Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anger doesn’t even START to cover it

Sometimes things happen that make you unbelievably angry. Then you learn the whole story and somehow get even angrier.

Ok, a few weeks ago, my stepson 'accidentally' took my camera to his girlfriend's house, then his girlfriend moved to another state without telling anyone and took my camera with her.

As you can imagine, I was more than a little pissed off. As well as massive sentimental value, the camera cost me $850 back when I first got it. Also, the memory card had a ton of pictures on it that I really didn't want to lose. Pictures of my parents visit… but most of all, it had a few pictures of Jake on it, the pet Border Collie I'd had since I was 12 years old that died earlier this year.

Now, as mad as I was, I couldn't really blame my stepson for this. It was definitely his fault it went missing, but nothing was exactly deliberate. Sunny had moved the camera onto a chair while looking for something, where it got mixed up into a pile of my stepson's laundry that he came and picked up.

Well a few weeks later his girlfriend shows up again, they get back together and I get my camera back. His girlfriend apparently 'accidentally' packed it by mistake.

To be completely honest, the whole thing sounded fishy, but I got my camera back, so I figured no harm no foul.

Well, yesterday I charged the battery for the first time since getting it back.

It was fucking broken. You turn it on and the screen says 'remove lens cap', even when the lens cap is off. I messed with it for almost an hour and couldn't fix it. It's obviously been dropped or had something spilled on it and the motor that controls the lens is busted. My $850 camera is a fucking paperweight.

Now, here's the part that really takes the fucking cake. The camera is just a thing. It was a very expensive thing and meant almost as much to me as my guitar did before that was stolen…so when I realized it was beyond repair, I took a little comfort in knowing that at the very least I had my pictures back.

So I took out the memory card, put it into the card reader in the front of my computer…

Every…single…fucking…one of my pictures had been deleted, and in their place were about 70+ pictures of my stepson, his girlfriend and a bunch of fucking people I don't know.

So, I was pissed when I just thought it had been stolen. Instead, it turns out that upon discovering they had it, they figured the best course of action wasn't to return it, but to wipe the memory card, take a bunch of fucking pictures and generally treat it badly enough to break it.

Now, I just might be being weird here, but if I accidentally picked up someone's $850 camera and took it to a strangers house with me, when I discovered I had it, I'd do one of two things: Take it straight back, or put it in a safe place until I could return it or its rightful owner could come and get it.

What I wouldn't do is wipe the memory card, use it to take pictures of a family party, and then return it with a broken lens motor without so much as a sorry.

It's really nice to know that someone thinks you and your things are worthy of that level or respect.

I wonder how he'd feel if he left his phone at my house and I deleted all his numbers, all his pictures, games and downloads off it, ran up an $850 bill…then dumped water on it to fry it before returning it to him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just so you understand…

So earlier today, my mother in law was over to visit, when she produced a generic MP3 player she'd gotten for Christmas, handed it to me and said "Here, show me what to do with this."

I felt my blood freeze. I was about to enter the seventh level of family tech support hell. Now, I've been called a curmudgeon over things like this before and asked why I make such a big deal over someone simply asking for my help. Well, the reason I make such a big deal is that, as a 'computer guy', what I get asked to do is rarely what the person actually wants me to do.

You see, the person thinks they're just asking for help, but what they're really asking me is to take two or three hours worth of information on a topic they know nothing about and condense it into a couple of sentences that they'll grasp instantly with zero effort.

My mother in law 'just wants to listen to music on her mp3 player'… but to teach her how to do that, first I need to teach her how to use a computer (beyond playing solitaire). Then I need to teach her how to use the internet (first showing her how to get internet service, buy a router and set up a wireless network for her laptop). Then I have to each her how to use iTunes, Rhapsody or any other number of online music stores. Then I have to teach her how to install and use the software that came with her player and how to sync her music library with her mp3 player.

…and that's before I've even shown her how to turn her mp3 player on and how to work the device itself.

You see, it's not the helping I have a problem with. If someone's actually willing to learn, I'm more than happy to spend a few hours walking someone through something. Hell, doing just that is how I met my wife. However, as a rule, people don't want to spend a couple of hours learning how something works. They want a quick, thirty second answer…no matter how unreasonable that expectation may be.

What my mother in law wanted, specifically, was for me to say something like "Put the player next to your computer, press the big red button and then all your favorite music is automatically on the player."

The big problem, however, is when you express a reluctance to start this train wreck, the vast majority of people think you're refusing to help them because you just can't be bothered. Then, when you do try to help you get accused of deliberately making things complicated and using 'jargon', even when that jargon is as simple as using a term like 'USB Cable'

Now, here's the big secret. 90% of the time, the 'computer guy' you're asking for help knows as little about the gadget in question as you do. All we do differently is we read the manual and follow the instructions. It really is that simple. You open that book that came with your widget, and follow the step-by-step instructions.

