kv0925: (Gromit Reading)

Sheesh, here it is more than halfway through January, and I see my last post was just after Christmas. I will hope this is not a sign of things to come, but.. I dunno. The week after Christmas is normally the most quiet and tranquil workweek of the year, but this time around it blew up. Some VP somewhere blew a gasket about something, and it's been pretty much nonstop work ever since. Today is quiet for a change, and my calendar is unusually clear, so I thought I'd better take advantage to say I'm not dead. Yet.

Anyway, there's too much to try to actually catch up on, so let's just recap a few things, shall we?

As you can see in the photo up top, Hallie's started horse-riding lessons. Heather found a little farm less than 10 minutes from home, a lady who's really just getting started up, so her prices for lessons were quite reasonable. Only 2 lessons in so far, but I think Hallie's enjoying it! I was able to go yesterday, since I had the day off for the MLK holiday.

Past couple weekends, I've put in a lot of work replacing stretches of our privacy fence around the house. It's all pretty old, and stretches have been threatening to disintegrate totally, so we decided to finally do something about it. I'd planned to get a fencing company to do the job, but I got a quote and it was a lot more than we expected, so I went back to the idea of DIY. So far so good, really, and a lot cheaper. Now my main concern is how to get rid of the old fence! I need to see if the county can come and haul it off, or if I need to make alternate arrangements somehow.

This past weekend I took a break from fencing so we could go visit my Dad, though. We didn't get to see him around Xmas, and then he took a cruise for New Year's and his birthday. Plus 3-day weekends are always preferable if we have a day trip in mind (and he lives about 2 hours away, so that counts). Anyway, it was a nice visit, mostly I did tech support like a good son. :) Perhaps the main thing of note was that he'd gotten an Amazon Echo for Christmas, which we all found pretty impressive. The voice recognition is cool, and we all had fun asking it random questions and asking for it to play songs. I thought it was just very cool! So of course we had to order one. :)

I went with the Tap, though--it's a little smaller then the Echo, and it's not always listening for its name, like the Echo does. But it has a battery which makes it portable, and it also works as a Bluetooth speaker. And we weren't necessarily keen on the idea of a device that's listening to us all.the.time. anyway. :) So far we really dig it. It's fun to mess with, though music is its main function. The girls will put it on the table where they play LEGOs, and take it in their room when they have playtime before bed. And it makes for nice background music for dinner, too. The main drawback is that the default music service is Amazon Prime, which is rather limited. It can do Spotify Premium, or Amazon's new Music Unlimited service, but of course those are both subscription services. I've been paying for the ad-free level of Spotify for some time, since I use it here at work a lot, and at home too when I'm working on the PC. So I'm considering whether to upgrade to Spotify Premium, or stop paying for that and go to Amazon Unlimited. Or neither, I suppose! Maybe I can get it to stream from my home media server instead, and I can add music to that as we find things we want. I'm doing the free 30-day trial of Amazon's Unlimited, so we can mess with that while I try other options.

Speaking of options, it seems like a very hackable device. Out of the box it can do home automation with things like Nest thermostats and Hue lights, and it can control media devices with the right hubs and whatnot. I'm going to try to get it to work with Kodi and/or Plex on my HTPC, and if that works it might be worth it to add a Dot in the TV room for the always-listening functionality (and Bluetooth audio streaming to my nifty new A/V receiver). I found the functionality for general-knowledge questions was a bit lacking since it defaults to Bing, so I found a step-by-step guide on the interwebs to add an Ask Google command instead, which works well. I look forward to playing with it more!

Okay, that can be enough for now. Hopefully the rest of this week will be as calm as today and I can post a bit more regularly! I hope you're all doing well so far this year. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Yeah, so this post will be about my new A/V receiver, and maybe some more about the Playstation 4. If neither of those things interests you, feel free to skip and you will miss nothing. :)

So yeah, the receiver. The retailer came through, despite the delay and my doubts, and it's a genuine and factory-fresh Yamaha RX-V681, no concerns there. And it's awesome! Now and then a piece of equipment comes into my grubby hands which makes me say, "This is how this SHOULD work, how did I never know that before?!" And this thing is one of them. Coming from a non-HDMI, audio-only, dumb receiver, I really had no idea how thoroughly devices could communicate over an HDMI connection these days. The Yamaha can identify the devices I connect, turn them on and off, tell the TV when it should mute its internal speakers, and even pass along remote-control commands. I was amazed that I could use the receiver remote OR the TV remote to control the PS4 menus. And when the receiver is on, any remote that can send volume control to the TV gets seamlessly passed along to the receiver. I power up a device like the PS4, and the TV turns on automagically. And the on-screen display to configure things is lovely. It's like a whole new world and it's just awesome how it serves as the nerve center to make all these devices behave like one organic whole. Color me impressed, for sure. Oh yeah, and it sounds pretty decent, too. I still need to finish running a couple more speaker wires for the surround back channels, and make sure the subwoofer connection is clean, and then run the speaker calibration routine and find the processing modes that I like best. I also haven't even tried the network functionality yet, I'm looking forward to that. Generally though, yes. Very cool.

