Friday, December 24, 2010

Yup. I'm a Homeowner

Have had the house for more than a year, but I'm still having those little "homeowner" moments.  The sort of things that I just wasn't willing or able to do back when I first bought a condo.  And today it was, "If you're not willing to stand on a ladder and clean your gutters with a plastic serving spoon, you're not ready to be a homeowner."

I do intend to hire someone to clean my gutters -- it is definitely the type of thing I'd rather pay someone to do.  This was more a question of emergency maintenance -- I just wanted to get up there and clean the gutters surrounding the skylight over the front entryway, in the hopes that this would prevent the next rain from spilling in my front door.  After all, when it rained heavily, the rain poured down from this thing right in front of my door, when the gutters are supposed to prevent that and carry the water harmlessly away to the corner of my driveway.

I figured the right tool for this job was a trowel.  As I do not garden, however, I went with the big plastic serving spoon.  (It was actually the ideal size.)  Armed with my spoon, some work gloves, my "yard waste" bin, and a ladder, I investigated the gutter right under the skylight.

"Well, there's your problem," (as Adam Savage would say).  The gutter was full of mud, dry leaves, twigs, and standing water.  It was completely clogged in the corners right by the door.  Look, I don't want to say it was bad, but I found two little green plants growing there -- with leaves and everything.  I had me a pretty big spoon and I must've scooped several dozen spoonfuls of muck out of there.  I scooped so much my arms got tired.  (And I asked myself, for the umpteenth time, "Why didn't I hire someone to do this before the rains?") 

Of course, from my perch on the ladder, wedged in between the gutters under the skylight, there wasn't a whole lot of maneuverability, so I didn't always nail the waste bin with my spoon.  Resulting in me covering my walkway, my clothes and my ladder with gutter goop.  (And, every once in a while, I'd turn and brush the back of my head against the gutter, so I'm pretty sure it's in my hair, too.)  But, like a good little homeowner, I just said, "oh well," (after saying, "ick") and hosed down the ladder and the walkway when I was done.

Although the gutters are not what I'd call "clean," they are in fact, "cleaner," and may well prevent further unfortunate incidents the next time the heavens open up above my house (round about Sunday, I think).  And I can now say that I am, in fact, capable of clearing my gutters.

Wednesday's Rain

OK, so, a couple weeks ago, I put my neighborhood-sanctioned plywood reindeer ("Pokey") out by the curb.  I had purchased an outdoor light for him, and duck taped the extension cord for it across the driveway.

I didn't expect the duck tape to survive the rains, actually.  Although the stuff I bought was actual "duck tape" brand, it didn't have the stickiness I usually associate with the stuff.  (I got a roll of the "colored" stuff, rather than the standard grey, and it seems somewhat below par.)  So, yeah, the extension cord was no longer taped where it should have been.  

But I didn't quite know why the light went out.

To be clear, setting the light up in the first instance wasn't the easiest thing ever.  Apparently, what makes it an "outdoor" light is that the little holder comes with a rubber gasket which sits around the base of the bulb and prevents water from leaking in.  That may be true for standard bulbs, but I had me a nice CF job, and the base of that thing was too broad to get through the gasket.  I ended up having to remove the gasket from its little attachments and put it directly on the bulb like a little skirt.  Screwed the bulb in there nice and tight (the gasket seemed well pressed against the edges of the holder) and figured it would survive anything but a direct onslaught of rain.

Which is, as previously mentioned, what came from the sky on Wednesday.

So, after testing the electrical outlet, checking the fuse, and testing the timer, I walked all the way over to the light to see if I could figure out what the problem was.

I could.

There was about a quarter cup of water inside the light bulb.  Not inside the holder, mind (although, yes, that was a bit damp as well, notwithstanding the gasket), but trapped inside the bulb itself.

Removed bulb (for recycling).  Dried out socket.  Applied gasket to new bulb (lot of good that'll do) and screwed new bulb in nice and tight.

Until I heard the snap.  Now I've broken the base of the damn thing.  Not the bulb, the holder.  The metal part of the holder is now attached to the bulb in my right hand, while the rest of the holder is in my left.  Well, no, now the holder is in the trash bin.

Went to the hardware store and acquired a new holder.  Purchased a new bulb for it, which was both:  (1) specifically identified as for outdoor use; and (2) not a CF bulb -- the new base looked a little narrower and might actually make it into the gasket as designed.

Can't put it out yet, though.  The driveway is still quite damp, and it won't take the duck tape.  Hopefully, things will dry out enough in the next few days that I'll get a shot at being a good neighbor again.  For now, Pokey's in the dark.  And I'm really pretty glad that I didn't set him on fire the other night, with the whole water/electricity combination that was going out on there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glad I'm Working at Home Today

There's rain.  Lots of rain.  Don't want to be outside in it.

Don't really want to be inside in it, either.

To properly understand the strength and quantity of rain falling from the sky, you have to understand my house.  To get to the front door, you walk down a little walkway.  On one side of the walkway is the (outside) wall of one of the bedrooms; on the other is the outside wall of the family room.  It's a narrow walkway (about the size of a hallway) and there's a skylight sort of thing over it, to protect you from the rain when you come to my door.

The door itself has a little sweep on the bottom, and the gap underneath the sweep is a bit too big -- sometimes, a leaf will get in there if the wind blows it just right.  I've been meaning to fix this.  But, usually, rain won't get in.  The rain would have to be pretty enthusiastic to get past the whole covered walkway and then pool enough outside the door to come in.

We have, in fact, that kind of enthusiasm.

The skylight thing has pretty much given up.  It has a few cracks in it (which are probably larger now) and, when the rain is strong (which it is) I can hear (and see) the water streaming down from it right next to my door.  So much for the walkway remaining dry.

The doormat INSIDE my house, in front of the door, is officially soaked.

It's so soaked, there is puddling beyond the doormat.  Turning the corner.  And running into the family room.

(The legs of various bits of furniture are now sitting in water.  So, apparently, is the surge protector with all my TV/satellite dish/component cables in it.  It dawned on me that I should probably turn all that stuff off.)

I've got about a half dozen towels dealing with the pooling.  I can't be positive it's all coming from the door (and not working its way through the outer walls at floor level) although, from the location of the water (near the end of the family room nearest the door and spreading away) that does seem likely.

I am also troubled by the quantity of rain on the inside of my door.  Yeah, you read that right.  The inside of my front door is streaked with rain.  Things are dry above my door -- this isn't a roof issue.  Best guess is that some of the water pouring down from the skylighty thing is making its way in via the not-water-tight opening at the top of my door, causing it to rain inside.

