Crazy, Crazy

There has been enough chaos around here to make me feel like our lives are being whirled in a Vitamix blender, which would be fine if the result was a margarita, but this is different. Allysen’s mom spent a couple of days in the hospital after her hip operation, at which point nature decided to drop the third Nor’easter in two weeks on us—this one a blizzard delivering nearly two feet of snow—in the middle of which the Powers That Be transported Allysen’s mom from the hospital to rehab. Which meant Allysen had to go out in the blizzard to be there for the move (while I stayed home wielding the snowblower and shovel, resting a bit, then wielding the snowblower and shovel some more, resting a bit, then wielding… etc.).

Today I got word that Captain Jack needs surgery for his torn CCL (dog version of ACL), which he got while playing in a meadow with another dog, so he’s scheduled for surgery in two weeks—following which this border collie mix will have to be kept inactive and very quiet for a month, and pretty quiet for another month. Are we kidding? Nope, we’re not.

Coming home from that, I received word that my brother Chuck’s cancer treatment has hit some bumps—though the last MRI offered some encouragement, so they’re forging ahead with treatment.

And Stephen Hawking died. Well, damn.

On the other hand, the date is 3-14, so Happy Pi Day!

Life Takes a Sharp Left Turn

Allysen’s mom fell and broke her hip Friday evening. She lives in our downstairs apartment, and I walked in with a slice of pizza for her, only to find her on the floor in the dining room. She said her leg hurt, so I didn’t move her—and in fact, EMTs and the fire department were already on their way, because she’d pressed the medical alert button she wears hanging from her neck. Allysen was out for the evening, so I accompanied her for the ambulance ride, complete with wailing siren.

The ER staff at Mount Auburn Hospital were terrific. By the time Allysen and I left for the night, her mom was scheduled for a partial hip replacement the next day. That was Saturday, and it went very well. I expect there will be a couple of weeks of rehab in our immediate future. I think she was especially annoyed about this in light of her having just gotten cataract surgery; she was really tired of people (us) hovering around giving her eye drops. Doctored-out, was how she put it, just a couple of days before her fall.

Ironically, after all the work put into the apartment to eliminate tripping hazards, it was playing with her dog McDuff that toppled her. She’d turned 88 just a few weeks ago. Old age is definitely not for sissies. She’s recovering well, so far, though.

“I didn’t do anything!”


Antares Rises from the Ashes!

It’s been a month since my Asus laptop, Antares, died from motherboard failure—a year to the day after I purchased it. After much nudging, pleading, and cajoling on my part, Asus agreed to take it back for warranty repair. It came back this week, running again, but with Windows restored to a factory-new condition. Good(-ish)! I run a lot of software, and that means a week of reinstalling everything… unless… unless I can restore it from backup.

Before I sent it in, I’d pulled the hard drive and made a disk-image backup using Aomei free backup software, and a second backup using Paragon backup software, just in case. You can’t be too careful.

So I plug in the backup drive, run Aomei, and tell it to restore the drive from my backup. What could go wrong? Runnnn… brrrrrrrrr…boom, restart computer, and we’re back to Feb. 8. Right?

Restart computer. Boom. “Boot device not found.” Thud.

“It’s still dead, Jim.”

Two days later, and I’m still running different permutations of the restore, using a boot thumbdrive that Aomei created for me.  (Paragon created one, too, but it didn’t boot.) No response from an email to tech support.  And then, on the user forum, an admin casually notes that my backup procedure was flawed—can’t backup the system files from a drive in a USB enclosure. Oh, shirt.

As a temporary diversion, I spend an hour playing Mr. Fixit, replacing the faulty inlet valve in our dishwasher. At least that works!

I have more backups, though, right? Surely I do. Here’s one from November.  This is my last hope. I run it. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr… (it’s on a different backup drive, a slower one). Two hours later, restart. Boom. My heart leaps as I hear the Windows welcome chime! I have my desktop with all my stuff as of November! Restoring the missing data is just a detail, and I’m back in business!  Aomei Backupper, you came through!

Antares is alive again!

Asus Comes Through!

Will she come back to life?

Previously on the Star Rigger Chronicles…

We left our hero shedding more than one tear over his beloved laptop (It’s dead, Jim), which abruptly died a year to the day after purchase—and muttering imprecations about the manufacturer whose tech support said, “Sorry! Out of warranty!” It was a dark day.

But today, the shrouds of darkness have scattered! After receiving two voicemails from Asus asking if my problem has been resolved (Duh! No!), I (the hero is me) call them back. At first, the answer is the same, only better: “For an estimated $700, we will diagnose your machine and call you with a new estimate, which may be more. If you wish, you may dispute the new estimate.”