The girls and I decided to head over to GameStop last night to look around. Kind of a mistake, because the closest GameStop to us is pretty small, and it was packed (not that it takes a lot of people to achieve that). So we ended up not getting anything, but got to spend some time looking at the PS4 games to get an idea of what we might want to get. I have my list, of course, and it's already too long. Hallie was very interested in the horror games, because that's kinda her thing. On one hand I dig it because hey, that's one of my things too! But on the other hand, she's a bit young for a lot of the games along those lines (pretty much all of which, of course, are rated M), and of course I don't want to warp her little mind too much! The wife's main complaint would be the language, though of course she's not a big fan of the violent blood-and-guts stuff either. She's indulged it thus far, and I think we've slipped a little under her radar when she plays on her PC, like the Telltale Walking Dead games, since Hallie usually plays games with the sound turned way down. But since the PS4 is right out in the TV room, Heather will definitely notice what we're playing on there. :) So I'll have to stick with T-rated stuff, at least for now. Aside from maybe Diablo III, which is rated M but I think mainly because of the imagery (which is smaller in scale to begin with). Or am I just a terrible parent for encouraging an interest in this type of thing? I'm not sure what age I was when I started reading Stephen King, but it couldn't have been much older than Hallie is now. And I'm.. well, not exactly okay, but not THAT bad. :)

Okay, enough for now. Gotta get some more work done before I can call it a day!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
The new A/V receiver was supposed to be delivered Saturday. It was coming via FedEx, who typically come around in the late afternoon, and the delivery notice said "by end of day," so I figured that would be the case. Heather's band had a concert that morning, so the girls and I decided to go to EPCOT for a walk around the world. Heather figured she'd be home by 11:30am or so, and I figured no way FedEx would come before then. But of course they did, apparently about 5 minutes before she got home. The package is signature-required, so since no one was home they couldn't leave it. And for some kooky reason they only do home deliveries Tuesday through Saturday, and their website isn't giving me a pickup option, so the soonest they can redeliver is tomorrow. So that gave me a sad.

Heh, I just checked the FedEx site again to see if pickup was an option, and it's not--it says the package is still on a truck and out for delivery, even though the scheduled delivery date is tomorrow. So maybe that means it's just getting a joyride around town today? I guess we'll see. The wife is home, so if they do swing by someone should be there. We shall see.

So anyway, since I was temporarily denied the receiver, my mind turned to getting something else instead. The new receiver gives me an extra HDMI port, which my brain figured might be handy if I ever decide to get another gaming console. The girls are all gamers like their Dad, I'm proud to say, but we mostly play solo on our PCs since PC options for couch co-op games are a bit limited. Our only current video game console is the WiiU, which we like, but since it's Nintendo it's mainly for cutesy family games since I/we generally prefer to use the PC for other stuff.

But I was in Costco the other day and saw that the prices on the current-gen systems had dropped to a reasonable range: in particular, I saw they had the PS4 with Uncharted 4 and a second controller for $250. I've vaguely had my eye on the PS4 because The Last Of Us looks really good, and then I looked at Uncharted 4 and it looked like something we'd also enjoy (especially since a couch co-op survival mode was recently added, or is about to be). So when the receiver didn't come Saturday, I got to thinking, why not get the PS4 as an early Xmas present and enjoy that? I could even basically pay for it with the money I got selling some old audio gear last weekend, and selling that Tool cd/dvd set. So I ran it by the wife and she said fine, whatever. :) So now we have a shiny new PS4 slim, and Hallie (who is turning out to be our most serious gamer) and I have been enjoying Uncharted 4.

So now, of course, I'm looking at what other games I'd like to get for the PS4. If any of you have the system and have suggestions, please chime in! As a general rule, if a game is available for both PS4 and PC, I'd get the PC version since I have a preference for the PC controls. But anything that's a PS4 exclusive, or which offers an especially good local co-op experience (since we aren't really into online multiplayer) is fair game. My list so far:

-The Last of Us (PS4 Remaster)
-Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (PS4 Remaster)
-Destiny: The Taken King
-Little Big Planet 3
-Until Dawn
-inFamous: Second Son

Now I want to go home and play, but alas, I'm stuck at the office. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
For those of you who expressed interest in my experience with Canon Price Watch, here's your quick follow-up: Big Thumbs Up. The 7D2 arrived yesterday, a day ahead of when I was expecting it (and, I hasten to add, a day sooner than even Amazon said they could get it to me--and this from Canada!), and is indeed the real McCoy. New in box with all included accessories, Canon warranty cards, and though I only had time to configure a few settings and fire off a few indoor test shots, it seems to work just fine. I didn't actually try the battery grip yet, but it's impressive too: I bought relatively cheap aftermarket grips for my other dSLRs, and there's a definite look-and-feel quality difference in the genuine Canon grip (which makes sense given the price difference).

ETA: Just to be sure, I found a little application which grabs the shutter count from Canon dSLRs to verify the 7D2 was truly brand new, and it checked out. Around 99,500 actuations on my trusty old 7D, which sounds about right. It's rated for 150k (the Mk II is rated for 200k), so it should be good as a backup for some time.

So anyway, definitely give CPW a try if you're in the market for Canon gear (looks like they offer deals on some third-party lenses as well). I'm a believer!

Now back to hunkering down for this oncoming storm. But more about that in a bit.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Popping back in since I know a number of my friends here are gamers. Did any of you pull the trigger on No Man's Sky, PC version in particular?

I admit, I was a bit intrigued by the hype. NMS seems like such a cool concept with vast potential, and to me the visuals look nifty. My own expectations were probably toned down a bit--I don't care about online multiplayer, the lack of which seemed to offend a lot of people, and I would be fine with a more chilled-out and peaceful exploration experience than endless survival/crafting and constant combat. It seemed like something the girls would enjoy, too. But after watching videos and early gameplay footage and reading endless comments and reviews, I'm holding off on it for now. There are clearly issues and deficits in the game, and it appears that as it stands right now it should have an indie-game price rather than the full AAA retail. So I'll wait until it drops to that range, and/or Hello Games comes out with some serious fixes (a lot of complaints from PC players seem to be that the PC version is clearly a console port and lacks many PC niceties like hotkeys, not to mention graphic and optimization issues) and feature adds (like the promised base-building element).

