Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday Night's Storm

At 6PM Tuesday night it was raining and 48 degrees, When I went to bed at 11PM it had dropped below freezing, the winds had increased, and there was already snow on the ground.

The winds were howling Tuesday night into Wednesday!! The house was shaking!! It was a fitful nights sleep at best. I expected to lose power and perhaps the roof as well!!!

So this MASSIVE continued to rage all night and was still going strong Wednesday morning when I arose at 6. I turned on the local news verified that the kids had off, as no sane person would expect kids to venture out in this weather, and sent my daughter back to bed after having her turn off her brother's alarm clock as she gets up a few minutes earlier than he does on school days.

Listening to the news I heard there were 64 MPH winds! They were warning people "Stay home unless you absolutely have to venture outside! Don't Drive!!". Did I listen? No!

The drive to work was very surrealistic and dangerous to boot! Since it made the change from pouring rain to snow very quickly there was ice under the snow in many places. This was to be quite dangerous for me later as you will soon read below.

I pulled out of my driveway and approached the intersection on the corner; there should have been metaphorical tumbleweeds rolling down the street, the normally busy intersection was eerily deserted, the traffic signals, suspended from the poles by chains moving wildly, the wind whipping up little dust devils of snow.

I turned, after slowing to a crawl first, at the next intersection and proceeded down the street that the kids Mom's house is off of and slowly over the bridge that crosses I-96 which is usually icy and today was even more so. Howling gusts of wind were sending huge drifts of snow across the roadway dropping visibility to near zero whenever this occurred.

I drove very slowly completing about 2/3 of the drive without any cars behind me and only a few coming the other way. I turned onto the main road that the plant is one and after going through the last intersection began slowly climbing the hill towards the driveway of the first entrance.

Traveling under 20 MPH I hit a stretch of pure ice! In an instant I lost control of the car, the Mustang spining out and doing two complete 360's, and nearly completing a third before I regained control and continued onward. Bill Cosby's bit of "when you go into a skid turn into the direction of the skid. That's like saying when someone throws a left hook at you, lean into it!" went through my mind.
Luckily for the Mustang and I were both I managed to stay on the road and there were no cars around me! I was very happy that I did not shoot off of the road onto the side with the field it would have taken ages to extricate the Mustang with the weather conditions and many accidents already being reporting on the news. Plus, even though the road had ice under it, the might before it had been raining torrentialy, so the bare field undoubtedly would have had mud underneath the snowy surface.

On the news they had said virtually every school is West Michigan was closed, well over 500 schools and businesses in total. Slide offs and whiteout conditions were reported all across the area. One particularly bad stretch was I-94 which was closed for awhile overnight due to icy

Smiths had a "We never close" policy - you could stay home, take day with no pay or make the time up, or take a vacation day but the plant was always open. One day in my 28 years with the company we got a day off with pay in New Jersey because it snowed so bad the Governor declared a state of emergency, so work was called and we got paid for the day too. GE has a similar policy plus they are much more "Work From Home" friendly so folks in IT and a lot of other jobs can telecommute. So, unless you lose power, you can work from wherever you have a computer and an Internet connection. If I was fully transitioned into my new role, I would have stayed home since I would not have the hands on requirement on the data center that I do now, but since most of the folks in my group live further away than myself I envisioned many would be working from home and some physical presence on site is required. It turns out over half the department opted to play it safe and work from home.

Even after I had arrived at work I could see the storm raging outside for several hours. I could hear the wind outside and you never hear much from outside through the thick walls and glass! The lawn service guy can go by my window with one of those industrial stand up riding mowers and you barely hear it......

The sun is beginning to shine but the wind is still blowing away and the temperature is 6 degrees..

Note: I wrote the preceding during lunch time yesterday, taking a rare break while at work. I wrote the following last evening after returning home.

