greatbear: (aerial me)
Today Jeff and I worked at splitting most of the firewood I've been cutting up from downed and dead trees in our yard. The three small racks around the house are filled to capacity, and the big woodshed is nearly full now, which is good; this is enough wood to get us through an entire winter on average. Thing is, I have barely scratched the surface, since the giant silver maple that has been slowly dying over the past several years has been taken down. This tree alone will yield several cords of mostly usable firewood, and I don't have much more "official" space to store it all. I haven't finished the cleanup I began of a large, three-trunked cherry tree that got blown over in a nasty derecho (violent windstorm) a few years ago. this will probably end up being another half cord on it's own in addition to the large amount split and stacked today.

We did this chore in about 4 hours, and with mostly minimum interference from our somewhat damaged bodies. Jeff has mostly recovered from his hernia surgery, but I am still highly cautious of my back/spine giving out again. It seems that it has happened around this time of year every time, and as the result of doing lots of work involving lifting and twisting. By the end of today's chore, I was feeling the twitches of pain that reminded me of how it began to give out all those times, and I started getting upset. So far, I only have the normal bit of soreness that comes from doing physical work beyond the everyday levels, which is good. But I can't help but feel that trepidation when I take up my work clothes and tools and perform the next usual chore that comes with living at Mayhem Acres and wondering if this one is going to be my downfall once again.

I hate this feeling with every fiber of my being.

We worked for 4 hours today. I can't say I was spent afterward, actually, after we had lunch and rested a bit, I was ready to go out and do more. Or, more to the point, my "old self" was ready to go and put another several hours in, but my new reality kicks in and holds me back, and I spiral into frustration. If indeed my spine gives out, I can look forward to about nine months of pain, immobility, atrophy, and the sheer frustration it all brings. I have no idea if I would be entering another circle of hell, or it would be just another good accomplishment. So I feel stuck. All I can do really is just go on with life, albeit carefully, and hope for the best. Problem is, rather than have my normal drive, I am just coasting through my days while the world shoots past at breakneck speeds as it leaves me behind.

I am wired to measure my life by my accomplishments, big and small. For the longest time, I was doing really good. The health stuff put the brakes on several times, and each full stop had a longer period to get back up to speed, never matching what was in the past. I am quite literally a broken man, beat down by these accumulated mishaps, abandoned by friends, standing in front of the mirror and on several occasions being shocked at the shrinking, bony and wrinkled visage staring back. My clothes don't fit anymore, they hang on me more like on a scarecrow, and even the newer stuff I got which is more size appropriate still has me looking haggard. I'm not aging gracefully, but this is my gig now, and all I can do is run with it. If I had more certainty in things, I know I could do better. As it stands, I don't know if the next day would put me in the hospital. And with that, the mental load is far worse than the physical.
greatbear: (gay men like rush too)
I know it's been a while since I posted anything, By request, I am reposting this from Facebook.


This weekend was Jeff's birthday weekend. I was hoping for decent weather among all the things we had planned. The weather did not disappoint, and the weekend, which included Friday afternoon, really couldn't have been better. We made a last-minute decision to go and watch the Orioles play. Unlike other time when we purchased tix beforehand, we took a shot to see what we could find at the ticket booth at the stadium. I splurged a bit and got us club level seating. The O's squeaked in a win at the last possible moment at the bottom of the 9th and everyone went home happy. We got an early start on Saturday, heading off to Home Depot for more garden supplies, bits to make one more grow frame and some other goodies. After a bit of a break, we headed down to Bristow, VA to see Rush on the R40 tour. 40 years! I was there nearly at the beginning too.

Seeing Rush is an experience unlike any other rock band I know of, and that experience begins well before getting close to the venue. Checking into the hotel 4 or so miles from the venue had people in the lobby in Rush clothing and swag. The TGIFriday's where we got our late lunch/early dinner had I would say 3/4 of the clientele going to the show. But, unlike any other fanbase, there were old greybeards like us, young couples, teens, old folks, grandparents, great-grandparents, you name it. A couple at the restaurant had two young boys, the oldest maybe six. They had Rush shirts on. The crowd entering the venue looked more like what you'd see heading into Disney World. My boys put on an amazing show, as always. We stayed overnight rather than taking a bleary-eyed trip home nearly at midnight. It was a good decision, we picked up late night grub at Wendy's to take back to the room. I slept mostly like a rock for a change.

We headed out early, and integrated our trip home with our weekly grocery grab. A cool bonus was getting there early, at the time when the Burtonsville cruise was in full spring. This little local event, held every Sunday in the spring and summer has grown quite a bit. We walked among the varied cars, trucks and rides. Jeff got his first glimpse of the Slingshot three-wheeler and immediately fell in full lust with it. After snapping lots of phone pics on top of the dozens from last night's show, we got our goodies for the week and headed home to a pair of very appreciative pooches. we took it easy for a change, then had steaks on the grill, big baked potatoes, veggies and an ice cream cake I picked up while Jeff was cooking dinner.

This was the most walking and activity I have had since last September, when my spine gave out again and left me immobile for the entire winter. I managed better than I expected, but dealt with a lot of pain due mostly to having to (try to) stand for the entire performance. I've got the walking part down pretty good. I can even do some not-so-light work if I am able to take numerous breaks. But the thing that is death to me still is standing motionless for more than a few minutes. I was nearly delirious from pain after the show, but I was too blown away from the concert to worry too much. Here's where the overnight stay helped a lot as well.

This was a great weekend, one not so full of work for a change, and one that we had deserved for the longest time.
greatbear: (aerial me)
It's been a bit since i last tapped away at this old blog thingie. Today was a nice day, and I couldn't stay cooped up in the house. After taking the dogs around outside for their morning rituals, I limped my way down to the garage to begin whatever necessary work I've been putting off which I feel I can manage to tackle, given my limitations. I began by rearranging the outdoor power equipment as well as dragging out of mothballs a generator that has been parked inside for about ten years or more. This generator burned out long ago, and the cost of parts exceeded that of a new generator. I finally decided to modify the thing and bough an entire, new generator head (the part that attaches to the engine that actually generates the electricity. while doing this, I also took some of the other equipment out of storage that will be used soon, like the lawnmowers, tractor, etc. I discovered the battery in the tractor has finally given up the ghost. The big rototiller needed some carburetor adjustments. The aforementioned generator, unused for all those years started up on the first pull. So I had lots of little engines running outside in front of the garage, where the nice breeze and warm sun urged me along. Life was good. Or so I thought.


