30 May 2008

Magnavox TV goes BOOM

Back in late February we bought a Magnavox LCD TV. I hadn't read anything bad about them, in fact I'd read some good things, and they had what felt like the best deal for us. Fast forward to right around the end of the Warranty Period, and Monday morning, in the middle of the Enterprise marathon (shut up, it has its moments), the TV goes into Standby mode, ne'er to return. I've pulled the plug for a full day, I followed the instructions in the manual AND on the website, I even replaced the remote control batteries thinking that might be the issue. Nothing. I call Magnavox support at 1-800-705-2000.
I speak with one rep who then forwards me on to another rep who has me try what I already tried. I play along because I think, much like with tech support I've dealt with (and done myself) in the past, you have to cover the basics, because people lie. Just when I'm expecting him to pull that support miracle (try this, or we're sending you this part, etc.) he asks me to hold on for a moment, and when he comes back on the line, he provides me with 3 repair shop numbers.


Before I can even think to object (I think I was a bit stunned, and it was later in the evening, I was tired), we end the call. Fast forward to today when I realize fully what has happened, but I call one of the repair shops (the most convenient for me), and the lady I speak to informs me that the parts for the TV might cost more than I paid for the TV.


I'm starting to see red.

Magnavox of course has no recourse for contacting them via e-mail, so instead of a well thought out e-mail letter to their customer service group, they'll be receiving Angry Consumer Rob on the phone this evening, seeking justice from the corporate machine.
I've dealt with crap support before. Anyone who had to call HP for support around 2002/2003 knows what I'm talking about. I shall not rest until my TV is repaired with minimal cost to me. Not even owning a product for 90 days before it goes dead is a TERRIBLE way to do business.
Stay tuned here, friends. I'll let you know what happens after I talk to them again.

28 May 2008

Battle of the Blossoms

Sorry, this isn't about Mayim Bialik and some bizarro version of her in a steel cage death match. It's about my garden. Yes, it's that time again, to update you on where I am with my plants, my grass, and the war to keep the dogs from either eating or destroying both.
The vegetable gardening is in full-tilt now. I had my first "harvest" last night when I pulled out the 2 surviving radishes from the first planting. They are huge and they are going to be delicious. I think I will eat them tonight. My container radishes are looking really good, as are my container lettuce and spinach. There will be salad.
Limas still haven't sprouted (Still have a few more days before I worry about them), but corn and beans and squash and broccoli and peppers and cucumbers are all looking healthy. The black beans are just about to explode into growth like their green bean cousins just have. At this rate we'll have fresh green beans for dinner well before Francesca leaves for Hawaii.
The herb garden is looking better. Sage and mint are both bushing up nicely, and the second planting of basil ( the first was eaten by something) is happily settling in between the sage and the volunteer cilantro, which itself is looking better every day. I have not been able to find any oregano when I went back to look for it, but I'll be planting that and another perennial herb to replace the oregano and thyme that the dogs destroyed over the winter.
Flowers are still a pain. I have a few volunteer alyssum and a couple of flowering weeds. I planted so many flower seeds back in April. I had visions of lush carpets of blossoms by now. I bought a butterfly bush to replace the one we lost over the winter, and I got smart and planted it in the ground this time. I also bought a couple of flowers that looked nifty. What flowers have sprouted are growing, but damn I wish they'd grow a little faster. I found my marigold seeds from last year! I planted a bunch around the yard, but it'll probably be July before they show results. The moral of the story is that I'm either going to have to start seeds inside in March, or just buy flats of flowers if I want blooms by June.
Thus the Battle of the Blossoms. As if by sheer force of will (and water, sun, and fertilizer) have I been trying to get my flowers to bloom. Hopefully by the grace of God and good weather I'll have more flowers than I know what to do with by the time she's back from Hawaii.
In other news, I went nuts and bought 40 pounds of grass seed and 4 cubic feet of starter soil and seeded the bare patch in the yard, which I staked off with actual fencing (replacing the yellow rope and bamboo poles - so ghetto) to keep the dogs out. I did that this past weekend. I told Francesca that if we don't have grass there in a month, I'm digging a hole and we're putting in a pond.
As I said, the old yellow-rope and bamboo "fence" has been replaced by some green wire fencing (technically tomato trellis courtesy of Big Lots) around the dead-grass zone, the bird bath bed, and the vegetable garden. It's much cleaner looking (almost invisible from the proper angle), and it does a better job of keeping the dogs out. Why I thought yellow would matter to dogs I don't know. They're color blind.
Well I'm not, and I'm ready for some more color in the yard. I have some more shots of the yard, and I'll edit this up and link to them later this evening - this time I promise!


