Nothing is more humorous than listening to Jen try to close a long-dormant AOL account via the phone while the moron on the other end tries to keep her from doing so. Apparently the script they have been given involves the phrase, “I understand that, Ma’am, but did you know (insert worthless offer of AOL product here)…?” Seriously, she must have said the words “I just want to close my account” about fifteen times. I think it was at the point when she mentioned that they’re only supposed to try three times before they have to listen to you when Skippy The Wonder Salesman got the message.

Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal. Friday I got all my home automation gear from FedEx, and after work I tried plugging it in to make some stuff turn on and off. Installation is simple, and the Indigo software recognized the USB hub immediately, but none of the lights I plugged in seemed to respond to the X10 commands. Jen and I retreated to the Whistle Stop for beers and food, and I devised a new plan of attack; Saturday morning I plugged the USB controller into my Powerbook and took it to a different wall socket—Voila! No loading drivers, no patches, no greasy kid stuff—the software worked out of the box. Apparently there’s too much noise on the socket the iMac is plugged in to (it shares a socket with a BackUPS Pro 1000, Airport Base Station, SMC DSL switch, DSL modem, and cordless phone, which is a no-no in the X10 world) so I’ll have to figure out some form of filter or double-socket approach for the final setup. One drawback that I found is that the outgoing email alerts don’t support authenticated SMTP yet, which means I have to write, compile, and link to AppleScripts to send myself mail when something goes boom (or, for that matter, send the house an email and have it turn on the living room lights, then send me back a confirmation email.)

On the other hand, Indigo’s author is a very helpful and responsive fellow, and had replied to my forum post within a half-hour. I’m only about three days into the trial period on the software, but I’m definitely buying a copy of Indigo—I’m that impressed.

I think I’m going to start a page detailing the trials and tribulations of my home automation experience to help other folks who may be looking for help. There were a few things that weren’t clear to me right off the bat, and it may be helpful for other folks to hear about my experience before they jump in.

(Note: in my days as a production artist at a local hack design shop, I worked on an account for a home automation system called HAL 2000, a branding move about as smart as naming your firstborn child Charles Manson. Did these people even watch the movie?)

Date posted: February 29, 2004 | Filed under geek, humor | Leave a Comment »

So yesterday evening I get a call from my fianceé, who was stumbling around our house in the dark, tripping over the cats and wondering why there was no power. We live on a grid in Catonsville that is about as twitchy as a crack whore; a child sneezes in Minneapolis and we lose our electricity. I think it’s safe to say that in six months I’ve dealt with more blackouts in this house than an Irish dockworker, so I was ready to light the hurricane lamps and wait out the repairs, but she told me all the other houses on our grid still had power….?!? At this point I became confused, because when half my bank account recently disappeared with an audible thunk, I knew the current bill had been paid. Jen called BG&E to find out what the hell was going on while I drove home. As it turns out, the good doctor, who has been dead and buried two years, still has an open balance on his account. This problem is exacerbated by BG&E’s insistence on listing his account at the ‘2nd floor’, while we are listed as the ‘1st floor’. The CSR looked at our records, put Jen on hold, then came back and admitted their mistake—they saw activity on his account, and decided without notifying us or realizing that there’s only one meter to shut the power off at 2:45 yesterday afternoon. (It’s a lucky thing the temperatures are still in the 40’s, because if that 12-pack of beer in the fridge we just bought had skunked, I would have been apoplectic.)

Date posted: February 27, 2004 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

One of the great things about living outside the city is having a house with a yard. One of the great things about having a yard is that frequently you’ll see animals outside your windows. Hopefully they’re not trying to burrow their way in to get at your food, like the raccoons who occasionally dropped in on Jen’s old apartment, but coexist peacefully in the suburban microcosm that you call home. For us, this means chipmunks burrowing around the tree roots in our backyard, and a helpful neighborhood dog who enjoys digging out great patches of our lawn to try and roust them from their holes. We have squirrels who probably could take on the worst of Central Park’s crack-addled fauna—One morning, while sipping our coffee peacefully on the couch, we saw two local squirrels chase a hawk the size of a dalmatian from the branch of one of ‘their’ trees. We have a feral neighborhood cat with no tail or ears who enjoys beating the crap out of any animal unlucky enough to get close to it, and who dines from our garbage cans.

We also have a pair of cardinals who visit the side yard outside our kitchen window. Back when the Doctor lived there, he had a pole-stand birdhouse in that yard next to a sundial, and when the house changed hands both found their way into somebody’s car or the dumpster they filled in the driveway. The cardinals came by every morning last fall and sat on the scrubby apple tree, waiting for the bird feeder to reappear. Then one morning, they were gone. Today I was cleaning out the coffeepot and looked up to see both of them again, which was a relief. The gray female flitted about in the gray underbrush, looking for something to eat, while the red male sat on the branch looking magnificent, bored, and useless. I’d like to think his presence was the portent of a warm, enjoyable spring right around the corner, but I’m sure his mate was looking in the window at me saying, “make with some birdseed, you cheap prick.”

