Friday, June 30, 2006

Worldcup Impact.

Who knew. Unexpected consequences.

Whne you are planning a trip for a little under two years you have no idea what might impact your plans.

Italy beat the Ukraine today 3-0 in the quarter finals of the World Cup. That means that on the 4th of July, just another day in Italy, the Italians play Germany for a shot at the finals of the World Cup.

Win or lose Rome should be interesting to say the least on the 5th of July. I'll bet it is just nuts.

We are scheduled to bus our way over to Pompeii that day so at least we are not in Rome.

I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

First Trip Pre Meeting.

We had a our first informal meeting before the big Italy and Greece trip tonight. It was supposed to be a "Question and Answer" session with two of the teachers that are going on the trip.

I didn't have many questions really I was just there to see if there was any new info.

We are off to an interesting start. There are two groups of about 30 people each and the tour leader picked who went in each group. Well it looks like people made assumptions about who they were going to be with for the entire tour and now some of them are in one group and some in the other.

People are not happy about it.

I can see this is not going to be an easy job keeping 80 people happy.

I also picked up this beauty which is convienetly wrapped in plastic for our next garage sale.

I now have all electrical devices figured out. Lots of nice people lent me the plug adapters and all of my electronic friends are dual voltage. I even had a dual voltage NiMH AA battery charger laying around the house!

I bought a dual voltage hairdryer tonight for $20. It seems simple enough. The only potential problem I see is the instructions say to ONLY use it in the LOW heat setting when you switch to 220 V mode. So what happens if you accidently switch it to high? Scorched wife?

Ironically the instructions for the international travel hairdryer were only written in English. If there was one product that demanded multi-language instructions don't you think it would be a hair dryer that works on every continent? Especially a device that you could accidentally turn into a fireball by using the "HIGH" setting on in the wrong country.

I also picked up a ridiculous straw "Indiana Jones" hat that I would only wear again if I were looking for the Ark of the Covenant in say, Egypt. (Asps, very dangerous, you go first). I also picked up a "money belt" to keep my money out of the hands of the notorious Gypsies in Rome.

Apparently if you keep your money in a skin tight device that looks like one of those things the guys in the Home Depot wear, the Gypsies won't find it.

DINK

We are living a different kind of life style this week as DINKs. Dual Income, No Kids.

The Boys are off on a High Adventure Trip in the catskills with the scouts and Mrs F and I are home, working. She has started her job this week.

It is quiet in the house and only the schnauzers are stirring occasionally when there is a car out front.

On Saturday we actually spent the entire evening downloading photos and "ringtones" to her new phone. We spent hours picking her favorite songs, editing them down to 7-10 seconds and downloading them to her phone.

Hours.

Then we realized.

This is what people without kids do all the time.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Concert Time - Journey and Def Leppard

I'm really not sure who said "yes" to seeing Def Leppard and Journey. Mrs F says I did but I don't recall saying that and yet here we were on our way with two other couples to our lawn seats at the Tweeter in Camden. Neither of us are huge Def Leppard fans, having learned all we know from VH1's behind the music:

Five guys, Nine arms.

For those of you unaware, the drummer for Def Leppard lost his left arm in a car accident on New Years Eve 1984 and yet through the miracle of modern technology, continues to drum. These guys are like Spinal Tap, but the drummer lived!

Literally, the only Def Leppard music Mrs F knows is "POUR SOME SUGAR ON IT" and that is it. Doesn't know what line comes before, doesn't know what line comes after and doesn't care. Just "POUR SOME SUGAR ON IT".

I, on the other hand, have a 20 g iPod filled with Rock, Progressive Rock, 70s Rock, 80s Rock. Total number of Def Leppard songs that made the cut onto the iPod? Zero. Nadda. Not even "SUGAR" made it.

Total number of Journey Songs? One. "Don't stop believing" which had a play count of ...., wait for it......,

zero.

On Friday coming home from work I decided that I should at least listen to "Can't stop believing" so I put it on the play list.

It is totally useless. It is distorted trash.

And it's going to rain.

Driving to the concert I mention that Steve Perry isn't singing with Journey anymore.

"What?" Mrs U screams. "When did this happen?"

like 1983 I think.

