December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve, 2017

So what do we make of 2017?  Sure, there were the physical problems... my left knee simply doesn't bend well anymore... but I actually did fairly okay at the job.  The F1 season wasn't all that much of a much, and the Cubs weren't as good as they were in 2016, but I have a hard time criticizing either of them on the whole.  Even The Pond sorta just chugged along at a middlin' pace.

So is that it?  Do we declare 2017 "The Year Of The Meh"?  I'm really struggling to think of anything particularly outstanding about the past 365 days as a coherent whole.  There were good times, there were bad times, but I think 2017 was like vanilla ice cream... it's not bad, but it could have been red bean mochi.

But I did have you, the Pond Scum, and that makes all the difference, doesn't it?  Here's to a better 2018, for myself, for The Pond, and for all of you, my lovely readers.  Now it's time for the funny hats and noisemakers... happy new year, everybody!

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December 29, 2017

GD's 3WA

Something I feel I've been remiss about this... well, this whole year... is a project that my brother in feathers Greyduck has been working on.  He called it "3WA"... that how we're going to play this?  No, not the Worlds Welfare Works Association, but the Weekly Word Working Assignment.  And before you ask, no, no Kei and Yuri.  In this case, GD decided to make himself write to a schedule: one post per week for the entire year, talking about, and I quote, "a bunch of the animated stuff I like best and why you might (possibly) like it, too."  And an eclectic collection it is, too.  From Aardman to ARIA to Aang to Animaniacs, he's all over the map... when he bothers to stick to a map at all. I had heard of most of the things he talks about, and understood his reasoning for many of those.  Daria, however, was a bit too far, but the fact that he talks about a MTV-based animation from the '90s in the same project as Blast of Tempest and... yes, Kanon '06... gives you an idea of the scope of this project.

While I was composing this post, I actually went back to his Entry #1 and reread the entire series.  It maybe took me an hour, tops.  This is some good, fast, reading that's entertaining as hell and might just get you to look at some shows you wouldn't have otherwise.  Not a bad way to spend a year, that.  Here's the entire category entry for you, but I'd recommend starting with the previously mentioned Entry #1 and working your way up the calendar.  Better do it quick though... he's about to start the next 3WA project, and this one will be truly special: music.

But really, GD... Daria?

EDIT:  Just to clarify, when I say "truly special," that doesn't mean THIS 3WA project wasn't special.  It simply means that I've been immensely impressed by GD's musical leanings over the years, and have learned that if he suggests a band or album to me there's at least a 50-50 chance I'll love it.  Think about it... how many people do you know that have that good of a track record with something as uniquely personal as your musical likes?  I can't wait to see what is, essentially, his Top 50 album list.

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December 28, 2017

It Really IS Rocket Science!

It's moments like this that make me think about how humankind has progressed in my 50 years on this earth.

Some random person in Los Angeles, using a broadcast-quality camera in a hand-held communications device connected to a datasharing system that can be accessed world-wide, has recorded the flight of a reusable rocket 160 miles away, then shared it with potentially millions of people that, using equipment that is considered commonplace but in reality is more powerful than the combined processing power of entire nations when I was born, can view with amazing clarity the spectacular launch of a true reusable rocket into space carrying 10 communications satellites that will become part of an orbiting network that can be seen from your backyard without the use of telescopes, and nobody even blinks an eye about it and goes on looking for cat videos.

My god I do so love living in the future.

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December 27, 2017

'Net's Misbehavin'...

So ever since late Christmas night my intarwebz has been, to be blunt, suckin' like a thirsty vampire with a really thin straw.  It's up for a minute, then down for five, then I may as well be receiving data via morse code for all the good it's doing.  I've been informed that it's affecting all of the buildings in the back of the Pond Central Apartment Complex... and my building is the backiest of the back that's ever backed.  No, seriously... Pond Central's building is the farthest south in the complex, behind me is nothing but a large expanse of lawn, a row of trees, then corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  Not right now of course... now it's lots and lots of not a whole lot, honestly... but yeah.  I'm being affected.