But I was nonetheless curious, did any of you guys and gals jump on it? Any thoughts either way?
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Hm, that title sounds kind of ominous. It implies there's something going on. But really? Nah, same stuff, different day. Some highlights lately:

I had 3 photoshoots in 8 days last week! And all repeat business, which was kinda nice. I did a maternity shoot out at the Polynesian for a couple I know (we used to work together and I shot their wedding a year or two back). Then a Massachusetts family I shot out at WDW a couple years ago were back down for a cruise, and we met out at Cocoa Beach last weekend before they set sail. And then last Monday, a family I'd shot twice before hit me up for Round 3--EPCOT this time. Pretty nice weather for all, thankfully, though the beach was über-windy. We made the best of it, anyway. I have the first two sets all done, just need to plow through editing the last one and I'll be all caught up. Then I have another maternity shoot in early May, and a family down on vacation later in the month. And whenever the aforementioned couple's new baby arrives I'll be doing a newborn session with them. Keeping busy, kinda nice! The extra money is certainly helpful, and has already paid for some new toys. Observe:

Cut for those who don't care! )
In other musical news, I've been playing more--practicing more, I should say. Trying to polish up some areas of my playing that I've always neglected, while also trying to cram more musical theory knowledge into my aging brain, especially as it pertains to the guitar. Helps to know the rules before you trash them, right?

Oh, and one more recent purchase with my gig money: I'd been wanting a new tablet, since my aging first-gen Nexus 7 was getting more and more clunky. Given my musical aspirations I wanted one that could serve as a mobile music-making platform, so I decided to go to the dark side and get an Apple. I prefer the smaller form factor for tablets, so I decided on an iPad Mini, and had just about talked myself into going for a refurbed Mini 2 for $250 when I got an e-mail from Best Buy that they had new ones on sale for $200. Nice! So I grabbed one of those Friday, and spent a little time over the weekend setting it up. So far I really like it. Performance is snappy, screen is a good size and looks amazing, battery life seems quite good. My only real complaint so far is that a couple apps I have and use on my iPhone aren't available in iPad versions, for no good reason I can see. But there are workarounds and alternatives, so I guess that's not too terrible.

Now to actually indulge my creative side more often. And stay off of Facebook more, I've been getting unduly annoyed by stupid people on there lately, especially with this whole bathroom-bill fiasco. Win-win if I skip FB and go to tinkering with music instead. :)

Otherwise.. Work is work, though we got a treat Friday in the form of a fun team event, bowling at Downtown Disney. I hadn't been bowling for a few years--I should do that more often, it is fun. I should take the girls sometime too, see if they take to it.

Speaking of the girls, I started taking Amy to a karate class we found at a neighborhood rec center not too far from home. She likes it, and I think I might start doing it with her. That should be fun. I'm waiting for the instructor to send me the e-mail he promised, and I'll ask him if I could join in too. I'll look silly doing it, of course, but it's been on my wanna-do list for ages and would be good for me.

This past weekend we didn't roam too far from home. Saturday we headed out to a park or two up towards Sanford, and yesterday Heather had to take Hermione to a concert at a church for the morning. After that we went for a hike in the woods and found a geocache, something else I've been meaning to get back into. That reminds me, I need to log that find.

Okay, better get some work done today, even if it's just submitting an expense report for my work-related road trips last week. Hope everyone is having a fine day!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
My morning routine is to shower and dress, then munch a bowl of cereal for breakfast while I sit at my desktop PC and catch up on FB, clear out the junk e-mail, maybe check some news, that sort of thing. I was doing that yesterday, nothing out of the ordinary, when Windows 10 suddenly gives me a Blue Screen of Death talking about CRITICAL_STRUCTURE_CORRUPTION. Yeah, that doesn't sound healthy, right? I try a reboot, and as soon as the boot process hands off to Windows and the loading screen appears, it almost immediately locks up. That's no good. So I try it a couple more times with the same result--occasionally there's text on the screen saying something about Automatic Repair, but that immediately freezes as well. But I've gotta get to work, so I just power it down to deal with when I get back home.

So I get home and set to work. Presuming it might be a failing hard drive with some corrupted Windows files, here at the office I'd downloaded the Win10 setup to a USB drive, so I try booting from that to run a repair.. and it won't boot from the USB. The latest copy of Windows I have on cd is 8.1, but I figure that's better than nothing if I need to reinstall anyway, so I try booting from that instead.. and it won't do that either. Every time, the PC goes through POST, but then as soon as it hands to Windows it freezes. I try some BIOS tweaks, I try the PC's boot menu, nada--it won't boot from the hard drive or anything else. I try getting to Windows' own boot menu to try going into Safe Mode but that won't even come up, and in fact starts giving me errors about disk read/write problems, which again makes me think it's a failing hard drive. That's actually not so bad, since I always dedicate a hard drive (or partition) to the OS, and keep all my data files on other drives so I can always format and reinstall the OS without losing much. But I want to try ruling out everything else before I get into that, so I go so far as to open up the PC, re-seat the RAM, disconnect and reconnect the hard drives, just to make sure everything is solid in there. Try booting up again, and still no dice.

I'm just about to swap out that hard drive with a spare I have lying around and do a fresh install, but before I do that I do one more search online for suggestions on PCs that freeze at boot. And I come across a forum post somewhere, guy says his PC wouldn't boot so he unplugged all his USB devices and then it worked. And guess what? I unplug everything USB aside from the mouse and keyboard, and the thing boots right up. Sheesh. So I figure maybe my USB memory card reader locked up somehow, and that was the whole problem. Though I swear I went so far as to turn off the power supply at some point, which should have powered down the USB ports and cleared that problem. But then again, maybe I didn't. So anyway, all that hassle and frustration and it was as simple as unplugging a card reader! Hopefully I'll remember that next time. :)

Jeez, I've been pretty absent in these parts lately. I should do a catch-up post that isn't quite so geeky and boring. Hope you're all well, anyway. :)

A New Toy!

