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50th

Yesterday we celebrated Kenton's 50th birthday. He's 7 years older than me and we met the day before I was going into 6th grade. It's been around 30+ years of friendship.

When I was separated, pending divorce, the first person who found out was my brother--followed by my parents. This was, actually, coincidental: I was going to meet them (my brother had flown into town by coincidence) and I was in emotional and economic free-fall (I had half a tank of gas and no money ... at all. No credit cards. Nothing in the bank account ... it was wiped out. In the negatives).

The next person I told was Kenton. I dropped by his house--now staying with my folks ... probably no more than 48 or 72 hours after realizing my "old life" had come to an abrupt halt. Kenton wasn't rich--he didn't have tons of money--and I certainly hadn't seen that much of him over the isolating years of my relationship.

He gave me $20--"Keep it. In case you need it--for gas or something."

It's still in my wallet.

The Good News is ...

This Sunday we went to the West Palm Beach zoo--it seemed a good idea to get the kids out, pick up my mom and my friend Kenton, and basically have a good day of it.

Problem: it was 90+ degrees. The animals were like WTF!? WE'RE AFRICAN AND WE CAN'T TAKE THIS.

At one point I was pretty hot and told Kenton "Let's get slushies or a snow-cone or something."

Kenton goes off to the place ... comes back.

"Good news: they have a slushi machine ..."
I look up...
"Bad news? It's too hot--the ice isn't melting. It's like a red drink."

We left early with Max melting down (past nap time, plus hotter than the center of the sun ...) ... and I had a delicious Italian ice.

Babysitters ...

We test-fired two different baby sitters this weekend. Finding good help is tough and the Internet version of it does help--but has some problems. I used Care.com as our provider (alternate version: SitterCity.com) and it's good enough (the internal email system sucks some but what do you want?). 

I put out the job request, got like 30 respondents (including ... a guy--his image icon was NOT pedobear* but it might as well have been! WTF!?) and I then set up interviews. As I think I posted here, for round 1, the person we chose simply vanished into the night never to be seen or heard from again (on our anniversary). This time around ease of contact and punctuality were key.

Both candidates are excellent as far as I can tell. The more expensive party has more training. The less expensive party, however, is a cook ... so I don't know, This is all really for Gina, anyway: I don't expect to be able to capitalize as much on the sitter. 

But we'll see. Around this week or so we're going to have to pick one and that's not a great feeling. I wish we could employ them both.

-Marco

Streaming Choices ...

Having hooked up my new TV, I'm now very (painfully) aware of how many streaming choices I have. Let's look:

HBO Go
Description: You get this for free with HBO and it runs on your computer or iPad. It streams all the HBO content and the basic, random, selection of movies they've decided to give you. I streamed it from the hotel last time I traveled and it worked okay (it degrades the picture for the slow, slow hotel connect). The plus side here is, of course, (a) it's available on your computer instead of your TV which is where the "normal" HBO on-demand is and (b) it has Game of Thrones and The Newsroom--so it has stuff I want to watch.
Rating: A. It has content I want on an innovative platform.

Xfinity
Description: If you get the big cable package you get "Xfinity." This is Comcasts own digital streaming stuff. It's a pretty big archive of random TV shows and movies (like 1951's original The Thing). It is problematically: (a) not (easily?) searchable and (b) as I said, random--however the selection is decent and, hey, it seems to work. There are entire TV shows--all seasons there--so if I want to watch ALL of Lost, I can. The other problem is that movies are in separate A-Z categories meaning I need to use the remote a lot to see what's there. What about an A-Z listing with everything?
Rating: C. Decent if very random selection--poor interface.

Premium Channel On Demand
Description: I get the premium channels' on-demand feature. This varies from service to service but they're all okay. They do list all their movies in one big chunk though--so that's good (there are one or two that do A-M and O-Z--I'm okay with that). You can really see the differences in what they offer (Showtime vs. "Skin-i-max" for example).
Rating: B. Decent selection--okay interface.

