Sunday, November 18, 2007

Upward Trending

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
I have to admit it's getting better
It's getting better since you've been mine.

Last night I took Jessica out to a Hoboken club, Maxwell's, to have dinner, and then see Eric Hutchinson perform. I discovered Eric Hutchinson when he opened for Joe Jackson at Town Hall last April. At first, Eric reminded me of John Mayer, then Steely Dan, then Stevie Wonder, and finally I gave up trying to categorize him and just accepted him on his own merits. He's funny, he's got clever lyrics, and the music is good. I've had a brief email exchange with Eric, and spoke to him last night after the concert as well - he seems to be a nice guy to boot, even with someone about twice the age of his average fan!

I'd arranged to have our babysitter arrive at the house at 5pm, and she didn't demand us home at a particular time, so we had no deadline, practically speaking. I don't remember the last time we got to go out for an evening, just the two of us, and didn't have to hurry home by a certain time. It was wonderful. Jessica isn't much of an Eric Hutchinson fan, but she was a good sport and let herself enjoy a few songs anyway.

Thursday evening, Nov. 7, our fairly new Sony VCR broke. The problem is mechanical - any tape inserted into the deck is eaten up. I haven't figured out how to repair the VCR, and it's no longer possible to buy a quality VCR, but the Saturday following the breakdown I managed to buy a low-end VCR for $10, from a lady who had posted a VCR-for-sale ad on Craigslist.

Come back to this just-completed week. Thursday evening, Nov. 14, our other VCR, a high-end JVC that I bought in the mid-90's, broke. This time around, the problem is electrical - no matter what button(s) is/are pressed, the VCR exhibits no response at all. It makes no noises, nothing mechanical moves, no motors spin, no lights turn on or off, nothing. The only way to know the unit is even plugged in is that, when plugged in, the clock displays. Well, yesterday I managed to buy another replacement VCR from a Craigslist ad, this one a JVC, slightly better than the Sharp I bought last week, for $20.

In the meantime, the two good but dead VCRs are sitting in a corner while I ponder what to do about them. It's likely I'm going to rebuild my MythTV system and give up on the VCRs.

In my previous post I mentioned a dead phone, in addition to the dead VCRs. This phone is a Motorola Disney Classic cordless phone. It's a neat little phone, but the keypad had pretty much died.

Well in 1982 Atari sold a system called the Atari 5200. The 5200 was my all-time favorite videogame system. I love it, and still play it occasionally. One enormous flaw with the 5200, though, was the controllers Atari provided with the system. These controllers were outstanding when they worked, but they very rarely worked properly. Atari had engineered a new technology to use for the buttons on the controllers. There were exposed contacts underneath each button. The bottom of the rubber buttons was coated with a conductive carbon dot. When the button was pressed, the carbon dot would touch both of the exposed contacts underneath, and close the circuit, allowing electricity to flow, and registering as a button press. Regrettably, the circuits corroded upon exposure to air, and the buttons very rarely worked for long. Very soon after the 5200 arrived on the scene, the technology was improved, and many, many products use similar buttons today.

Motorola, in a fit of nostalgic incompetence, used faulty technology similar to that in the 5200 controllers for my phone. A few weeks ago I opened the phone up, cleaned the contacts and buttons as thoroughly as I could, and put it back together. No dice. I then took it apart again, and tried to paint the underside of the buttons with some conductive paint that Radio Shack sells for rear-window defroster repair. After that, the phone worked magnificently, for about 2 weeks. One day it stopped working at all, but would sometimes display weird lights, and would behave unpredictably in response to button presses. It seemed to be shorting out. It turns out that the paint on several of the buttons had come off the buttons, and adhered itself to the contacts underneath the buttons, so that several buttons were being pressed simultaneously, all the time. Again, I cleaned the circuit board contacts and keypad thoroughly, reassembled the phone, and again the buttons failed to work, rendering the phone unusable.

So this morning I again set out to repair the phone. This time, I cut tiny circles out of aluminum foil and super-glued them to the underside of the dead buttons. I reassembled the phone, and now it works pretty well. Only time will tell if the glue holds, but for now I'm pleased with the results.

That FISA bill, that included a section granting legal immunity to the telcos that helped the thugs in the White House spy on us - well, after much pressure from the public (you, me, etc..), the immunity content was stripped from the bill before the House passed it. The Senate Judicial Committee, meanwhile, decided to not take any stand at all on the matter, and will let it be debated by the full Senate. So while there's still the possibility that the final law will grant immmunity to the telecom companies for spying on us and colluding with the scourge at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, what's occurred so far is positive.

