Sunday, April 27, 2008

Double the 'c' and double the 's'

It worked! Out of the four VCRs I got from my job, one was functional, and now sits mightily atop our entertainment center, ready to play any tape we throw at it. In a surprise twist, though, this VCR outputs audio in (wait for it...) stereo! Yes, we can now enjoy both left and right channels while we watch a movie. Ahhh...bliss.

Truth be told, one of my main grips about DVD players is that I have yet to see one that incorporates the ability to remember where you stopped watching a movie. A VHS tape just stays put, right where you hit [STOP]. But if I'm halfway through the Lord of the Rings and my wife wants to watch an episode of House of Elliot, I have to wade through warning screens and chapter lists the next time I pop in my DVD, just to get to where I left off. But this isn't a blog for griping, so I'll just stop now. :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tracking? We don't need no stinking tracking!

Three years ago my catalog of VHS tapes entirely eclipsed my DVD collection. I had all kinds of old VHS tapes, mostly obscure movies I got for free when I worked at the video store, and some good ones too, but my DVDs were limited to a few boxed sets like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. I didn't see the need to re-purchase something on DVD that I already had on tape, since the tapes worked fine (and you stinkin' kids! get off my porch! Yeargh!). But as the months passed and I got sucked on to the DVD bandwagon (albeit several years too late), I started ridding my shelves of many of the VHS cassettes that I used to hold dear. It was for the better, though, as now my wife and I have a decent collection of DVDs, mostly from the $5.50 section at Target, that is slowly, but surely, overtaking our tapes.

But a good movie is a good movie, and why throw out a perfectly good copy of Gladiator or The Rock* when one does not yet have it on DVD? And so a few weeks ago I sat down to catch a few minutes of the original Alien while eating breakfast. Oddly enough, however, much of the movie was black-and-white, despite the fact that my copy was, decidedly, a colour version. The next day, while indulging in another 15 minutes of Ripley and the hapless crew of the Nostromo, I noticed that the picture came through in perfect color...for about 40 seconds. Then the tape started sputtering, the picture went to shades of grey, and not long thereafter the entire screen fuzzed out.

Same thing happened with Aliens, Gladiator, and other movies. Turns out our VCR, which my wife bought from my brother Andy several years ago, is on its last 4-head 19-micron leg. We thought about getting it repaired, but figured we would get laughed right out the door of any given Radio Shack if we even mentioned it to them. Our friend Sarah let us borrow one of those shifty head cleaners, which helped a little, but not nearly enough.

Would our collection of VHS tapes finally be, once and for all, obsolete? It was either face facts, or shell out money for a new VCR, which I'm not even sure you can even buy anymore.

But then, and who would have thunk it, I came across not one, but four VCRs at my work that were bound for the dumpster. I quickly snagged them and they are resting safely in my car trunk until we can try them, one by one, in hopes that our VHS tapes will have a new lease on life. Sweeeet.

*I am not suggesting that The Rock, or any given Michael Bay movie, is good, but sometimes you just gotta watch Sean Connery blow the jeepers out of San Francisco in a Humvee

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

That's a big twinkie

Last Friday our cooking-and-movie-watching friends Jon and Sarah were over for (guess what?)...well, yeah, I won't even tell you. :)

Anyway, after pouring out a 40-ounce of butter for the Roseville 4, we got right to business with the evening's menu: homemade pizzas. Jon and I usually go a little overboard when it comes to toppings, and this was no exception, as evidenced by our final product, shown below in its pre-cooked state:

Our gigantor-sized pizza included the following:

• One Boboli thin crust
• Half a jar of Green Mill pizza sauce (I didn't know they sold this stuff in stores, but I'm glad they do)
Almost one pound of italian sausage
• Lots of pepperoni
• Over a pound of mozzarella cheese
• A copious amount of sliced mushrooms
• Two sliced-up Roma tomatoes, but just on my side, since Jon thinks they're gross

As usual, our pizza was totally awesome, and each of us managed to wolf down only three slices before nearly passing out. The ladies, of course, had a much more sensible pizza consisting of just cheese and pepperoni. A rousing time was had by all, and we topped off (har!) the evening with Entrapment, albeit slightly to Jon's chagrin as I think he was looking forward to one of the Jim Carrey movies he had brought over.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Texts May Come

I have known for a few years that if you send a text message to GOOGL (i.e. 46645) with the name of a business and a ZIP code, Google will send a text message back to you with the locations and phone numbers of that business nearest to the ZIP code you queried. In fact, the king of all gadgets, my brother Andy, told me about this a long time ago and then my cousin Beth reminded me of it last summer. I use this feature every now and then, and it really has come in handy on several occasions when I wanted to find the phone number of a business, but was nowhere near a phone book computer with internet access.