It turns out that Journey is one of those bands that have had like 400 people, 5 at a time. Randy Jackson from American Idol was actually a member in the 80's.

I am not making this up. The black guy from American Idol played bass for Journey. He was like the Tito Jackson of Journey but he was a member. (Actually, he was the Randy Jackson.....)

It would not surprise me to find out that I had played guitar for Journey in the 80's. I don't really recall but I don't remember saying yes to this concert either.

We arrive and out comes the 20' by 10' tarp, a blanket and other lawn concert paraphernalia.

Directly in front of us is a guy who is either 65 years old or 45 with a lot of mileage. He is thrashing to the music, left hand in the air hitting all the beats, lost in the music. He is exclusively using his left arm to keep time, a habit he developed because for the past 20-30 years his right arm was busy with a beverage. He has a "Iron Maiden" tour shirt from 2003/04 in Europe/Japan. He is just a riot. He doesn't stop moving to music until he nearly passes out at the end when a slow song from Def Leppard comes on. He notes his disapproval of "slowing things down a bit" with this unique circular motion of his left arm, over his head with his thumb extended until it points downward. Again, the right arm is busy. Thumbs down sez Iron Maiden.

This is a man who followed Journey's advice and "did not stop believing" long after the rest of us did.

At one point I swear he had a seizure and no one noticed. He was laying there and twitching. He recovered.

It started to rain during Def Leppard. We huddled under our tarp like it was day 3 of Woodstock but really it was barely raining with some lighting. Women do not like wet hair.

"Iron Maiden" had a different approach to the rain: with both hands fully extended upward with both middle fingers up. He's giving God the finger. It's a lightning storm and he is giving God the finger.
Brilliant.

I'm thinking: "Don't miss" But the truth is God loves Iron Maiden as much as he does me and he is patient beyond understanding.

After the rain lets up Iron Maiden decides it's time to give some attention to his female companion and starts feeling the back her leg directly in front of us. He keeps moving his hand higher until it is under her poncho, feeling her butt.

We know this because the PONCHO IS CLEAR.

To our left is a guy passed out and two young girls are taking turns jumping over his head.

Clearly, Def Leppard knows how to draw a classy crowd.

It was a good time and, as always, the crowd made it fun.

Journey was good but would have been better with Steve Perry instead of this guy:

Def Leppard did not disappoint the crowd and even played "SUGAR" for my wife. They have a new album of all cover songs including a cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What", Blondie's "Hanging on the telephone" and "Rock on" by David Essex. They played all three.

There were a lot of closeups on the big screens of the drummers feet. They looked like hobbit feet.

Up next: Tom Petty and the Allman Bros, August 18th.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The trip planning continues.

We continue to gear up for the Italy and Greece trip.

I bought a new camera that takes bigger and faster photos. I'm thinking that faster is not going to be a big advantage since things like the Acropolis aren't very fast. The thing hasn't moved in 2500 years but if it does, I'm ready.

Oldest son now inherited the Canon S30, my trusty point and shoot since 2002.

I am thinking that this is more of Greece trip and have been focusing on that. Some of the guide books have been a little disappointing reporting on some of our stops. Tolo for example is "frankly overdeveloped" and the best that even the tour company could come up with is "a town whose sandy beaches are just a few miles south of Nauplia". This sounds like Camden because you can "see Philly from there".

The CIA world fact book says that Greece is 98% Greek Orthodox and yet somehow I found this surprising. Like where else is going to be 98% Greek Orthodox? Turkey? Turkey is 99.8 % Muslim. Who knew?

Anyway the tour company ended up giving us a free day in Athens after the cruise and this is causing havoc on people's plans. We now come back a day later than planned. This is good because we are going to need it. Some days have two or three stops packed into them and the cruise part is no different. The longest stay is Rhodes for 11 hours. Some are as little as 4 1/2 hours and Santorini is accessed by tender boats! It has to take hours to get all those people off the ship by boat.

It's definitely a discount trip but taking the whole family will be great.

I've been scoping out Internet Cafes in Greece and it seem very easy to do. The only problem will be time. I hope to update the blog from over there. Pictures if possible of course.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Milestones

Last night we passed a major life milestone and didn't even plan on it. It happened serendipitously.

