21st century at last

I’ve been a bit bummed that neither Dish Network (who we’ve used) nor Direct TV have gotten close to delivering high definition local channels. Direct TV said they were planning mid-year 2005, but still nothing. So I’ve been following the introduction of Verizon’s new fiber optic service. They’ve had high speed internet in our area since the spring, but they just started carrying cable. I was curious about it, then I got a letter offering two free months of cable. They even gave me a month of free internet if I installed it at the same time. Sold!

So they were here Tuesday installing it. It took all day – they got here around 9 in the morning and left at 8:30 in the evening. The phone and internet went smoothly, the problem was the new high definition set top boxes. They tried three of the ones I was supposed to get without success. Finally they gave me a high definition set top box with a DVR, and the second one of that finally worked. It’s not clear if they’re going to try and charge me a monthly fee after the trial is over, but everything’s working well now. Err – except I’m not actually watching their high definition output, because now I have two HDMI sources (cable and DVD) and my TV only has one HDMI in, so I ordered a switcher yesterday. Hopefully it will arrive soon, then I’ll do the final rewiring of the entertainment center. Only bad thing is they still don’t have local CBS yet. But since I’m only watching one show on CBS right now (Threshold, which moves to Tuesday next week), it’s not a big deal.

Jill wasn’t very happy about having to be around home all day, but she’s already loving the internet. She despised dialup (not a multitasker like me, and it would frequently kick her off for being idle), and it’s much faster than what she’s used to (we’ve got the low end plan – up to 5 Mbps downstream/2 Mbps upstream). My only issue was Mozilla not working, which has been fixed (I thought there might be some weird proxy setting, turns out I had the work settings on, but I downloaded SeaMonkey anyway).

Dar-ry Dar-ry night or the healing power of music

With my neck sprain still on the mend, I figured I had a 50/50 shot of the chiropractor Monday morning making it better or worse, and I gambled wrong. I was feeling pretty nauseous most of the day, but we had VIP tickets to see Girlyman and Dar Williams at the Birchmere, and I didn’t want to miss it. Jill drove, and we got there (even with the messy traffic) in plenty of time. On her tour, Dar’s been doing meet and greets with local charities at each stop. When we saw them at the 9:30 they were doing one, but after the show, and since we left early to go see “MirrorMask”, it didn’t work out. I wanted to do it, though, so we did. The charity this time was the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, which takes at-risk kids and through boat building teaches them carpentry, and also offers tutoring to help them get GEDs. The nice thing was they had reserved seats (the people in the front tables had been waiting since 2:30), so we were able to get there later and still have good seats. Food and drinks were included, and we chatted with some of the folks who work at the foundation (although I don’t know if we could swing helping out there – it took us nearly an hour and a half just to get to Alexandria). We split the chicken caesar salad and a cheesburger.

The show was amazing. Girlyman and Dar were our two big discoveries at Falcon Ridge 2003, and we’ve only grown more fond of them over time. Girlyman had a nice set and I was particularly happy to hear “Amaze Me” (I’ve seen both Dar and Girlyman 9 times, and this is one of my favorite Girly-songs and only the second time they’ve played it). I’ve got to admit I’d prefer to hear originals over the opening and closing covers of “Born At The Right Time” and “Son Of A Preacher Man”, but the audience very much got into it, and I am a believer in having the opening band do at least one cover so they do at least one song you’re familiar with. And “Son Of A Preacher Man” was more of a party anthem than usual with Dar and some of her band joining in.

It was Dar the majority of the crowd was there for, and she was fantastic. Some of the volunteers for the foundation weren’t familiar with Dar, so we were telling them she’s a folksinger. Which she is, but we were forgetting she had the band with her, and the additional textures they bring out in her music brings to mind why I think eddie from ohio is a better band since Robbie started playing electric guitar. Ben Butler is a great guitartist, and let us know it from right when the band came in during “Comfortably Numb”, doing a great David Gilmour impersonation. Julie Wolf was essential on keyboards and backing vocals. Even when the rest of the band left, she laid down a rich counterpoint to Dar with her guitar. And Dar was her usual funny, talkative, bubbly self. I know I’ve heard some of the introductions to these songs before, but she always has a way to make it feel fresh. Bringing Girlyman back out to sing backup on four songs was great as well, added to Ben and Julie it felt like a choir sometimes, especially on “Iowa”.

Afterwards they had wine and coffee for the meet and greet – no water, and Jill’s said of the Birchmere’s coffee “it tastes like it was filtered through a washrag”. But meeting Dar was fun, and we got our picture taken with her. It was my first time meeting her (Jill got a chance at this year’s Falcon Ridge), and she was just as nice to talk to in person as she seems on stage – very genuine. It was only on the way home I realized I hadn’t felt nauseous since we’d arrived, and I’m feeling better today – music might be better than laughter to heal.

