greatbear: (seasons greetings)
Pardon me if I'm not exactly filled with Christmas spirit. The weather outside is frightful, with lots of rain and even thunderstorms battering the area for the next couple days. The fire is so delightful, however, as I have the woodstove cranking to offset the dreary, cold, wet mess outside. Jeff and I have both been hit with a very nasty gastrointestinal bug, where we got it isn't clear. I've had these before, but this is by far the worst I've gotten slammed with such a thing, which made me violently ill. I think the worst is over, for I tried to have a little bit of chicken soup tonight and no warning sirens are going off yet. Jeff thankfully has off tomorrow, and with both of us under the weather, our dinner plans might have to be changed to something very light, if anything at all. He has to work Friday, unfortunately. We were planning of heading up the see his family and make a nice dinner, but that looks like it might out of the question given our messed up health. We will see. I was hoping to make it through the holidays without the usual, inevitable winter maladies dropping by to say hello, so instead we got something different and just as unwelcome. Ah, well, it is what it is. I got a couple nice presents for Jeff, he apparently has a couple for me, and we have no idea what we are getting. So that's good. Little surprises, lots of love and warmth.

Our little pooch Kodi needed to have some serious surgery done to remove a number of bladder stones. These were discovered during examinations for something unrelated, and these had the potential to wreak havoc on the little guy had those stones moved into and blocked his urethra. Little trouper he is, after the surgery he was mostly his cheerful self, but kept having accidents around the house. These have subsided, fortunately, and he's almost back to normal. In fact, it seemed in recent months he'd beg to go outside to pee more often than usual, and the frequency is less than before. So I think we had something taken care of before it could get a lot worse. Today I promised him he'd have his stitches removed, but that turned out to only be partially true. When we initially picked him up, he had of course been fitted with The Cone of Shame for obvious reasons. A day or two later he somehow managed to knock the thing off, and he went straight for the surgery site and the stitches. Jeff saw this in time and stopped him from doing any damage, but apparently he pulled one loose and created a large scab. So all but two stitches are gone until next week, where hopefully the disturbed area heals up a bit more, the scab comes off and the remaining stitches that are all caught up in there can be taken out. The Cone of Shame remains on as well, but Kodi has gotten used to it in some ways. Around here, to make the little guys feel better, we don't call the collar the "Cone of Shame," instead it's known as "The Bowl of Kisses," because all you have to do is hold that bowl in your hands and put your face inside, and you will get lots of happy licks.

As for me, well, I'm still down and out from the crumbling spine issues. Only a bit less pain, but unable to do much to the point I have even stopped climbing the walls in frustration. The pain that radiates down and concentrates on my lower left leg has resulted in now shocking amounts of atrophy. My calf is about the size of my forearm, and my thigh is about the size of my biceps before I began having all these old man issues. These days, the biceps are pretty much gone too, my clothes hang off me like a scarecrow, and everyday objects feel heavy. Some of my tools and equipment that are normally quite heavy are nearly impossible for me to deal with. On Jan. 6, I will head in for one last chance at a needle in the spine to help matters. If this doesn't do the trick, I will either have to have very invasive surgery to bolt my back together, or resign myself to pain and disability for the rest of my life. Honestly, with my track record under the knife, the latter choice is looking more promising.

I figured I owed y'all an update, unfortunately it isn't all peaches and cream. But I'll get by. I had so many opportunities to exit the human race but defied the odds. I was born prematurely, with low birth weight and needed resuscitation before spending my earliest days in an incubator, I've been hit by lightning, been electrically shocked hundreds of times during work and tinkering, been in nasty accidents, a round of misdiagnosed peritonitis that had one day left to kill me, and any other number of near misses, bad ailments, stupid situations and close calls. But I'm still here. Too bad that old saying about that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger is pretty much bullocks, because I'm the weakest I've been since most likely elementary school right now. I should be the world's strongest man.

All the best,

Phil & Jeff & Kodi & Snickels


Dec. 8th, 2014 12:41 am
greatbear: (madcalvin)
Okay, I started to write a (to me) meaningful post with some updates and such, but I had to constantly go back and correct serious spelling mistakes (usually not a good sign), and I began to get frustrated. After a bit of a break, I came back and looked at what I had been composing earlier. Unless the cat walked across the keyboard in my absence, I had no explanation for the unintelligible gobbledygook I was now reading. Exasperated, I wiped it all out and walked away. I spent a little bit of time on some social networks and was having the same problem. I had to edit comments that made me look like a dunce or a protest sign maker for right-wing political marches (I know, redundant). I know the new pain meds might have a part in this, and my general frustration with my current pain and immobility just might be getting the best of me. I've decided to remove myself from social interactions of all kinds for the time being, I have no use for the general public right now, and until I get some relief from my current condition, I think it best to make myself scarce. It's taken me about three times to go back and correct even this little rant, and that tells me it's time to quit. I can't say when or if I will return here or to my few remaining social outlets.

I've had just about enough of my life right now.
greatbear: (panic panic panic)
Sometimes I can't catch a break. After hassling with Amazon about how payments weren't registering right (one screen would say everything's fine, the other says something is still wrong) I slept on it (a far-too-long, drug enhanced, nightmare cinema sleep). Checking on things today I see the same problem is still there. I call the credit union which is the issuer of the backup card, wondering if the sudden uptick in activity was resulting in balked payments. Lo and behold, I find out the card was shut off quite some time ago. WTF? The account is there, big and proud in my lists of accounts, and I use it as a buffer at times, what could have gone wrong? I'm told it was reported lost. Who the hell did that? It's not as if I woul...

Oh. Yeah. From when I lost my wallet. Six months ago. D. U. H. I had forgotten about this completely, and even though I encountered similar with my secondary debit card several months ago, the credit card completely slipped my mind. Forwarding to today, I am faced with a conundrum, which was a timing-specific purchase of "Cyber Monday" goodies and gifts at considerable savings, and the timeframe for getting payment to Amazon before the transaction was canceled was looming. Well, I was told by the exceedingly friendly woman on the phone that they offer same-day issuing of credit cards if I come in, so I thank her and muster my hunchbacked self into the car and headed over, less than ten minutes away. I got to talk to my favorite associate, Jill, who got everything straightened out along with some extra things I needed to accomplish. My visit took nearly an hour, not because of slow processes, but the two of us catching up on life, love and other stuff. She asked how Jeff has been enjoying his new car. We talked about our pets, which she had met at one time. I lamented about my poor health at the time, she told me about her current home life, and we just had the nicest cawfee tawk overall. In this impersonal world, there are a few oases of direct, personal and genuine contact still to be found, and these little happenings always brighten my day. Customer service, when done well, will make you feel like more than just a customer.

I waddled back home, new card in hand, and now a bit of Xmas won't be spoiled, plus I was able to discover something wrong while being able to immediately tend to it instead of finding out at a bad time, like away from home and no gas in my tank, with no means to pay. Granted, I still had other means to be prepared (my days in the Cub/Boy Scouts weren't totally wasted), but I'd rather the shocks hit me while not far, far away.

Tomorrow I will be drugged, blasted with radiation, and have very long needles stuck into my spine in hopes of returning to a better life. Jeff will once again have to come home early and be my driver, since I won't be in a condition to drive after the procedure, according to the doctor. While I tend to mostly be even more wobbly and weak after having this done, I doubt I would've been unable to drive the relatively short distance home myself. Even though I hate imposing on Jeff's time with work, I feel more comfortable with him around. It's part of the therapy. Wish me luck.


Dec. 3rd, 2014 02:21 am
greatbear: (kmfdm icons)
I found out today that my primary credit card number has been used for fraudulent purposes. Thankfully the card issuer stopped it from going any further, but it tossed a spanner into the works at a bad time. I luckily have a backup card from another financial institution, so not all is lost. I don't use the secondary card often, and I'm worried my sudden usage of it doesn't trigger suspicious activity warnings on it until I get the replacement primary card. In the meantime, more stress piled on at critical times.