But, um, yeah.  This is a lot of rain.  I'm nearly out of towels.  Sort of wish I hadn't given away that wet/dry vac, as it would be the best way to get at all that water behind the TV cabinet.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jon Stewart

I've read a bunch of stuff (to which I'm too tired to link) which talks about how Jon Stewart is testing the wall between comedic satire and actual political participant.  And I really have to say that if he keeps doing it the way he's doing it now, it's about damn time.

A moment on the "Rally to Restore Sanity."  I remember the day Stewart announced it and I had a little twinge of excitement.  This could really be good, I thought.  A little grass roots action of our own.  Because while I do disagree with many of my fellow Americans, I think the quality of the dialogue we've had lately has gone down (while the volume has gone up), and I would totally get behind holding hands with sane individuals of any political viewpoint, under the "Take it down a notch, America" banner.  And I had that momentary thought that maybe if people really did come out in force for such a simple proposition, it might make some people on both sides of the aisle maybe, just maybe, start thinking about appealing more to the center than the extremes on the sides.

And the moment of excitement died shortly thereafter, when Stephen Colbert announced his competing "March to Restore Fear."  Don't get me wrong, I dig me some Colbert.  Nine times out of ten, I prefer him to Stewart (and generally don't get why Stewart keeps winning the Emmy over him).  But Colbert's "March to Restore Fear" said, "Hey, guys -- Stewart's rally isn't a real rally; it's comedy."  I thought there was a real golden opportunity here for the "Daily Show demographic" -- the people who really don't dig the extremists -- to stop sitting in front of their TVs and take a stand, even if it was for something as innocuous as changing the tone of the dialogue -- and they just blew it by making it a comedy show rather than a real rally.

In actuality, it turned out to be something of both, but not entirely enough of either.

But yesterday... damn, yesterday Stewart raised the bar.  He's been making a case for the Zadroga bill for a couple of days now -- but it's been a case grounded in the comedy that The Daily Show does best:  largely pointing out the hypocrisy of elected officials who appear to be praising the 9/11 first responders one day, and then pissing all over them the next.  But yesterday, Stewart went a step further, devoting an entire show to the bill.  He interviewed four 9/11 first responders who are all suffering adverse health effects from working in the rubble, and asked them to comment on the excuses given by certain Republican Senators for not considering the bill.  This is Advocacy 101 -- Put a Face on the Issue.  Jon Stewart did the closest thing he could to asking the Senate to tell these people to their faces why the Bill isn't being passed; he asked the first responders what they thought of Senators who didn't want to work through the week after Christmas in order to pass the Bill.  He didn't have to ask us to be disgusted along with them; we already were.

If Stewart were looking for an issue -- a real issue -- to actually pursue, he couldn't have found a better one.  You can't challenge his New Yorker cred; and even the people who are against the Zadroga bill can't be against the idea of getting health care for these folks.  There may well be some legitimate reasons to not like the current language of this bill, but nobody is going to say these folks don't deserve to have their medical treatment covered.  They're cancer-stricken 9/11 First Responders for crying out loud.  Is there a more sympathetic group to rally around?  (I mean, strictly in terms of poster value, they're better than veterans, because you don't have any of that uncomfortable "unpopular war" baggage associated with them.  They're freakin' perfect.)  So what I'm saying here is, were I to assume that Jon Stewart had a political consultant behind him trying to find the world's safest issue for him to stake out a political position on, this would be the one.

And he did with elegance, respect, the combined wisdom of a Daily Show team that has slickly been skewering politicians for a dozen years, and the helpful support of a high-profile Republican with a show on Fox News.

My first thought was that, with this one, he earned the Emmy.

My second thought was, he really can't submit this one for it, because he's gone way beyond Comedy or Variety program.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aside to the idiot at the Mobil station

I stop for gas on the way home.  As is my usual custom, I pull my cell phone from its car dock (I don't want a nice pretty cell phone sitting in my empty car screaming "steal me") and put it in my pocket.  Once I start fueling, I retrieve it from my pocket and start scanning Google Maps to check traffic and determine the fastest way home.

Enter the idiot ... who looks at me with shocking disapproval and says, "Tell me you're not using your cell phone."

(Yeah, Merry Christmas to you too.)

I look up, puzzled.  I give her the "What does my using my GPS have to do with you?" face.

"They're dangerous!" she says.  She's so petrified, she can't even get the words out.  "They can.... the gas fumes!"

Oh.  Got it.  "No," I politely respond.  "That's an urban legend.  They have nothing to do with it."

I'm tempted to offer to Google it right then and there for her, but she clearly won't come within 20 feet of me and my About-To-Explode Droid.

"No!" she says, stepping backwards, "You're wrong!"  She jumps in her car and speeds off, apparently hoping to outrun the explosion which will happen Any Minute Now.

(I hope she paid first.)

Hey, Lady:   Snopes.  Hell:  Mythbusters.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So Many Targets, So Little Time


Update on the Ireland VAT scam.  I finally got an email back from the bastards at FeXco with their Horizon Card thing.  They said they never got my first email and they're sending me a new .pdf form.  I imagine the former is false; I know the latter is as I still don't have the form.  The jerk who wrote me also said that:  (1) It wouldn't have mattered if she got my first email (of 11/24), because they charged my account on 11/28, so I never could've gotten the form back on time; (2) If they get the form back late, they'll reverse the charges; and (3) She's out of the office until December 14.  Interesting.  This means that the charge on my credit card was NOT from the other Tax Free refund place, but from them.  In response to her email, I: (a) forwarded my first email of 11/24; (b) pointed out that, since she can only charge me 60 days after I left the EU, her charge on 11/28 was totally without legal basis (even if they had sent me the form, which they hadn't); (c) demanded that she send the damn .pdf; and (d) called my bank to dispute the charge.  That last took about an hour and a half on the phone (Capital One is not tops in customer service) and that amount of time is probably not worth the $16.45, but I'm fighting this one totally on principle now.

The next target of my wrath is the contractor who installed the whole recirculation pump system, as things have gone from bad to laughable there.  I now have a shiny new indoor/outdoor circulation pump (with timer).  For the low, low price of about $700 installed.  I'm not using it, however.  When we plugged it in and cranked it up, we did not get hot water as fast as we should.  The new plumber did some research and discovered something interesting.  When you turn on the hot water faucet in the guest bathroom, you don't get hot water.  Even if you get hot water out of every other faucet in the house -- no hot water here.  BUT, when you turn off the circulation pump system, THEN you get hot water.  Conclusion:  The genius contractor who set up the circulation pump, has the COLD water line going back into it (at this faucet) rather than the hot.  This is why it takes so long to get hot water normally -- it's fighting the cold that keeps getting fed back into the system.  Other Conclusion:  There is a hole in my guest bathroom wall in future.  OTHER Conclusion:  There is another nasty letter, a complaint to the licensing board, a report to the better business bureau, and possibly a small claims lawsuit in the future of my idiot contractor.