We (she) needed to go the 24 hr drugstore for nail polish and so while we were there we picked up a few things we needed.

Then it occurred to us that this place might also have what we have been both looking for and dreading.

Reading glasses.

It had happened slowly. For me, lost my night time long distance vision about 15 years ago. I was getting headaches when driving at night so I broke down and went to the doctors. There I was told that I was "near sighted". It sounds optimistic doesn't it? You are not far-blind, you are near-sighted.

So I received the weakest eye prescription known to man. I honestly believe that they lied to me about the whole "near-sighted" thing because the glasses did next to nothing. In fact I recently went a whole weekend driving on a scout camping trip and one of the lenses had actually fallen out and I didn't even notice.

I had one lens and one fakey glasses. As previously established, I am an idiot.

The person driving with me didn't notice either which I thought was a little strange. I finally noticed when I reached up to clean them and my finger went right through where the lens should have been.

I later found it on the car floor.

Losing vision at the other end happened a little later. I noticed I was losing close up eye sight while working on a computer. I was connecting something up to an RS-232 port on the back and had to reach my head back around where I found myself 4 inches from the ports.

The back of the PC was a blurry mess.

I backed my head and tried my eye sight out there thinking maybe it was something about geography that made my vision blurry.

Nope. I was no longer near-sighted and I was no longer far-sighted either. I now had a range of about 18 inches to 100 yards. I made up a new term: mid-to-longmid-sighted.

The close up vision loss also happened to my wife over time. We were both in denial about it. We would hold books further and further from our faces just to read. There were certain fonts I just couldn't see. My arms were getting to short to read.

So we found ourselves here, at the 24 hr drug store, trying on reading glasses.

We tried some on and it was amazing! It was a miracle! We could could see up close.

Of course I didn't have anything to look at, so I was staring at my hand.

I must have looked stoned. Standing in the drug store, staring at my hand saying "wow".

So, like the first time I went potty, rode a bike, went to school on a school bus, first kiss etc I now add first pair of reading glasses.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Of pee and careers

The results are in from Mrs F's test and she passed with a high grade. She did great.

The job hunting has taken some unexpected turns however. It's as if God has been saying "So you think you trust in me, do ya".

As we do with all such things, we prayed about getting her a job before dinner and soon She had a per-diem position lined up at a local hospital, one of the three where she did her practical work. She loved working there and was excited when the job was posted. It seemed tailor made for her and our lifestyle. It was a daytime position, it was like a contract position, she could work when she wanted too.

It was perfect.

She interviewed and got the job verbally but needed two things: pass the dreaded test and pass a urinalysis drug screen test.

The HR person handed her some written instructions on one of those yellow sticky notes. It told her to drink 2 8oz of water. It was written just like that "2 8".

So she drank "28" oz of water. This is more water than my wife has ever drank at one time ever. Her back teeth were floating.

She takes the pee test and it comes back, duh, diluted. Well of course it was diluted - it was nearly all water. You could have drank it because it was so clear. We could have bottled it and sold it in stores. You might want to chill it first though.

She needs to pee in the cup again.

Pee test take 2. Now she talks to the lab folks that actually administer the test. They tell her to drink 2 "sodas". She dutifully drinks two 12 oz colas.

She pees again. Diluted again. Technically the test comes back "Negative - diluted".

Now we are thinking that the "2 8" meant "drink two eight ounce glasses of water" in whatever IM speak the HR person uses and the "soda" business was nonsense.

About now you are thinking what will she do for the third test? Listen to their obviously erroneous advice? Not drink anything? Take the test first thing in the morning? Bring substitute pee?

All those answers would be wrong - because - get ready for it -

there would be no third test.

HR calls and informs her that the policy of the facility is to rescind the offer if the tests come back diluted twice. Two strikes and you are out? What are we playing here, kickball?

Two double secret strikes at that. Well she is just upset. I try to comfort her with flowers and such but she wants none of it. She is just down. She turned down job offers because she thought she had this job. Now all the good jobs are taken she tells me.

She goes to our doctor just to make sure that everything is OK. She needs to take another pee test - so she practices. I love her for these things. She comes up with a new strategy - pee in the morning. There is only one problem - she can't hold it that long. New strategy - pee in the morning after getting up in the middle of the night to pee.

