Feren (feren) wrote,

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That was quite a weekend...

First, I'd like to say "Thanks" to everyone who expressed their sympathies for Scratch's passing, either here on LJ or in person. I know it seems almost psychotic to be talking so much about a common freshwater fish, but he was a lot like Jerk (my original Gourami) -- something of the star of the tank and instantly recognizable. So, while I can't say that I treasured Scratch as much as I love Ra, I'm going to miss him when I look into the tank none the less.

So, about the weekend....

The original plan called for roho, enveri and their big fluffy dog to arrive at Z'ha'dum on Friday night. I was a bit late getting home Friday night because I lent a hand ordering automotive parts for my coworker. JD has a 1998 Nissan Maxima that is in need of some serious restorative work -- he has rough idle, problematic brakes, old belts and a host of other "older car" woes that can creep in if proper attention to maintenance is not paid. On the carpool home Friday he lamented how much the work would cost if he took it to the dealer, so I told him to stop at the local auto parts store. I walked him through the basics of where I thought he needed to start, then helped him pick up a Chilton manual and some belts. We'd have gotten some new plugs for it too (they're the original plugs, I have no doubt) but the store didn't have enough of them in stock to do both banks of the engine.

When I got home that evening, I did some chores around the house (threw out some trash, sifted the recycling, did a load of laundry and then a load of dishes) before I collapsed into bed. Being the interim manager for the last week and change at the office has run me completely into the ground (and I do mean I am utterly exhausted by it... being senior engineer is tough, as is being a manager. Being both at once is a sure way to an early grave). All the classic signs are there: I'm irritable (well, more irritable than usual), I'm depressed, I'm sore, I'm antisocial and I'm making poor judgement calls. In light of that I decided an early night in bed wouldn't hurt me and I asked if Roho and Genet could put off their trip down until Saturday. They understood and aborted their escape from the Antioch area. I spent a bit of time that night talking over AIM to yotogi about different things. The clock showed 2200 before I knew it and it was around that point I collapsed in bed.

Saturday morning I got up late (around 10:30 or so in the morning) and took care of the morning chores (shower, feeding Ra, etc) before I got down to business. I'd planned to have an enjoyable Labor Day Weekend with my friends, but I was in for a surprise: I had an enoyable, expensive and somewhat eventful few days ahead of me.

Saturday morning I checked LJ to see the latest word from interdictor, then it was back to work around the house. I made up the guest bedroom as well as I could, then turned on some music and moved into the guest bathroom. After that, another round of dishes was done and I made sure the floors had been swept. It wasn't long after I sat back down at the computer and logged back in that Roho asked me when they should head down to my place. I told him "Anytime is fine!" About two minutes after that, my doorbell rang. Curious, I looked around the corner... and there was Roho. Apparently he'd been on the MUCK from his phone and had been en route to Z'ha'dum even before I'd gotten online, the sneak! We sat about the house for a bit, just catching up since I've not had a chance to see them in a while. Lunch was debated, at which time Roho made a prophetic comment: I don't know if you should go outside. I asked why. He said, Because it's not safe. There's a sign out there you don't want to see. I couldn't imagine what sort of sign he might be referring to. Turns out that Circuit City is having a Labor Day sale and all their big-screen TVs were discounted by around ten percent. Prices ranged from $100 to $500 off. Too right it was dangerous for me! So we went to lunch at Cheddar's, had a good meal, then drove towards home. On the way back I couldn't help myself, so I asked Genet if we she would mind stopping at Circuit City. She didn't, so we diverted into the mall's parking lot.

