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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I have 2 computers set up.  One is the usual Mac I use to post with.  But last month, I got an old PC up and running and set it up on a card table behind me.

I have a 4'x4' plywood base so the computer chair rolls on it easily at the Mac table.  And that's where the problem started.  The plywood base doesn't quite reach to the new PC card table.  I have to roll it onto some carpet.  Not usually a problem. 

So I moved from the Mac (where I was downloading the new Maverick OSX) and playing Civilization II on the PC, and I failed to negotiate the drop off the plywood correctly and leaned a bit too far over...

Found myself on the floor with the chair in two pieces.  Naturally, I focussed on the chair.  Apparently the sitting part of chair can just lift off the wheeled base, but it took a few minutes to see that (I don't often fall off of chairs and few of THEM come apart).  Actually, I spent some time looking for a loose set screw I assumed was there to prevent exactly this from happening.

There wasn't one.  So I set the sitting part back on the wheeled part and sat in it carefully.  It seemed as solid as ever.  So I just had better be careful wheeling it off the plywood "carpet mat".  I decided that was a good time to call it quits for the night and went to bed.

I'm glad I have synthetic product carpet in the computer room.   The next morning, I discovered that I had also flipped the ashtray over (yes, I smoke) as I fell off the chair.  A lit cigarette fell onto the carpet.  Well, when you are suddenly falling, minor details escape your notice.  As in, I can't recall what song was playing on the radio, what time it was, and whether I had a lit cigarette.

I had a lit cigarette.  It melted an inch long spot in the carpet.  "Darn" (I used other words at the time, but I won't ruin your innocent ears by being specific now).

Fortunately, there was no serious damage to me or anything.  But I sure will remember the awful sudden feeling of falling over in the chair!  Five wheels on the chair and 3 of them did NOT work in my favor, LOL!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fun With Lamps

Three years ago, I inherited a knock-off (but good quality vintage) "tiffany" lamp.

I dithered for 3 years about what to do with it (Living Room or Stairwell).  I finally decided on stairwell. 

First, I called an electrical company I found on Angie's List.  I explained about hanging the lamp in the ceiling over the stairwell to replace an existing working light and that it was heavy and awkward (so it might require 2 people).  I also requested them to install a regular ceiling light at the bottom of the stairs wired into the same 3-way switch as the top one, and that I needed the outside motion detector repaired.  They sent 1 person.  He looked at the tiffany lamp and said it was missing some hanging parts.  Well, I hadn't examined it that carefully, and it was a bit loose.  So I had him look at the motion detector.  He said the detector parts had rusted and it needed to be replaced.  So I had him install the small ceiling lamp at the bottom of the stairs.  I thought it should simply be wired directly to the upper lamp (where the tiffany lamp would go later, but he said it would be easier to just wire it into the bottom stair switch.  OK, whatever works… 

The new bottom light seemed to work fine.  Both upper and bottom lights came on and wet off with the switch.  And the electrician said it would take 2 people to hang the tiffany lamp (agreeing with what I had told them to begin with).  But the next day I discovered that using the top switch caused one to come on while the other went off.  I called the electrical company back and explained the situation.  Meanwhile, I had found that the hanging parts on the tiffany lamp seemed merely loose and with an additional nut, tightened it all up nicely.  So they sent out 2 guys a few days later.

I had a new motion detector for them to install as well.  First, they looked at the tiffany lamp and declared it "not to code".  They said it needed a complete new "canopy attachment" and rewiring, and that they didn't do that kind of work, suggesting a vintage lamp restoration company in Annapolis.  I later googled "vintage lamp restoration" and sure enough Annapolis was closest (but not exactly next door).  Meanwhile, they undid the bad wiring job of the first guy, and installed the new motion detector outside.  I suggested that they wire the new bottom light to the top light then, but they said it would mean doing the same wiring work on the top light twice and cost more.  So I agreed to wait until they could install the tiffany lamp at the same time.

So I brought the lamp to Annapolis Lighting for repair.  The repair manager told me that any qualified electrician should have been able to make the attachment and wiring repairs, but he would do it.  Still, that was an hour drive both to and from there, and I had to do it twice (delivery and pickup).  Meanwhile, my hallway light died.  I replaced the circular fluorescent bulb and then the starter, but it still didn't work, so there was new work to be done.

A new pair of guys arrived today.  The original one was fired for incompetency, and the second team had been promoted to commercial work.  The new pair did know what they were doing.  One went to work on getting the bottom stair light wired in properly.  I still think it made more sense to wire the bottom light directly up to the top one, but he chose to wire it to the primary switch (which was at the top of the stairs). 