Just discovered a refreshing blog to read.

Sounds like a sitcom - an English woman and her Southern Redneck husband, living in the Midwest and raising their family. I was just hitting the 'next blog' link at the top of the Blogger page, skimming through random blogs when I came across this gem.

That's all, nothing of earth-shattering import to write about.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Feeling Jinxed lately.

Recently my wife flipped our faucet-mount water filter, and the thing broke off the faucet. The faucet-mount units tend to leak anyway, so our faucet is unfiltered, and without an aerator right now, while I search for a new faucet altogether, one that will have a built-in faucet. Years ago, before I grew used to filtered water, I'd have thought it crazy to care about this, and I'd have been perfectly happy with tap water. I'm spoiled.

Thursday evening, 2 weeks ago, the battery in our minivan bit the dust, and we needed to buy a new car battery. That's OK - the car was still on it's original battery, now 5 years old, and just entering winter. A new battery wasn't really a bad idea, all things considered.

Last Thursday evening, when I came home from work, my wife reported that one of our VCRs (the one that's only a year or two old) was eating any tape inserted. OK, no sweat. Saturday morning I bought a very low-end, but working VCR off of somebody via Craigslist for $10. I still hoped I could figure out the problem with the good, fairly new VCR and fix it.

This past Thursday, exactly one week after our newest VCR died, our other good VCR died. This unit is absolutely frozen. It won't move any mechanical parts, at all. It makes no noises, at all. It exhibits absolutely NO reaction at all to any button presses. The only sign that it even has power is that the display works when it is plugged in.

It's possible the jinx might be spreading too. While sitting at my dining room table tonight, with 2 VCRs and one phone disassembled and laid out in front of me, while I tried to fix them, I saw red & blue lights flashing outside, in front of my house. I walked over to look through the living room window to see what was going on, and there were a couple of police cars parked in the middle of my street. Next to them was an Altima, headlights on, passenger door open, front end against a telephone pole and airbag hanging out of the steering wheel. I think the driver must have taken off, because one of the police cars kept driving off, shining it's lights every-which-way. After a while a flatbed came along and towed the car away, not bothering to turn off the Altima's lights. Shortly after that, a firetruck came back to the telephone pole, along with a police car, and a bunch of guys with spotlights checked out the telephone pole. Finally all of the police cars, tow trucks, and fire trucks all went away, and I was left sitting at my dining room table with 2 broken VCRs and a broken phone.

You've been warned - bring valuable possessions near my aura at your own risk.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More grumblings. Maybe I've got Seasonal Affected Disorder?

Over the weekend I tried to play a game of racquetball with a friend of mine. Prior to starting the game I was slightly out of breath. Shortly into the game, I was incapacitated, lying on the court trying to catch my breath.

Since 4th or 5th grade I've suffered from a very low-level asthma. I've always just tolerated it, and considered the symptoms nothing more than a minor nuisance. The couple of times I tried to use an inhaler, I saw no change in my ability to breath, with or without the inhaler, so I don't have one. I also take no medication, other than Sudafed sometimes to control allergies.

Generally, I think doctors are a waste of time, money, and a huge inconvenience and discomfort. My personal worldview is that whatever you're dealing with, just cope with it and eventually you'll muddle through and the problem will go away.

That explains why I tend to go years between doctor's appointments. In fact, my last visit was shortly after Warren Zevon went on David Letterman to discuss his being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Warren said, if I recall correctly, "Yeah, not seeing a doctor for about 20 years may have been a tactical error." [Edit: According to Wikipedia, the exact quote was "I may have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years." ]

Warren could be a real smart-ass. [NPR's 4-minute recap after Zevon's death.] But when he said that I was motivated to go get a physical exam, and I did. According to the omniscient Oracle (um, that would be Google), Zevon's Letterman appearance was October 30, 2002. So that means it's been about 5 years since my last visit to a doctor.

After the asthma attack that squashed my racquetball match, I was pretty annoyed. Thanks to the damn asthma, I was prevented from playing the game. I was embarrassed. And, of course, I was out of breath for the rest of the day, and even now am a little bit out of breath, two days later.

So I decided to revisit the doctor. First, I had to try and remember my Doctor's name. Took a little while, but I found it. I then looked him up on my Healthcare Provider's website. Guess what? He's not a participant in the plan! Well, why shoudl I expect something good & pleasing from an insurance company, right? OK, no big deal, I'll use my wife's physician. After all, I now remember that when we switched to this plan we saw my doctor was absent, but her doctor was a member. So I called her doctor's office to make myself an appointment for a physical/check-up. AND.... they are no longer members of the plan either! BUT, but, but... they are listed on the healthcare providers' website as plan participants. Nevertheless, they've stopped participating in that plan.