All I ask is that next time you find yourself reaching for the phone or getting in the car you go see your computer guy, ask yourself if you've read the manual…but most of all, ask yourself if you're willing to spend a few hours listening and learning. We're not magic. We can't make something that's complicated into something simple. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort (and most of all, put aside the notion that anything you don't grok immediately is forever beyond you)…just don't bother, take the gadget back to the store or call a professional (read: paid) tech support guy instead.

I'm not saying the professional will make things any easier, but at least they're being paid to deal with you.

One of the Funniest Things I've Read All Year:

"Yo momma's so fat, her Patronus is a cake."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

COD: Modern Warfare 2

This isn't a review exactly. Regular readers will know I was really on the fence as whether to get MW2, but after my amazing wife bought it for me for Christmas, I'm incredibly happy with it, and thought I'd clear up some of the reasons why you may be on the fence too.

The first thing that made me think twice was when I heard the single player campaign was just five hours long. While this is true, it's not exactly fair to call this a short game.

First of all, 5 hours is short, but it's not unforgivable for a straight up shooter…but secondly, once you've finished the single player campaign (which took me almost exactly five hours playing on regular), you can play the 'Special Ops' mode.

'Special Ops' consists of around thirty missions designed mainly for co-op play, but can be played single player as well. The Special Ops missions have a ton of replay value and there's lots of variation. Some are based around stealth (get from A to B without alerting any guides), sniping (successfully hold off 'x' waves of bad guys), straight up shooting (kill 'x' number of bad guys without accidentally killing 'x' number of civilians)…and lots more game types, including a snow-mobile race.

I say these have a ton of replay value because not only do they have multiple difficulty settings (which in turn award you more 'stars' for completion), there's always the drive the beat your old time or kill count. Co-op adds a whole new level, especially on the two or three co-op only missions…my favorite of which is a mission where one player fights on the ground while the other covers him from an AC130 gunship.

Basically, I think the few negative reviews of MW2 come down mostly to the sheer amount of hype that surrounded the game pre-launch. After waiting a month to buy it, and having my expectations lowered below "OMFG this is going to be the best game EVAR!", it really is an awesome, awesome game.

In fact, the only real downside to the whole single player experience is…well…you remember those few awesome set pieces from the first Modern Warfare, such as the ending on the bridge, or the Nuke aftermath? Well, it turns out that Infinity Ward liked those set pieces as well and decided to fit as many in as possible...which means that by 2 hours into the game I was cynically awaiting the next big plot twist, double cross or betrayal.

Having said that, the actual missions are varied and fun, and you get to do a lot of cool stuff.

Oh, and as long as Infinity Ward pulls their finger out and provides some patches to stop the glitching and cheating going on online, there's no reason why the multiplayer shouldn't be a hell of a lot of fun as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


So yesterday afternoon, Sunny and I finished the last of our Christmas shopping and realised that with everything paid for, we had just enough for the fees to rescue a kitten from our local animal shelter.

So we did.

We got a three month old tortoiseshell female that we're either gonna call Lucy or Penny.

Logan, of course, isn't all that happy at a new cat on 'his' territory, but he's showing his displeasure just by ignoring everyone...and luckily the new kitten is completely oblivious. She acts like a puppy in a kitten costume. She's just the most happy, playful 'hug me' kitten I've ever seen.

It's FINALLY put me into the Christmas mood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Isn’t that kinda pointless?

I just read an article about Prince William secretly spending a night out on the streets sleeping rough in order to 'experience what it's like to be homeless'.

Anyone else think that the whole idea is pointless?

There's only one way to experience what it's like to be homeless and that's to actually be homeless. Quite simply, being 'homeless' doesn't hold any horrors when you know that you'll be back in your nice warm bed, living your lavish, privileged lifestyle within 24 hours. What Prince William actually experienced is what we mere mortals would describe as 'a camping trip'.

It's like going without eating for a day to experience what it's like to starve. It's unpleasant, sure, but I'm sure the real horror of being hungry comes from not knowing when you'll next get to eat…not looking at your watch and planning exactly what you're going to stuff yourself with 24 hours from now.

To be completely honest, I'm sure the whole thing was never intended to be 'secret' and the idea was to draw attention to the homeless problem in London and the charities surrounding it…but I find it incredibly ironic that a member of a family who own numerous mansions, castles…not to mention a freaking 600+ roomed palace is trying to draw attention to and raise money for the homeless.

Here's an idea. How about YOU give away some of the millions that you didn't earn, stop leeching from the British taxpayer and understand how obscene it is for someone living such a privileged lifestyle to try and bring the homeless problem to OUR attention.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Because you people are driving me nuts.

Dear People of the Internet:

Your – Possessive Pronoun. "Is that your bike?"

You're - Contraction of 'You are'. "You're driving me insane."



Nikon Coolpix S570 Review

So I've had a few days with my new Nikon Coolpix S570, so I thought it was about time for a review.

