Sunday, December 30, 2007

Object of My Obsession


In case you've been wondering why I haven't been blogging since Christmas:

This is a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. This was my primary Christmas gift this year, and I've been spending all my spare time playing with it since then.

Basically, this is a handheld PC with wi-fi and bluetooth. It runs on a flavor of Linux, and there are lots of free applications out there that can be downloaded and installed. I'm just beginning to unlock this thing's potential.

Web browsing (fully-functional, not handicapped like cell phones' browsers)
VoIP telephone calls (it can use my account for Broadvoice!)
Instant messaging
Media player (it's a fantastic music and video player)
Streaming content from the internet (YouTube, Internet radio)
GPS Navigation (I ordered a bluetooth GPS antenna)
Games (they ported the original Doom release for it already)
PDA
FM Radio

Anyway, that's what I've been doing this week. I can even blog from it!

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's Christmas in Heaven...

(title of post is from Monty Python's Meaning of Life)
Merry Christmas, everyone!

The tacos have been eaten, the yule log cake devoured, and we're killing time before going to midnight mass. Santa's on his way to deliver lots of coal to put in Bernie's stocking.

By the way, Bernie finally got the Christmas spirit tonight. I think the nephews helped her out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Update on Trouble

I took Trouble back to the vet today for his follow-up appointment.

Good news! He's gained a half-pound in two weeks. His T4 levels are actually now too low, so the doctor cut him back to 1/2 a tablet of his medicine. I predict this will make him a little friskier, since he's been sleeping too much since he started the medicine.

We've been cleared to go for the radioactive iodine treatment whenever it is convenient. I had the vet take a chest x-ray of the cat, which the T4Paws place may or may not require. Since I paid $160 for the thing, they're going to look at it whether they want to or not. The vet says that Trouble looks healthy both outside and in. An interesting note - the xray shows a bit of wire around his right front legbone left over from his broken bone surgery 13 years ago.

We expect to take him in for his radiation sometime in January. I will let you all know what super-powers he ends up with once he figures out how to use them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Do Cats Get 24-hour Flu?

Trouble has been doing a whole lot better since he started his medicine. His appetite is back, his energy level is back up, etc. But on Saturday, he didn't leave his kitty bed except to go to the bathroom twice in rapid succession, both times insisting on going outdoors rather than using the litter box. He didn't eat all day, either. In the evening, I hand-fed him some kitty treats, and he ate four of them, but refused the fifth. About 15 minutes later he vomited them up.

This morning, he's awake and starving and begged to be fed and has eaten 3/4 of a small can of wet food. He seems to be back to normal.

Do cats get 24-hour flu?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Midweek frustrations

The builder of our home is finally getting around to fixing the stuff from our 1-year warranty punch list after 18 months.

Background information:
I've spent the summer and fall on the phone with their customer service guy getting things done one at a time, and it takes 6 calls by me, 4 promises to call back by him which just doesn't happen, and two weeks to get any one particular thing done, after which I congratulate myself on my success, then don't hear from the guy again until I call again for the next issue.

Well, my biggest issue with the house is the columns on the front are twisting and buckling to the point that the hardyplank cladding is breaking and I'm concerned about the structural stability. I have two that I've been complaining about since the 2nd month after we moved in. After my last phone call to the service guy in September, he promised me they'd ordered new columns and as soon as they arrived they'd replace them. So when December arrived with no contact, I called again. The builder had changed their number. I got the new one and called. Press 3 for service. I press. Voice mail. I leave a voice mail inquiring about when my columns would be replaced.

A week later, on Monday, I call again. Voice mail. I leave a message.

Tuesday, I call again. I leave a message. Same thing on Wednesday. And Thursday.

On Friday, I leave a message again stating that I would be calling every day, 3 times a day until someone returned my call. Then I got the idea to press 0. Bingo - got a receptionist. I told her that I wanted to speak to the service guy and he hadn't returned one of my 6 calls this week. Of course, the answer is that he left at the end of September and that one of the owners is handling service.

I need to state for the record that the owners of the company all live in my neighborhood, and their elderly parents are my next-door neighbors.

The receptionist tells me she'll call his cell phone and get him to call me.
Miracle of miracles, he does. He tells me that he doesn't have any record of my column issues and he'll get back to me on Monday after he can read my file to make sure I'm entitled to have them replaced. I keep my cool, since I know he and I both have records showing that I complained well within the time limit.

Monday rolls around. No call. This is expected.
Tuesday...nothing.
Wednesday. I tell Bernie that if I don't hear from him by lunch, I'm going to call a lawyer. I go to lunch and come back and I have a voice mail. Someone will be coming to my house to fix the columns on Monday. Most people would think they've won at this point. Not me. I know there's more to this story to come.

Monday. I know for a fact that no one is showing up on this day, and no one does. No call, either.
Tuesday. The guy shows up. Bernie texts me a running commentary of what's going on. The guy has only been authorized to "fix" one column. The one with the broken cladding. He's fixing it by shaving the bent part down and putting on new cladding. I ask him about the broken facia board above the column that the movement has broken. He looks at the jagged break and tells me that that's a seam between two boards and he'll just caulk it. I call BS. He shrugs and says he has to do what his boss tells him. I ask about the twisting column on the end. Boss didn't tell him anything about that. I tell him that I'm not happy. He says if I call the boss, he'll tell him that it needs fixing and get permission to fix it. So I do. Voice mail. The guy puts the one column back together and leaves.

Tuesday. Do you think anyone shows up? Of course not. Do I get a call? Nope.

Wednesday. Hey, that's today! What do you think happened? Nothing, that's what.

So I decide to check my warranty documentation to see what my options are. There isn't any in the closing packet. I call my neighbors and ask them if they got a warranty declaration when they closed. Nope. This is great. I get a bright idea. I have the folder with the plans and options, etc from when we signed the contract, and the sales guy's cell phone number is in there. He doesn't work there anymore, but maybe he knows how I can get a copy of the warranty declaration.

Amazing. He still has the same cell phone number. He tells me it's a standard warranty from a company called 2-10 and if I google them, I can probably get the terms and conditions online. So I google them. I find a phone number for 2-10! I call them and they actually look me up by my address and find my record and they'll send me a reprint of the document I never got.

That's where I stand today. A half-finished repair job, and my legal options are on the way. I've been given to understand that there is a grievance form in the packet that's on it's way so that I can escalate issues to the 2-10 company. I can't wait.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Weekend Update


First, the most important news - the cat is much better. The medicine must be doing its job. On Thursday night, he jumped into the laundry basket and wanted to play. On Friday, we noticed his appetite and attitude improving and he didn't throw up at all except when I let him outside and he ate some grass, and today, he ate as much for breakfast as he did all day on Friday, and he's been eating like a horse all day. We expect to get him irradiated after New Year's, and hopefully, that will be the end of this crisis.

We had a fun time on Friday night at my department's Christmas party, and Bernie put a big dent in the stuffed mushrooms (she says since I hate mushrooms, she needs to get her quota in whenever they are available.) Continuing the pleasantness of the weekend, Bernie and I went over to Brian and Sophie's on Saturday evening and we played Ticket to Ride. I don't remember who won, but all 4 of us were within 40 points of each other. Little Elise was her happy, funny self, and we all made a fuss over Sophie, who is expecting again in the spring.

On Sunday, we visited the bamboo farm again, then stopped by my parents' place to visit since they've been out of town for a week. Then we went home and I finished the bamboo bench project (photo above). Lesson learned: Forget the tinkertoy approach - the way to do it is with carriage bolts, washers, and nuts. I'll probably be shoring up the frame using this method, but all in all, the bench is pretty stable and sturdy. It even holds me in the middle:

After cleanup and a quick shower, we met the family at my sister's house and visited with the nephews.

This has been a pretty good weekend. Next weekend holds three Christmas parties on three different nights, so we'll be very busy.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Trouble with trouble

I guess Bernie's already scooped me on her blog, but I'm going to tell it anyway.

