The Beach

This past weekend, a friend, Virginia, and her daughter, Lucia, visited from Akron, Ohio. I know Virginia from Toledo because we used to work together. Our families would get together periodically for dinner or go bowling/mini-golfing/etc.

Virginia and I planned on having them come to visit us back in February.

Friday night, around 9pm, I get a call.

“I think I just passed the place I was supopsed to get off… but the exit number didn’t match up.”

Turns out she had most likely misread one of the signs and was still coming the right way. About another hour later, she called again.

“Ok, I’m on the road that runs in front of your apartments, where do I turn?”

So, I go outside with a flashlight to guide them in. As I open the door, a little wet frog jumps in, bouncing off my leg. Did you know it’s hard to continue a conversation with a wet, cold, slimey frog jumping around at your ankles?

“Uhhh… you wanna… yuck…. uhhh…. turn at the….. uhhhh….ummm…..uhhhhh… at the……uhhh…..”

As bad as I am with directions, that’s pretty much what it would sound like anyway, even without the frog.

She managed to find the place and Lucia, now eight years old and looking much bigger to me than the last time I saw her, climbed out of their SUV and said, “I think I’m ready to go to bed.”

No kidding. After five or six hours of riding in the back seat, I would be too…. sleepy and having to pee like a race horse. (What does that phrase really mean, anyway?)

After about an hour of catching up, we all went to bed and looked forward to a day of fun in the sun. We were all smiles… all but one of us: Lenny, our cat. He was hiding under our bed because a child had entered our home.

Saturday came and fun we had. Natalie packed some super-yummy sandwiches and fresh mixed fruit consisting of grapes, apples, pineapple and watermelon.

It was an incredible day: warm with a slight breeze, bright and oh-so sunny!

We stopped at the local Toys R Us for some sand toys and headed off to the beach with our cooler, filled with wonderful eats.

Once there, we found a spot, parked ourselves and watched Lucia as she skipped around in the water. I’ve found that kids lack the ability to sense temperature when water is involved. 65-degree water is not something that I am willing to subject myself to, but Lucia jumped in and swam around like it was a relaxing hot-tub. Her actions were compelling, so I kicked off my sandals and stepped in.

Upon stepping into the water, my body, which was sufficiently toasty and warm, was immediately shocked into the reality that this water was not fit for human enjoyment. It was evident by a number of things:

My already-skinny body became even skinnier; my back arched; and my toes, which are normally all facing forward, shot out like a starfish as if they were trying to evacuate the foot, controlled by a mind that was obviously not fit to be in control.

I stiffly walked back to our beach towels and sat down as the warm sun beat down on my body, returning my feet, now with opposable thumbs, back to normal.

A few moments later, we broke out the food and enjoyed the lunch that Natalie had packed. I had gone back to the vending area to purchase some bottles of lemonade for everyone. Generally, a bottle of lemonade runs around 75 cents… maybe even a dollar. At the beach, they know you’re going to be thirsty and charge you accordingly. I paid $6 for four bottles of lemonade that day.

$6 for four little drinks sounds a bit steep, but in light of things, $6 for four people and a day in the sun isn’t all that bad.

After eating, we grabbed our sand-toys and ran to the water ledge to begin our sand-castle masterpeice.

Minutes into it, it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing. My laziness took over as I analyzed the situation. I saw the others digging up wet sand to build the castle. In my mind, Water + Sand = wet sand. However, Digging = work. There’s got to be an easier way.

Idea: I’ll fill the bucket with about a quarter of water from the beach, risking the cold water actually touching my body, and then just fill the top of the bucket with dry sand, which is easily skimmed off the surface of the beach. No digging necessary, but I still get wet sand. I’m a genius.

Well, as most of you know by now, whenever I say, “I’m a genius,” it means that somewhere, my plan fails miserably and once again I am taught a lesson in humility. Such was the case with my wet-sand effort.

I took my pail of mud and dumped it right in the middle of our sand castle in an attempt to create a huge center-column. The end-result resembled more of a…. well, “disaster” is probably the best word to describe it.

After much chastizing and glares from the others, including Lucia, I began digging and we ended up building a pretty respectable sand-castle.

As soon as we were done, we adults went back to the comfort of our warm beach towels and let Lucia continue to play in the sand/water.

People would walk by and see our impressive-looking monument and then look at Lucia, eyebrows raised.

It was pretty entertaining.

What was not entertaining was realizing at the end of the day that I, being of Chinese descent and having never sun-burned in my life, probably SHOULD have worn sun-tan lotion like everyone else.

Normally, when I’m out in the sun too long, my skin turns a little pink, then the pink becomes a nice brown tan, and everyone envies me and my genes.

In this case, my pink became red, then my red became painful and I envied everyone else’s forethought for having put sun-tan lotion on.