Garden 05-08

27 May 2008

Words That Deserve Some Rest

There are some words that get stuck in our collective throat that get used to death, and that some people consider it necessary to use in place of pre-existing terms in some attempt to appear current. Other times a poor word is just over-exposed in media and speech-making, literally.
No, I mean the word "literally". I'm giving it a nod and no more, because radio and print and web stories have been done on the poor word. I will simply posit that we let it rest and consider it implied. Find another modifier, please.
Secondly, "troops". I love our American Military, the people that comprise its ranks, the work they do, and the sweet machinery they use to get the job done. Let's call them soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. Call them the "Armed Forces"; please for the love of God let "troops" rest. The president can't say it without lisping and head-nodding, and even for someone who speaks without affected-Texasity, it is still a silly word to describe a very serious profession. I normally try to not fall prey to the sort of Nerd-Rage that seems to affect people when new movies don't live up to their unrealistic expectations, but hearing this word used a dozen times in a 3 minutes radio story filled with sound bites of old men deciding the fates of my friends and protectors creates a rabid disinterest in the story. This is not good. the ill-informed are ill-equipped to make proper decisions.
Finally, "geek". Speaking of sounding silly. I likely am one, but damn it already, let it rest. You aren't an "art geek", you're an "artist", you're not a "music geek", you're a "musician", or an "audiophile". "Geeks" have gone from skinny computer nerds with glasses and mother issues to skinny hipsters who write bad poetry about their mother issues. I've known people who consider themselves "beer geeks", even. You're a drunk with taste, let's just move along.
I think the g-word problem is some how related to the sanitization of language and the advent of political correctness*. Carlin gave us the progression from Shell Shock to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'm not sure how this modified labeling of people with certain interests plays into it, but it makes my brain tickle with possibilities. I'd entertain any possible thoughts on the matter.
In the interim, if anyone suggests that the troops literally start calling themselves military geeks, I'll likely embarrass myself by indulging in some Nerd Rage, and no one wants to see that.

*PC? Fuck PC.

22 May 2008

Read Your (we)b(-)logs, They're Good For You!

It's not all just baseless commentary, ego-stroking, and bad poetry, according to an article at Scientific American written about a study in the February issue of the Oncologist.

How's that for Tertiary sourcing? Yeah, you know you love it. It's why you read these things. Other than the fact that you need to read them to tell me how cool I am - speaking of which, I haven't had a single comment since moving my rambling over here. Is anyone reading? Don't make me bust out another sonnet.
Okay, maybe these things are mostly baseless ego-stroking poetry, but the point of the article still stands: Web-logging (I haven't given up the good fight against the B word yet) has not only obvious therapeutic benefits, but also likely has physiological benefits that are linked to the same relief we feel from complaining, or more simply just communicating what's bugging us.
There, I saved you all that tedious reading. You're welcome. Now if you're out there, let me know! My ego is in desperate need of stroking.