I'm so pissed at both of these people, I actually had trouble getting to sleep last night.  (Which might bode well for idiot contractor -- as I'm more likely to just let it go than cause myself the added stress that full litigation would bring.)

On the bright side, I have a shiny new row of bricks in my driveway where the trip hazard used to be; I put "Pokey" out by the curb ("Pokey" is the name I've given to my plywood cartoon reindeer playing the fiddle.  Everyone on my street has a plywood cartoon reindeer playing some sort of instrument, and yesterday was the start of our Annual Holiday Light-Up, so we all got our members of the reindeer band out in front of our homes and aimed lights at them); and my friend came over and helped string holiday lights along my roof line.  This year, we put up three additional strands (covering the garage and a tree, as well as the front of the house) -- I'm really starting to see how easy it is go bigger and bigger every year.  I'm not at the Giant Inflatable Santa stage or anything, but I understand how you can get there.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ireland Traveller Alert: Scam, Scam, Scamity Scam

So, if you find yourself going to Ireland...

Most of the stuff you'll buy will include a charge for VAT (Value Added Tax).

Shops (generally those that cater to tourists) will ask if you're a tourist and would like them to remove the VAT at the point of sale.  They'll tell you that you just have to drop off a form (printed on a second register receipt) at the airport and all will be well.

Yeah, what they don't tell you is that they're not taking off ALL the VAT -- because you're not dealing with the government but a private operation in the Tax Free Refund business, which charges an administrative fee (in my case 42% of the VAT) so they're really only taking off just over half of the VAT.

The fine print (about which you won't learn until you hit the airport) is that if you're not immediately departing the EU (as I was not), you can't turn in the form at the airport.  Instead, you've got to get the damn thing officially signed (by a customs agent, notary, or police officer) in your home country before mailing it back (at your expense).  If you don't, your credit card will be backcharged the entire amount of the VAT.

In other words -- unless you get the form officially approved, you'll end up paying the VAT and the administrative fee.  Lovely. 

That's not the scam, though.  The scam is from some bastards called FeXco, who claim to make your Tax Free Shopping easier with something called the Horizon card.  The idea is simple enough -- rather than collecting all those damn VAT receipts, you get a Horizon card the first time you buy something, and then they scan the card at every other shop, keeping track of all your VAT.  Same deal -- turn it in at the airport.  Same not telling you that you can't turn it in at the airport if you're not leaving the EU.  But, hey, no problem, when you get back to your home country, you can just log on to the internet, register your card, print out a pdf, get the form signed (notarized or signed by a cop) and send it back to them.  And if you don't do it within 60 days of leaving the EU, they, too, will backcharge your card the VAT.  Plus an administrative fee for the trouble.

OK, here's where the Horizon card is a scam:

If you register your card on the internet, they never send you the pdf form.

I shit you not, people.  I registered my card, and their website says that after you do that, "You will then be e-mailed a PDF Transaction Form, containing details of Tax Free purchases."  Three days pass:  no form.  I emailed them, noting that I was coming up on my 60-days-after-leaving-the-EU deadline, so I needed the damn form.  That was November 24.  Still no form (or any correspondence at all).

Here's another reason why the Horizon card is a scam:

When I told their agents at Dublin airport that I didn't want to go to the expense of paying a notary to approve a refund that cost less than the cost of the notary, they told me that the form could be approved by any lawyer.

This would be convenient as I know lots of lawyers.  Of course, their website is pretty clear that this is bullshit, and that they will only accept form approved by a notary, justice of the peace, or police officer.

Bottom line is that the bastards will lie to you to get you to leave the country without doing anything to process the transaction and then refuse to send you the form to enable you to send it back once you've left the country.

Now, I actually had two VAT-refund transactions when in Ireland -- one without the Horizon card and one with.  I had planned to print out the damn Horizon form and then take that, and my other tax free receipt, to a police officer to get them both signed.  While waiting for the Horizon form that never came, I missed the deadline on the other receipt, resulting in a $16 backcharge to my credit card.  I'm actually OK with this, as it was my own stupid fault for not processing that one separately.  So far, I have not been backcharged on the Horizon card transaction yet.  I just sent them a second email indicating that I will dispute any such charge since the weasels didn't send me the form in time to timely complete and return it -- and I therefore consider the matter closed.

And I am now doing the internet equivalent of shouting from the rooftops that the bastards at FeXco Tax Free and their Horizon card scheme is -- at best -- run in a wholly incompetent manner and -- at worst -- a great big rip-off-the-tourists scam.

Fell off the wagon

I remember talking to people in various in various "[Whatever] Anonymous" organizations, who speak of an abstinence of a very long period of time.  And then they'd generally add, "It hasn't been a perfect abstinence."  I didn't quite understand that when I first heard it.  I mean, if you fall off the wagon, don't you have to give back your five-year chip and start again with the old one-day chip?

Apparently not.  Because there's falling, and then there's falling.  I guess it's the difference between partaking in a champagne toast, and lying in the gutter in a pile of your own vomit with an empty bottle in a brown paper bag clutched in your hand.  And even in the empty bottle situation, there still may be some wiggle room, if you get up off your ass, crawl to a meeting, and get back on track.  The point being:  we all slip and fall, the issue is whether you choose to wallow in it, or get up and move on.

I fell off the "get to bed at a reasonable hour and get up on time and put in a good day's work and repeat" wagon.  I was doing pretty well with things until Wednesday night, when I went to the theatre.  The show didn't get out until 11:00; I didn't get home until after 11:30.  And then it was the (generally necessary) unwind/sit with cat/eat snacks/play on the internet part of the day that killed me.  I was up until after 1:00, which threw me off for the rest of the week, and the weekend, when you get right down to it.  Not entirely my fault (with certain shows, when the opening night is on a Wednesday, that's pretty much my one shot at going), but I need to figure out a better way to recover when that happens.

Still, I'm not giving up.  I might have to set my imaginary one-week chip to the side for a bit, until I've proven to myself that this was a small slip and not an entire backslide -- but I'm going to remain positive about my progress to this point.

Eagle-eyed readers may notice that it's 9:30 now, so wtf am I doing blogging?  I'm working at home today and tomorrow (contractors!  doing work!) which enables me to adjust my working hours safely to 10-6 (or even 10:30-6:30) without ending up getting home late and falling back into the bad pattern.  So, it's off to the elliptical machine for a bit of morning exercise, and then work, while I wait for the plumber.

(And perhaps the handyman.  The freakin' doorbell broke.  If it isn't one thing....)

Monday, November 29, 2010

NZ's Crazy Wacky Reward Trip...

