I don’t really feel too great about this past weekend and I’m not sure that I can explain why in a way that most folks will understand. Let me give it a run and see how we fare.

There are three goals for me on any given weekend. I want to get a little more rest than I typically get throughout the week. I want to get the tasks done that I have to get done. I want to get something done that I want to get done.

The difference between those last two goals is subtle but important. The former is in respect to chores that you don’t really want to do but you know need to get done. Cleaning up around the house, doing yard work, getting the shopping done. (Yeah, some people like yard work. Let’s not argue semantics - there are things you don’t like doing that you have to do. That’s what I’m talking about.) The latter is in respect to the fun things - the things you want to do but never get enough time for. Reading comic books, playing video games, that sort of thing. Fun stuff.

I usually try to break the weekend up so that I work really hard on Saturday and get everything done that I have to get done and then on Sunday take it easy and do the things I want to get done. Jenn seems to like intermingling the two - do a little work, have a little fun, do a little more work… we end up at the same spot, but I usually don’t feel like I’m having nearly as much fun if it’s sandwiched in between work. I want to get the work done and then go have play time where I don’t have to look forward to any work until Monday.

Now let me throw in there that I’m very much a task-driven individual and I need closure. I like being able to “check things off my list,” so to speak. If there are ten things to do, I’ll get all ten done, and when they’re all done I’ve got closure on the set of tasks and I feel good. I feel accomplished.

With that in mind, here’s how the weekend went:

Saturday I got up between 7:00a and 8:00a and went outside to pressure wash our awning in the back of the house. (It had mildewed over the winter so there’s a blackish section on it that I was set to scrub off.) The weather wasn’t great, but at least it wasn’t raining. I got both Roombas and the Scooba running to clean the floor and headed out. (I noticed that one of the Roombas had run over something sticky - presumably cat vomit or something, so I had to clean that out before setting it loose. Freaking awesome.)

First I grabbed the ladder. The ladder sits in the corner of the garage by the garage door and every time I pull it out to use it, it gets snagged on this little wire that connects power to the sensor that stops the garage door from closing on, say, your pets as they run under the door. The builder never really secured the wire down, and the connections were just raw wire twists hanging out there, so I decided it was time to address that. A little electrical tape and some cable staples later, I had the ladder pulled out and in the backyard.

Next I grabbed the pressure washer and headed out back. Reeled out the awning, hooked up the pressure washer, and turned on the hose.

I was sort of curious why the pressure washer would have water running through it when it wasn’t turned on - just the water was on - but it was something I borrowed from my parents who got it from my grandfather’s estate when he passed and Granddad was sort of known for “jimmying” things that probably should have been thrown out anyway.

Turned on the pressure washer and the gun just started shooting water. There’s a trigger on the gun for the washer, but it’s apparently just there for show. That would have been nice to know before the thing started spraying around like a firehose. (Note: Every time I pressure wash, I borrow some relative’s pressure washer and it’s always some dicey deal like this. I’m not borrowing a pressure washer ever again. I’ll be buying my own so I know it works.)

Of course, before I could get it under control, it shot this awesome clean spot into my back patio, so now I have this little clean section that stands out like writing in the dirt on a car that hasn’t been washed. Faaaantastic.

Climbed up the ladder, took the pressure washer up, and started spraying.

Did you know that pressure washing doesn’t remove mildew? I sure didn’t. Try as I might, the pressure washer had somewhere around no effect. Brilliance.

Since I had the pressure washer out, one of the other jobs I knew needed to be done was to clean a few of the spots around the house that got dirty over the course of the winter. It was a pain, and I pressure washed both shoes and one leg in the process (damn that stupid gun that won’t stop squirting!) but I got that part of things done.

I decided to try some shower cleaner on the mildew since, you know, shower cleaner is supposed to get rid of mildew. I sprayed it on, left it the prescribed amount of time, and used a push broom to scrub around on the awning. It mostly worked, though it only did about half the job. Even though it left a minty-fresh smell, I decided to go get some actual outdoor cleaner at Home Depot.

Picked up some stuff called “30 Seconds” which specifically says it’ll work on mildew and is safe for vinyl. Exactly what I needed. Picked up that and a cheap one-gallon sprayer. (I have a five gallon stainless steel sprayer, but it’s not really something you can haul easily up a ladder and my parents are using it right now anyway.)

