Oil Change

I'm getting better at changing the oil on the cars. I changed out both the Alero and the Bravada today. It would have gone a lot smoother if I had done a little pre-planning, but I got both cars done. Sure, I could have taken them to an oil change place and had them both done in under an hour for $40, but why choose the path of least resistance? I was all set to get to work around 1pm when I realized that I didn't have oil filters. So I made a quick run to Pep Boys to get the filters. I also decided to pick up air filters for both cars, as both had been running for about 18,000 miles without a change. Two air filters, two oil filters, and a 3-pack of air fresheners and I was on my way home, $45 poorer.

When I got home, all the kids in the neighborhood volunteered to help me out. Corbin wanted to know why his daddy was crawling under the car. With all that help, I was successful in both removing the oil plug without dropping it, and removing the oil filter without dropping that either. Here is where the pre-planning flaw comes in again though. The Bravada took 8 quarts of oil to fill up. That was all I had leftover from my last effort. That meant another trip to Pep Boys so for 5 quarts of oil for the Alero. As I was getting into my car, I noticed that the back tires were looking really low. I got out the air gauge and saw that the rear driver's side tire was down to just 5psi. I detoured over to Tire Barn, and they said that the bead between the tire and the rim had corroded and was leaking air. They fixed it and filled up the tire, free of charge. I love that place! I bought a set of tires from them a while back, and they've really taken care of me.

Back home with five quarts and another bottle of windshield wiper fluid and I took care of the Alero. Here again, I'm bitten by the pre-planning thing. After changing out all of the oil, I had a bunch of spent oil and no place to put it. I had stored 12 quarts of spent oil from the last set of changes in barrel through the winter, intending to put it in milk jugs for return to a oil change shop for recycling. We had put away some milk jugs, but those were no where to be found. The barrel doesn't have a lid, so taking that wasn't an option. I decided to pour the spent oil back into the original containers. Using those and an empty windshield wiper fluid bottle, I managed to get it all stored. Success!

Another task I took on was to router the cabling for the Sirius receiver through the car. I pulled up the plastic runners by the passenger door and hid the antenna cable through there. I also discovered an extra lighter plug on the passenger side, and used that to keep the Sirius power cord from dangling down the center console. There are still some things I would like to fix, but this was a good day. I just need to get the hazard light button re-mounted (it fell back into the dash) and replace the low water coolant level detector (regardless of how much coolant is in the tank, the idiot light always blinks) and the car will be back to mint condition.

New King of the Castle

For the past couple of years, I have held the title of "King of the Castle" at Flexware. I earned the title by eating a record number of White Castle burgers, also known as Slyders, in a single sitting. In a one hour period, I ate 17 sandwiches. It was a mixed lot of chicken, chicken with cheese, fish, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers, but 17 was the record. This beat the previous record held by my coworker Josh, who had choked down 15 of the little steamy burgers in his last record attempt. The record stood at 17, hovering out there for anyone to try for it.

Now that I am about to leave Flexware, I was afraid that the title might be permanently retired. I wasn't about to let that happen. So today I went to the castle to feed the crave. I picked up three crave cases, one plain, one with cheese, and one with cheese but no pickles. A crave case holds 30 Slyders, so I was packing 90 sandwiches when I strolled back into the office. I was sort of debating whether to get two or three cases, and it was a good choice to go for the three.

Everyone was sitting anxiously at the lunch table as I returned. Eyes lit up as the boxes of Slyders entered the room. I distributed the cases, and we began to dive in. I tried to act as a pace setter, and quickly downed my first five burgers. Josh laughed with a bit mirth, and continued his onslaught. Others at the table (Hack, Kevin, Jeff, Dwayne) made respectible efforts, but fell short of the goal. Others tentatively tried a couple of Slyders, some for the first time. They were with us in spirit at least. In the end, I decided to make a strategic stop at burger 11, recalling the incredible amount of pain I endured during my record night.

Josh, cheered on by the growing crowd, continued to pound down one White Castle after another. Asked if he was getting full he replied, "I'm not full, but I'm getting really tired of eating." The warrior pressed on, and at the end of the hour time slot had completed a new record of 20 White Castle burgers. Josh has my respect, and the new title of King of the Castle.