It's not easy for me to do these sorts of things these days, when five years ago it was something I did practically on autopilot. I have to take things slow, and moving all the equipment feels astonishingly heavy and immovable now. But I managed, and I got my partial fleet of stuff running and at least tuned up. The wind being what it was, and the strange air currents that seem to make all the leaves collect in front of the garage as well as blow them all over inside when the doors are open also seemed to make life difficult for me to keep from getting exhaust fumes in my face. After a while I had already had enough for a while and headed up into the house for a little break in the easy chair and a drink. Not soon after I sat down, I started shaking. Badly. It was getting tough for me to keep my balance, and I felt about to black out. I moved into the studio where the window was open and the breeze was coming in. I contemplated calling Jeff, but after a while things slowly started to clear up. I believe having four engines running at the same time and having the wind spilling over the garage concentrated the fumes more than dissipated them, and despite also having the big exhaust fan on in the garage, I was working in the middle of a fair amount of carbon monoxide. After a couple hours I was mostly my old self again. Jeff came home while I was still a bit out of sorts and I told him I didn't feel well, and he admonished me to not hesitate to call any time I am in need of help. Then the ironic part hit (there always seems to be an ironic part with me). When I started telling Jeff the rest of my day, he saw on the news of a MD family that was killed from carbon monoxide, from a generator. I've never had this sort of thing happen with me before. I've worked on hundreds, if not thousands of engines in my life, and I always take precautions like proper ventilation, not running stuff in enclosed buildings, even having CO detectors. The Starting of the Engines of Spring is a yearly ritual I've engaged in for decades. Oil gets changed, blades get sharpened, tune-ups done, and often I will have a dozen engines running at the same time. It's a gearhead's version of A Joyful Noise. But today was the first time I had any ill effects from it. I barely picked at dinner, my appetite, already a constant trouble, was shot. I waited until after it got dark to go back out and put everything away. It appears most of this week has rain in the forecast, so that will probably keep me from doing more work. But I plan to keep going, as if nothing happened. Except I will keep the noise down to only one or two engines at a time, and one big industrial pedestal fan.
greatbear: (me laughing)
I managed to avoid LJ for just over a month. The reasons are simple, really. The posts would have revolved around my continuing spine troubles, the silly projects I enjoy partaking in but no one else could care a whit about, obscure old psychedelic rock music being played on stereo equipment older than a lot of people I know, computer problems and projects, my crushed ego that can't let me sign up for disability, the list goes on. Just looking back on the more "everyday" posts that are not about the rare special occasion or such make me sound like a broken record. So instead of the same old hash rehashed, I've just been keeping quiet. It's what I've done best in my 53 years on this crusty rock.

The coldest part of winter was often warmed up nicely during the holidays, and along with my youthful exuberance in decades gone by, I had some of the best days of my life during otherwise cold, grey days. Nowadays the grey is everywhere, from the skies to my face and to my thoughts. Today was a bit of an exception, as Jeff came home with 54(!) roses ("53 years old, plus one to grow" says he) and a nice card, and he managed, despite working his ass off in the hospital kitchens all day, to come home and make us a nice little dinner of my favorite food (chicken cutlets). The smiles and good feelings kicked aside the bad mojo for a while

Still, I felt undeserving of all that. Despite it all, I just keep feeling both worthless and somehow unappreciated. The latter is less an issue at home, but there is an inverse effect at play that is beginning to rear its head. This afternoon, a strange, odd power surge came down the line and disrupted several things here in strange ways. The heat was shut down, with the Nest thermostat suddenly disagreeing with the heating system, and I couldn't reset either.I mostly threw up my hands and proclaimed there's no heat except for the woodstove. Jeff asked a sensible question, "Can't we just call the heating company?" "You're looking at it" was my answer, and after a while, it dawned on me that I am the heating company, the builder, the mechanic, plumber, IT department, lawn care, carpenter, carpet cleaning service, appliance repair, well installer, A/V tech, works engineering, painter, locksmith, chimney sweep... you name it, and it has been all my doing for the longest time, even before I could legally drive in many cases. As small (and not-so-small) problems and issues begin piling up, I fear I might not be able to handle some of it and might need to rely on expensive outside help. So far, our attempts at doing so have been frustrating at best. My work at making a lot of things near maintenance free in recent years have been thwarted by, you guessed it, my inability to do anything. I feel I am losing this race. I'm close, but falling behind in the last couple years. Time will tell how this all plays out, but I am losing a lot of confidence in myself right now.

Tomorrow I am going for my third session of physical therapy. This therapist seems to be on a right track with my nerve issues, but at the same time I felt like I made some backwards progress. The rather dismal insurance I have requires a 50 dollar co-pay, and aside from that, most of the therapy itself won't be covered either, so this is becoming more and more expensive at the worst possible time. If the therapy actually helps, it will be worth it. If I go through a long-ish round of therapy and it doesn't do the trick, I will have wasted that money, and the next step will be very invasive surgery far more involved (and expensive) than any I had prior. I keep riding the same bad rollercoaster and the only ones benefiting are the doctors. Sorry if I am angry at times, but there you have it. I am used to being taken advantage of throughout my life, and it seems to be everywhere I go. No wonder I never want to leave the house anymore.

Well, there you have it in a nutshell. The reason I haven't been posting, and an example afterward.

So I can leave on a happier note, thanks to all who have wished me a happy birthday today. It's those wishes that made my day happier.
greatbear: (forearms)
I guess it is that time once again. Another year drawing to a close, taking me with it to places unknown. I have to say that this year has been one of my best, despite having a great deal of medical issues. The highlight, of course, was getting married. I keep replaying snippets in my head of that wonderful day. So much love, happiness and warm feelings condensed into a single day that the effects keep lingering. I got to meet people I haven't seen in way too many years, and yet we picked up right where we left off. There was so much worry about making sure everything was right, that all melted away on that lovely Saturday in late June. As quick as it all came together, it faded away, though, yet left us both giddy and excited and, well, "different." Hard to describe, but it's a real feeling.