Today I took Kodi the the vet for his annual checkups as well as to have a chipped tooth looked at. The little guy had to have the tooth removed, and other tests found he has bladder stones which will require surgery to remove. I was upset, as was Jeff when I informed him. Couple that with his crying as I left him with the vet and I was pretty upset. We have to schedule the surgery date in the near future, as there is a risk of the stones shifting and blocking his urethra, causing even more dire situations. I guess this trip was a blessing in disguise, as the vet originally wanted to give him x-rays for look for other things. I want our "children" to live a long, healthy life with us.

Speaking of doctors, after dropping Kodi off, I headed up to my orthopedist to get some relief for my increasing pain and immobility. He will go through the same process as I've been using for many years now, which begins with shot into my spine. I did get some good news, for this time I won't have to take another trip through the MRI, an ordeal made far worse because of the pain becoming excruciating when I try to lay down. This will save me some money and time too. That was an unexpected surprise.

The little bit of good news wasn't enough to offset the stress, and when I later got the call from the vet about Kodi's condition, I was becoming a complete wigged-out mess. While sitting at the studio workstation I disturbed something on the already cluttered desk that caused a chain reaction of stuff falling, including a glass of water, which landed squarely in my lap. That was the last straw, and I proceeded to clear everything from the desk, clutter, hard drives, peripherals, mixers, paperwork and other debris by hurling it onto the floor. The stress, pain, frustrations and general hate for the world as a whole caused me to pop my cork. I stumbled into the bedroom, climbed into bed, tried to find a position with minimum pain, and checked out for the rest of the day until Jeff came home with Kodi. Snickles, despite being chased out of the room by the initial cursing and flying objects, joined me immediately in bed with a concerned look on his face, then burrowed under the sheets and cuddled closely against my chest. I call this his teddy bear mode, and he seems to know to activate it when I am not myself (pretty often, of late). We both conked out, me with chemical additives to accelerate the process, my arm on top of him.

I am really hoping for some relief from the doc with nothing more than this procedure. I had a similar flare-up in June, which was putting a huge damper on our wedding preparations, and after a couple weeks, I was doing much better. The doctor even remembered about us getting married, asking me about it while at the office today. That put a smile on my face as I gave him the Reader's Digest version. He didn't have any prompting from me, he remembered on his own. I've noticed a lot of folks having definite positive reactions about our wedding, both before and after. So, not everything was tantrum-worthy today, but sometimes blowing off steam is a net positive.
greatbear: (unibrow)
I was looking over my Amazon order from earlier in the week and I was a bit amused. Some are humorously telling me the item could've been delivered sometime last week but are still on the slow boat from China. But one particular order had me giggling a bit. "Guaranteed delivery by Sunday, November 30." The amusing part of that entry was the delivery method being by US Postal Service. Well, I did hear about Amazon partnering up with the USPS for Sunday deliver in some major cities. But I knew this wouldn't be the case for me because I don't have mail delivered to the house, for ever since I built La Casa Mayhem back in 1988, I opted to have a post office box due to, at the time, the box needing to reside on the main drag rather than in front of the house (private gravel drive 800 feet from the road). When I finally ended up with a real road, I installed a mailbox mostly as a place to display the house numbers and not to look odd without one. The mail was still being delivered to the PO box, where it's safe against theft and weather, and I can let it accumulate when I am away on vacation, etc. I like our little post office, though it's a much busier place these days. Any order I have sent by mail usually takes an additional day to wend its way from the truck to my little box at the PO. So here I was, chortling about a guarantee that Amazon could never keep because things have been going a certain way for 25 years and mail has never been directly delivered to the house and...

*doorbell ringing today at about 3pm, and I see the familiar little white postal truck leaving my driveway as I slowly limp my way to the door*

There is my order, sitting in the front entryway. Damn, Amazon, you're gooood. I knew for certain that I would at least have to head to the post office on Monday to pick up the order, but this, well, I never expected. Amazon will be building at large distribution center in Baltimore next year, and promising same-day delivery for certain items to boot. The downside, of course, is now Amazon had started charging sales tax on orders fulfilled by them since October, a tactic I can assume was worked out to grease political palms, since they haven't even begun construction on the warehouse yet. The upside, there are sill lots of third party outfits that offer the same Prime shipping which are still out of state. I can work the system as much as they can.

This little order had nothing I was in a hurry for, in this case it was an assortment of USB cables plus a webcam for the lab workstation PC. So, while Jeff was still stuck at work doing his occasional manager-on-duty duties, I fired the aforementioned PC and did some needed updates along with attaching the camera. I wanted something I can take pictures of circuits and projects, and this one offered 15 megapixel stills and 1080p HD video. Webcams have come a long way from the grainy, low res output. was I was testing it with closeups of random stuff in the Mayhem Lab, I noticed my eyebrows were again in need of trimming...

When I was a young'un, I had a very pronounced unibrow. Almost as bad as the one Baby Gerald from the Simpsons has. As you can probably imagine, this provided yet more ammunition to those who were already relentlessly bullying me about at the appropriately named Savage Elementary School. Yet one more thing I would hate about myself, I'd nervously pull and yank at my eyebrows as a result, trying to get rid of this apparent scourge under my forehead. Cruel kids would look at my eyebrow (no "s") to see what sort of winter weather would be coming, accuse me of wearing a pipe cleaner over my eyes, you name it. This got added to any number of idiosyncrasies they could muster to make sure their bullying would be incessant. The pulling on my eyebrows would continue until at least middle school, where my early puberty gave them even more things to latch onto. My facial and body hair showing up before everyone else was not only something to pick on me with, it became a chance for me to turn the tables a bit and accuse the hairless children of being left behind in the maturing process. This obviously pricked up a fair amount of envy in many of the late bloomers, and it was where I was first made aware by a sympathetic gym teacher of a condition known as "penis envy" because, in addition to the (at the time, embarrassing) copious amount of pubic hair showing up as I first tripped into my teens, I was also becoming fairly well endowed compared to the bully crew that hounded my everyday life at Hammond Middle School. This teacher had seen the same thing happening with many students over the years, and it was common during those awkward days of early manhood that the underdeveloped among the student body would often feel inadequate. While I had to endure near constant accusations of being gay (hell, I barely knew I was at the time), I was able to flip the tables once again a bit and accuse the little children of being angry at themselves and their hidden desire to keep eyeballing my junk. Life eventually went along, and these days, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I can find some of those original haters and see that the majority didn't turn out to be too much in later years. My vengeance was simply the passage of time. I still have to remind myself to let go of so much of the hurt in the past, because, like so many others that share my traits, I ended up stronger, smarter and street-savvy than those that worked against my very existence back in the early years.

These days, my monobrow isn't as pronounced, most likely from my constant pulling of the hair. Enough of it remains as a reminder of dark times, but also as something that makes me a bit more unique. As age and my Russian heritage has set in, the eyebrow hair has become wild, seeming in defiance of those younger years. Every now and then one of them gets so long it scratches at my eye in a breeze. I will sometimes yank out the offending brow hair, but more often than not I will carefully trim them instead. I don't want to revisit those days of unnecessary mutilation anymore.
greatbear: (zep runes)
I am in total love with this video. I mean, it's got so much cool stuff. Weed, munchies, philosophical meanderings, rap, Cards Against Humanity, and... three lovely grandmothers. How perfect is that? Here is what you get when you find three older women who have never tried pot before, get them in a room together, fire up a bong with some smooth ganja, and wait. What results is a trio of gals I want to spend the entire day with just knitting and shooting the breeze. And I can't knit. This is better than The Golden Girls.

