" and applauded. They're not a hooting crowd.) My friend said it moved her to tears. She's hoping to get a recording.

In some ways, I almost felt like the piece was wasted on me. That my seat would have been better off in the hands (under the butt?) of someone who could appreciate everything in this music that everyone around me was falling over themselves to praise -- because that clearly wasn't me. I barely even followed two-thirds of it. But for a few moments there, I got a glimpse of what everyone else was hearing. And it was awesome.


24 got itself viewed through the relatively low-tech method of calling a friend. A friend who watches 24 religiously, has a DVR, and (as luck would have it) the technology to burn me a disk from it. I am seriously grateful here. I got yesterday's 24 when I walked into the office this morning, and got it watched (well, mostly) before the episode tonight. As of this moment, I am current.

And my thoughts on the start of this season of 24 are: YAY!

(Spoilers ahead, if you didn't see it.)

Basically, if I was going to hit the "reset" button on 24 and get exactly what I wanted, it would be Jack, Tony, Bill & Chloe against the world. And here it is. I damn near squeed with joy. (And at least they didn't drag out the whole Tony-is-a-terrorist thing too long. Because the one thing you can count on in 24 is Tony being a good guy. Always, always, always, you can count on Tony. Take it to the bank. Actually, if anything read false about these first four hours, it was the bit where Tony said he had actually worked for the other side for three years. Because... no. Just doesn't happen.)

Also pleased in general about the way things are shaking down plot-wise. The bad guys they're up against seem suitably bad. But, rather more to my liking is the fact that, rather than being up against an officious boss who stops Jack at every turn, they're up against the entire FBI -- including an agent who is pretty much the female version of Jack, and a computer geek who can stop Chloe in her tracks.

Yes. Am very much liking this.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Defeated by Electronics

I am rarely defeated by home electronics. Long-time readers may note that, whenever I have trouble with my electronics, I usually come up with work-arounds which, while not entirely as elegant as I'd hoped, have the advantage of actually working.

Not today.

The problem: My temporary furnished rental apartment (aka: the "shithole") comes with two TVs with basic cable, and a DVD player.

And a friend invited me to a concert tonight, and I said "yes" before I realized "24" was starting.

Dude. It's 24. I missed Monk on Friday, but that's easy enough to pick up in reruns. But the premiere of 24? I'm screwed for the whole season if I miss this.

I had a solution. I have a DVD Recorder. Admittedly, it's over at a friend's house right now, but I can get it back. It doesn't have a tuner in it, and I don't have one of the IR thingies to change the channel on the cable box. But if I hook up the DVD recorder, leave the cable box on FOX, and program the DVD recorder to record for two hours tonight, it should work.

Here's what happened:

Went to friend's house; picked up recorder.
Brought recorder home. Removed DVD player from current set-up. Hooked DVD recorder up where DVD player used to be. Cable box has an S-video out, so I ran an S-video cable to the inputs of the DVD recorder.

Turned on the TV. Told it to show me what was on the auxilliary inputs. And it gave me: lines on the screen. A screwy picture. I toggled through the DVD-recorder inputs and couldn't put it on something that gave me a better picture.

Figured maybe the cable signal wasn't going through the S-video for some reason, so tried something more basic. Put a DVD in the DVD recorder and hit play. This should totally work. After all, I'm using the same set of TV inputs their DVD player had been in, I've just swapped in my DVD recorder for it. And the TV gave me: sound. Perfectly. But no picture.

I made sure the video component was well hooked up. It was. Still sound without picture.

I pulled the S-video cable from the cable box and tried to connect the DVD recorder to the TV via S-video cable. Result: Nada.

I had a second set of component cables. I tried them. I even tried them on a second set of component inputs on the TV: Still no picture.

Dammit; dammit; dammit.

There's another TV in the bedroom. Let's move the whole set-up in there. It's a little more challenging because there's no easily-reachable A/C outlet. I'm running the cord across the room at the height of my dresser. (Even if I get this to work, I'm sure my cat will pull this out while recording 24 tonight.) Plug in the cables and: nothing at all.

Throughout this process, I learn that I can get a signal out of the component connections on the cable box, but this isn't going to do me a whole lot of good if I can't get a video signal from the DVD recorder to the TV.

Which. I. Freakin. Can't.

I try to figure out the problem from the DVD recorder manuals online. Which don't exist. But, from the specs, I learn that... well....