We had already planned our vacation to PTown last year, and we used that as our honeymoon of sorts. We had our usual good time, and the two of us felt refreshed in the way a proper vacation should, with maybe a bit extra. We had a lot of momentum and enthusiasm. Life felt worth living.

As some of you who read this on a regular basis, you know I began the year with health-related issues centering on my deteriorating back, with the year before leaving me in the worst condition yet. I metered my abilities and worked toward the big wedding day as best I could, and I did have a few setbacks. Once the ball was rolling, though, we busted ass. Mayhem Acres, rather neglected over the past few years because of my problems, became a beautiful garden once again, one that would've made my Mom proud. People who didn't attend the wedding who saw photos would wonder which park or resort we had used for our big day, and were astonished when we'd say it's our home. Those were words which made me smile every time. I've worked hard over the years, building this place from an overgrown vacant lot into a home where we can do whatever we want. Both of us vowed to be a lot more social/sociable and share in our good fortunes more often, inviting friends over for parties and other activities, as long as my health kept up.

I began making up for lost time by doing needed upgrades on the house, with a number of renovations, from a new front door and entryway, to new kitchen lighting, home automation, enterprise-grade networking, security and alarm systems and a number of other bit meant for making life easier and more comfortable in the future. Jeff decided it was time for a new car, and he got himself a nice Subaru Forester with all the goodies. This has been perfect for extended trips needing a lot of room as well as good gas mileage. I indulged my geeky kid side with a quadrotor drone and some other toys because I deserved it. Life was pretty damn good.

As that old saying goes, everything good must come to an end. Or, in my life these days, I can only get so far before my degenerative disc disease rears its ugly head once again and shuts me down in my tracks. In September, much like last year, I went from flying high to once again hunched over in lots of pain, unable to move without a cane, and in need of nasty painkillers to survive. I began the usual easy treatments with no success, then had the corticosteroid injections in my back before the holidays. This left me slightly better off, but still unable to get far without the cane, and with continuing atrophy in my legs making me weaker with every passing week. I guess I am used to this, I lived each day in a slow fog, with few accomplishments. It was also looking like I just might make it though the holidays without getting my usual cold/bug/flu/seasonal malady, but right before Xmas the two of us got a nasty lower GI bug, with mine being outright nasty. We made it past the worst of it by Christmas day, but our original dinner plans of a nice ham and trimmings with other goodies gave way to frozen French bread pizzas, potato chips and holiday cookies for dessert. Christmas day itself was almost surreal for me, after waking up I meandered into the living room and stayed there the entire day. We exchanged gifts we said we didn't want but we got anyway, we managed our little dinner after a week of gastrointestinal apocalypse, and the day closed with the ISS making an appearance in the night sky above the house. I stood outside, watching the flyover for the first time, smiling and misty-eyed, waving at the little dot fading over the horizon as it helped carry my hopes and dreams given to me as a kid with my love of science at a very early age.

Last night we wondered about what to eat, and I told Jeff I was in the mood for lasagna, though we had nothing of the sort, nor the wherewithal to make it after Jeff's long day at work, so we decided to get take-away from our local favorite Italian place. I should've known that thing were not quite on track, as it took Jeff longer than expected to return with the food. Apparently they messed up our order, gave part of it to someone else, then Jeff finally returned home exasperated with our dinner, minus some. That experience alone was making us rethink our patronage, but it wasn't until we sat down and I began eating the lasagna that the other shoe dropped. My lasagna was bad. Not improperly cooked, but spoiled. Like most restaurants, certain dishes are made ahead of time and refrigerated, and cooked when ordered. Well, apparently my lasagna carryout was made about a month and a half ago, and when I got far enough into it, my stomach turned. I endured another night of intestinal distress as a result. I've still not fully recovered.

I've had a lot of ups and downs in the past few years, and despite the setbacks this year, this one was overwhelmingly positive. The first week in January I will head back to the doc once again, for a second booster shot in my spine. As had happened with a setback in May that had me crawling back to the doc for those frighteningly long needles in my back, the second time did the charm, so I am hoping this time the double shot does the trick. I know my time hiding from the knife is fading, and one of these days I have to decide if I want to fuse my back with plates and screws giving me permanent limitations for the rest of my life is the thing to do, or keep going as I have been, hoping for the best. The other thing is the ultimate realization that I can no longer function as I have for my first 50-some years, and finally apply for disability assistance. My savings are running thin, and I'm too far away from collecting my pension. My ego keeps me from doing this, because, despite knowing and being told differently, I feel this is giving up. I've been too independent in my years, and I am used to doing things my way, on my own terms, to build and maintain my existence. Mom and I were practically dirt poor, and I did my best to use all my abilities to change that completely. Those abilities did well for me, Mom, Jeff and many others through the years, and I hate seeing them fade. I'm hoping this new year brings some surprises of the pleasant type rather than an early gateway into assisted living.

May you all have a fantastic 2015!
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.

*sigh*
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)
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: (old graybeard)
I've been laying low these past several weeks as far as social media and socializing. Part of the reason is I've been busy, or at least trying to be, with everything from work on the house, cars, tractors, yard, and whatever my body allows me, as I play catch-up. The other, more sinister reason is I have basically been detoxing. It's nearly a year since I was beset with my last round of serious back injuries, with this bout being far worse than any of the previous, inasmuch as pain levels, discomfort, disability and recovery time qualify. I'm still nowhere near 100%, and, unfortunately, I shall never be, not even close. However, I am able to more or less fake a normal lifestyle from an outsider's perspective, getting out and about, taking trips, even a nice vacation. As it usually is with trying to maintain a facade, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. None of this has been accomplished without some residual levels of pain, and while I can suck it up and make do, there comes a time, usually later in the day, or, mostly, evenings when I am getting ready to hit the sack where getting comfortable was impossible without chemical assistance. Every trip to the various doctors, surgeons and physicians that had their hands and tools on or inside me gave me scrips for heavy duty painkillers and other goodies, often at my behest. This was needed because, without the strong stuff, my ability to get anything resembling quality sleep was near zero, and my disposition wasn't doing anyone any favors either. Nothing over-the-counter would give relief. So, for the past three seasons, give or take, and out of sheer necessity, I was locked into using a set of narcotic substances I really didn't like taking.