This little gathering took place in Washington state, where recreational marijuana use is legal. If word gets out, I think Leisure World will be some of the most happnin' places...
greatbear: (picard upset)
Jeff and I do most of our grocery shopping at a nearby Giant Food store. Like so many large grocery chains, this one has a customer loyalty card (read, marketing and research device). In addition to the supposed discounts the card offers, it also accumulates "points" that can be used for discounts outside the store. The chain has partnered with Shell gas stations that will give you $0.10 off of a gallon of fuel with each hundred dollars spent on groceries. Fair enough, especially since we do spend a lot on food, and there's now a Shell station mere walking distance from Mayhem Acres. The point accumulate, but need to be used within a month of earning them. In some cases we've earned anout points to get 50 cents or more off each gallon. As the rules state, these can be used to purchase up to 35 gallons of fuel with a discount. Jeff is usually the one that takes the discount regularly, since he is the one most often footing the food bill (he's a chef). In order to make the best use of the discount, we've often filled a car along with several five gallon jerry cans we use to power the fleet of outdoor equipment and generators among other things, this in order to get as close to the 35 gallon maximum. My trucks also benefit here, as the tanks are bigger than those on the cars. The other day I needed to fill the big truck, knowing it would take close to 30 gallons of diesel fuel to fill. Points were set to expire soon (we've lost some before this way), and having just come home from the grocery store with enough points to drop 40 cents per gallon, it was time.

Just like anything that promises discounts, redeeming them isn't exactly easy. It's doable when you pay at the pump, but it takes a rather technical song and dance with precise key presses, card scans and such. I lose my temper when I try, because I'm not familiar with it. Jeff has come along and done the button pushing in these cases. The other issue is, when paying at the pump, the transactions are limited to $75 dollars or so per transaction. This will not buy enough fuel for the truck when it's thirsty for one, and the discount is limited to one transaction. Anything more is regular price. There is a way around this as well, you have to pay the cashier inside to ring up a big enough transaction. Okay, that's doable, but I wasn't able to walk to and stand in the store, so Jeff did this while I sat down on the pump island. It took him a while to do this, and while I was waiting, the store manager was wandering around cleaning the pumps and tidying up the place. This man is a certifiable dolt, he's been there for years, the staff hates him and quits constantly, and he's dumber than Forrest Gump but also lacking in any of the charm or lucky situations, not to mention politeness. Well, our intricate procedure needed to get cheap diesel fuel was finally in place, and the pump began beeping to tell me it's ready. I pull out the nozzle, press the start button and began fueling. Well, didn't the fool with the rag and spray cleaner decide to start cleaning the pump I was using (again!), and while doing so, he stuck his hand inside the slot where the fuel nozzle gets stored and causes the pump to immediately shut off. I stood there totally dumfounded for a second, with barely six dollars on the counter. The guy is looking at me with his hand inside the nozzle slot and a quizzical look on his face, and I realized that he not only stopped the pump, but it was the same action as finishing up filling and returning the nozzle, completing the transaction. I honestly didn't know what to do for a moment until it hit me. I just saved 40 cents a gallon on about two gallons of fuel. I slammed the nozzle into the pump and told the guy he just wasted my points for the month. Manager Guy was rambling and mumbling, I told him I am not returning here anymore and started climbing in serious pain back into the truck. He did surprise me by taking a $20 bill out of his own wallet and apologizing, which I did accept. I sat in the truck and fumed for a bit, Jeff shaking his head. I decided to go ahead and get my fuel, but my card wouldn't work in the pump. I was ready to pull my beard out and head home, but Jeff used his card to get the task done. I gave him the cash and we both went home for the night. Seriously, I have a short fuse when dealing with certain people. I am also very forgiving, and can tolerate quite a bit at first. But some people are hopeless. I also can't stand it when things are needlessly difficult. It's sad to think that both of these are increasing in number at a frightening pace.

At least one thing was almost comically easy, especially given the circumstances. That night, while I was writhing in pain laying in bed, cussing and fuming before the painkillers took effect, I was able to pull up parts diagrams on my little laptop and order parts to fix my MINI Cooper left hand window. I remember when I actually had to go get car parts from a shop during the day. Right now, that's too difficult.
greatbear: (old graybeard)
So, frustration has been the key work in recent days. No real improvement in pain levels or mobility, so it looks like this week I push on to the next level. One thing for certain, between pain and pills, my body chemistry and rhythm are fucked up again, I can't sleep at night, and I try going through the day until I start dozing off in the middle of whatever I'm doing. The narcotic pain killers help me to get some sleep beyond what is comfortable or sensible. Not getting a lot of exercise day in and day out leaves me with lots of unusable energy. Rather than climb the walls, I find little things to pass the time and feel useful. Even this has a special little bothersome horror for my brain. You guessed it, it makes me want to do more stuff. lol

I've been taking some time to organize video and music I have stored on the servers here. Keeping with a method I've had for decades, a drive on the server acts as a repository for all my digital music. About 8 years ago when I built the current server, I loaded it with a half dozen 1 terabyte drives. Seemingly huge at the time, most of them are now at or near capacity. The drive containing the well-sorted music held on the longest, but last night while adding several dozen more albums and artists into the heap, I finally get a notice from the server saying the drive only has about 50GB left. I anticipated this about a year ago, I bought a 2TB drive as a replacement. The current drive is being backed up as I write this, then all the data from the current drive will be copied onto the new drive, I will then swap the drives and put the old one in a safe place as a backup. It will take me what will hopefully be a long time to fill the new drive, after all, it's only music. Granted, I am dropping bigger and bigger files on it, everything is high bitrate mp3 or better, with lots of lossless and high res 24 bit/192kHz these days, the latter being a few gigs just for one album at times. When the new drive gets to be too small, I repeat the process. There's no practical way to make offline backups for a terabyte or more of data other than stockpiling drives. I have a separate server that is tasked solely with automatic backups of data stored on most of the PCs here, and I have begun the rely on two NAS units with lots of capacity to hold online backups of the backups as well.

As I was sitting uncomfortably in the Mayhem Lab where all this IT infrastructure quietly hides, I've also realized that I am maxing out some of the electrical circuits I put into the space. This was inevitable too. When I built La Casa back in '88, I slightly raised eyebrows at the electric company when I specified a 400 amp service for the house and garage. This is split between the house and garage, with each having a 200 amp, 42-slot breaker panel. Before the house was completed, because of the all-electric nature of the house (no gas, water or sewer were available) the breaker panel in the house was not enough to hold all the circuits, so an additional subpanel was needed. As I added more goodies to the house and built the workshop in the basement as well as the lab, I tore out the little box that held ten circuits and put in a 20 space panel. The workshop, with the woodworking machines and lots of outlets and other goodies got its own dedicated 20 slot box as well. My plans are to add two more 20amp circuits to the lab, plus a new lighting circuit for the basement. Problem is, I have only two spaces left for three circuits in the main house panels. Soooo, my little lab wiring update will force me to pull out the 20 slot panel and install a second 42 slot in its place. There is a method to this madness as well, since I plan on installing a backup generator as well as solar electric panels in the not too distant future. By juggling the electrical loads between the panels, I can segregate the critical loads (lighting, water pumps, fridges and freezers, the lab and the like from the unnecessary heavy draw items like the heat pumps & A/C, electric heaters and other things that don't need to be run off the generator. This, along with other means of performing "load shedding" lets me have better control of what gets critical power in order to make the best use of it and lower costs. This sort of thing is actually fun for me, and despite having an electrical service more befitting small industry, our electric bills are not that outrageous as one would think. It also adds to my sense of security in cases of emergencies and really bad weather. Like all too many things, I take the electrical installations here very seriously. I use commercial/industrial rated components, and the seemingly excessive numbers of individual electric circuits is done in order to prevent any possible overloading of the individual branches, and to prevent a tripped circuit from causing an unexpected issue. For one example, the branch circuit the feeds the two freezers in the basement was also shared with a pair of infrared heaters in the bathrooms. The branch was sized accordingly, and was never going to be overloaded even if both freezers were running along with the heaters. One day the bulb burned out, and given the bulb's 250 watt rating, it went with a huge flash. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it also tripped the breaker. It took me a while until I found water on the floor in front of the freezers and the food in danger of soon thawing out. Luckily I saw this in time, reset the breaker, then eventually moved the heaters and freezers to their own dedicated branches. In the case of the lab, the computers, servers, etc are on one of two dedicated lab circuits I put in, along with a separate lighting circuit, a shared electric heating circuit and a 120/240 volt special purpose outlet. As my relatively tiny 10x12ft lab accumulated more and more test equipment and other goodies, the two branches have become maxed out. I have some specialized soldering equipment that takes a lot of power when in use, an infrared heating table takes 16 amps just by itself, the hot air reflow unit is 7 amps, a heat gun I use along with all that is 13 amps, and this isn't counting all the test equipment, extra lighting and the surround sound system with subwoofer that is often playing while I am working. The little room gets hot in a hurry, so fans are needed. I am trying to figure out how to install some sort of air conditioning to all of this as well. As you can see, when I get into something, I go all out. :)

