Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Happy Leap Day to everyone!

What are you doing with your extra day this time around?

Friday, February 24, 2012

"AC Main Bus 1 is on."

Winter is over; 80 and humid yesterday and it is supposed to get near 90 today. Of course tomorrow will be back down in the mid 60's, according to the weather liars. Bottom line is that for the first time since September, the AC is on. We have it set at 80 degrees, so it doesn't run very much. Mostly it just dries things out a little. When I was doing our twice-a-year deep clean yesterday, everything felt wet; the furniture, the carpet, our bed, our clothes. As much as I hate to give money to the power company, there just isn't an effective way to circulate air through our apartment. (If you're curious, the title refers to this little bit of history.)

Working for the county continues to be... well... interesting. My "boss" just handed out the schedules for next week (which starts on Sunday) on Wednesday, then had to correct and re-distribute them yesterday. According to the county rules (or maybe the library rules; I never can tell), our "time cards" have to be in prior to the Tuesday before the week we actually work if we expect to get paid on time, which is obviously difficult to do when the schedule isn't finalized until Thursday. At least I think that's the rule; I got tired of being bitched at for not having my "time card" submitted a sufficient number of days before actually working any of the time "worked", and began putting them into the system three weeks ahead. That the system allows me to even do that tells you everything you need to know about the lameness of Seminole County.

Then I took a look at said schedule. First, I'm scheduled to work on a weekend I requested off. I expected that only because I found out after submitting the time off request that we were getting new carpet in the library that weekend, and it was going to be an all-hands thing to move all the books and shelving, then move them back when the carpet people were done. Fine. Except one of the other pages has the weekend off. This makes zero sense, especially when people from other branches are coming over to help out so one of our own can have the weekend off.

One issue was finally resolved yesterday. It's been bugging me ever since I started working there that I'm expected to know all these rules that are not written down anywhere. Well, they are written down; it's just that they had been misplaced. If you saw the office my "boss" uses, you would understand. So now I'm supposed to read this thing, then sign a page in the back that I have read it. I don't get a copy, of course, and I'm sure within a week of me reading and signing the thing, it will again be lost in a pile of junk.

What. A. Joke.

In other news, I'm still in a holding pattern waiting on the IRS to send out my Enrolled Agent card. I looked at another office on Wednesday and I really like it. It's in one of the old buildings in the original Lake Mary downtown and it's the cheapest so far. The building is owned by a local guy who runs a gelato shop right across the street, so I won't be dealing with some absentee landlord. The building was hit by a crane about a year ago, so everything has been redone. And yes, the crane story makes me feel like Garp (watch for the airplane). We'll be safe there.

We received a notice yesterday that someone from Fanny Mae will be coming by to inspect our apartment. We always get picked for these things because we actually take care of our place and don't have 17 illegal Mexicans living here. I'm not sure why Fanny wants to see the place unless we're about to get new landlords. Or the old ones are behind on their payments. Anyway, that was part of the motivation for yesterday's deep clean, which needed to be done anyway. I have a couple last minute things to take care of so the place will look all Ward and June Cleaver. Debbie even lit up one of our aroma melts so the apartment will smell all cinnamon-apple-y instead of smelling like poor.

And that's pretty much been our week. Later.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

...And We're Back Online

There was screaming. There was weeping. There was cursing. There was begging. But at long last, I have my main system back up and running.

We had some other errands this morning, so while we were out and about, we hit Best Buy and picked up a video card. It was less than a c-note, which made me happy. Alas, happy wasn't meant to last. As soon as we got home, I pulled the old video card and plugged in the new one. Still no joy. I tried HDMI. I tried VGA. Still nothing. So I did what I should have done in the first place. I pulled the new card out, uncapped the motherboard's on-board VGA and ran with that. Ha! Everything was major screwed up, but at least I could finally see what was going on.

The video card going out had thrown the system into some sort of major meltdown mode. It took several reboots to install all the updates for Windows, Security Essentials and whatever else thought it needed an update. Once everything was nice and stable, I powered down and reinstalled the new video card, plugged in the HDMI cable and Light! The display was weird, but at least I had one. I ran the driver install, rebooted and ran the monitor calibration. It was like nothing ever happened.