Starting with the bad things about this camera, I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the S570 handles video. As it can record 640x480 video at 30FPS with sound (the same as my RCA Small Wonder pocket camcorder) by slapping an 8gb SD card in there, I was looking forward to having one less device to carry.

However, The S570 can only record video clips of 25 minutes or less, and while this is only a very minor problem, the way the S570 uses video compression…or more accurately, the way it doesn't… is a big problem. According to the manual, you'll get approximately 11 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage space…which is roughly an hour and a half on an 8gig SD card.

I have to be completely fair here and point out that the S570 is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a camcorder. However, considering my pocket camcorder (that also records 640x480 video) can fit almost 15 hours on that same 8 gigabyte card, it makes you wonder why Nikon didn't do anything to compress the video. Having said that, the actual video is very good quality and far better than I expected. Basically, it would be really nice to be able to record a few hours worth of video, but it's far from a deal breaker.

The only other thing that jumped out at me as an obvious problem is the camera's zoom control. My last Coolpix model (albeit a far higher end model) had a really smooth zoom with lots of fine control. Unfortunately, the zoom control on the S570 reacts like a sugared-up five year old, giving no fine control whatsoever. Even though the zoom control is a rocker switch with lots of movement, it doesn't appear to be analogue at all. The S570 appears to always zoom in or out as fast as it can, no matter how lightly you press with the control. While it's fairly easy to use once you get used to it, it's counter-intuitive and takes some getting used to.

The general picture quality of the s570, however, is absolutely top notch for a sub-compact camera and you really would have to go to a good DSLR to get better. I was particularly impressed with how well indoor and night-time shots came out…something my old camera was quite bad at. It's not quite as foolproof as I'd like (for example, setting it to the party/indoor setting can result in pictures with a lot of motion blur), but with a little practice and finesse, it's pretty easy to take a picture in a dimly lit room where the capured image looks almost identical to what the naked eye sees with little or no distortion. For occasions where a slower shutter speed is needed, the very quick and easy to use 2 second self timer completely removes any camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release.

In fact, the only real place where the S570 doesn't deliver what the marketing material promises is its performance at ISO 1600 and 3200 sensitivity. While picture quality is absolutely superb up to ISO 400 and good up to ISO 800, the picture quality drops off rather quickly after that and the images becomes noticeably grainy when viewed at full size. Luckily, you can set the ISO manually, or set the camera to automatically set the ISO within a range (ISO 80-400 or 80-800). The other point I should make is that if you're taking 12 megapixel pictures above 800 ISO, once they are printed at an average 5x7 size, most of the grain isn't all that noticeable…although you do have some noticeable color shift and yellow blotching.

I should also point out that the 'image stabilization' on the S570 is not mechanical stabilization and is totally electronic…meaning the S570 attempts to cancel out camera shake by automatically using a higher ISO and faster shutter speed, meaning it's not as effective as it could be…although this really isn't an issue when taking daytime shots or using the flash.

I was particularly impressed with the smart portrait mode and in particular the skin softening feature. As someone who has a lot of experience with photo retouching in photoshop, I know what an involved process it can be. I honestly expected the skin softening mode to be a gimmick that I'd never use, but the results were surprisingly subtle and natural looking.

In fact, I was quite impressed with a lot of the in-camera retouching features. They're especially great if you're not a person who uses Photoshop, but even if you are, it'll save you a few steps as it does basic contrast curve and color correction quite well. The nice part is that when you retouch a picture on the camera, it's non destructive, saving both your original shot and the retouched copy. Also nice is the ability to zoom and crop your picture in-camera.

As for ease of use, unless you've never touched a digital camera before, using the S570 should be no problem as it has very clear and easy to use menus and, for the most part, the average person can get by with simply setting the camera to auto or auto scene.

Auto scene generally works well in most situations, but when trying to photograph my Christmas tree in a very dimly lit room, the auto scene insisted I was trying to take a 'night landscape' picture…which disables the flash, sets the focus to infinity and sets a long exposure time. Not exactly perfectly set up to photograph something less than eight feet away. However, auto scene mistaking the scene appears to be the exception and not the rule and generally works really well.

One of the things I was particularly impressed with is how quickly the camera wakes up. If you're like me you've missed a good few 'photos of opportunity', by having your camera turned off to save battery power, but with the S570 you can take your first shot within two seconds of turning it on. There are certainly faster cameras out there, but to be completely honest, two seconds is more than fast enough (it's about the time it takes you to move the camera from by your side to your eye-level to frame up a picture). ..and to be completely honest, if you absolutely must have a camera that starts faster than two seconds, you're just 'keeping up with the Joneses'. Also, the S570 has a 'standby' mode which turns off the LCD and puts the camera into power saving mode after a user-set period, and the S570 wakes up from standby almost instantly.

Finally, the LCD screen is big and bright and the metal shell makes the camera feel very sturdy. Also, the build quality is excellent even down to the battery/memory card hatch. Nothing on this camera feels cheap or flimsy.