Got it home and read the instructions. In the biggest, reddest letters on the package, it said, “THE SURFACE MUST BE DRY.” Hmmm. It was crappy weather outside and had I just hosed the awning down. That wasn’t going to be drying anytime soon, so I packed everything in.

That was probably two to three hours’ worth of no awning getting cleaned right there. I’m all set to do it some other day, but I really didn’t check much (except the cleaning of a couple of dirty spots on the house) off my list.

I then set about helping Jenn weed a section of flowerbeds along the side of our house. It was pretty well out of control and since the flowers have started blooming, the weeds have, too.

Jenn had been working on this the whole time I was busy not accomplishing anything with the pressure washer so she had it mostly under control. What she needed was someone to get the weed whacker and cut down this ridiculous grass area that borders our property and the people behind us. So I did that - got out the weed whacker and two 40’ extension cords (that section is pretty far away from the closest outlet) and cut down that grass. Mostly.

I realized that wasn’t going to do much but just make the grass short. It was damp out, so I couldn’t spray Roundup on it, and even if I could, after a couple of weeks it comes back. I noticed when I was at Home Depot they had some extended treatment Roundup, so I made a mental note to pick that up next time I was there. That said, net zero on the grass area - the grass was shorter but not gone.

Of course, I had the weed whacker out, and another thing on the list was that the lawn needed to be edged. I set about doing just that and got about a third of the way done before I ran out of weed whacker string. I could have sworn we had a bunch of extra, but we didn’t. Add that to the list of things to buy at Home Depot and chalk one more item up that I can’t actually get done.

About that time we had to leave to go pick up some wedding photo reprints, so we brought everything in, got ourselves cleaned up and changed, and headed out on the town.

We went everywhere. We picked up our reprints, hit the mall, stopped at Toys R Us (I got a “Spider-Man Mr. Potato Head,” which is pretty cool), and finally ended up at Fry’s Electronics because I needed to get a cheap, low-capacity IDE hard drive for the media center computer I’m building. That (and the Potato Head) was the only thing I really wanted to get done in town.

Fry’s doesn’t carry cheap, low-capacity drives. I was looking for the sub-100GB, sub-$50 sort of thing. (Granted, cost was the primary driver here - if I had found a large-capacity drive for less than $50, that’d have been fine.) The cheapest drive they had was closer to $100 and was around 250GB. I realize that the market for the sort of drive I’m looking for is reasonably small, but come on. In the end, no hard drive. Gotta order that online.

The end of our journey on Saturday brought us to the video store to rent a movie. The only movie I really wanted to see that was out was Children of Men. Guess what movie they didn’t have in stock.

Got home, ate some dinner, and watched Open Season. Good, funny, but not really what I was in the mood for. I liked it, but it left me… unfulfilled.

Bed time. Total tally of things I got done that were on my list of things to do: zero.

Woke up altogether too early on Sunday and decided to read a little. I’m reading Broken Angels right now and loving it. Jenn went downstairs to play some Xbox and I read for around two hours. That was nice and was definitely on my list of things I wanted to do.

Now, before I continue on Sunday, remember that I was really hoping to do things I had to do on Saturday and things I wanted to do on Sunday. Yeah, plans change, I get it, but I sort of figured I could at least skew the day towards the “things I wanted to do” side. I wanted to read my book, read some comics, play some Xbox (specifically finishing up the side missions on the game I’m playing), and put some shelves up in the office to arrange the myriad Star Wars stuff on.

Okay, so I read my book for a while and I was feeling pretty good about things. I took my shower and headed down to quickly pay my bills online and get on with the day.

Paying bills took far, far longer than it should have. Actually, it wasn’t the bill paying that took the time - it was more the time spent gathering up paperwork and things that need to be submitted to the insurance company to get reimbursement for various expenses. It was stupid, lame, only-sort-of-accomplishing-something, mindless paper gathering. I hadn’t realized it needed to be done, but there it was, and it wasn’t doing itself. It took probably around an hour to get all that done. But that’s okay - I’ve still got the whole day, right?