The other guy tackled the tiffany lamp installation.  He was convinced that it could just be attached to the existing electric box already there, but I told him I wanted a better support (knowing how my builder cut corners).  Sure enough, when he removed the existing ceiling light, there was just a plastic electric box that he pulled out of the attic joist by hand.  He had to get into the attic (they do almost anything to avoid that) to install a support bar and new electric box.   In spite of the idea that both of them were there to cooperate in installing the heavy tiffany lamp, the 1 guy did it himself.  He had to stand on the very top and almost losing his grip on it once, he got it installed properly.  The 2nd guy got the bottom light wired. 

 It all worked, and we 3 tested all the 3 switches in combinations to make sure there was none of that 1 on and 1 off problem from before. 

Then came a bill for $440.  I pointed out that I had already paid for that bottom light being wired properly.  So I had to talk to their service manager.  He pointed out that he was already offerring me a discount on the hourly work.  I pointed out that the initial paid work included "install new light at bottom of stairs and run wire".  He said the first guy did the invoice wrong and the price only included installing the new light.  When I asked who would think anyone would install a light WITHOUT attaching it to a switch, he babbled for a moment, and I added that it was a quoted price and I paid for it at the time (so one of the guys here today was merely correcting the bad work of the original guy and they couldn't charge me for that twice).  When he said I had requested 2 people, I told him that was what HIS people had suggested.

The $440 came down to $275.  The service manager allowed that he was doing it "to resolve the situation"  (as if he was doing me a great favor by not charging me twice for an initially botched wiring job).  I don't really care how he accounts for his charges, just that the final charge was only for the work installing the tiffany lamp and it seemed a fair charge.

I asked the electrician here how HE would interpret "install new light at bottom of stairs and run wire", and he laughed saying he never argues with the service manager.  I understand; to the electrician (a sub-contractor), I'm not the customer, the service manager is.

But everything is fine now and I am thrilled with the tiffany lamp…
I haven't decided how I will review the work on Angie's List yet.  They botched the first wiring, but made up for it immediately.  The tiffany lamp wiring and hanging hardware wasn't their fault.  And while they got confused about the costs involved in the 3 visits, they did make the charges reasonable after a brief discussion.  And the work WAS finally done well.

I can't give them perfect scores, but I won't flame them either.

But I LOVE the new staircase lamp there.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

More Movie (The Hobbit)

And I wasn't expecting this.  Verizon called and I don't usually to bother to listen to telephone offers but that started with one I could tolerate.  They were offerring increased internet connection speed for $10 per month.  Forever.  Well, I don't really feel a need for that.  Internet speed is pretty much instantaneous here.  But maybe not forever, and I am considering a mobile device.  But I told them I wasn't really very interested.

They tossed in HBO.  Hmmm...  I don't really watch movies very often and don't miss any HBO shows.  But I DO like Bill Maher and seldom see him.  And the offer had no contract requirement and no equipment installation.

I said OK.  I cant say that I really notice any difference in internet speed.  But I saw the movie "The Hobbit" was on, so I watched it out of curiousity.  Why not, I only got up at 5 pm (played Civilization II from 10 pm to 11 am), so the day was pretty much wasted already.  Keep in mind that (in my opinion) the book "The Hobbit' was to 'Lord of the Rings' as ''Dick Jane and Sally' was to 'Hamlet.

I don't have a history of admiring the way movies translate books, and 'The Hobbit' was a pretty poor book to begin with...

But "Oh WOW"!  I may have to change my opinion of movies made from books.  Every one I've seen made in the past decade has been outstanding.  I can still complain that they don't follow the original books very well, but they sure do make a good movie from them.

I have to credit planned sequels and big budgets.  It used to be that science fiction/fantasy movies were produced on low budgets and the producers crushed whatever story there was into a 90 minute movie.  Not any more, apparently.

So, "The Hobbit' was only half the book (and I'll say again that the book makes me cringe compared to 'LOTR' and the 'Silmarillion'), but the producers/directors/whoevers really did a superb job with this one.  In the scene where the Giant  Eagles took the whole Gandalfian group away from the goblins, I was just gob-smacked.  Admittedly, special effects really make a difference.  Eagles with a 50' wingspan are unusual.

My criticisms of the movie include the really human-looking dwarves (in spite of the fancy hair and beards which were well done) compared to the true-to-book description of Gimli of LOTR, the attack on the campfire rolls by the dwarves, and the apparent confusion between goblins and orcs.  I could get into details about Bilbo's "orc-detecting sword" glowing when there were only goblins around, but I'll spare you.

But as a movie when you don't know the book (or if book/movie differences don't bother you)?  It's a great watch!  It kept me in my chair for almost 3 hours, and that's not easy to do...  I'm looking forward to part 2.

And as a very minor matter, I miss commercials.  Sometimes you just have to pee.  I may have to just record the few movies I want to watch before watching them just so I can put them on pause when nature calls.sometimes.  LOL!