I Hate the Weed Eater

Sorry, this is a gripe post. I hate using the weed eater (aka string trimmer, edger, angry hornet....). I try to put it off as long as I can, which usually means I run it about once a month. When I do, it is always a pain. First, it takes a special fuel-oil mix that I can never remember the ratio for. So I usually make up a gallon and it will last all year. Of course, by the end of the year the fuel and oil are becoming sort of a slurry goo, which I know isn't good for the motor. Next, our trimmer is not the easiest thing to start. I'm starting to get down the order of incantantations and black magic spells necessary to start it. Usually, it involves some language not befitting young ears, and severe abuse of my arm and shoulder as I pull on the starter line. Everyone once in a while the starter line hitches on something and I feel like I just about ripped my arm off. And you can't just start it. Here are the steps as I've figured them out so far:

  1. Insert ear plugs, and apply PPE (personal protective equipment)
  2. Top off fuel
  3. Prime fuel line with 3 to 5 pumps on the primer
  4. Turn the choke completely off
  5. Pull starter cord several times
  6. Curse
  7. Continue pulling starter cord until motor turns over a couple of times
  8. Switch choke to middle position
  9. Continue pulling starter cord
  10. Curse louder, forgetting ear plugs are in and that everyone in the neighborhood can hear you
  11. Continue pulling until motor starts
  12. Flip choke to full-open position and hope it doesn't die and flood the motor

Approximately 70% of the time, this method works. The other 30%, the motor floods and I have to start all over. Grrr....

Of course, now you've just gotten started with the trimmer. Now begins the process of traversing the yard looking for stuff to clip. Usually the light post, mailbox, trees, house perimeter, and fence are on the list. The fence is the worst part. If I get too close, I tear up the fence. Not close enough, and it looks like I didn't trim. All the while the trimmer is spraying very small, very hard bits of tundra in every direction. Inevitably, either the spool of string runs out or gets jammed, which requires shutting down the trimmer, fixing the problems, and repeating steps 1 through 11 above.

Once I've finished with the trimmer, I have a fine coating of grass from head to toe. My hands are always completely shot at this point due to all of the vibration from the trimmer. The reason that this comes up today is that I ran the trimmer yesterday, and after two full showers I'm still finding clippings. My eyes are the worst part. I wear my glasses while I trim, but it doesn't keep everything from getting in. I found a nearly inch long blade of grass in my eye one time. Fortunately, no damage done.

Anyway, I think that helped to vent my frustration with the trimmer.

High Score

I'm pretty proud of this high score. I was given many gifts throughout life: great family, a good set of brains, a healthy body.... but rhythm was never one of those gifts. Donkey Konga is a game all about rhythm, and this is my high score playing on the medium difficulty level on a very hard song (7 out of 8 bananas on the difficulty scale). I love electronic music, and I'm a big Crystal Method fan, so maybe I had a little bit of an advantage on this one.

Donkey Konga is fun in so many ways, it is really hard to explain. First, it is fun to try and get the beats down, because when I started I felt like I was just smacking at the bongos. Jenn and I had a good time laughing at ourselves and how bad we were to start. It is also fun to challenge yourself on some of the songs, just to see if you can keep up. Another way it is fun is when you get into the groove of one of the songs and you don't really have to concentrate on hitting the right note... it just sort of happens. Ahhhh... the zen of Donkey Konga.....

Okay, it's 2am and I've been playing for over 4 hours.... time to get some shut eye.

Game Finished - Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is the game that came with my second set of bongos for the GameCube. It is a fairly simple game where you tap the left drum to run left, tap the right drum to run right, tap both drums to jump, and clap to perform an action. The game is fast paced, but even though there is a lot going on on-screen, there isn't much to the game. All you have to do is beat the heck out of the drums and clap like a mad-man and you'll get through just fine. Each level is made up of three scenes: two platform action scenes and a final boss fight. This was the game that was on display at Fry's that enticed us to get the drums in the first place. The game is so easy to pickup and play that anyone could have a good time beating on the drum. It's great stress relief too!

I played for a couple of hours tonight and managed to beat the game. Once you figure out the basics, it isn't too difficult to play through. Even though it was easy to beat, it was a lot of fun. Anyone out there who has a GameCube would probably enjoy this game.

Oh, and the picture is of my score after beating the final boss

Job Change

Friday I made a major change. I submitted my two-week notice at Flexware. Flexware has been a great employer for me for nearly five years, but the time has come to move on. I am headed down the road a ways to Integral Technologies. I have high hopes that this is going to be an excellent career move for me. Integral was recently acquired through its parent company by Schneider Electric. Schneider is looking to use Integral as a way to grow revenue quickly, and is infusing the business with an incredible amount of money. Integral plans to grow through both new product offerings and acquisitions of other businesses. I'm hoping that I can get to know integral and within a couple of years put my MBA learning to good use in assisting with those acquisitions and new product developments.