In conclusion, I think the S570 is simply one of the top cameras in its price range. You'd have to look far and wide for a better camera for around a hundred and seventy bucks. The only other camera I considered buying (after a lot of research) was the Sony Cybershot DSC-W290, as it had very similar performance to the S570 and a few nice extra features like HD video and true image stabilization.

However, the DSC-W290 sells for around $30 to $50 more than the S570, and more importantly, only takes Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which retail for around $50 to $70 for an 8GB card (whereas the S570 takes standard SD or SDHC cards which retail at around $15 - $20 for an 8GB card). Plus, if you actually want to play the HD video from the DSC-W290 on a HDTV, you need to buy a proprietary cable for another $30.

Basically, while I believe the DSC-W290 is a slightly better camera and is certainly worth the extra thirty dollars, once you factor in memory cards and accessories, you're actually talking almost a hundred dollars more.

Long story short, I would highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix S570 and believe it's just about the best deal out there in its class and price range.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cold and Frosty Morning

So I was playing with my new camera, or more precisely, the panorama maker software that came with the camera and the 'panorama assist' setting on the camera itself.

Usually, I've found software that stitches images together to be a little hit or miss, but this turned out perfectly, mostly due to the camera itself. The panorama assist not only locks the exposure and focal length for each picture, but actually gives you a transparent overlay of the last image you took so it can line it up with the next absolutely perfectly.

So here's a lovely panoramic view from my front doorstep:

(Oh, and before some smartass points it out, I know how 'amateurish' it is to allow your own shadow to get into a shot you're taking. Well...I am an amateur, so fuck you, and this image was more about testing the software that making something artistic.)

One of the other nifty little features of the Nikon Coolpix S570 is the in-camera auto retouch feature:

The image on the left is the original image, the image on the right is the result of two button presses on the camera (the other nice this is it's non-destructive, it saves the original and puts the retouched version in another folder). I should also point out that these where originally 12megapixel (4000x3000 pictures), that I shrank the panoramic shot was absolutely huge (around 16,000 pixels across) and almost 40mb. You'll have to trust me when I say the level of detail in the originals was outstanding.

Sure, I know that it's nothing more than a quick contrast curve adjustment in Photoshop, but being able to do this in the camera can save an awful lot of time.

So, would I recommend the Coolpix S570 to anyone wanting a good digital point and shoot? Absolutely.

I'll post a full review either tomorrow or the day after.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

WTF? Spam

Ok, since Obama became President, we've all seen the pop-ups and spam claiming that Obama wants just about everyone to do just about everything, from refinance their homes, go back to school or work from home.

These ads appears to be a basic template with the details filled in randomly. It's basically spam mad-libs.

Well today, I was doing some random surfing when I stumbled across this little jewel. I swear I've not altered it in any way:

Ok, Obama wants Moms to return to school, there's financial aid to those who qualify, and if you earn less that $45,000 a year you can get a grant to do so.

...and just to drive this point home, here's a picture of a bearded homeless-looking dude.

Talk about your non-sequiteurs

Friday, December 18, 2009

I hate you, Paula Deen

So today we went and replaced my camera that got stolen with a new Nikon Coolpix S570 (expect a full review in a few days).

One of the things this camera has that my old one didn't was face detection. Believe it or not, in portrait shooting mode, the camera will detect your face, automatically take the picture when you smile and then smooth out your skin.

...or at least that's the theory. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) it has difficulty when you're wearing glasses, have a full beard and you're trying the camera out at night with just a single lamp on in the room.

So, there I was, holding the camera at arms length, gurning like an idiot with the camera detecting my face but not detecting my smile.

So I turn the camera around and get ready to check the settings to make sure I have it set up correctly, when suddenly the camera beeps and flashes.

Apparently, it can't detect me smiling when I'm holding it at arms length, but it can detect Paula Deen's stupid fat grinning face on the TV about 12 feet away.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An open letter to the world.

Hi, my name's Paulius.

I'm one of the approximate 6 billion people sharing this planet with you, and there's less than a 50/50 chance that if we met, we'd like each other enough to voluntarily spend time with each other.

You see, thanks to where I was born, my upbringing, the things I was taught and the decisions and judgements I've made over my lifetime, I have a particular view of the world and the way people should behave.

For example, I have no problem with Gay marriage because I have gay friends and I'm sane enough to realize that two gay men or women officially being recognized as a couple isn't the end of the world. I have an almost unique view of abortion in that my personal viewpoint is that it's none of my fucking business whether a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy or not.

Here's my most important point, though: If you're one of those people who stand in city centers holding up signs saying 'God Hates Fags', or one of those people who are calling Obama a 'Nazi' over the health-care bill…I think you are totally retarded.