Eventually, the weekend came to a close, and Virginia and Lucia were packed and ready to go home. Predictably (and understandably), Lucia was sulky about having to leave after having such a good time playing games, enjoying the beach and Natalie’s famous cooking all weekend.

To add insult to injury, Lucia’s stuffed rabbit, Limey, went missing. We all spent an additional 15 or 20 minutes to go through the house and find him, but alas, Limey was nowhere to be found.

We hugged and promised to send Limey when/if we found him and watched as Lucia and Virginia pulled away. Everyone had such a good time. I believe, if you had seen us all, you’d be able to see in our sad expressions that we’d all had a wonderful time together. Four frowny sad faces….

…and one happy smile. Lenny’s…. as he watched through the window as the company drove away. His weekend was finally about to begin.

Silicon Blues – Cont.

Well, as bad as things could have gone with setting up the new computer, they actually went worse.

Here’s a quick summary:

1.) Booted computer up on original install.
2.) Tried to install new video card – video card was AGP… motherboard only has PCI and PCIE slots
3.) Installed old Hard Drive into existing IDE ribbon to migrate data files from old computer – computer didn’t boot
4.) Bought new video card, installed card into open slot, removed old Hard Drive – computer didn’t boot
5.) Swapped video card and modem – computer didn’t boot
6.) Removed modem – computer didn’t boot
7.) Removed new video card (back to original configuration) – computer booted fine
8.) loaded software, updates and settings… didn’t know how I was going to migrate data
9.) Tried video card again – computer didn’t boot
10.) Put video card in modem’s slot – computer didn’t boot
11.) Took video card back out (back to original configuration) – computer didn’t boot
12.) Wiped drive and installed from Recover Disk with new video card in slot – computer BOOTED
13.) Gleefully installed video card drivers and updates
14.) Restarted computer several times to ensure that things were working properly
15.) Decided to install GoBack so I could mark this position in the installation process and come back to it – after installing GoBack, computer wouldn’t boot
16.) Disabled GoBack – computer booted, but Explorer crashed every time I tried to enter Control Panel
17.) Couldn’t uninstall GoBack… Installed Recovery Disk… clean wipe – Explorer still crashed when I tried to enter Control Panel
18.) Another clean wipe and Recovery – Explorer still crashed when entering Control Panel
19.) Complete HD long format
20.) Installed Windows XP from official XP disc
21.) Network/Sound drivers were not installed
22.) Installed second NetGear PCI Network card

Finally things are starting to look like they’re going to work properly. The only way I could think to effectively migrate the data was to plug in a cross-over cable from my old computer to my new one and copy the data directly to the new computer via network. I still have several hardware items in my system profile that are “unknown,” but they don’t appear to be breaking anything, I have the sound working and all the other components that I want to work appear to be working fine… I’m not going to bother with them. It always bugs me a little bit to have unkown hardware components loaded, but not enough this time to fool around with it and jeapardize the whole process again. There were a couple of other clean-wipes and OS installs in there, but I forgot when in the process they happened. In all, I installed XP 9 times over the weekend. I used up all of my license uses on a couple of my software packages which means in order to install them, I’ll probably have to call the software companies and wait on the phone to let them grace my installation activation and free up my license so I can install the software.

Another source of irritation is that my Gateway box doesn’t seem to have a valid Serial Number on it anywhere… this makes it extremely difficult to get adequate Gateway support. With a serial number, they can pinpoint my machine, create a profile, and give me all the drivers I need to get my machine working properly. Without it, I’m pretty much on my own.

In my first Silicon Blues post, I mentioned the whole dilemna of what to do with obsolete technology. Gateway has a trade-in/recycle program where you can get cash for your old stuff. Turns out, my old Pentium III 800 with 512 megs of RAM, DVD ROM and CDRW are worth $18. Whee.

Oh yeah. I got the Silicon Blues.

Silicon Blues

We recently ordered a new computer because the old one I have is about 4-5 years old. It’s a Pentium III 800 mhz with 384 megs of RAM and 80 gigs on two Hard Drives. Many of you are rolling your eyes, shaking your heads, tsk-ing at me and saying, “Paul Paul Paul.”

With as quickly as technology turns over, and me being in a technology field, my computer is well-overdue for a replacement.

I decided to find something that was really going to do the job, so I searched around online. Originally, I was going to get us a Dell. Quality parts; good customer service; the ones I’ve used in the past just last and last and last.

But I wound up with a Gateway. The computer I have now is a Gateway and while I’ve had to replace a couple of things on it that have gone bad, it’s been a really good computer over the past few years.