Continuing after my ride home from work, the sun that peeked out at lunch was very short lived and it got overcast and snowed some more. I left work around 3:30PM. The roads were still incredibly treacherous, the Mustang and I having to exercise extreme care not to slide off the road. I headed over to Burger to nab lunch as I had promised this to Scott and Danielle. I ordered and eventually reached the window. I passe din my credit card only to be informed after a delay by some young teenager that it their modem was not working and they could not connect to the credit card authorization service, so, I would have to pay cash. I told him I did not have any cash hence the use of the credit card. "I don't know what to tell you." said the teen. The manager overheard this, came over, apologized, and handed me the food and receipt and told me to pay her next time I was by. I thanked her largelyand was very pleased as it's good to see some trust these days! I headed for the highway finding the ramp was a nightmare, so icy and nothing down for traction that I could see, in fact the 2 miles of I96 that I traversed was in sad shape, my maximum speed was 30, and most of the trip was at 20 to 25.

I arrived home secure in the knowledge that the car and I would NOT be leaving the garage until I headed to work in the morning!

footnote: MORE snow is predicted this evening, up to another 7 inches, and the temperature right now is a balmy 15 degrees, almost double the 7 when I awoke this morning.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Don't tick of Mother Nature!

It hit a high of 47 degrees today where it still sits at 6PM. It's raining and all the snow is just about gone.

According to the weather report a major cold front is due in which will cause the temperature to drop down to 8 degrees this evening!!

Needless to say they are predicting accumulating snow through tomorrow afternoon.

We shall see what happens! I hit the store and hot supplies for tomorrow in case Scott and Danielle have the day off from school.

No more snow! and Office Clutter

Read below for the story behind this picture

I started the following post over the weekend and never finished it; work was hectic thus far, but I decided to finish it up now.

It snowed on and off Friday night and into Saturday, and even Saturday evening some snow came down.

Friday after work I picked up kids at their Mom's dropped Scott of here and then after Danielle got some additional things she needed dropped her off at her friend Justine's house when she was spending the night.

I got back here around 3:30, Scott and I played the Simpson's game for a few hours on the xbox 360; it was great and the first time we have played a video game together in at least a year maybe more. It was most enjoyable. Around 6:30 PM we headed out as he wanted to pickup a rental game for the Wii. I called in an order for take out at First Wok and we headed out (we ended up hitting two rental places which did not have the game he wanted :( )

We watched a scrubs while eating and passed the remained of the evening watching TV and playing video games together or separately.

Saturday I awoke to snow. I had gone to bed around 2AM (I love staying up late on the weekends) and had languished in bed until around 9AM. I pplayed some of the Simmons game until around 11 and I went out to snow blow. Scott was up when I got in and we headed out to pickup Danielle at her friends. After chatting with Justine's Dad and step-mom we haded over to Blockbuster. They had Scott's game though it took 20 minutes for them to find the only copy....but at least they found it. We headed back home stopping for lunch at Wendy's.

Glad to be in the house because it was cold and dreary outside, the day passed playing video games, working on the computer, and then watching the new computer animated "Garfield Gets Real" on DVD which we had picked up with Scott's game. We were going to get "Dragon Wars" but then Scott found the Garfield movies and since the three of us love Garfield we snagged that instead.

It was very good though non of the voices from the previous two movies were present, but we still enjoyed it.

Sunday - Again, up a nine and typing this blog post. Scott and Danielle are still asleep. It is NOT snowing and the temperature is 33! This is the first time in about 10 days it has been above freezing! Whooo hooooO!

In fact, as I continue the entry from Sunday I';; reflect that the temp actually hit the low 40's and the snow began to slowly melt.

I played some more of the Simpson's game with Scott but was distressed when my save game was corrupt and I could not continue from my save point. We did nothing Major Sunday other than me starting a long term filing project. In my house I have a roll top desk I picked up before the C and I married and I retain it to this day. There is a nice laptop under the top with a photo dye transfer printer, the idea being I would be able to retreat to the bedroom if the kids had friends over or were using the living room, and watch TV or do some web surfing, etc. Well, there is so much assorted paperwork on top of the old laptop you can barely close the roll top, and this has also spilled over into the kitchen into two double doored cabinets pushing into the spaces reserved for pots, pans, dishes, and the like.

So, finally I said enough is enough and I ordered a four drawer file cabinet (shown above) that will go in my bedroom closest (which is one of those double wide deals). I got a nice cherry wood finish one so if someday it comes out of the closet it will not be some ugly chunk of medal.