I mean that. I honestly do. If you're against the Healthcare bill, I honestly worry that people as retarded and easily led as you are actually members of society. If you're a Bible-bashing, fire and brimstone 'repent sinners' religious fundamentalist, I wonder how pathetically sad your life must be for you to claw so desperately at such nonsensical fantasy in order to feel like you have power.

I think someone should slap the shit out of the 14 year old moms (and the 14 year old fathers). I think religion is a pointless waste of time that does more harm than good…

Long story short, I believe lots of things that you don't.What *I* consider to be acceptable or unacceptable probably doesn't line up with your views on the subject.

But here's the thing…this is absolutely fine…and we appear to have forgotten that.

There are Six Billion people on this planet. Six billion different people from seven different continents, around 200 different countries and literally thousands of different cultures and sub-cultures.

Then, sometime since World War 2, we decided that when we interact with each other, it's completely and totally unacceptable to disagree or offend each other on any scale.

Basically, we live in a world where you can lose your job for telling that really annoying co-worker that he's really annoying or telling the boss that you think his idea is fucking stupid. Where it's not politically correct for a Christian to wish a fellow Christian a Merry Christmas within earshot of other people, in case one of them isn't Christian.

I think that this should stop. I think we should become a plain speaking society instead of a politically correct one.

Don't get me wrong, one of the things that really fucking annoys me is people who are just rude, assholes who love being dicks by claiming that they're just speaking their mind. Let's just say there's a difference between taking the stinky co-worker aside and saying 'Listen dude, you smell. Buy some deodorant and take a few more showers because people are starting to talk.' Than standing up and shouting "UGH! YOU FUCKING STINK!" in a crowded room.

Secondly, it's time for the world, as a whole, to grow a sense of fucking humor. You can go through the Bill of Rights with a fine tooth comb, but I can tell you right now, there's nothing in there that says you have the right to never be offended. Some of you may be offended by some of the language I am using in his post. Well, I am quite happy to say that if you don't like it, you are more than welcome to go fuck yourselves with that stick you have firmly lodged up your ass and get the fuck over it.…and if it really offends you, you are welcome to stop fucking reading and go read something that doesn't offend you.

So, in this spirit, I hereby proclaim 2010 to be the year of plain speaking, where everyone should speak their fucking minds.

I have news for everyone. You were once pushed headfirst out of someone's vagina, and spent the next couple of years regularly shitting in your pants. You're not special, you don't deserve special treatment and all this talk of 'morality' and 'dignity' is nothing but a rationalization as to why everyone should behave in a way that doesn't offend you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Due to reasons I really don't want to go into, as of three days ago, I no longer own my $850, camera.

As of next week, I get to replace it with a much cheaper one.

First of all, let me take this opportunity to point out once again just what a complete waste of time user-reviews of anything are. You look for reviews of digital cameras and the reviews fall into one of four categories.

Total idiots:

This is a terrible, poorly designed camera and user support is even worse. The camera wouldn't turn on and when I tried to open the back to put the film in (which I ended up needing a chisel to do) the whole camera broke in half. I called the help-line and the idiot on the other end claimed that the camera didn't use film and gave me some cock and bull story about voiding my warranty just because I took a hammer and chisel to the casing.
This level of incompetence is totally unacceptable!

Reviews that give no information what so ever:

"Good camera, I like it."

Reviews by people who have been living under a rock and are dazzled by technology:

"This is the best camera ever! Not only does it not need film, you don't have wind it on to the next exposure and it has a screen so you can see your image immediately, it's like magic!"

Finally, the reviews by the asshole, pseudo-intellectuals who claim that everything that isn't the absolute top of the line is totally shit:

"This camera is consumer grade trash. I don't know why anyone would ever consider owning one. I looked at this then bought the imager from the Hubble Space Telescope instead."

To be complete honest though, the main reason I decided to write this post was after looking at some of the 'features' available on the latest digital cameras. I won't deny that some of them are very useful and handy (I personally have always preferred a totally manual SLR, but some of these features are great for just regular snaps)…but one or two made my jaw drop open.

For example, one of the cameras I'm considering buying has a 'skin softening' feature. Basically, you take your picture, the camera detects the face and then softens out the skin to remove blemishes, etc in the camera before saving the image.

Are we really that vain?

You see, while I'm definitely just a hobbyist when it comes to cameras, when I started out in my teens, I was using a film camera, black and white film and used my dad's darkroom equipment in a blacked out bathroom to develop my own pictures. While I definitely embraced digital technology, and just adore photoshop…there's something just a little off to me about a camera that does its own photo manipulation.

I mean, what's the point in a camera that doesn't really capture what's actually there. We're going to have to change the saying from 'The camera never lies' to 'The camera is one lying son of a bitch'.

In all serious, what's next? A camera that automatically softens your skin, makes you look taller, whitens your teeth and gives you a six-pack?

If 'auto skin softening' is a feature on just a mid-range camera today, it's going to be on every new camera within a few years.