I'm making this move with a bit of a heavy heart. Flexware was a great employer, and I made some incredible bonds with the folks there. It was a really difficult decision to make. I was comfortable at Flexware. I probably could have continued to work there for the rest of my life, collecting a check every other week and putting in my hours. There is something inside me that demands that I go after that carrot though. So a couple of months ago I started looking at the jobs that were out there. I made it to the final interview stage for the Director of IT position at SaveItNow!, but was turned down in the end for lack of executive management experience. I received an offer from a contract operation here in Fishers, but contracting is not at all what I'm looking for, so I turned that down. I also reached the final interview stage with Radian Research in Lafayette. I was well on my way to receiving an offer letter from them, but Jenn and I decided that we really like it here in Fishers, and we wanted to stay. In addition to that, it didn't seem that they could offer me any more than Flexware already did, other than a title upgrade to Senior PC Software Architect. So I turned that opportunity down.

I was really excited when I learned about the opportunity with Integral though. The company deals with subjects that I find very interesting: security, access control, automation, video storage and playback. That the company was local and going through a big growth spurt was just icing on the cake. I had a phone interview on Thursday, face-to-face interviews the next Tuesday, and an offer letter on Thursday. I feel really fortunate that I was able to find everything I was looking for right here in Fishers.

So to my Flexware friends - I'm going to miss you all a lot. I'm still in the area though, and I'll be sure to stop in from time to time to say hi. I wish you all the very best, and I know that you will be very successful in the future. You have too many good people not to be.

Game of the Moment : Donkey Konga 2

There is a new addiction in our house, and it is Donkey Konga 2. For our anniversary, Jenn gave me a "coupon" for anything I wanted at Fry's (within reason), and she said I couldn't justify it. That meant it had to be something totally for fun. We went in a couple of weeks ago to browse around, and we walked by the DanceDanceRevolution (DDR) kiosk. DDR is a rhythm game where you try to dance to the beat, and the game cues you to what you should do. There is mat on the floor with spaces to jump on, like in twister, and you get high scores based on how in rhythm you are, and if you hit the right spot. I had always wanted to try one of these, and thought it would make a great exercise program. Anything that mixes video games with exercise is going to be a surefire hit with me.

I sucked at it! Of course, it was my first time, but I was really bad. It didn't help that one of my coworkers happened by with his camera phone at the same time. I got a little gunshy at that point. Fortunately, right next door to the DDR setup was a Donkey Kong Jungle Beat game setup. This is a GameCube game where you play a set of bongos and Donkey Kong does things on the screen. Corbin took to it right away, and Jenn and I both thought it was pretty neat. It was also much less than a DDR setup, as I already have the Nintendo, and the Bongos run $50 with a game, or $30 without. To get setup to play DDR I would need to buy an XBOX or a Playstation 2, dancepads, and a game. That was going to run a minimum of $300. I knew I had a major paper coming up, though, and decided not to get anything to make sure I could study.

My willpower ran out on Friday. Jenn called me at work and said she was hungry for Chinese. She also dropped the hint that Fry's was on the way. That was all it took for me. I dropped in the Fry's, picked up two sets of bongos with the Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and Donka Konga 2 games. It is a BLAST! Jenn and I played Donkey Konga 2 for a little over an hour tonight. It is so much fun. We can play with or against each other. The point is to hit the bongos in rhythm with the music. The screen cues where you should hit the right bongo, left bongo, both, or clap. There are easy songs, with a slow tempo and few notes, and tough songs with a fast tempo and lots of notes. It is soooo much fun. The only downside is that our hands were getting pretty sore from beating on the drums.

There is another Donkey Konga game with other songs if we get through this one. Nintendo also has a Donkey Konga 3 in the works. And who knows, if Jenn and I really enjoy these rhythm games, maybe at some point we'll splurge and get the DDR setup. It was so much fun to sit in the basement and play video games with Jenn. I'm glad we've found a game that we can both enjoy together!


Have you ever had a secret that you couldn't confide in anyone, but wished you were brave enough to tell the world? PostSecret is a very cool blog for just that. It is full of postcards that people have written their secret on, and mailed in. Some are hopeful, some are funny, some are sad. It is kind of fun to read through them and see which you identify with.

