Still here

Dec. 5th, 2015 02:19 am
greatbear: (aerial me)
Yes, I am still here, though my time using LJ is pretty much limited to about once a week, a far cry from days gone by when I would check entries several times a day, leave many comments, and write on a fairly regular basis. For me, it's not just LJ being neglected, but all forms of social media. Recent events have turned many a friends feed into disgusting political diatribes, link farms of massive acreage, and every other imaginable method of getting a point across. I have gotten beyond fatigued from this, even from those posting along the lines of my own ideologies. Interestingly, here in LJ Land, things are rather quiet. I'd normally move my focus here, but, well, I feel like I am in a large but empty warehouse, shouting into the reverberating space where few, if any, even take notice. This space invites me to write in my wordy style, and spend a lot more time crafting an entry, but the end result seems lost in the emptiness. Being that most, if not nearly everyone I would interact with here has moved to that noisy back alley party known as Facebook, I ending up posting there for maximum effect. The very nature of that site prevents me from posting anything substantial, so my entries hold little interest to people that Facebook deems worthy to actually see the posts in the first place. A conundrum it is.

Since it has been over two months since I wrote anything, here is a quick summary. State of the Mayhem, as it were.

-I've been mostly unencumbered by pain, already well into late Fall, which is a first in nearly six years. Normally I seemed to fall apart around September, then be completely housebound for months as I undergo treatments or surgeries that would not turn me around for the better until mid-Spring or early summer. I was able to see the leave change in real time, as well as cleaning them up. This alone, while sounding more like a chore, made me happy with the accomplishment.

-I've been keeping busy, taking on some small subcontracting work for income. It's not much, but every little bit helps. if I last a year without having another rash of spine/nerve problems, I will try to reenter the workforce. I can't bring myself to put forth the effort to find a job only to have my body betray me and ultimately make me lose the job, causing me more and more trouble in the future.

-Family life is mostly unchanged. This is a good thing, as we are still doing things for fun, and nothing really bad has occurred (yet). Time will tell how this pans out.

That's about it for now. Hope everyone reading this is doing well.
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: (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: (forearms)
I know, I'm being a bad blogger, no real content for some time. I've been mostly busy, but not a whole lot of that busy-ness I figured would be post worthy. Let me try and fish up some highlights.

Jeff's college-bound nephew has been staying with us a couple days. In true Awesome Gay Uncleâ„¢ fashion, we've been taking him back-to-school shopping. Between the Columbia Mall and Costco, the trunk of the Strat is packed tight with everything from a printer to clothing with a bit of everything else in between. He's excited about his future, I'm happy to play a part in that as, of course, is Jeff.

When I take our proud freshman back to Pennsylvania, I have to pack the car with several big coolers, because dad bought an entire pig (well, the parts of said pig, actually) and is giving us half. Last year around this time while we were on vacation, we lost two freezers full of meat and other foodstuffs when the power was out for about a week. Part of that was meat we had shared similarly in the past. This offering was a gift from dad simply because he has now reached a point in time where he has settled down in his new place since the fire and feels this was maybe some sort of repayment for our efforts during his rough time. Well, no repayment was ever necessary, but this will be appreciated. Mmmm... porkchops...

Since our trailer sustained some minor damage from the radiant heat from the fire, we had coverage from the insurance company to have it repaired. We had hoped to do this before our trip to PTown, but it seemed the outfit doing the work had problems getting all the necessary parts. Wisely, I put off the repairs until we returned from the trip just in case the time in the shop took longer than the week we were initially quoted. I shlepped the trailer up to the shop the day after returning from vacation in mid-July. It is still not finished. Various excuses from wrong parts to health issues. While I was disappointed to cancel our other planned camping trips involving the trailer for the year, I'm now glad I did. This ordeal would've been far more frustrating otherwise. I'm hoping the thing will be done in another week. I'm tired of crashing my knees and shins on the hitch/ball mount still sticking from the back of the truck. I know once I removed it a call would come to pick up the trailer. #firstworldproblems

Years ago (omg 70s!) I used to have a Univox Super Fuzz distortion pedal, back in the days when I was pretty serious about playing guitar. This was a basic stompbox from the mid-late 60s with a limited repertoire of sounds (two filter settings, an overdrive and gain control) and, frankly, sounded like crap by comparison to newer tech in the early 80s. So, I gave it away to a friend who was getting into guitar. He had it for a while and got rid of it too, I think he sold it or gave it away. It's long gone. The other day I came across a database of various effects along with links to ones currently for sale. I looked up some of my past gear, some of which is going for more than I paid for them new. The Univox? People want 700-800 dollars for ones in worst shape than mine was! I think I paid a princely sum of about five dollars for it back in '76. Sadly, I am considering selling off some or all of my axes, amps, effects and other music gear, I haven't played in years. I get frustrated when I try, injuries, age and total lack of practice have a tendency to do that. I was never really that good to begin with, but I had fun while it lasted. Then there is that unbelievable convergence of circumstances that ended up with a brush with some of progressive rock's greatest artists and an inclusion of my random guitar noodling on an actual released album. If nothing else, I can play Six Degrees of Separation between me and most of my rock/fusion/jazz heroes using only a finger or two at most to keep track. I still love music over my other pursuits, but I'm content being a listener these days.