Here’s what I got:

Gateway 420GR Intel Pentium 4 2.93GHz / 512MB DDR / 160GB SATA HDD / DVD±RW Dual-Layer / CD-ROM / Flash Media Reader / 10/100Mbps LAN / Windows XP Home

To many of you, the above is nothing but a bunch of techno-geek-speak. Others of you are reading the above, nodding respectfully with satisfied frowns on your faces while thinking to yourself, “not bad. I wonder if he’ll install Linux on it in place of XP Home?”

I won’t.

For the rest of you who read the above and have no idea what any of it means, here’s a breakdown:
I bought a Gateway [pretty fast] / [half the memory I want, but still decent] / [enough storage space for games, movies and lots of music… also enough space for projects] / [a box with a drawer that will write DVD’s] / [a sad little box with a drawer that will only read and play CD’s but will probably be replaced] / [a number of little slots for downloading pictures from my digital camera] / [a hole where I’ll plug in a cable to let me surf the Internet] / [a pathetic program we’ve all come to hate]

Essentially, it was lacking two things that I really wanted in my computer: capabilities for dual monitor support and a gig or more of RAM. All the other specs met what I was looking for at a price just over $400. Sweet.

So, I went ahead and purchased a seperate video card (128 meg GeForce with dual VGA) and will probably upgrade the RAM later.

Buying a new computer is somewhat like buying a car. Everyone is pretty much on the same playing field. No matter how much you know about what you’re buying, there’s plenty that you still don’t know and a lot of potential for it to go wrong… that’s where warranties come in. It’s also why a lot of guys build their own from scratch.

I considered building mine, but I think I’ve had my fill of building computers. I used to build them when I was in college to earn money for books, food, and ‘going out’ money. Personally, I’m bored of it. If I can get one that’s already set up, configured, will work well and comes with the necessary software to re-install the OS and drivers without me having to do very much, I’m happy with it.

Computers are big, expensive toys. They play games, music, movies, view pictures, allow you to connect to other computers and other people. Getting a new computer is typically a pretty exciting thing… but not to me.

I’m looking at the prospect of opening the computer, turning it on to make sure it works, turning it off, unplugging everything, installing the new video card, downloading the new drivers, installing the drivers, checking everything out to make sure it all works and THEN I can begin the process of installing all my software packages (Office, Photosohp, Flash, Premier, audio and video conversion tools, codecs, capture software, mp3 device companions, media rippers, coding editors, Firefox, all the extensions for all the programs, the updates, and all the little programs like WinAmp, GAIM, ActiveSync, etc.), migrating over the data from the old computer and the tedious process of getting all the settings the way I like ’em for each program.

Yuck.

I’d love it if I could just copy everything from my old hard drive to the new one while I slept and it was done in the morning… no such luck.

Configuring a computer is sorta like trying to jog someone’s memory who is suffering from amnesia.

“Remember how I like my explorers to look? No? Remember how I like it to give me all the details, support double-click, show me the status, show all the files, and remember every folder’s settings seperately? No? *sigh*”

What we really need is a computer for lazy people.

What would that look like? I need a computer that I can buy that will have all the specs I want, need little or no installation and will autoamatically pull over all my settings, programs and data from my old system. It wouldn’t hurt if it did all my work for me too.

The computer for the lazy guy would be more like a pet. You bring home a new one and the old one gets jealous and starts trying to bug you for affection. Then, the new one sees what the old one is doing, mimics it, and tries to do all the same things to get you to love it more. They fight and the smartest/fastest/strongest one wins.

Instead, I’ll be stuck with an amnesia-stricken machine, requiring hours of attention to train into submission.

Why do they keep advancing technology? How many of us are REALLY all that excited about the newest and biggest? C’mon. Think about it. Every time you get get a new phone, you have to reprogram all the numbers into it (unless you get one of the ones that syncs all the data off your computer… and then you have to install the software, buy the right cable because it didn’t come with the one you needed, get more memory for the device so it’ll store all your records, figure out how to synchronize the data using a quick-start guide written in broken Engrish and then do it all again because a game you installed locks up the system and requires you to wipe the memory back to factory-issued standard… yes I’ve had those).

If you buy a new VCR, you have to figure out how to set the clock/channels or wait 48 hours for it to set itself.

A new tv? Have fun programming the remote to work with all your existing devices. There always seem to be 40 codes I have to program into the remote for my brand equipment, none of which work.

New DVD player? Where are you going to plug it in? All your A/V slots are taken up in your current configuration. Looks like you’ll have to go out and buy an A/V router switch to manage all your devices… then, several months later you’ll find it’s really inconvenient to have to get up off the couch to switch between DVD and DVR (another device that takes a good 4+ hours to get set up and learn). To solve that problem, you’ll have to go buy yet another router with intelligent switching capabilities that will auto-detect which device you want to use.