Anyway Sunday after an e-bike ride and shower I started taking piles of papers from one of those kitchen cabinets and putting them into folders with labels on them in preparation for the arrival of the file cabinet.

So, that and some laundry were the big events of the day.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Message for Chris

Hey Chris! Hope things are going well at College, just wanted to say hey and tell you that I miss you. Looking forward to your next trip home.

Here's a picture of Tails for you; I bet she misses you too!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The long weekend......and assorted stuff

It was a long weekend for some anyway; some of my counterparts in the GE world had Monday off, my site in Grand Rapids did not.

The xbox 360 returned home last Friday which was surprising, it only took 12 days from shipment to return. As I expected the replaced it with what appears to be a brand new unit. It has worked flawlessly and the kids are once again playing Rock Band. We've also ordered The Simpson's game which should be here in time for the weekend!

I've been attending management meetings remotely from my home office since Tuesday and the kids have of half days for tests, plus they had Tuesday off as a snow day. So, I've been taking a lunch break each day and making them lunch and spending a bit of time as these meetings run until 5PM each day.

My back was bothering me all of last week and is still a bit stiff, I lunged after Tails (who is doing fine!) and twisted my back.

Other than the weather post, Christopher showed up from college last Friday night as the school was closed Monday. He arrived around 8PM in a t-shirt and the temps were in the 20's. He forgot a coat.......and over the weekend I made him take one of mine as it had dipped down into the single digits.

Over the time he was here he spent the majority with his friends but we managed to sneak in some TV watching together, and one night I made him one of his favorite things to eat; Taylor Ham, Turkey Bacon, Egg, and Cheddar Cheese on a soft roll.

On the TV side with the writers strike not much is first run, though Ugly Betty, Big Shots, Stargate Atlantis, Monk, and Physc are putting out new episodes which are enjoyable. Tonight for the first time since before Christmas Chuck is on with 2 new episodes. I've been finding life in old favorites such as Angel being run from the first episode started a couple of week ago on TNT and King of the Hill something I used to watch once in awhile, I have been watching many episodes, most of which I have never seen.

Not much else going on in this neck of the woods! Can't wait for the warmer weather so I can resume walking using my new wireless FreePulse Headphones for my iPod touch.

The Sun Glistens off the new fallen Snow

Well, actually it does not. It is cold and snowing yet again as it has been on and off since last Friday. I was going to make the title of this post "Winter Sucks!" but decided not to.

Last Friday the snow started and the temperature, which had been slowly dropping, plummeted and for the weekend spent time in or near single digits! For those of you who rarely if ever see temps like this, anything they out on the roads to melt snow and ice simply stops working. They usually switch to sand or cinders so there is some traction.

My backyard this morning

So, the snow blower which had stood idle worked most days since last Friday worked daily to keep the driveway and walks clear. It's supposed to just be flurries starting later today after this round winds down and by Sunday its supposed to be in the 30's.

My backyard this afternoon

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Star Trek TOS - Season One HD-DVD Review

I recently procured the first season of Star Trek The Original Series (TOS) on HD-DVD. All four seasons will eventually be available this way.

It's amazing what they have done here; they took each episode using the original film and then restored each frame. The color and clarity is simply amazing, just too incredible to describe. side by side comparisons available on the DVD show just how effective they were here. They also re-recorded the orchestra music to provide higher quality.

THEN, while staying true to the original content they replaced all the old optical effects with state of the art CGI. It is incredible! Shots of planets and such which originally were painted balls look fantastic as does the enterprise and other ships and such. Existing effects in live actions shots are enhanced or added where missing, it is just fantastic.

Some episodes have what they call "Starfleet Access" where a series of icons is displayed on the screen to the right of the picture. These can be life form or science/device specific and clicking on them pops open a box with specific information on the highlighted items. For example the first time a Romulan is displayed, there is more detailed information.

There are also comments and other content related to the episode. When you activate this icon the current screen is shrunk down a bit and shifted to the left side of your screen and the new info pops up. This content is fantastic, anything from original footage showed side-by-side with the new footage, little known facts, and lots of other information from various people.