NetFlix
Description:Yeah, they took a hit--but they're still #1 in my book. Firstly while I can't count their DVD delivery service as "streaming" their content is, simply, unrivaled. Their number of platforms is unrivaled. I can watch on my TV, my computer, and my iPad.
Rating:  A. They need competition. They don't have it.

Amazon
Description: As a "Prime" member I get Amazon streaming on my TV. I have not explored this deeply but it seems to combine the usual randomness of selection with a truly tiny number of offerings. My over-view may not be fair--but I'm unimpressed thus far.
Rating: D. They're small, but the quality is random.

New TV

I bought a new TV yesterday: a 55" VIZIO. It has some interesting Internet features, a pretty good picture quality, and it cost about 1300 all told. My friend Kenton described it as a "moderate" purchase. It is, really. Research showed that within the 50-70" range I could spend 2800 to 3200 for a "really good one." In the huge category, both BestBuy and Costco would sell me an 80" monster for 3-4k.

Thus far I'm pleased.

A few notes:
1. I hate buying new technology. I find it very stressful. The research is just the beginning. There's a myriad of things that can and do go wrong. When undoing the surround sound system we accidentally unplugged the sub-woofer--which the Bose system wouldn't start without. It took my dad and me troubleshooting and crawling under the stacked entertainment system to figure out that we'd accidentally removed a plug. This while "do I take it back? / Can I undo whatever damage was done?" questions set in.

2. TVs have not been manufactured in America since 2005 when Zenith shut down and was bought by LG. VIZIO, it turns out, is based in America--the TVs are made in China and Mexico. There is an American TV company: Element Electronics. They are going to buy from China (the parts / supply chain does not exist in the US) and construct in Detroit (our own 3rd world). They have one TV on Amazon. A 2-star bargain model. USA!! USA!! USA!!

3. The list of different models and such is dizzying. I was able to find the same models on Amazon, at Best Buy, and Costco. CostCo had the best price and they have a good return policy. I also get 2% back on purchases due to my membership. I bought there. Amazon is moving to same-day delivery: would that have made a difference if the price was better? Maybe--but the last thing I want is buyers remorse while WAITING for the thing to arrive.

4. Because my house is like solid concrete construction I had to set up a Cisco Range Extender for good Internet in the livingroom. When doing so:
(a) My Macbook pro wasn't accepting CDs and I had to troubleshoot that (shut-down, wait, re-boot) to get that working.
(b) I had to find the CD--my kid had scattered it.
(c) The range extender wasn't being detected. I had to go to Linksys site and figure out how to re-set it.
(d) Finally it worked--but I had to plug it in upside-down since the only socket within range that wasn't through a cement wall had a non-movable alarm-system plug in it. I did--and it worked--but man. 

Tags:

You Don't Know Who You're Dealing With ...

And who you are dealing with, Everest Asset Management, a bill-collection service, is my lawyer! I've known him since 5th grade, he's my son's God Father, and he's in my Sunday night Skype gaming group--but: he's my lawyer and he's a freakin' attack-dog expert on bill collection.

The bill in question seems to be from about a year before I met my wife--and is 'impossible' since (as far as we know, the bill-collection people have never been able to offer paperwork showing what the bill was for) any medical bills would've been covered by the hospital system my wife was a physician at ...

And they still can't--but they keep calling.

So Sunday I turned Mike on them. And he sent them an awesome letter. And they called again today.

They got me, my wife's not home yet. I told the guy "Let me talk to your supervisor." He did.

I told the guy "This call is being recorded for, you know, quality purposes."

The guy: "I don't give you permission for that, but okay."

Later on: Mike "You don't need his permission--you just have to inform him. Common misunderstanding. When I've said that, even if I'm not recording, I often just have people hang up."

Bill collectors, in my experience have a specific blind spot: people who know what they're doing. They usually only have "speed" FULL FORWARD. When they run into someone who, for example, actually HAS a lawyer (as opposed to lying about having a lawyer) they don't know what to do.