... is now set in stone.  Which is more than we can say for my driveway.  Remember these guys?  Contractor One has now come up with a bid of $7,750 to redo the driveway in concrete with the brick border.  Interestingly, Contractor Three had bid $5,900 just for concrete and said it would be an additional two grand for the brickwork, whereas Contractor Two wouldn't bid it at all, but said doing it in concrete would be about $6000.  In other words, all my bids are in happy alignment.  This damn thing will cost about $6000 in concrete, or $8000 with concrete and bricks.  Or... Contractor One will just dig up and reset the one "trip hazard" line of bricks for $600, and I postpone tearing up my driveway for another year or so (depending on how fast the roots of the mulberry tree grow).  Tempting, really.  I generally like fixing stuff once and for all, rather than a stopgap measures, but if I'm going to put $6000 into my house, there are higher priority items.  (Like, say, curtains.  Maybe a carpet.)

(And the $200 I just paid to fix my trash compactor...  And the $600 a new circulation pump will cost me.  Yes, I know, we thought we had a cheap solution to that problem.  We did, until we discovered that the current circulation pump -- albeit the wrong one in the first place -- actually needs to be replaced.  Why?  Don't ask.  It's too stupid for words, really.*)

On to the reward trip, though, the planning of which is Way More Fun.  I mentioned thinking about making it more wacky the other night -- this because that there new Spider-Man musical just had its first preview last night in New York, and it sounds all kinds of interesting.  Now, being as I'm a critic type in L.A., I generally don't fly to New York for theatre trips anymore -- I just wait for shows to come to me.  But this Spider-Man thing has some 27 aerial stunts in it, so is somewhat site-specific.  In other words, if I'm going to see this as intended -- whether it's the most awesome thing ever or a sixty-five million dollar train wreck -- I should find a way to get my butt to New York.  And I should be able to accomplish that as part of this trip -- as you can fly from NY to London cheaper than you can fly from LA to London, and the difference should more than cover a cheap one-way between NY and LA.

I will not bore you with the many, many hours I spent almost getting this trip to work for exactly the same price as I had before.  (I came dangerously close a few times, but then the last leg would shoot up $150 for no reason ... or else I'd make it work, but then I'd arrive in London the day I had tickets to a dramatic play, and I always want something musical and/or funny that first night to defeat the jetlag.)  Four successive brainstorms and some date juggling later, and I ended up wiping out my frequent flier miles (thank you, Citibank credit cards that give AAdvantage miles) and getting the whole thing in Business Class for a couple hundred bucks in taxes and fees.  Now that, my friends, is a sweet reward.  :)

Better get back to the whole "sleep well, work well, lose weight" plan, in order to deserve this.

*OK, you can ask.  See, my idiot contractor installed a continuous circulation pump, which, as previously discussed, was bad for the health of my tankless water heater.  (It was also a "for indoor use only" pump -- when I complained, he built a box around it.  Why the hell the home inspector didn't fail him for that, I'll never know.)  ANYWAY, one plumber said he'd yank the pump and replace it with an on-demand pump for something like... I forget, $1200 maybe?  I thought this was way too high, so called THIS plumber to bid it.  He said, why bother with that when you can just install a $20 timer on the pump, so it (at least) isn't pumping 24/7?  This seemed reasonable -- the warranty on my tankless is already blown by the circulation pump, but a timer would greatly reduce further wear and tear.  BUT, when the plumber was out here, I mentioned that the circulation pump seems to be taking an awful long time to, well, circulate.  That it takes about 2 minutes for me to get hot water in the shower.  So we ran a test -- I unplugged the circ. pump, waited a couple hours, and then he came over to plug it back in and see how long it took for me to get hot water.  When he came to plug it back in, he said, "Well, first, we've gotta open this valve," and opened a partially-closed valve on the intake to the circ pump.  I said I'd never closed it.  He stared at me.  He then asked me how hot the circ pump was when I pulled the plug.  Answer: really, really hot.  He plugged it back in and discovered it took a couple minutes to get hot water with the pump on.  Add it all up to get ... are you ready? ... the circulation pump is burnt out because it wasn't getting enough water through it.  Opening the freakin' valve drastically improved my hot water pressure (which had been lousy ever since the contractor did the initial installation) and now sent enough hot water through the circ pump that it might actually work -- but a year and a half of grinding with insufficient fluid in there killed the pump.

To sum up:  I need a new circulation pump because my idiot contractor didn't open the valve all the way.  Now, I know damn well that this was his fault, not anyone else's, because nobody has touched the valve since he did and I was complaining about the hot water pressure way back then.  But I also know damn well he can go into court and say, "Of course I left the valve open; the meter reader must have jostled it," and I'll have nothing.  Annoyed.  Annoyed.  Annoyed.

Yes, must think about Crazy Wacky Funtime trip.  This makes me less annoyed.  :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Odds & Ends

1.  The storage solution is, apparently, a mid-size storage box (larger than a shoebox -- think: boot box) which I just emptied of other things.  It'll take the movie and theater tickets, the cassette tapes, and few other memory-type things I'm not ready to dispose of yet.  The Newark Airport fridge magnet, however, has to go.

2.  Holiday list drafted.  Exercised this morning as well.  This completes my Shit I Have To Do This Weekend requirements.  Go me.  Tomorrow promises to be exciting, too, as I apparently broke my trash compactor today, so I'll spend the morning waiting for the Kenmore repair guy.  While doing a big pile of work I'd much rather do at the office (but, on the plus side, at least I have it here so I can wait for the Kenmore guy).

3.  Good thing, too, as I just thought of a way to make "NZ's crazy wacky reward trip" even more crazy and wacky.  And it even appears to be doable.  (Something tells me that when I get home from the theatre tonight, I'll be playing internet travel agent for several more hours.) 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Junk ... or memories?

Did a couple more boxes today (and exercised -- should probably get started on the holiday shopping list).  

I had a bit of a brainstorm on the books this morning -- right around when I struck a couple books from Hebrew School.  Because, I mean, I can't throw them out -- there's probably some sort of religious prohibition against it -- but I have no need for them to take up space, either.  So, while I put out one box to be filled with "junk," I put out another box for "book junk" and a third for "electronic junk."  They'll all go away by some combination of junk hauler, donation, e-waste recycling, and/or yard sale.  So, I unpacked with a new enthusiastic spirit today -- saving the few items I actually want, and more or less "sorting" all the rest.

And the question isn't so much why I brought this stuff over from the condo (rather than throwing it out over there) but how it ended up at my condo to begin with.  I found my old 64-color box of crayons (with the built-in sharpener in the back).  I bought the condo in '95.  I haven't used crayons since ... what? the '70s?  Yet the crayolas found their way into storage in my condo -- coming out to surprise me now in my new home.  I'm forty-freakin'-two; I think it's time to let the crayons go.