My cat, Trouble, has been losing weight and throwing up a lot lately. He was once 17 lbs about 4 years ago, and he lost weight when I first moved to Charlotte to a normal 12 lbs. Today, at the vet, he was 7.8 lbs. The vet took a lot of tests and confirmed it was hyperthyroidism. This means his metabolism has been in high gear, and therefore the weight loss.

For a lot of reasons, the best solution presented to me was to get him a radioactive iodine treatment, which will kill off the tumor cells in his thyroid glands and leave behind the healthy tissue, which should then regenerate. One shot, two days of quarantine, and boom, it's all done. We'd have to keep him away from small children and pregnant women for 3 months afterwards, is all. We already dispose of his litter in a manner appropriate for bio-hazardous waste, so there's not much else to change in our habits.

The drawback is that this will cost us about $900. Added to the $330 from today's tests. Added to the $60 for the next test in two weeks.

Put that together with the $700 that his broken leg cost me back in 1994, and this is the most expensive cat I've ever had. I guess if you live 14 years, things like this are bound to happen every now and then. He's expected to live into his twenties, by the way, so we really can't just have him take the medicine for the rest of his life, which would pretty much guarantee kidney failure after 2 years.

Trouble kept me sane for many years when I lived alone and hated my job and my life. I owe him the chance for some happy golden years.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Visiting Oz

No, I'm not going to New Zealand.

Sci-Fi channel is airing their new 6 hour movie re-imagination of the Wizard of Oz, called Tin Man. As you might guess, it is a science fiction version where Dorothy Gale (D.G.) instead of being transported to a fairyland is taken to a whole new dimension.

To get in the mood for this occasion, tonight I watched the movie sequel to The Wizard of Oz, called Return to Oz. This movie was made in 1985 by Disney, and is based on the next two books of the series by L. Frank Baum.

As a boy, I was a great fan of the books. I own two of them and their battered covers show how much I liked to read and re-read them over the years. I nearly dropped a hundred bucks on acquiring the complete set at the flea market last year, but I decided to pass on the opportunity at the last second. I have regrets for that.

Anyway, Return to Oz is much truer to the books than it is to the MGM movie, though it does match up well with what was seen in the original. The ruby slippers are still ruby slippers, rather than the silver shoes from the books, for example. However, the tone is a bit darker, Dorothy is the correct age (9 years old rather than 16), and the backstory of Oz that Dorothy learns in the book version but not in the movie version is restored and discussed on-screen.

I was stunned and overjoyed to see that the set design and character design in Return to Oz was taken exactly from the illustrations in the books, which are iconic. The tin man has a tin head, skinny metal arms, etc. The scarecrow's head is a sack of bran. The designs for Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok are perfect.

The story is quite well done, and the actress who plays Dorothy (Fairuza Balk - have you heard of her? She was in The Craft) was fantastic. She even mimicked a lot of the speech mannerisms that Judy Garland used. She really owned the role. The special effects were ahead of their time for 1985. Mostly claymation, but the Nome King's animation was just incredible.

Unfortunately, this movie didn't do well when it was released, and most people don't even know of its existence. Critics panned it because of its darker tone, which is appropriate to the tone of the books, as MGM took some liberties with Oz in their screen version, making it much more of a fairyland, while Baum made sure his readers knew that Oz was a dangerous place with dangerous people and creatures in it (even though no one dies in Oz). Return to Oz is not a musical, and it had a PG rating.

I really liked this movie (especially as a fan of the books) and it's a shame that more people haven't seen it.

Here's some pics:

Look closely at the design of the scarecrow, tin woodsman, and cowardly lion.









Compare with this illustration










Jack Pumpkinhead










Tik Tok






Fairuza Balk as Dorothy - don't recognize her?









Try this one. Recognize her now? The goth witch from The Craft.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Bamboo Bench - A Project

Bernie and I discovered a month or so ago that there is a bamboo farm in Mint Hill - just up the road from us. I called the guy and he said to come over and he'd show us all the different varieties he owns. We had in mind buying some bamboo for various crafts and projects. Bernie wants to make some wind chimes and I was thinking of making the arbor she's always wanted. It would go well with our rock fountain and garden area in the back yard.

Well, lo and behold, this farm is acres and acres of 60 foot tall bamboo plants! The owner cuts down 4 plants for us and cuts them into 8 foot lengths. This costs us $20, which is ridiculously cheap. $5 for each plant and $5 for his labor.

Once we get it home, I start trying to figure out what to make so I can learn how to build with it. The arbor is too ambitious until I get some experience working with this stuff, so I decide to build Bernie her outdoor bench. Earlier this summer, she bought a gorgeous bench off of amazon.com and then couldn't bear to let it get rained on and lose its pretty finish. So she varnished it and put it on the front porch instead. Bamboo is weather-proof, so this would be perfect as a starter project.

After some thinking, I decided to use a hole saw of various diameters and drill holes into each tube and insert tab a into slot b, then drill pilot holes and use screws to keep it together.

The design is "make it up as you go along", so I made one mistake that I am having to correct by going back to the farm to get more of the large diameter bamboo to use for the seat slats. This may end up being a good thing, as it will make the seat stronger than I originally intended.

So here's the frame, all finished and assembled:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The T-giving break

I was burning out earlier this week. I really needed this four-day weekend, and I've enjoyed every minute of it so far.

Thanksgiving was great, and there was nothing particularly different about it from any other one I've experienced. We did really miss having Bernie's parents with us this year, though. Family discussions have centered on getting them back for a long visit that includes next Thanksgiving. Sounds like a great idea to me!

Friday, we decided to participate in the ritual of Black Friday, went to Staples at 6 am, and picked up a laser printer for $20 (after rebate, of course), and some cheap DVD-Rs. I napped afterwards, and when I got up, Bernie decided to nap. After she got up, the day was gone.

Today, we went to Lowe's for hardware supplies and I got to work on my new project: a bamboo bench for the garden. More on this in a later post. We went over to my parents' place for dinner and now we're chilling out. Tomorrow, we drag out the Christmas decorations.

So, you see...nothing exciting going on here. It's very rejuvenating for me, though, and I'm thankful for this nice relaxing intermission before the holiday season madness begins.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not Much Happening on the Home Front

Sorry for the week-long gap. I really have nothing to report. I got better on Wednesday, and the back pain/stiffness worked itself out on Thursday. We're taking it easy until Turkey day, where our greatest dilemma is what dish to make for the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Crappiest weekend ever!

1. Saturday - Tar Heels lose to State, mostly due to a terrible gameplan by our coaches.
2. Sunday morning - The best way to start the day is to fall down the stairs and hurt your back.
3. 10 am - An hour after falling, the fever starts. It's the flu.
4. 11 am - We run an errand (buying bamboo for some projects) and the fever turns into chills.
5. 12 pm - Get home, put on 3 layers of clothing, get in bed, under 3 blankets and a down comforter. Taking Tylenol.
6. 1 pm - Shiver and shake and in great pain all day. Bernie comes in and informs me that the cat has escaped and is missing.
7. 4 pm - Panthers lose on a last-second breakdown. I'm semi-conscious, but can't sleep. When I close my eyes I see football plays running over and over again. Pain and fever getting worse despite doubling my dose of Tylenol. No sign of the cat. Bernie's been walking the neighborhood looking. I drag myself out of bed, put on my shoes and walk very slowly down our alley, pausing at each closed garage door, and calling the cat. 5 doors down, the cat steps out between two garages and meows at me like he's had a bad day and it's all my fault. I pick him up and take him home. This drains every bit of energy I have and I collapse into bed again.
8. 6 pm - I haven't eaten all day. Nausea prevents me from eating. I think the pain from my back (which isn't as bad as the fever-pain yet) might not be the fever.
9. 8 pm - Fever is STILL going up, despite the Tylenol. Now it's 102. The pain from the body aches is unbearable. We start thinking about Urgent Care. Bernie calls the on-call nurse at my doctor and gets advice.
10. 10pm - Chills end, now I'm unbearably hot. This is a good sign. I shuck the sweats and layers and turn on the fan and try to sleep.
11. 1 am - I wake up drenched in sweat. The sheets are soaking wet and cold. This is actually an improvement. I feel a little better. Fever is down to 99.
12. 4 am - I wake up again. Finally getting some rest. I drink a whole glass of water. Now that the fever's under control, I can tell that the fall has messed up my back. If I turn over, I get little bolts of pain that make me feel nauseous.
13. 7 am - Get up, call in sick.