I can't help but wonder what it will be like when the aliens discover the remains of the internet after we've blown ourselves up in a hundred years and report back:

"They're all dead, sir. They appear to have been a very war-like, savage race…but they all looked amazing."***king...God

This is literally just about the funniest damn thing I've ever seen:

Monday, December 07, 2009

Take your time, do your research

In a previous post I talked about how much I was dreading having to fix my kitchen faucet, in a comment on that post, fellow blogger and talented writer Mr. MC Etcher said:

"Despite your protest that you don't know anything about plumbing, you're attempting the repair yourself nonetheless.

I too know nothing about plumbing - but I would rather start with all new, clean, definitely functional parts than attempting to replace questionable components.

My method is wasteful, but you're likely to spend less in the end on individual parts and repeated trips to the hardware store."

Well, fixing the faucet in question taught me something, and not just things about plumbing.

You see, a few days ago I would have completely agreed with Etcher, but considering that we also had to do another roof repair and had a lot of Christmas presents to buy, we just didn't have fifty bucks to spend on an all new faucet…so I was forced to try and fix it instead of replacing it. In the end, I'm really glad I did.

You can find all the instructions, help and tips you need free on the internet, and it turns out that the average faucet isn't all that complicated.

In simplest terms, a faucet is basically a screw with a stopper on the end. You turn the screw one way and it lifts the stopper off the end of your water pipe, when you turn it the other way, it pushes the stopper down and blocks the water flow. The 'valve seat' is simply a brass fitting that screws onto the end of your water pipe to protect it and help make a good seal when the faucet is turned off.

Now, here where my options:

  1. I could call a plumber, pay him at least a hundred dollars for the call out alone, then pay another fifty for labor and way over the odds for the parts.
  2. I could go to Lowes, pay about fifty dollars for a whole new faucet and replace the whole thing myself.
  3. I could dismantle the faucet, see if the diagnosis matched the info from the internet, and if so, spend a grand total of seven dollars on parts and tools and fix it myself.

I won't lie, plumbing is really intimidating when you've never done any before, and the first thing you imagine is attempting this 'simple' job, breaking something and having your kitchen waist deep in water within minutes, but my repair was beyond simple.

Even if you know nothing about plumbing, you probably know how to replace a washer on a faucet. If you're calling out a plumber for that, you really need your head examined. Replacing the valve seat wasn't any more complicated.

First, I turned off the water, unscrewed the faucet handle and removed it. Taking the stem out was next which was as easy as unscrewing it with an adjustable wrench. Then, I took my six-dollar valve seat wrench, slotted it into the valve seat at the top of the pipe, unscrewed the seat (which was pitted and cracked, immediately confirming the diagnosis I got from the internet), then I screwed in the new one. Then, I just put the stem back in place and screwed the handle back on.

All in all, the whole repair took less than ten minutes and cost less than eight dollars (and I don't really count the six-fifty for the seat wrench, because the seats on my other faucets are bound to need replacing sooner or later and that's a one-time expense. IE, next time I need to do this, the whole repair will cost 87 cents.)

Basically, my advice is that when something needs fixing around the house, unless there's actual danger of death if you attempt it yourself (For example, I'd never mess with my houses wiring), get on the internet, research it and work out exactly how hard it's going to be to fix, and if you think you can handle it, go for it.

Here's the thing, I didn't just save myself a couple hundred dollars this time. I saved myself a couple hundred dollars every time this particular bit of maintenance needs doing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Logical Conclusions…

I was sitting at the computer yesterday while Sunny was watching one of those 'true crime' shows. Then I heard this:

"We suspected Billy of committing the murder, but we became especially interested in him when it came to his attention that he and a group of his friends were heavily into Dungeons and Dragons, as there have been cases where people allow the role playing to spill over into real life which results in real violence."

I'm sorry, but did I go to bed and wake up in the mid seventies? Are we still blaming Dungeons and Dragons for turning kids into Satanists and murderers? Did these kids listen to rock and roll music as well? If so, we'd better arrest them right now.

I'd just like to step out for a minute and see if we can use some basic common sense and actual reason will show how ridiculous this idea is.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game you play by using your imagination to take part in an adventure in a fantasy setting. One player writes an overall plot, the other players design and role play as characters in that plot.

Now, by that FBI Agent's reasoning, JRR Tolkien must have been the biggest murderer of all time. He basically laid the foundation for every piece of fantasy fiction ever. What's more, all the actors from the Lord of the Rings movies must also be potential serial killers, because weren't they just doing what the kids were doing? Pretending to be fantasy heroes and villains? Of course, while the kids only had graph paper and dice rolls to simulate the violence, the LotR actors had full costumes, a massive budget, a cast of thousands and the latest in special effects technology.

Now here's the thing, some idiot is bound to point out that the kid from the 'true crime' show actually turned out to have committed the murder, so that makes my argument completely moot.

Well, no, actually.