Another Jungian Test. Jason sent this over to me this morning, and the results were different than the pre-Cana test Jen and I took a few weeks back: ENFJ. Funny how the results change based on which test you take.

Wow. I want to go here. I love finding things like this collection of pictures, not only because they’re aesthetically beautiful, but because I have about a million different stories I’m writing in my head about the subject.

Date posted: February 26, 2004 | Filed under house, life | Leave a Comment »

See, this is why the Republicans want to preserve the sanctity of marriage. So that intelligent role models like this couple will educate future generations about the holy bond of matrimony. (…Simpson. Simp—son.)

Rawk! Dept. I’m listening to Sleater-Kinney’s One Beat. I find it sadly hilarious that these ladies rock out harder than 3/4 of the panty-waisted Nü-Metal acts on the dial these days. Sadly because the songs are melodic, individual, and exciting, and they get zero airplay. Remember when songs were melodic and they rocked? (Yesterday I leaned over to Todd and said quietly, “Remember when that chick was prom queen? Oh, Wow.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Take it off! Take it all off!”)

This Link Will Be Dead In 3 Months Dept. This truck makes me wish I had $5K+ to spend right now.

Date posted: February 25, 2004 | Filed under cars, money, music | Leave a Comment »

Vote Democrat. (for the record, Kerry and Edwards are only willing to go as far as civil ceremonies, but I’d really prefer not to have a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, even if I don’t think it would ever pass through every state.)

I think I was probably one of the first folks in Maryland to get my music settlement check frum the gub’mint; it came on Monday for the sweet, sweet total of $13.86. I also have two winning Pepsi caps ready for use at the iTunes Music Store…this hack makes me wish I had thought of it myself.

Date posted: February 24, 2004 | Filed under music, politics | Leave a Comment »

the bel-loc diner, towson md, 2.19.04

the bel-loc diner, towson md, 2.19.04

Y’know, all this talk of weddings and stress has sort of blinded me to something that’s been not-so-quietly happening out in California. I looked at this site and suddenly remembered that there are people who can’t get legally married here in America, and that our right as a heterosexual couple is something I take for granted. Go take a look.

Dissapointingly, most of the WMA -> MP3 converters I’ve tried thus far make files with the fidelity of a drunken brass band underwater. Which is a shame, because I’ve suddenly got a reason to use one.

All Quiet. Much like Todd’s post yesterday, work has been pretty dull lately. So I’ve been enjoying the workbench project at the house this past week. As of this morning the frame is set up and leveled off (not an easy task in an 80-year-old basement) to the back wall under the stairs; I have to finish the top of the bench and put in the bottom shelf, then rip the old Bell Systems switchbox off the back wall and rewire the local outlet to supply power to the lights (there will be lights under the cabinet and over top of it—no more fumbling around in the dark for tools I can’t find.)

Meanwhile, this weekend I’m going to attempt to make some progress in the Office upstairs. First up is removal of the kickplates, then pulling down the drop ceiling to see what the rest of the plaster looks like (shudder.) Then, gently pulling the plaster away from the floorboards and running yet more wire. We also have a Saturday appointment with the priest who will be officiating our wedding—you know you’re in good hands when the Father tells you to knock twice on the back door of the rectory and ask for “Louie”. We went to his service last Sunday, and he is the spitting image of my Uncle Dave, from the white hair to the ruddy Irish complexion, which will make the service that much better.

Hopefully Jen and I will be able to get away on Sunday for a day of non-wedding fun in DC; we had plans to hit a museum on the Mall last weekend but didn’t make it before the weather turned cold. I’m really looking forward to a day alone with her.

I got a freelence check for a whopping $75 the other day, which paid for a USB interface and two adjustable lamp controllers to test out a home automation system. The Indigo software is beautiful and intuitive (30-day trial download), and I’m excited to set up something that will make our huge dark house look like somebody actually lives there.

Date posted: February 20, 2004 | Filed under house, list | Leave a Comment »

Webmonkey, the online help site Wired put together back in 1996 to help morons like me learn how to code HTML, is no more. Terra Lycos, who bought Wired Online’s assets, pulled the plug and fired the remaining staff last week, which is a shame. Many a day I was hunched over the keyboard attempting to learn Javascript or figure out the maddening rules of frames, and Webmonkey was the place I looked for answers.

Mike Lee posted a link to a new article on the O’Reilly MacDevCenter about home automation, which reminds me of a previous post; there’s some good juicy info in this article with more to come. (My thought was to pick up three or four outlets and the software to control the lights while we’re away on our honeymoon.)