So here I am, victim of one of the worst weekends possible. I demand a do-over.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Glorious All-Hallows Eve


For once, life is good. I have a cute wife who missed out on a whole childhood full of halloweens, and wants to start making up for lost time.


And here's the leg in the smoker, as I promised earlier.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Haunted Cubicle

There's a contest at work for the best Halloween decorated cubicle. Here's mine:

Unfortunately, you can't see the gargoyle on top of the storage bin. He's awesome.

Friday, October 26, 2007

NGAB!

Bernie and I have been watching "The Next Great American Band" on Friday nights. I have to say this: It's FAR superior to American Idol.

In fact, it's American Idol with talent, musicianship, intelligent judges, zero fluff and filler, and 100% less Ryan Secrest.

Of the 12 bands chosen to compete, 10 of them are actually really, really good, and I'd bet that 6 to 8 of them end up with contracts regardless of who wins. The music industry is absolutely starved for new bands, and the music-loving public is sick of no-talent no-last-name solo acts like Britney, Jessica, etc., and emo boys like James Blunt.

Voting takes place after the show airs on Fridays, and the lowest vote-getters simply aren't there the next week. No results show where we have to watch the host vamp, fill and fluff for 29 minutes to find out who lost.

Here's the lineup and what I think of them:

Cliff Wagner and the Ol’#7:
-This is a bluegrass band with a lead singer/banjo player that sounds like comedian Rodney Carrington. They're just fantastic - really tight, talented, creative and entertaining. I don't know what the market is for a bluegrass band nowadays, but they should be the first name mentioned when you hear that genre of music. Great group. Ranked #4 of of 12 in my scorebook.

The Clark Brothers:
-An all-acoustic trio of brothers that prefer Christian music with a rustic bend. They play dobro, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and pretty much all the string instruments. No drums. First of all, their playing is off-the-charts good. Second, their singing is tight, and they are very high-energy on stage. They'll make it big whether they win or not. Just amazing. #3 of 12 in my book.

Denver and the Mile High Orchestra
-From Nashville, despite their name. This is a big, horn-laden swing group with a dynamic frontman. My personal favorites, but probably not going to win. If there's still a market for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Cherry Poppin' Daddies, this band will be heard from in the future. The horns are tight, the energy is high, the stage presence is hot. Really really good group. #5 of 12.

Dot Dot Dot
-An 80's Euro-band throwback. Good musicians and a good frontman. They do what they do well, but they are really more of a tribute group than a functioning band. Not very original or ground-breaking. I'd rank them 11th out of 12 in the competition.

Franklin Bridge
-I'd call them a R&B/Soul band, but they change styles faster than I can follow. Amazingly tight - they throw stops, time changes, runs, solos, style changes, etc at you and they must be telepathic to be able to do what they do. They remind me of Living Colour. The front man is a hell of a singer and a hell of a guitar player. I'd rank them #2 of 12.

The Hatch
-Four musicians living in a small apartment together with nothing to do but jam all day. They're what I'd call a pop-alternative group, much like many others on the radio today. The frontman is particularly good-looking, so they may have a future for that reason alone. I think their music is OK, but not particularly original. I'd rank them somewhere in the middle of the pack. #7 of 12.

Light of Doom
-You'd think this is a gimmick band, but they have surprised me. This is the Heavy Metal band consisting of 12 year old boys. The musicianship is insane! I totally expected them to do nothing but cover songs, but tonight they did an original song that was just fantastic. The only problem is taking them seriously. No matter how good they sound (and they sound like pros), I have a hard time doing that. Rank them #8 of 12.

The Likes of You
-This is almost a cheat. The lead singer has had a long solo career opening for big acts, but never has gotten his big break. So he cobbled together a band, rehearsed for 5 months, sent in an audition CD, and now they're in the competition. The amazing thing is that they are making really good music and almost accidentally have become a legitimate collaborative band. I'd say they're #6 of 12.

The Muggs
-A 3 man rock group from Detroit. The bass player had a stroke 3 years ago and now he plays the bass parts on the keyboard with his left hand. You'd never notice from listening. They're pretty darn good. I'd pay to see them in a bar, but I'm not so sure they could sell CDs. The lead singer is also a fantastic guitar player. Rank is #9 of 12.

Rocket
-A punk all-girl band. Unfortunately, they suck. More unfortunately, the judges keep saying nice things about them. I'd never have passed them thru auditions. All the guitars meld into one mushy mid-range cloud of dissonance, and the front-girl can't sing at all. She isn't even pretty. I've heard many, many better punk-girl bands. Last place.

Sixwire
-A country-rock group that had a record deal at one time but their CD didn't sell and they lost the deal. This could be the best group in the competition. The singing and harmonies are air-tight, the musicianship is top-notch, the original songs they've done sound like crossover hits to me. No weaknesses. This is my front-runner.

Très bien!
-Fox has really been trying to sell this group. They are a retro-sixties Beatles-type band. In all honesty, they're pretty good, but I think they are weak in versatility, meaning once they are out of their niche, they aren't legitimate contenders. #10 of 12.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oooh Yeah I Wish It Would Rain Down...Down On Me

After being teased horrifyingly with predictions of rain in the past few weeks, we finally got something more substantial than a sprinkle here in Stallings. It's been frustrating. On three occasions, there has been over 50% chance of rain, and it's missed us by mere yards. I'm talking there's a line in the road where on one side there's puddles and runoff, and on our side, dry as a bone. I had been giving serious consideration to the idea that there's an invisible force-field above my neighborhood.

Well, today, we actually have had 3 or 4 ten-minute spans where it actually gave a somewhat manly effort to wet the ground. Not that you can tell after it quits. I believe I've mentioned the consistency of the dirt around here before. One big slurping sound and it looks like nothing happened.

At least there's one more day of rain-like possibilities left. Maybe we'll get some measurable precipitation this time. Yeah, right.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Renaissance Fair

Bernie and I went to the Carolina Renaissance Fair in Concord this morning and had a blast. We had heard of it last year, and it runs from September thru November every weekend each year. What we didn't know is that it's a permanent attraction. The buildings and stages are real, not tents. It's almost like Busch Gardens, except there aren't any rollercoasters and high-tech rides. It's been here for 14 years and gets bigger every year.

Lots of people in garb, 6 stages with rotating acts, probably a mile of walking to get from entrance to end, lots of food, lots of interesting wares, and a real jousting show 4 times a day. There are also a bunch of medieval characters walking or sitting around, some of them shouting insults at passersby.

The jousts are a continuing story, apparently. We went to the first one of the day and three knights compete to become the new general of the queen's armies. One is a bad guy, one is a crazy guy who hears voices, and one is the heroic guy. The bad guy won by cheating, and the good guy lost by claiming that one of his faults wasn't counted properly. At the end, the queen declared that the contest wasn't over an that they would compete further at the next show. From what I understand, the next show will have the bad guy and the good guy duel, and the last show of the day is apparently a joust "to the death".

I was surprised to see that they sell beer on the premises, and even have ale brewed on site for sale. The wares for sale are real, not cheap toys. The food was really good, consisting of turkey legs (of course), soup in bread bowls, sausages on sticks, etc., and the prices were quite reasonable, especially compared to the state fair.

Chris, Elizabeth, this is something we should all go to together next year. Athena will love it.

Addendum: I nearly forgot to mention there are games of skill - throwing knives, throwing stars, throwing axes, shooting arrows, crossbow bolts, etc. Real weaponry!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Check This Out



Click on the picture above and ask:
Does the dancer spin clockwise or counter-clockwise for you?



For me, it's random, and I can make it switch if I try hard enough. Making the switch is pretty hard, though, no matter which direction she's currently spinning.

I guess that makes me neither right- nor left-brain dominant.

Sigh. Always undefinable. That's me, all right.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Followup

Rednecks will be rednecks.