Taking it easy

So sometime Tuesday I managed to reinjure that neck/back thing from earlier in the summer. It got worse until I was in agony on Thursday. I went to see Tamsin on Friday for some neurosoma (since I had the day off). She said it would get worse before it got better, and she was right – I didn’t do much but lie on the couch and sleep for the last 48 hours, but I needed it. Jill finished her class assignments, and Illa got lots of belly rubs, and I read comics and watched TV. Nice to have a 3 day weekend, and I’m starting to feel normal again. In fact, we’re goiing to go outside and gather firewood now, then it’s time for some football.

Books read on the cruise

The Prisoner by Thomas Disch
A sequel to the great TV series, confusing at first (like the show).

Paint Your Dragon by Tom Holt
Love this guy, Douglas Adams meets Terry Pratchett. The story is about the modern day reappearance of St. George and the Dragon. Very funny stuff.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Picked this up in London – signed! Love the movie, but never got around to reading it. Great, feels like a cousin of the movie.

Perdido Street Station by China Mievielle
I had bought this at a signing several years back after a glowing Neil Gaiman quote. A great book, long one (700+ pages), but it grabs you with an intriguing viewpoint on aliens. Shouldn’t have waited so long to read it.

Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale
Because every vacation needs some horror/western.

Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King
Funny story, reproduced in here are the three stories originally released only in audio as “Smoke and Mirrors”. When I got my laser eye surgery done to correct my vision, I thought it would be a good idea to have an audio book to listen to as I wouldn’t be able to read or watch TV that night. Word to the wise – not being able to see is not the way to experience those particular stories – I about jumped out of my skin every time the house creaked.

Also read 2 Entertainment Weeklys and Thursday’s Post.

Stoopid camera (MiniDV JVC GRD70)

When I went to use my camcorder Sunday night, I got a repeating message reading “CONDENSATION, OPERATION PAUSED”, then “PLEASE WAIT” on the screen and the camera would not operate, except to add or remove a tape. The picture mode was working, but I could not record or playback video. This message kept coming up throughout the evening – I blew on the innnards, even took it up on deck to give it an airing out, but the message remained for the next couple days, until I checked it after we got home, and it was gone. I’d gotten it once before, but it had gone away, but this bugged me so I went Googling in search of answers.

And the solution is:
1. Clean off the moisture sensor with a Q-tip and Windex.
2. Don’t use Sony DV tapes as they cause a problem as they put a lubricant on the tapes which causes the JVC camera heads to get dirty.

I’m not surprised that the moisture sensor could get dirty, but I’m shocked that all DV tapes are not the same. I’ve gone through life expecting that audio tapes, video tapes, CDs and DVDs are all compatible and only differ by the quality of manufacture, so this is new to me. I’m going to try and burn DVDs of my Sony tapes first, so I won’t have to use them again.

Edhead cruise IV

I was up way too late Wednesday night. There was packing, web surfing, laundry, DVD burning, and TV watching to do, and I only got about an hour and a half of sleep. We caught a cab to Dulles, and checked in and got through security quickly. The big question in our minds was if Julie would be joining us on the cruise. That was quickly answered in the affirmative, as Joe and Kitty Murphy (her dad and mom) were on our flight down, and they let us know she’d be coming. We were pretty happy about that, and the flight was uneventful. We took a taxi to the cruise pier, where we had a slight delay as both of us had lost our sunglasses (I need a subscription to a sunglass a month club), and we went one at a time to buy some from a cart in a nearby mall. The band had pulled up in a giant limo while we were waiting, as well as our friends Janice and Stuart and Jill’s mom Sue and her husband Dave. We were bringing them on the cruise as a combined birthday/anniversary/Christmas present, kinda like my parents and I did for sister the last time (though last time I’d really thought it out and at Christmas, my sister got an unmarked videotape that when she played it had Robbie from the band saying “Sharon, you’re going on the cruise!”).

We made it on the ship by 1, and headed up to the Lido deck to grab some lunch with Sue and Dave. We were both sleepy after that, and we headed to our room to nap. We got up in time to make the cocktail party in the Rock & Roll Disco (it was promptly pointed out that Rock & Roll Disco is an oxymoron). The only time we’d get free drinks, we took full advantage of it. It was good catching up with people we hadn’t seen since the last cruise, but we were a little buzzed by the time dinner rolled around. Our tablemates were Andrea and her mother Linda, and Jim and his wife Jen and her parents. Ironically, Jim was ready to propose to his wife on the last cruise, but I’d stolen his thunder with my proposal, and he’d done it shortly after the cruise. They’d gotten married the day after us (and the same day as our friends Meg and Jeremy) as well. It was a good table, and I believe I had steak that night. We went to bed shortly after dinner – the nap wasn’t that long.

