Saturday, May 31, 2008

This chick is toast

...meaning, she's probably gonna get one wicked sunburn. In any case, you should probably check it out:

Roz is six days into her solo rowing trip.

"But where?" you might ask. "Down the river?"


"Hrm...across a lake?"

Wrong again.

"I give up."

I knew you would.

No, Roz is rowing across the Pacific Ocean. Pretty schweet if you ask me. And since you're reading my blog, I'm guessing you did. She's decked out, too, with solar-powered computers, iPods, and other such amenities. But it means she gets to post blog updates, and it's supremely interesting. I mean, blogging from a 16-foot rowboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? And I thought it was cool when my brother Andy went down a 700-foot sledding hill with his video camera strapped to one hand...

Good luck, Roz. You've got the tools, and you've got the talent. Just make sure to watch out for those pesky Great White Sharks and the occasional hurricane.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oily to bed, oily to rise

As far back as I can remember, I have changed the oil on my cars by myself. It's a small thing, I know, but one that gives me just a little bit of satisfaction, as if my car's performance is, even is a tiny way, due in part to something I did myself. My dad showed me how to do this most basic aspect of auto maintenance on my Ford Tempo many years ago, and even though he has performed the operation a few times here and there while I was indisposed (thank you very much, Dad. I appreciate it), I have, for the most part, done it myself. That is to say, I have never taken one of my cars to a mechanic or auto shop to have it done. Since most places charge around $20, and a do-it-yourself job costs around $12, I'm not exactly saving a lot of money. I do it just to provide myself with membership in that echelon of dudes who do their own car work, even though it's really nothing that special. I can't remove an alternator, rebuild a transmission, or tell what that clanking sound coming from the back tire is, but goshdarnit, I change my own oil. So there.

One problem inherent in the changing of one's own auto oil, though, is the concept of space, and for me, a distinct lack of it. We live in an apartment, and even if it were not frowned upon to perform car maintenance in the building parking lot, I would be hard-pressed to store the used oil or even make sure none of it got spilled on the pavement. As such, I have to use my cousin's house, my dad's garage (I change the oil, in whatever car we drive, ever time we are in Lincoln), or my friend Sarah's father's garage. And lately it has been the latter, for which I owe a great debt of gratitude. He doesn't mind if I come over, take up half his garage, and spend a half hour maintaining one of our autos, all the while (more often than not, anyway) unwittingly spreading a fresh coat of Quaker State on his concrete floor.

But today I experienced the most dreaded of all oil-changing problems: the filter would not come off.

There I was, lying on the floor, my hands burnt in two places from the engine manifold, wrestling with a stubborn Wix filter that was firmly ensconced on its post on the underside of my wife's 1992 Geo Prizm. See, the trouble is, I usually go for the Fram TG4967 filter, but the last time I had given this car a new 3,000 mile lease on life, the parts store I went to only had the Wix equivalent (and I'm not talking Drew, mind you). And my filter cap ratchet wrench attachment was just slightly too big for the filter. I could not get the thing off, despite many attempts with and without the adapter. Sarah even drove me to Checker to get a different wrench, which did not work, and I thought I would have to resort to the "jam a screwdriver through it" method.

But then, wonder of wonders, Sarah's dad, who got home while we were at the store, came out and was able to get the filter off with his bare hands. It took a great deal of heaving, grunting, and wide-eyed stares from me and Sarah, but the man actually did it. And all I could do was watch and stare, while my sense of dudley-ness drained out like so much 5W-40.

But now George the Geo has a brand-new Fram, and is good to go for another 3K, so I have that much time to brush up on the ol' biceps, just in case. Now if I could only figure out that clanking sound...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A few of my favorite things

Ok, so I don't have a lot of time to write this, but I just wanted to say a huge thank-you to all my family who came up to visit this past weekend.

