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)
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.
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.

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