21 May 2008

May Showers Drench Pilgrims

May is floating by us on a river of rainwater, which is great for my water bill. Instead of having to water my young garden every evening, this steady stream of rain has provided for excellent growth already.
If you'll recall, I planted carrots, lettuce, spinach, and radishes in my first round of planting. Much of the seed was too old to germinate. Alas! Though it appears that a handful of carrots and a brace of radishes have since made themselves known. I've also since bought more of all 4 seeds and planted them in containers - they have germinated promptly and are growing nicely! I can already taste the salad.
Beans, beans, beans. Green and black and lima. My green bean plants are up and growing, and I planted some black bean seeds (straight from the bag from the grocery store!) which have also sprouted! Similar to mis pintas negras, I have some limas in the ground, just planted Monday evening; they should provide a nice meal right aroudn the time we're getting sick of green beans. I hope.
My peas are looking good, too. They've put out their little tendrils, looking to climb. I've provided stakes for them to climb up, hopefully making for easy picking when the time comes.
The broccoli plants I seeded have been thinned out, and those who won out are getting bigger every day. I couldn't bring myself to toss the thinned seedlings, as my decision was arbitrary, so they are in water presently - if they continue to grow, I'll pot them up and see how long I can keep them going. I did similar with my squash, which I have thinned out, hopefully enough. Chess's aunt Shelly gave us some cucumber plants, and I have planted those nest to the squash; the cucumbers will grow up the fence I have for them while the squash get bushy. This is my plan.
The popcorn, of course, has all sprouted. Everyone marvels at me when I tell them what I've done. I'm going to try to eat some fresh this time, just to see what it tastes like. Maybe I'll make some succotash with my beans.
Finally, peppers. Bell, Hungarian hot wax, and cayenne. All three are proudly represented in my soil - the seedlings also planted Sunday with this 3rd round. If the birds (and the dogs) stay away, we should see real produce by the end of June! My brace of radishes are likely going to be ready in another week or so.
Flowers are killing me this year! I expected to be awash in floral foliage by this point. The coreopsis is coming up gang-busters everywhere I plant it, but my wildflower seeds barely germinated, and I can't seem to get a good sunflower started to save myself - I think birds and slugs are to blame here. I have since deployed my toy animal troops (dragon and rhino) to stand watch over my gardens. Battle-cat may have to be called in to guard the flowerbeds, since the dragon is on basil-watch.
Herbally, my garden is about 60% booming, and 40% bust. The good news is that sage and peppermint are growing so well I had to prune them back already (they were overwhelming seedling flowers and resurgent mums), the cilantro volunteers from last year are sprouted, and the freshly planted chamomile is thriving. My lemon balm is still mush too tiny for ground planting, so it's on the porch still. The poor basil I bought with the chamomile has been attacked. I can't blame whomever did it, because basil is tasty, and I'd gladly share, but come on, animals, let the stuff grow! If I have to buy more I will, but I'd rather see this plant survive.
I'm still fighting the battle of the grass in our south-east quadrant, seeing some success. Our hanging baskets out front thus far are prospering, and I have schemes for furhter beautification of the front of our humble home. If time and money will allow.
Wow, that's an exhaustive recap. If you got through this, I owe you some fresh cut herbs, a flower, and some veggies. When they're ready. and only if you comment.

Saving the Planet, or Stalling the Planet?

Pollution is bad. Wasting energy by driving SUVs and having your furnace cranked up to 80 and dumping plastic into landfills is bad. Suburban sprawl is bad. Those are fairly clear concepts. The seemingly rabid desire by many of my fellow earthlings to preserve the habitats of species seems to me a bit misguided.
I'm not referring to land lost to development or pollution. I already stipulated those are bad. I'm referring to the people who are frantically trying to protect habitats from shifting. Jungle to desert, ice cap to open sea, desert to savannah. Checking the geological record indicates that the Earth's environments have been shifting to various states of hydration since the surface cooled. Global climate change is always going to happen because the globe itself is always changing. Whether or not humanity has a hand in it, Earth is going to keep spinning and things are going to keep living. If archeology, paleontology, biology, botanology (I know, I'm on a roll here), zoology, and epistemology (what) have taught us anything, it's that, to quote the eminiently fictional Dr. Ian Malcom, "Life always finds a way." The presence of man from Alaska to Zimbabwe, and at every desert, temperate forest and tropical island in between would indicate that we'll adapt to whatever the planet tosses at us.
For the flora and fauna what aren't people it would appear to be much the same. It always finds a way. From sea vents to the top of Mt. Everest lichen, tube worms, foxes, and fennel all flourish.
It's said we're losing species quickly these days, that biodiversity is dropping. This has happened more than once in Earth's history, and will happen again. Man is powerful, and many say that we are having a measurable impact on a planet that was still warming from its last Ice Age.
The people out there who are worried about protecting habitats that are changing without direct human involvement, your actions aren't progressive, they are stagnating. Let Nature run its course, because in trying to save an old species, you are likely preventing a new species from bursting forth into that wonderful new niche that our ever changing Earth has provided.