'Tis true that I finally had relief and comfort, and sometimes it was a warm, floaty, stoner sort that was far from unpleasant. In my mind, though, I would constantly grouse against a backdrop of pain ranging from mildly irritating to beyond excruciating. The side effects were few, but sometimes ugly. My mental state, if it were to take a roller coaster form, would injure and maim a lot of the riders. I lived in my own world of quiet despair, mostly unbeknownst to those around me, even Jeff. I tried my best to keep the worst of it outside out family life, but I had my moments where it was best I remained alone. A few times I sent Jeff alone, or with one of the pooches on the trips up north to visit family that we would normally go together. My mental state would often make me angry, as I would totally lose my train of thought in mid sentence, or my mind would completely blank out and fail to come up with the right word, or, worst yet, I would become a stuttering, incoherent mess when I had to think and talk at the same time. I normally pride myself for being able to multitask and think fast and well on my feet. Unfortunately, during these foggy mindtimes were were beginning to lay some of our most important plans ever, the marriage, the preparations before, vacations, renovations, and lots of other intensive thinking was needed, and, especially in the beginning of the year, I was in no condition to handle it all at my normal pace. I knew the painkillers and other stuff were the main cause, and peripherally my inability to get proper sleep made for the one-two punch. I knew, for our sake, I needed to get myself off these meds and back to my normal self. Cold turkey was not possible as you might expect. I weighed my pain and discomfort levels as the summer approached and adjusted dosages in order to get so much of the hard work done yet be able to get good rest and still not turn into a blithering, blathering idiot anytime I processing more than two thoughts at a time. I/we made it through the wedding plans and prep without too much issue, though Jeff was at times frustrated at my slowness and lacking input on certain things. As impossible as it seemed at the time, so much of the big event went off flawlessly and with many added surprises as I had written of earlier. We had our vacation as well, and, luckily, time had come where I figured I could deal with my daily levels of pain and I can now ramp my intake of the hard stuff to zero. If only things were so easily done...

After taking less and smaller doses over a period of a few weeks, I finally stopped. Life was actually quite good, so to speak. I did have my days where I would be hurting from exertion, and, with maybe an Advil or two, I could mostly live with it. The problem came when it was time to head to bed. As I would begin to nod off, that's when the racket would begin. Rather than it being loud neighbors or dogs barking, this was all inside my head, or body, as it were. I would get restless and uncomfortable, hot and cold and totally unable to drop to actual sleep levels. Earlier I found a fractional dose of the hard stuff would put things right and I was off to the land of Nod like nobody's business. But even this was more than I wanted to deal with and the cycle needed to be broken for good. So, for the past three or four weeks, I endured the on-again, off-again battle of the bed, trying my damnedest to run the gauntlet of nerves bent on anarchy on my way to sleep. Once this would happen, I was fine as frog hair. The next day was refreshingly normal, albeit at times with soreness and discomfort for the ordeal the night before.

I could get through this!

I did have a side effect, one that seemed to make me irritable around people. Even if thing were going well, I had this slow burn of aggravations running underneath it all, but that was simply my greater personality being amplified, and I knew the best thing to do was lose myself in my thoughts and tasks as I have always, and hope that I could break out of it all without much difficulty. I'm pretty proud to say that this challenge has been accepted and my goal has been achieved. I can make it through the entire day taking nothing but one unrelated prescription pill a day and nothing else. If I am hurting, I can take a break, or if that doesn't work, I pop a Naprosen and ride it out. Sleep is an occasional issue, with the nerve problems caused by my first surgery and the electrical storm below the knees a permanent feature now. The hair on my lower legs is still missing from the kicking and rubbing them together constantly when detoxing. I use a TENS unit when it's bad, otherwise, as they say down under, Bob's your uncle.

So, there's been a lot going on, and I had not been in a mood to write about it. As i kick the blast doors open which protected me from the world at large (and, more importantly, vice-versa), along with support from others, I hope to be back to my old, gregarious self. Concerts and shows will be attended, ball games enjoyed, parties gone to and maybe hosted, seeing people and making new friends, it's all been happening and will happen soon. I finally ordered up the new entrance door to La Casa, a new car for Jeff has been bought, lots of normal activities take place like, well, normal. And the happiness and security that all comes with is the best medicine I could ever have.
greatbear: (forearms)
Jeff came home early Thursday for a doctor's visit, the last few days he's been having mild flu-like symptoms. We made a trip together to the doc and tests seem to indicate it is viral in nature, so it is mostly a rest and wait it out situation. I went with him to see if there was anything I could help with at home, and to get an idea what it was, since chances are good I would get it too. I've been battling a form of exhaustion for a few days too, I can only do so much before I need to take a nap. Problem is, I sleep and nap during the day and by night time my body clock on its graveyard shift time zone keeps me awake. So, when Jeff along with By-Tor and the Snow Dog head to bed, I head into my little lab and fix stuff. This time I tackled my failing Dell 30" display. After a half hour of thermal testing the display lamp driver board I narrowed the trouble to what seemed like bad soldering in a 1 square inch section of the board. There is about three dozen components about the size of sesame seeds in that space, and out came the tiny iron and other tools I have for such work, including the 3.5-90x stereoscopic microscope I got for such things. After more thermal stress testing after the repair with good luck, I threw it back together and am now using it while creating this entry. I hope it holds out, I absolutely love this display, but I relegated it to lab bench PC duties. The irony here is the particular computer and display is connected to the aforementioned microscope. I could've had a nice panoramic view of the board on the display it it weren't the one in pieces under the scope!

Our latest pup, Snickles, aka By-Tor mentioned above, had his first day of doggie school this evening. He had fun, and seemed to react well. He's finally growing out of his puppy-ish stages and has become a very loyal companion for the two of us. He needs to learn some discipline for his (and our) sake, and I think with some "official" training he will be a model pooch. Kodi did well in his schooling about 7 years ago, and I am hoping for the same results with Da Snick.