But last Saturday around 1:15am, as I was waiting at the Airport Terminal to pick up my wife, whose plane was supposed to land around 1am, I thought, purely on a whim, that I would see if Google could help me out. I sent the text message United 463 to GOOGL and, sure enough, not thirty seconds later I received this reply:

UA 463

Depart: 9:40 PM
Departed: 12:41 AM

Arrive: 10:59 PM
Delayed: 1:55 AM

Not too shabby! Google told me I would have to wait another 40 minutes, so I slipped into an episode of TwiT while I waited for the plane to land.

But it gets better...

A few days ago I was at Costco buying some milk, cheese, and other refrigerated items. While I munched on a slice of pizza from their deli for dinner I wondered if it would be cold enough outside to keep the food cold if I left it in my car for a few hours in the evening. How can I find out? I thought to myself. And then it hit me: I would try Google! So I sent the text message Weather 55304 to GOOGL, and a few seconds later I was hit back with:

Andover, MN 55304 39F, Cloudy
Wind: E 3mph
Hum: 64%

It was actually a complete three-day forecast, but you get the point. Sure enough, thanks to Google, I was able to leave everything in my car without giving it a second thought. Is there anything the Great Organizer can not do?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tuning Out

I haven't had cable TV in nearly two years, and to be fair, when I lived with my cousin before getting married, it wasn't cable TV that was pumped into the living room, it was satellite TV. But who's counting, right? Anyway, we don't have cable and barely even have rabbit ears. What we do have, though, is a subscription to Netflix, which is how we have watched all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The West Wing. We are halfway through 24 as well.

Not that we are some kind of TV junkies...far from it. But over the span of several years, watching an episode of something or other every now and then, well, it tends to just sort of add up.

Anyway, the other day I was talking with some guys at my work, and they were saying that in the recent storms their HDTV signals went out. "Yeah, my cousin's satellite did that a few times during storms," I said.

"But I don't have satellite," one of them responded, slightly puzzled.

"Yeah, but all I have is one of those shifty antennas that sits on top of our entertainment center," I responded, trying to figure out where the communication breakdown was occurring.

"Yeah, but you can get HD broadcasts over the airwaves," another guy said to me, as the rest were smiling. "That's all I have, and I get lots of HD channels."

I'm out of it for a little while, and everyone gets delusions of grandeur, not to mention HD signals from right out of thin air. Turns out the HDTV revolution is passing me by while I'm busy fiddling away with my Nintendo Wii and, you know, not having an HDTV. It's humbling moments like this when I realize that no matter how I try to stay current on tech stuff like this, there still is a whole lot that I just don't know. And I'm OK with that. It's nice to be brought back to reality every now and then.

Not that our Netflix subscription is in danger anytime soon...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bowling for bowling

Today I went bowling with some friends as part of a fund raiser, and while I did not score as high at my personal best (169, I think, or somewhere in that neighborhood), I did get five spares in a row, which, by my reckoning, is not too shabby. My final score for the first game was around 135 or so, and in the upper 90s for the second game, so nothing to write home (or even blog) about, but it was a good time, and sometimes that's all you need.

When I was a kid I used to drink a copious amount of pop, often augmented with candy, on a daily basis. Now I drink one, maybe two, cans of caffeine-free pop a day, and usually without any other sweets. But today, in a perfect storm of saccharine and high-fructose corn syrup, I managed to down a lot of pop, as well as probably too much taffy and sugar (thanks to a nice, and unexpected, gift from our relatives in Georgia, and a good post-Easter sale on candy at Cub Foods, respectively), and thus am trying to flush the ol' system with a good deal of water before heading to bed. I just hope it doesn't come back to bite me in the wee (har!) hours of the morning.

This week we had the windows open for a few days to let the breeze through, and lemme tell you, after months of Minnesota winter, it feels good.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Softer It Falls

Yesterday I woke to quite a sight, for this time of year. The Good Lord had seen fit to grace the streets of the Twin Cities with one last covering of snow for the year, or so I hope, before setting winter back in the drawer for another seven months or so. In what some might have seen as some sort of supernatural April Fool's joke, we actually got hit with over three inches of snow by the time the sun was up. Fortunately, or not, depending on how you approach the situation, my job requires me to be up very early, and I was able to snap this photo from our third-story apartment window:

The photo was taken with a six-second shutter, at ISO 80, at 5:30am on April 1. And, in what is becoming ever more rare for me, the picture has not been "photoshopped," or digitally edited-slash-altered, at all. Click the image for a much larger version, by the way.

Of course, by the end of the day nearly all the snow on any pavement in the Metro area had melted off, and today one would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a recent snowfall. That's how things go up here, though. :)