Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wallpaper. Why did it have to be wallpaper?

When I was young I was a huge fan of Looney Tunes. Every Saturday morning I would sneak downstairs just before 8:00 in the morning, turn on the kitchen black-and-white, and watch Bugs, Elmer, and the gang cause mayhem and mischief while making timely jokes that went way over my head for many years to come. One of my favorite sketches was the one with Michigan J. Frog, the singing toad that drove an unnamed stranger to insanity. In the end, the man buried the frog in the foundation of a skyscraper under construction just to get the blasted creature out of his life. In the final scene, it's the year 2056, and a laborer from ACME Building Disintegrators is using a ray gun to completely eradicate the building when he stumbles upon a box containing our hero, the singing frog.

Forget iPads. Forget 3D television. What this society needs is one of those building disintegrators. Think of the deteriorated urban landscapes we could clean up. We could eliminate landfills. Imagine setting it to its lowest setting, "wallpaper removal", and making this home renovation chore an absolute breeze. No more scraping. No more gooey mess. Just point and shoot.

See? ya like how I slid the subject of a home renovation project in without you even noticing? Yeah, it's time again (still). After spending the last few weeks building cabinets for my neighbor, she offered (well, she accepted the deal) to paint our dining room. That turned into painting both the dining room AND the adjacent home office, since they will both be the same color. So naturally, this led me to realize that now is the perfect time to completely remodel both rooms. In my spare time.

Anyone who's been to our house knows what we're dealing with. puke-beige carpeting that's been in the house about 5 years too long, "lovely" rose-patterned pink wallpaper on which a former resident with a Laura Ashley fetish spent way too much money, and curtains that saw their prime years ago in a mid-eighties walkup in the Bronx. Well, we're switching out the carpet for Pergo that I rescued from another area of the house (more on that another day), and the curtains and wallpaper are to be replaced with something from the Sherwin-Williams Arts & Crafts pallet. This will lead me down the road of new baseboard and crown moulding (Arts & Crafts as well, new lighting, and yes...built-in office furniture. All in all, the project should keep me squirreled away in the workshop until my older one gets past the training bra phase.

Unfortunately, it all starts with removing the wallpaper. I hate wallpaper. I hate putting it up. I hate taking it down. Whomever invented wallpaper didn't really plan out the exit strategy very well. As tacky as it is, I understand why some less anal retentive folks actually consider painting over wallpaper. Not that I'd ever do that, but I feel for the poor bastards.

The offspring were of little help to me on this project, of course. Despite my desperate attempts to make them my slaves, they have quickly learned that the best way to avoid work is to get into fights with each other about it. Sure, they loved the first step of the wallpaper removal process, which was to peel off the top layer in sheets, leaving the shreds on the floor. But when it came time for the spray-and-scrape process to remove the glue from the wall, it was nothing but "Hey, I wanted to use that scraper! That scraper's special to me! Fine! I won't help then! Sissy, stop throwing at me! I wish I was an only child! I hope an asteroid crashes into this planet and squashes you like that centipede daddy found in the dryer! I hate you!" I realized when they were fighting with each other about who did the better job of tearing up the pieces on the floor into smaller pieces, that their fighting was a coordinated effort to get out of helping their dad. Very sneaky.

In the end, I came up with a rhythm. Spray the wallpaper remover. Stop to make coffee. Yell at the kids for fighting with each other. Scrape the walls. Repeat. It was a very productive day.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Designing a thing can't be THAT hard.

Over the past few years, I've often thought to myself that for my next career move, I need to work for a company that makes an actual THING you can hold in your hand. Okay, so that goal went by the wayside with my new career in the financial industry (and no, I don't work directly with cash, so that doesn't count), however I have to say I sometimes wonder how much better I could make things than the people out there who actually do it. Have you ever come across a product with a flaw so completely and utterly stupid it makes you wonder why the designer wasn't burned at the stake by company stockholders?

Take, for example, the air mattress I just attempted to inflate for my daughter's sleepover with her friend. This mattress, made by Coleman, comes with a handy-dandy inflator that blows up the mattress in less than two minutes. It's great when it works. However, the designers of this gadget demonstrated their idiocy by missing one important characteristic of the inflator.