Jeff is very close to buying a new vehicle. His '00 Chevy S-10 has been decent for these fourteen years, but it's getting long in the tooth at over 185,000 miles, and given the fact that I have two trucks as it is, he's in the market for a wagon/small SUV sort of ride that gets decent mileage, can haul stuff as well as people and will be reliable. So far he's narrowed it down to the new Jeep Cherokee, the Subaru Outback, and the Subie Forester. Friday we are going to kick tires and take test drives. Hopefully this will be with as few hassles as possible. I had a decent time with my last vehicle purchase once the dealer was finally able to get the model I had settled on to the lot.

I'm happy to see some more old, familiar faces showing back up here in LJ-Land. The more I sit here and take the time for a "real" entry as opposed to a handful of words scooped up and thrown at Facebook, the better I feel about "socializing" online. I see usernames in my friends list of people who have cast off this mortal coil and are no longer with us. Those names seem like pictures hanging on a wall, and their journals acting as memorials as well as places to visit and remember the days gone by. None of the other popular "social media" behemoths have this. Nor do they have the control or accessibility of everyone's posts like LJ does. I think people are feeling this too, and while making entries here is a bit more work, it definitely pays us back in the depth of contact and interaction. Let's keep up the good work.

Well, the display has been performing like new as I've been writing this between other tasks and not flashing and shutting down like it had begun to do several months back. I wasn't about the scrap a thousand dollar display. These things are supposed to come with 3 year warranties, but I bought this from Newegg, and, disappointingly, it showed no warranty from Dell when I started the process. I've since reconsidered a lot of purchases from there, a shame, since I've generally had good luck over these many years. I hope my repair lasts until it somehow becomes obsolete, which I don't see happening for at least another ten years or more.

Cheers, everyone!
greatbear: (forearms)
(Caution: electronics geekery ahead, if that ain't yer bag, skip to your next post)

Planned obsolescence? It's alive and well, even if it wasn't intentional.

Once again, out of the blue, I notice that a speaker has gone bad, this time in a portable TV set. The little set has a pair of them, the right channel was dead.

This in the third speaker that has failed in the fashion, and I've had hard drives and a tiny DC motor fail in the same way rather recently. What do these all have in common? Magnets. Small permanent magnets. And in all these situations, the magnets were all "rare earth" neodymium magnets. I love me some neodymium magnets. Tiny, strong as shit, make so many things more efficient, lighter and more powerful, blah blah blah. In my latest repair job, I noticed my little 9" Panasonic combo TV/DVD player was missing the right channel (don't laugh, this tiny set, which I used to take camping, is the third most-watched set in the house, it sits atop my studio/AV workstation desk, along with a DTV converter box to make it usable). The right channel was a scratchy, low volume mess typical of a stuck voice coil. This time, I had a pretty good idea what was going on, as I had replaced two speakers in two completely unrelated radios with the same problem. It's not as if I was blaring these sets at full volume or otherwise misusing them, quite the opposite, in fact, these devices are taken good care of.

In all these units, the speakers resemble those old-school alnico magnet speakers you'd find in any one of a bazillion transistor radios from decades past. These have the advantage of having a small magnet structure that is self-shielding. But rather than the slug of alnico making up the magnet inside the cup, these speakers now use a neodymium disk magnet along with a similar-sized pole piece atop the magnet to concentrate the field in the gap. What look like cheap little speakers are instead rather efficient and make strong sound from rather small amplifiers. These speakers have decent power ratings for their size (the TV ones are rated 1W, the radios were 3W, all speakers from different makers were 3") and belt out reasonable sound for what they are. What seems to be the trouble with all this cheapass speaker goodness? Neodymium magnets have a coating, in most cases a shiny metallic silver nickel or ceramic coating. Typical strontium magnets, those dark grey disks sandwiched between two pole pieces, are almost never coated. The material is inert, after all. The neodymium material, which is actually an alloy of neodymium, boron and iron, pulverized into a fine powder and sintered (pressed together and heated with a bonding agent) corrodes easily when exposed to air. These magnets are sealed to prevent this from happening. Well, such is the case in a perfect world...

Apparently these magnets had little if no coating to seal out the air, and it didn't take long for these magnets to revert to their original pulverized metal components. The magnets literally turn to dust, filling the magnetic gap with magnetic powder and jamming the voice coils in place. Of course, the mushy remains of the magnet become unbonded from the structures and flop around in the gap as well, freezing the VC even tighter. Nothing looks wrong with the speaker from the outside. Cutting out the cone, spider and coil, and lifting out the remains of the magnets reveal all. The magnet resembles a half-dissolved metallic aspirin sitting in a puddle of water.



Another pic of the entire speaker taken apart )

I was able to root around in my stock of parts and find a decent pair of magnetically shielded 3" speakers to replace the ones in the television (though they just fit, being that the magnets were ten times the size of the originals) and everything worked out well and cheap (as in free), since I harvested the little speakers from a set of PC speakers I was discarding. I've also discovered it's damn near impossible to find these small commodity speakers that used to hand on the walls at the local Radio Shack for years until around 2000 or so. Even my usual parts suppliers don't bother with them anymore.

Think of all the stuff made with neodymium magnets these days. Anything with a hard drive. Many modern cordless power tools. Headphones, cell phones. anything with a motor, like DVD players. Motors like the starter in cars. You name it. This set is about ten years old, and the magnets died. In a couple cases where I had magnetic flashlights with these disk magnets, the coating became scratched and the magnet corroded in a matter of months.The dust is highly magnetic and can end up in places where it might not be wanted and difficult if not impossible to remove. Some older hard rives became unusable, and when I opened them up, the magnets were toast.

I have a feeling this is going to be a widespread problem. But, hey, since no one keeps anything beyond ten years anymore, it will just end up being tossed anyway. I'm not like that. In most cases, I keep stuff a long time, especially tools.

