Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Headphones, the Vacuum, and the Heritage of Making Things Work

My headphones at work met an early demise last week at in the jaws of a vacuum cleaner. The cleaning lady left a nice note offering to replace them, but balked when she learned of the cost — not pocket change, for sure. (When you wear headphones as much as I do, it starts to make sense to buy a nice pair, and these were the nicest pair to date.)

Growing up as I did, though, one gets the idea that anything can be repaired, with enough patience and ingenuity. So I tried, and it required plenty of both — there were wires broken all over the place, and it was arguably the toughest soldering job I've taken on.

Itty-bitty. The circuit board is for the noise-canceling feature that I've grown rather fond of.

In the end, I succeeded, though. I think. They're definitly not going to survive another trip through a sweeper, but they work. I'm the grandson, son, and son-in-law of electrical engineers, all of whom had a reputation for being able to fix just about anything — It's in my genes. It's in my family. I had to try!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


What do you do when someone gives you a 100 oz. jug of bubble solution? Well, you use it, of course!

Deborah works the big bubble wand, which was producing two- to five-foot bubbles this day. (Humidity and temperature make a big difference in bubble-blowing. Deborah says she tried this at the water's edge a few winters ago, and the bubbles bounced on for ages through the mist across the surface of the ice.)

Deborah and Fiona sit together, blowing bubbles.

Deborah blows some bubbles for Aiden.

Aiden tries. He could hold the bubble wand in the right place, or he could blow, but he couldn't quite get the hang of doing both at the same time yet. He was delighted to finally get some bubbles of his own!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Do not disturb what?

We found this sign on either side of the other end of the bike trail that goes through the woods. What I wonder is... what is it that I am not supposed to disturb? There aren't any houses for several hundred feet in any given direction. Maybe there are some ducks living in the grass. Who knows.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bottle Rocket

I was coming across the bridge on my way home, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone running the stop sign just ahead of me. I cranked the bike to the right, and the other guy swerved left, so we were running parallel to each other down the street. I looked over, ready to give him a piece of my mind about running the stop sign, but my ire was repaced with wonder, as two things began to sink in:

  1. I was riding beside a beer cooler; and
  2. the beer cooler was keeping up.
He veered off to my neighbor's house, and I hopped off my motorcycle and went to investigate.

It wasn't my imagination. It was a beer cooler. But the owner (whose name slips my mind at the moment; he lives on the next block over...) had fitted a 10 HP engine and wheels, along with steering that reminded me quite a bit of a fold-up scooter. Braking were a step above Flintsone-style, with steel plates that rubbed against the tires.

Of course, I had to ride it. It was frighteningly fast (wheelies aren't out of the question) and almost impossible to steer. But, I had to admit, it was cool. He says future plans include a real cooler under the hood, and drag-racing wheelie bars.


While I read out loud, Deborah works on her quilt. The whole center section is done; now she's working on the border. This is a quilt where Deborah and her mother each made a full set of blocks, and then traded half of them, producing two-of-a-kind quilts. A few blocks of interest:

Elephants in a jar. I refer to this as "wildlife preserves," but Deborah is thoroughly sick of that joke by now. So I'm going to stop using it. It's just so tempting, though...

Deborah and I made these together. Deborah made paper snowflakes, and ironed them flat; I took an airbrush loaded with bleach and sprayed the cloth, using the snowflake as a resist. Then I passed it back to Deborah, who was waiting with an iron — it was the fastest way we found to stop the bleach from spreading too far. She then quilted with the pattern of the snowflake, making it stand out even more.

Kitties. The eyes are made of buttons.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why I still bother to check the mailbox

I'm a horrible letter writer. Not that I write such bad letters, I'm just horrible about sitting down and doing it. It wasn't always so; in high school, I probably spent as much time writing letters as I did writing homework — and that speaks well of my homework.

I got this postcard in the mail recently:

That, right there, is a keeper.

I should go write some letters....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Seventh Time's a Charm

Fireworks popped and crackled in the sky, and oddly-dressed witches and wizards gathered exitedly, partying, celebrating, and discussing one topic: Harry Potter. That was the scene in the first chapter of the first book. And it was utterly fitting, I mused, as another firework banged overhead, that it should also be the scene when the last chapter was unveiled.