Speaking of luck, I've been working on the fleet of vehicles here at Mayhem HQ, it seems all of them have, in one way or another, needed or are needing rather expensive maintenance and/or upgrades. The truck needed tires before our big trip, plus some PM and upgrades. The Stratus, being a 2000 model, needs some attention too, I have a small pile of wear items that I've been putting off installing, plus it too needs new tires. Even the Mini Cooper is needing attention; though it still seems to me like I recently bought the car, it's over ten years old already and starting to show its age. It hadn't been driven in some time, so I decided to finally give it some TLC and needed repairs. I had it idling in the driveway with the hood open as I fixed the rear wiper and window washer. I turned off the engine and began heading to the house, and I hear hissing sounds. I turn around to see smoke billowing out from behind the engine and then flames. I run and get the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. Seems an oil line from an aftermarket oil catch can had broken, once I shut off the engine the oil leaked into the hot exhaust header and ignited. There was very little damage, luckily, and it took all of five dollars to repair the damage and cause of the problem as well as some time to remove some heat shields and other parts to clean up the remaining mess. This could have been a lot worse. Later that day I was going to take the car to run errands, if the hood were shut and I walked away from the car, the flames would most likely have reached a nearby fuel line and the car would've been toast. So, despite the relatively minor setback, it actually did more to get me thinking about things.

I look at life from both sides now (what, more music? =D). My health isn't the greatest, but I'm still getting on with life as I can. Jeff's parents lost their house, but I am glad his dad was with us and his mom safely in a nursing home at the time of the fire. Dad has a new place he can be proud of, and even though he lost a lot, we are finding some goodies in the salvaged stuff still to this day that might not be much, but mean a lot. I lost my job last year, but I'm in a position where I can go on hiatus and take care of things here while I decide what steps to take. I don't know if I want to get back into the same type of mind- and skill-heavy work I am accustomed to, or something less challenging for my older years. I stay pretty busy here at All That Is Mayhem, Jeff has a good job now that does keep him on his toes, but we manage to get out now and then for fun, friends and culture when we can. We have some cool things coming up to look forward to. I remain very independent and have abilities, skills and the means to give us a good life and not worry too much when something unexpected comes up. As long as I have my health, my home and my Jeff, I think I'll be alright for a long time to come.
greatbear: (forearms)
This commercial seems appropriate today.



Jeff's dad is poised to be living in the new place today. He's barely waiting for the final use and occupancy permit. Just in time, as the generator I loaned him to keep the trailer batteries charged bit the dust. No good deed goes unpunished I guess.

Speaking of houses, the new house across the road from me is practically flying up. This is a conventional, stick-built house, and yesterday most of the first floor and a part of the second story are up. I expect the majority of exterior framing to be done today, and probably under roof by the weekend. It won't be long before The House of Seven Terlits is complete either. This crew is working overtime and on weekends.

Well, damn

Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:56 pm
greatbear: (static)
This was supposed to be a post detailing how Jeff and I, along with his dad and nephew plus his nephew's friend I had all picked up from Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, spent the last several days in a truly kick-ass cleanup and beautification project here in Mayhem Acres. Trees were cut, brush removed, dumptruck loads of mulch spread, debris chipped and shredded, you name it. Not only was a lot of work to be done, but time off to get good food, play video games, watch movies and go shopping and sightseeing in the downtime hours. It was something we had planned months ago to coincide with the arrival of spring as well as spring break from school. We were finally to attend to yard damage and general neglect going way back before the blizzard of 2010 that brought down big trees, spoiled landscaping and an accumulation of tasks that had been put on hold because of health issues and injuries and all manner of problems we'd been beset with. Lemme tell ya, we definitely got to a great start. We tromped outside after a hearty breakfast on Thursday morning and fell into a cooperation of work duties with an almost military-like efficiency. By that afternoon, the northeastern quadrant of Mayhem Acres was entirely different. We began Friday in much the same way, albeit a bit sore from the previous day's exertions. Cleanup began to turn to tune-up, as debris was hauled away and chipped, areas brush-cut and hit with the flamethrower to sterilize the grounds against weeds and a nice thick layer of mulch put down. We ended the day a bit early seeing we were way ahead of our informal schedule, and another load of mulch was ordered and brought in for Saturday morning's festivities. We were all collectively surprised what two well-fed teenagers, two old guys with health issues and one old man with a sense of effort even he was surprised with having could accomplish. We headed into the house that evening thinking we could get the work done early enough on Saturday that the rest of that day would likely be spent going out on the town for fun, frolic, shopping, eating and sightseeing. Everyone slept like logs. Then on Saturday morning, around 8am, the phone rang.