I then found my old "School Memories" book, which my mom filled with all sorts of info through my Elementary School years.  It was in a ziplock with various other goodies, like the little door-knocker that had been on my bedroom door when I was growing up.  I put it next to my Baby book with the vague goal of finding a place for both of them later.

And then I found the horseshoe with my name on it.  I'm pretty sure it was on my wall growing up.  In Maryland.  I moved to California when I was 8.  How the hell did that horseshoe end up with me now?

(It was a tough call whether to keep or toss the horseshoe.  The deciding factor was that my name was written on it in such a way that you'd have to hang the horseshoe like an upside-down "U" to read it.  But everybody knows that if you hang it that way, all the luck will run out.  So, I figured that the luck must be long-since expended by now, and tossed it.)

I did keep, though, a series of four cassette tapes.  I can't tell you exactly when they date back to, but I'm going to guess college.  I used to send cassettes back and forth with a good friend when we were at school in different cities.  (By the time I was in Law School, I think we'd upgraded to computer disks.)  I couldn't throw the tapes out.  I just saw her the other day -- she and her husband came out for her annual Thanksgiving visit.  One of these days, we'll have to sit down and listen to them.  There should probably be wine involved.  

But I did throw a lot more out.  Including two old cell phones.  (And when you read that, realize that I kept two more old cell phones, so I've been hanging on to these for a very long time.)  I threw out an old answering machine, a few old landlines, an old handheld, and an old ... well, I think it was trying to pass for a laptop at the time.  Some math books.  Some law books.  

I just gave up on tonight's unpacking because I found the Ziplock full of movie ticket stubs.  I'd been collecting ticket stubs since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  I apparently stopped at X-Men: The Last Stand.  That's upwards of 20 years of movie ticket stubs.  There was a time when I could look at a ticket stub and remember where I saw the movie and who I saw it with.  They were little memory triggers.  And now, my thought is just, "Really?  I saw X-Men: The Last Stand?"  I've got a similar box of theatre ticket stubs -- although it's even harder for them to trigger memories, as the stubs back in the early '80s didn't list the show titles.  So, now I've got to figure out what I saw in row CC in 1986.  (I do, actually.  But that one was special.)  But I stopped collecting theatre ticket stubs when I became a critic (and started collecting press kits instead -- I've got filing cabinets for them).  So, do I toss the old tickets?  Do I throw out my proof that I saw Springsteen in '85?  Or do I find a place for the Ziplock of ticket stubs?

The decision was apparently too much for me to make.  I'm postponing it until tomorrow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Go me!

Apparently, this motivation thing is good for me.

Exercise -- check
Put stuff from temporary storage into wall unit -- complete
Unpack at least one box -- unpacked three boxes (all with books, many of which found homes in the wall unit, and/or the shelving where I'd been temporarily storing stuff that belonged in the wall unit).

I do, however, own too much junk.  I mean, really -- what the hell am I supposed to do with the box of 5 1/4  inch disks?  (Not just 3 1/2s, mind, 5 1/4s.  Back when floppies were actually floppy.)  Hell, we're talking about something I haven't even had the hardware to access for over 20 years.  D'you think that maybe it's time to just take a pair of scissors to them?  And I can't really think of anything else to do with the nice plastic storage box for them, either.  I guess I never threw it out because it's a perfectly good plastic storage box, but, damn, I've only got so much room in my garage, ya know?

And the books.  I know I'm in trouble when I'm sorting my books, and I've got categories of:
Books I didn't like;
Books I never intend to read; and
Books I'm so embarrassed I even own, I intend to shelve them behind other books.

This may be why I've procrastinated about unpacking for so long.  Everything that hasn't been unpacked is, pretty much by definition, something I haven't really missed not having over the past 18 months.  So, with each box, it's a new discovery of something I forgot I had, very likely don't need, and have to figure out a place for in the unlikely event I may want it in the future.  Either that, or it goes in a "yard sale" or "junk" pile.

Well... I still have the rest of the weekend, more boxes, and a holiday list to do.  :)

I promise.

And I'm putting it here out in public so I'll have to do it.

Item One:  Exercise Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Item Two:  Actually move stuff from its "temporary storage" into the wall unit I had installed in, what? February?
Item Three:  Unpack at least one box (from when I moved in a year and half ago).
Item Four:  Commence creation of the (dreaded) Holiday Shopping list.

(Oh, and speaking of Item Four, if you're someone I exchange holiday presents with, and you, like me, are of the Jewish persuasion, what say we agree to move Hanukkah down a few weeks?  Because, damn, I am so not ready for that one to start in less than a week.)

Bottom line:  I've got three whole days with, near as I can tell, nothing that must be done.  (I finished my take-home work on Wednesday, and no obligations other than a musical on Sunday night -- unless the neighbors require the neighborhood holiday decorations go out this weekend.)  I've taken the firstest step in giving myself my reward for getting shit done, so now I damn well better get the aforementioned shit accomplished.

Updates to follow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Memory

From the posts below, you can clearly see I've got a lot to be thankful for.  My family, my friends, my purry little princess...  my job which supports my theatre habit, my re-elected boss, my house which needs a new driveway... my local theatre critic gig (which also supports my theatre habit), the internet (which makes the previously impossible possible)... the coolness of my country (which I often overlook when we're being dicks to each other)... modern technology in general, good health, and all the tremendous things humans can achieve when we're at our best.

So, yes, I am all kinds of thankful for the awesomeness in my life.  I'm sometimes afraid that even blogging about it will in some way tempt fate, but I think it's generally a good idea to acknowledge that all the good shit one has isn't simply a matter of desert - for to do so would be implying that those without are somehow fully responsible (which I refuse to believe, especially when you're talking about things like health or being born into poverty or a country of limited opportunity).  So whether one wants to attribute the good things in one's life to a Supreme Being, the machinations of the universe in general, or a very, very lucky confluence of circumstances (of birth, genetics, choices, and a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time), I am, in fact, quite grateful, and send my thanks out generally to the forces responsible.

(That includes you, Mom & Dad.)

Er... that was supposed to be the short preamble... I think I got caught up in it.  The meat of this post was intended to be a memory of Thanksgiving 1991.  Living in Philadelphia, clerking for a federal court judge.  Took a train down to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with various relatives who live in the area.  Someone (a Great Aunt, can't remember which) forgot to make gravy for the turkey -- a fact which a cousin and I still joke about to this day.  ("Hmm.  This turkey's a little dry.  If only there were a moist tasty substance one could put on it that would make it go down easier.")

1991, though.  That's significant.  I'd taken the California Bar Exam in July, so, of course, every single person I'm related to had to ask me if I'd passed the Bar yet.