12 May 2008

Sorry About That!

Thinking as I turned on the tap
of lush green lawns and mudless paws,
I'd ne'er consulted weather maps
nor TV hosts to give me pause.
Watering my growing grasses
passing the stream both to and fro,
study'ng them so I could assess:
how much longer they had to go.
Now four days later I still see
water falling from Heav'n on high.
Water in oceans recently,
Called forth by my past hosery.
What is there for such hydration?
Soggy, soggy expectations.

09 May 2008

TJ High School Showcase:

Or, I'll Review Anything

Raw Shots:
TJ Spring Showcase 2008

My presence was requested last night by my brother-in-law, the estimable Chaz, for his final performance of his senior year of high school. Partially because I'm just that cool, but mostly because I have a camera - he wanted photos. Which is coincidental, because I like to take photos!
I sat through one of these last year, and to be honest, it was just okay (Chaz still rocked). I steeled myself for more high school performances with the family bright spot in the middle of it all. Well wasn't I presently surprised.
The first act of the night (after the certificates were handed out) was We kommich denn zur Tur (Brahms) done as a guitar duo; I could already tell that this year was going to be entertaining.
Following directly after was the Flamenco Trumpet (with piano accompaniment) laying some Virgin de la Macarena (Mendez) on us. The cape and Flamenco hat were a great touch, and the kid definitely had the talent to pull off the outfit. I mean, I could have done it better, but, well, you have to know trumpet players.

How many trumpet players does it take to screw in a light bulb?
1 to do it, and 10 others to stand around saying how they could have done it better, and with more style.

Following up El Flamenco was my own family-in-law, senor Chaz del familia Aguado, with his partner for their duet rendition of Sonata (Longo 288) (Scarlatti). Such power, such beauty, such grace! Enough about my photography of the performance; but seriously folks, it was fantastic.
The Oboe Desitned for Peabody finished out the non-choral part of the performance with Sonata No. 1 I-IV (Handel). I've heard my share of high school oboes over the years, and this kid should not only go pro, but get paid plenty for it.
The chorus performed some pretty challenging (rhythmically) pieces: Memory, come Hither (Pinkham), Jabberwocky (Carroll/Pottle), & Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine (Whitacre). College-level stuff here, folks.
Closing out the evening was the debut of the Advanced Theatre Studies' movie: "Waiting for Hoffman". I laughed, a lot. I also recognized iDVD, iMovie, and GarageBand, 3 of my favorite iLife Apps. Could some of the scenes have been edited a little tighter? Sure. Did they put a pile of effort into the thing and deliver a product that was entertaining and damned funny at times? Again, Definitely.
So with the gimmick of the film being that the ATS kids crawled out from under the screen after the film set that up, the evening ended. My gallery of un-retouched shots is above, for anyone who's interested. I really wish I'd been able to record some audio, 'cos it's worth listening to; all of it. Thanks for an entertaining evening, kids.
What will I review next? I guess you'll have to keep checking back to find out.

06 May 2008

Holy Crap, I'm Not Clever At All!

I just googled roblog. I don't know what I was expecting, but damn. Looks like if I'm going to bother doing this, I'm going to have to step it up a notch and figure out a better name for this ... blend ... of words. I'm open to suggestions?

UPDATE! I'm trying the Latin theme for the moment; it means "Right Mind, Left Hand".

05 May 2008

You Do Love Puppies, Don't You?