Maybe I am just more than a little bit strange, but this is also my way of building a nice place for the two of us to enjoy our myriad pursuits as we close in on retirement age. I want a lot of this done so I can cruise along and not have to worry about anything done half-assed. I've done a lot of involved work over the years, with the eventual result being able to forget about the work and just use it in day to day life. For example, I did a large amount of plumbing upgrades a few years back. I "built in" many means for any future updates if needed. Adding solar water heat, for example, is all about installing the system and connecting two pipes to what currently exists. If a filter, water heater, softener or other major component needs to be replaced or worked on, flipping a few valve levers lets the water stay on and uninterrupted while the problem piece gets removed. The modular nature of a lot of the work I did over the years has been paying off later on. All the climbing around now will make life easier when I am older and unable to deal with it like in my younger days. Sadly, I've been getting a lot of previews as to what that sort of life is going to be like. I just wish my body would stay together to let me get the work done so I can have my enjoyment later. One big plan that vein is an extension of the deck by the sunroom and the installation of a hot tub/spa, something I was hoping to complete in the next couple years. The funny thing is, technology and materials are finally catching up to a lot of the ideas I had many years ago. I never finished the sunroom remodel due to health reasons. Part of that involved hidden lighting and automatic shades. Back then it was not easily done, but now it will be something that will integrate perfectly into bits and pieces I've been adding this year. It's also more efficient and connected than ever. The geek in me is having a lot of fun with it all.

I sometimes feel as if I am in some sort of race, one to make life simple later on with some concerted effort now. These health/injury setbacks become extremely frustrating. I am getting a taste of the payoff, but the goal isn't reached yet. Life keeps teasing and testing me at the wrong time.
greatbear: (four cycle)
I've gone on and on about my love for music via these pages since I began the whole LJ thing over ten years ago. I also have written ad infinitum about my love of automobiles (when they aren't causing me some hellbound fit because something is wrong and I am in the midst of fixing them, at least). I've been perusing a bunch of saved links (not much else I can do) and found this video, one I meant to post here some time ago. It's somewhat of an ad, but it has no focus on a particular product. In it, we are treated to something very simple, but for people like me, it has a very special, deep meaning. It is the sight and, more importantly, the sound of several high performance cars being started up. Domestic to exotic, every one has its own place among some of the greatest performance automobiles. Each one has it's own voice, it's own song. Like some of my favorite music, hearing this music brings a smile to my face.

Find your best set of earphones, or killer surround system, maximize your screen and enjoy.

greatbear: (ciggie bear)
Okay, it's been a week of pain and bother. I had begun the usual regimen of pills which at best took just a bit of the edge from the pain but did nothing for my total lack of mobility. This means another trip to the orthopedic doc, who will send me off to be shoved into the MRI contraption and then a shot or three in my spine, and if that doesn't work, under the knife. Then there's the very real chance surgery won't help anymore. I seriously can't handle this anymore. I am literally living half the year in pain and immobility, and an all-too-fleeting period where life could pass for somewhat normal. I am a miserable cuss to be around right now, I feel worthless, and anything I try to do to take my mind off it at all sometimes causes me more frustration. The poor pooches, who look forward to our nice long walks during the day, wonder where their big distractions went. There are things I need to fix outside before the shitty weather comes around to stay. And the little fun things I am actually able to do given my constraints are being nagged by discomfort. I just can't get a break.

I wish I had friends that lived closer. Anything for a distraction and a bit of assistance.
greatbear: (building face)
What would happen if a Danish chamber orchestra were to encounter red hot chili peppers? Not the funky rock band, but the actual peppers?


And, yes, the bearded fella conducting is really named Chili Claus. I have to say, the musicians kept it pretty much together despite eating some of the hottest peppers in the world. After finishing the piece, though, their reaction is pretty much the same as mine after watching the recent election results.
greatbear: (static)
Well, at least I had a pretty decent run since around the time of our wedding til a couple days ago. Once again, my lower back decided to crumble from beneath me and I am again a hunched-over invalid in lots of pain, needing a cane to get around and no longer leaving the house. While it is not nearly as bad as my situation last year at about this time, it's similar to my original symptoms that eventually needed surgery to fix, and after that first surgery I was left permanently affected with nerve troubles. At least I can sleep mostly normally this time, unlike last year where laying down was impossible in any form. I am hoping this is a temporary setback that won't require trips to the doctors or worse. This all flared up late last week while I was doing the last bit of electrical work on the house. I was installing an electrical outlet in the entryway in order to plug in an illuminated console cabinet, a task I've been wanting to get to for over twenty years (I definitely put the "pro" in procrastination). This involved walking back and forth from one room to another, squatting or sitting on the floor, making holes in walls and fishing cable, among other involved tasks. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if I had noticed before that the wiring in the wall was 12gauge instead of the 14guage I had assumed, and needed to start over. Halfway through the work and with live wires sticking out from the wall and many of the remaining outlets in the living room dead, I couldn't stop, so I finished everything and cleaned up despite the increasing, excruciating pain. If there's a bright spot in any of this, I had gotten most of my numerous current projects and tasks completed, save for taping/spackling/sanding the reconfigured wall between the entryway and living room, and the paint and trim work. Jeff's excitement of me also finally finishing the skylight project I began 4 years ago will be dashed once again. As usual, I feel like I let him down, which I feel is often the case. I just can't catch a break anymore.

We were set to go watch Penn State play Maryland up in PA, but I sent him up along with Snickles, with Kodi and I staying behind to rest. Snickles likes to take the long walks at least twice a day in order to do his doggie business, and those walks were a big part of my exercise routine, many times 5 miles or more. Those are definitely out, and while I can simply let Kodi out of the house by himself to do his thing, Snickles needs to be leashed and walked lest he take off to points unknown, his only issue remaining since we've had him in training. We have also some shows/concerts in the works, and I'm afraid I will lose out on those too. If there is a silver lining in the cloud this weekend, there was more family drama that erupted during my absence, and this is one thing I want no parts of. I am no longer technically an outsider and will hold not one damn thing when it comes to the intra-family drama, feuding and attitude problems. Seriously, there are Jerry Springer levels of lying, thieving, homophobia, bigotry, closet cases, mental illness, addiction and more in the extended family, and both of us are glad to be far enough from it not to deal with it on a daily basis. Still, it creeps in over the phone, emails and text messages, and it makes stress levels go up. If it weren't for his mom and dad, we both would remove ourselves from any further contact. It's nearly always some stupid issue whenever the siblings call. This is why I 1) am so glad I am an only child with no other family and 2) I refuse to be dragged into this nonsense. I have no problem telling them where to go, nor with the amount of broken noses I might leave in my wake.