And so I shall: "Thank you." :)

We somehow crammed two of my brothers, my sister, her daughter, and my brother's fiancée in our apartment for two and a half days, and despite the itty bitty living space, we had an absolute blast. My wife and I made our signature Breakfast of Awesomeness on Saturday *and* Sunday morning, and much of the time at our place was spent talking, playing Wii, and watching The Office (c'mon, Andy, you know you want to rent it now...). We also took hundreds of pictures, mostly of my two year-old niece who is just starting to learn to talk. Awww... My parents also came up for the weekend, and stayed at my uncle's house, and the whole lot of us ended up going to my cousin's harp recital-slash-high school graduation, and the reception afterwards, on Saturday. Then on Sunday we went to Saint Cloud for another graduation party, this time for my cousin Christy, and following that we hoofed it over to Foley to see my uncle and his family. Highlights from all the preceeding include, but are not limited to:

• Finding out that my sister is pretty good at Mario Kart Wii. She even beat me a few times.
• Eating LOTS of junk food on Sunday evening at our place
• Introducing my brother Andy to The Office
• Riding my uncle's four-wheeler with my sister
• Target shooting with my brother Andy's handguns
• Eating LOTS of excellent barbecue on Sunday, and taking a good deal of it home as leftovers
• Visiting with cousins and other relatives we do not normally get to see.
• Listening to Esther play the harp. Good gravy, she rocks the house church with that thing!
• Having our friend Sarah over on Friday to hang with The Fam. Thanks, dude!
• Playing with my niece, who is the cutest two-year-old in the world. No, seriously, it's true.

Ok, seriously, family is awesome. We're going to Lincoln in a month and a half and I'm already excited for it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alien Aftermath

Each morning since last July I have had roughly the same routine: wake up, shower, make a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and/or apples, spend ten minutes in prayer while the oatmeal cooks and then cools, and then watch 15 minutes of a movie while I eat breffist, supplemented with a tall glass of O to the J. It works, even though it's not always delicious, but I usually stay full until lunch, which never happens if I eat cereal. Several weeks ago I decided I would wade through my old VHS collection of Alien movies including, as much as I was not looking forward to it, Alien Resurrection.

It was slow going at first, as our VCR slowly died in a fit of black-and-white fuzz, but we soon got a "new" one and I continued my journey through the life and times of Ripley, the heroine of the Alien series, played by the indelible Sigourney Weaver. In many respects I realized how good these films are, and yes, that includes the oft-maligned Alien3. Ridley Scott's original Alien was a masterwork of suspense, and breathed new life into the creature-feature flicks of the 50s and 60s, largely due to a supremely charming and charismatic cast. Its sequel, Aliens, showcases James Cameron at his big-budget best. His films are, if nothing else, epic in scale, and Aliens proved to be a worthy successor to the original by giving us what my friend Ben once described as a "VietNam movie in space." The action was frantic and suspenseful, and the aliens were as scary as all get out. The Queen still gives me chills, and I have no idea how they filmed the final 15 minutes of the movie with the technology that was available at the time.

Most would prefer to forget Alien3, but if you take it as more of a study of David Fincher than anything else, it turns out to be surprisingly well-done. Slow pacing, quick cuts, and religious symbolism (Neo of the Matrix trilogy has nothing on Ripley, folks) all combine to form a moody, ethereal rumination on self-sacrifice and self-preservation.

But Alien Resurrection...good gravy. The final chapter in the franchise (AvP films notwithstanding) is little more than a shameless attempt to cash in on the series' most noteworthy points (the aliens) while disregarding everything that made the original movies so exceptional (the characters). It's a silly splatter flick that proudly wears its grotesqueness on its sleeve, and even becomes a parody of itself by the time the "Newborn" appears. While the original Alien was a magnificent work of suspense and heightened emotions, its third sequel lies firmly at the bottom rung of the entire canon of splatter films, and relies not on impeccable pacing, but, sadly, on sheer shock value alone. The movie, rather than constructing a solid plot (why is there a swimming pool in a spaceship?) just gets more and more gross until the bitter end.

Anyway, after finishing the final Alien movie this morning I figured I needed something much more light to cleanse my mental palate. Enter This Is Spinal Tap, which is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Though it is best viewed with British friends, like my former college roommates Ben and Simon, it's so funny even while being watched alone at 6am that I am actually looking forward to my morning bowl of oatmeal tomorrow. And, as if to pay homage to the movie, I received a rather fitting issue of National Geographic in the mail this afternoon. I nearly left it in its plastic mailing wrap, too, in honor of Nigel's guitar. :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fishing Opener?

I enjoy fishing, but, though I live in Minnesota, I only go a few times a year, and mostly on vacation or with my friend Jon at his cabin. Yesterday, though, my cousin Matt invited me up to his house on a lake north of the Cities for this year's inaugural fishing expedition. And by expedition I mean that we, along with his wife and a few others, took his old pontoon out for an hour and threw grub worms and peanut shells at the tiny sunfish. Even though I only caught one fish, and between the five of us nothing we reeled in was longer than a few inches, we had a great time. Which, in my judgement, is the real point of fishing anyway. We also had some delicious burgers for dinner and capped the night with some Guitar Hero.