Deborah and I were on our way to the only Potter-party in town that we knew about, dressed in our wizard and would-be-muggle best. Now, I don't normally do this. I didn't dress up and camp out to see Episode I. I don't do conventions. But this, I reasoned, was the last book, and it was something I enjoyed, so... why not? If not now, when?

I had been there earlier (The party started at 11, not at 8, as I had been told) and my 10:00 arrival had me swishing about the store, searching for the festivities. ("You have heard a rumor that a certain dark wizard has returned, and has been seen stalking about Wal-Mart. This is... uh, never mind...") What I found interesting was people's reactions, or lack thereof. Certainly, as I walked past, I heard a few sniggers, but most people didn't even look at me twice.

My early arrival, at least, earned me a red rubber Gryffindor bracelet (How did these rubber bracelets get to be fashionable, anyway? They're so sweaty!) that guaranteed my place in line for the first 100 copies, as well as a ticket for a drawing to win a deluxe edition of the book.

Once Deborah and I arrived, the party was grinding to life, with people happily comparing wands and costumes, while eating cake and drinking "butterbeer" (root-beer floats) and "pumpkin juice" (sherbet punch.) I was amused to see how many other people had thought to re-purpose their graduation gowns — you went to all that work and expense, you may as well get something out of your higher education.

Luna ("Loony") Lovegood. True to form, she has radish earrings, has her wand tucked behind her ear, and has a necklace of corks.

Witches and wizards are known to dress oddly while trying to impersonate muggles (non-magical folks). Personally, I find this one quite striking. Aren't those my pajama bottoms...?

Sybill Trelawney. Note the tea leaves for divination, still neatly packaged in a tea bag.

There was a trivia contest, which was much harder than I expected, but having just finished listening to the series on CD, I could almost hear Jim Dale's voice confirming that Hogwarts indeed had 142 staircases, not 421 or 124, and that Remus Lupin's middle initial was J. I apparently was the first person to get them all correct, because a wide-eyed Wal-Mart Witches tracked me down and asked if I could confirm my entry — I had forgot to put my name on it! I wasn't the only one who got them all right, though, and the gift card went to someone else at 11:55.

As the hour drew near, the crowd grew very dense, and there were signs of nervousness, excitement, annoyance, and joy, which wasn't dependent on which side of the book tables you were standing on. One gal distributing posters looked like she was afraid that people would rush the tables to get the books once they appeared. Another lady in the crowd I was standing next to (and moved away from) sounded like she might be the one to do it. They started calling for people with red bracelets and pre-publication tickets to come to the front, which prompted a bit of panic in the people that had neither. ("We've got eleven hundred books here, folks, you'll get one, don't worry!") They tried to get us to form a line. (People are jammed together tightly, and we're supposed to form a line? There was some momentary squeezing, but a line did not happen. Oddly enough, I found myself right at the front. The pallets were wheeled in, and opened, and they started passing out the books (along with a poster and bookmark) as fast as they could. The employee who gave me the poster just looked nervous and harassed. The young boy who handed me my book, on the other hand, just looked simply delighted to be there.

So now, at last, we have the final book, and we shall see if Harry is, indeed, The Boy Who Lived.

Hey, what's that on your face...? Oh!

Aw, don't be shy now...

Fiona has... freckles. :-) Nothing like the collection I had as a kid, but just a few, a cute little sprinkling across her nose and cheeks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

Reason #5863 not to smoke

We bought a new stereo. We'd been saving up for awhile — my parents gave us some money, and I've been adding to it since Christmas — but we'd had no luck finding anything in our price range that both had the things we wanted and looked like it might last. So when a gal out in Plymouth adverstised that she was selling a stereo in our price range, I went to go see it.

It was gorgeous. Much nicer than I had expected, and the sound was wonderful; rich and clear, with nice bass. (I'm a sucker for bass.) We had brought a tape to test, but forgot to bring a CD. When I asked if she had one I could try, she said that it was very sensitive to scratched CDs, and hers were all scratched. A warning light throbbed in the back of my mind, but the girl and her mother seemed to sincere that I bought it anyway.