I was almost done with that when I ran upstairs to get something and noticed that where the Roomba had run on Saturday it really wasn’t clean. A few minutes of inspection showed me that Roomba’s brushes weren’t spinning. Oh, wait - this is the Roomba that sucked up the cat vomit. Must have burned out the brush motor with the sticky whatever-it-was. Dammit.

I got what I went upstairs to get (I don’t even remember what it was) then brought it and the Roomba down. I finished up the bills and got onto the iRobot web site to see if there were any troubleshooting steps that mentioned what to do if Roomba sucks up cat vomit. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing about that. I searched out the support line just to find out they’re not open Sundays, so I cobbled together a support email and sent that off.

About the time I was finishing that up, Jenn started taking the wedding photo reprints we picked up Saturday and putting them in the wedding album. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the paper that we wrote the order of the photos down in so we sat down together to figure it out again. Once that was done, the pictures had to be secured to the pages, then the pages had to be secured in the album. All of this “securing” got done by me with archival tape.

Now, I like the idea of scrapbooking and photo albums and such. It’s a romantic notion where you can pore over the precious memories you made while immortalizing them in a creative way. In practice, though, not so much. This was a lot of tedious work and really was somewhere around zero fun. Oh, and it only took about two hours.

We were well into the afternoon by the time I got to play any Xbox. I put in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and started running through the “training simulator missions” (which are basically these little side missions). I hadn’t really run through any and was almost done with the storyline for the game so I figured now was the time to do it - before I finished the plot and wasn’t able to come back and finish.

Some of the missions are fun, some are a little tedious, but they all contribute toward your characters’ growth and, frankly, I love the Marvel universe so even the tedious ones were decent. The thing is, they all take about 10 - 15 minutes to complete and there are probably 30 of them. I got about two hours into that and decided to take a break, switching to some puzzle/arcade games I have.

Around three hours in, Jenn came down from doing whatever she was doing. (I think she was working on a pillow - a sewing project left over from Christmas.) I love Jenn dearly but she’ll tell you herself that she can’t go more than a couple of hours doing solo projects before she gets bored, so I was totally expecting her to come down, which usually means it’s time for me to finish what I’m doing. Plus it was nearing dinner time, so I wrapped up what I was doing and started looking at food options.

(There are some that might argue I got freaking three hours to play and that’s plenty for anyone. Sure I did. And, yeah, it’s a lot of time. But in that time, try as I might, I really didn’t accomplish - in the games

  • the goals I was trying to accomplish. Did I try for too much? Maybe. Did I feel like I “got my gaming in?” Not really, no.)

We ate dinner and watched Miss Congeniality 2, which wasn’t a great movie and I wasn’t terribly into it, but there wasn’t really anything else on and it was getting too late to really want to start any new projects.

So, let’s tally Sunday up: I really only count the reading in the morning toward the “things I want to do” list, though if you want to argue it, fine, I’ll count my non-goal-attaining gaming session, too. I generally did more work than having fun, so no goal there.

All in all, I didn’t really finish any of the work I set out to get done during the weekend and I didn’t get much of the fun in, either. It was pretty much just a wasted weekend and I’m not feeling very accomplished at all.

Add to that the fact I’m trying to fight what could become a pretty major scope-creep issue on the project I’m working on and I’m struggling with some technical issues due to a couple of defects I’ve uncovered in tools we’re using (neither of which are doing wonders for my mood and both of which stuck with me through the whole weekend) and I didn’t really come out smiling this morning. I’m exhausted and I’m not having a good time.

Jenn, ever sympathetic before we went to sleep last night: “I don’t know what’s wrong with you - it seemed like every other weekend to me.” Hmmm. Maybe it was. Maybe I set myself up for disappointment. Regardless, I’m going to need some serious chemical mood enhancement to get me through today. Time for the Monday-morning-two-hour-planning-meeting! Woohoo!

xbox comments edit

Xbox Live Vision camera and Xbox 360 HD DVD
playerFriday night I picked up one of the Xbox 360 HD DVD players, an Xbox Live Vision camera, and a copy of GRAW 2. I am uber-stoked for all of these things.