In the old days, people bought a tv, brought it in their home, plugged it in, and Jr. had to hold the rabbit ears while the family enjoyed Dick Van Dyke. No muss/no fuss.

It’s a vicious cycle.

We purchase these electronics, researching the best ones, reading the reviews to see which ones are ultimately the most robust/feature-rich/reliable… then, three or four years later, we’re wishing the one we bought would break, giving us the excuse to go buy the newest, sleekest model.

Many people think, “I’ll find out what’s the best, then back it off a notch or two and get something that’s middle-of-the-road.”

How many digital cameras have you been through? How much was the first one you bought and how many mega-pixels was it? I bet it was more expensive than the second one that had twice the resolution or more.

What do we do with the old ones? You certainly can’t get your money back out of ’em. Some of ’em get handed down to siblings or children while others simply get put in a box. Most people have a hard time just throwing them away because either they cost so much to begin with or there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the old one, it’s just not as good as the new one. It’s hard to justify pitching a perfectly good 35mm zoom camera with red-eye reduction just because you bought a 5 MegaPixel Digital one for this summer’s vacation.

I can’t tell you how many obsolete CD players, cameras, cell phones, routers, computer parts, computer speakers, keyboards and answering machines I have. We dumped a bunch of it in the last move, but it always feels like such a waste. For every one obsolete device, there’s always two or three cables and power adaptors to go with it. That makes for a pretty unsightly mess.

I wonder if Hollywood would be willing to buy ’em for props?

They oughtta come up some kind of deal where each item you drop off, working or not, you get few bucks off the next movie you go see.

“I got a new cell phone that has a PDA and GPS receiver built into it. It even plays MP3’s. I turned in 4 or 5 of my old devices that it replaced and it got my wife and me in to see Batman Bewildered for free on opening night.”

Maybe at Christmas, they could put a bin out next to the Toys for Tots: “Electronics for Elderly.”

I dunno.

Faith vs Fear

Good stuff today.
Fear and faith have one thing in common: they both look to the future and believe them to be reality.

Fear says, “I am in control and won’t be able to handle it.”
Faith says, “God is in control and will take care of it.”

The poo

Cats.

My cat, Lenny, is like a kid:

Always begging for a goodie
Behaving badly in front of company
Always wanting the attention
Self-centered about his toys

He even likes to be held like a baby.

Cats are just funny little creatures. Our cat is an inside cat. He’s only been outside one time in the 2 years we’ve owned him. He is the best inside cat I could ask for. He’s cuddly, comes when you call him, more loyal than most cats, enjoys spending time with us and doesn’t do a lot of the territorial or destructive stuff that male cats are known to do. We haven’t had many problems with hairballs with him, either. I think he hairballs maybe once every 3 or 4 months.

He does make a mess of our couches with his hair, but that’s why we have a Dyson.

A friend of mine, Max, just blogged about a his cat and the little treat his cat left for him. Apparently, his cat went out, killed a mouse, brought it back in, and left it on Max’s pillow. Anyway, it woke Max up pretty quick when he discovered it… probably something like the horror of finding a dead horse’ head in your bed… only on a much smaller scale.

So, this morning, I wake up to his whining, which is not an uncommon thing. Generally, he sits on the floor by our bed and either waits for me to get up, or cuddles up with me and falls asleep. This ritual happens anytime between 5:30-7:30 am.

This morning was different. He wasn’t in our room at all… and he wouldn’t come when I called him. Once my alarm went off, I got out of bed, went in the living room, and found him whining on the couch. It was really odd behavior for him, so I went over to pick him up and see what was the matter.

At first, he was just cuddly and loving, as always, but then I started to detect an odor… it smelled like a dirty diaper.

I thought, “oh no! Are you sick? Did you get into something bad? Why do you smell like this? Did you leave a poo somewhere?”

It would be very unusual for me to find a poo somewhere in our home, other than the cat box. Lenny has NEVER done his business anywhere but in his box.

So, I start talking to him, and he just keeps on lovin’ on me… and then I see it:

A huge 4-inch turd is stuck to his butt, hanging on by a hair. Upon more investigation, I notice there’s a mess of litter all over the utility room.

Apparently, he’d tried to do his business in the box, but his poo got stuck to him and was following him around, probably dangling and banging him in the butt as he walked around. Cursed by the lack of opposable thumbs, he was unable to do anything about it.

I like to entertain the notion that he must have known about it, been embarrassed and was trying to hide it from me. Further evidence of this is that once I found it and took care of it, he wouldn’t look at me for a little while.

Needless to say, since we don’t know when this happened or where he’s been since, we’ll be washing everything.

I’m just thankful that I didn’t have an experience like Max and find him in one of his other normal morning positions: sleeping on my pillow, just above my head, with a huge poo stuck to his butt.