And you thought Juggalos had issues with magnets.
greatbear: (forearms)
Being a professional crastinator of epic proportions at times, I waited until the last minute to file my taxes, given that I have had to pay sizable amounts in the past since being off work and pulling funds from locked-away accounts. Because of some changes, plus the expensive surgeries and other medical bills from last year, I instead found I am getting a sizable refund. I would've so turned that shit in back in January had I known. That's a w00t.

I finished up more network cabling and installed the super-duper wi-fi access point tonight after climbing about in the attic, lifting the floor up there to run the remaining cabling (the AP needs two Cat6 runs just for it's own bandwidth) and it is now in place with the potential for gigabit-plus speeds wirelessly. That's a w00t.

Jeff and I had a nice steak dinner tonight. So far, my tummy troubles of late have eased enough for me to enjoy a meal with some substantial red meat for a change. That's a w00t.

The weather looks to be on track to be nice enough to finally get some work done outside. I got yard work to continue with, plus the usual springtime maintenance of the vehicle fleet and outdoor equipment, and a heavily laden trip to the landfill/recycling center that was put off since before last September. That's a w00t.

The aforementioned tax refund will be put toward the new front door and entryway renovation/upgrade, plus a business class color laser printer/copier/scanner/fax, as well as costs for the upcoming wedding. I hope my back and general health hold out. I guess that's a w00t too.
greatbear: (old graybeard)
Earlier in the week I pulled the plug on my LJ. I had mostly run out of uses for this, and, to be honest, no longer felt the need to have an outlet for what I would call "personal" matters and discussion with the internet in general. It has been about 20 years (!) since I had ventured out onto the internet in a personal capacity, rather than a technical/professional way for work reasons. It took a lot of courage on my part to make that change, and it wasn't long before I was pouring my heart into online interactions, making literally hundreds of friends along the way, even enjoying a bit of both figurative and literal rock star status along the way. I soon learned that much of this was fleeting, with the vast majority of people eventually moving on, leaving what I thought was some incredible friendships, relationships and great causes to founder and die. Perhaps it was the value I had placed in these relationships, or my investment in them, emotionally, mentally and physically, that left me not only disappointed but also feeling left behind once they had evaporated. It took a while, because for the 32 years prior I had been very much a loner until that time, but I learned to reconsider the experience as more of a crucible, or distillery that helped to separate out the fleeting and leaving the best behind. Maybe more like how maple syrup is made I suppose, where it takes a great deal of sap to be carefully boiled until the sweet syrup remains. What came out of these hundreds of fun (for the most part) interactions and countless good (with a bit of bad) memories is a sparkling core of truly great friends, that to this day still amaze me with some of their actions. I sought to leave my online world as I had formed to to simply concentrate on the product from it. After a couple days (I bet you didn't even notice) I switched this back on, not so much as a continuing place for me to pile my thoughts, but for the few remaining people I know and love who remain here. Without my LJ being active, I had no way to interact with y'all. My analogy is this is like a small town of bygone days where people would run into one another while out and about, or take the time to walk from house to house to say hello and talk over the fence. I guess I can't board up my place yet still remain neighborly, given how this system is set up.

This is not the Livejournal I set up shop in over ten years ago. Like so many other online "spaces" in the past, what began for me as a thriving community has become rather barren. Those who remain, however, and still making great use of the medium, and maintaining fantastic connections. What skeeves me these days is the reduction in quality of the service, the politics of the Russian owners and general disregard for the stateside users that really made the community what it is. The latest technical hell here is the never completing page loads. Sure, the pages seem to render properly and mostly stuff works, but some connections never complete, with the page loading indicator spinning away. This is often a sign of bad server configurations, and sometimes of a more dangerous nature, with open connections lying in wait for malware or other bad mojo. This has been going on for a few weeks now on my end, regardless of what computer or connection I access the site with. Aargh. Oh well, the neighborhood falls apart even more, the landowners letting the place fall apart around the remaining denizens.

I will keep my door open for a little while longer, I guess, at least until the wedding and a bit after. Then, well, we'll see. These days I am busy with as much as my day can hold, trying to get the house and yard fixed up, putting the final touches on a huge network upgrade to accommodate new home security and automation now and be usable into the foreseeable future. La Casa Mayhem is my only true home, I built it with my hands as well as a lot of outside help, and I plan on living the rest of my years here. As my health has taken several downturns in recent years, I now have a sense of urgency to get lots of things done while I am still able to do them in order to be able to have some years later to relax and simply enjoy the spoils of all that labor and thought. I am lucky to be able to (sometimes barely) be able to get around, and I am measuring my time wisely. With the wedding coming up in less three months (!) now, I gotta kick it into high gear. I am overlapping projects to my best advantage. I will be redoing the entryway to the house, with a new front door, paint, floor, lighting, landscaping, and more. I am sitting here configuring and testing security cameras I will be installing while I crawl around doing these other upgrades. Several hundred more feet of network cabling has to be installed too, and I am pleased with how this all is shaping up. In the spirit of the days past, here's a photo of the goings-on as I test one of the cameras down in the Underground Concrete Bunker before I finally get it put where it belongs on the outside.



I just hope my creaky old body holds up as I do all this work, if not, I am truly screwed. Our little wedding is shaping up to be a big deal. Certainly it's the most important day of my life in decades. I can only hope all turns out as we are working and planning it out to be.

Seeyas 'round.
greatbear: (forearms)
You might've noticed a bit of quiet around here. This is mostly because I've still being Mr. Crankypants due to an ongoing cold-like thing that both Jeff and I have shared in. Jeff got it first (he probably got it as a free gift from the hospital) and I got the BOGO deal a bit later. Needless to say, days since last week have been a coughy, phlegmy, hacky joyfest, and the absolutely bipolar Maryland weather isn't helping either. Last weekend was nice, practically t-shirt 'n' jeans-like. Monday I awoke to a foot of snow. I grumbled out of bed, opened the door to let By-Tor and the Snow Dog outside to make yellow snow, snapped a couple front door glamor shots of the snow (it was very pretty), then slammed the door on the outside world once the dogs returned. I was in no mood to go and deal with the stuff, and I knew it would be short-lived anyway. With no help from me, by Wednesday afternoon the snow had practically vanished and the more typical March weather had returned. Me and the pooches enjoyed a nice long walk that we hadn't had in a few days and were better off because of it. Today Jeff had come home early due to rejiggering his schedules and we took the time to do some shopping and get some lunch at the Columbia Mall ("Mass-murder free for 53 days!") and run some needed errands. He has to work for some time on Saturday, and possibly next weekend as well, but we can deal with that for the most part. We are moving ahead with wedding plans and prep as well, and both of us are getting excited as the day approaches.