As my dear readers can probably imagine, I am going stir crazy already, I hate laying about doing nothing. I was like a smiling pig in a big puddle of slop doing all these projects and more, and setting up ideas and supplies for the next thing on the evolving list. Lots of momentum was brought to a complete halt now, and while I might not be literally climbing the walls, I am bracing myself against them as I move about. I just gotta focus my energies on things that don't require much movement. The one thing I have managed to avoid so far in all of this is a return to taking the narcotic pain killers I had needed the last time. The side effects are something I just don't want to deal with unless the pain becomes totally unbearable, and I definitely don't want to go through the detox process again either.

Finally, I consider this the "third strike." Since I initially was beset with these back problems and the lingering damage and disability afterward, I could not bring myself to file for permanent disability. I figured I would be able to pull myself out of it all eventually and head back to the workforce until my official retirement date (or even after), but I am beginning to face the fact that that day does not appear to be coming anymore. This is the biggest hit to my pride that I can think of besides the disability itself, as I have always, always been proud of my independent nature, my ability to literally lift myself from poverty to living in what is currently the second-richest county in the US, and to be able to handle whatever might come my way. My ego didn't want to face this day, and it's looming larger than ever. I feel I am giving up. I have run out of options by all measures, and it kills me t think about it.

greatbear: (jeff and me)
Jeff and I met 14 years ago on October 23, 2000. That was yesterday (Thursday). Until we got married, Oct. 23 was our "unofficial official" anniversary date, one we'd always celebrate with a dinner out. While our marriage date has become the "official" anniversary, we will continue to celebrate both days. Why? Well, because it's fun and nice and we get to have a special dinner in unusual places and we can get all sappy and lovey and just plain be happy. So, as has been our tradition all these years, we went out for dinner, trying to pick some place where we never had been before. As it turns out, we didn't have to travel more than about a mile from the the house to a restaurant that opened a couple years ago but one we had not explored yet, saving it for, well, a special occasion. Funny how that turned out. This new place, Sushi Tendou, turned out to be a delightful little Japanese steakhouse. The menu was packed with selections, and we were settling on some interesting things we never had before. Now, I'm not sure exactly why this happened, perhaps being a stone's throw from La Casa Mayhem, or the way that strange things seem to happen to me, but the system they have playing new age-y styled Oriental-tinged music begins playing a song very familiar to me, but one I had not heard in many years, "Midnight in Moscow," also known as "Moscow Nights." Why a Japanese steakhouse would begin playing a very Russian song in a light new age style is beyond me, and it took me a few seconds for the minor keys to register in my brain. Once that happened... I lost it.

This was my Mom's favorite song.

A little bit of history is needed. In the mid-1950s, Mom was settling into her life as an American citizen, having left stateside Army duty as a WAC during the Korean war, and starting to build a domestic life that eventually settled in Maryland not far from where I am today. She got married, Mom and Dad moving into a new home yet still remaining connected to the Army at nearby Ft. Meade. She had come a long way from her early life that began in Kiev, Russia. Around this time "Moscow Nights" was written, being initially penned in 1955 then reworked a bit to become what it is to this day. In 1956 the song was recorded for use in a documentary movie. The movie didn't get very far, but the song became unexpectedly popular. The song won an international song contest, and became popular worldwide, especially, oddly, in mainland China as well. My mother had become more than a tad homesick, as you would imagine, by the time she was settling down. Via shortwave radio, she heard the song first via Radio Moscow. A few years later, this undeniably Russian song was recorded by, of all things, a British jazz group called Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, which had a U.S. hit that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 right about the time I was born. So now this Russian song that made a circuitous trip from Mom's homeland and eventually finding it's way to our shores as a New Orleans-style jazz makeover, became permanently attached to me as well. In 1966, when she figured I was old enough to travel, Mom and I made our way back to Mother Russia, where I was shown off to her family. I actually remember quite a bit from back then. I was very big and strong for my age, and when Mom's mother asked what she was feeding me, she told her I ate a lot of oatmeal. It was then that I was introduced to Russian oatmeal. I think it was more like oats they fed to horses. Blecch! It was also the time I was introduced to Mom's old friend Alyosha, who worked with electronics and I believe was an aerospace engineer. He also spoke English and he and I hit it off immediately. He saw my very early precociousness with mechanical and electrical things, as well as my extreme interest with things that fly. He and I made several forms of paper airplanes, flying whirlygigs and other fluttering, twisting and soaring bits made from paper. By several, I mean lots. Hundreds, maybe more. We tried different things and tossed them from the window of Alyosha's high-up apartment. I don't know how many things were "designed" and flown from that window. but the street below looked like a parade had gone by. Paper littered the area like autumn leaves. Somewhere in La Casa is a Russian kid's book that I used to be able to read quite well from back in those days, though now I can only at best fake a Russian accent. More importantly, inside that book is a paper airplane that Alyosha made for me. Alyosha and I had a lot of fun. Much more importantly, he worked with me using some of his electronic and electrical bits he had at home. He convinced Mom that I had a natural talent for this sort of thing, to the point where he was practically astounded. He urged Mom to have me pursue these interests as my vocation. It was then she realized I was not taking my toys apart just to be destructive, but I was using the parts to make my own versions of my toys. I have vague memories of a lot of things Mom and I did on that trip, which took us not only to Russia, but had stopovers in Prague, London and I believe France. I got lots of interesting toys that may have strained Mom's meager wages, the one thing I remember well was a die-cast model of James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 from Thunderball, which was equipped with all the awesome gadgetry as the one in the film. I wish I still had it (it'd be worth a mint if mint), it was lost or stolen soon after I had gotten back home. Mom's beloved takeaway from the trip was a 78rpm recording of the original version of "Подмосковные вечера (Moscow Nights)" on the Russian state label Μелодия (Melodiya). That record remains safely ensconced in the record collections here. My life took a turn for the better on that trip, and upon coming back to the states, we began visiting hobby stores, and it was that time I discovered Radio Shack. That, dear readers, was my heaven. As things turned out, a seemingly agonizingly long 16 years later, I took an electronic engineering and test job which was involved in the building of fighter jets and radar systems. Funny that, from paper airplanes and little electrical and mechanical experiments to this. And from Russia with love, apparently.

Fast forward to last Thursday once again. Jeff was suddenly confronted with me doing a total 180 from our happy perusal of dozens of sushi and seafood items to me having a complete breakdown in less than five seconds. It took me a while to regain enough composure to tell him why and to ease his worried look. I was being bombarded with memories too fast to sort them all out, but I began rambling with stories from my deep past. I managed to gather myself up enough to give my order to the now somewhat concerned waitress then sat there awash in pleasant memories. Jeff said it was Mom's way of joining us for our special night. He's right, I suppose, and what better way to make an entrance. We had a very enjoyable meal, and added the little restaurant to our must-go-again-especially-with-friends list. And if the initial shock and aawww from hearing the song didn't make me feel there was something more to this special night, hearing it being played once again(!) just before we were finishing up kinda made it clear.

Happy Anniversary, Jeff.