Severed Leg Dispute to be Aired on Judge Mathis

In other news, I've bought a fake severed leg from the joke store and I'm going to be displaying it in my smoker for halloween.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's Toothday!

Bernie had one of her wisdom teeth removed today. My mom drove her to the oral surgeon and brought her home. When I got home from work, the Novocaine was just wearing off. I can't stand to see Bernie in pain - it just tears me up inside. I've been spending the evening giving her the ice pack for 20 minutes, then taking it away for 20 minutes. I'll be happy when she goes to sleep so I know she's not hurting any more. This may actually be harder on me than on her.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Now Here's Something To Rant About

Brian D., please look at this one. Now this is something to rant about!

Severed Leg Custody Case

  1. A redneck ("Jethro") buys a charcoal smoker at a forclosure sale.
  2. He finds a severed leg wrapped in paper inside it.
  3. The redneck former owner of the leg ("Cletus") comes forward, wants it back so he can eventually be buried with it.
  4. "Jethro" says "finders keepers" and is suing to keep the leg.
  5. He's currently displaying the empty smoker for $3 a look. ($1 for kids)
  6. He says, “The price will be going up if I get the leg.”
This kind of stuff can only happen in South Carolina.

Bonus:
Here's the 911 log from when "Jethro" found the leg:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Illegal is Illegal

This is a rebuttal to Brian's rant on his blog. I respectfully disagree with his take on this story.

To summarize, an illegal immigrant came to the US from Guatemala, scrimped and saved for 11 years working as a dishwasher, then was taking his $59,000 savings home in cash for his family. He got caught, and now the US Government doesn't want to give his money back.

Brian holds the opinion that this fellow earned his money and the government is evil to withhold it. I disagree.

Here's my take on the situation:

He's illegal. That makes him a criminal by definition. He committed a crime coming across the border, and then continuously for 11 years. That makes his earnings the proceeds of a crime. Legally, it's forfeit.

He doesn't speak any English. That's sort of irrelevant, but it ticks me off just the same. He was here for eleven years and didn't bother to learn a single word of the language of the land.

He didn't pay any taxes on that money. OK, that burns me up inside. Do you think he may have gone to the hospital once in 11 years? Did he drive a car? Did he use public transportation? Did he use public facilities? Almost certainly he did. For free, since he didn't pay any taxes.

He's liable for fines. The IRS failure to file penalties would be 25% of his $59K. The fine on his employer would be $20K for willfully employing an illegal (which is a certainty due to his making far below minimum wage) - I assume that the fines for being an undocumented worker are similar. He doesn't have much "earnings" left over after that.

Here are some wonderful quotes from the article:

"They are treating me like a criminal when all I am is a working man," he said.
(Gee, you think? You ARE a criminal! The word "illegal" sort of implies that.)

"I no longer feel good about this country."
(Wonderful. Don't come back then. Be sure to tell all your pals to stay away from the mean old United States, where we have laws against sneaking over the border and sponging off our tax-paid services.)

Robert Gershman, one of Zapeta's attorneys, said federal prosecutors later offered his client a deal: He could take $10,000 of the original cash seized, plus $9,000 in donations as long as he didn't talk publicly and left the country immediately.
(That was a darn generous deal. Look at my math above.)

I'm sympathetic toward 99% of illegal immigrants. I've been through the process of getting visas and green cards for my wife. I know it's incredibly complicated, especially if you don't know English. I have lots of sympathy for people who come here looking for a better life. They truly want to live here because America is a better place. They deserve a chance.

Not this guy, though. This guy came here to eat at our buffet, filled his pockets, and then tried to slip out without paying. We should make him wash dishes. Oh, wait...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This Is Just Pathetic


  • This is a Division I-A football program in a BCS conference.
  • Yes, they are holding mid-season tryouts for a kicker.

  • You'd think with 85 full scholarships a year, they could recruit one that's worth a damn before the season starts.

  • But, no, it's dook University. They had a girl kicker a few years ago, remember?

  • They apparently have no shame whatsoever.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Looks Like the Geek Party Is At My Place

LucasArts is coming out with a lightsaber game for the Wii

I feel very sorry for my Playstation-owning friends, but I'll take pity on them and invite them over when this hits stores early next year.

Voomvooom....vrrrrroooow....

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Disc Golf

Since my team was getting the stuffing beaten out of them by their opponent this afternoon, I decided to abandon the football game on TV, and to instead burn off my frustration through phyisical activity.

Earlier this week, a co-worker sent me a map of the local disc golf courses. I haven't played since I moved from Raleigh 3 years ago, and I've been itching to start up again. Before I inflict my rusty skills on anyone else, though, I need to practice up.

So, today I grabbed my wife and we drove 30 minutes to the only reasonably close disc golf course. These are nearly always located in a nice park in the middle of a terrible neighborhood, and this was no exception. I told Bernie to leave her purse at home.

I dug out my little bag of golf discs. I have 5 of them - two drivers, one fairway driver, one intermediate-length, and a putter. For those of you who have never played this sport, yes, you can play with a regular frisbee, but in order to score well, you do need a few specialized golf discs. Mine were all bought cheaply at the secondhand sports store.

I'm sure I offended Bernie a few times today, because the point of this was to burn off a bad mood, and I really wasn't nurturing or helping her much, but she really didn't do too badly for a beginner. She gets no distance, but she does keep the frisbee on the course, which is hard to do if you don't know much about throwing the things.

Anyway, we didn't keep score, but I can still do some of the things I used to do when I was in practice. I just need to get more consistent and figure out how to combat my lack of depth perception while wearing sunglasses in the woods. A bit more practice, and I'll be fit to play with others. I'll try to coach up Bernie in the backyard, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Project

A few months ago, my boss at work asked for all of us to each make a powerpoint of one of the applets on our web portal. The powerpoint would describe where the data behind it came from, how it got updated, the I/T processes involved, and how they mapped to what was displayed in the applet.

That was my first experience with powerpoint. Having been with IBM for so long, I was used to Lotus Freelance Graphics. So I took the opportunity to explore exactly what bells and whistles powerpoint offered, and ended up making the presentation a parody of Star Wars with animated screen crawls, integrated music, laser beams, explosions, etc.

I was scared to death to show it to my boss, but she just about died laughing, and when it came time to show it for real, mine was the only one that didn't require someone to stand there and explain each slide and click the mouse to move through the presentation.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, she was bragging on me and my powerpoint skills to her boss, and he asked her if I could work on a presentation for him to take to India to show to our offshore contractors. She agreed, and I met with him to see what he wanted.

Well, it turns out it's not powerpoint at all, because the presentation is already complete. What he wanted is three videos to embed in the presentation. I enthusiastically volunteered to put together the video for him.

Last week, we shot video of our headquarters buildings and also of some of our stores, and I am in the process of editing them, and it's going really well. I had a basic knowledge of how to edit already, but I have learned on the job this week. This has been fun, and I hope it makes a good impression on my upper management bosses.

Now I have to go through a bunch of elevator music to put in the videos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Computer Hassles

I came home last night to the news that Bernie's monitor had 'blown up'. I went upstairs and checked and it sure seemed that way. Burning smell, nothing on screen, etc.

So, I got online on my PC and discovered a great deal at Circuit City. A 22-inch widescreen LCD for $200 after rebate. I was all over that (both of us have 19 inch LCDs, so this would be an upgrade), so I bought it online and we picked it up at the store. I unboxed it when I got home, and found that it didn't fit in Bernie's hutch (awww), so out of the goodness of my heart, I offered her my monitor and volunteered to take the new one. (Grin)

Since I was coming out on the better side of the deal, I decided to hook up her computer first. I hauled my monitor upstairs and hooked it up to her PC, and there was no difference. I must be slipping - I know better than to buy a component without troubleshooting first, but this time I got slack, and it bit me. I removed her video card, and plugged the monitor into the on-board video, and bingo, we got video again (crappy video, but video nonetheless).

So, I had to take that beautiful monitor back to the store tonight. (Sigh) I got Bernie a slight upgrade in video cards (NVIDIA 6500 up from 5500), and got everything working again, and it cost me $65 as opposed to $200. That's a good thing, right?

