Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Rooter of All Evil

Thomas Crapper, the man credited with increasing the popularity of the flush toilet in America, was born in 1836. It is important to know that Crapper was NOT the man who invented flush toilet. That award, as we well know, goes to the team of John Harington and Alexander Poopsalot as early as 1596. Then came the first public installation of toilets at The Great Exhibition in 1851, and since then nothing good has come out of the toilet.

I've said in the past that if there's one thing in the world of home improvements I will avoid whenever possible, it's plumbing. Especially toilets. It's not that I'm not physically capable of installing a toilet, but I just think it's a wise move to avoid messing with anything that can severely damage your home AND that involves poop (of course, our kids fall into that category as well, but that's another story). Something as simple as a slow leak could end up causing the kitchen ceiling to rain down on your waffles. Trust me. It's happened to us. And I was really annoyed because they were good waffles.

As part of our home renovation we added a new master bath. We spent a good amount of time searching for the right blend of shower, toilet, sink, and and toothbrush holder, and in the end were happy with the result. Our throne of choice was the Champion Cadet Elongated "Right-Height" in bone color, for several reasons. For one, it could flush thirteen golf balls without clogging. This would be important for my short game (achem. I mean, LONG game). For another, the elongated bowl was a key feature because, well, think about it. Let's just say I need my space. At least that's the argument I gave my wife when we were shopping.

Our plumber installed the fixtures with only minor issues, and since then the bathroom has made a fine sanctuary for us to primp and preen and disappear with copies of This Old House for hours on end. Until the other night, when evil reared its ugly head.

Actually I need to back up for a moment. A few weeks ago, I started noticing a black, mysterious substance that appeared to be seeping out from under the toilet. It was fibrous and odorless, and my thought was perhaps there was some sort of insulation or sound baffle that the plumber had installed under the toilet, and it was literally squeezing itself out as people sat down on the unit. I kept an eye on it, and noticed it continued to grow in size. And, the toilet started to rock slightly, implying the bolts were loose.

Okay, it was time to pull the toilet and reinstall it. I kept avoiding the issue, until the other night when I noticed water on the floor. Now it was REALLY time to fix things.

But I wasn't prepared for what I saw next. When I pulled the toilet off the floor, I was greeted with more of this mysterious substance. As you can see in these photos (one and two), which really you should only look at if you've got the stomach of Iron Man, this black, fibrous funk surrounded the drain opening and actually entered into the pipe itself. What could this be? Could it be a relative of the Sarlaac, the multi-tentacled alien beast with the immense, gaping mouth that inhabits the Great Pit of Carkoon, on the planet Tatooine? I suppose it was quite possible.

Of course the first thing I did was call dad. He had no idea. So I tracked down the number of the plumber who installed the unit to begin with, and called him at 9:30 in the evening. He had no idea either, but was certainly intrigued. He then went on to tell me about the fun things he's found clogged in toilets past, such as hairdressers' combs, mayonnaise jars, and Tonka trucks. When I was able to get a word in I asked him if there was a chance there was some sort of felt or insulation underneath the toilet when he installed it. He said he did not recall any and couldn't imagine why there would be any.

Oh dear.

This led me to believe that this foreign substance is not something man-made, at least not manufactured by human hands. And it didn't make me feel better when the plumber started his next sentence with, "In all my years of plumbing...."

After a quick bout of the heebeejeebees, I quickly grabbed every ounce of disinfectant I could find, along with about six layers of rubber gloves and a portable decontaminiation unit I borrowed from the local Haz-Mat team, and began the defunkification process. I won't gore you with the details. But suffice it to say that since then, every minor itch I've had, every need to cough, every twitch of a muscle has made me think I've caught an Ebola virus.

Surely, there must be a better way.

Today the plumber came. Yes, I could have just has easily reinstalled the toilet myself, but the way I see it I had better things to do, like not falling prey to a Sarlaac and being slowly digested over thousands of years. I'll leave that to the plumber as well.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Applecare Bangalore

I had to call Applecare today. This is the second time with the new iMac, for the same issue. Upon restarting the Mac I get the "bong" sound then nothing but a gray screen. Turns out that my firewire external hard drive is keeping it from starting up. The instant I unplug the HD it proceeds. So that's a whole separate issue I'm trying to figure out.