I am almost finished with the computer/network overhaul here, only a few hundred more feet of cable needs to be run as I am able to wrangle my assistant into visiting. The most difficult parts, running cat-6 cabling from the Mayhem Bunker into the attic (two runs) and several runs along with some RG6 and wiring for the security/home automation through the underground conduits to the garage remain, and I hope to get these done sooner rather than later. The garage wiring runs were put off since my initial back issues and surgery in 2010. I have all the supplies, the switch and other sundries needed for the job, I just need a bit of warmer weather and an extra pair of hands. I am hoping the conduit is not broken or flooded. It currently has old phone lines which are still in use and the remains of the original thin-net LAN I set up about 25 years ago that were abandoned once I switched to Fast Ethernet in the house. I just want to finally finish this project so I can completely forget about it for about the next ten or fifteen years. Only some hardware needs to be changed over to upgrade the mess to 10GBEthernet, and beyond that I don't see too much of a need for much more bandwidth in the foreseeable future. I laid enough cabling from various points in the house to be able to trunk them together for higher bandwidth, and the big Synology NAS is already using four cables to hook into the backbone, with four for the main server, two for the small server, and two each for two workstations so far, with more planned. La Casa has intranet bandwidth that rivals what I had when I worked for Northrop Grumman by far.

Another reason I want this computer crap over and done with is because spring is when I turn my attention outdoors. I have a shit-tonne of work to do in the yard as well as some house repairs I need to finish before the wedding. I got sidelined and didn't do a damn lick of any work needed outside since last September, and that includes cleaning up a huge toppled tree taken down during Sandy, lots of general cleaning, and finally erecting the greenhouse in the garden that has otherwise been hogging up space in the garage with all its parts. La Casa will have a new entryway and lots of other goodies. I need to pressure-wash the gazebo as well as apply some stain/sealer to make it look spiffy, since that's where the actual ceremony will be taking place. I hope I can get all of this done. In the middle of all of this, I still have unfinished work on the vehicle fleet, serious cleaning up of the garage, yard beautification, the veggie garden, etc, etc. I sincerely hope I don't have any more health/physical troubles in the meantime, or I will be seriously fucked and moody, not the sort that anyone would want to marry.

Finally, the wedding. If you are reading this and want to be a part of the festivities, which are shaping up to be totes awesomesauce, btw, drop me a line with your mailing addy, and I will send out one of the truly neat invitations we had made up. I want to share my happiness with all my friends.
greatbear: (forearms)
Every coupla months Jeff has to work on a weekend as a manager on duty (at an Adventist hospital in the food service/nutritional specialties department, this is where the food for both the patients and employees/visitors is made. Plus I get to poke fun at Jesus on (their) sabbath. :-) My Sabbath is the Ozzy-Dio variety). While it does muck up the weekends, it can be a plus, as he gets to select the days off to compensate in many cases. He was home on Friday, and went in today and will head in on Sunday. Every now and then I will take a trip and join him for lunch. This time, after eating, he put me to work! I made up cost analysis spreadsheets, helped count money, looked into repairing some very expensive chafing dishes... I felt like a cross between a secretary and handyman. Working on my Saturday even. I didn't mind a bit. It got me outta the house for several hours, the ride was nice, and I finished up the trip with a visit to Home Depot.

Now I get to put more work into the major network overhaul here at La Casa Mayhem.
greatbear: (jeff and me)
Sometimes life throws you some lemons.

We didn't make any plans for Valentine's Day. We rarely do, and in those rare occasions where we do, it usually is a quiet night at home. Not worth trying to find a restaurant with the crowds and bustle, etc.. For this year, it was just as well we didn't plan anything, after all, there was the nasty storm that lasted for two days, dumping over a foot of snow on us and forcing Jeff to take up residence at a hotel for two nights close to work because he is essential personnel. I waited until today to tackle literally tons of wet snow, made worse by the rainy, sleety intermission yesterday afternoon between two furious acts of crystalline white horror. The dogs as well as myself suffering a bit of cabin fever as well as missing the major component that makes our little unconventional (yet still totally valid) family a complete, happy unit.

It then appeared things weren't so bad after all.

The weather today was bright and sunny, and, especially considering the snow situation, downright warm. So warm in fact, were it not for the blowback from the snowblower, I could've quite comfortably cleared all the snow in my t-shirt and jeans. I let the dogs out, who had lots of fun running, chasing and carousing in the snow. I dispatched all of the snow from the driveways and the walks, along with some paths from the house, garage and woodshed, saving the three foot high snowbank left by the plowing of the street for last, a means to keep the dogs corralled. As I was just finishing up, I ran over a branch that was hidden in the snow that jammed the augers and broke a shear pin. I was essentially stuck, with about eight feet or so of snow to get through till my freedom, but instead I had to jostle and wrestle the 350 pound machine manually through the snow. I made it, putting the machine in the garage and assessing the damage. I couldn't remember where I put the spare pins (these are made to break in cases just like this, it save the transmission in the machine from damage, instead breaking a sacrificial, two dollar pin). I head back into the house to take off my wet clothes and finally get something to eat, and the phone rang. It was Jeff, coming home early from work. Perfect timing, I got the driveways and walks cleared for his safe arrival. I greet him at his truck in my underwear (he practically dared me) where he surprised me with a beautiful flower arrangement. Picture a man wearing a t-shirt and tighty-whities standing amongst a foot or more or rapidly melting snow trying best not to cry and failing. That was me.

We talked about what to do this evening. I needed to go and get parts for the snowblower (there's potential for even more snow). He needed to take his clothes to the cleaner in order to have them ready Saturday. There are restaurants not far from the Home Depot. It's not even four o'clock yet. Bingo! Honey, I'm taking you out for Valentine's Day dinner. And off we went.