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Watched Two Movies Recently

Which may not seem odd to many of you, but I generally don't watch movies in theaters or at home.  Most are about "human drama" which I don't need more of, action movies wore me out after Rocky and Diehard, and most sci-fi movies weren't faithful to the books or comic strips.  Especially the sci-fi.  Seriously, I'm old enough to have seen mostly bad sci movies when younger.

Most of my life, favorite sci fi comic books or real books have been made into truly dreadful movies.  Have you ever seen "Howard The Duck"?  A thoughtful mature social-satire comic was turned into a Grade D farce.  And the first Dune movie was little better. 

So I've been pleased the past decade or so as sci-fi and comic book characters have been turned into quality movies.  The second version of Dune was suberb, Siderman was very good, and the movie industry has done a decent job since.  They still mess up the characters badly (Lord of the Rings was most accurate).

But while Marvel comic characters have done reasonably well (being written toward college students), DC comic characters have generally not (Superman and Batman being exceptions).  So when I saw that Green Lantern was a movie on TV tonight, I cringed, but need something to watch while eating dinner.  Well, Green Lantern was probably one of the hokiest shallow undeveloped  characters DC comics ever created.  Really a magic ring lets you create anything you can imagine (no origin of the power or anything.  That's 1940s sci-fi stuff...

Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed the movie.  There was actually character development!  There was a theme.  There was even some philosophical discussion (the difference between fearlessness and courage for example).  I enjoyed it.

And there was a scene which I absolutely positively delighted in.  Green Lantern touched down on the balcony of his love interest (like in Superman).  She was amazed at his mystery and power (just like in Superman).  Then she looked at him, sniffed him, and identified him at once (unlike Superman).  I cracked up!  I don't know what writer got that scene in the movie, but I sure hope s/he got a raise and a bonus.  I flashed Two Thumbs Up and decided to watch the rest of the movie.   The rest was Ok, concluding with a reasonably good fight and a clever resolution based on information offerred earlier in the movie.

But I only watched Green Lantern because I had watched an anti-hero movie a few days ago.  Hancock.  If you haven't seen it, Hancock is the only superperson anywhere.  He is no hero.  He is lazy, irresponsible, drunk, stupid, carelessly destructive, and amnesiac.

In fact, he is only named "Hancock" because the hospital told him to put his "John Hancock" on the forms and he thought they knew that was his name (note to foreign readers - a "John Hancock" is a generic term for a signature because the real John Hancock wrote his name so LARGE on the Declaration Of Independence)

I would have thought about the amnesiac part earlier, but I assumed that some OTHER character would come along to straighten him out.  Well, actually I was right about that, but sure not in the way I expected.  There was no character to "straighten him out" by being stronger and wiser" (deus ex machia). 

Hancock goes through life stopping minor crimes by destroyed massive amounts of property just because that's the easiest way to do it, acting like an idiot physically and socially, and living a lonely boring life punctuated by violence.  The citizenry is thinking they might be better off without him but there is nothing they can do about him.  He is invulnerable and seemingly immortal.  He's sort of like the vigilante semi-crazed Batman with Superman powers, except that he doesn't seem to care about crime other than than that he gets to really beat up on the bad guys.

And then, oh so slowly, a past begins to emerge.  He begins to recognize that he is destructive.  The wife of his best friend turns out to be a superperson too.  Not different (ie, "feminine" powers),  to oppose Hancock; identical! 

After the obligatory fight scenes (equal to the last iota of energy) where they seem to destroy a large part of a city (after which it seemed to me that even Hancock looked around appalled), the truth starts to come out. 

Hancock first lived in ancient times, created by ancient deities.  Beings like him were created in pairs, male/female.  As they found each other, their powers waned so that after so many years they could live mortal lives and love, raise families, and finally die (often called the "mortals blessing" in mythology).  Hancock and Mary (the female superpower) were the last of the pairs. 

In a touching scene, she explains all his scars as examples of what happens when the two of them are close and their powers weaken.  Though nearly mortal, he fought off swordsmen in Sumeria (Persia?), saved her a few more times through history.  They always had to separate to regain their powers. 

But the last time they were together, he was injured so badly he was amnesiac, not eve remembering who he or Mary was.  She left him so he could survive, determined to stay away from him forever to keep him alive.

After getting in touch again (Hancock saves Mary's husband's life) the weakness begins again,  Hancock is shot in a minor robbery.  While stopping from (unexplained?) assassins from killing Hancock, Mary is mortally wounded.  Hancock (near death) manages to kill the assasins efficiently (throwing several out of high windows) and Mary's EKG flatlines.  Hancock understands what is happening and leaps out the high window himself to increase the distance between himself and Mary.

He survives the fall (barely) and so jumps further away, gaining strength as he gets further away.  Mary de-flatlines!  Her fingers twitch, she breathes again, she lives.  Her husband Ray (who understands everything by now) rushes to her side with the young daughter.  All is well in her world.