Friday we didn’t sleep too long in the morning as we’d gone to bed so early, and made breakfast in the dining room. I had to have some eggs benedict – very tasty, and Jill had french toast. We went up to the spa and made plans for a couples massage the next day after we returned to ship, as well as a facial for Jill. I went on deck to read for a bit, then grabbed a reuben from the deli and went back to the room to read, but napped instead while Jill napped for a bit then went to tea with Sue. Got up in time to dress partially for dinner (it was formal night) and get my video camera ready for the show. The night before at the cocktail party, we’d been given a slip of paper and told to vote for two songs. We’d formed a block with Sue and Dave and all voted for “Hole Hearted” and “Woman Of Faith”. “Hole Hearted” is their cover of the Extreme song. I’d heard it on the last, epic show at the Bad Habits club they played every Tuesday for 6 years, and had only heard it once at Falcon Ridge in 2003, but the wind and bit of rain that day made a less than pristine recording. “Woman Of Faith” is Jill’s favorite efo song (and the one I’d proposed before), but they hadn’t played it since Robbie’s divorce (he wrote it for his wife), and thought that would fall into the “Hell no” category of songs (the other two being “ok” and “We can’t remember it”). They played “Hole Hearted” during the first show (whole set here), and as usual a parody song about the cruise (“Sailing With The Edheads”, to the tune of “Number Six Driver”). A good show, but we had to hurry to get to dinner on time.

Dinner was ok – I had a lobster tail that wasn’t very fresh, but I smothered it in butter, and had a bit of Jill’s prime rib. After dinner, we went to the Candelight Lounge for karaoke, and much cattiness back where we were. Except when Robbie and Julie went up to sing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”. We also went down to the piano bar (the scene of much activity on the previous cruise) to check out Robert and his talents. We ended up not spending as much time in there as some, but we were still pretty busy. We stayed up for the grand buffet at 12:30, which was ok, and went promptly to bed as we had an early wakeup.

Saturday morning we docked at Progreso, Mexico. We had room service deliver breakfast as we didn’t think we’d have time to make the buffet (and we were right, though cereal wasn’t what I consider a cruise breakfast, though the muffins and bacon Sue brought back helped). We were off the ship by 9ish and waited for a couple minutes for the rest of our party before boarding a bus to the Mayan ruins at Dzibilchaltun (pronounced d-zeeble-chall-toon). There was also a trip to the legendary ruins at Chichen Itza, but that was a 2.5 hour bus ride each way. 50 minutes was much more our style. Funniest line was Dave’s when we got off the bus: “They tell us to stay away from the water in Mexico, and the first thing they do is give us water!” (it was bottled). Our guide, Dario, was of Mayan ancestry himself, and was extremely informed and passionate about his ancestors. He may have been more interesting than the ruins, actually. They were still pretty cool, but I got hot with the cast and full backback, and the “swimming hole” wasn’t very attractive. After the first hour and a half, the tour was done and we had a another hour and a half of free time. We went back to the entrance where there was a restaurant on the second floor (Xlakah, means “old town”), and had a couple of local beers and Jill had nachos. Then we had some margaritas made with some local tequila. After the tour, they dropped us off on the pier next to the ship where they had some shops. I was looking for some coconut rum for a coworker, but all they had was Bacardi. Plenty of tequila, but I’ll never drink it straight again (bad experience in college) and I’m not that picky about margaritas (although thr one we’d had that day was mighty tasty, but I was hot and sweaty).

Back on the ship, we showered and changed for our massage. It was the first time we’d done that, and it was different having each other there, but not very romantic. Of course, the fact that I fell asleep as usual may have had something to do with that. Afterwards, Jill stayed for her facial and I went up to the cabin to read. We joined our table for dinner, and Jill took one look at the menu and informed me I’d start with the duck entree as an appetizer, then have the caesar salad and finally the chateaubriand. I looked, said “damn you” and let her order. It was good, the best meal I had on the ship. We went over to karaoke, but not much was going on, and we wandered around for a while until the party on the Lido deck started. We stayed until the Mexican buffet started, then took it back to the cabin. It was better than the grand buffet the night before. We thought about going to bed, but got a second wind and joined the Edheads still on deck as they went back to pizza and chatted until it was pretty late.