About the one really expensive piece of gear I own is a Falcon NW computer. In case you don't know, this is a high-end custom designed gaming rig. The specs aren't important here (it's nice--and pretty quiet) but that's not what I want to talk about.

During my history I have owned several "high end machines." I got my original Falcon back when I was living with a roomate. It had a Jazz-Drive built in ... so that dates it, eh?

In the interim I have owned a very high end Dell and a competitor Vigor computer with three SLI graphics cards. My buddy has an Alienware (also dell, but let's be real).

I have built my own systems and ordered custom parts. I have custom ordered a suite of computers from a Miami vendor who showed me (unintentionally) that the specific on-the-box specs of the pieces you ask for are antagonistic (the opposite of synergistic) when combined naively. Put another way: when you get a really good price on individual pieces and put together a "pretty damn good machine" you can discover that when you put it all together, no matter what people say about compatibility, the end result is a mess.

Falcon NW tests the hell out of their stuff. You get parts that work together. You get high-end stuff where you might not even be looking for it (my power-supply is high end in ways I didn't even realize). In short, if you are looking for the optimal experience in WinTel hardware, there is, to my experience nothing better (my maybe-better-costed Vigor system is still ... running ... but the company that supports it ... is gone).

I called Falcon-NW for some advice this weekend on an external power supply.

Firstly, the call-for-tech is either (a) "Hello." or (b) "We don't have our customers wait on hold--leave your name / number and we'll call you back ASAP."

I did (b) and it was Sunday and they called me. Both my home number--the one I left--and then my cell, which they had on file. I saw the message (I was outside building a pergola) and dialed back. I got (a) that time.

Not only did I get "straight through" but the guy who helped me not only (a) knew his stuff (b) explained it to me but also (c) went online to best buy to see if what I wanted (sufficiently powerful APC external unit) could be had there and emailed me the results (I was outside building a pergola and could not take notes).

Giving the customer service an "A" is not, in my view, sufficient here: it needs like a whole 'nother grading system. Like the great call to Dell gets an "A" maybe this gets like, I don't know, an OMEGA or something. 

It's not the same. It's so not the same it may not even be in the same category. Talking to the F-NW guy was a LOT more like having the archetypal family member who troubleshoots your computer problem for you rather than "tech support" (and I, to a degree, AM that guy so I know--I just didn't know the full draw at high-usage on my system in terms of watts and I wasn't versed in perfect sine-wave vs. approximate sine-wave UPSs).

So, anyway: Falcon Northwest. Not only is it worth it--it's better than you think (there should also be a post here about the other time I called with a blue-screen error and it was resolved quickly and handily in the same fashion. It's not just one data-point).

PERGOLA!!

This weekend my dad and I built a Pergola in our yard so my wife can hang her orchids. What is a pergola? It's like a gazebo except you build it and it BUSTS YOUR FUCKING ASS.

Seriously, the thing took probably 9-10 hours or more of solid work for two of us and a bud who helped part of the time. We were soaked with sweat and exhausted by the end of day one and then had to do it again.

But in the end? I'm told the orchids think it was well worth it.

PERGOLA!!!

Good Night Max and Leo!

Max has successfully been put to sleep in his own bed in his own bedroom last night for the 2nd night in a row.This is big news since we have set bed-time at 8:30 PM giving us HOURS OF GLORIOUS GROWNUP TIME.

I'll also note that this is was hard to manage with Kaarina (and she still takes the iPad to bed with her. Can't say I blame her. I would too).

If I'm ever in a coma

You may have read those (profoundly disturbing) stories about how people in a coma respond to verbal requests and brain activity is monitored to show that (a) they are answering questions the asker does not know the answer to and (b) the activity is happening in more or less the right way?

If I am ever in a coma:
1. Play NPR in the room all damn day
2. At night, when it changes to like music or whatever, put on audio books.

Good ones.

You are all duly notified!