OK, here's the thing. I've never actually run a signal from the component or S-video cables out of my DVD recorder. I've always run it via HDMI -- but the two TVs here in the shithole WAY pre-date HDMI connections. So one of two things is wrong here. Either my DVD recorder is incapable of sending a video signal out of BOTH its component connection AND its S-video connection, OR...

... these TVs are too stupid to process my DVD recorder's video signal. I have a sneaking suspicion the problem is the latter. The DVD recorder is an upconverting model, and needs a TV a little more HD than what we have here to do its upconverting thing. But the panel on the front of the DVD recorder has little lights for the resolution it's using (480p, 1080p, whatever....) and NONE of those little lights are on when I've been testing it. I can't seem to find a button on the remote (or the unit itself) to force it to set to a low resolution. So whatever level output this thing is defaulting its output to is just too damn high for these TVs to read.

If I knew for sure that the output on the DVD recorder was broken, I'd run right out and get a new one. But I suspect it isn't broken (and, even it is, it might just be broken in a way that it defaults to a resolution that works fine when I have it with a decent TV), so I'm not going to replace it.

But I can't record 24 tonight, dammit.

Called my friend to ask if SHE'd record it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SpotBot for Pets: 4

Substances that come out of my cat: 0.

After my cat's recent foray into losing me my $500 deposit by messing up the apartment's carpet something wicked, I ponied up $130 for the Bissel SpotBot for Pets. (This will surely guarantee that I end up buying a house with hardwood floors.)

While I'm not absolutely certain of the final condition of the carpet (as two spots haven't completely dried yet), I can safely report that this product works exactly like it's supposed to. (Actually, it works quite well using the recommendations suggested by customer reviews on Amazon.) Mix cleaning fluid with water; spray on stain; plop SpotBot on top of it (it's a 20 pound machine); hit button. Come back six minutes later (when it beeps at you) and the stain is gone. Even the "manual" method (using attached hose and scrubber) makes the stain go away so much quicker and easier than any "spray on/wipe off" product I've used before. Admittedly, I've only had this thing out of the box for about 20 minutes, but I'm thinking they should hand them out at the pound with every kitten.

Maybe if I put the SpotBot and the Roomba together with some mood lighting and a Barry White CD, I'll end up with a 'bot that self cleans the entire carpet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

NOT adding insult to injury

Got a letter today, forwarded to my PO Box. Said that my pharmacy is closing, and they've decided to forward all of our records to the nearest Walgreens, to handle our future prescriptions.

I got really peeved about this. I mean, I don't even know if Walgreens takes my insurance. And, honestly, where does my pharmacy get off transferring my personal prescription history (a.k.a. confidential medical information) to some other pharmacy, that I may have no intention of using? I mean, I should have a choice in what pharmacy I use and where my information goes. I don't need Walgreens knowing about every little thing I've ever needed prescription drugs for. (I can see it now -- a letter from Walgreens welcoming me to their prescription plan, and offering me a coupon for Immodium. Y'know, just because.)

Had half a mind to poke through the statutes dealing with the confidentiality of medical information to see if I had a case here. Considered a nasty letter asking where they get off, exactly, forwarding my prescription history to another pharmacy without so much as asking for my consent first.

And then I looked at the letter again, and noticed that it was signed by my pharmacist. And realized that he's out of a job.

So, yeah, OK, maybe my records shouldn't have gone to Walgreens without my consent. And maybe he even got a few bucks out of Walgreens for transferring all his customers. He's a good pharmacist who has fought my insurance company to get me the medications my doctor has prescribed. And he's out of work now. Damn.

Adding Insult to Injury

The cat, determined that I will never see my "pet deposit" for this apartment again, has been, let's just say, "burning the candle at both ends" in her efforts to destroy the carpet.

Last night, I came from work to find some kitty barf on the carpet. (I don't really object to this. I mean, she's a cat, she barfs. It's what they do. And I've been out of her regular anti-hairball treats, so have been using a less efficient brand. Note to self: go to Petco on the way home from work.) So, anyway, here's me, on my hands and knees cleaning the cat barf stain ...

... and the cat jumps on my back.

Why not? Nice flat surface, right? She's centered quite perfectly, so I can't reach her. And I can't just lean to the side to shake her off without getting claws dug into my flesh.

That's right. I'm cleaning up her puke, and she's taking the opportunity to sit on me.