My mother used to always say to me through the years, "Things have a way of working out." Well, today was a perfect example of just that. An interesting convergence of seemingly unrelated events major and minor. Circumstances that aligned just right to make for a very pleasant, surprising outcome. I got my parts, we had a nice dinner, and got back with plenty of time to avoid the traffic, crowds and whatnot and still enjoyed our quiet night at home.

Life tossed a few nice, ripe lemons our way. But it made for some rather sweet lemonade after all. Or perhaps lemon snowcones, as the case may be.
greatbear: (me and mom)
Today would've been Mom's 88th birthday. While time has indeed soften the edge of loss, it doesn't take a lot to bring me into that sad, cold feeling of loss. The first half of this month, in fact, once a personal period of happiness in our tiny family, with my birthday, then hers, topping off with Valentine's Day by simple fact that Valentine was Mom's first name (it's pronounced "Valentina," but an error in translation/spelling when she came to the states in the early 50s made the unique spelling stick, not such a bad thing really) makes a good excuse to have another celebration day. After all, I get Groundhog Day by dint of sharing my first name with a certain weather prognosticating furrball in Pennsyltucky, so why not make cozy wintertime hay with it? As one might expect, coupling these days of yore and the pleasant memories they had entailed with the remaining cold, grey winter and my disabilities and pain puts me into a bit of a funk. I try my best to push on, remembering all the good stuff, quietly playing records I haven't spun in decades, surrounding myself with the two little pooches who obviously sense something, and waiting till Jeff gets home. We went out for a nice little dinner at a local place, and some more minor parts had arrived while we were out that pertain to the IT infrastructure at Mayhem Acres, so while Jeff studies for a seminar tomorrow, I am down in the bowels of electronic underpinnings of La Casa putting the final touches on a new server, listening to obscure prog rock and classical and trying to keep myself composed. It's all I really can do these days, as Spring slowly arrives in six more weeks, more attention will be focused on some very important changes here and the frigid grey funk a memory.

I lost Mom nearly 8 years ago, but her birthday will always be a special day for me. I celebrate with her spirit that lives on around me.
greatbear: (forearms)
As most of you who read my posts know, I have been dealing with serious, debilitating back issues for several years, the latest episode starting last September. As a result, I can't do most of the things I am able to do. This has me falling behind in house repairs and projects, for one. I just can't do these things, or it's now a long, often painful process. Imagine my utter frustration while taking a shower Monday night and finding the water backing up around my feet. Then finding the toilets completely backing up too. The "old" (read: young, able) me would've simply jumped right in, pulling up toilets or cutting pipes in order to get rid of the blockage. No can do, so I called on a plumber (never did that before, unless I was subcontracting them for a job) on Tuesday, which didn't show until today. I was a tad skeeved at this, but as long as he could do the job, I didn't care. Besides, I was holding it in for a couple days now. Imagine my dismay when the plumber dispatches a guy that has similar back issues as I am currently dealing with. The two of us were hobbling like two broken old men (though he was considerably younger than me) surveying the problem and what to do. I even did the work of disconnecting and removing the toilet to help out, he machine-snaked the drain, clearing the blockage and we were done in a little over an hour. He was barely making it back out to his truck with his supplies. Me being me, I felt bad for the scrawny guy, as I was bracing my own broken body against the door as I let him out.

Irony is so much interwoven with my life, I should open up a foundry business.
greatbear: (forearms)
Trying to make the best of my unwilling homebody-ness, I've taken the opportunity to do some upgrading of my implements of computing and music, and in this case, there's a lot of overlap. Last year I replaced the troublesome Onkyo receiver with, well, another Onkyo. I have to admit that the company treated me well, repairing the unit twice well outside of warranty at no cost to me. If I had to do it, it would've needed a board that costs about a grand. I got the latest model (TX-NR5010) because it fit a bit better into the overall use I wanted for the home theater, and the old 5007 will become the center of a second system downstairs. All I need to do is haul away a metric cubic shit-tonne of junk down there and reclaim the space. The studio setup got its final upgrade with the Mackie monitors and audio controller. That was years in the making, and I decided it was time to finish it off and begin making the best use of the equipment. A lot of time and a fair amount of money sent on the enjoyment of music. If it seems a bit sudden it's because I honestly feel I don't have many good years left to truly enjoy music as I know it. My hearing is slowly failing, and apparently as my body falls apart in other ways, the treatments for those ailments have a nasty side effect on my hearing. So, rather than suffer in silence, I will keep listening until I can no longer listen. I might go deaf next week, or it will be several years, but that part of my life will apparently have a soundtrack. In addition to satisfying my urges as a long-time audiophile and a (sadly, lapsed) musician by doing this at the homestead, Jeff and I will continue to head off to concerts, shows, performances of all sorts. It is so good for the soul, after all.

I've also taken on the needed upgrades for some of the computers and especially the rather involved network that ties it all together. A few years ago the LAN got upgraded to gigabit ethernet in order to handle the high-definition video and audio flying around the cables, and I eventually began running into problems as to where to keep all this digital goodness. I demoted my main server to file server duties, and today installed a Synology 8-bay NAS to handle both the backing up of the various PCs on the network as well as the main repository of the various media. I threw a pair of 4TB drives in it to start with, and it's running nicely. The NAS has a total of 4 gigabit LAN ports that can be aggregated for a fourfold increase in throughput. The main file server as well as my monster Xeon workstation have paired LAN ports, and I need to add another switch eventually to handle all the cables. I knew I should've gotten more than a 24-port switch. I will get another, similar switch and heap all the high-bandwidth stuff on it, and team two or three ports between switches as a trunk to handle the traffic. It should be able to handle 4K video without trouble. Beyond that, I doubt if I will need much more. Unless the thing becomes sentient and starts making demands, that is.

This weekend is special here in the Land o' Mayhem, and I'm gonna be a happy chappy with having a 4-day weekend with Jeff. It's Groundhog Day, after all, and we do some celebrating. I hope to make the best of it.

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greatbear: (Default)
Phil

December 2016

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