The resolution is basically that Hancock has learned responsibility, purpose, and control in line with his original created intent, and that Mary will have a temporary loving marriage with Ray.  That she and Hancock will have a new relationship in the future, and that Earth will have a superhero. 

I note (cautiously) that Hancock and Mary seem to have not had any children in the times they were together.  There might be an origin movie someday.

But it was sure a good movie.  And having watched only 2 movies in several years,  Those were good ones.

Friday, October 4, 2013

NOW I Remember...

why I stopped playing Civilization II years ago.  Its addictive.  I don't eat.  I don't sleep.  I just keep playing...

A few days ago, I got my old PC working again and played Civ II all night.  I mean like 12 hours.  And 12 hours does not complete a game.  I finished the next day in 8 hours.  OK, got THAT out of my sytem, right?  NO.  Started another game last night and played from 8 pm to 10 am.  I collapsed into bed from 10 am to 3 pm, got up, cleaned house and made dinner.  Played with the cats.  Watched science and polital talk on tv.

And the new game is sitting there calling to me...  How can I leave a game unfinished?

Drugs have nothing on Civ II for demanding attention!

The good news is that I lost 3 pounds by not bothering to eat.  LOL!  But I think the cat blog is going to suffer until I get tired of this game again...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Day In The Life

I don't often bother to contact my local elected officials.  The few times I have done so in the past got me responses that either completely ignored my issue, or got it backwards and thanked me for supporting the vote I was complaining about.

But today I got interested in obtaining genetic testing.  I had thought about it for several years, so it wasn't exactly an impulsive decision.  My delay had been the cost a few years ago ($1,000) and limited results offerred. 

But when I drilled deeply into one of the provider's websites (and found the cost of $99 and the list of results very lengthy and detailed),  I decided to purchase this genome test.  Imagine my surprise when I was informed by the website that Maryland is the ONLY State that completely prohibits such "direct-to-consumer" transactions (New York State has a partial ban).

I decided to complain.  From what little I could find out about the original regulation, it was aimed at preventing people from being suckered by fly-by-night scammers and those who might sell your genetic information to insurance companies and employers.  But the professional companies doing this now seem to protect you from that. 

And even if that wasn't true, it doesn't matter to me anymore.  I'm retired and my federal health insurance has worked like ObamaCare for 30 years and it is WONDERFUL!  I can switch insurance companies every year (I don't) and pre-existing conditions don't matter.

But back to genome (genetic) testing...  Alone, Maryland will not allow me to just send a spit sample to a genome testing company and get results.  So I looked up all my elected representatives.  I emailed them all demanding they allow me the RIGHT to get my genetic results directly from a qualified lab the same way my fellow-citizens in OTHER States can.

I bet all the responses from the politicians are vague and promise agreement even when they say they support the law I am complaining about. 

But I'm still glad I spent a few hours contacting them.  Sure made ME feel better.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blast From The Past

I got my old PC up and running in order to play Civilization 2 (aka Civ II), which I haven't played for about 10 years.  I knew I would be rusty at it, so I started he game at the lowest level. 

For those who are not familiar with the game, you and several players (human if online, computer bots if not) each start with  their own single barely historic settler and decide where on a random map to create a first city.  You slowly work up to modern times by learning weapons, governments, and knowledge advancements.  There are politics involved.  The goal is to be the one who launches a spaceship reaching Alpha Centuri.  It is wicked tricky and complicated.

I reached a point in my first new game where I was getting to build a spaceship.  And when I say "build" I mean you really had to construct your spaceship from parts you built/bought/stole in your own constructed cities or your opponents.  You needed some various precise combinations of "structural components", "propulsion units",  "habitation units",  "fuel",  and "energy".  Different combinations had different consequences.  Some made the spaceship fail.  Some caused the inhabitants to die.  Other combinations affected the likelihood that the ship would arrive, and others affected the years of the flight.

It is an AWESOME game!

I recalled that I had once worked out many of the best combinations of the spaceship parts, so I googled "civilization II spaceship formulas", figuring someone had posted them.

You won't BELIEVE what I got at the top of the list...

MY OWN LIST.  Still considered part of the Civ II bible after all these years...

In a site for info for Civ II players  by various categories (like how to defend a new city, when to use a spy, and when to break an alliance).  And THERE, in a page of its OWN, was a page titled "Optimum Spaceship Configurations"  by Cavebear.

I blushed...

But yup, that's me, Cavebear.  I even recognize my usual typos and unmatched parentheses.

I'm stunned. 

You don't expect to see anything you did a decade ago still meaningful, especially in a game.  It brought tears to my eyes...

I can't quite get a screenshot, but it is HERE

And I sure hope I get to use that decade-old info on the winning spaceship tonight.