I find a yellow sticky by the alarm clock that says:
"Set alarm & pee"

We have a plan.

The doctor visit goes fine and they determine that my soccer mom/housewife/Christian is not a heroin addict. Brilliant.

All this went down a week ago. We prayed again of course.

She has since gotten over it to some extent. She interviewed with another place and seemed excited about that today and you'd think our little pee tale would end there. She gets over it. She gets another job. etc etc.

Today at 4 the first place called back. They have reconsidered. up down up down.

They want her to take a pee test first thing in the morning.

At least we have a plan.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gearing up for vacation.

We leave for vacation on the 2nd of July. It's going to be a huge vacation year for us as we are headed to Italy and Greece. Thank goodness we have the money tree.

It's is going to be a two week trip with about 3 days in Italy, 4 days in Greece and then a 4 day Cruise. It sounds like it is going to be a frantic pace, doesn't it? Italy will be over before you can blink but it will be great for the kids.

This is definitely not a top of the line tour (we are going with the High School) but it will be great for the kids to see how people from other countries live. What an experience it will be for them.

Our research is reaching a fever pitch as we check out things to look for and do with our "free" time. Mrs F and I were checking out Greek travel webs and according to this site if we don't watch out we'll be eating bread that taste like sawdust while fending off cats in a ramshackle restaurant only to be ripped off by our waiter.

The cruise is looking better. When we first started our investigations the reports of the ship we are traveling on were horrible. It looks like a new ship is being used for the 3/4 day cruises. It is newer and has better accommodations from the reports that I have read.

Did I mention we are traveling with another family? We have traveled together on vacations before so we are quite experienced together and are looking forward to it. There are nine of us all together.

We I need to get back to research now so I gotta go.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pack Rat Confessions.

My name is Mike and I am a Pack Rat.
(Unethusatically, the crowd says: "Hi Mike")


I come from a long line of pack rats. My grandfather was actually the King of the Packrats from 1972-85. On his way to and from our home in the suburbs he would trash pick and bring it home to his row home in South Philly. At the time of his death in 92 the house had the basement filled with 70 years of junk. It was a solid wall of crap.

The King of the Pack Rats would have been proud of me yesterday.

Last night I took home some scrap material that had been collecting in my office (relax, I had a property pass). I drove into work rather than take the train and parked several blocks away in order to save a few bucks since the parking lot under my building requires that you pay in offspring.

At 5 it was time to take home my treasures.

I walked the 5 blocks to the parking lot in the drizzling rain. This particular parking lot is one where you pay your ticket in the lobby rather than at the exit. So I pay downstairs and head off to the elevator to find my car.

I realize I have no idea where my car is on the 12 floors of parking.

I guess at 5 since a friendly looking man is going there anyway. I figure it’s a sign.

I get off on 5 and realize that it can't be 5 since the parking spots are angled the wrong direction. This level has parking spots angled towards me and floor I parked on had them away.

I walk down to 4 and then I realize that I left keys back at the office.

I walk 15 minutes in the drizzle to my office, not noticing the big sign in the parking lot lobby that says "15 minute grace period: You must exit the parking garage within 15 minutes of paying".

I get my keys and walk 5 blocks/15 minutes in the drizzle back to the parking garage. I realize I still have the problem of finding my car and I quickly develop a new strategy: start high and work your way down.

I start at 9. 9 is angled the wrong way.
Down one flight of steps: no car on 8.
7 is angled the wrong way. I'm dense, but I'm picking up a pattern here. Odd is bad.


Down one flight of steps: no car on 6. Now, you have to realize that I parked, of course, at the far end of the parking garage. So every time I check, I need to walk pretty far to verify "no car".

I skip 5. Whew.
On to 4, where I started a half hour ago and lo and behold, there is the car. Since I haven't seen the inside of a Gym since, oh, 1978, I am now sweating like rancid pork.

I get in the car and drive around and around and around down each level, thanking God I did not park on 12. I arrive at the exit where I proudly put my card in the machine where it lights up:

EXPIRED

And the gate does not open.

Great. Now I have a car behind me, can't get out the front gate and I can't back up and my treasures await back at the office.