I walked in empty-handed, with no plan and nothing more than a bit of curiousity. After a bit of time with a saleswoman named Sarah and some technical discussion about what I was looking for and the conditions I would be using the telvision in, I walked out with a 50" widescreen DLP HDTV, a stand for the television, a new DVD rack and a new set of cables for my XBox. I didn't get the greatest deal in the world, but I did get a fair shake and the added feature of no interest on my financing for 16 months. I'll have the balance paid off well before then and yes, I could have paid cash, but no interest is always a nice feature and lets me spare the checking account. Hey, I even got a $10 gift card just for signing up for the financing promotion. It's all part of the joys of having a large gross monthly income (the saleswoman wanted to know how to get my job and even I was somewhat taken aback by the figure after I ran the numbers on the calculator) and a healthy credit history.

The unit I bought is a 50" Samsung HL-R5067W TV. It's a widescreen, high-definition DLP set with a host of features that really impress me. The new digital connectivity standard to repleace DVI is HDMI and this TV has it. It also has the 3:2 Pull Down, a proprietary video enhancement technology called DNIe, support for 1280x720 resolution on all inputs, a 2,500:1 contrast ratio, picture-in-picture and what seems like a billion connection inputs ranging from component to SVideo, IEEE1394 and back to VGA. Best of all, it's only fourteen inches deep and it weighs a piddly seventy-two pounds. Roho and I nearly launched it in orbit when we picked it up for the first time because we were expecting something much heavier than what we actually got. Since the TV had a snowball's chance in hell of fitting inside my entertainment center, I had to get something for it to sit on. I got a lovely 36" TV stand made of dark wood and black tempered glass to set the TV on. The focal point of the den has always been the TV and the entertainment center. Let me tell you: the TV is now the exclusive focal point. You simply cannot miss that monster.

To be perfectly fair I only walked out of that store with the stand, the cable for the XBox, the DVD rack, the gift card and a pick-up form for the TV at another store. The one we were at didn't have any in stock and I wanted to take delivery right away (though they assured me I could get free delivery in the next 24 hours or so, I didn't feel like waiting). I mean, let's face it -- I just spent $2795, I shouldn't have to wait for it to show up days later! Like any impatient male, I wanted my new toy right now. So we put the stand into Genet's car, brought it back to Z'ha'dum, moved it inside and then plotted the route to the store that was currently holding a portion of its inventory for me. Alas, the Circuit City in Naperville was our destination, which meant going past the dreaded Fox Valley Mall and driving on IL-59 into the heart of a yuppie retail hell. However, I would not let that deter me! For my wide screen I was willing to risk my life (and Roho's) without hesitation. Genet was nice enough to volunteer to stay behind and unload my current entertainment center, so Roho and I drove my Expedition the 8 miles out to the other store. As expected, traffic was ridiculous in that region but we retrieved the box without any real trouble (which surprised me, since nothing good can come from parking in fire lanes against the flow of traffic).

Once we were back at Z'ha'dum we unloaded the television's crate and then proceeded to spend three hours tearing down my old entertainment center (Genet had wisely left the disassembly of the electronics to the man who had crafted the mess, a decision she reached after taking one look and proclaiming that the twisted maze of wires told her there was no god), trying to assemble the new television's stand and working around the countless problems that one encounters assembling any piece of furniture that comes in a kit and has a manual comprised entirely of pictures with no actual words. At about 7:45 the stand was assembled and placed, the new TV unboxed and set atop the stand and most of the recabling completed. I realized I wasn't going to get the best picture possible but it was connected enough that we could take it for a bit of a test run. We turned on the XBox, changed a few more settings with my receiver, then hit the switch on the TV. We were all quite dismayed to find the picture so dim as to be almost useless once the lamp came on! Fortunately, it was only a screen saver that had kicked in, obviously the XBox's defense against my ten minutes of button-mashing on the Onkyo (I had been trying to cut the component signalling over the output channel instead of downmixing it to SVideo). From Roho comes the observation, It's a good thing I suggested that, or we could have spent the next four hours troubleshooting something that wasn't even a problem and would have been corrected the moment I kicked the controller. Once that was taken care of a run of Halo 2 and a sampling of Terminator 2: Judgement Day proved to us that most everything was up and running. Genet assures me that Roho and I had some incredibly off-color comments that, taken out of context, could be downright damning. But hey, what're friends for, right? The best quote of the evening isn't even naughty, it's just factual.