Annoying.  Results were out, but this was pre-internet, so there was no way to find out.  The call-in lines wouldn't open until later.  My result, in fact, was very likely sitting in my mailbox in Philadelphia -- but I was in Maryland, so just didn't know.  (The result had originally been scheduled to be mailed to my parents' house in California.  I made various phone calls and sent in a form to change this.  I knew that I could deal with the possibility of failing the Bar -- the one thing I could not deal with was having my mother call me to tell me I'd failed.  Even now, I can imagine her sympathetic "Oh, Sharon" coming down the phone line.  It was probably the fear of that, more than any adverse career consequences, that made my study my ass off that summer.)

ANYWAY, results back in my mailbox in Philadelphia -- me surrounded by curious relatives a couple States away.  I'd been really good about Not Freaking Out about waiting for the results for the nearly four months since the exam, but the combination of knowing that the results now actually existed and everyone asking me if I'd heard yet was driving me up the wall.  But I put it behind me and did my best to enjoy the dry turkey.

A friend drove me to the train station.  (My family had been trying to fix me up with him.  Just ran into him the other day at my cousin's kid's Bat Mitzvah.  He's now married with 3 kids.  Time -- wow.)  I was not the best travelling companion.  Especially when he got lost and couldn't find the entrance to the train station.  I mean, we could see the station, and my train was leaving in just a few minutes, but he couldn't actually get from the road we were on to the station.  I'd been pretty good all night, but if he didn't get me to the station soon, I was going to explode.  (I believe I may have politely said, "Look, I've been pretty good all night, but if you don't get me to the station soon, I'm going to explode."  Come to think of it, it wasn't so politely said.  I may have dropped the F-bomb in that sentence.  Twice.)  Fear, I think, motivated him to new heights of navigation, and I made my train.

The rest, of course, is history.  Got home that night, ran to my mailbox, found the great big envelope from the California State Bar.  The great big envelope had a little pouch on the front with a big "Open This First" arrow which leads you to the letter that begins with "We are pleased to inform you..."  Ahhh.  Relief.  Excitement.  Desire to call all my relatives and tell them.  The first person I shared the happy news with?  The doorman at the Ben Franklin House apartments.

(Man, I am so thankful for that letter.)

I believe the word in question is "Squeee."

Yeah, OK, I've been all mysterious about this reward thingy I've been planning for myself, and it isn't all that mysterious (particularly as about half my friends know I've been trying to put this together), but, basically, I'm planning to go to London in the Spring.

Now, me planning to go to London is not insanely unusual.  Me planning to go to London this coming Spring is -- because I've sorta just got back from there, and will be dropping by again in July as part of a family vacation.  And me getting to London twice in a twelve-month period is unusual ... three times in a twelve-month period is kind of insane.

(But, but, but ... I really want to go in the Spring.  Like most of my trips out there, it's scheduled because there's a play I want to see, and said play is only running the Spring.  (And there are other less high-brow things I'd like to see too.  No doubt the latter will still be running when I'm there with my parents in July, but there are other things I'd like to take my parents to, and I realize there are only so many things that they'll put up with for me.)

So, add up at least two things I want to attend in London in March, a bunch of things I didn't get to do when I was there in September, cheap(ish) Spring airfares, the fact that I have a real bear of a thing at work to get done in February, and well, the whole thing starts to look downright irresistible.  

Of course, since I'll be coughing up several grand for the new driveway, and I have no real justification for doing this, it's totally on the cheap, so I'm shopping cheapo hotels and B&Bs (although not this cheap), and also trying to keep the reward element of it going by making myself do all the stuff I have to do before I go.

But tickets to the play just went on sale.  Well, they went on sale in what passes for "today," when you're dealing with an internet box office in a time zone 8 hours ahead of you.  I was planning to (somewhat against my will, but within the range of my own bad habits) stay up as late as 2:00 a.m., checking the website every hour or so.  Tickets weren't yet on sale just after midnight, but I happened to be poking around their website for another 15 minutes and suddenly noticed that they were.  This was a very happy thing -- got my ticket shortly after they became available, and I didn't have to wait another hour to find out that they were, in fact, available.

But I got my ticket!  (Squeee!)  Which means I'll be going to London!  (Re-squeee!)

(Now... to book the cheapo flight...)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ContractorFest 2010

As of yesterday, I'd lined up 3 driveway guys and a plumber to come bid the driveway and the continuing plumbing issues respectively.

And now, the results:

Let's get the plumber out of the way.  He had a cheap cheap solution to the problem, although he recommended coming back next week and running further tests to diagnose if there's anything else wrong he can fix.  I like the cheap cheap solution, and the idea of further testing.  We'll call him back after Thanksgiving.

On to the driveway, then.  I've got a concrete driveway with a few ribbons of bricks running across.  Tree roots are pushing up one of the brick ribbons, and causing cracks in the concrete.  I need folks to bid both:  (a) repairing the brick ribbon; (b) replacing the whole damn driveway.

Contractor One:  Came on time.  Took a zillion measurements.  Will provide a bid for replacing the brick ribbon and another bid for replacing the driveway (brick ribbons included).  He agreed that replacing the brick ribbon wouldn't really solve the problem but is more of a stopgap measure.  The problem is that picking up the bricks themselves won't get at the tree roots -- we'd have to demolish quite a bit of the driveway to get to the roots and cut them back.  If he replaces the driveway, he'd be able to get at the roots.  The full replacment bid will be for replacing the driveway with brick ribbons (pretty much to the same pattern as I have now) -- and will also include replacing all the bricks around the edge of the driveway (which are on their sides, and form a 1/2-brick high retaining wall for the landscaping).  He measured every inch of this thing, and will get a bid to me over the weekend.

Contractor Two:  I had doubts about Contractor Two to begin with, as he was the only one who didn't respond to my initial email within 24 hours.  When he finally did respond, he asked for both my address and directions to my house -- which seemed a little odd as I generally expect contractors to know how to use google maps by now.  Then, this morning, he emailed again, asking for my phone number.  He called to discuss the job with me and said, in so many words, that he wouldn't bid replacing the bricks and didn't want me wasting his time having him out here unless I was prepared to pay for an entire new driveway.  I told him that whether I replaced the driveway would depend on the bids.  He said (sight-unseen) that your regular all-American standard driveway would run at least $6000 to replace (making me think that mine would cost more, as it curves 90 degrees to make it to the garage) and again wanted me to commit to spending that much before he came out.  I told him (again) that replacement was definitely a viable option, but I wouldn't make a decision until I got all the bids.  He told me that he'd come out by 1:00 today and would call before coming -- and that if he doesn't call, he's not coming.  It's now 1:30.  Clearly, he doesn't want this job.