As I type this I have completed five separate projects for my fledgling video business, save for the printing of some DVD inserts. My little Pioneer 110D has been burning DVDs like crazy these past few weeks, and I'm optimistic about a few other jobs I have lined up this summer too. All in all, it should buy a new iMac by the end of the summer. Excellent.

This morning the weather has been astounding--crisp, fresh, and not a cloud in the sky. Minnesota in the springtime really is something else, man. But one thing we do not have, as readers of this blog are keenly aware, is a little slice of heaven in the form of a Nebraska-based taco chain known as Amigo's. And a half hour ago my brother Tom reminded me of this in a picture he sent to me showcasing the condiments he and his fiancée were employing to augment their already delicious taco lunch:

And that, as he said, is just for two people. Well done, Tom...well done.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Green jacket, gold jacket...

I went to (where else?) Costco today to get a spindle of CDs, and was presented with a somewhat singular conundrum. On the shelf, as it were, lay two choices: A 100-pack of CDs for $19.99, or a similar pack of CDs for $16.99. The catch? The latter were labeled as "Music" CDs, whereas the former displayed the "Data" moniker. Now, I've been using these shiny discs ever since people had to use them in conjunction with CD caddies, and I had no idea there was any sort of distinction between a "music" CD and a "data" CD. As far as the computer is concerned, it's a blank slice of aluminum. The burnable ones, such as the discs I was looking to purchase, are just surfaces (squeezed between layers of plastic) on which to burn microscopic holes, thus resulting in a series of bits (i.e. ones and zeros) which are then translated into, well, into data. Music or no, it's just a blank medium to store data.

Nevertheless, those tricky so-and-sos at the TDK Marketing Department caught me off guard! I was stunned, and honestly wondered if I had overlooked some monumental shift in compact disc-based data retention. In a tizzy, I called my brother Andy and explained the situation to him. In his usual manner, he calmly explained that the "music" CDs had what he referred to as an RIAA Tax. It was then that I realized the two spindles of CDs I was looking at were actually different amounts: The $19.99 stack was a 100-pack, as I already noticed, but its $16.99 counterpart was actually a 75-pack. Problem solved, and chalk up another "So long, suckers!" from me to the RIAA, as well as the TDK Marketing Department. I knew there was something fishy going on, and I was just a little bit proud of myself (and thankful to Andy) for being able to beat the system.

Not ten minutes later, though, as I stood in the checkout line, the guy in front of me saw the 100-pack of CDs I was about to purchase, and asked where I found them. "Over there by the TVs," I said, gesturing with my left hand.

"Oh," he replied, interested. "I see those are data CDs. Do you know if they have music CDs?"

Everyone needs to have their own Andy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Long Day's Night

I started editing video around 8am today, and it's now 10pm and I'm about to call it quits until tomorrow, or perhaps later this week. It's all very exciting, actually: I was contracted to do four slide shows for an organization, and today (along with a few hours of yesterday evening) was spent constructing, editing, rendering, and finally burning to DVD, three of the four. I did four slide shows for the same organization last year, and since I was just beginning to learn how to use Final Cut Express, and my only computer was my 1GHz eMac, it was quite an ordeal. It took a few stressful weeks, and a near-miracle hard drive crash-and-recovery (thanks again, Andy), but I ended up with a good finished product. This year, though, I have made extensive use of the MacBook I recently got from my work, as well as the knowledge I gained from previous projects, and things have gone exceptionally well. It's times like this when I realize that the Lord has me struggle through various things, at various times--so I might learn from it and be better off down the road. Not that a simple video project can be equated to a character-building personal struggle, but in some small part, I believe the lesson still holds a kernel of truth.

I have rather enjoyed this project, too. Not that it's finished entirely (I have one more slide show to go, and still have to burn 22 copies of the slide show I just finished), but it has been very interesting, though I would stop short of saying entertaining, to create these. I get to exercise some degree of creativity that I do not always get to do in my daily life, and learn even more about how to use Final Cut Express along the way.