I've watched about a third of the episodes, and it is almost like rediscovering Star Trek. They went to great pains to preserve the spirit of the original, such as in the opening which is all redone, but the Enterprise movements across the screen, the star movement and patterns, have all been painstakingly duplicated.

There are also tons of extras available outside the episodes themselves, such as Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare home movies and special memories, Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st century featurette, Interactive Enterprise inspection where you can fly around side the Enterprise, interviews with cast members, and more.

While the price is a bit high in my opinion, though this is somewhat understandable now that I know how much work went into this, I must say this is one of the most monumental sets of DVD's I have ever seen! They are also playable on SD DVD players, though without some of the extra content described above.

This link takes you to an 8 minute movie about these DVD's with some behind the scenes information on their creation.

If you want to know more (much, much more!) about Star Trek TOS, you can click this link from Memory Alpha, the free Star Trek reference.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Scott and Wacky Weather

Scott is sleeping a bit better, picking up five hours each night over the weekend a few on school nights. He is getting to sleep, it is just taking him a long time.

The past two nights I have had terrible trouble sleeping, Sunday night barely sleeping an hour, and last night nabbing about three!

Hard to believe a week ago (well, a week and a day) it was in the 60's which set a new record for this area. Today it is snowy and cold in the low 30's and this weekend is expected to be temperatures in the teens!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Back to School

While Back to School was an excellent flick starring Rodney Dangerfield, I am referring to my son Christopher going back to school tomorrow. I have really enjoyed his visits while he has been home these past 3 months, and I'll miss him a great deal. SciFi Friday is just not as enjoyable when he is not there.

Wacky Weather/To Sleep Perchance to Dream

As I reported last Saturday January 5th, the weather had started to turn warmer. By Monday the temperature rose into the 60's which, for my neck of the woods in January is a very unusual occurrence. Needless to say, other than the huge piles of snow plowed up in larger parking lots, all the snow melted, and the aforementioned piles were substantially reduced in size.

I just could not believe how nice it was Monday; even though I was still sick I walked a few blocks around the neighborhood without a jacket, it was just wonderful! The heat in the house sat quiet for a few days as well, unless the month turns bitterly cold the gas bill should be a pleasant surprise in a few weeks.

By Tuesday of this week it had begun to cool down, and by Wednesday evening it settled in the 30's which is still above average.

Last night it rained heavily up until I retired, and we did have a couple of inches of snow by morning. Luckily it is above freezing so I am hoping this will melt off the driveway without manual removal as I am still not completely recovered evidenced by the fact I overslept by an entire hour this morning! I NEVER oversleep by more than a few minutes, I have always had an excellent 'built in alarm clock'.

Anyway, the weekend is upon us and I plan to enjoy some additional content on my new HD-DVD player. I will see if I can rent something suitable that Scott and Danielle would like as today kicks off my next week with the kids this evening. Typically on those Fridays we go out for dinner and I pickup a rental, be it movie and a video game, or just a game, or just a movie, and that starts the week at my house for them.

Speaking of Scott, please keep him in your prayers, he has had insomnia for almost 2 weeks now and is getting very little sleep. The X and I are most concerned about him. He has been to the doctor but they were of little help and recommended having him talk to a therapist. Scott claims there is nothing bothering him, and, evidenced by how open he has been in the past months about things I tend to believe him.

Even though Scott is 16, I'll 'baby' him this weekend, making foods and such I know he likes and letting him do things he really likes to do, even having noisy friends over if that's his wish.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

HD-DVD Player

Using Gift Certificates for Amazon that I got for the holidays and a couple I already had I did procure the Toshiba HD-A35 DVD player which arrived yesterday.

It is incredible playing HD-DVD's (I got 10 free!) and on normal DVD's the upconversion does a fantastic job so existing DVD's look great.

I am most pleased with my new toy; I jury rigged it yesterday so I could watch the HD-DVD version of Serenity. my Plasma only has one HDMI input and usually the PC is connected to that. While my Onkyo receiver has two HDMI inputs, I was shy a cable, so I unplugged the PC to connect the HD-DVD and I used the optical audio output on the HD-DVD player fed into the Onkyo. It was incredible! I ordered another HDMI cable which shall arrive today then I can have both switched through the receiver.

