rock on, genius bar supervisor

Among the many other things going on around here, Mrs. Geek’s e-Mac was in the shop for about a week. It had been freezing suddenly at irregular intervals over the last few months. This naturally began to annoy Mrs. Geek, especially when I told her that it was likely a hardware problem that I could do little about. She expects more of her husband when he’s got a Ph.D. in computer-related disciples hanging on the wall just a few feet from her ailing computer. I don’t blame her.

So, I decided to take a deeper look. Fortunately, OS X was leaving an abundance of messages after each crash. One in particular caught my eye. After feeding it into Google, I discovered that a large number of e-Mac users were complaining about similar errors. Seems that there are two capacitors on the logic board that have a tendency to go bad. These capacitors support the onboard graphics processor, and the ATI graphics chip unpredictably crashes OS X when they are bad. This happens often enough that Apple actually issued a recall on e-Macs with certain serial numbers for this reason, promising to replace the logic board for free.

Thrilled that we might not have to pay to fix Mrs. Geek’s computer, she scheduled an appointment at the local Apple Store Genius Bar. We ended up going down there twice — she got the night of the appointment wrong the first time. When we finally did get there and were on the appointment list, I showed the Genius Bar Drone print outs of the system log showing the error message and print outs of the Apple web page describing the recall.

At this point, fear kicked in. I was afraid I was going to get the run around. Apple was going to refuse to fix Mrs. Geek’s computer for free. My heart sank when I heard the Genius Bar Drone say “Well, kernel crashes can happen for a variety of reasons…” Ummm yeah… but when you read a dozen accounts of this kind of failure and its cause on Mac forums, it does cut down on the list of choices.

Fortunately, this was where the Genius Bar Supervisor swung into action. The Drone asked him “I’ve got this e-Mac that’s experiencing kernel crashes.” The Supervisor immediately said “Take the bottom panel off. Ok, see those two capacitors? They’re leaking. That’s a logic board replacement and it is free.”Yes!

After that, it was all smooth sailing. Apple had Mrs. Geek’s computer for about a week, and we got a $400 logic board replacement for free. It’s been working fine *knock on wood* since then.

Rock on, Genius Bar Supervisor. May good computer karma come your way. You made the way easy (and free!) and got it right the first time. You can’t ask for much more than that.

recaptured youth, courtesy of the Internet

One of the important memories of my childhood concerned soda (or pop, if you prefer). There was this little soft drink company somewhere near where my grandparents lived that used to make sodas in (what then passed for) unusual flavors and sold them in small 7 oz. bottles. Flavors like lime, grape, black cherry, birch beer, a pungent, spicy ginger ale, cherry cream, vanilla cream… the list seemed to go on and on (though that’s probably most of it). This was what would now be called “craft” soda — the soft drink equivalent of micro-brewed beer. My grandfather would usually go out and get a case of these 7 oz. bottles just before his grandchildren would visit… and enjoying those sodas is something that I clearly associate with rosy memories of time with family as a small child.

That craft soda company is likely gone now… but thanks to the Internet and e-Bay, it is possible for me to connect back to those memories with a little bit of memorabilia. I was able to find a small cardboard sign for the company from the 1950’s for sale for only a few dollars. It arrived today. Mrs. Geek has a certain affinity for advertising art… and agrees that this will hang in the kitchen of our new home.

The sign touches me in a ways I can’t quite describe. Looking at it, I am taken back to the cool darkness of my grandparents’ cellar on fishing for the soda flavor (often cherry cream) that would hit the spot just right. There is also the bright warmth of my grandparents back porch and back yard on many long ago summer days. It is only a sign, I keep thinking… but it is also so much more.

the ditty bops

Among our many other adventures in the last few weeks, Mrs. Geek and I took some time to catch The Ditty Bops playing live. I’ve been a fan of the Bops for a couple years now and I was thrilled to find out that we could see them live. I wanted to finding out how well their tight harmonies and antique-sounding instrumentation work in a live situation. They did not disappoint!

When it comes to the stage show, the Bops favor a presentation that is part liberal politics and part whimsy. Their tour this summer has a sustainable living theme to it, and so part of the evening’s festivities was a raffle for some kind of planter box that you can use to grow your own vegetables. There was also a petition to abolish plastic grocery bags. Abby and Amanda themselves came out dressed in vegetable costumes — Abby was either an artichoke or an asparagus stalk, and Amanda, a carrot or a yellow beet.

The Ditty Bops didn’t let the message get in the way of the music though. Abby and Amanda travel with a two person backup band, and pretty much everyone on stage played at least two instruments. Amanda mostly played an electric mandolin, but also switched to the dobro, washboard, and cocktail drum on occasion. Abby mostly played this big old electrified arch-top Gibson guitar, but also played Amanda’s mandolin at least once, as well as finger picking out a Doc Watson tune on the dobro, and picking up this thing that was an 8-string Venezuelan ukulele (the real name escapes me right now.) One of the guys in the band played predominantly grand piano, but also played some synth bass and accordion, and the other switched off between fiddle and lap steel guitar. Not all the playing was exactly perfect, but all of it was pretty strong and had a lot of energy.

The Ditty Bops’ live harmonies are amazing. It’s all Everly Brothers kind of close. Mitchell Froom obviously required no studio magic to get that on album. They ran through most of their two CD’s worth of originals (though sadly not “Sister Kate”) and a couple interesting covers (including that Doc Watson tune.)