Wired.com has these weekly photo contests that I just found out about via their RSS feed. Well, far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to suffer the ignominy of the public ignoring my work! I participated last week, and I have 2 photos in the running this week.
I think that as long as I have fitting photos I'll play along with the contest - or I'll just have to take new shots to match the theme if I don't have anything in my portfolio (link to the right). Embarassingly most of those were taken with one of my Coolpix cameras. Hell, I took this week's entries using a 2 MP HP912. What a fun camera. Eats batteries like they were delicious cookies.
Regarding the contest, Lunchtime and Happiness are mine. You might remember that Lunchtime is a previous award winner in the Herald-Mail amateur digital photo contest, a couple of years back. Happiness is a fun shot of Jake I got last Summer when I was playing with the HP before I had to hand it over to a certain individual of whom we shall not speak.
I'd be so honored if you, my dozen readers, would consider voting for my photo. If you like one of them, that is. At least, don't vote against them! Hey, I know that look...Stop! You don't hate puppies and children, do you?

03 May 2008

First Dates are Always Awkward

The Mrs. and I were in Border's tonight, preparing to enjoy a nice cup of coffee after raiding the discount racks. I sat quietly reading my new book to myself, and she stood at the counter waiting for the hot hot coffee.
She was laughing when she returned to me, which was odd, 'cos I was the one reading the funny book. I asked her what was so funny, and she told me that the couple in the corner were apparently on their first date; the awkward conversation was too easy to overhear, and my dear wife has very good hearing. They had also apparently been discussing how she (not the wife) was hard of hearing in one ear. Well, luckily enough she (the wife this time) forgot to put the honey in my drink, so I gladly walked up to the coffee condiment counter to avail myself of the the good stuff in handy packet form.
The packets were sticky, but that's okay, because it gave me more time to listen in.
Don't judge me - you know you do it, too.
He was laughing the loudish, slightly too ebullient laugh that all men exhibit on a first date when they sense it going south; that somehow his own laughter can resuscitate the evening. I listened to him tell her that he was having the peppermint mocha, but then that he didn't go to places like this, save for once or twice a month. LIAR! No man only wanders into a coffee establishment on his own once or twice a month and knows how to order a peppermint mocha, never mind what one even is (They are delicious. I love them.). The poor bastard went on (he was a huskier fellow) lamenting the caloric content of one of those fabled drinks, how he was going to have to call his Jenny Craig rep tomorrow and go to the gym work work it off.
Jenny Craig, man. That's A-list material right there.
She laughed briefly and politely. The whole time I stood there, pouring honey into my drink, stirring my drink, trying to figure out how to get honey-laden napkin un-stuck from my fingers with out licking them... Anyway, he stunk of desperation, and I know, dear readers. I been there.
On our way out soon thereafter, we almost walked up to them and asked for first date confirmation, reliving the memories of our own first date (an untouched picnic, the slightly awkward conversation), but decided in the end that discretion was the better part of valor.
Besides, if that guy was barely holding his own without 2 complete (and nosey) strangers interloping in their evening, WITH our 'help', he would have been reduced to a high volume chuckle factory with his peppermint mocha in one hand and not hers in his other.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe she was really into him, but I've been on first dates good and bad, and falling back on your choice of beverage as a topic of conversation is a bad, bad sign.
I'm going to put this out for whomever cares to read it: guys out there, relax. Don't try to be funny. It's painfully obvious when we are. Sure the ladies want a guy that makes her laugh, but lying about coffee and Jenny Craig?
Well, maybe that's where they met.