Let's think for a moment...how often does one typically use an inflatable mattress? A couple times a year? When the in-laws come to visit? During flu season when the spouse bans you from the master bedroom due to excess phlegm? So that means for about 360 out of 365 days each year, this cordless inflator sits idle in the closet with a dead battery. That dead battery takes eight hours to fully charge, by plugging the inflator itself into the wall. AND, when the inflator is plugged in, it CANNOT BE USED. I'm sure most inflatable mattress users. like myself, never think to charge the inflator a day in advance before pulling the mattress out of the closet. And, if you're like me, you then end up rigging up your bike pump to do the job you'd originally bought the inflator to do. I'd really like to know what idiot allowed this through testing.

Next let's take a look at my new printer, a Kodak ESP5250. This is actually an excellent printer. It's one of those that Kodak is touting to have the lowest replacement ink cost in the industry, and it appears to be true. It prints well, scans well, and runs virtually flawlessly. Except if you move it.

The power cord on this printer resembles that of a laptop cord, with a "brick" that rests on the floor between two pieces of cord. The adapter that plugs into the back of the printer is so loose that if you move the printer a half inch, it sheds itself of the power cord completely. Really? No one noticed that in testing?

Finally, let's look at this alarm clock and iPod charger/player I bought for my daughter. It seemed simple and functional enough. It works as a clock, and it allows Thing #1 to fill her bedroom with the sounds of Hannah Montana blaring from her Nano any time she wants. However, it cannot actually be used as an alarm clock, despite the product description. You see, for some ridiculous reason when the alarm sounds, it always sounds with the volume at it's HIGHEST LEVEL. It even says in the directions, "after the alarm sounds you may adjust the volume to a lower setting." Seriously? Someone not only tested this "feature" but didn't feel the need to question the design? Way to go, tech writers. I'd like to know if the quality assurance team that tested this device actually tested it on small children, only to watch them launch through the ceiling when the alarm goes off with the music volume set past eleven. Morons.

Unfortunately my daughter wants to keep the clock radio, because it has cool changeable designs. At least the designers had their priorities straight.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

40-year old Verging

Okay, okay, I know, the blog. Yeah, it's time to get my butt back in gear and let those creative juices flow. I have to say that the past couple of months have been a trying time for the creative side of my brain for many reasons. For starters, I've quit my job (the one I've had for a little less than a year after being laid off from a place I'd been with for close to two decades) and am starting a new one two days from now. Meanwhile I'm taking a week to get my head, my life, and the house back in order, to prepare for my upcoming role as an engagement manager (sorry, that's as detailed as I'm gonna get right now...it's a rule of mine not to blog about work), and to lay some concrete below the back steps. Yup, there's always a home improvement project.

If you were expecting to see a post here that I'd spent days and days noodling over to get the content and the comedic timing just right, you'll be sorely disappointed I started this post at 11:15pm and expect it to be done by 11:21. Instead, this is more of a reboot for me. At least once a day lately I've been saying to myself, "would you just sit yer ass down and write something already?" The problem was, I couldn't decide on a subject. Should it be about my daughter's solo at the 3rd grade violin recital? About buying a new Flip Video camera only to have its hard drive completely filled with shaky closeups of the dog's nose as taken by my 6-year-old? Or how about the fact that after completing our major home renovation only two short years ago, we just completed about seven grand worth of re-work as a result of damage from this winter's snowpocalypse? Hmm, well you know how sometimes your guest room just gets so messy, you don't even bother straightening it up and instead just close the door and pretend it's not even a part of the house until the day you find out your sister and her entire family are coming for a weekend stay for the first time since your wedding? Well, in blogging terms, today is that day. Time to open the door and start shoveling.

I suppose a good enough place to start would be with what may be deemed by some as a personal milestone this year. It finally happened. I hit forty. I don't believe I've thought much about it up to this point...it's just another notch in the long, somewhat worn belt of life, really. And frankly, I tend to wear the crap out of my belts, keeping them around for years and years past their prime, until the holes are loose and the leather is so shredded that I would have an easier time keeping my pants up with duct tape. So, I guess if I were to build this into a solid metaphor, I can say that I've got a lot more life in me before I completely fall apart and I will attempt to make the most of it by adjusting a notch or two.

I realized one interesting thing related to my birthday, though. 40 years old is the youngest age that I truly remember my dad being. Oh, he's still alive and kicking, so this isn't some memoir about a father long since past. But when I think back to my childhood, I realize he was 40 when I was ten years old, and I don't really remember any time when he was younger than that. For some reason, this strikes me as important. I think I know why, too. According to my own brain and memories, my dad's life began thirty years ago, when he turned 40. This means I'm just getting started, as well. And I've got nothing to complain about. Well, except that I need a new belt.