The CD player didn't work at all. It would bring up error messages about "no disc" or, inexplicably, "disc not finalized." I looked on-line for help with this, and the Philips site helpfully suggested that I should either put in a disc or finalize the disc. Bah. Deborah and I were very discouraged, having saved up so long for something that didn't work, and our attempts to contact the seller weren't going well.

I had a hunch, though, so I kept looking on-line. Another site suggested that the disc was scratched (no, I take care of my CDs, they aren't all scratched beyond recognition) or that the lens was fogged from condensation. Hmmm. Fogged. What if it wasn't condensation, but smoke? I asked around to find someone who could loan me a lens cleaner CD (Have you seen these things? It's a regular CD with a tiny, soft brush glued to the bottom) and ran it through. And it worked! It now recognizes every CD I put in there.

So, the moral of the story is: Don't smoke. It will ruin your really nice stereo, make you sell it at yard-sale prices, and convince you that your entire CD collection is scratched!

New Emoticons

Most of us here are familiar with "emoticons" — sideways smiles and winks we add to our posts and emails to help convey certain sentiments. Only using the standard keyboard characters available to you is quite limiting, though, and I figured I could do better. Just adding the International Phonetic Alphabet to the standard set of emoticons opens up all kinds of new possibilities:

That was tasty, but I'll probably regret it later.

colon, hyphen, Unicode ʠ (Latin small letter q with hook — voiceless uvular implosive)

My lips are sealed, but you can't stop me from smirking.

colon, hyphen, Unicode ɟ (Latin small letter dotless j with bar — voiced palatal stop)

I am screaming so loudly that you can see my uvula quite plainly

colon, hyphen, Unicode ʚ (Latin small letter closed epsilon — lower-mid front rounded vowel)

I'm keeping an eye on you, buddy.

Unicode ʘ (Latin letter bilabial click), hyphen, close parenthesis

I'll create more in the days to come. In the meantime... ʘ-)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Order of the Phoenix

We went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this afternoon. If you have read the books, I can tell you that it's a bit like shifting without the clutch. Whaaa! We're moving! Eeee! We're stopping! Whoa! We're done! If you haven't read the books, you'd probably remark that it was "smartly paced, but a lot wasn't explained." Basically, you've got the longest book in the series condensed into the shortest movie in the series, and that means a lot of things got left out. Luna Lovegood and Prof. Umbridge got the most character development, being new; everyone else pretty much just showed up and did their thing, fast. To the movie's credit, though, there were certain parts I thought better the book: Meeting Grawp (jingle, jingle), and the way the rest of the DA escaped from Umbridge's office — much more realistic, and clever, in my mind. By contrast, the Weasley twins' flight was a bit of a letdown, compared to the triumphant exit in the book, and Rowling's depiction of Love as an overwhelming, almost physical force is replaced with some sappy pop psychology drivel. Otherwise, a pretty good flick.

Now, one week until Book 7....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What kind of sucker...

Good thing I'm not known for drinking margaritas.

One of my co-workers dropped by my desk, and said he's come across these lollipops at a friend's house, and thought of me. He gave me a choice between the jalapeño and and the chili pepper, and, since I've yet to try a jalapeño candy that I've liked, I chose the chili pepper lollipop.

Not bad, really. The clear part tasted like cinnamon, and the pepper was definitely real.

Dave went on to tell me that they had other flavors, ones that included other real items in them, like green apple flavor... with a worm. Or, inexplicably, vodka flavored (vodka has a flavor?) with a scorpion in it. I'm at a bit of a loss to explain the scorpion, although I suppose that vodka is more-or-less associated with Russia, and places like China serve fried scorpions, so maybe there's some Sino-Russian overlap there.

I was curious about how the, uh, ingredients were prepared, so I sent off an email to the company. The reply was sitting in my in-box this morning:

Hello Andy,
Thank you for your interest in Hotlix. Hotlix raises all there insect's for food products. They are cooked and processed and safe to eat. We have to go by all State & Federal regulations that any food manufacture would. Try the Scorpion Suckers, they are the most popular. I prefer the Cheddar Cheese Larvets.
Best Regards,
Kathy Mitchell

We live in such a wonderfully weird world.