With the knowledge that my new toy was secured against the dog and the cat's possible antics we scooted out of the house and got a quick bite to eat at Schlotzsky's. Once we were full of deli sandwiches we drove down to Lisle Lanes to meet up with Heather and Garry, who had invited us to bowl in a charity fundraiser for Ryan, a former employee of the alley. The poor guy is only 25, is unemployed, has no insurance and was recently diagnosed with a form of bone cancer so he needed every penny we could raise for his family. The event really got started at 9:30 but we were there a little early. I got to introduce myself to the beneficiary, which was especially important to me, given my own background. It was wonderful to be there -- the lanes were completely packed and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Since Genet's leg was feeling out of sorts it was just Roho and I on our lane (Heather and Garry didn't feel like bowling and the only other person we could con from the adjacent lane to our side had to give up before she even started -- the waitress was being overrun and she had to go help tend bar). Roho and I took turns bowling for our absent bartending friend (I was odd frames, Roho was even). For the first two games the absent bartender beat both Roho and I by a healthy margin -- which I think says something, given she wasn't even there! On the third game I hit the sweet spot of inebriation that I try to maintain during league games and promptly started wiping out everyone around me, most notably with a turkey in the third, fourth and fifth frames. We had a lot of fun bowling with the people on the lane next to us (whom I know vaguely from last year's league). At the end of the night, just as we were getting ready to leave and the alley was shutting down, we were conned into one last game of speed bowling by the husband of the bartender. So Roho and I each bowled three regular games, a fourth speed game, and then another game and a half on top of that by rolling in the place of our absent teammate. To say we were sore and tired by that time is putting it lightly. We said our farewells, shook the beneficiary's hand one more time and drove home. We collapsed into bed at something like quarter after one in the morning.

Sunday morning we slept in late to make up for the previous day's excitement. Roho and I woke up with that soreness one only gets in their thighs from bowling, so we each enjoyed our respective soaks in the shower for as long as the water heater would allow. The day's plans called for duncandahusky, takaza and datahawk to stop by later in the day to do some grilling so I knew I needed meat, booze and more meat. I also needed component video cables to patch the cable box (which is not only a DVR but a dual HD tuner! All hail the mighty Motorola DCT-6412) and the DVD player through my Onkyo receiver and into the TV. Genet again opted to stay home while Roho and I went out for food, booze and cables. The first stop was the Meijer by my house... which had component cables, but they were twelve feet -- a glorious case of overkill in terms of cable length and cost! We regrouped, then retreated to the car so as to drive down to the other Meijer. Why was I so insistent upon Meijer? Because Circuit City and Best Buy are the two biggest sales outlets for Monster Cable and I'm not about to buy Monster -- they're incredibly marked up by the retail stores, they're overhyped, they're overpriced at the very onset and they don't garner you any real benefit except (and I only grudgingly grant this) in the highest of high-end systems and installations. Even then, keep this in mind: Skywalker Ranch, which lives and dies by the quality of its audio/visual production, uses about 500 miles of AV wiring -- and they didn't use Monster. So long as the copper is of pure enough quality and the connections are solid, one cable is pretty much as good as the next.