Tails was impressed too; below is a picture of her taken during the battle of the Alliance and the Reavers in Serenity:

Curious, Tails also looks like this when I make Beef Jerky! You may click the picture to see a much larger version in a new window.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Great Melt of 2008

As predicted the temperature is in the low 40's today! The great melt of 2008 is underway! I've been working on drafts of posts all week, so, with this post note there are seven new posts added today containing 10 pictures that cover after Christmas through this weekend.

I have been feeling poorly the past few days, thought yesterday I might be coming down with the flu leaving work at lunch time because I felt so bad.

Thankfully today I feel somewhat better but am still feeling sick. It's rare times like this when I do not have the kids I am thankful they are not here; I'd be hard pressed to care for them and would have been reduced to ordering dinner last night and tonight. I have been surviving on instant Ramen noodle soup these past couple of days with a slice of Velveeta mixed in for a dash of protein. It really adds a nice flavor to the chicken variety!

So, today Tails and I have been taking it easy, watching TV, playing (she insists I play with her feeling sick or not!), napping, and for me working on e-mail and blog posts.

Tails and I enjoying a nap; as we were alone
today I must wonder who took the picture!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Danielle the Artist

Below is a picture that my 13 year old Daughter Danielle drew. You may of course click the image to see a larger version in a new window. Isn't she quite talented??

Late Christmas Present and Xbox 360 Dies!

This month marks the 2 year anniversary of the procurement of my Panasonic 50" HDTV. Other than the computer I have no true HD sources to connect to it. Dish Network does not offer my local channels in HD and Comcast is just freaking expensive.

While DVD's look very nice, particularly when compared to TV viewing, I still do not have an HD video source....but will next week.

I just ordered a Toshiba HD-A35 DVD player; with all the Amazon gift certificates I had it cost me about $150 out of pocket which is cheaper than the add on drive for the xbox-360 and you get 10 free HD-DVD's with it. A good compromise over the HD-XA2 and much cheaper on the out of pocket side.
Speaking of the xbox, ours died a few days ago with the dreaded "Red Ring of Death" symptom!

Bad News: Warranty expired two weeks ago
Good News: Microsoft has extended the warranty to three years for this issue only!

So, I have a call placed with them and am awaiting the prepaid UPS mailer to return it for replacement or repair which should not cost a cent! Whoo Hooo!

Snowing, Snowing, Gone!

Thanks to the snow on the evening of Sunday December 23rd, a fierce storm in fact, we had a white Christmas. We also had light snow Christmas Eve day and some flurries on Christmas. On Friday December 28th I came into the office to work and by the time I left around 1PM, it had began snowing heavily and sticking to the roads. It snowed far into the night and we got about six inches of snow. There were dusting during the week and weekend, and New Years it began snowing around dinner time and snowed through most of the night for another 5 inches.

Below is a picture of the front of the house with some snow and showing the only external Christmas decoration I have used since being here. I had no plans on doing this, but, since it depicts "A Charlie Brown Christmas" I had to do it! It was a royal pain running power from all the way on the back of the house for this; I had to buy a 100 foot extension cord and a timer a route it along the house, using cup hooks to keep it in place. I also had up until the day after Christmas, a small illuminated Christmas tree inside the leftmost window which could be seen outside.

Click either image for a larger version

A Close up of the Charlie Brown Christmas Decoration

New Years day, after predicting just light flurries we got another 4 inches by Wednesday morning when I left for work. And, it snowed part of the morning as well!

According to the weather this will all be gone by Monday. The temperature had been in the teens and 20's since a few days after Christmas. As of Friday January 4th, it's in the mid 30's with low 40's projected for tomorrow, high 40's for Sunday, and 50+ on Monday!

So, I decided to be efficient, not lazy, and after snow blowing once New Year's morning, the rest of the snow has lain where it has fallen since it will soon be gone. I just shoveled a bit by the front door.

Happy New Years

New Years Eve
I had a very quiet New Years Eve; I spent parts of the day cleaning up after the great prefab build mess and relaxing with the kids.

For the main meal of the day Scott, Danielle, and I ate at First Wok, they have an excellent luncheon special , though Scott opted for his usual Chicken Lo Mien with no vegetables. We stopped at Hollywood video to pick up the latest Harry Potter movie (which they did not have) so a quick trip to Family Video was made where we found a single nights rental copy; must be a popular movie!