They say it should be back up "soon."  When I pressed them on that, they said it'll be up by 2018... which is their way of saying "shaddap."

So if you don't hear from me much, it's not my usual lack of blogging... it's that I'm being forced to not blog.  If you see this message, that means Hooray, I hit the save button at the fraction of a second my internet was working!  If you don't... well, no real need to get into that, is there?

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December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve 2017

May you find what you want under the tree tomorrow... or, at least, have a good day off.  Whichever.  I'm not judging.

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December 21, 2017

Them's The Brakes

So Saturday morning rolls around, and I get up early to receive the expected phone call from Midas.  See, if you schedule an appointment on their website they're supposed to call you back in one business hour.  Since we had hit the website Friday night after closing, and the site clearly says "we'll call you back in one business hour", it seems reasonable to assume that they'd call back, at the latest, an hour or so after start of business on Saturday, yes?  So, not wanting to miss the call and a chance to get my car's brakes repaired, I was up and out of bed at 715am when they open at 730am on Saturdays.  As I write this, it's very late Tuesday Thursday evening and Midas has yet to call me back. 

I'm starting to get the impression that they don't particularly want my business.  I got tired of waiting around 930am and called a local place that has great reviews and that I've heard good things of in the real world... they answered after two rings.  They told me to bring it on in, though they surely didn't recommend driving it there.  In that, they had my full agreement: it's one thing to be driving a car missing half or more of its braking ability in light traffic on a Friday morning.  It's a totally different story altogether trying to drive a crippled car in heavy traffic at one of the city's busier intersections... so many more things to hit.  There would have to be a tow.

As it turns out, I have towing coverage on my insurance and they were happy to set me up with a company here in Duckford.  After a few dozen questions ("Are you in a safe place?  Are the keys in the car?  Are you allergic to shellfish?"), they let me off the phone.  Shortly thereafter, I received a text message from the towing company: we'll be there in 90 minutes.  At this, I called Ph.Duck, who had been a stabilizing force for good when it comes to my car-related panics, and he would pick me up at Pond Central in 60 minutes, 10 minutes to the parking lot at work, bish bash bosh all is swell.  At the 55 minute mark, I put on the weather-appropriate zip-up fleece and head down to the Official Parking Lot of Pond Central.  

After a couple of minutes, the tow truck driver calls and says he's "five minutes away".  I explain that I'm not there, but I should arrive in about 15-20 minutes.  "Can't wait that long, I'll just load it without the keys."  Whatever you say, buddy.  Ph.Duck then texts to tell me that he's running late and will be picking me up in about 15 minutes.  Fair enough... the tow truck will certainly be loaded by that time, so we'll just head to the mechanic's shop and give them the keys.  And thus did it occur.  I run into the place, note the remarkably clean shop floor, introduce myself, tell them the car should be showing up any moment, they promised to call when they figure out what's borked, and we're good to go.  This all took about 15-20 minutes: there were a couple of people ahead of me.  No tow truck.  Hm.  I call the number the insurance company gave me, and the driver says "I'm about 15 minutes away from the car right now."

I admit to having gotten a little het up at this point.  It's not like there wasn't any stress going on in my existence at the moment or anything after all.  Turns out the person I was speaking to was the OWNER of the towing company, not the driver I had been talking with... he was still on the tow he'd been on when he called the first time.  So the owner, who "wasn't even supposed to be working today", decided to do the job.  Ph.Duck and I then drove back to my employer's parking lot to meet him.  He showed up, eventually, got all positioned and stuff, then pulled the car onto a flatbed... after dragging the muffler approximately one mile in the process.  "Do you have a suspension problem?"  No, the muffler and exhaust of the late '90s Camry hangs rather lower than you'd expect.  Eventually he chained the car onto the flatbed and drove away.  A rather impressive puddle was left behind, all of it in line with the right side tires.  Yeesh.  Ph.Duck and I went off to have some lunch, and then we drove back to the mechanic's shop to get the news. 