Church and State

This is so sad that I don't even know where to begin. If you click on the story, you can watch a news video about a church that excommunicated all members that were known to have voted for Kerry in the last election. During the last election, several folks made a point that, if you support your church (Christians), then you MUST support George Bush. I took serious issue with that. After all, Jesus even said "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's". Most of the time that phrase is used in reference to taxes, but I think it is equally applicable to seperation of Church and State. I believe that one of the reasons the American Way works so well is that we have a healthy seperation of religion and politics. The pioneers who first settled this land were racing to escape persecution for practicing their system of beliefs. How sad is it that we've now come all the way back to where we started. Whether you are Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian, or whatever... I don't care! You are welcome at my church anytime. I'm okay with disagreeing on politics, and I don't feel that anyone's political standings should remove you from God's sight. It infuriates me that our politics and religion are getting so twisted up as to create this kind of lunacy. This is the kind of thinking that has led to the situation in the Middle East: theocratic systems where the political leaders whip their party into a frenzy and declare religious war on anyone who would oppose them. All of this, what I would call blasphemy, so that the leaders can keep their position of power. How very, truly sad that we seem to be nearing a precipice, where our politics and religion become so indiscernibly intertwined.

My hope is that this stops, and stops soon. We need to be able to not just tolerate those with a different opinion from our own, but celebrate our differences. There is so much to learn, so much opportunity to grow when we have a diverse environment with a variety of beliefs, backgrounds, cultures, and ideas. I'm not interested in a gray race, nor a monoculture of religion. I want variety.

Video Capture

I'm in the process of converting a bunch of our old VHS home movies to DVD. To capture video, I currently have the VCR output routed to the input jack on our Sony Handycam. The HandyCam is then connected via USB to a USB Hub, which is then connected to the PC. I'm using Nero Vision Express to capture the video from the HandyCam, and the HandyCam is doing the analog to digital conversion on the signal. The result has been less than I had hoped. The capture video is very grainy and choppy. I'm not sure if this is due to the capabilities of the HandyCam, speed issues with USB (I think I'm using USB 1.0), or of the software on my PC. In addition, the audio is out of sync with the video. What is really frustrating is that I can't do high speed dubbing, so it is only after waiting for the video to finish (anywhere from 1 to 2 hours) that I find out just how bad the capture was. I thought maybe the choppyness and syncing issues might be due to playing the video on my PC, but after burning to DVD, the issue remains.

My PC is a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of DDR 266 memory. The hard drive has over 20GB free, and spins at 7200RPM. I don't run any other applications while capturing video, and the performance monitors show that, while the system is under a load, it isn't exceeding the limits of the PC. I'm fairly certain that my PC has the horsepower to do what I want, so I'm looking more at my method for capturing video. I watch the output from the VCR on a second monitor to verify that the VCR has quality output, and the image is bright and crisp, so I know the VCR is working well. The screen on the HandyCam also shows a nice, bright image with good quality resolution. But when I get to the PC, the image is dark, grainy, choppy, and the audio is often out of sync. I'm fairly certain that I either need to upgrade to a firewire connection to the HandyCam, or I need to invest in a dedicated video capture card and go straight from the VCR to the PC.

Anyone out there in webland have experience with doing this? Any tips on what a good next step might be, or good equipment for video capture?

Huzzah - WebCam is Back

Many, many thanks to Absenth who was gracious enough to offer me some account space to host my webcam. I've been really impressed lately with the connective power of blogs and websites in general. I never really thought anyone but family would be reading this blog, or the one that we do for the family. Now I've seen a offer to host the webcam image, and an offer for a free meal... AWESOME! In addition to that, two people have come in to play volleyball at FUMC over the past couple of months, and learned of our play through the yahoo group that I put together. Thanks to everyone who reads these, and thanks for all of the responses and help! I know it isn't always riveting reading, but I'll try to keep it at least mildly interesting.

Best Round Ever

Sunday morning I got a call from my dad wondering if I would be able to get out and play some golf. My attitude about playing golf this year has done a 180 degree turn from last year: I'm ready to play! We teed off at Wildcat Creek, and the weather was unbelievable. The wind was constantly blowing at what felt like 35 miles per hour, and the sun rarely peeked out to warm us up. Our group was bundled up in several layers of clothes, and we still felt the bite of the chill. We got a brief repreive from the wind once we got into the wooded areas, but it never truly let up throughout the round.

Regardless of the weather, something was working for me out there. I shot a 97 for the round, the best round I've ever had! I can't remember ever breaking 100 before (unless you count Britton Golf Course, which isn't really a full length course). For the front nine I shot a 47, and a 50 on the back nine. Wildcat Creek is no easy course, either, so this came as a big shock to me after my first round of the season came in at 116.

I guess now the bar is set a little higher. I suppose the only thing to do is get out there and practice more!

Jade Mason