"Iron Man" def. no "Stane" on RDJ's CV

You know a movie was good when while walking out of the theater you can hear the 12 year olds behind you saying to each "man, that was awesome when he flew into that wall and was like doushhhh!" in excited voices, or 30 seconds into Obadiah Stane's first appearance on screen, having the whispers flow from the other end of my row of friends ..."that's the dude!"
The endless good reviews of the movie pending its release already had me hopeful, and let's face it, few people spend a lifetime researching a role as diligently as Robert Downey, Jr. seems to have done for Tony Stark. Swap out the LAPD for a terrorist squad (not a reflection on LA's finest, I felt quite protected and served during my brief visit), a fantastic electromagnet power source for a at times crippling drug addiction, and Billionaire Industrialist Playboy for Millionaire Hollywood, well, playboy, and blamm-o. Not so much born to play, but hewn to portray. Anyone who knows both Shell Head and RDJ always thought him perfect for the part, but it had to be said one more time. Mr. Downey does deserve laudes; I haven't read a thing about him in the news related to his prior troubles. Bang on, mate.
I did it again, what was I ... oh yeah, the movie.
There are likely delicious Spoilers henceforth, so if you haven't seen it, and are going to see it, and wanted to be surprised, then just dog-ear this post and come back to it later. I'm not responsible for any damage you do to your monitor in this process. Now then.
A short plot synopsis of this Origin story is basically Weapons Maker Tony Stark is in Afghanistan showing off new toys to the Army. His convoy is attacked, he is kidnapped. He is inured in the attack and an electromagnet is installed in his chest to keep shrapnel from piercing his heart. He is told to build a missile but builds himself the mark I iron man suit powered by his (already on mark II - you with me here? version control is visually easy, because they all look different or glow brighter) chest EM. He escapes. He gets picked up by the cavalry. He goes home, and much to Obi Stane's dismay, shuts down the weapons manufacturing business because he found out that Stark Industries has been double-dealing weapons to both the USA and to the insurgents. Woops (you'll never guess who was responsible for that!) TS proceeds to build the Iron man suits mark II and III while sharing moments with his assistance Pepper Potts, his Army liason buddy Col. Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes, and even Stane, who pays him a visit at Stately Stark Man ... that is, Stark's very mod and not Batmanesque at all (honest) concrete and glass curved lines cliffside mansion.
Stark sends himself on missions to blow up the weapons that got sold to the bad guys (hey, they paid money for those, what're you going to do with those funds, Mr. Stark?), and pisses off Obi even more. That's right, kids. The 2-D insurgents aren't your A-villains for this movie. They're just pawns who get themselves offed when they are no longer useful to one Mr. Obadiah Stane.
Obi has built his own suit based on the recovered plans and destroyed prototype (dug out of the sands) brought back from Afghanistan. Tony and Obi fight, Tony almost dies, Obi seems to bite it when he falls prey to a plot device we see earlier in the film, but doesn't finally bite it until Pepper does what Tony tells her and blows some shit up.
Tony goes to a press conference the next morning, is supposed to reaad from cards provided him by SHIELD so no one knows he's "Iron Man", as he's been christened by the ever so clever media, and the movie rolls credits (great credit sequence, BTW) immediately after TS announces that he is, in fact, Iron Man.
We didn't stay 'til the end to see any special stuff that Marvel may have tacked on because my Mrs. had work this morning (it was 1145 when we got out, started at 930), and the other Mrs. in attendance is wrapping up her first tri-mester and was likely exhausted. So if there was anything cool at the end, you won't read it here.
My review:
I'm easy to please, and am very forgiving of a lot of plot holes and the like if the story, action, and acting do a good job of keeping me in the story, so I'll not be as critical as some Internet Nerds are likely to be, I'm sure.
I liked the movie, a lot. I went in with high expectations, and all of them were met. I've read complaints that the Insurgents were 2-D and uninteresting villains. I think in this case the visuals and the camera work made up for the lack of hand-wringing existential crises that some people seem to need from their villains. These guys aren't adversaries anyway; they are catalysts for the awesome of Iron Man.
The camera work put me in the scene. The quick cuts and dim lighting and confusing blurs of the captivity scenes made me feel it, as much as I felt like I, too, was falling when power cut out of the Mark II at high altitude. It made the flying look very fun, and just a bit dangerous. Likewise, the CGI was 99% seamless for me; the only time I remember thinking "this is CGI" is the scene we've seen on all the TV spots, where he blows up the tank, and even that was realistic as me sitting here at my desk.
Once I was in the scene, the acting kept me there. I only knew those soldiers for maybe a minute on screen, but when they were ambushed, I worried for them; and they were but bit parts. The script was goo and never felt cheesed up; hell, they even got the brief scene with the computer mostly right, and to be perfectly honest, Stark probably wrote the OS that Stark Industries uses himself.
If I regularly reviewed movies and had some sort of rating system, this movie would be at the top of that rating.
In conclusion: I really want Stark's workshop computer setup, complete with holographic drafting table.

p.s. Yes, the song was there, but not until the end credits.

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