The plumbing for the late '90s Camry's brake system, seen in the diagram above, is... um... convoluted.  It appears that each brake has a dedicated line, with a number of valves, pumps, gears, turboencabulators and widgets on each one.  But they also appear to SHARE a major line between the brakes as well.  I have no idea what was going through the designer's head when they did that.  The line to the right-rear brake had blown out, dumping most of the system's fluid out upon the ground.  The brakes still worked... just... but there was very little brake fluid remaining and whatever stopping power still existed would have disappeared awfully soon.  He thought he could get it fixed in the two hours before they closed.  By all means, please go ahead... I bid Ph.Duck adieu and sat down in the rather pleasant waiting room.  Oh dear god no...

I've changed my mind.  I'd rather drive away in a car with failed brakes than watch The Phantom Menace again.  After about 90 minutes of hell, the mechanic working on my car, Terry, came in and gave me the news: he had replaced the failed line, filled it with brake fluid, gave 'em a test... and another brake line blew out.  This was both annoying as hell and totally expected... he had even warned me that could happen.  In truth, he was rather pleased that only one more had blown; it appears my oil leak worked in my favor for once, as all the gunk had coated some of the hardware, keeping them from rusting and wearing out.  So I had that going for me.  Which is nice.  The plan going forward was simple: "soak" the remaining brake lines all day Sunday looking for bleeders, then repair what needed to be fixed.  We'd play phone tag / text message on Monday.

By mid-morning Monday the news came down: she's all fixed up.  The rest of the brake lines held together, hooray!  They have the potential to fail at any time, but they held together!  A few hours later, I picked up the car and everything was back to normal.  I think the moral of this story is quite simple: don't trust Midas for anything.  Ever.

Epilogue: ...and then a meteorite impacted.  The end.

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December 15, 2017

...That's Not A Good Sound...

This morning I went to work as I normally did, with one difference.  I needed to grab some cash to pay for an upcoming lunch at work... all the lasagna I can eat!... so I took a different route.  No huhu, I used to take it to the Bookstore about half the time anyway.  I decided that I wanted to get off the main road to the gas station however, so I'd turn at Wendy Ave (note: name changed to protect the innocent) and sneak in the back way.  Brilliant!  Except Wendy Ave is sort of impossible to see until you're right on it, and its very rare for me to do this anyway.  So even with me keeping a sharp eye open, it still snuck up on me.  Whoops!  Need to slow down for the left-hand turn, and not a lot of space to do it, so I stepped on the brakes.  Not particularly hard, it's not like I panic-stopped or anything.

Three things then occurred in quick order.  First, I either heard or felt (I'm still not sure) a *thump* sound.  Second, the brake pedal sank to the floor under the pressure of my foot.  And third, I watched Wendy Ave go past me.  Sh*t oh dear.

The good news is that waaaay down there at the end of the brake pedal's run, there was some brake authority.  Okay, cool.  To the gas station!  Pulled up to the red light, giving myself extra space to come to a halt, and success was had.  Not great, but driveable.  Light turns green, I pull away and accelerate to a bit below normal road speed until I came to the gas station.  Again giving myself extra room I did the whole brake thing again... and it felt like the back of the car was drifting to the right.  What the hell...?

I looked at the car, everything appeared to be okay... no visible problems, no tire flopping around, no unexpected fluids appearing on the asphalt.  Right.  I did my stuff, then drove the rest of the way to work.  Again with that sickening drifting feeling.  I could still stop the car, but... wow.  After parking, I called Ph.Duck... university professor, go-to car problem guy, bon vivant, man about town...  and he came out to take a test drive after I was done with work.  After driving it a bit, then taking a look underneath, he leveled his diagnosis: failed brake line.  Both right-side tires were apparently drenched in brake fluid, but the left-side was fine.  That'd explain the drifting feel: no brakes on the right side!  Whee!!!