The car behind me backs up and exits through the other gate. I thank God for redundant gates and recall that I AM AN IDIOT. I back up and park out of the way.

I go back in the lobby and explain my sad-sad-story and since I am sweating, the parking attendant has mercy on me and doesn't charge me the $5 for using the garage for an additional 1/2 hour. I sign a log that they keep of all the IDIOTS that day and she updates my ticket. I notice that I am the fifth idiot that day. Hmm.

I drive the 5 blocks back to my building and park along the loading docks. I enter the building through the loading docks thinking "shouldn't someone check my badge?"

I call for the freight elevator and wait. It is now 6 PM and I am thinking that elevator more than likely doesn't run 24hrs.


I wait. And wait.

The freight elevator has an elevator operator (great job by the way: 17 please! press 17, it lights up!) who speaks some sort of eastern European gibberish and only understands numbers in english.

Finally, elevator does come and I ride to my floor, get off and get my new possessions that are ready and waiting on a cart. I push the down button and wait. And wait. And wait. Is the elevator still running?


ding! Mr. Bulgaria is back and I get on the elevator and ride back down to the loading dock. Mr. Bulgaria takes my property pass mumbling something that I can not make out. I am pretty sure he said nzzerglif.

I am now on the loading dock and need to get this stuff to my car and this will take three trips. Three trips down a small flight of stairs across the super slippery metal decking and across the street to the car.

Three trips later, without slipping I might add, everything is in the car.

I am sweating like a coke bottle in Juuuu-ly.

I get back in my car and a tractor trailer is now trying to navigate the tiny back street that the loading dock is on. It blocks the street. I still need to get the cart back to my floor though.

I press the up arrow on the freight elevator. Mr. Bulgaria arrives and I ask him to take the cart to my floor, please. He responds with “shhholg”. I am hoping that this means “sure buddy” and leave the cart with him.

I get back to the car and now am waiting for the tractor trailer to clear.

At 6:30 I am finally ready to get home and unload my goodies.

Unbelievable. All for a 48 port patch panel, a 700 MHz PC, a 1 GHz server that boots off Compact Flash of all things, an 8 port KVM, an 8 mm tape drive and a 30 G DLT tape.

I should have just spent an hour on ebay and bought all this for like $50.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's a brand new day.

Mrs F finally took the test this morning at 9 AM and it didn't take her long to get off the study-study-study routine. She starts training for one of her two per-diem positions on Monday but is easing back into to recreation and mothering. She has joined a bowling league already and is talking about Volleyball on another night. Tonight she got youngest son some books at the library (we actually went to the library together) with strict orders that he needs to read something and get out from that X-Box.

Mom is back and I am not sure he likes it.

The study desk at the card table in our room is cleared off. This the first time in 4 years that the "desk" will be free of radiography books.

You have to understand that for the past four years she has made school the priority, not that it didn't pay off for her, it's just I couldn't do everything. She helped out a lot and did some things but it's just that we both underestimated what it would take to study all the time and have family responsibilities.

But now we are done.

Maybe. She has to pass the test first. But is sounds like she is confident.

On towards vacation.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Food Network?

Youngest Son wanted a TV in his room over the winter. He had his own money and that is how he wanted to spend it. I thought it was frivolous but went along with it. We bought the TV and I extened the cable to to his room and he was set.

I was most concerned with what he might be watching in their alone out of the sight of the Parental units so I configured the V-Chip to avoid R Rated movies and TV-MA programming. I mean he had HBO in there for crying out loud.

So what does he watch?

The Food Network. I kid you not.

He is just raving about some episode of Iron Chef with "Big-Eyed Tuna". If we find ourselves mindless flipping through the channels he will lobby for "54!", "54" the food network channel number. If we stop there, he knows these people by name.

Last night we watched some woman make Italian style meatloaf. I gotta tell you, it looked good. But 13 year olds watching the food network?

Tonight he is dying to watch some show with bacon in it.

Kids will surprise you. They never turn out like you had in mind or are interested in anything you might be interested in. If you like it, it's the kiss of death.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Disorder in house

This realy cool digital photo of lightning was taken 9:30 at night

I am driving home from Scouts on Thursday and am thinking 'I am not gonna make it home before this huge thunderstorm'.