Feb. 22nd, 2016 03:30 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
WARNING: Guitarist Nonsense ahead, skip if you don't care or have no idea what I'm on about. :)

Clicky! )

La Dee Da

Jan. 27th, 2016 03:21 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)

I'm procrastinating work, so you can have an update. Yay!

• Hallie's dental procedure was Monday, and the short version is that it was.. okay. See, way back when she was 2 (she's 8 now) she managed to knock out one of her top front baby teeth. It came out cleanly, so there wasn't much to be done about it. But of course the adult tooth underneath was nowhere near ready to come in, so the hole healed over a bit too well. Her other front tooth fell out naturally, and the adult tooth came in fine, but no sign of the other one. So the dentist finally decided to make an incision to give that tooth a little help. And that was the plan for Monday. But they ended up also doing a frenectomy, which is the removal of tissue further up the gumline, which I guess can cause a gap between the front teeth. So the whole thing ended up taking longer than expected, but she was a trooper about it. She came out of it looking a bit miserable and pathetic, with gauze stuffed all up under her lip and lots of drool from being numbed out. But they did the procedures with a laser, which apparently keeps the bleeding pretty minimal, so that's good. And she bounced back pretty quickly--after the procedure we went to Build-a-Bear so she could have a new friend as a reward for going through that, and then we went to dinner and she was even able to eat a little. Yesterday she seemed pretty normal, still a bit ginger about eating, but otherwise fine. She says it doesn't hurt, and she's been good about letting Heather apply a soothing gel that's supposed to help with the healing (it better, they charged us $70 for the damn stuff!). And Heather said she already sees the tooth starting to come through, which is pretty awesome. It's been so long since we've seen her without her gap-toothed grin! It may take some getting used to. :)

• Had some good thrift store finds lately! We usually go to Goodwill, because the organization is pretty good, the prices aren't bad, and the stores are fairly nice. We went to one this past weekend and the girls came across an actual American Girl doll in an authentic AG dress--for $3! So that's a nice addition to their collection. Its limbs are a bit loose, but I think that's fixable with some new elastic. Then yesterday on my way home from Tampa I stopped at one I hadn't visited before. It wasn't a particularly nice location. But I found the 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD version of the last Harry Potter movie and a Wii U game (Monster Hunter 3) for $3 each, and exactly the sort of compartmentalized container I had in mind for my LEGO Dimensions bits and pieces, and a nice alarm clock for Hermione's bedroom. I dunno if I'll keep the Wii game, but GameStop will give me almost $9 for it so that's not a bad return. :)

• Had a guy out last week to look at the roof and skylights and prepare an estimate. But then I didn't hear from him again! Turned out he'd come down with a stomach flu, so he finally got me a partial estimate yesterday. I made a counteroffer, so we'll see how that goes. :) It would be nice to get that done, though spending the money for it won't be so nice.

• Speaking of money, my W-2 for 2015 finally came out and I went ahead and filed our taxes the same day. Not too bad. We owe, but not nearly as much as the past couple years since I had some taken out of my checks last year. And I was able to deduct the sales tax from when we bought the van, which shaved a bit off. I should have done that a couple years ago, when I bought the car! I don't think I realized it was an option. Oh well.

Um.. that's all I can think of at the moment. Hope your day has been swell!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Just things going on, and floating around my brain, bullet-point style:

• Just pulled the trigger on buying a microscope. I mentioned to the wife that with my upcoming annual bonus I'd like to get some good optics: a decent microscope and telescope. We have a little beginner's reflector telescope, and a kiddie digital microscope, but neither are all that good, and frankly I've never been a fan of kiddie and dumbed-down stuff like that. The idea is to pique an interest without spending a lot of money, sure, but if the result is frustration because you immediately run into the limitations of the thing.. that can have the opposite effect, you know? So the microscope is a nice, sturdy metal one, trinocular so I can slap a camera on the top eyepiece and leave the pair of binocular eyepieces available. So I ordered the camera adapter as well, and a set of prepared slides so we'll have stuff to look at immediately, and blank slides for stuff the girls find. Should be a hit. Now to research the telescopes!
• We've been getting into spring cleaning early this year! With the new year our county (finally) rolled out automated garbage and recycling collection, and provided huuuuge 95-gallon bins for each. We've been taking advantage to fill those suckers to the brim with boxes and other big things we've had stashed in the garage and around the house. Not that we couldn't have gotten rid of the stuff before, but having the big containers really makes it easy. And now that I've cleared a few spots outside, I'm inspired to do some landscaping. I'm hoping to use some bonus money to replace some of our wooden fencing as well, it looks ragged. Maybe even get some sod replaced, that's never looked great. I guess we'll see. If nothing else, I have some notions of adding pavers to some spots, and maybe adding some new plants here and there. And I should finally sand and seal the arbor bench thing I built a few years back. And there's always the Library Project. I should make a list.
• Speaking of projects, a while back I had to replace our pool pump motor--again. The one I replaced was less than a year old, but the pump itself had been sporting a small leak--it's a salt water pool, so a few months of leaking was enough to rust out the motor housing. Grr. The new motor I got a good deal on as an open-box, and it does work--but it's way (WAY) louder than it should be. So I also ordered a new set of bearings to swap in, I'm hoping that and maybe some other lubrication will quiet the thing down a bit.
• How 'bout that Sanders campaign, huh? If you follow me on FB you already know my joy, but things are really looking good for ol' Bernie. The first polls of 2016 show him widening his lead over Hillary in NH, starting to surpass her in Iowa, bringing the national (national!) gap to within the margin of error, and--perhaps most importantly--outperforming HC in every poll of hypothetical general-election matchups. It's amazing to see, and really very encouraging. If he pulls off wins in IA and NH, no matter how small, I think the momentum will be even more on his side than it already is, the media will finally have to say okay, maybe he's not the no-hoper we've been portraying him as, and all those fence-sitters and people who haven't paid him much attention so far will start thinking maybe he's worth voting for after all. And if all that happens, it won't make a bit of difference what happens on the GOP side. The only question at that point will be whether the Dems can recapture the House along with the Senate, which is unlikely, but we can hope. :)
• I had a number of photo sessions over the past few weeks (two of which I still need to finish editing, oops). There was the family in Oviedo right after Christmas, an extended-family thing in Kissimmee after New Year's, and later that week a short family session at one of the Disney hotels. In a couple weeks I have an engagement shoot with a couple whose wedding I'm shooting in July. I had an inquiry for a June wedding that I was actually pretty excited about because the location looked great, but they ditched me. I haven't even been advertising lately, really--I should do that since now I don't have much booked. And the weather is finally nice!
• Poor Hallie. When she was 2 or so, she had an incident that knocked out one of her top front teeth, so she's had that gap ever since. When she started going to the dentist he kept an eye on it, and said when the other front tooth fell out and started growing back we'd see if the adult tooth under the knocked-out incisor would also start coming in--if not, it would need a little help to get through the gum. As you might guess, it didn't, so in a couple weeks she goes in for a quick procedure to make an incision for that tooth to start coming through. Hopefully it will be no big deal, but being a huge dentist-phobe for no good reason, I'm anxious on her behalf. :)
• Like half of America, I sped through Making a Murderer on Netflix over the past week or two. Quite a show, that. I am loath to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it but wants to, so I will restrain myself. But it's all pretty infuriating, the stuff in that show. I didn't come away from it convinced of the innocence of the two men on trial, but utterly convinced that the legal system did not perform well during the entire process. To say the least.
• As part of my goal to be more musical this year, I was learning a few new songs to play on the guitar, so I'm pleased with that. If I'm not too embarrassed I should record myself as I get good at some of these songs, maybe share them here. But I'll probably be embarrassed. :)
• This weekend my mother-in-law is down for a visit, so she and my sister-in-law will be staying at a nearby hotel and we'll likely roam around the area doing fun stuff, weather permitting. And her foot permitting too, apparently she injured it recently and has been having trouble walking. Hopefully it will be feeling a bit better in a few days! Then I get Monday off for MLK Day, and that happens to coincide with the arrival of the tour of WWII-era aircraft that swings through the area each year. The nearest stop is Melbourne, so I'm hoping to drive over there, probably just me and Hallie since she's interested in climbing around in airplanes. Weather permitting, again.
• Yesterday I was over in St. Pete for our staff meeting, and on the way back the weather was glorious so I stopped by Weedon Island Preserve for a walk. There were almost no crabs this time, though--last time I visited little fiddler crabs were all over the boardwalk and in the mangroves, it was awesome. But at least it was a great day for a little walk. On the way out I noticed a little memorial along the side of the road--apparently nearby was the site of a 2000 helicopter crash, wherein 3 crewmembers died when their Bayflite medical chopper hit a radio tower and crashed. Hadn't heard about that one.

Okay, enough for now. Better get some work done before calling it a day!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)

Like Amy's Dalek dress? Heather made it, I'm a fan. :) That's from yesterday evening, we headed over to a nearby neighborhood park. It's a very nice park, though it does tend to draw the local teenagers who hang out near the playground and act cool, which of course means completely obnoxious. I'm an old man, I'm allowed to regard teenagers as good-fer-nuthin punks, right?

Anyway, as I was posting the photos this morning I happened to Google the park to confirm its name, and discovered that it has a pretty interesting history! Allow me to relate.

So this area was developed back in the 1970s, as Orlando grew and started to sprawl out. The Little Wekiva River flowed through here, and for whatever reason the Orange County government decided to put the river underground, I guess to make more room for homes. So for about a half mile they installed a huge iron pipe to carry the river--huge as in big enough to drive a car through. But iron and water and underground, as you might imagine, led to rust and corrosion. So in 1998, we had an El Nino year with lots of rain (and then later, if I recall correctly, a drought leading to massive wildfires)--the rain caused a section of the corroded pipe to collapse. Two homes were badly damaged, so the county bought and demolished them right away. Then they decided, rather than repair or replace the underground pipe, they'd tear it out, put the river topside again, and turn the area into a park. The problem was, there were about 30 more homes standing in the area. So they bought out the homeowners who were willing to sell, basically condemned the homes of the people who balked so they could kick them out, and in 2004 the park was finished. There's one home remaining on that side of the street--apparently the homeowner refused to sell, and the county let him slide because his home wasn't in the way of the river. Must have been a pretty good deal for that guy! His neighbors suddenly disappear, a lovely park is built all around his house, and there's a river out back that wasn't there before.