“Huh? Dispute the estimate? What does that even mean?”

“You can try to get a discount.”

 Groan. “Look, it died one year to the day after I bought it. Can’t you help me?”

Repeat refrain. Eventually, though, she says, “Let me put you on hold.” I hold. She comes back and says, “We are going to escalate this to corporate. You will get a call within 48 business hours.”

“Forty-eight business—” calculating in head “—does that mean six days?” No, that was just customer-support talk. It means two days.

Two hours later I get a call from corporate. They need a copy of my purchase receipt so they can escalate it again. I find the receipt, and with some difficulty get it scanned to a pdf. (The dead laptop is where I usually handle scanning.)

That was yesterday. Today I get the reply: “Yes, we will fix it under the warranty.”

From somewhere in the clouds, we hear, faintly, the triumphal sounds of John Williams and the London Symphony, playing the Throne Room theme from Star Wars! Yay!

Never give up! Never surrender!


WTF? Demons? Gremlins? Squirrels?

My trusty laptop Antares failed to power up today, precisely one day after the warranty expired. Nothing, nada, dark. That would have been bad enough, but it was my second machine to bite the dust between last night and this morning. My amazing Panasonic DVD recorder, Grabber, kacked in the middle of a DVD burn last night and now sits lifeless, with a hard drive full of movies and TV shows. And to top it all off, squirrels picked last night to bite through the light string on our outdoor tree, killing the pretty blue lights we had left on to brighten the winter nights.

For the laptop I hoped that Asus, the manufacturer, might cut me a little slack, especially since I believe that it shut itself off last night—which is probably when whatever happened, happened, on the last day of the warranty. No dice, though: “You called today, and your machine is out of warranty.” I declined to send it to them, did all the standard troubleshooting stuff, and then mournfully carted it off to the local computer repair place.


Edit: Asus has reversed its position! More to come at eleven.

And then there’s the Panasonic. I love this machine, a DMR-E85H, for those who care about such things. I got my first one close to fifteen years ago, and it continues to be a great way to collect movies and favorite shows from cable. (Yes, it’s legal.) Even recording a standard def analogue signal, it does an impressive job. It’s pretty much my only hobby right now—well, along with beating on the timpani in the basement.

This is my second Grabber. They work great for years, and then something goes—usually capacitors, at first. You can open the case and see visually when capacitors have failed, and they’re big enough that even I can solder in new ones. And then eventually something less obvious goes, and you’re done. I will open up Grabber 2 a little later to see if I can fix it. But meanwhile, there’s one just like it on ebay, and I’m, er, grabbing it. They stopped making these things years ago. I may just turn out to be their last devoted user!

And as for the squirrels? Electrocution’s too good for you!


The Shootists

Allysen and I went shootin’ yesterday. That is to say, we took a firearms safety class, which culminated in our firing a few rounds into paper targets in the adjoining shooting range, and coming away with safety certificates.

Let me explain. We’re not exactly gun people, we don’t aspire to gun ownership, and we’re both strong supporters of gun-control laws. But guns are part of our culture, and it seems to make sense to have some basic knowledge of how they work. Plus, the actual aiming and shooting at targets promised to be an enjoyable challenge. (My previous experience with firearms consisted of firing one bullet at a tree with my grandfather’s rifle, when I was a kid.)

This, however, actually started some years ago, when Allysen and Jayce went to a women’s-only, all-day training program, where they learned about and got to try out a variety of guns, ranging from muzzle-loaders to revolvers to modern pistols. Also, bows and arrows. They had a great time—they learned a lot, in an atmosphere that was friendly and supportive, and largely devoid of macho bullshit. Allysen wanted me have a chance at the same kind of thing, and so as a surprise present, she researched local ranges and found one that had good reviews, no NRA requirement (!), and basic classes.

As it turned out, this class was interesting, as much from a sociological as a firearms-learning perspective. But it sure wasn’t what she’d experienced before, or was hoping for. The instructor was affable and a decent teacher when he was on topic about basic gun knowledge, legal requirements, and safety. But when he wandered into the morass of anti-gun-control political opinion mongering, I just wanted to stuff a sock in his mouth. Except, you know, he totes a gun. Loaded. With a chambered round. (I already knew about some of this stuff; I learned it from Jack Reacher novels.)