Then how come my monitor suddenly looks so small?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

On a Side Note, My Wife is Cute!

Incidentally, this is one adorable pic of my gorgeous wife.


And so is this one!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Happy Birthday to Bernie!

To my lovely, sweet, wonderful wife. Happy Birthday, and I hope that you share at least 60 more with me!

Here's a tribute to my honey, Perez Hilton-style!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Chapel Heelia

My parents are still buying season tickets for UNC football. I dropped out a couple of years ago after the John Bunting coaching era destroyed my enthusiasm. Well, now that we've got a real coach, I'm excited about it again. I don't intend to drive 3 hours every weekend to see football games, but nonetheless, since the folks are going, I figured I'd give Bernie her first American football experience. I've given her two years of football-free wedded bliss, so it's time. She's looking forward to stadium food more than the ball game, of course.

We'll be driving to Chapel Hill in the morning, seeing Ron and Tammie for lunch, going to the ball game at 6pm, and staying overnight in a hotel. We'll be back on Sunday.

Go Heels! Beat JMU!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Conveyor Belt Sushi

Something that is hard to find in the ol' USA is sushi restaurants where the sushi comes around on a conveyor belt. Our favorite place in Malaysia is Sushi King.


You just show up, sit down, order a drink, and pick up whatever strikes your fancy from the belt as it passes by your table.
They have lots of 'non-traditional' sushi as well, which is cool. Stuff like deep-fried boiled eggs, and tuna salad inari, and chicken floss rolls. That's in addition to normal raw fish nigiri and maki.

The color of the plates dictates the price of the dish. Bernie and I come out real well when we eat there. We stuffed ourselves for the equivalent of $8 US.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rain Delay

For those of you not local, we're in the middle of record heat and drought here in NC. We've had less than a tenth of an inch of rain this month, and we were in severe drought conditions in July.

This morning, I woke up to my clock radio and the station was playing Phil Collins "I wish it would rain" song.

This evening, the sky opens up and it is pouring down, giving our poor dead lawn some much needed moisture.

Good ol' Phil. Better than a rain dance.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Delicious-est Catch - Season 2

Today, I reveal the pictures from the fabulous dinner at the crab restaurant. This was a re-creation of a meal that Bernie's family treated me to the very first time I came to Malaysia. Click on the pictures to enlarge. I've left them in high-res, though a couple are unfortunately blurry.

We'll begin with the appetizers:

Pork short ribs. The only non-seafood dish on the menu.

They call the above "La-la". It is clams in a brown sauce. I'm not much into clams unless they're deep-fried, so I didn't try this one. Looks good, though.

Missing from my photos is the dish of Mantis prawns, which were fried and in a black sauce. They were delicious.

Now for a short public service message:

What you see above is a small dish of sliced malaysian chilis. This is a condiment. This is also the hottest chili pepper I've ever put in my mouth and I wouldn't eat (another) one on a dare. And I like spicy stuff. Stay away.

Restaurants also serve a big dish of chopped raw garlic, which is also used as a condiment.

OK, now for the main course - the crabs.


Check out that menu. If you like crabs, this is heaven. Especially if you can't indulge your crab fantasies in the USA due to the prices. I'd love to go back here again and order the 20 or so crab dishes that we didn't get to try.
Crabs in butter sauce. This was the particular dish I had been dreaming of since my first time trying it three years ago.My favorite way to eat it. Spoon crab meat and sauce onto a slice of fried bread.

Crabs in tomato garlic sauce. Yummy!

Crabs in dry chili sauce. This one is hard to eat, as you tend to lose the sauce when you pick out the meat, but it really is delicious.

Following all that spiciness, Bernie and I wanted to cool down, so we ordered a young coconut.
You simply pry off the top, sink a straw in, and drink the coconut water. Since this is a young green coconut, the liquid inside is water, not the thick milk that is inside old husky coconuts. After you drink all the water, you scrape out the tender meat with a spoon and eat it. Both the water and meat are coconutty-licious.

The Chinese have a belief that certain foods cool the body or warm the body and they will use this method like medicine. Every time someone saw me sweating in the heat, they'd tell me to drink coconut water to cool down. It works! I prefer my coconut to be refrigerated, though (This one was cold and delicious).

It's a shame I'll have to wait two more years to do this again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Malaysian Eats! Let's Get It Started.

OK, I'm going to milk this subject for a few days, and go into some depth, rather than do it all at once and gloss over all the goodies.

This first posting is about that Malaysian creation, the Rotiboy. Rotiboy is a chain of bakeries that specializes in something they call a "Mexican bun". I've never heard of such a thing, and no bakery in the US seems to know what a "Mexican bun" is, so I think it's their own creation.

The Rotiboy mexican bun is a yeast bun with a dollop of sweet margarine in the middle, with a coffee cream topping baked in. The result is a light, sweet crusty bun with the most amazing aroma when it's fresh baked. The topping sinks into the bun when it is baked and forms that wonderful crust. The flavor combination of coffee and sweet yeast roll with butter is awesome.


This is a photo of the baker swirling the cream topping on before baking. They locate these Rotiboy stalls just inside the entrance to the malls, and the buns are baked fresh all day so that the aroma draws you in. This is the Malaysian equivalent of Krispy Kreme with the "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign. You just can't resist it, and if you manage to walk by without getting one, you feel sorry for yourself.

Some day, they are going to open stores in the US and make a fortune.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

We're Back!

We have triumphantly returned to North Carolina, having survived our trip to Malaysia. Honestly, the flight home was about as unpleasant as I could hope for, and we will be reconsidering our method of travel for our next jaunt to Bernie's homeland.

We've managed to partially unpack, restock the fridge, and eat two meals since we got home. A long nap revived us partially this afternoon, but it's bedtime.

Tomorrow, I'll start on my blog entries on the food and fun we experienced in Malaysia. Despite losing about half our vacation to the flu, we got plenty of pix and stories. After three visits, I feel like I am beginning to understand the country a bit, and I like it a lot. So stay tuned!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Knocked Flat

Bernie's mom and I are both victims of some sort of respiratory infection. Bernie's starting to get it too. I've been to the doctor here and gotten some amoxicillin and various cold meds, but it's taking a lot of time to move on. Anyway, this is why I haven't posted anything since we were in KL. Hopefully, I'll get over the hump on this and be able to enjoy the rest of the vacation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Greetings from Malaysia

OK, We're here and we're alive. Highlights from the first 1/2 day:

US Airways check-in person can't find us in the computer, even though we've already printed our boarding passes online. Eventually she prints new boarding passes and checks our luggage thru to Kuala Lumpur. We aren't very hopeful that US Airways' computer is going to get our luggage to the right place.

We call Malaysia Airlines from the gate to make sure they have us in their computer. They do. They assign us good seats and we feel a lot better as we fly to Newark.

We check in at Newark. As we pass thru security, Bernie notices that the boarding passes don't have the same seats that we were originally assigned. This means no certainty of an aisle seat. I get angry as we wait for the gate attendant for two hours. When he finally shows up, he tells us that we do have an aisle, but not the cozy aisle-and-window seats we wanted. Grrrr.

Fight to Stockholm is OK. In Stockholm we get off the plane, go thru another security check, walk down a stairway, and check in at the same gate, wait a few minutes, and get back on the plane. What was the point?

I watched 9 episodes of season 3 of House on the next leg of the flight. Since I've never seen the show before, I guess I caught up with it. I like it, though it's hard to suspend disbelief when you watch 9 shows in a row where a patient comes in with one disease and somehow ends up with a completely different life-threatening, rare disease and House diagnoses it without consulting a computer, textbook, or a different doctor.

We landed in Kuala Lumpur, and I had only managed about 2 hours of sleep in 27 hours. The bags made it, believe it or not. Aunt Annie and Bernie's mom met us at the airport and we picked up her dad and we went to get dim sum for breakfast. We checked into our hotel and I caught a 4 hour nap, while Bernie took care of her number one priority - getting her hair straightened at the mall. After that, we got dressed up and went to a birthday party for her Uncle Sam at a fancy club. I would have liked to have partied harder, but honestly, I couldn't keep my eyes open. We got back to the hotel at 11pm and I crashed hard. I didn't dream, wake up, or even turn over until morning.