Millions of people worldwide play Dungeons and Dragons, and the percentage of them who actually kill people make up less than one thousandth of one percent of the group. It's something only the media can do, they take an obvious statistical anomaly and claim that it's proof that the whole thing's bad.

A kid listens to a CD, kills someone and then claims the music influenced him to do it. People call that 'proof', talk about the 'obvious' link… but never ask why a CD that definitely turns kids into souless killers sold twenty million copies but only 'made' one kid go on the rampage.

I could say more, but as this is about my fifteen millionth post on this subject, I'll leave it right here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A (forced) productive day.

A few days ago I replaced the washer in the kitchen faucet for the fifth time in as many weeks, only to have it completely refuse to turn off. Instead of dripping, it was just constantly running as though it had been just barely cracked open.

My regular readers will know I'm not exactly what you'd call 'handy'. For the first 23 years of my life while living at home, things got fixed by me saying "Dad, the <insert object here> is broken." Plumbing, especially, is a completely closed book to me. I try to fix things and consider it a success if I walk away leaving it only slightly more damaged than it was before I started.

Luckily, I have the internet, and a few minutes research told me the problem was likely a worn valve seat, which apparently isn't too difficult to replace. It's either a couple hundred bucks or so to a professional plumber, or about fifteen dollars for tools and materials and the adventure of fixing it yourself.

I went to the DIY route out of necessity, not choice.

Then, yesterday morning at 4.30am as I was getting into bed, I looked up and noticed a damp patch on the ceiling above the bed. That's right, after the major storm we had a few days ago, our flat bedroom roof started leaking again.

After that, I was so stressed out I couldn't even consider going to sleep. I was originally planning on sleeping for a while, getting up, going to get the things I needed to repair the sink then enjoying Sunny's day off with a couple of movies.

Suddenly, I was going to have to fix the sink and then get up on the roof with a couple of buckets of roof goop, which is quite frankly my least favorite thing to do in the world.

So, when Sunny came home, we went to Lowes…and in the run up to Christmas when money is tight anyway, we spent almost seventy dollars we didn't have in our budget on the stuff to fix the roof.

The faucet turned out to be surprisingly cheap and easy to fix. It was one of those jobs that I finished and wondered why anyone would spend hundreds of dollars on a plumber for a job that was about as difficult and complicated as replacing a washer. It turned out the hardest part was locating a matching valve seat. Apparently, the last time the plumbing in our house was upgraded was sometime in the 60's, so not only was the part had to find, it was hard to identify as a match because the old one was so corroded. Luckily, after nearly being forced into buying a whole valve seat, washer and stem set for twelve dollars, we went to a mom and pop hardware store and got the seat for 87 cents. With about seven dollars for the valve seat wrench, it was a nice and cheap repair. I just unscrewed the faucet handle, removed the stem with an adjustable wrench and the old valve seat came off nice and easily. The new one, while being a little fiddly to install (It's a little like keyhole surgery), went on without much trouble.

Of course, we'd budgeted for all that, so it didn't add much to the stress level. Luckily, my stepson is the handiest person in the world, so I knew that if I fucked up and broke something, it would be a little more expensive to fix, he could put right any of my mistakes (which is the usual outcome of my DIY attempts).

The roof, as always, was a bitch. Firstly there was standing water all over it, and with rain forecast for tomorrow, I was up on the roof at 8am in forty degree weather, breaking ice, sweeping it off the roof and soaking up water with an old bedsheet. I fixed the faucet while waiting for it to dry out a little more and by midday… after no sleep and a ton of stress… I was back on the roof.

Just to put the sprinkles on the cupcake, I don't like heights one bit. Well…that's not exactly true. I have no problem with heights as long as I know I'm reasonably safe. I have no problem looking out the window at the top of a small building, I have no problem walking across a high bridge or standing at the edge of a tall building behind a railing. I do, however, have a problem with standing on a slick roof in cold and windy weather where I have to stand close to the edge with nothing but air between me and a twenty foot drop.

Also, twenty feet doesn't sound like a lot. It doesn't even look like a lot when you're on the ground looking up at it…but it seems a lot higher when you're twenty feet high trying to get from a rickety old ladder onto a slick roof.

Now, if you've ever applied roof goop, which is basically a mix of tar, bitumen and fiberglass, you know that stuff gets all over you, ruins any clothing it touches and is an absolute bitch to clean off your skin (it just doesn't clean off clothing at all). There also comes a point in the process where there's so much on your hands that you figure you might as well just scoop the shit out of the bucket and apply it with your hands because it'll be much easier and you can't get much more of it on you than is already there.

Just a hint, when you get to this point and decide to use your hands… don't. Also, when you forget how hard it is to get off your hands and plunge your hand into the bucket anyway, remember to take off your wedding ring. Also, don't try to wipe the sweat off your forehead either.

It took me almost two hours in the shower to get that shit off me. It turns out that a coating on your hands from handling the trowel looks almost as bad, but is a million times easier to clean off that a half inch thick coating. The stuff is designed to be sticky and waterproof, meaning you have to use WD-40, lighter fluid or gasoline to clean it off and you have to use a scrubbing brush to do it.