Except my 2011 tax software was gone. It was physically on the disk, but Windows didn't know anything about it. All that disk activity when I couldn't see what was happening must have been Windows doing a rollback. No big, just rerun the installation program, right? Heh. Like anything on a PC is ever that easy. It installed, but wouldn't run. It wouldn't uninstall because it thought it was running. But it wasn't. Reboot. It still wouldn't uninstall because it was running. But it wasn't. OK, time for drastic measures. Wipe out all traces of the software from the C: drive and go after the registry with fire and sword using regedit. Cross fingers. Reboot. Install. All is well.

So a hundred bucks and four hours later, I'm back where I was on Wednesday evening. It's so great having these labor saving devices that make our life easy.

Speaking of things that should be easy but aren't, one of our errands today was to begin the process of leaving our too-big-to-fail bank. We started using Chase when we were moving around the country so we wouldn't have to keep opening and closing bank accounts every time we moved. But recently, every monthly statement comes with a bunch of legalese regarding monthly fees. Now it's bad enough that banks no longer pay any meaningful interest (Chase paid us $.04 in 2011), but I'll be damned if I'm going to pay the bank to use my money for their profit. So with each change, we would burrow through the mouse-print to make sure we wouldn't get tagged. We haven't yet, but the rules were getting more and more complex and obscure, and there is only one reason a bank does that. The last straw was the monthly statement for The Tax Geek; they were raising the minimum balance on business accounts from $5,000 to $25,000. Or possibly $7,500. Both numbers were given as the new minimum average daily balance in different bullet points, and rather than scour through the 3-point type to figure it out, we decided Chase couldn't charge us a monthly fee if we didn't have any accounts with them. I found a local credit union with a branch right by Debbie's work, so that's where we will be doing our banking from now on.

Bu-bye JP Morgan Chase.

And to wrap things up, an interview with John Michael Greer, author of The Archdruid Report:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dead PC

When I tried to use my computer yesterday morning, all I had was a black screen. The drive light was going nuts, then went solid green for several minutes, then nothing. Uh oh. I did a full power-down reboot, but no joy. The fan on the video card hasn't worked in months, but by running with the cover off, I've been mostly getting away with it. Every once in a while, it overheats and I need to leave the machine off while the video card cools down. Then all is well until the next warm day. It had hit 80 on Wednesday, so I powered everything off and pointed a fan into the case until the video card was stone cold. Nothing.


So tonight's agenda is a trip to Best Buy to grab a cheap video card. I don't need anything spectacular; just something that can pump 1080p out an HDMI cable. Given that this is the second failed ATI card since I purchased this PC in 2008, I'm a bit shy of ATI. One failure is bad luck. Two is just bad. I'll see what Best Buy has in stock and for how much; I'm really hoping to get out of this without spending a crap-ton of money.

Stupid PC's.

Meanwhile our ancient Toshiba we bought when we left Michigan in 2006 is still chugging along, although it is in desperate need of more memory and a direct network connection (the wireless is painfully slow). Other than that, it works perfectly for what we do with it.

That's it. If you don't hear anything from me for a while, you'll know I lost patience with some pimple-faced dweeb and stabbed him to death with my old video card.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Grab Bag Post

I'm not sure what we've been doing, but we always seem to be busy. We did find time to spend the day wandering around Disney World last Thursday after I had a day to recover from jury duty. Normally we pick a park and spend the day there, but the last couple of trips we decided we need to figure out how to use the various Disney transportation methods to park hop. Our last time out we rode the boat from Hollywood Studios to Epcot; this time we ditched the car at Epcot and rode the monorail to Magic Kingdom. The standard line about Epcot is that it is what the future was supposed to look like in 1970, and nowhere does that future look shabbier than on the monorail. Someone needs to tell Disney that a jerky train that tops out at 40mph wouldn't have impressed any railroader from the 1890's when trains routinely hit 100mph while running smooth enough for passengers to have drinks on their table, and did so without breaking down several times a day. Having a recorded voice trying to convince me that I'm riding in the future of transportation while being knocked around in my seat looking at the train car's chipped and dented interior and the stained carpet smelling slightly of piss was just sad. I guess riding the trains in Italy has wrecked the glory of Disney's monorail for me.