We had decided to not pay for an extra breakfast buffet at the hotel, so Bernie told me to go try the one we got free with the room. It was totally amazing. They had every breakfast food imaginable, including all the Malaysian ones, of course. Dim Sum, Roti Canai, Roti Telur, Chee Cheong Fun, Curry Laksa, Fried Rice, Rice porridges, Beef bacon, Chicken sausages, Breads, Tropical juices, and Western stuff as well. After I reported back, Bernie decided it's worth paying for.

Today's activities included a quick turn around the mall in the morning. I had to get caffeine, as my addiction is not being fed properly and I'm a bit headachy as a result. We got some Red Bull at the local Jusco. Then we were picked up by Bernie's parents and we got Roti Canai for lunch. I had never tried Murtabak, so they ordered it for me and it was wonderful, but it was way too much food. We went to visit her Grandma next and some of her aunts and uncles were there as well. They had food and tried to feed us again. I'm beginning to suspect that I have a "Feed me" sign around my neck. After a short visit, we went to her Godma's house and got our briefing on Felicia's wedding and our duties. There was food there also, but I knew what we had planned for dinner so I tried to abstain. I can't resist Char Siew Paus, though, so I held myself to only one.

Dinner was an attempt to re-create a wonderful meal that Aunt Annie treated us to three years ago on my very first visit to Malaysia. We went to this restaurant that specializes in crabs. They have 32 different crab dishes to choose, and tonight, we had 30 people to feed. We had crabs in butter sauce, crabs in tomato chili sauce, black pepper crab, crabs steamboat style, and also had mantis prawns fried in cream sauce, La-la, which is clams in chili sauce, beef short ribs, and some sweet and sour prawns. Bernie and I then split a young coconut and drank the water and spooned out the white meat for dessert.

Pictures of the food were taken and I'll post them at my next opportunity, I promise. They tell me that Malaysians only eat one meal a day, but it starts at dawn and ends at bedtime. I can believe it.

Now we're back at the hotel and I'm sleepy again. I guess we'll go to bed early and get a quick start in the morning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Big Ol' Jet Airliner...

Tomorrow is the day! This will probably be my last chance to post something before we leave. I think I'll be able to post occasionally while we are in Malaysia for the next two weeks, so keep watching this space.

I'm doing some video conversion to get a couple of movies on my Zen. I lost the program I used to do that with before when I had the computer repaired, so I had to relearn how to do it. I spent the entire evening yesterday processing and re-processing trying to get it in the correct format. Finally I got it right on my last try.

The fridge is clean, there are some workers fixing up our last house punch-list things today, and I just went out to buy another TSA luggage lock. I think we're ready to fly.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Not Spoiled After All!

Hey, the site that I went to with all the spoilers was WRONG!

Funny, they had all the pages photographed from the book, but the synopsis they posted was full of errors.

Anyway, I read 880 pages in one day and finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows around 3:30 this morning. Now I can go back and re-read it carefully.

I'll give the rest of the world a week to catch up and then I'll discuss the book here.

I will say that I liked the payoff at the end, but didn't like a lot of the buildup. There's no way they could make a credible movie out of this book, in my opinion. It's just too dense.

Yesterday, Bernie and I accomplished the following in prep for our trip:
1. Mowed the lawn
2. Edged
3. Sprayed weeds
4. Cleaned the house
5. Washed the rugs
6. Shopped
7. Made pork buns
8. Fixed my Dad's internet
9. Ripped my Cantonese lesson CD to MP3s for the flight

There's more to do today, of course.

In another note, I went to my doctor and whined about unsuccessful dieting and she gave me a prescrip for Phentermine, which I tried back during the Fen-Phen craze. This is the half of the cocktail that was determined to be safe and remains on the market today. It's also the half of the cocktail that I felt did me the most good. I started on it yesterday, and just like I remember, not only does it kill my irrational hunger pangs, it makes me feel like a normal human being with normal energy levels. When I'm taking this medicine, I'm not finishing one meal while dreaming of the next one. That's a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Spoiled!

I couldn't help myself.

Really.

The local newspaper's website had the link.

It was just a click away.

I clicked it.

Now I know.

Damn.

Wish I hadn't.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

T-minus 11 Days and Counting

In 11 days, we'll be on a plane for our two-week Malaysia trip.

Bernie is playing it smart and is taking a year's supply of birthday and Christmas gifts and cards, already wrapped and signed, for her family, which will save us the bother and cost of shipping stuff over there in the near future. This means I get one suitcase for my clothes and stuff, while she gets three pieces of luggage (two will be boxes).

3 to 1 really isn't that bad when you think about it. After what I learned last time, I know that we can get same-day wash and fold service for our clothes for a few bucks, so I'm only taking 7 changes of clothes with me. Plus my suit for the wedding. I should be fine.

I've got 5 books, plus the new Harry Potter on the way. Hopefully, this will get me through two 22-hour long flights. I checked the movie list for the flight over there, and I'm pretty sure I can enjoy 6 or 8 of the movies they've got on demand. They've also got the whole slate of Arrested Development, which I've never seen. Bernie will probably watch the 12 episodes of Grey's Anatomy, I'm sure. Since we're going in July and returning in August, the movie list will be different from the return trip, thank heaven. The first time I flew to Malaysia, I watched Fellowship of the Ring about 6 times after my laptop battery ran out. I think I watched it in Cantonese the last time just for a change.

We're going to try to be much more liberal with taking pictures and movies while we are there, so we should have lots of blog-fodder when we get back. I'm taking the laptop, so we should be able to post some while we're overseas.

I have a shopping list that I want to check out while I'm there. For the most part, I'm just checking prices:
1. Bluetooth earpiece for my cell phone
2. Handheld wi-fi devices
3. Pen-based graphics tablets for the PC
4. Fancy keyboards for the PC
5. GSM cell phone for a friend at work

From my experience last time, I'm going to get lots of massages at the hotel spa. The difference in currency rates makes this one hell of a bargain, and my back and neck need some serious work.

One thing that I really enjoy over there is the fresh-squeezed juices you can get almost anywhere. I'm looking forward to fresh lime juice with sugar cane over ice, and mango lassi, and young coconut water, etc.

Poor Trouble is going to have to be without us for 14 days. We've got pet feeders and visitors lined up so that he doesn't go wild in the house. I hope that's enough.

This should be a fun trip - less tourist-y, but with more time to do what we want to do. I plan on savoring every moment of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Order of the Phoenix

Bernie and I caught a 6:30 showing of Harry Potter tonight.

I think I enjoyed this movie the most of all of them. If you've read the books, I think you'll agree with me.

I've always been impressed with the adaptations of the books. Condensing an 800-page book to a 2 hour and change movie has got to be a tough job. This one took the cake. Some really nice surgery was done to the story and it was seamless and hit on every important point from the book.

I felt from reading the book that this story was basically only a setup for the next book. The movie did a better job of standing on its own than the book did, and gave us some insight into our main characters that wasn't present in previous movies, while giving us some nice action to whet our appetites for the inevitable big conflict to come.

My impressions from the book were that the combination of a hard life and teenage hormones had finally made Harry crack and unleash his dark side. The movie took that and ran with it. Bravo!

I couldn't help noticing all the jealous looks from Ginny when Harry was entranced with Cho, too. That'll pay off nicely in the next movie. The sneak peeks of Ginny's magical prowess were quite nice as well. My only disappointment was that Sirius didn't get a bigger slice of the action before meeting his demise. No two-way magic mirror in this movie, either, which sinks one of my book 7 theories.

On a technical note, the Thestrals were fantastic, but the giant, Grawp, and the centaurs really sucked from a CGI perspective. They were only on-screen for a short bit, however.