Anyway. Lunchtime, finally!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Score! There was a deal over the weekend for a Logitech USB gamepad for $7.99 at Best Buy. It's not wireless, but for $8, who can complain? But the store near me was out of stock, and when I checked today the deal had ended and the gamepad was back to its normal price of $24.99. But today was a St. Pete day for work, so on the way home I figured what the heck and stopped at the BB in Lakeland just to see if maybe I could get lucky. And I did! First I found the only one of the gamepad left in stock--but it wasn't where it belonged in the game controllers, instead it was hanging out on a random cart of PC accessories over in that department, and with no price tag whatsoever. Then I found the spot where it was supposed to go--and the $7.99 shelf tag was still there! So I took them both up to checkout, and sure enough it rang up at $24.99 but since the shelf tag was out they honored the sale price for me. Nice! I have no doubt they'd have been cleaned out if the thing had been stocked in the right spot. Pressing my luck, I stopped at another BB along the way, and they had plenty of stock but the shelf tag had been changed back to the $24.99 price. Oh well, at least I scored one! I've wanted to get a couple controllers like that so we can do some family gaming on the home theater PC, which isn't a high-end machine but should be good enough for some stuff.

Speaking of gaming, a while back I mentioned looking for PC games for the girls, and got some good suggestions. They play Terraria and Don't Starve pretty frequently, and have gotten quite good at both. The Sims 2 is still a hit, as are the Scribblenauts games. Recently I introduced them to Goat Simulator, which they love because it's so silly (though it doesn't run too well on Hallie's underpowered laptop, unfortunately). Now I'm looking for a game-design software package that isn't too complex for them. I picked up a Humble Bundle with several (RPG Maker, Axis Game Factory and GameGuru), but I think they might all be just a bit too deep and quirky for their ages. Though I haven't really tried them too much myself, so I guess I should do that. I see a few geared more for beginners and kids like Stencyl and Scratch, maybe I'll check those out too. Though if any of you have suggestions, please do share. :)

Amy still plays the Wii U every chance she gets, and still prefers Super Mario 3D World. And is pretty good at it, for a 4-year-old!

We haven't played D&D much lately, I should remedy that. I also got Exploding Kittens, the card game that was a Kickstarter from the guy who writes the Oatmeal webcomic. Looks pretty fun, I think we'll try that tonight while Heather is at band practice.

Just killing time, really--I was a little too early coming back from St. Pete to go straight home, but there's not really enough time to actually accomplish anything here at the office either. Hope everyone is having a good week out there in LJ Land!


Aug. 5th, 2015 04:39 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
So far I've updated two of the PCs at home to Windows 10--the Home Theater PC and my own desktop PC. So far so good, really. The upgrades went smoothly in both cases, and I was pleased to see that the desktop reports Windows is activated even though it was upgrading from an, er, unauthorized copy of Windows 8. Maybe that's part of M$'s plan, get even illicit users onto a licensed platform, so they can buy apps and whatnot (and might even pay to upgrade when the next version comes along). I normally don't jump on upgrades, but both of these PCs have had some annoying USB issues under Win8 that I am hoping the upgrade fixes. The movies the HTPC plays are on an external HDD, and it has an annoying habit of dropping out in the middle of playback--just enough to make the movie stop, but if I click to play again, it picks up just fine. And the desktop, occasionally it would just stop recognizing all the attached USB devices, which kills the Internet, mouse and keyboard. Makes it a bit difficult to do anything when that happens, as you might imagine!

So initial thoughts, I like the OS. It's not all that different from Windows 8 for me, since I always had my computers go to a normal Desktop instead of the hated Start screen, and I had Start8 installed to provide a Start menu. It's nice that Win10 defaults to the Desktop and restores the Start menu natively. Performance seems fine so far. The HTPC had one ugly crash immediately after the install, but it's seemed fine since. Haven't really tested enough to make sure the USB dropouts are resolved, we'll see. The desktop has been fine, it seems to have carried over all my settings and whatnot, which is nice, and so far all the software I've tried has worked normally. The one issue I had was with the USB WiFi adapter--it's dual-band but the PC was only seeing the 2.4GHz side of things, and for some reason after a day or so it started being reaalllllly slow with the WiFi. But I found a new driver for the WiFi adapter which seems to have fixed both issues.

So anyway, I figure I'll upgrade the girls' PCs soon as well, and Heather's. She hates Windows 8 so I think she'll like the idea. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
So the Steam Summer Sale kicked off today. This is a bad thing, because I am way too tempted to buy more games to add to my already-insurmountable backlog. But the few I've been tempted to buy so far today.. I'll see the game, see the price, and say to myself, "Hm, that looks pretty good for the money!" Then I click through to the store page, and.. "This game is already in your Steam library." Heh. I think if I don't even have a clue what I already own, I probably don't need to buy more, right?

Especially since I'll be picking up my copy of LEGO Jurassic World tomorrow. Exciting!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
I'm a teensy bit excited today, so I just have to share. Following is a bit of video-gaming geekery, so please feel free to skip if that's not your bag, baby. :)

Presently, the newest console in our house is a Nintendo Wii. For the most part that's fine--the girls and I play games on our PCs far more often than we play console games, but we do fire up the Wii (or an old-school console emulator on the HTPC) for multiplayer fun probably a couple times a week. I've considered moving to a newer console, either a Wii U, Playstation 3 or XBox 360 (the latest-gen consoles are just too pricey for me to justify, given how rarely we play consoles in the first place). But with PS or XBox, I'd be starting from scratch--I'd have to get the console, additional controllers, and games, and it would all add up really quickly, so that's a big barrier to entry. With the Wii U, I at least already have controllers since it's compatible with Wii Remotes and whatnot.

Problem is, while I have scads of Wii games, the vast majority reside on an external hard drive, and I wasn't sure if the Wii U can be modified to play them that way. We've been happy enough with the Wii anyway, so if it ain't broke, etc.

But then new games stopped coming out for the Wii, with the Nintendo versions released only for the Wii U. We're big fans of the various LEGO games, so when the LEGO City game came out and it was only Wii U, I was a little miffed. Then the new Marvel Superheroes game, which I didn't mind too much because that's not as much our style. But now the new LEGO Jurassic World game is coming soon, which I do want. And all along, I've played Mario Kart 8 a few times on in-store demo machines, and it just looks incredibly cool, so that's been tempting too.