Hear the music )
greatbear: (me and mom)
For someone who has problems getting around and has to work on anything that involves standing or exertion on a 15 minute on/15 minute off work cycle, I seem to have quite a few irons in the fire. The door project spawned several concurrent sub-projects, which was actually planned for the most part. What wasn't necessarily planned was how many sub-projects ended up being spawned from this main one. The good news is I am finally putting to use a lot of the supplies I had gotten in the past. The only thing I could say that is bad about it is slows down the individual pieces of the puzzle as a whole. I don't mind this in the least, because the concurrent bits are taking less time by far than if they were done piecemeal. I brainstorm along the way, and discover ways to make things work better and build-in paths for future upgrades and easier maintenance. For example, I've had an alarm system for the house I bought all the way back around 1995. I'm finally installing it. I hid the sensor for the door in the frame, and ran the cabling for it since I had the wall apart. Yesterday I hid a conduit in the closet so I had an easy way to run wiring from the basement (where all the brains are) into the attic. So today I was able to connect the little dome camera above the door into the switches in the basement in record time. I should've done this years ago. I gave it a test run tonight, and I am beyond pleased. I have full-HD, 3-megapixel, bulbous video:

The camera does not have "night vision" using infrared LEDs as an invisible floodlight. But the automation system will turn on the light above the door as someone approaches, and if things are set to do so, a pic can be taken and sent to wherever I am, and this also starts a video recording. If it's someone I know, and they need to get into the house, I can unlock the door from across the country (or planet, for that matter, wherever I can get interwebs) and lock it when they leave. It has been a lot of fun messing with this stuff. I do the noisy work during the day, and when Jeff hits the sack early in order to get up a 0dark30, I can quietly fiddle with the electronic end of it. While everything does tie together in one way or another, if the automation were to go on the fritz, everything can work manually, and life is the same as it usually is. Having had unfortunate delays for years that kept me from doing these things earlier meant that technology has improved immensely, and not only is this sort of stuff mure capable and reliable, it's much easier to install and integrate.

Things weren't all peaches and cream, though. I hopped into the MINI to run a couple errands and I noticed the passenger's seat was wet. I then noticed the window was slightly open. Okay, no biggie, it's been raining like crazy lately, close the window. All it did was squeak and move a a fraction of an inch. I tried to lower it, and it went maybe an inch at best. Then it wouldn't go back up. Even wrestling with the glass didn't help much. So, now I have an unexpected little project. Strange that it's the passenger's side, which doesn't get used nearly as much. This also makes i the first real problem I've had with that car in over 11 years. I did have some minor problems when I first got the car that were taken care of under warranty, and last year I replaced the speakers because the ones in front failed. So today I have been drying out the car and will look into it during the weekend. Most likely it's the window lift mechanism. I would have simply parked the car on the carport where it normally sits off season to keep the rain out until I can fix it later, but the trailer is parked in the way. I'd rather fix it and be done with it.

The one thing that really took the wind out of my sails happened the other day. Since I needed to get into the entryway closet to not only install the conduit, but also do some serious cleaning and prep for the new floor. Inside the closet was a few of Mom's coats, most of which ones that I had yet to find a good home for. One of them was one I was keeping, it was a mink-trimmed coat she had gotten around 1970. She was very proud of this coat, since we were not well-to-do in my earlier years, she had scrimped and saved to buy this one thing to make her feel a bit more elegant. When I pulled the coat out, I noticed a hole. My first thought was that moths had gotten in and chewed on it. Upon further inspection I found the right sleeve has been totally destroyed by a mouse, who nested in it and chewed away the better part of the sleeve and even some of the fur trim. I completely lost it. I wanted to just throw everything away at that point. After a while I regained a bit of composure, but my will was shot and my enthusiasm for the projects was dashed. There is absolutely no hope for the old coat now, so I will cut off the remaining fur trimmings and toss the rest. I've had a fair share of "physical memories" like this ruined over the years, mostly from outside forces. And it reopens old wounds, puts me mentally is a dark, cold place, and my willingness to be outgoing and to do things becomes impossible. I eventually recover, but momentum is slow to build once again.

I am hoping that progress and my limited mobility keep improving, or at least maintain their current state. We have a lot of plans and trips for the very near future, and Jeff needs a huge break too. My work is giving me pleasure for the most part, and we could use some downtime fun.

In the spirit of my 2.8mm wiiide-angle view, it seems ol' Homestarrunner and gang are back for the first time since 2008 with a new cartoon.

Happy weekend, everyone!
greatbear: (forearms)
People driving past La Casa must wonder if we either have 1) lots of people living in the house, or 2) are constantly throwing parties. Sadly, the seven vehicles (three trucks and four cars) belong to just the two of us. Add in the 30 foot trailer and parking at Mayhem Acres sometimes takes some planning. I also have to remember lots of license plate numbers. This is not so bad, but for some odd reason I always seem to have a mental block remembering the plate number of my Dodge Stratus. The rest? No problem. The Strat, as I call it, is my usual daily driver. Though it's 14 years old, it's never had any serious problems, is pretty economical if I keep my foot out of it, and the parts for it are cheaper than average. Jeff and I used it as our ride of choice when we would travel, since it's something he can easily drive (no stick shift like the MINI Cooper,, or as long as a bus like the Silverado, for example). Since Jeff recently bought a new car (a 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium), some of the wear and tear on the Stratus has been relieved. It's a nice, roomy and economical ride with some cool gadgetry like the Eyesight collision avoidance system that also acts as an adaptive cruise control and will even give you a gentle reminder if you are sitting at a light, it turns green and you don't immediately start moving. It senses the road around it with a pair of cameras on either side of the rear view mirror, can alert you if you veer from between the lines, there's an animal or object in the road ahead and even stop the car at speeds below 20mph and you might be distracted and a car stops ahead of you. There's also the (required for 2015 models) rear-view camera and lots of other cool tech to get the geek on. This is Jeff's first brand-new car after all these years, and, so far, he's loving it. The subject came up a while back about what to call the car, if anything. I keep calling mine The Strat, Jeff started calling it the Subie, then I started calling it the Cubaru. For kicks, I went to see if CUBARU was taken as a vanity plate, and it wasn't. And surprising, given how many people around play guitar, neither was STRAT. My original plates were fading and the rear plate had a hole in it and was buckled from being rear-ended many years ago. So...

I am far too lapsed to be considered a guitarist these days, maybe I should bone up on my playing to do my two-meaning plate justice. My finger joints and my damaged shoulder make that difficult. Practice might not make perfect, but at least I could fake it. Jeff, however, needs no practice in being a cub. :)
greatbear: (old graybeard)
A couple weekends ago, during our monthly (give or take) visit north to visit to visit Jeff's parents, I took my quadrotor "drone" with me to try again to get some aerial photos of their house. I wanted to create a framed aerial photo similar to one I wrote about a while back. My first attempt was thwarted by unexpected problems with the GoPro camera that's attached to the drone. It locked up when I started the 2-second-per-photo shutter sequence (and I didn't know this until I had flown the rig for about fifteen minutes), and I had to remove the the camera from the mount in order to remove the battery and reset the camera. The glitch wiped out my settings and I had problems getting the camera to work right during the second flight, so I flew the thing around for the benefit of Jeff's youngest nephew instead due to time constraints, and figured I would try again in about a month. So after some tinkering with the camera I buzzed the yard, the neighboring farm and buffalo, and did some high-altitude shots of the general area. This time was successful. I have plenty of usable shots for the aerial photo, plus some other cool pics from up high.

While bringing the rig down, I noticed an Amish family trotting by. The kids in back noticed the drone at first and the family stopped in the street in front of the house to watch. I lowered the rig for them to see it better, but doing so, I momentarily lost it in the sun. When I moved to see it again, I was temporarily blinded and could not tell which end was which, so my attempt at getting a closer-in shot of the buggy and company ended up being several photos of the side yard and an old barn instead. All the better, anyway, since most Amish are not fond of having their pictures taken. After a few moments of looking (they seemed more to know what the floating thing was more than being totally puzzled), they trotted off up the road. I admire the Amish, they all are friendly and outgoing in this area, and despite being very traditional, they are not totally averse to some of the latest technology, as long as they can use it in their own way and it makes their work more efficient. Cell phones, cordless power tools, generators and the like help them get more work done, yet can be completely turned off and out of their lives at home. They've also treated Jeff's mom and dad very well over the years, you'll recall when their house burned down they were ready to begin cleaning up that very day and help dad begin rebuilding. I feel a bit of kindred spirit with the Amish, aside from the lack of technology and cools stuff as well as the entire religion thing, We are both very self sufficient, independent, helpful to others, and like the results of hard work and craftsmanship. If I were to get the required hat and lose the mustache from my beard, I could fit right in. But the mustache stays.