Let's just say standing in the shower, spraying your own face with WD40 before going crazy on it with a scrubbing brush is not a fun experience.

On the upside, I remembered to wear old clothes and shoes.

On the downside, when I was done, I was so stressed out and pissed off, I wanted a cigarette more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. It took every single ounce of my self control not to buy a pack.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I dislike haikus

They are more word puzzle than

Genuine artform


Over the past year, it appears that the cold faucet in the kitchen just eats washers. The faucet will start dripping again a couple of weeks after the washer is replaced, and finally, just replacing the washer didn't work any more. We have a permanently dripping faucet that actually just runs unless it's turned off just so.

So I finally decided to jump on the net and see what else could be wrong.

Well, it turns out that our valve seat need replacing. This is the bit of the pipe that the washer presses against to stop the water from flowing.

Now, this should be a very simple job. I just need to buy a valve seat wrench (which looks like a big Allen key), unscrew the old seat, slap a bit of pipe-joint compound on the new one and screw it into place.

The problem is, I know exactly what my luck is like…and every time I expect a ten minute, ten dollar job what I end up with is a five hour, fifty dollar job.

Like the time I needed to replace the stop cock in the toilet. All that was supposed to happen was I was supposed to drain the cistern, unscrew one bolt on the underside of the toilet, remove the old stop cock and bolt the new one into place. Instead it took three hours.

Three things worry me. The valve seat hasn't been replaced in almost twenty years so it'll be a bitch to remove, the faucet is so old I don't even know what size/brand of valve seat I need until I can take the old one off…and finally, any unexpected, catastrophic failure which is the usual way things tend to play out.

This is why I’m not sure I want it.

Ok, so like a lot of other gamers out there, I was really excited about the new Call of Duty game. Before we got our new TV, I was seriously considering asking Santa to bring it to me for Christmas.

Since then, my opinion has changed a little.

First of all I heard the single player campaign is really short, as in 'five hours' short. Considering I'm still playing and finding new things in Fallout 3 after putting almost 80 combined hours into it, sixty bucks for just five hours of gameplay (and that's gameplay with little replay value) isn't worth it to me.

Of course, the real reason you buy Modern Warfare 2 is for the multiplayer…but as you can probably guess, I have a few problems with that as well.

First of all, after my experience with Call of Duty: World at War, buying a shooter purely for its multiplayer content feels a lot like signing up for a subscription service. For example, World at War had no matchmaking option for games with just the core maps or just the map packs you own…meaning that if you haven't shelled out for the extra map packs, it gets extremely frustrating to get into a game.

You start matchmaking, you wait while it finds an open group, you join the group, you wait for more players to join, then the countdown starts, you go to a loading screen…then you're instantly thrown out of the game and taken directly to Xbox Live Marketplace because you don't have map-pack three.

If you're playing with a group of friends, especially if you only know them through Xbox Live, you quickly start to feel like a complete dick because when that happens, it's not just you that has to quit, but the other nine guys in your party have to quit as well….and most of them have shelled out for the extra map packs. Also, if you're like me, you finally cave in, pay almost sixty dollars for the downloadable content…then the new 'latest and greatest' game comes out and then even though you have the downloadable content, you can't get a game because no-one's playing it any more.

When you can expect a twenty dollar map pack every other month, it's a bit of a piss-take when you spend sixty bucks on a game, then within a month of buying it (or in some cases, less than a week), you have to spend another twenty bucks to keep playing.

However, the absolute worst part is that playing online means you have to play with other people.

I've talked about this before, so I won't go into too much detail, but there is a certain type of gamer who will treat any game like a second job, play for eighteen hours a day and work out every single glitch or exploit that allows them to win, totally regardless of whether their 'play-style' is any fun or not…and it only takes one of these gamers in a full group of 32 to completely spoil the game.

For example, think of the kind of mind that would a) work this out and b) consider it to be a fair and fun way to play the game:

Basically, someone playing MW2 discovered that if you equip a grenade, pull the pin but then switch to your javelin missile launcher without throwing it… when you die, the grenade goes off and you'll fire your javelin… which results in a massive explosion that will take out any other players within 30 feet. In other words, you can blow yourself up but take five or six of the opposing team with you and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

For the non-gamers out there, think of it this way: Imagine playing in a tennis tournament and after your opponent wins the first point, he just sits down and refuses to serve. When you ask him what's going on, he points to the rule book where there's some old rule from 1967 that states that if the game isn't over after an hour, the player in the lead wins by default. When you tell him he's being retarded and unfair, he also points out that there's no rule that says he can't take as long as he likes with his serve.

In other words, the game's not going to be any fun for either of you, he's not actually beating you at anything, but after a long and boring hour, he technically 'wins'.

That's your average opponent on Xbox Live.