The setup was pretty simple, though I think for folks less familiar with technology it may have been frustrating. See, I have the wireless network adapter for the Xbox 360 and that takes up the one USB port on the back of the unit. I’m sort of reluctant to jam a bunch of stuff into the front ports on the thing because, well, it’s ugly, and I really want those for other things (like my DDR dance mat). The wireless adapter, the camera, and the HD DVD player are all USB devices. Luckily, the HD DVD player has two USB ports on the back you can use to extend the Xbox with. So here’s how it looks now:

The HD DVD player plugs into the Xbox 360. The wireless network adapter and the camera plug into the HD DVD player. Everything is plugged in behind-the-scenes, so I don’t have any cords hanging out in front of the device.

So why was that confusing? A couple of reasons, actually.

First, the instructions for the camera tell you to plug it in “directly to the Xbox 360.” There’s even a picture of it plugging into one of the front USB ports on the Xbox. No, thank you. Even that wouldn’t have been as confusing except for…

Second, there’s some installation overhead to getting these things up and running and it doesn’t all just magically come up. Before you can hook up the HD DVD player, you have to put this DVD into the Xbox 360 that presumedly has some drivers it needs to install. Once it’s got that installed, you can plug in the HD DVD player. That said, it won’t actually recognize that the player is there until you turn the Xbox off and back on again. Is it plugged into the wrong port? Do I need to plug it into the front like in the instructions? No, but that isn’t immediately clear.

Once you’ve “rebooted,” the HD DVD player comes up, the network adapter comes up, and all is well… except it, for some reason, still hasn’t recognized the Xbox Live Vision camera. For that, you need to reboot again. On the second reboot, everything should be up and running. When it gets there, it’s really sweet, but getting there is the issue. (Note I did try hooking the camera up to the Xbox directly but it didn’t matter - it still took two reboots to get it going. Yes, that does mean I rebooted four - or more - times as I experimented with the setup, but the magic number does seem to be two.)

Now, I’ve only had the thing a couple of days, but here’s something I ran into: I decided to move the camera to a better location and zip-tie up some of the cables for the HD DVD player so they were a little cleaner and more managed. To do that, I had to unplug the HD DVD player and the camera, do the clean-up, move the camera, and plug it all back in. After I was done, I fired up the Xbox and it took another two-reboot cycle to get the HD DVD and camera recognized again. I’m wondering if there’s some sort of memory the console has that recognizes which ports things were plugged into and gets confused if you move things or disconnect the power.

Like I said, though, once you get it all running, it’s cool. Some of the stuff I didn’t know (because it’s either not terribly well advertised or I just haven’t seen it):

You can take a picture using the camera and use that as your “personal” picture - the one that only friends see. That said, I don’t seem to be able to find it anywhere online, even if I go to my profile on the Xbox web site, so it must just be a Live feature. Regardless, it’s pretty cool. Even my dad (who also picked up a camera) has one, and went to a lot of work to make it.

When you have the camera plugged in, the Xbox 360 dashboard has a sort of “watery reflection” playing in a light overlay of whatever the camera is seeing. You don’t really notice it at first, then you’re scrolling through a menu going, “Hey, what is that… holy crap, I’m on the screen!” Once you notice it, it’s pretty cool. It ripples based on how much movement the camera detects, too.

The HD DVD player makes it so the eject button on the Xbox 360 dashboard is split in half - the top half controls the Xbox console drive (allowing you to select, for example, “Play Game” or “Open Tray”) and the bottom half controls the HD DVD player (“Play HD DVD Movie”). This is actually a great way to tell if the Xbox has “recognized” the HD DVD player or not (so you know whether you need to reboot).

All in all, I’m really digging it. It came with King Kong in HD, which isn’t my favorite movie by any means but is a decent demonstration of how much clearer movies are in HD and really makes you never want to buy another standard DVD. It also has some of the little HD features you can expect like “picture-in-picture” storyboards and behind-the-scenes interviews, which is cool because that way you don’t have to leave the movie to see what they’re talking about.