Our only disappointment of the evening came after the show. We got a Ditty Bops calendar and their latest EP and were told that they would be signing stuff after the show. We waited around for about 20 minutes but no Ditty Bops appeared from back stage.

We then chose to depart. It was a great show. I hope I’ll get to see the Ditty Bops again soon.

hail and farewell

I’m thinking of joining the Diaryland Diaspora and taking this diary elsewhere. Diaryland has been a good home for the last… eek… 4.5 years, but the problems that have plagued D-friends like Elgan and Harri3tspy have also been affecting me. Many others who were once here (and often fondly read by me) are also gone… into the great diary graveyard in the sky. I’m thinking it’s to install a re-direct here and move somewhere else.

tired, depressed, wrung out

The good news of the last few days is that we got the house. If all goes well, there will be a Casa Geek in our very near future. We got a great loan deal in a very tough market, and the sellers accepted our below-list asking price.

The bad news is that this dovetailed with a discussion regarding child care costs should we choose to have children in the near future. Suffice to say, it did not go well at all.

All this excitement has me tired, depressed, and wrung out. I just want to crawl into some quiet corner and whimper, if not cry. It’s made me a wreck at work here at Company O. today. Some of my relatives are in town today and we’re meeting them for dinner tonight. I hope that can find the gumption to be good dinner company.

there’s nothing to see here… move along… oh look! SUNSCREEN!

Our real estate agent is submitting the offer we worked on last night to the seller’s agent as I write this. I find myself trying to focus on almost anything other than the question “What is going on with the offer?”

Which brings me to the topic of today’s entry: sunscreen. As Kim commented earlier this summer, it’s tough for fair-skinned descendants of the peoples of North European tea-drinking nations to find a good sunscreen, especially if there is water involved. Too much re-application is required, and failure to re-apply at the proper moment results in lobster-colored burns.

Mrs. Geek and I thought we’d found a suitable sunscreen when we went on our honeymoon three years ago with Banana Boat Surf SPF 30. This stuff was great for people like us! You put it on in the morning, and you needed Liquid Loofah to get this stuff off, even if you’d been snorkeling earlier in the day. Alas, this particular sunscreen is no longer available. Back to square one.

Mrs. Geek and I tried two other sunblocks this summer: Banana Boat Sport SPF 50 and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 55. The first was chosen based on the reputation of the Banana Boat Surf. It’s probably a very able sunblock, but it does not really pass muster when it comes to being very waterproof. I found that I could feel it rubbing off after perspiring. The Neutrogena product was chosen after looking at reviews on Consumer Reports, where the Ultra Sheer Dry Touch scored very well when it came to being waterproof. The Neutrogena goes on very well, feeling almost like skin lotion, but did not seem to be more than marginally better than the Banana Boat in its waterproof characteristics. I’m sure it’s a great sunblock (with a hefty pricetag), but it just didn’t seem dependable when moisture was involved.

This changed recently when Mrs. Geek and I happened on a couple bottles of Bullfrog Surfer Formula Body Gel, SPF 36. This stuff goes on a little oily, but once on the skin, feels like a thin layer of polymer coating your skin for the rest of the day. That jibes pretty well with my memories of what the Banana Boat Surf was like. I haven’t tried putting it to the test yet, but Mrs. Geek once took some original Bullfrog on a white water rafting trip once and came through unburned. This stuff gives me real hope.

house number 26

The last week has been pretty much house buying and car repair chaos. Mrs. Geek’s car went into the shop almost two weeks ago, ostensibly to diagnose the cause of an active “check engine” light and get an oil change. It remained in the shop for five days, to the tune of nearly $1100, to get new front brakes and rotors and to determine the cause of a mysterious electrical problem that prevented the dashboard and tail lights from working.

A wire harness at the front end the car turned out to be the culprit. The front bumper of the car sometimes scrapes on the pavement of the street as Mrs. Geek exits the driveway of our apartment building. That scraping action had slowly at the wire harness, gradually exposing the wire insulation underneath. Eventually, that insulation was scraped away as well, and two exposed wires shorted and welded together.

The practical upshot of all this was a lot of carpooling. With Mrs. Geek getting a few doctor visits out of the way before the school year starts, and with various housing search-related appointments as well, getting both of us to everywhere we needed to be took some effort. It didn’t make me horribly productive at work either.

The big news that arrived in the middle of the carpool chaos is that we found a second house (house 26) that Mrs. Geek and I both like. In fact, we like it even more than house 24, to the point that we’re actually going to make an offer to buy it. Houses 26 and 24 are the same size and the same general floor plan, but house 24 is a recent rehab that lacks amenities like shades/blinds on the windows, screens on the windows, and much in the way of landscaping. House 26 is currently occupied by a family with two small children. They re-did the kitchen about two years ago, and did a great job with the back yard. Someone also built some loft storage into the rafters over the garage that should come in very handy.

So, now begins the scary part. I’ve calculated that we should probably be able to make the mortgage payments, cloth ourselves, and still be able to eat… though that’s about it. I’m the kind of person who likes to save some money for a rainy day, and we won’t be able to do much of that for a couple years. We got a good rate on a 30 year fixed non-conforming (jumbo) mortgage from a banker recommended by our realtor, and got pre-approved for the amount needed to make an offer earlier today. I’m heading out to have a little dinner and work on a contract agreement after I finish writing this.

Everyone keep those fingers crossed. We could have a house soon!