I want to unfasten the cover on the cabana so it doesn't "fold like a cheap card table" in the wind, but by time I get home the lightning is bad and the rain had started pattering on the pool cover.

It turns out that wind is not going to be my problem tonight.

Since we are just getting back from scouts, I am in the mood to get prepared. I find my flashlight, power down computers and hunker down.

It's now I decide that it might be fun to take time exposures digital photos of the lightning with a tripod. This is because I am an idiot. I open the back door of the family room and am taking pictures in the middle of a hurricane. Mrs F is watching the outside of the house where the spill over area with a sump pump is. She is swelling with pride. These are going to be really cool photographs and that is a really cool tripod, she must be thinking.

It's raining, and hard.

And then all hell breaks loose. Alarms are going off as the secondary battery operated pump kicks in. Water is coming into the house over the slab concrete. Rugs are coming up, padding is flying and the shop vac is back. My wife is yelling orders out like we are on the deck of the Pequod: Move this, help me with this, empty that. The kids, in a rush of adrenaline, clean and jerk the 200 lb foosball table like it was a car with a baby trapped under it. My wife is changing attachments on the shop vac like Edward Scissors hands.

This water was a constant problem before we got it fixed. After the pool changed the topology of the yard and our "certified" EP Henry guy put our patio too high, water got trapped on the side of the house with no where to go but inside. It turns out he was "certifiable" which is different.

We had a drain and pump put in last year but it wasn't working tonight. More likely it wasn't keeping up.

OK, so we get through that episode. Carpets are up but everything is stable again. I turn on the TV and am chilling. I turn the computers back on.

Then it starts again. Now the rain is coming down like I should have an ark in the backyard. Animals are lining up in twos. Water is coming in the house and the shop vac, the trusty shop vac, can't keep up with it. It's a valiant effort but it stops running when it's tank is full of water. I take a moment to dump the nasty sucked up water/basement bilge on the patio but the damage is done. The break in the action is enough to let the water to just come pouring in.

I give Captain Ahab the now empty shop vac back and I run to the shed in the rain. I am stumbling around in the dark looking for the double-secret emergency pump, wondering what sharp rusty object might be laying in wait for me. I am on my hands and knees in the shed at night in the rain. I am an idiot but I have really cool digital photos of the lightning.

Somehow I find part of the 20 foot hose on the pump. I tug on it and reel in the pump. I run back with my prize and throw it in a deep puddle on the side of the house.

So now I have lightning, water and electricity but I DON'T CARE. I plug in the pump and it starts bailing us out. My wife is muttering something about a white whale and is nailing a doubloon to the wall.

We know now what the people of New Orleans know: when you are under a deluge, no pump is gonna to keep up. I shoulda realized this when I looked up into the pool like it was Lake Pontchartrain from the family room.

I am not making this up.

In the family room, you are below the pool level and you look up into the pool. I am the Lousianna of New Jersey.

It turns out that we got over 3 and 1/4 inches of rain in a little over one and half hours. I know this because I have a weather station. The only reason I have a weather station is so that I can say things like "we got over 3 and 1/4 inches of rain in a little over one and half hours". It sounds impressive. This does not make my carpets any dryer.


So the cabana? Nothing happened to it. Sometimes we worry about the stupidest things.

So now we have carpet on chairs again, have to buy new padding again and have a smelly room again. Luckily, we have over 8 lbs of baking soda still around from when the water heater broke 19 days ago.

So it's thundering again. My wife is upstairs sharpening a harpoon and I am setting up my tripod as we get ready for round two.

No longer evil ARRT

I will no longer refer to the ARRT as evil.

Today at 10 I heard the storm door open in the front and close right away and the door bell rang. The schnauzers went nuts and Mrs came downstairs to find a Fed-ex from the no-longer-evil-ARRT.

The minions must have felt pity on her and processed her on Wednesday.

We ran upstairs and scheduled a test for Monday at 9 am. So she is scheduled for the test again 12 days after the first.

She had better pass. If you are one who prays, please pray for Karen as she takes this test.

Why was I home at 10 am on Friday? Because we got more water in the house! Stay tuned.