So for the sake of safety, I left the car in the parking lot at work.  We'll see about getting it into a shop in the morning.  Merry Christmas everybody!!!

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December 13, 2017

RIP Pat DiNizio

Most, if not all of you, my lovely readers, are looking at the title of this post and wondering just who the heck Pat DiNizio was.  This was Pat DiNizio:

Lead singer and main songwriter for my favorite straight-out rock and roll band, The Smithereens.  They never did much on the charts, topping out at #37 on the Billboard Top 100 with "Too Much Passion," off 1992's A Date With The Smithereens.  But it was their earlier albums, Especially For You, Green Thoughts, and particularly 1989's 11 that made them their fans.
My favorite Smithereens moment was when the band was accused by Rolling Stone magazine as "sounding too much like the Beatles."  Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but from where I come from, sounding like the Beatles is a compliment, not a pejorative.  However, I disagree that they sound all that much like the Fab 4, if only because they're better instrumentalists.
Their tunes routinely showed up on movie soundtracks, and "Blood And Roses" was used in an episode of Miami Vice, would you believe?  Sadly, I never got to see them perform live, thought the opportunity appeared twice.  The first time was up in Minnesota; they were playing in Minneapolis at First Avenue, but I had a cast on my foot from an unfortunate incident involving gravity and a loading dock.  The second time was when they played at Duckford's annual music festival, On The Waterfront.  Sadly, the radio station I worked for was broadcasting live from the event and they wanted their best board operator at the controls.  Since she wasn't available, they asked me to do it.  Of course I said yes.  In a way though, it was okay... the Mobile Boombox (yes, really) was positioned near the rock stage, and I could hear 'em through the microphone feed back to the station.
When the band was... um... "on record label hiatus", he had a small solo career, but they never stopped touring together.  Of late, he had been suffering from ill health, and passed away earlier today.  He was 62.  And I'm bummed out.

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December 11, 2017

I Had No Idea This Was A Thing...

...but I'm really glad it is!  Back in the old days, one of the things that high-level railfans did was wrangle a cab ride from some friendly engineer, set up a video camera, and record the trip in such a way that the viewer could believe they were really really there.  Often, these vids would end up being licensed by one company or another and sold out of the back of Trains or Model Railroader magazines.  More recently, cable channels like RFD-TV will actually broadcast such things between bull roping, the farmer's weather report, and (my favorite) the Annual Classic Tractor Show and Parade.  Such videos are much easier to make these days, and of course the visual quality is better to a stupid extent.  It was while watching one of these detailing the London DLR run from Lewisham to Bank that a yootoob suggestion caught my eye... "Night Videowalk in East Shinjuku, Tokyo."  Intrigued, I took a look.

...and it's exactly what it says on the tin: someone walking around in East Shinjuku with a 4K digital camera on a stabilizer-crane mount.  That's all.  And, much like the Jackson Hole livecam, it's wonderful to watch, in a voyeuristic way.  Sometimes it's in a densely packed urban area, sometimes he's walking on Mt Fuji, or the Imperial Garden in Tokyo, or Comiket.  And he doesn't ever say a word, so it's all natural sound.  There are others doing similar things, but their videos aren't as long... Rambalac, the person I've been watching, makes his a hour long, more or less. And to bring it full circle, one of them is of the JR Railway Museum in Saitama.  Sadly, that one isn't in 4K... but this one is:
Turns out there are plenty of other people out there doing similar things in other cities.  New York's Times Square,  or Kolkata, or even Chicago, for example.  But yeah, I'm a geek... Japan for me!  Amusingly, I already knew what some of the places looked like... thanks to Go! Go! Nippon, which blew my little mind.  I mean, I'm never going to get to go to Japan, so... well, it's a poor second, of course, but it's better than nothing.  And there's some startlingly beautiful scenes to boot.  Pour yourself a drink, settle in, and give one a watch... you might be surprised at how much you enjoy yourself.

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