We headed back stopping at Forest Hills Foods where we picked up snacks for the evening. Scott had asked if his friend Ben could come over, I said OK, and he arrived around 8PM. Close to 9PM I baked Cinnabon Rolls for the kids and some assorted appetizers (hot dogs in puff pastry, jalapeno poppers, gourmet pizza rolls, and mini pepperoni pizzas. By 9:30 we were seated before the project TV to watch the DVD of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which turned out to be very good!

A tired Tails gathers her strenth prior to midnight!

The kids each ate 3 Cinnabons except Scott who ate four and I enjoyed some of the other appetizers.

Ben was supposed to be picked up at 1AM but his Mom was running late so he was there until almost 2AM before we were able to retire.

New Years Day:
We had all been up late so we slept in, me getting up around 9, Danielle at 11, and Scott around 1PM. It was a quiet day mainly of relaxation, snow removal, capped off by dinner with the X at Applebees which she paid for. Watching the snow while we dined was very nice, I was glad she was driving though!

All in all, a quiet, yet enjoyable New Year!

Beef Jerky!

My son Chris and I really love Beef Jerky! A couple of days after Christmas I used the Nesco Jerky Xpress my son Chris had given me and made my first batch of Beef Jerky. I used the 'spicy' seasoning mix that came with the unit, but 'kicked it up a notch' by adding some hot chili powder my friend Suresh sends me from New York City. I used flank steak and it turned out quite good! The next time I will do the marinate from scratch using my own formula!
A footnote here on 1/5/08, I picked up additional Flank steak and will be making more Jerky tomorrow!

The Great Pre-Fab debaucle of 2007

I have several hundred DVDs that have been stored haphazardly in a prefab wooden bookshelf style cabinet, and stuffed into drawers and other shelves wherever I could find space. Last Saturday I began construction of two large wall units that I bought based on recommendation of my friend Brian. They look like this:

More detailed information on the DVD wall units can be found here. This project ran the whole weekend, and as shown below the place looked like a disaster area!

You can see the bookcase style unit that used to be crammed full of DVDs

I also built two chairs for Scott and Danielle to use on their computer workstations. I had bought some really cheap computer desk chairs which were falling apart, and since Office Depot was having the executive style chairs at 50% off, for less than $100 I was able to pickup 2. This is the same style chair I've had for about 4 years now and it is showing no signs of wear.

In the past I have simply used the floor to assemble prefab items, but, with my back and knees hurting more these days I opted to use my sturdy dinning room table, which made the experience I was dreading my easier and virtually pain free.

The DVD storage units were not too hard to build, though the second one had some issues, on of the trim panels would just not fit, even after loosening all the screws, so I had to cut off an 8th of an inch from one end if it, and another when getting it into place on of the plastic dowels snapped off and the other went too far into one of the holes. I ended up having to flip it upside down and glue it allowing it to dry overnight.

Click either messy image for a larger messier one

As I had the ladder out to work on the wall units I took the bad bulb out of the track lighting in the kitchen and with Scott in tow we hit Taco Bell for lunch stopping at Lowes for the bulb on the way home. Scott lucked into the taco Bell lunch as I had meant to go earlier after dropping Danielle off at a friends around noon, but I forgot the bad bulb which had a regular thread but was a smallish size. I almost forgot it again after I had pulled the Mustang out of the driveway I realized the bulb was still on the counter inside! Scott was quite amused by this! I suspect in his mind this lends credence to his statement of "You're old Dad!".

The light repaired it was time for the chairs; I moved he boxes over by the table. They were very easy to assemble. Scott helped me hang the DVD units on the wall; they employed an excellent bracket system where on piece goes on the wall and integrates with a matching piece on the unit. Easiest things I have ever hung on a wall in all my days. As I built these one after the other, we hung one Saturday evening before Scott left for a party at a friends house, and the other Sunday morning after he got up.

It is nice having all my DVDs easily accessible (no bending over or crouching down) out in the open. I also updated my database of DVDs something I had been putting off for the past couple of months.