Contractor Three:  Showed up early.  Told me honestly that he wouldn't bid replacing the bricks alone because it's too small a job and he'd want way too much money for it.  Suggested I get a handyman if I want to go that route.  Told me the most economical replacement solution would be to replace the driveway with colored concrete (no bricks) and that he'd score the concrete in a diamond pattern.  When I asked about the brick border, he said he'd leave it, and would tidy it up for me.  Took two measurements, whipped out a calculator, and handed me a written estimate for $5900.  (Said that if he did the brickwork, it would go up to about $8000.  Like I'm going to pay an extra two grand for bricks.)

I think the lesson to be learned here is that Contractor Two is a jerk.  It's looking pretty likely that either Contractor One or Contractor Three is going to get the job ... and for the ballpark $6000 figure that Contractor Two wanted me to agree upon before deigning to come out and give me an estimate.  There's a lesson here someplace.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Because I'm four...

I'm really digging this whole reward idea.  It's just that it's totally frivolous and I have absolutely no justification for it.  This is turning out to be part of its charm.  Because, apparently, once I get my hands on an idea for something totally frivolous, I totally want it and won't let go.

(And maybe, if I continue to properly look at it as a reward, it will motivate me to do all that stuff I'm trying to do.)

But, to be fair to, oh, my wallet, I think I should at least find out how much fixing the driveway is going to cost.  I've got three contractors coming over tomorrow to bid the driveway (some only minutes apart -- it'll be a wonder if I don't end up with a bidding war in my front yard) and a plumber to bid the water heater circulation pump for good measure.  (Yeah, being a homeowner is fun.)  But I figured I'd work at home tomorrow (brought a big pile of work home), so I lined up a pre-Thanksgiving contractor-fest.

So.  More news when I find out how much a new driveway is.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Lori commented below that my boss is great.  He is, actually.  I'm mighty pleased he got re-elected.

He is, though, one of those people who is pretty darned easy to work for, because as long as you get the work done in a timely manner, he doesn't particularly care how you do it, where you do it, which hours you spend doing it, or whether you're professionally attired when you do it.  I think the working world would be a better place if more bosses were like this -- but I realize that we do have some flexibility in our particular little corner of the world, in that we don't have anything annoying like clients to deal with, so he can pretty much set his own rules.

The attempt to get more sleep/get more shit done has been going fairly well -- have been getting to work in the general vicinity of 9:30 and leaving in the 6:00ish neighborhood, and have focussed a lot more on productivity, with the result of actually producing work product, so I reckon that's all good.

FORCED myself to do stuff around the house today.  (Finally registered a stupid VAT-refund card online so that I won't get back-charged 10 dollars for a purchase in Ireland ... I've been procrastinating on that one ever since I got back.)  But I did that, and other things too (laundry!  bought cat litter!  sent emails to contractors to bid the crack in my driveway!) largely by promising myself a reward if I do everything I've got to get done.

.... it's a fairly big reward.  I think I might have to lose five pounds and unpack some of those boxes (more than a year since I've moved in) if I'm really going to deserve it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day Off

I asked my boss if I could take today off "for no good reason."

(Sometimes honesty is best.)

Boss was cool about this.  (I make a point to time these little discussions correctly -- generally, right after I've finished a project.  Ideally, one I'm particularly proud of.)

So, today, I spent my day off standing on Fairfax Avenue.  For five hours.

Which was really cool because:
(1)  I was with a friend;
(2)  We talked with some like-minded strangers; and
(3)  At the end of said five hours, (following a well-needed bathroom break), we got to see a taping of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Tonight's show, in fact.

The Doctor Who special, as it were.  With Matt Smith as the guest.

(So, yeah, me and about 104 other geeks who were able to take the day off.)

There were some amusing mixed signals between the information the audience services people sent to us and the thought-processes of the show's producers.  The audience services people  -- via a special e-mail -- told us they were looking for huge Doctor Who fans, which encouraged some to, er, express their fandom in their attire, as it were.

(Yes, I wore a bow tie.  Shut up.  Bow ties are cool.)

The producers then proceeded to wig, because they were afraid we were more of a Doctor Who audience than a Craig Ferguson audience.  Many of us were both.

(He's a good part of the reason getting to bed by midnight is often such a challenge.)

So, anyway, we're all in line, and then the audience services people tell us about the producers' concern, and the next thing we know they're pulling people out of line and asking them to change what they're wearing.  So people wearing Doctor Who T-shirts were covering them with jackets, or putting on other shirts.  There was some dude in full Eleventh Doctor get up -- perfect copies of Matt Smith's shirt, bow tie, and jacket.  (Probably suspenders, too; I didn't see.)

They make him take his bow tie off.  So, by the time we're going through security, dude has lost his tie, opened his shirt a bit, and just seems like a regular guy in a tweed jacket.

They did not confiscate my bow tie.  (Nor did they do anything about the woman dressed like Amy.  I actually think they didn't know.  Certainly, the guys manning the metal detectors didn't know what to make of all the sonic screwdrivers people were bringing in.  But, seriously, we'd been encouraged by that earlier e-mail.)  Still, some people were asking me how I managed to get my bow tie in there when they made the other guy take his off.  (Probably because mine could pass for "a fashion choice.")

But the guy who took his off didn't actually put it in his car or anything.  It came in with him.  At some point during the taping, he puts it back on.

He does not get thrown out.

Instead, he ends up on television.

Because while the show's producers might not have been thrilled about someone in the audience dressed like the Doctor, Matt Smith noticed, and pointed it out during the interview with Craig.  The producers had no choice but to -- at the end of the show -- go back for a pick-up shot of the dude in his full get-up.  This struck me as, in some way, righting the universe.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


OK, here's the thing.  

There have been some, er, issues with weight loss around here, and I'm not talking about the cat.

I was holding steady but, annoyingly, not really losing weight, even though I was working out every damn morning.   (And the food was largely under control.)

The problem was that getting exercise and eating right was not, in fact, sufficient for weight loss.  Putting things another way, I was exercising every morning, with no excuses at all.  (Because I knew, quite correctly, that if I allowed an excuse, I'd quickly stop exercising altogether.)  The problem was, hauling ass out of bed to get on the elliptical at 7:00 isn't entirely productive when I only got to bed at 2:00 to begin with.  Even 45 minutes of exercise (which is what I was up to) doesn't really do shit on five hours of sleep.

So, I started looking at weight loss more as a matter of overall health -- which isn't just a balance of eating right and exercise, but more of a three-legged stool with sleep thrown in there.

OK, a four-legged chair, if we toss in less stress.

I'm sure there are more factors, but I'm going to stop before my metaphor turns into a spider.