So far, my favorite movie of the summer. Now if book 7 would only hurry up and get here!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Week(end) in Review

On Friday, both Bernie and I were under the weather. Both of us were a little sick on Thursday night, and I still had my headache and nausea when I work up on Friday, so I stayed home from work and slept until 2pm without waking up. Groggy but feeling better, I managed to make it through the afternoon and we went to Concord Mills mall at dinnertime and did some shopping. The Black and Decker outlet had some fine deals, and I got the hand-held detail sander I've been wanting as well as a studsensor (yes, it goes off whenever I hold it, ha ha), a hacksaw to replace my broken one, replacement blades for the hacksaw, and an item-to-be-named later because it is intended to be a gift for someone - all for 10 bucks.

We went to Charlotte's newest pride and joy, Panda Express, for dinner and enjoyed it immensely. In my previous job, Panda was my customer and I really like the company and the food they serve. I've been waiting for them to expand to Charlotte for quite some time. If you check out their link, you'll see a company that is running their business the right way.

On Saturday, we rested and spent some time with my Dad, who is alone all week since Mom went to the beach with my sister and her family. I think I got the last bit of the bug that was bothering me out of my system. We got to bed quite late because we were washing the pillowcases and forgot to dry them until bedtime. This needs clarification. We bought a set of 1200 thread count sheets and pillowcases when we got married. They are so wonderful that we refuse to sleep on anything else, and we will wash them and put them right back on the bed. Since we had forgotten to put them in the dryer, we had to wait to go to bed. Logical? Maybe not, but that's us.

Sunday we got up quite late due to the late bedtime. We followed our routine and went out to get a newspaper so that Bernie can clip coupons and look at the ads. On the way, we got lunch at Arby's and took it over to Dad's place since he was home alone again. After our visit, we went back home for a nap, ended up helping the neighbors to lift a big fountain they bought, and by then, it was dinnertime, and Dad called us and invited us to Souper Salad. After that, we came home and both of us worked on a powerpoint that Bernie needs to do for work.

Reading this over, I think this is the most boring thing I've ever posted. Next weekend, I think we'll explore an abandoned gold mine and look for the lost demon city of Azaraoth.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

Today's July 4 cookout was the best ever!

We got ourselves up at 9:30 am and started our food prep for the big party. Bernie had a minor crisis with her ricotta-lemon purses (the fruit roll-up strips that were supposed to be used as a tie for the little crepes started dissolving) and had to change her strategy (she baked them in a muffin pan to make cups instead of purses), but aside from that, everything turned out superb.

Judge for yourselves:

The wieners, sausages, and cheeseburger on a stick










The curry shrimp with pineapple skewers











The veggie kabobs









The Char Siew Pork









The Chicken Satays (with peanut sauce not pictured)










We had about 12 people, including my parents, our neighbors, my sister and her family, and our friends Brian and Sophie and little Elise. Bernie's appetizers, desserts, and decorations got rave reviews as well, so we are quite proud of ourselves this evening. We even got everything cleaned up in an hour after the party was over!

We have lots of leftovers. Is anyone hungry?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Saturday

Incidentally, I wrote about Sunday before I had the chance to write about Saturday.

My oldest and dearest friend, Phil and his wife Selena came on down to Stallings to visit us for the weekend. They got here on Saturday for lunch and we brought home some barbeque from E.B's in Indian Trail. My folks came over and we had a long visit. Selena is an excellent tailor (seamstress?) and runs her own business on the side, so a while back I had bought some gorgeous black cloth with gold and blue chinese dragons and had asked her to make me a shirt. She brought the final product with her and it is fabulous. This is THE PERFECT SHIRT. There is no finer. And, even better, she says it was so time-consuming that she wouldn't ever want to do another one. Therefore, I have the last Hanzo sword, so to speak.

We took Phil and Selena out to our favorite Asian buffet, Tin Tin, and gorged ourselves on the saturday night specialities. Bernie loved the lobster salad and the squid, and I introduced Selena to curry laksa, which she loved. I must be getting old, because I really can't do more than two trips to a buffet any more. I got a plate of food and a bowl of laksa, and I was full. So disappointing when I'm surrounded by so much variety of great stuff. Oh well.

Today, we finished our grocery shopping for our July 4 blowout and set all the meat to marinating. (the skewers will have some flavor darn it, because we're marinating them for 36 hours).

It's been a great weekend, but far too short. Thank heaven for the holiday.

I like Ga-Ze-Bo-Ze-Bo


If you've been to Wal-Mart, or Lowe's, or Home Depot recently, and browsed through the garden center, you've probably seen those patio canopies that look a little like Lawrence of Arabia's tent.
Well, I've been coveting one for a while, since our backyard has zero shade, and today the price was right at Value City, where they had a very nice one for 50% off. My mom and dad called me while Bernie and I were taking Phil and Selena to breakfast and told me what was going on, and after Phil and Selena started back home to Raleigh, we met my folks at Value City and I basically got my birthday gift early this year.

After it cooled off a little outdoors, we put it up and it really wasn't difficult. I was prepared to throw some lag bolts into the concrete, but for now we are letting some concrete pavers hold down the legs. I'm going to have to extend the patio just a bit with a couple of those pavers, but I'll have to dig out the grass under the pavers, and there just wasn't time tonight. Overall, I'm very pleased and I'm sure it will be useful on the 4th!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Another One Of My Favorite Weekends

This weekend, we had no set plans. That's my kind of weekend. We woke up when we felt like it, did what we felt like, and still got all the chores done. And it doesn't feel like we did much of anything.


I'm sorry there hasn't been too much going on in my life to blog about lately. I'm sure things will pick up when we go to Malaysia at the end of next month.

As a reward for sticking with my blog during this time when there's nothing exciting to report, I give you all the link to Desktop Tower Defense, the most addictive web game on the internet, in my opinion.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ottoman Empire

When we got our new living room furniture, we knew we needed something to put our feet up on. Having exhausted our ready cash, I was asked to make matching ottomans.

I made this ottoman a couple of months ago to match our new sofa. An ottoman 4 feet long would be very expensive to buy from a furniture store. I made this one for about $40. (The legs need to be painted, but we haven't gotten around to that yet)









This is the one I made this week. It goes with the armchair and has rolling casters.













Bernie wanted one with storage, and that's what she got. I'll line the interior with some cheap fabric and cover the staples on the bottom of the cushion.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'Twas a Nice Day!

  • Had a pretty good day at work, no complaints.
  • Got home, made chicken wings (yummy)
  • Bernie and I booked our tix to Malaysia
  • I paid bills and noticed I had a bunch of reward points on one of the credit cards
  • Sure enough, it's enough to get two free tix to Newark for the first leg of the Malaysia trip, saving us about $400.
  • Then, I log onto Fark.com, and I got my SECOND greenlight!!!!! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Updates

Bernie's been stealing my thunder lately, and I just realized I haven't blogged in nearly a week!

Here's my update on life:

1. I gave blood today at a Red Cross Bloodmobile at the office. This was my first time. I had no idea you feel like crap afterwards!

2. I saw the latest news articles on "heelie" shoes. IMHO, any kid using them indoors needs to be tripped and do a faceplant.

3. Brendan's wedding was really nice and low-impact to everyone. They even said vows to the baby, which was cool.

3a. Brendan's family really has some beautiful women in it. In high school, we'd all lose 30 IQ points whenever one of his sisters was nearby. Not much has changed.

4. Bernie and I go to get the final approval for her 10 year green card on Friday. She'll get her passport stamped so that we can go to Malaysia in July-August.

5. We're really excited about the Malaysia trip now. Bert is still thinking he's going to go with us, so I'm particularly stoked.

6. Diet update: I did 4 weeks of Atkins and lost 20 lbs. I followed that with 6 weeks of Weight Watchers, and lost nothing. I followed that with 2 weeks of salads and rice cooker meals and lost nothing. One weekend in Williamsburg and I gained 5 lbs. I'm back on Atkins as of now, and can you blame me? I want 30 more pounds gone before the plane trip.

7. The auto shop next door to the office sends out special deals to my company's employees. I got an oil change, tire rotation, and car wash for $30 and I dropped the car off when I got to the office, walked across the parking lot to my building, and they were through by lunchtime. And they even Armor-all'ed the tires. Every once in a while, life is good.

8. We took apart our backyard fountain and rebuilt it last weekend, this time using concrete. It looks pretty darn good, I must say.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Crack in Crisp Form

Warning! Stay away from this bag!