Jeff's parents' house was on fire.

We were out of the house and on the road in only a few minutes, and I drove at (quite) extra-legal speeds in the big truck to get back to PA as fast as we could. A trip that normally takes over two and a half hours on a good day of traffic (and nearly 4 hours Wednesday due to accidents and such) was done in slightly under two. While on the way back, Jeff and his dad were on the phones, and we were coordinating with the fire departments, calling insurance agents, notifying people and all manner of of tasks while traveling 95+mph at times. Speed was limited by traffic and the built-in speed limiter in the truck. Despite all the talking to the people on scene, we still couldn't be prepared for seeing smoke in the air 20 miles or more away and the smoldering shell of the burned out house. We had been spared from seeing the actual blaze, but I obtained the full set of photos from the fire department photographer (always carry a thumb drive!). This is what they saw when they rolled up:



The house is a total loss, and practically all the contents were incinerated. Because Jeff's parents live practically in the middle of nowhere, with the closest fire department being at least 10 miles away, the need for water to fight a fire having to be trucked in by tankers and the general time delays from witness to calling to dispatch to arrival and setup, the majority of the house was consumed before the first water hit the fire. The focus also moved to preventing fire and heat damage to Dad's truck as well as our travel trailer which was being stored in the driveway for the winter. Despite being about fifty feet from the house, both the truck and trailer sustained damage just from the radiated heat, which melted plastic parts on both vehicles as well as buckling the aluminum siding on the trailer. By the time we arrived at the scene the fires were mostly out and the firefighters were removing charred furniture and other objects from the house as they doused hotspots.

Once the danger of fire subsided, we were able to look at the damage up close. The living room and one bedroom had collapsed into the basement, and nothing the firefighters brought out from any area of the house wasn't burnt, charred, melted or coated black by acrid smoke. Surprisingly, the firemen allowed me and others into the more stable parts of the structure to search for belongings ("Watch out for that hole in the floor"). Two of the local newspapers were on site, gathering information to spin into stories fit for their readership. We began to find bits and pieces of jewelry, trinkets, objects of daily life, etc. Firefighters managed to extract the cabinet containing Dad's cabinet containing antique rifles and shotguns while fighting the blaze. The heavy wooden desk, chest and dresser, despite being badly charred, protected some treasures from incineration. A tightly closed jewelry box held a few bits of his mom's necklaces and such but the smoke managed to get inside even there. As the day wore on and the firefighters left, I kept digging for more. I did manage to find a box containing wills, deeds and other important documents that were in practically perfect condition despite the nasty smell. Jeff, Dad, Jeff's brother-in-law and sister also managed to pluck more items from the wreckage, easing the feeling of total loss and giving a bit of hope to Dad, still shocked at all that happened that day.

The firefighters and subsequent investigating personnel were unable to pin down a cause of the fire. Even myself, having had a bit of fire prevention, fighting and investigation training through work in the past couldn't make sense of the wreckage. The house was a double-wide mobile home on a block foundation basement and such structures always burn quickly with intense heat. The roof was two layers of metal which acted as a "lid" keeping the fire from burning through the roof and ventilating the rest of the rooms, instead bottling the flames up and making them spread from end-to end in no time. There wasn't anything left of the entire structure to determine where it had started. "Unknown origin."

I am always amazed at how people manage to operate during times of stress despite not having prior experience in it. We managed to call in all the utilities to have them turned off. Insurance companies were called in, More family and friends were notified. We cooperated in gathering retrieved belongings together and made lists of contents of each room as we remembered. Fire personnel, police, and many other people on scene in a professional capacity were helpful and courteous. But I was not prepared for the outpouring of help, kind words and assistance that was coming throughout the day from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The Amish of the area, with whom Dad has a tight relationship due to his "job" acting as transportation, and whom always had a lot of respect from myself, were ready to step in and begin the cleanup and rebuilding that very same day. While a process of assessment has to be done by the insurance companies, this should be done in the next day or two and by Saturday, the wreckage should be packed into big roll-off dumpsters. The agents and specialists from Erie Insurance were on site Sunday morning, and in a couple hours time not only assuaged Dad's fears and concerns, but had him pointed in a direction of reestablishing a home and life with a check for immediate accommodation, clothing and food. Enough money should be on hand soon to pay the outstanding loan (this is done automatically and foremost) put up a new building and furnish with all the basic items needed. I'm sure that between all the amazing offers of help and assistance coming from individuals, groups and churches, Dad should be able to resume a somewhat normal life in several months' time.