But otherwise, it was the perfect Disney day with temps in the high 60's to low 70's and sunny with a slight breeze. We hit our usual favorites and tried out a couple things we hadn't done before, but mostly we just wandered, watched people and eavesdropped on their conversations. We had lunch next to one of my nieces as she was at about age eight. She said something (in that oh-so-serious way that only eight-year-old girls can do) when she was ordering her lunch that had me laughing so hard behind my napkin, I almost had to leave the table. That in itself was worth the drive down Death Highway.

So I was reading one of my regular web pages this morning and someone mentions that Whitney Houston was dead. Wait. When... What? So I head to The Store of All Human Knowledge (you probably know it as Wikipedia) and sure 'nuf: Whitney Houston was found dead Saturday at age 48. I was never that into her music and I'm not sure that I could name one song she sang, although I would probably recognize the ones from that one movie she did with that one guy. I do recall that she had an awesome voice and was one of the last of the truly talented before Auto-Tune destroyed what was left of the music industry.

And you kids get off my lawn!!!

Years ago, I remember reading an article by a biologist about Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that has a weird life cycle that involves living in rats for most of its life, but reproducing in cats. So the parasite essentially tweaks the brains of rats so instead of being terrified by the smell of cat urine (a rat's primary predator) they are attracted to it, thus increasing the chances of a cat eating the infected rat and allowing Toxo to complete its life cycle. It was known then that Toxo infected a significant part of the human population, but was assumed to be harmless other than causing problems in pregnant women.

Well, maybe not:
The subjects who tested positive for the parasite had significantly delayed reaction times. Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.

Webster is more circumspect, if not downright troubled. “I don’t want to cause any panic,” she tells me. “In the vast majority of people, there will be no ill effects, and those who are affected will mostly demonstrate subtle shifts of behavior. But in a small number of cases, [Toxo infection] may be linked to schizophrenia and other disturbances associated with altered dopamine levels—for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and mood disorders. The rat may live two or three years, while humans can be infected for many decades, which is why we may be seeing these severe side effects in people. We should be cautious of dismissing such a prevalent parasite.”

...Just as worrisome, says Torrey, the parasite may also increase the risk of suicide. In a 2011 study of 20 European countries, the national suicide rate among women increased in direct proportion to the prevalence of the latent Toxo infection in each nation’s female population.

Now before anyone launches a world-wide cat eradication pogrom, there is one important point the article makes:
Indoor cats pose no threat, he says, because they don’t carry the parasite. As for outdoor cats, they shed the parasite for only three weeks of their life, typically when they’re young and have just begun hunting. During that brief period, Flegr simply recommends taking care to keep kitchen counters and tables wiped clean. (He practices what he preaches: he and his wife have two school-age children, and two outdoor cats that have free roam of their home.) Much more important for preventing exposure, he says, is to scrub vegetables thoroughly and avoid drinking water that has not been properly purified, especially in the developing world, where infection rates can reach 95 percent in some places. Also, he advises eating meat on the well-done side—or, if that’s not to your taste, freezing it before cooking, to kill the cysts.

For years, Scott Adams has operated under the assumption that humans are just meat puppets under the control of brain chemistry and free will is just a lie we tell ourselves. Now it turns out our puppet masters are parasites running their own personal agenda instead of our own brains.

[Aside: How long before some lawyer uses "the parasite in my brain made me do it" as their client's defense?]

And I'll leave you with yet-another time lapse video. What can I say? I'm a sucker for these.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Nothing to add other than make it full screen and crank up the volume.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Crazy Lady Lawyer

I'm starting to believe there is something in the water here in central Florida. I've spent the last two days deeply involved in the Seminole County justice system as a member of a jury. The case was simple; a misdemeanor incident to another, larger case. The court had only scheduled the courtroom for Tuesday (Monday is used to select all the juries for the entire week, which saves a great deal of time over the traditional way of doing jury duty.) The expectation was that we would be out early afternoon at the latest. Well....

Everything started off efficiently enough with the judge telling us how real courtrooms work as opposed to how they work on TV. We made it through opening statements from the lawyers and the prosecution's entire list of witnesses by 10:30AM. Sweet. Then the defense took over and everything went off the rails. The first problem that became immediately apparent was that there really was no defense. The police car video, which we would come to loath with a white-hot passion, pretty much told the story. Secondly, every defense witness was either a provable liar, contradicting what was clearly visible on the video, or completely supported the prosecution's case. But the biggest problem was the defense attorney: she was probably one of the most unpleasant human beings I've ever met, and seemingly had no concern other than wasting our time while collecting her taxpayer-funded fee. By the end, it seemed obvious to me that she would stoop to any level to force a mistrial.