And the interesting thing -- for me, anyway, is that all of those things can click into place if I get control of one thing:  time management.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm pretty good at balancing important things like getting all my work done and my bills paid and all that.  But I'm substantially less good at figuring how much time to allocate to things like playing on the internet or staring at the TV with a cat on my lap.  (And I know that I have to allow some time for that.  At one point, shortly after Law School, I had this brilliant plan of not wasting a second -- if I was going to watch TV, I should at least be ironing, or doing cross-stitch, or something.  This plan lasted a couple weeks, max.  There's a place in my life for time-wasting, I just have to limit it.)

The problem seems to be that I've been doing a bunch of my time-wasting at work.

See -- here's how things normally work:  I plan to get to work at 9:30.  I fail, and get there around 10:00 or even 10:30.  Co-workers come by and we shoot the breeze.  I get an email, and I stop and answer it.  (Idiots call and I talk to them.)  When I finish reading a case, I treat myselt to a little web-surfing.  I stay at my desk through lunch.  And because there hasn't been a whole lot of work getting done, I end up sticking around the office till about 7:00 or 7:30.  I get home after 8:00.  Eat dinner, feed cat, watch TV, surf web, watch TV, unwind.  The unwinding part of the day takes at least a couple hours.  Then, I get to sleep around 1:00, and wonder why I have trouble getting to work at 9:30 the next morning.

So, a couple weeks ago, I started trying to get my butt in bed by midnight.  A good start.

Then, last week, I started trying to get to work at 9:30 (which required speeding up my morning routine) and actually working.  I mean, really, really working.  I'd read the e-mails but not answer then.  I told coworkers I was on a rush and couldn't really talk.  Hung up on the idiots calling.

Result:  I could leave by 5:30, with more done than I normally would when I stay as late at 7:30.  (Hell, I could even take a lunch break, and use that time to talk with my coworkers.)  It's like I bought myself two more hours.  I could get home early, do my unwinding, spare a little time for wasting, and still get to bed by midnight.

Small progress -- I only started on Tuesday of last week, and I had Thursday off -- but for three days, I just about got it right.

(If I make this work for another week, I'll put the exercise back in there.)

The plan still needs work, though -- I haven't quite figured out how to balance weekends.  I had a nice big weekend with nothing to do (the meeting on Saturday got cancelled and everything).  It would've been a good time to pay bills, do laundry, do annoying paperwork (get my VAT refund from Ireland), and maybe even put some books in the wall unit I had built-in months ago.  What did I do instead?  Spent Saturday on the internet, and on the couch, with the cat.  Didn't do a damn thing on Saturday, and then rushed to get the most important things done today.

Still, it's a start.  I'm on track to get to sleep by midnight tonight, so, hopefully, I can keep good work hours again.  I've really GOT to get this right.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Laziest Thing Ever

I'd ordered two things from Amazon -- shipped by different carriers.  One arrived this morning.

I took a shower.  I got out of the shower.  I wondered if the other one arrived yet.

I went online to see if it had.

It had.  Now I'm going to walk all the way over to the front door to get it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day!

So... you folks served the country with honor, and I get to sleep in on a Thursday.  I'm not quite sure how that happened.  (Before my boss, a Navy vet, left yesterday, I wished him a Happy Veterans Day.  He wished me one, too, which, again, seemed a bit odd.  Well, I mean, I s'pose he'd wish me a Happy Veterans Day in the same sense he'd wish me a Good Morning, but it struck me kind of like it would be if he wished me a Happy Fathers Day.  Superficially nice, but oddly inapplicable.)

Was pleased to see John Oliver wearing a poppy on last night's Daily Show.  I was once offered one for sale when I happened to be in England in November, and had no idea what it meant, why everyone was wearing one, and why some dude was trying to get me to buy one.  I wish he'd explained.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


How can it know?

My desktop computer has been operating a bit slow as of late.  I define "as of late" loosely, as in "over the past few months or so."  I've done some stuff to speed it up -- defragged the hard drive, installed Tune-Up Utilities, got rid of useless startup programs -- but it's still being a bit lethargic.  And then there's the annoying fact that Outlook got so buggy I switched to Thunderbird (I'm OK with that, but I still chalk up "buggy Outlook" against the computer), and I started to ask myself just how old this thing is anyway, and if I'm due for getting me a new one.

My account at Dell showed nothing for the past two years, (which I knew already as my McAfee subscription just ended, and I'm pretty sure I was on at least the three-year plan).

So, as long as I was on the Dell website, I thought I'd price out a new machine.  Just for kicks.  Research purposes only.  I certainly wasn't going to buy it.  (In fact, all that I really learned from the Dell website is that: (1) I need to do a lot of objective research into specs; and (2) Dell loads just as much crapware into its machines as ever.)

So, I shut it down and go to work.  (I don't even save the sample specs I ran.)

I come home from the office and crank up the computer.  

It won't boot.

I turn it off and on again.

It still won't boot.

I turn it off and on again and do the whole F2 thing.  Many things I don't understand show up on the screen, and by a combination of guesswork and luck, I get the computer to boot.

This cannot be coincidence.  It had to know I was researching its possible replacement.

Great.  Now I've got a testy computer here, working against me.

Edited to add:  Yeah, and it wouldn't even post this entry the first time I tried.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The promised Halloween photos

Not only is my Halloween costume a bit hard to "get," it also ain't easy to photograph.  (Although that may have something to do with the set-up of my house and the fact that there isn't a full-length mirror a sufficient distance from a piece of furniture.)

I digress.  A friend took this lovely shot of me in costume:

I know.  It looks suspiciously like me wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a something slung over my shoulder.  But there was a lot more effort involved in putting this together.  Note how the pattern of said thing over my shoulder is carried over in body paint on my arm.  And in fabric paint down the other sleeve and the leg of my jeans.  (Hours, people.)

See ... here's a close-up of the sleeve:

(There was actually a bit of an unfortunate error here.  I painted the jeans one night and the shirt the next.  On Halloween, I painted my arm before the trick-or-treaters came and then, after they left, dressed myself in the jeans and T-shirt, before running off to a Halloween party.  I carefully pulled the shirt on over my head and discovered I had it on backwards.  Yep, I painted the wrong sleeve.  What was supposed to happen is that the paint on my arm continues right up the sleeve.  Yeah.  Nice effect kinda ruined there.)

ANYWAY, your mission is to figure out what the hell I was trying to be here.

Hint:  The theme was "Myths and Legends."

In other Halloween photography, I bring you Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who I purchased so that the trick-or-treaters wouldn't trip over the loose bricks in my driveway.

Cost me $30, which is substantially less than I'll have to pay to get the driveway resurfaced.  Admittedly, a stopgap measure at best, but none of the children (or parents) took a dive, so it was well-spent.