But now! This morning I discovered LEGO Dimensions, which is the LEGO iteration of the Skylanders/Disney Infinity-type toy-to-game setups. But LEGO! And the themes they're including are pretty sweet. LEGO Movie stuff, of course, but also Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Scooby-Doo, Portal, Wizard of Oz(!), Doctor Who, maybe Ghostbusters, perhaps Harry Potter eventually.. Really good stuff! Unfortunately, some of the properties that have been made into LEGO games like Star Wars, Marvel, Pirates of the Caribbean, and perhaps Indiana Jones are off-limits since they're associated with Disney and this system will compete with Infinity. But still, it's very intriguing and makes me want to check it out when it hits the street later this year.

So that inspired me to look into it again today, and it seems there is indeed a way to modify the Wii U to play Wii games from an external HDD, and it doesn't even look that difficult. Not that that's a dealbreaker, we can always keep the Wii for those games. But if I can get a Wii U and have it do everything, why not?

Now to talk the wife into letting me get one...
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
In other news, my shiny new home theater PC was waiting for me when I got home from work yesterday, so I spent much of the evening getting it set up with Kodi (the HTPC interface formerly known as XBMC), VLC player, media server software, etc., and getting it set up in place of the little nettop it's replacing. About the only thing I didn't do was actually test video playback, but it seems like a pretty zippy little box so I don't see that being an issue. Overall I'm very pleased so far--it's much more responsive than the nettop, and I can already see the benefits of utilizing a USB 3.0 port to connect to the external HDD where my media files live. MUCH faster access times.

And I got to thinking.. with a decent little PC attached to the tv, finally, there's a great opportunity to get it set up as a little emulation machine for playing the classics. NES, SNES, Sega Master System and Genesis, even the Commodore 64 games which so defined my adolescence. So I ordered a pair of USB gamepads that look like SNES controllers, and those should arrive today. I think I'll try firing up some Super Mario Brothers to educate the girls with this evening. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)

We had a death in the family this weekend. Seems to be a lot of that going around lately, as I've seen here on LJ as well as elsewhere on the web. For us it was Hermione's guinea pig, Gingerbread. She got him shortly before her 8th birthday, so a little more than 2 years ago. No idea how old he was then, but I don't think he was anywhere near elderly for a guinea pig. Anyway, Friday evening she commented that he hadn't touched his dinner, and indeed he looked a bit lethargic and unkempt. Saturday we hand-fed him a little water and dissolved food, but he wasn't looking too good. We went to the pet store to see if we could get him some vitamin supplements or anything to help, but it was too late. When we got home he'd expired. From the research we did, it seems that guinea pigs go downhill fast if they get sick, especially if whatever it is makes them stop eating and drinking, as this did. I feel bad that we didn't recognize it sooner and get him some better help, but at least I don't think he suffered much.

I felt mainly bad for Hermione--I hated the thought that she might blame herself. We've always had a houseful of critters, but he was the first pet that was her own, and she always did a wonderful job taking care of him. I made sure to tell her that she did great with him, and that it wasn't her fault that he got sick. Still, I know she was pretty sad. We buried him in the back yard. I am not ashamed to admit I got a bit misty and choked up. He was a good little friend, after all.

I doubt we'll be in any rush to replace him, though. It will actually be nice to get the smell of timothy hay out of her room for a while, and it's nice that she can leave her bedroom door open now. The cats wasted zero time getting in there to explore and make camp on the window seat where his cage always was. So we'll see if and when she wants to try another pet, whether it's a guinea pig or something else.

Otherwise the weekend was pretty uneventful. I'd been having sporadic problems with my PC at home, which finally coalesced into a failing hard drive, so Sunday I got a new drive and reinstalled the OS. I wouldn't have minded doing that if I hadn't just reformatted and reinstalled a few weeks back! Oh well, so far I haven't been seeing the issues I was having, so hopefully it was worthwhile.

I also got some stuff and tackled a few small projects around the house, and in the afternoon (beautiful weather!) we went to Lake Lotus for a short hike. Not much going on there in the wildlife department--one of the rangers we know told us where we might spot a big alligator, but we didn't see it. Saw one tiny monarch caterpillar in their butterfly garden, and along the boardwalk we saw a ladybug and a few trashbugs (lacewing larvae).

Meanwhile, back at home, the peach tree is blooming! We got it last year, and it produced 2 or 3 fruit, which were delicious. It's grown a bit, and seems happy--it has a pretty good number of flowers already, and lots more buds to boot. Looking forward to the peaches this summer, if the squirrels don't steal them first.


Hopefully that will help you Northerners bracing for the oncoming winter storm. Stay warm and good luck!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Hey look, bullet points!

• Still convalescing. Christmas Day I felt worse, ended up taking a couple-hour nap with Amy. Luckily we were just planning to stay home all day, open presents, etc., so it worked out anyway. Since then it's been on-and-off, headache, runny nose, gook in the throat, endless throat-clearing and coughing, gravelly voice.. blech. I think I'm past being contagious and into the clearing-out phase, but I still only feel about 80%.

• It is too damn hot here. It cooled off for Christmas, down into the 60Fs, which was nice. But really just for that one day--since then it's been mid-70Fs and low 80Fs, and a bit muggy. Feels more like April. This coming weekend projected highs are 85F both days. NO THANKS. If the pool was warm enough, the girls would be in there every day. The extended forecast shows a nice dip in a week or two, can't come soon enough. I'd settle for some seasonal average temperatures, even!