Anyway, it’s awesome, and now I have a renewed interest not only in continuing my Media Center integration effort, but also updating some select pictures to HD. I’m totally ordering Serenity.

media comments edit

I’ve gotten some emails about my recent rounds with Windows Media Center with various suggestions and concerns and it made me realize that I may not have been clear about what I’m trying to accomplish with the media center. As such, here’s what I’m trying to achieve:

  • On-demand style access to my large selection of DVDs. I would like to be able to browse through the set, select one to watch, and watch it. Better still would be the ability to search for a particular genre, actor, or title if I’m thinking about one of those things to help me in finding something to watch. I have come to discover that several folks don’t actually re-watch DVDs, or aren’t interested in that sort of thing. I do re-watch my movies and enjoy them, hence my investment, but as the collection has grown, the convenience of finding the movie I’m looking for and getting things all set up has become lacking - it’s a pain, so we find ourselves not making as much use of them as I’d like.
  • Ease of use. Whatever the solution is, I’d like it to be an easy thing to use. The whole problem right now is that finding the DVD to watch is cumbersome; this shouldn’t be just as cumbersome or we won’t use it.
  • Ease of setup/maintenance. I don’t want to have to spend my life trying to set the thing up and tweak and tweak and tweak to get it to go. This sort of rules out many of the Linux-based solutions I’ve seen. (Granted, this is somewhat colored by my experience level with various OS setup/troubleshooting - I’m a Windows guy, and I can probably manage with the simplified UI of MacOS, but I’m not eager to get into what I feel is an overly-complex console interface. And, yes, this is a personal thing - some folks might feel the Windows solution would be more cumbersome. This isn’t a point for debate.)
  • Use this system as a backup for my DVDs. My dad has had discs go bad and I’m sure I’ve got some, too. I’d like to be able to re-create the movies as needed should the disc go bad.
  • No lost features/quality. I paid for the whole DVD. I don’t want to watch movies in a lower quality (re-encoded/compressed) than they appear on the DVD. I also paid for the extra features - deleted scenes, etc. I want access to those. Note that I can give a little on this if there is at least a path to get from the lower-quality/lower-access solution to the complete solution.
  • Extensibility. If I need more storage, if I want to add access to the collection from a different room… I want the system to be extensible. This is a fairly all-inclusive general statement.
  • Cost. I don’t want it to cost a lot. If it looks like it’s going to be, I’d like to be able to add to the system in increments rather than having a large up-front investment.

I am specifically not concerned with recording TV, streaming audio, or really any other features of the Media Center. If they’re there, so much the better. If not, it’s not a deal-breaker.

That’s what I’m aiming for. Next stop - actual hardware!

I’m not a high-fashion guy. I don’t get the whole avant-garde fashion thing, I don’t follow trends, and I’m not paying $300 for a shirt. That said, I know what I like, and what I like generally tends towards what I guess could be considered “simple classics.” I generally stick to the Ralph Lauren area in the store because I can’t deal with the unkempt “thug” look they try to sell me in the juniors and I’m not going to wear the golf pants they try to sell me in the “adult” section. I have an even more particular taste with what I find attractive in women’s clothing - IMHO, a simple black dress will beat out some crazy, extravagant number any day. With that in mind…

Jenn and I went shopping at Macy’s on Saturday. I was thinking about getting a new shirt or two and she just wanted to see what’s new for the season. When we walked in, though, I really felt like I was caught in some sort of time warp. It was the 70’s meets the 80’s with a touch of 60’s thrown in for good measure. All of the colors were muted browns, greens, and oranges like you see in pictures from the 70’s. The dresses all looked either like something you’d need to wear gogo boots with or like something that might go great with some stirrup pants underneath. Patterns were big, blocky, and geometric - they gave me a headache just looking at them.

I started feeling like I was listening to an orchestra perpetually tuning up. Everything was dischord and no notes stood out whatsoever. Every color on every garment was flat - not quite red, but not quite orange and not really yellow, either. It seemed like the aim was for a sort of haute couture jazz to emerge from the noise, but I wasn’t hearing it.

In the end, I didn’t find anything I liked (the stock seemed to be sort of between-seasons; I don’t need a bulky sweater, but I’m not looking for an unimpressive standard button-up shirt, either) and Jenn came out with a pair of pants and a dress that look great on her and did their best to separate themselves from the visual onslaught on the racks. Here’s hoping they snap out of it soon.