But what I found amusing was the fact that I was so obviously calling India when talking to Apple. The help was perfectly fine, though I wouldn't say "stellar". she stuck by the playbook. BTW I believe her name was "Lady", and she had a thick Arabic accent that she was trying valiantly to disguise. But then there was the hold music. The first song was a Beatles Tune (For Your Love, I think). The second song was some whacked out Indian chanting music. And then there was the background noise. I can't say I speak the language, but it sounded to me like someone was getting fired. I heard a loud voice yell something that sounded exactly like the scene in Die Hard when the bad guy with the long hair (Karl) was attempting to properly disconnect the phones, right when another bad guy came along and cut all the lines with a chain saw. Then, there was yelling back, and more yelling from the first guy. Suddenly all the regular chatter one would hear in the background at a help desk ceased. Lady paused to regain her poise, and continued on the phone with me.

Maybe Steve Jobs himself was visiting?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is Ironman for Kids?

My buddy and I saw Iron Man this weekend. First let me say, it rocked. Well done movie. I won't get involved with actually REVIEWING it, because I don't generally write reviews and frankly did not spend my childhood watching Iron Man or any other Justice League cartoons when I was a kid. If you're looking for a review, check with my friend Howard, who hasn't seen the movie yet but has been informed he should get his butt there as soon as possible.

So another friend of mine posed the question, "should I take my kids?" Mind you, we're talking about kids under age 8. It appears this is around the time when kids start getting exposed to death, destruction, sexuality and other juicy tidbits of pop culture that make up the big screen and the elementary school bus ride. My 7-year-old is headed that way now. Here's the general path she's taken:

Age 1: Religiously watched the Simpsons, because they were colorful and made funny noises, and there was a dog.
Age 2: Loved Pixar's Monsters, Inc for the big fluffy blue guy, but after the 14th time watching it had a nightmare and told us to return the DVD to the store. No way we would introduce "The Incredibles" any time soon.
Age 3: Banned from Simpsons. Replaced with Elmo.
Age 4: Watching Dora now. Over, and over, and over again.
Age 5: Barbie invades. Please don't make me go on.
Age 6: High School Musical arrives on the scene. Natalie learns the term "Omigod Omigod Omigod!!! Also first year riding the bus for kindergarten, after the first day comes back with the mouth of a sailor.
Age 7: Tries out the Incredibles. Loves it. Watches it over and over again. Sees her first PG-13 movie, National Treasure. Loved it for the history, had bad dream due to the guy plummeting to his death. Got over it quickly and went to see National Treasure 2. Now enjoys a good plummet.

Based on where she is at Age 7, I can only assume that at Age 8 she will be shooting up heroin in a corner alley and selling herself for money due to the horrible parenting she received thus far.

But that brings me back to the original question (or does it?), "should kids see Iron Man?"

I say yes, with a few caveats. Let's break this down:

There's not much in the way of the big nasty going on in Iron Man. While the main character is portrayed as a womanizer, that is demonstrated only once when he hooks up with a reporter from Vanity Fair and leaves her for the assistant to kick out the next morning. But the actual sex scene was simply a fully clothed moment of emphatic rolling around on the bed that lasted about 5 seconds. No biggie there.

Bad-guy Arabs get killed, probably about a couple dozen of them in various ways. blown up, lit on fire, and shot. Nothing in the way of blood and gore, no body parts. In one scene the main bad guy shows off his severely burned and scarred head, that's about as bad as it gets.

Lots of them. After all the main character was an arms dealer. But it's all good.

Okay, there's one in the climax. It's big and mean, and tosses the main character around like a toothpick. But that's usually the way these movies pan out ain't it?

This movie is very funny. There's a couple of very fun scenes that any kid would see and immediately spew Coke out his nose.

So that's the rundown. But here's an underlying reason your kids should see this movie. How do you think your life would have been different if you'd never seen Star Wars (and, I'm asking only people other than my wife, who refuses to believe there ever WAS a Star Wars)? When Star Wars came out, I was 7 years old. To be honest I don't recall if my parents took me to see it, but I'm sure I must have seen it at some point. And from then on, Star Wars was embedded in my psyche just like it was in yours. I have a feeling Iron Man will have a similar affect. This movie is Part One of an inevitable series of movies on the Justice League, and you'll want to stick around.

So in summary, If your kid can handle Transformers, The Incredibles, Godzilla, or Batman, he can handle this. Actually scratch Batman...those movies always creeped me out.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

On Top in Old Smoky

It seems the American Lung Association has declared Pittsburgh the #1 smokiest city this year, edging out Los Angeles by a nose...or perhaps a lung.