Tonight I was alone, as Jen was at a work pow-wow, so I picked up some more 2×4’s and started building a workbench in the basement. I’ve been making do with a leftover bench from the garage—’bench’ only loosely defines this collection of planking, nails and scrap wood—and it’s gotten to the point where stuff is piled on the floor in heaps. The plan calls for an eight-foot long bench three feet high with one large shelf underneath. I had enough wood and deck screws to get the main frame built but I need more of each to finish the job. Dad will be happy to know I used his laser level to get the thing close to stable, but sad to learn that one of the two leveling bubbles is cracked and empty, which means I will have to test the Sears return policy.

Date posted: February 17, 2004 | Filed under house, links | Leave a Comment »

Today I took advantage of my day off not by lounging around the house in my PJ’s, but by continuing the incremental gains made on both the Pink and Blue rooms. All the relevant kickplates are in, and aside from one patch of drywall in a closet, all problem areas have been mudded and sanded at least once. My good friend Robby stopped by to pick my brain about Apple laptops, and I convinced him that a refurbished Powerbook was better for his needs than a new iBook. Which he ordered today, making me extremely jealous. Another Rob stopped by to drop off our DVD-ROM drive and offer his PDF services with the invitation, which we may need to take him up on. Jen worked a full day and made it home late after hitting the gym, where she has an appointment with her training advisor this Friday. We sat on the couch and enjoyed the improved feng shui of the living room—yesterday I moved the couch and recentered the ‘sitting’ side, which makes the whole thing work much better.

Date posted: February 16, 2004 | Filed under apple, geek | Leave a Comment »

For those of you who are print-design oriented, or even just computer savvy, this rant may strike a chord. For those of you who aren’t, or don’t use OSX, trust me when I say there is nothing more frustrating than trying to print a PDF from Quark 5. We are finishing up our wedding invitation (that’s the sound of one big checkmark off the list) and trying any and all methods for getting a Mac Quark file to Jen’s work PC with fonts, formatting, and sanity intact so that we may take advantage of some extra space on a print job leaving next week. As you may have guessed, we are only marginally successful at this late hour (10:13PM.) Acrobat Distiller 5 is as helpful as an IRS audit, and every workaround I can think of is crashing and burning. Unfortunately, I don’t have an OSX version of Quark 6 (and from what I hear, I don’t think I want one), nor does Jen have one decent font on her work PC’s. I’ve devised a stopgap measure which may or may not work involving a little-known application called FontMonger; you feed Mac TrueType fonts in and out come PC versions—with some caveats. Sometimes the points get messed up; sometimes the hints get garbled, and sometimes whole letters get dropped out. I’m trying to devise a way to get this done without having to buy a PC version of Adobe Bembo, because we really need that $100 for other stuff. Like a punchbowl full of Xanax.

Date posted: February 15, 2004 | Filed under art/design | Leave a Comment »

purties for my sweetie, 2.13.04

purties for my sweetie, 2.13.04

In honor of Valentines Day, NPR did a report last night on couples who get cold feet at the altar and call off weddings; I the report cheerfully mentioned that roughly 20% of Catholic couples who make it through pre-counseling sessions call off the wedding, and the majority of weddings are cancelled by the groom (90%). Buoyed by these facts, Jen and I went to our second pre-cana meeting with our sponsor couple. The church seems to dig on its tests, because we took about seventeen of them last night. When I say tests, what I really mean are sheets of paper with lots of questions and a general 5-answer selection, from “Always” to “Never”, and you’re supposed to mark in your little square and then compare notes. There’s some validity in these tests, but also some voodoo science which sort of feels like you’re doing a sex quiz in the back of Cosmo—in front of your neighbors. I know that these tests are really to promote private discussion and conversation about all the crap a couple may not have talked about before (e.g., “What do you mean, you have a gambling problem?!” or “I never knew you thought I was spending too much time with my mother!”) but I have to wonder how some couples, who may have buried these revelations in a deep, black pit of denial, are equipped to talk about them after two hours of light conversation and a few Entenmann’s doughnuts?

The good news is that we passed our Catholic SAT’s, which means we can get into heaven on a scholarship.

Thanks to the Rockhaus, here’s a Thursday Three:

1. Have you ever had a great Valentine’s Day?

Yes. I’ve had a few, even though I dislike corporate holidays as a rule.

2. Ever had a completely awful Valentine’s Day?

I’m almost positive, but I’ve blocked them all out. My therapist says I’m making progress though, so I don’t scream incomprehensibly and fling poo anymore when the subject comes up.

3. Best thing about Valentine’s Day?

When all the damn diamond commercials leave the airwaves on the 15th. You know the ones.

Date posted: February 13, 2004 | Filed under humor, list | Leave a Comment »