She wanted to show the police car video, the only physical evidence, over and over; forward, backward, pause, play, skip back and play the same few seconds again and again. Which all would be bad enough, but she didn't know how to use her laptop or the video software she was using. The prosecution team bailed out her sorry ass a number of times, including loaning her their laptop, then finally feigned ignorance out of self-defense. She constantly violated the basic rules of court behavior, requiring the jury to be tossed out of the courtroom every few minutes while the judge gave her a verbal spanking. She needed to use the restroom more than any human on the planet. She claimed she couldn't hear anything. Her bad knees wouldn't allow her to stand to object, so the judge was constantly having to stop the proceedings to ask if she was objecting to something or if she was just mumbling to herself. (I found her mumbling especially odd given her constant interruptions because she couldn't hear what other people were saying.)

In other words, she wasted so much time that we were still waiting for closing arguments at 9:00PM. But even then, we weren't done. Her closing argument turned into a screaming diatribe that degenerated into the point-blank claim that if we found her client guilty we were a bunch of racist, homophobic neo-Nazis with smelly armpits. I couldn't even watch her because I was afraid I would burst out laughing. The prosecution team and the judge were too stunned to even try to stop her. Then she just ended mid-sentence and wrapped up with a sarcastic comment that we were going to do whatever we wanted no matter what she said. Um, exactly? Opening and closing arguments are not evidence and only serve to inform then remind the jury of what evidence was given. But at least she had finally shut up and we headed back to deliberations.

As the only person who had been on a jury before and the token male of the group, I ended up as the jury foreman. I took a quick poll and we had a unanimous decision without discussion, but I got everyone talking anyway. After ten minutes, it was pretty clear no one had the slightest doubt about their initial vote, so one last poll and we told the court officer we had a verdict. Unfortunately, Ms. Defense Attorney from Hell wasn't done with us. She had left the building. So we sat around another fifteen minutes venting about this idiot woman. Finally we were back in the courtroom and the verdict was read. Florida actually does the sentencing for misdemeanors right then and there, so we had to sit through that. We finally began working our way out of the building at 10:05PM.

Holy. Crap.

As a taxpayer who funded this public "defender", I want a refund.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I seem to be in a constant state of refocusing what I spend my time doing. I think about the kinds of sites that used to occupy the right side of this screen and what is now there and it is quite jarring. The latest changes are the demise of my Facebook and Flickr accounts over the last week. I've not logged into our Flickr account once in 2012, and Facebook just seems to be cluttered up with less signal and more noise from "friends" I've not laid eyes on in 30 years or more, and with whom I have less in common than the illegal immigrants living upstairs. Every attempt to inject some sort of relevance was unsuccessful and when you add in the constant Big-Brother-Is-Watching creepiness that seems coded into all things Facebookian, and the new interface that seems to insure that if anyone posts something truly important, Facebook will make every effort to hide it in favor of someone's bowel movement narrative, and, well, I'm done.

Flickr was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but instead became and endless time suck that really added nothing to my life. Growing up in the 1970's, one of the most dreaded things in existence was the Vacation Slide Show where a host would force his (invariably it was a  male who performed this particular torture) guests to sit in a dark room while he projected blurry, badly composed shots of the family's latest "Ha ha we went someplace awesome while you mortals were stuck here working" brag-cation. As perverse and anti-social as that was, Flickr takes it to a whole new level of pathology by inducing me to inflict the torture on myself through its creepy "someone commented on your photo so the polite thing to is to make them your "friend" and go look at their photos and make comments and you really really REALLY want to do the polite thing" passive-aggressive meme. No thanks.

We spent yesterday (our only day off together in the month of February thanks to stupid library people) visiting with my parents in their snowbird nest over on the other side of Florida. When we first got there, it looked like the weather was going to make it a dreary visit, but the sky cleared, the temp ran up to around 80 degrees, and we ended up getting in a couple bike rides, some music, dinner, Dairy Queen and a movie/how-do-we-work-this-DVD-thing teachable moment. (And people wonder why I don't set my parents up on the internet....)

Well, almost time to leave for another exciting day of shelving books and dealing with stupid people.