I saw this story in about five or six different websites today. Interestingly, only the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attempted to defend the city and it's air quality, and understandably so given it is a Pittsburgh-based newspaper. They pointed out that most of the soot is centered around the Monongahela (c'mon say it with me, pronounced like it's spelled) valley and more specifically the Clairton Coke Works. Sounds kind of like doing an air quality study while holding your tester next to the tailpipe of a Dodge Powerstroke Diesel while it's running.

I've lived in this city for about 14 years now. The air is not pristine. It's not crystalline. But it ain't LA. I've been to LA, and I've seen the brown sky. Pittsburgh has crystal clear skies (on the occasion it's actually nice weather), and unless you live near the Clairton Coke Works, it ain't bad. The problem isn't soot. It's allergens.

I had a friend and coworker who lived here for a while, and he couldn't take the air quality due to his allergies. I remember once talking to him in my office, and suddenly hearing a loud "PSSSSSS...." sound, like someone had stuck a pair of scissors into a basketball. I asked what the heck that was, and he said, "that was my sinus".

He lives in Hood River now, and is much happier.

My family and I are perfectly happy with the air quality here, as long as we stay well stocked in Clariton, Sudaphed, and furniture dusters.

Babyproofing 2, the Next Generation

This week we entered a new phase of parenthood. Babyproofing, round two. No, I'm not talking about a new batch of outlet covers and spongy coffee table corner covers. I'm talking about Our old friend, the Internet. For so long, the ol' bunch of tubes has been our oasis, our home for our brains, our place to easily find videos of rednecks getting hit in the crotch.

Then Natalie discovered YouTube.

After several rounds of showing her Muppet classics, American Idol performances, and Time for Timer flashbacks, she realized there was something special about that magical search box. You want Zack & Cody? See Zack and Cody get their tongues stuck to the revolving door. Want Puppies? It's like a million and one dalmatians out there. Want Barbie? How about a video entitled "Is Barbie Based On a German Sex Doll?"? Okay, it could have been worse. Much worse. But right then I realized it was time to learn how to kid-proof our Internet experience.

Our family computer is in a very public area, on a counter in the center of the TV watching, dining, and kitchen area. In general, we trust that when she's beating on the keys, she's trying to reach 250 points on the Wow Wow Wubzy game. Now that she's got the power of the search box in her hands, we've realized we need to watch her like a hawk. One false click, and she'll be on the road to pornographic heroin-laced sugar daddies peddling Nigerian Viagra.

So it's time to investigate an area of the computer I've never bothered to look at before. Parental Controls. Now, if you read my last post you'll know we've got a nice shiny (and I DO mean shiny) iMac in our possession, giving us one Mac running OSX 10.5 Leopard, and another running the older OSX 10.4. Here's where my post wavers from it's normal snarkiness to providing perhaps useful information for anyone interested in this subject.

Apple did an excellent job building in kidproofing tools to OSX 10.4, and in 10.5 someone put some real thought into major improvements (huh, imagine that...Apple putting thought into their designs). While I found there were several annoying features involved with settings things up on the 10.4 machine, I discovered all of them were fixed on the 10.5 box. Here are some of the features and the major improvements they made with Leopard:

In 4, to set up Safari with access only to specific websites, you must log in as the kid you are attempting to protect, and EVERY time you add a website you need to type in your admin username and pwd. Pretty annoying when your admin user name is long and you've got a list of 10 or so sites to deal with. In 5, this is all done within the prefs panel on the Admin account, AND they provide you with a head start in the form of an excellent list of about a dozen sites like Scholastic, PBSKids, etc.

In 5, they improved the hierarchical list of applications you can turn on/off for the kids' login. It was very confusing in 4, and try as I might I could not get MS Word to appear when she logged in. That seems to be fixed in 5. They've also added a setting to hide profanity in the dictionary so my kids won't be able to look up all those little gems that come out of my mouth when I drop sheets of plywood on my toe.

In 5, they added a whole section on time limits. You can specify that the kid cannot login at certain hours without permission from an admin, and even then you can say "alright, give her one more hour then kick her out. You can also limit weekend usage to a total of X hours. Excellent way to get those grubby little sandwich clamps off the keyboard and onto the handle of a lawnmower on a Saturday morning.

In 5, they added complete logs of every site they either go to or try to go to (and are blocked from), every app used, and every iChat conversation.

So, if you're concerned about the kids, you can't go wrong with OSX 10.5 Buy a Mac, dude.

BTW, side note...MacOutfitters was nice enough to give me $212 back as a rebate for buying (literally) yesterday's model iMac. So kudos to them.