• Christmas was pretty decent. There were no really big presents this year, nothing that was really a dream-come-true for any of us. The girls asked for some particular toys, which we were happy to provide. Heather and I stayed pretty low-key with our gifts to each other. I got her some books (sheet music, gardening, and the new novel by one of her favorite authors), a little vacuum chamber for her homeschool science lessons, and (very exciting!) a laminating machine since I read that those come in very handy for homeschoolers. She got me a couple geeky t-shirts, some Doctor Who-related stuff, and a LEGO set. Oh, and this weekend she let me go out and get myself a new toy.

• Specifically, this: Canon's new 24mm pancake lens. I've had the 40mm pancake lens since it was released, and really like it--it's a great lens to throw on when I want to travel light; even my big dSLR with that lens mounted feels small and light. But 40mm is a little long as a walkaround lens on an APS-C camera, so when I heard about the 24mm coming out I was interested. When reviews and MTF charts indicated it's even sharper than the 40mm (and, at some apertures, even Canon's 24mm f/1.4L) I was VERY interested. And then when I saw that it can focus as close as 6 inches, giving it a better than 1:4 ratio for macro, I was sold. So now my conundrum is just whether to sell the 40mm, since the 24mm is superior optically and, I think, better for my purposes.

• Speaking of selling stuff, I'm going to try to sell off our antique piano. Long-time readers (are there any left?) might remember when I got it, way back in 2008. I worked on it for a while, got it into a more presentable and playable condition, and then (as is my wont) have neglected it ever since. Since we picked up a nice digital piano, it's really just a huge waste of space. So while I suspect the market for antique fixer-upper baby grand pianos is not a large one, I'm gonna post it and see if I get any bites. It would free up some room, and maybe I can even turn a profit on it. Though frankly I'd give the thing away to whomever is willing to haul it off!

• Day after Christmas I felt a bit better, so we headed over to my Mom's for a visit, as was our plan. We had lunch with her, and my sister and her husband tagged along. I hadn't seen my sister for some time--she looked good, but reminded me so much of our grandmother, both in her appearance and speech. It was a little uncanny, actually. Anyway, she seems to be doing well.

• Back to work today--wow, almost quitting time already! And then I'm off for the next 3 days, burning my last 2 vacation days plus the New Year's holiday. I debated taking Friday off to give myself a 6-day weekend, but with the weather looking too hot to enjoy, I figured I might as well save the day and use it for nicer weather and/or when we have something fun on the agenda. Hoping for lots of travel this year!

Okay, enough for now, gonna shut down and head home shortly. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and something festive on deck to welcome 2015. May it treat us all kindly.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
You want to know what's happening in my Central Florida yard the weekend before Christmas? I had no idea you cared, but I'm glad you asked!

Cassius blue butterfly (Leptotes cassius) on shepherd's needle in the butterfly garden. These guys are tiny, and FAST! This one posed for me for a minute, though.

Clicky! )
And that's it for now--slow week at work, I hope. I'm here through Wednesday, then off for Christmas and Boxing Day. Next week I'm angling for a 6-day New Year's weekend, maybe! I need to get out to do a little shopping here shortly, but maybe later I can post about our Virginia trip and other goings-on.

Have a great day and thanks for looking, as always!

Yay! Boo!

Oct. 21st, 2014 11:22 am
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Well hmf, I was excited but got let down. This year is the 20th anniversary of the release of my all-time favorite film, The Shawshank Redemption. So I keep seeing things on Facebook, 20 Things You Didn't Know About Shawshank, etc. So yesterday one of those reminded me that it was filmed around Mansfield, Ohio, with the old Ohio State Reformatory standing in as Shawshank Prison. And I would absolutely love to visit that place, both for its own history as well as the Shawshank connection. So I got to thinking.. with my Detroit business trip coming up, how difficult would it be to work in a visit to Mansfield? I looked, and it's about a 2.5-hour drive between there and Detroit, and in my mind that's not unreasonable if I were to fly into Akron or Cleveland and visit Mansfield on the way to Detroit. So I got excited! This can happen, and on the 20th anniversary year no less! Whoo-hoo!

But then I looked into it more, and the prison is only open for tours from April 1 to September 1 each year. So I might be able to see the exterior, but wouldn't be able to get inside. There's an overnight ghost tour thing--and how groovy would that be?--but it's on a night I don't curremtly plan to be in town, and appears to be sold out anyway. So I'm thinking this is a no-go this time around, and I should hold off until my next visit in the spring, when it will be open for daytime tours. Kind of a bummer, but if it makes more sense to hold off, that's that. I could go this time and then do it again next time when the prison is open, but that seems like a waste. I'm sure I can figure something else to do this time around!

My Indianapolis trip last week went well. The weather was a bit gloomy with frequent light rain, but I headed down to Nashville (Indiana, that is) and Brown County State Park, and was utterly dumbfounded by how gorgeous it was. The trees were ablaze with fall color, yellows and oranges and reds, and the road through the park wound through one amazing landscape after another, with occasional pull-offs with breathtaking vistas over hills and forests splashed with color. Definitely something I'm not used to, and it was amazing. I did one 2-mile hike through the woods--an old 1930s CCC-built trail, with some very cool stone stairways and bridges and lookout towers. I love that stuff. And chipmunks everywhere! I would probably despise chipmunks the same as I sorta despise squirrels if we had them here in Florida, but as it is they're still novel and adorable for me, so I dig seeing them. I'll have to post some photos when I have more time.

So this week I'm at work all week, then I have trips each of the next 3 weeks. And no solid plans yet, so I need to get on that!

Okay, I should probably pay attention in this meeting. Hope your week is going well!

Oh, also: http://istodaythedaymartymcflyarriveswhenhetravelstothefuture.com/

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