I was particularly troubled that he was urging gun neophytes to carry loaded weapons, with a chambered round ready to fire. His analogy was this: If a bad guy comes at you, not having a round in your chamber ready to go is like saying you’ll fasten your seatbelt right before you crash your car. Wellll, that’s just a load of dingoes’ kidneys, in my opinion. Fastening your seatbelt ahead of time doesn’t threaten the safety of others around you; carrying a locked and loaded weapon just might. Sure, it’s possible there will be that rare situation when you’re attacked without warning and maybe being ready to stop the baddie at a moment’s notice will be good. But mostly, I think it’s a recipe for shooting the wrong people, either by accident or in the heat of an argument.

Another bit of codswallop was his assertion that banning bump stocks—devices to make your gun fire faster, definitely useful if your plans for the day include shooting up a crowd of people—was equivalent to banning the remote starters on car key fobs. Ahhh…. no, I don’t think so.

Debatable advice like that notwithstanding, we learned some interesting and occasionally surprising things, such as that having a license to carry a concealed weapon means you must conceal the weapon. I never knew that. I always assumed it meant you could conceal the weapon, not that you had to. But it turns out if you make your sidearm visible to others, that’s considered brandishing the gun, and that’s a felony. Oops. (We didn’t get into how this applies to carrying a rifle, which is sort of hard to conceal.)

Eventually we all got to go into the range, and we each popped off a few rounds from a 22 revolver and a 22 pistol. That part was definitely fun—but disappointing, because we thought we’d get to do a lot more hands-on learning than we did. I was hoping we’d have a chance to try a bigger variety of hardware, maybe including a rifle. But nope. Pop pop pop. Here’s your certificate. Go thou and apply for a firearms permit.

Will we? Well, if I look like I’m getting ready to carry a concealed weapon, please give me a sedative, confiscate my credit cards, and send me to bed. But target shooting? And maybe clay pigeon shooting? I think that could be fun. We’ll see. 

Home Again, Home Again

We returned home earlier this week, and our first major order of business (after getting some sleep) was to take our beloved 19-year-old cat Moonlight in for minor surgery (not that any surgery on a cat that old is minor). She had these weird, keratinous things on the back of her neck, one of which kept bleeding and weeping, and the only treatment was to get them off. She came through with flying colors, and is now resting comfortably with a sock-vest around her neck!

Where’s the food?

Wake me when winter’s over.

Christmas Greetings!

We slid right into the last couple of days before Christmas, with everything coated with ice yesterday morning. I spent most of the day scraping ice, doing last-minute shopping, and cooking up Fantasy Beef Stew* in preparation for Christmas dinner. (Today I’ll be cooking Spacetime Chicken Stew.**) This is so we can have a fine feast, but not spend all day Christmas cooking.

I probably won’t be online much until after Christmas (when we’ll be hosting my brother and his wife and two dogs, our daughters and their boyfriends, and a few other good friends in the bargain). So say I’ll Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone now! Merry Christmas!  Happy Holidays!

I thought of writing a rhetorical piece about “How did celebrating the birth of Jesus turn into such a frantic race to get everything done?”—not that that applies to us personally, no!—but I decided instead to take a dog’s eye view of the day. Here’s Captain Jack checking out the beautiful, icy pine tree.

*Named in homage to Diana Wynne Jones’s take on hearty stew in fantasy worlds, in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel.

**Named in homage to Fantasy Beef Stew.

Driveway Chronicles, Pt. 3 (Finale)

Previously on Driveway Chronicles:

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, the paving crew had departed and our heroes were left to reinstall the fence that just one year ago, they had fashioned from raw lumber with their skinned knuckles and calloused hands. Groundhog Day all over again. This might have been a job for a short afternoon break, if everything still fit as it had originally. Of course, nothing did, and so putting it all back took a little longer. But now it is done!

Those are permeable pavers, by the way, in “Beacon Hill Blend.” It’ll be interesting to see how they work out for draining water when Ma Nature hits us with the snows and whatnot.

Here’s the Before and After:



Driveway Chronicles, Pt. 2

Day two of the driveway rebuild. A tale to be told mainly in pictures.

Here they work on the permeable concrete pavers near the garage:

The first of two layers of asphalt gets its start:

Loading up the paving machine for the straight run down the drive:


Starting the top layer:

Here’s the final result!

Tomorrow, I hope to put the fence and gate back up. They need to come back and tweak one thing. And then it will be done.

I learned from this project: a) that there are still people out there who do really good work; and b) that no matter how good they are, you still have to be there, checking every detail. Details have a way of getting lost in the dust cloud of construction. If I hadn’t been there looking in every couple of hours and asking for corrections, we would not have been nearly as happy. But we’re delighted with the final product!



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