For the first time in my life, I have used the term "pwned."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

9:19 p.m. I'm officially not watching "Superstars of Dance"

Look, I tried. I really did. 'Cause the clips made the Chinese team look pretty damn awesome. But there's only so much crap I'll sit through, and, apparently, it's about 19 minutes worth.

OK, it opened with the Irish team who pretty much admitted in the opening narration that they were some company of "Lord of the Dance" (and Michael Flatley is hosting -- hmmm, wonder how they ever managed to sign him) and then performed a number that looked, well, awfully familiar.

Fine, though, I gave it a shot. I watched the team of international judges give the touring company of "Lord of the Dance" 9's and 10's -- even though the audience had been cheering and clapping so loud I couldn't really hear their taps (and those I heard seemed like they were pre-recorded, but I couldn't swear to it) and stayed around for the American solo performer....

...who was some dude who performed "popping." Now, I don't want to be all "get off my lawn, damn kids" about this (and really, seeing as popping was big back when I was a teenager, I really don't think I'm being an old fart here), but we couldn't do better than this? Seriously? I'm not saying the guy doesn't have a certain amount of skill at what he does, but is he genuinely the best solo dancer America managed to field? Didn't have enough money for Savion Glover? Couldn't scare up Charlotte D'Amboise? Grab a Tony winner someplace? Anyone who is actually, y'know, selling tickets based on their dance ability? Anyone for whom "dance" actually involves moving their feet? No?

And yet, I still watch. I regain a little amount of faith in the show when the judges score the dude with 7's and 8's.

What actually made me turn off the television was the solo dancer from Argentina. Who may have actually been good -- at least, in the second part of her dance, when she stopped rolling around on the floor and actually started moving. Couldn't really tell, though, because the camerawork did not show us anything below her hips. Seriously. The camera was focussed so strongly on her upper body, I could tell you that she was wearing a black lacy bra that peeped out under her dress when she lifted her arms. And her body was certainly, y'know, moving, based on the fringes of her dress taking flight. But NBC didn't think it was necessary to show me what her legs and feet were doing. In a dance competition.

I've clicked over to the (seemingly endless) House marathon on USA. And you know your new program has to be crappy when I'd rather watch a re-run I just saw last week.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!

Greetings from ... well, we're not exactly New Year's Eve Central -- that'd be Times Square -- but we're definitely where everyone looks on New Year's DAY. Saw a movie and had dinner with some friends -- walked there, because driving in Pasadena on New Year's Eve is just insane. A couple blocks of my walk home was right along the parade route, and all along the sidewalk were people camped out, ready to just spend the night. (Most of the stores had boarded up their windows against minor acts of celebratory vandalism. Except an enterprising shop on the corner selling cookies and hot chocolate -- said he'd stay open till 1:00 and reopen at 4:00 in the morning. And there was a line.)

My overpriced temporary corporate housing apartment is two very short blocks from the parade route. Watched the ball drop on TV and then went out on my balcony -- could hear cheers and fireworks (although I couldn't see the latter). But could definitely hear the celebration from everyone on the street. It'll peter out in a bit, then everyone will settle in for a few hours of sleep. (For my part, I'll collapse in bed, be rudely awakened by the sonic boom that accompanies the Stealth Bomber flyover, and then go back to sleep until, oh, say about noon.)

As for summing up the year ... I guess I'm having the same sort of trouble I had with the whole "things I'm thankful for on Thanksgiving" thing. There are some years that are so crappy you just can't wait to see the bastards out. I certainly wouldn't say that about my 2008 -- it had a lot of good things in it (the knee-jerk top-of-the-list entry would be that I finally unloaded the condo; but, on reflection, things like health, and safety, and having a job probably deserve to top it on the list).

But I can't really put 2008 in the "bestest years ever" column either -- mostly because we don't really know how everything is going to turn out. I mean, the economy is in the crapper; my employer (the Great but Financially Unstable State of California) is considering mandatory furloughs (a.k.a. 10% less work for 10% less pay); I still haven't found a house to buy yet; my sister moved to Connecticut (and hasn't sold her house out here yet); and while I'm pretty happy that Obama got elected, he's got, y'know, something of a difficult task ahead of him to bring the "change" that we're all hoping for.

Ultimately, I guess 2008 was one of the transitional years. Kinda like the second movie in a trilogy. Just sorta setting things up for the future. I won't really be able to properly evaluate 2008 until we can see what grows from the seeds we've planted this year.

But I'm hopeful.