Here is my favorite shot of my buggy encounter:

greatbear: (forearms)
So much has been happening around these parts since last week, most of which has been continuing work on the house, of course. There have also been some nice diversions, some with their own surprises. Those of you following baseball would know that the Baltimore Orioles made it into the playoff series, first among their own American League division, and more recently moved into the league champion series. If they win this (hopefully), they move onto the World Series. While not a big sports guy, I always had a fondness for baseball, since Jeff is the sports guy of the family (and we are an honest-to-goodness family now), he always had the desire to go see a championship game if not a World Series game. Through some searching he came upon a reasonably priced pair of tickets, and on Friday morning, we headed into the big city to spend the day at the ballpark. We headed out about two hours before the game, since it was a sellout and they were expecting a lot of crowds, traffic and general bustle. Couple that with this all occurring during working hours, I expected pure hell. Imagine our complete surprise when we rolled into town and got parked in about five minutes! Granted, my handicapped parking plaque helped shave a couple minutes from the parking search at best, but once we got parked, I told Jeff, "I think something is wrong." But we happily trotted out of the parking garage and spent a bit of time strolling the Inner Harbor to use up some of the time before the ballpark opens. After warming a bench but the water, we headed up to the park, had our tickets scanned, and off we went to find our seats. Quite often we are anxious when we buy tickets from a third party, not knowing for certain if everything is legit. We both breathed a sign of relief when we heard the happy beeps from the barcode scanners. So far, we haven't had any trouble of this sort, but we we worry just the same. We had a bit of a issue finding the seats, and being that we passed the escalators a while back, I headed up the stairs though Jeff was unsure of my success. We climbed and climbed, and as I neared the very top, I felt an uneasy feeling of weakness in my legs and some dizziness. I sat on the steps as this passed, and upon getting up to the highest level, we still couldn't find the proper gateway. We asked a staff member, and they said we had to go back down to the green doors that we passed on the way up. To our surprise, we had scored club-level seats! Things kept getting better! It's been years since we had club seats, and in the past it was from work connections. We grabbed a nice lunch from the more upscale concessions on the level and headed to our seats.

We had a fantastic view near the left field foul post. The game started, with the O's picking up two points in the bottom of the 3rd, then the Tigers got 5 at the top of the 4th inning, and the Orioles one more in the 4th. Then... nothing. The game went on with no more points and looking bad for the home team. At the top of the 8th, the Tigers got another run, bringing the score to 6-3. Then the Detroit pitching staff began to fall apart. The fans got loud again. The bases got loaded and the Orioles get a grand slam homer that could not happen at a better time. When the Orioles took out the Tigers at the top of the ninth, the sound in that ballpark was deafening. I've never been to such a squeaker win before, and it was a sweet victory. The cheering kept on even as 50,000 peop0le were heading out of the ballpark.

While I've never put a lot of thought into sports in general over the years, and I tend not to get much excitement watching on television, there's something to be said being a part of a crowd rooting for their team. It becomes downright exciting, especially in these high-stakes games, and a win is a complete thrill. There is palpable positive energy in the air, and Baltimore takes their wins and losses in stride. Baltimore hasn't been in a playoff position in a long time, and the entire state gets a nice little bump in happiness along with everything that goes with it. It genuinely feels good.

However, our day wasn't over yet. It was closing in on rush hour, on a Friday afternoon. Rather than trying to beat the traffic out of town, we toddled back down to the Inner Harbor, hoping to get a table at Bubba Gump's for dinner. With a lot of people streaming toward our destination, I worried we'd be suck waiting. After all, I can't walk very fast anymore. But we got a nice table, picked a nice dinner from the menu (they have fried shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp sandwiches, shrimp creole, shrimp scampi, shrimp gumbo, shrimp kabob, shrimp...) and even met up with a guy that Jeff had been talking to on Growlr. We made a new friend while enjoying dinner and dessert, and we got out of town just as fast as we had got in. The day couldn't have turned out any better. Jeff had to work this past weekend, and I went to visit and have dinner with him on Sunday night. He was upset that he couldn't watch the game, but had a live game score update running on his PC. Nearing the end of the game, Jeff had to leave his desk to finish business for the night. I watched the screen for him as the numbers changed. Wouldn't you know it, it was a last minute 8th inning charge much like Friday! There I was, alone in the office, getting excited as some numbers changed on a screen. Even cheering. Jeff then came back, looked at the screen and cheered too.

I did a lot of work on Saturday and Sunday on the house, and the home team bookended a practically perfect weekend.
greatbear: (tools)
I've been scarce around these parts. I've been preoccupied with a lot of different things lately. When I last left LJ-land, I had posted how I had finally brought my new front door home after weeks of waiting for it to be built and shipped. I was anxious to start the installation, but rather than putting on my tool belt and kicking butt, instead we took some time off for much needed rest and headed out to the Eastern Shore of MD and did some camping at Elk Neck State Park, along with some friends we had made this year in PTown. We got two adjoining campsites so we could be neighbors. While they had camped at the site before (and recommended it to us), we hadn't, and were very pleasantly surprised at the calm beauty of the area, despite there being a lot of families camping that weekend. The sites had lots of space between, and the area was wonderfully wooded with tall trees, with the whole shebang nestled along the Chesapeake Bay. Camping in this sort of setting takes me back to my early childhood, and I feel a warm comfort in that environment. Couple that with our friends and some of the most perfect weather and you have the recipe for pure relaxation. The pooches loved it, and they too had their own four-legged friends to socialize with, as our camping buds brought along their two Italian Greyhounds. We went for a little excursion to the adjoining little town of North East on Saturday, where we found delightful little artsy shops, antique stores and quirky eateries (I know, how gay) among the friendly locals and visitors. Jeff and I decided to put our newly discovered campgrounds on the short list of ideal getaway places. At about 80 miles from home, it's far enough to feel like we had traveled a good bit, yet not so far that too much of the event is taken up by driving. We will be be doing a bit more "vacationing locally" as a means of getting to know the more immediate areas and what they had to offer, with the added bonus of being a cheap means to have fun.

The week that followed I had gone out for the rest of the supplies needed to install the door, and I also ordered more of the pieces to build the home automation system. I began removing trim and other parts to take out the old door and frame, then with the help of our local friend, Wednesday when Jeff came home I tore out the old door and the three of us maneuvered the old one out and muscled the (much heavier) new assembly in. I temporarily affixed it in place to keep the weather out and the dogs in, we enjoyed some dinner later in the evening. The following days I positioned, shimmed and adjusted the door to close and seal properly, trimmed the door out on the exterior, sealed and caulked and installed the keyless lockset. That weekend we went to PA for our monthly visit to Jeff's parents. This week I began the electric work, installing a new inside lighting fixture in the style of the new door glass, and installing the devices for the automation and control. Part of this involved tearing apart a portion of a wall next to the door and reworking some of the electrical wiring inside. That wall hid something that had been bothering me for 25 years. When the electricians that initially wired the house before the drywallers closed everything up, they had forgotten a short run of cable between to electric boxes. This resulted in the forward part of the living room having no power to the outlets. To fix this, they had popped holes in the two adjoining boxes and fished a cable between them. I never knew how they had fixed the issue until several years later when I had taken out a light switch to install a dimmer and found a huge chunk of the plastic electric box missing and a cable spliced inside. While I had the wall open I replaced the boxes, the hacked-in wiring and added space for three controls. Two of them directly control the light outside the door and the inside light in the entryway. The third space in the box will have a "scene controller" that will operate several outside lights located all around the house from one location. Pressing a single button begins a programmed process that can, say, turn all the outside lights on at full brightness, useful if we have company or we are doing work outside at night. Other buttons can turn on and off various combinations of inside and outside lights before leaving the house or returning, or turning all the outside lights off and setting the one outside the front door to a very dim setting before going to bed. All of this is part of a Z-Wave remote control protocol that integrates with the home automation system. It's already programmed to turn on a few inside lights at a low setting early in the morning when Jeff is getting ready and leaves for work, whereupon it shuts them all off until the next weekday. Now the outside lights can come on as well, since he leaves when it's still dark. The system can control existing remotely operated lights and appliances here, along with the Nest thermostats, the home theater receivers, alarm system, and lots of future items I have planned. Best of all, I can control it all remotely via the internet either with a PC or smartphone from anywhere. I can make sure the door is locked, open it if a friend needs to be let in while we are away, turn lights on and off, you name it. The system can grow as I need it to. It's a very practical system, and all the devices and appliances can work manually as if there was no profound technology behind it all. It's also a fun way to seriously get my geek on.