SO, I ran a new search for a physician from the provider's website. I searched for any Primary Care Physician within 10 miles of my house, associated with the hospital we've used for Emergency Room care or to have our children delivered. There were a grand total of *9* results. Nine.

OK. Brain starts thinking to see if there are any alternatives. Waitaminute - I'm paying $666 per MONTH for this crap. Surely there must be a better way to spend the money. So I investigate to see if I can drop the crappy plan I'm in now, and insure myself for less. The absolute cheapest plan I can find to cover my family, a plan that would probably be far worse than what I suffer with now, is over $1000/month.

This sucks. There's no nicer way to put it.

And, if any of you are curious what provider I need to suffer through, it's Oxford Health Plans Liberty Plan. Where I enjoy the liberty of not being able to find a doctor. Whee!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Open letter to DSCC, MoveOn, DLC, DCCC, DNC, etc...

Ever since it became apparent just how unprecedentedly awful and, yes, malevolent and evil, the criminal Bush Administration was, I've been giving to various Democratic and liberal organizations whenever I can afford to do so. I've never been able to donate much, but over the last several years I've probably given at least $25 every couple of months to somebody. I've donated to tha ACLU, the DSCC, the DCCC,, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Mary Landrieu, and a handful of other Democratic Party candidates over the last 6 or 7 years.

I was surprised and relieved when Democratic Party candidates saw so much success last November.

Since then, I've seen absolute capitulation and spineless pandering by nearly all Democrats on the national scene. Any craven thing Bush or Cheney wants, happens.

Mukasey was confirmed, and with Democratic support. Impeachment isn't happening. The Kyl-Lieberman bill, accelerating the path to another war of choice, this time with Iran, was passed, with Democratic support. Democrats are on record supporting an extension of a revised and weakened FISA bill, and granting legal immunity to telecom companies charged with illegally recording people's conversations.

As far as I can tell, the Democrats are doing the exact things Republicans before them did. The only difference is how they talk about things. They apologize for these obscene behaviors, and explain why their hands are tied, or why they had no choice for whatever reason, or why different actions would have made no difference in the grand scheme of things.


I'm already stressed out enough trying to pay down my credit card bills, my car note, utilities, etc... Until I see Democratic Congressmen and Senators doing what is RIGHT, polls be damned, I will donate NO MORE to any of them. They've screwed me one too many times. SCREW THEM.

I want the Constitution restored, and I want every federal law passed since the year 2000 repealed if it impacts civil liberties, privacy, and protection of the individual against the government, for starters. I want 'signing statements' clearly and unequivocably prohibited. I want Bush & Cheney impeachment proceedings begun. I want the terrible bankruptcy 'reform' bill repealed. I want non-computerized voting machines, and a paper-trail to prove what votes are, or aren't, cast.

I want the congress to begin doing things for the good of the country, instead of for the good of the congress-critters.


For years I've been thinking about problems with our elections and I've come up with one possible solution that I wish could happen. Stagger, and maybe tweak the term-lengths of the President, Vice-President, Senators, and Congressmen. Maybe make the President/VP term 6 years instead of 4. Maybe let a Congressman/woman serve for 3 or 4 years, and change a Senator's term to 7 years. THEN, prohibit serving more than one consecutive term. NO Re-elections. MAYBE, some period of time after the end of the initial term, allow them to run again. So, for example, 6 years after a term is over, allow the person to run again.

And, all the talk about changing the law to let Schwarzenegger run for Pres? If the folks proposing this change of law truly believe this is a good change, then they should propose the law, written so that it only applies to people born *after* the enactment of the law. That will guarantee the law isn't being written to serve any specific person.

Now I have to beg off and help with the kids. More later.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From the Learn Something New department:

1) If you're using Windows Remote Desktop to work on a remote windows computer, and you want to ALT-TAB, you'll find the ALT-TAB occurs on your PC instead. This is a problem, especially if there are mouse issues and you can't use the mouse to navigate. I found a solution to this:
Instead of pressing ALT-TAB, use ALT-PageUp and/or ALT-PageDown. WONDERFUL! And, to give credit where due, I learned this at

2) If you order steamed dumplings for lunch, and then let them sit for an hour before you actually eat them, they aren't very good.