I opened a bag of Flat Earth Baked Veggie Crisps this evening. 30 minutes later, I realized I was working my way through the whole bag one chip at a time. I had to get the bag away from me.

So I took it upstairs, where Bernie was on the phone with her mom. I mouthed the word "Addictive" and dropped it on her desk.

An hour later, Bernie comes downstairs saying "What have you done to me? Are you trying to kill me with this stuff? I finished the whole bag!"

I'd advise a surgeon general's warning on this bag in the future.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

So How's That Anniversary Trip Going?

Today is Sunday, and we're done. It's been a nice trip, but mixed results.

Saturday:
We got up and had a free breakfast at the hotel, then went into town to endure our timeshare sales presentation to get our free tickets. My parents have a timeshare, and they made sure we were not going to say "yes" to anything before we went on this trip. We endured and kept our resolve and ended up with our free Busch Gardens tickets.

So we got into the park at 12:30. For those of you who don't know Busch Gardens, it is a theme park, and the theme is "The Old Country", or Europe. The park is divided into England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy, France, and "New France", which seems to be Canada although they won't admit it. We walked through the park until we ended up in Germany, where we had a late lunch at the FestHaus (various wursts and ribs and potato salad) and got our battle plan together. We went immediately to the newest attraction, the DarKastle, which is a 4-D ride in haunted castle based on Mad King Ludwig of Austria and Castle Von Schwanstein. This was the best ride of the day, believe it or not. 3-D ghosts and such menace you while the motion of the ride gives you the impression of flying and falling, etc. Very impressive.

We spent much of the day standing in line, and ended up only riding 3 more attractions. I didn't get Bernie onto the Loch Ness Monster or the Alpengeist, however, I did get her onto the Big Bad Wolf, a rollercoaster where your car is suspended underneath the tracks and flies around tight turns and makes a sheer drop toward the river. She loved it. Although she ABSOLUTELY DID NOT WANT to ride the new coaster, the Griffon, she had an unholy fascination with it all day and probably took more pictures and video of that ride than she did of anything else. Go figure.

One small disappointment - they no longer offer brewery tours. There is a little club where you can sample different beers, but you must make an appointment. This used to be the really cool interesting adult part of Busch Gardens, but now it is no more.

We finished our day at Busch Gardens at about 7pm. Neither of us felt like we could stand in line any more because our feet were so sore. Hot and tired, we went back to the hotel room and showered the grime off of ourselves. A bit later we recovered enough to seek dinner and ended up at some deli near the college of William and Mary, where we had two of the best sandwiches I've ever tasted. I had a hot Pastrami with knockwurst and provalone and Bernie had a Corned beef with salami and ham and swiss. This was a really fun day.

Sunday:
We got up and had a nice breakfast in the restaurant next door. We had tried the restaurant up the street, but it had a long line due to tables not being cleared fast enough. We looked and the bus-person was some old woman who was using the bus-cart as a walker. About 20 of the folks waiting in line all decided to leave en masse, and the old man who was running the place was tearing his hair out.

After breakfast, we went to Colonial Williamsburg and walked around a bit. We did a short bit of shopping, then went to the outlet mall and spent 2 hours. Bernie got a skirt and a sweater for her efforts. Then we went back into town and had lunch at Barret's Seafood, which is supposed to be one of Williamsburg's good restaurants. This was a total disappointment. Our waiter abandoned us after we were seated and we had to send another waitress to get him. Then we ordered, and I got crab cakes, mostly due to how good the one ordered by a person at the next table looked. It came and looked completely different, with smaller portions and the asparagus that was supposed to a side dish was mysteriously replaced with some limp broccoli. I called the waiter over and told him of the mistake and he brought me out the asparagus, which was in a tasteless hollandaise (not even a hint of lemon juice in it). Bernie had simply ordered soup and dessert, and the bread pudding she ordered was absent the chocolate sauce that was supposed to be on it. We looked at the same dessert that was ordered by our neighboring table, and theirs was larger portion, with a scoop of ice cream and had the correct chocolate sauce on it. We mentioned the missing sauce to our waiter and got "all the chefs do it a little differently" as an excuse. Well, this was a $35 lunch. What we order, we are supposed to get, and the standard should be set pretty high for that price. We left and didn't complain further, but we won't be going back there, nor will I be recommending that place again. This has not been a fun day.

So now, we're back at the hotel, and we're pretty much done with Williamsburg. I'm giving some thought to checking out early and heading home tonight so we can have a nice relaxing day at home to end the holiday. Bernie is taking a nap and we'll decide when she wakes up. We've really enjoyed being together and adventuring in a strange place, but home is where the heart is, I guess.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Final Idol Blog of 07

I don't think it was much of a contest tonight. Jordin was much better than Blake. The songwriting contest winner was unfairly skewed towards her, but even if you throw that out, she outperformed Blake in the previous two rounds.

To start off, he reprised his previous triumph of "You Give Love a Bad Name" and I think he did it even better than his first performance. However, Jordin chose to do her new song first, and she chose a recent Christina Agulera song, "Fighter", and the combination of her performance, and the subsequent erasure of the only knock on her style, namely, that she can't do modern songs, scored more points in my book.

The second round was Blake's "She Will Be Loved" from Maroon 5 versus Jordin's reprise of "Broken Wing" by Martina McBride from country week. Blake was flat flat flat off pitch for the entire song. The judges failed to notice, so I'm beginning to wonder if the fix is in. Then Jordin did her song and she took a previous "10" performance, and topped it, bringing the house down. Second round to Jordin as well.

The third round wasn't even fair. The two of them had to perform the same song, the winner of the songwriting competition, which was supposed to spare us from the god-forsaken inspirational insipid honey-sweet mediocre ballad that Idol tortures us with every season. What a difference! We got a slightly more hip god-forsaken inspirational insipid honey-sweet mediocre ballad named "This Is My Now". Blake struggled from the first note and by the end he was just coasting to get through it. The judges were inclined to give him a mulligan, but should they? Jordin took it and, as predicted, ripped down the roof with it. She choked back tears on the last line, and darned if it didn't fit perfectly. The judges quickly reverse course and pretty much handed her the trophy right then and there.

Now for some criticism about Idol that I've been holding back all season.

Idol needs to fire the sound crew and director. The sound has stunk all season. Microphones cutting out, improper volume mix, incompetent mixing board, feedback, backup vocals disappearing...it's all happened far too often for the #1 show on television. I've felt that on many occasions, one performer has had a good performance turned mediocre by a bad volume mix between the band, the backup vocals, and the lead vocals. In the "Idol Gives Back" show, the group performance was a train wreck where the person singing lead almost never had their microphone active. On that same show, even Ryan had his microphone cut out in the middle of introducing a performer.

I don't understand why the stars that perform on results night are allowed to have monitor earphones while the actual Idol contestants don't get them. Pitch problems have been prevalent all season, and that one common (and for pros, it's essential) piece of equipment can prevent it. (Have you ever tried to sing on pitch with accompaniment when you can't hear the music or yourself?) It's crazy not to do it.

Tonight, I felt that Blake was drowned out on the last song by the background vocals, while Jordin had the opposite problem during her turn.

I've also been vastly underwhelmed by the band this season. Tonight was their worst performance all season. I heard at least twice a horn player (a trombone, I think) playing a stray note during a rest (sacrilege!!) in the middle of a song. The acoustic guitar was grossly out of tune during both versions of "This Is My Now", which contributed to Blake's out-of-tune-ness, and nearly threw Jordin off in the middle of her version. The background singers were as sharp as Blake was flat during his turn, and I don't think they all knew the words, because the chorus sounded quite 'mush-mouthed' in places.

This is supposed to be a group of professionals? I really wish I could watch the show once with my friends Ed and Jeff, because I'm sure they'd notice a lot more problems than I did.

I've also mentioned this before, but the recap clips shown at the end of the show were quite obviously not the same performances we saw live, as Jordin's tearful break in her voice was not present, and Blake's pitch was better.

OK, I've run out of gas. All in all, I think the best singer is going to win. We'll see if I get shocked tomorrow.

 
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