In coming days I will close the wall back up, spackle and finish the drywall, then install the interior trim around the door. I also want to take out the 25+ year old vinyl floor and put in some nice ceramic or marble tile. After that is done, I will move onto the living room, finally creating the light shafts for the skylights I installed in the roof four years ago, then begin the somewhat major reworking of the living room and dining room areas. I want to split the living room into two separate areas rather than the oddly shaped, somewhat amorphous "great room" it is currently. New carpeting and flooring will go in at this point. Then onto the sunroom, where I can finally finish the relatively small amount of work left over from where I started on that room about ten years ago. All of this will be a good winter/indoor project as the seasons change.

Those that know me well are quite aware of the wildcard in all of this, and that's my overall health and my back and nerve issues I am constantly dealing with. While I have been busting all manner of ass lately, it has been far slower than I am usually able to do such work. I can get maybe a half hour of good working time before I have to stop, sit down, and take the load off my lower back and recover. If I go for longer than that amount of time, or I have to do much in the way of twisting, or standing in one spot, the pain begins to appear then fogs my concentration. I get angry, the quality begins to suffer, and I will go totally aggro if things are not coming together as I want them to. Tools get tossed about, cursing begins, dogs hide under beds, and progress becomes more halting and drawn out. So far I've managed to keep up pace, but I have to force myself to quit while I'm ahead, as it were, before things start to crumble. So far, I've been lucky that I haven't had any major setbacks (yet) and I've learned to stop work despite the urge to keep going when things are going well. That last part is a doozy for me.

This is what the entryway looks like currently. If I manage to get all the other work done I described above without (much) incident, and some other, more pressing things get done, I want to take out the aluminum vertical siding that is currently there and replace it with some form of brick, slate or stone. but for now, I am happy, hell, giddy that I got this far. It's taking more time and much more effort than I am used to, but it's still me doing all the work and doing what I love to do. Now, if my increasingly old body can keep from falling apart at the same increasing pace, I will be a rather happy dude.
greatbear: (tools)
Finally. After postponing this for years due to health issues, money issues, time issues, timing issues or just plain procrastination, I finally ordered up a new front door for La Casa Mayhem, and I picked it up today. I had to convince the people at Homo Despot that I had a nice big truck, and the wonderful shipping pallet it was delivered to the store on was ideal for me to get it home with the least chance of additional damage. The material handlers, obviously walking around with "Loading..." graphics floating over their heads were having problems processing this. The forklift drivers were out to lunch, and the guys rolling the door around the store seemed to be colloquially in the same place. Both me and the cool gal in the millwork department I had been dealing with were basically saying the same thing. Finally one of the forklift operators returned and all of us humped the thing onto the truck, where I tied it all down and headed home. Jeff came home soon after I did, and the two of us wrangled it off the truck and onto the carport where it will sit safely until I begin work. I'm glad I had the pallet to keep the thing safe and upright, if anything were to knock it over before I installed it I would be fit to be tied. I took a couple quick shots of the thing still cloaked in plastic.

Another one with glass detail )

In addition to taking out the original door/sidelight assembly, I might have to resize the rough opening slightly for best fit, plus reroute the doorbell wiring. I also plan to affix a hidden alarm switch as well as I am doing the work. This should complete the basic door installation. While I am focused on that part of the house, I will also take out a small section of an adjacent wall where the light switches are in order to consolidate some of the outdoor lighting controls as well as prep it all for ongoing home automation. ALso, for over 25 hears, my OCD has been bugging me because of a small electrical hack hidden in that wall. After the house was built and all the electric hooked up, I found there was no power to the outlets in the front part of the living room. Turns out the electricians who wired the house forgot to run a branch to the five outlets there. To fix it, they popped a hole in the one living room outlet box and the outside lightswitch box in the entryway, and connected the two with a piece of ratty UF cable. I discovered this when I changed a light switch in the entry years ago. It's been bugging me since, because the composite boxes have large pieces missing, and this also puts those outlets in a lighting circuit. While I have the wall apart I will replace the boxes, reroute the branch feeder to a different circuit, and put in a larger device box for added controls for the outside lighting along the walkways and the two post lights. All four of these circuits will have automation-/remote control-ready switches installed. My janky motion sensor setup for the outside front door light will be replaced with a setup that integrates with the lighting control system. I will also install the little dome camera in the ceiling outside the front door, part of an extended remote monitoring system I am putting together.

If my body survives the exertion and labor needed for these projects, I will hopefully be able to complete the living room skylight project that's going on four years now, and the sunroom, which, sad to say, been on hold for eight years. Neither of these are really backbreaking work, but involve working overhead for extended periods, something that was impossible for me for a long time. Not too long ago, I refitted several light fixtures in the Mayhem Lab with new ballasts and bulbs, and I found I didn't have a single problem or flash of pain during or after. The lighting project was a test for this, as I could've simply done one fixture at a time or dropped that project temporarily had it become an issue. Go me!

When I headed outside to snap the pics of the door, I discovered Jeff had quietly come home and was sitting in his new car, airconditioning on, grooving to Pink Floyd and answering messages on his phone. I realized I didn't take any pictures of the car for LJ, so I did, and also snapped one of Jeff in his work duds, hat, and his beard, which I remodeled a little while ago. :)

More pictures and text behind the cut, since everyone seems to surf LJ on tiny things anymore )
greatbear: (forearms)
In my last post, I made mention of hoisting my GoPro camera aloft once I get the hang of being a drone pilot. Well, that really didn't take long, and Sunday I had installed and tuned up the camera rig and sent it up for a peek in the skies around the house. Because I have no view on the ground as to what the camera is seeing (no "first-person view") I had to mostly guess as to exactly where the camera is pointing. That turned out to be relatively easy, since the camera pans with the rotation of the copter. I have control of camera tilt by a dedicated lever on the remote control. so it was simply a case of spinning the drone to where I wanted to see and tilt the camera down a bit. I took it up to various altitudes, I estimate at about 400 feet at the highest, and did a slow pan and tilt. I had no idea what to expect, so after a while I landed the rig and took it in the house. I pulled the tiny SD card out of the camera and put it in the card reader, and I was greeted with some amazing shots. Kid-in-a-candy-store time! Since I can't operate the camera shutter or other controls from the ground (yet), I set it to take a shot every two seconds. Later in the day I put the thing in the air again, but this time I flew it quite a bit lower and did a slow circle around the yard, to see the house from all angles, and hopefully getting a shot similar to the aerial picture that was taken of the house 20 years prior. I am proud to say I got pretty close for a first attempt.

This is the photo from 1994:

Click here to see how much changes in 20 years )


greatbear: (Default)

December 2016



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