It should be noted that Jeff's mom is currently in a nursing home. While this is sadly due to the ongoing care for Alzheimer's, and she is no longer in the frame of mind to comprehend what had happened, she was away and safe from the ordeal. The biggest silver lining in this is the fact that we had Dad safe with us at the time. The obviously fast and unpredictable fire could have caused a lot more damage to more than a replaceable house.

More to come as I can manage...
greatbear: (cirque du so gay)
Here at Mayhem Acres strange or odd occurrences are pretty much the norm. It seems that this phenomenon tends to spread a bit from the epicenter here. Take this past Monday, when I was taking Jeff to have surgery, as an example. A bit more than a mile from the house as I was merging onto the perpetually busy Rt 29, we both noticed a car on the left shoulder of the opposing lanes of traffic. Not the first time we've see it around here. As we got closer, Jeff said, "It's Batman!". Sure enough, it was the Caped Crusader, seemingly having problems with his sinister-looking Batmobile. I noticed right away that ol' Batty had chosen the Lamborghini as his daytime ride, saving the actual Batmobile for the cover of darkness. Turns out the Dark Knight was on his way into Washington, DC to entertain children at a local hospital. With the help of the local constabulary and perhaps the Boy Wonder, he was able to make the trip. The Lambo Gallardo Spyder apparently needed a tow back to the Bat Cave, as tires for the $200,000 car are tougher to come by than, well, Bat-tires.

I wanted to snap a picture of the scene, but I thought it against Bat-protocol. Besides, I had gone too far trying to merge into traffic. Traffic which, ironically, was uncharacteristically flying along in all six lanes, in both directions. Around here, a disabled car usually garners a gaggle of rubberneckers, even if it's an old Nissan Sentra with one red door and a boiling radiator. Batman does not even get noticed.
greatbear: (Default)
This morning I wanted on teh intarwebz, but my computer awoke to a black screen. There was audio when mashing keys, but I figure, being a PC and not the perfection that is Apple, it just needed a reboot after being on for weeks. A reboot did nothing, but I noticed a curious behavior with the display. Usually the power light blinks when in between video modes or the PC is rebooting, instead, it was solidly on. I cycled the power and expected the little on-screen menu to pop up. Instead, there was fire. Actual fire, with the acrid smell of burning solid state deices and smoke. I dropped the backup display in its place and now am looking for a replacement. I'm jonesing for something larger than the 24" Samsung that stunk up the room, and something that will play nice with the new replacement PC that I built about a year ago. A bit of unexpected research and shopping is in order, as well as an unneeded expense.

I have a batch of photos to upload for LJ posts and such, but my Flickr Pro account lapsed and it's nothing but wonky now with the limited features and groups, so that will have to wait as well. My time has been taken up with outdoor projects and our rekindled efforts to put in a decent vegetable garden. My attitudes towards gardening have been guarded at best since losing Mom, being that it was her primary and ultimate passion. Just looking at the various beds makes me sad and uneasy, so for the past several years the gardens received minimal care is any. Jeff tried to take the mantle of suburban farmer, but his time is limited. This year, however, I am finally getting a bit over my apprehension (and outright breakdowns) when faced with Mom's favorite activity and the memories it brings flooding in. This year, if I can keep the critters out of it, we should have the most productive garden ever. I'll be installing the various electronic countermeasures to protect our crops.

You can probably guess already that it's gonna be called... The Garden of Mayhem. Hey, I have branding continuity to consider, after all. ;-)

Last week I had pulled all the wheels off the trailer, checked and adjusted the brakes and regreased the bearings as well as other mechanical checks, then hauled it up to Pennsylvania and Jeff's parents' driveway. I took along lots cleaning supplies and the bigass pressure washer which we used Saturday and Sunday to clean up our vacation home in preparation of our upcoming trips. I just hope my health issues don't ruin things like late last year.

Speaking of vacations and trips, who's gonna be in Provincetown for Bear Week (or in spite of, for all you post-whatevers)?
greatbear: (forearms)
Vee haff vays off schootink macheteez mit slingschotz!



Props to the guy for having a practically adorable polite voice amid his gleeful destruction.

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