One problem that had confounded me for several months, which was solved by my wife a few weeks ago, was the issue of DVD labels. I used to use sticker-based labels that I printed off and, literally, stuck to the top of each disc. But in preparation for this project, as well as other projects this summer, I wanted an easier way that looked more professional and resulted in a higher-quality finished product. I had a few options: invest in an InkJet or Laser printer that could print on the label-side of DVDs, invest in a LightScribe DVD burner, or find someone who knows calligraphy. But the solution my wife proposed, which has worked out extremely well, was to purchase rubber stamps and use them for the labels. Even though the stamps, at $18 each, are a bit expensive, they produce a very professional finished product. And for the project I am working on, I can re-use the stamps again next year, assuming I get contracted for the same project again. It is perhaps not as economical, in the long run as purchasing a printer, it is far less hassle, and allows me to continue to not have an InkJet printer in our household--a tradition which will continue for the term of my natural life, if I have anything to say about it.

So yeah, video editing is pretty cool. Now to play some Mario Galaxy...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

8 Pint

Today I got my much-sought-after One Gallon Pin after donating as many units of blood over the course of the last few years. I still can't watch them stick the needle in my arm, though. My dad and I both get squeamish around needles, and I once saw my dad nearly faint after seeing a good deal of blood in the aftermath of one of the many accidents we had as kids. They actually do blood drives in the building next to my work, so it's easy to go donate after work whenever they do these blood drives. I still have a way to go in order to catch up to my brother Andy, my uncles Tony and Pete, and other people I know who donate, but it's a start...

I am finishing up one major video project right now, and in the next two weeks I will be starting, and finishing, several more. It's a lot of work, but the ability to do some of this on my work laptop has been outstanding. I don't remember how I did all this editing last year on my eMac alone, but somehow I did. My goal is to make enough money this summer from video projects to pay for Apple's high-end 20-inch iMac, which will blow my oooold eMac out of the water. Yuss! I'm also learning a good deal about Final Cut Express, thanks to the reference manual my wife got me for Valentine's day, as well as just using it.

Having missed the CD release of my friend's band,The JV All*Stars, I've been listening to their "Girls Forget Your Boys/Boys Forget Your Girls" album recently, as well as some of their more recent stuff over at PureVolume. Keep 'em coming, guys. From Nick's basement on 63rd street to headlining shows in's been one crazy ride, eh? And if you're ever in the Twin Cities, gimme a holler..

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A little energon, and a lot of luck

There's a weekly podcast I listen to called The Hotspot, where four or five guys from Gamespot talk about video game news, events, trends, and the like. They also run contests, mostly on a weekly basis, and this morning I made the following audio file by editing segments from three separate episodes of the show: April 15, when one particular contest was introduced, April 22, when the winners were announced, and April 29, when one of the entry submitters called in to clear up some rumors.

And while failed podcast contest entry submissions are generally not blog-worthy, this is, without a doubt, the best Optimus Prime impression I have ever heard...


Even Peter Cullen would be impressed.

In other news, I put my second broken electronic item on eBay today (the first was my broken iPod I sold over a year ago). I ran across this listing a few days ago for our same camera, with the same problem, and figured I could get at least $40 since I have a better feedback score and a more impressive listing overall. But who knows. In any case, here's hoping our old camera will go out in a blaze of PayPal-induced glory...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Deli Rounding Up

When I was a kid I had a ritual that would often be coupled with a viewing of one of the Star Wars movies or an episode of Star Trek: I would load up a bowl of Tostitos chips - the regular giant triangle-shaped ones, not one of the strange variations that have been more prevalent recently - and get another bowl of Pace "Medium" salsa in which to dip said chips, along with a mug of milk, and go to town. It was part snack, part endurance test (I sometimes braved the "Hot" salsa, but oh boy...), but whatever it was, it certainly happened a lot.

Then, as often happens with these sorts of things, I moved on to other things to accompany my sci-fi viewing: homemade malts, vats of orange Kool-Aid, microwave popcorn, ramen noodles, and the like. Oddly enough, when I graduated high school and moved out, I stopped eating the snacks I most enjoyed, probably because I had other things to pay for, like rent and such.

Recently, I have been reviving the ol' chips-and-salsa tradition, though but with somewhat of a twist. Instead of springing for the Tostitos, I have been opting for their cheaper counterpart, the classic round yellow "Deli Round" chips. You know the kind: yellow, salty, and available in dozens, if not hundreds, of off-brand labels at every grocery store in America (the bag I am munching on as I write this is branded "Super Crunch"). Even though they are cheaper, they are actually pretty good, especially when I stumble across one with an excessive amount of salt. And the salsa? It's still Pace "Medium," but it now comes in a half-gallon jug from Costco.

Now if only I could figure out how to turn a brick of cheddar into delicious cheese-sauce topping for Nachos. If anyone knows how this secret, please let me know...