After I found my necessary cables Roho and I skimmed the DVD aisle. It was there that I found some childhood favorites newly released on DVD box sets: Season One of Airwolf and Seasons One and Two of Knight Rider. Even though I'd just dropped $2,700 the previous night on a new TV and some accessories, well, I couldn't help myself, so I added those DVDs to the cables, meat, booze, tonic and snacks that I'd bought. It cost me a pretty penny to walk out of that store, but I was pleased as punch. Lunch was picked up from the local Quizno's and then we zoomed back to the house. As we ate we watched The Incredibles and once the film was over I got behind the TV stand and started repatching the cable converter and the DVD player. It took some fiddling but eventually we got everything up and running again, which was good, because just as I was crawling out from behind the right front speaker Data, Taki and Dunc arrived. We started mixing some drinks, I showed off the new toy and then fiddled with some of the settings on the cable box to see if I could squeeze some better performance out of it. After all the demonstrations were over we sat outside on the patio and just talked, which was really nice. The conversation ranged all over the place, more drinks were made and many cigarettes smoked! All in all, we enjoyed ourselves immensely throughout the afternoon. As the sun set I started up the charcoal and got my Weber nice and hot, at which time we applied the meat. It was with great surprise that I discovered I hadn't given the coals enough time to cool down -- the fat drippings from the many burgers we'd placed on the grills took the charcoal from "burning nicely" to "three alarm fire" in very short order. I had a hell of a time controlling it and the first round of meat that came off the grill was more carbonized than I would have liked, but nobody seemed to have any complaints. I made up a second batch of burgers and cheddar brats, then rejoined the conversation at the table. Although DataHawk was just hitting her stride, Duncan was getting ready to turn into a pumpking at sometime around 10:15 so they had to excuse themselves and head back to Chicago. With the guests gone it was time for Roho, Genet and I to return to the den. We dropped Kill Bill Vol 2 into the DVD player and gave that a go. Once the film was over we went outside, let Briana do her thing, had a final smoke and then went to bed.

This morning was pretty quiet because we were still tired and none of us really wanted to be up. Despite our lazy ways both Ra and Briana ensured we weren't going to sleep in, so we got up at a decent hour. In playing around some more with the cable box, TV and receiver this morning I discovered that everything was running across the SuperVideo cables and not the component feeds. Curses! So I ripped out all the SVideo cables from the TV, receiver and respective components. After that I made another startling (but pleasant) discovery: I do actually receive some High-Def channels on my current cable package. Roho suggested Discovery HD Theater and I was absolutely stunned by the clarity of the picture when I turned it over to that channel. I was already a huge fan of Discovery channel, but the HD channel is absolutely astonishing. A bit more experimenting found more stations I can receive right now in HD (some local, along with my one premium channel). I think I'll make good on my coupons from Circuit City and upgrade my current package with Comcast to one that turns on more HD channels.

Later in the afternoon we reheated the leftover burgers and made some more cheddar brats for lunch. As we ate we put the shutters on the window and patio doors to good use, blacking out the den so we could watch Payback. Although I was confused about how the movie started, even I knew something was wrong a minute or two into the film. Everything had a blue hue that was completely wrong. I was getting ready to be very cross with having to troubleshoot the issue when Roho exclaimed that he knew what was wrong -- I'd disconnected the SVideo cable and he wagered that the DVD player was still trying to output across that as opposed to processing directly onto the component feed. I checked the settings on the DVD player's setup screen and, sure enough, it was set to SVideo. With a few clicks on the remote I had the DVD's output mode changed over to YPbR and that instantly rectified the problem. I guess, after he bought his new TV, that he had encountered the same issue. Lucky thing for me he was there! After the excitement with the output mode we settled in and watched the film. Even though I own it on DVD I haven't seen it in quite some time, so it was a treat for Genet and I to see it again and to watch Roho's reaction. This is one of those films where you cannot help but root for the bad guy.

After the movie was done Roho and Genet packed up their belongings and their dog, thanked me for an enjoyable weekend (which is silly, since I should be thanking them along with Data, Dunc and Takaza) and made their way home. I sprawled on the couch to watch the first episode of Knight Rider, appropriately dubbed "Knight of the Phoenix," in Dolby Surround and in 16:9 video. This is one way I'm sure the series creators never imagined their product would be viewed!

Tomorrow I'm back to the grind, starting the day early with another attempt at upgrading the RAM in our external firewall cluster. My boss gets back on Thursday, which is not a moment too soon in my book.

i'm doing the best i ever did
Tags: barbeque, friends, toys, weekend

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