Sunday morning we slept in. I slept ’til almost 11 and hurried to make the debarkation talk, but Sue was there and caught the beginning. When I got back to the cabin, Jill was still asleep and I woke her as she’d said she wanted to join us for lunch. After lunch, I went up to the back of the Vernanda deck with the other Edheads and read and chatted while Jill went to play bingo with Sue. I got hungry and grabbed another reuben on the way down to the cabin. I ate it, changed, then joined Jill in the hot tub. They’ve got hot tubs next to the pools, but those are filled with seawater and are cool, not good unless you’re hot. Before we got our massage, we’d discovered that in back they had a real hot tub, so we soaked for a while in them, then went downstairs. I started reading and got caught up in my book and had to rush to change, only to be completely pissed off during the show as my video camera stubbornly refused to work (more about that in a later entry). On previous cruises, they’d had a long electric show and a shorter acoustic show. Due to Julie’s condition, they’d decided to do two electric shows, about the same length (about an hour and a half) as the acoustic show. One new thing they did this year was have a raffle to do efo karaoke, where the male and feamle winner came up and sang with the band. The winners were pretty good (can’t remember their names), especially the lady who killed on “Independence, Indiana”. Julie wore her blond wig for “New James Bond” (though she didn’t need it) and wore it for the rest of the show, bringing on a lot of picture taking. They had a question and answer session in the middle (mostly the standard questions about the name and meeting, but they did tell a new story about playing the same places the Dave Matthews Band, only to play a dive in Annapolis one night in 1994 to a small crowd, then seeing Dave Matthews Band on Saturday Night Live that night. They did end the show with an off mike “Walk Humbly, Son” that was moving, but I was still ticked about the camera. We went to dinner for the last time (more steak), then the football obsessed among us hotfooted it upstairs for the remaining 2/3s of the Skins/Eagles matchup. Eddie and Stuart were smoking Cuban cigars (last night so they had to be smoked), and Bob joined us as well. Good game as it came down to the wire as McNabb almost had a comeback to tie it before a final interception sealed it for the Skins. After that, we went to the Lido deck for some pizza (and I had a sundae), before joining the crowd in the piano bar. We closed it down and went to the Rock & Roll Disco for a couple minutes, but the hiphop was a bit much (and loud) and we were tired.

When we got up Monday the boat had docked, and we hurried to a final breakfast (more eggs benedict) before departing. It was pretty easy, then we called the hotel we were staying at and they sent a shuttle. They let us check in early and we went to our rooms. Jill just zonked out while I read. She’s asked me to get her up in an hour, but she didn’t want to then and I gave her an extra hour. We were in historic Ybor City and wandered around there. Jill and Sue went for coffee at El Molino (and Jill got some shipped home) while Dave and I went to Gameworks, where he whooped my ass at racing (big NASCAR fan) but I ruled at air hockey, even when Jill tried to take me on. We walked around and were getting hungry, so we stopped at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company for dinner. A bit loud at first due to some morons at the bar, we got a table in the rear and that was better. The beer and food was amazing – don’t miss the Warthog (a dunkelweizen) or the pizza. Serious food coma afterwards, we went back to the hotel and watched TV (switching between Titanic, Family Guy, and Monday Night Football).

Tuesday morning we went out around 9:30 to a crepes place. Jill hadn’t had crepes before, and these were pretty good. I was just disappointed the breakfast one I had filled me up, and I wasn’t able to get a sweet one. We checked out of the hotel, got a cab to the airport, and left Sue and Dave (they left from a different terminal). We checked in, got through security, and had a nice flight back.

No more NIN

Tonight we went to Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails. We got there during the middle of QOTSA’s set, that was fine. NIN was great, but some asshats behind us got into it, and one guy started a fight 3 times, the third time falling into our row (alcohol may have been involved). Security finally dragged him away after that (and we were nicely splashed with beer, and Jill bruised her wrist). Needless to say, Jill’s seen her last NIN show, and I might have too. Although we did stay for the amazing punch of “Wish” and “Only” back to back, that was pretty cool.

She actually said “no more heavy metal shows” – I didn’t have the heart to correct her at the time that industrial was kind of a reaction against heavy metal.

Gone to the Dark Side, I have

I feel dirty now. I’ve been boycotting Wal-Mart since they banned Sheryl Crow’s 1996 self-titled CD because of the lyrics in “Love is a Good Thing,”: “Watch out sister/Watch out brother/Watch our children as they kill each other/with a gun they bought at the Wal-Mart discount stores.” I was ok with them banning music for adult content – that’s a choice, but for me, that crossed the line into censorship.

But this week, Star Wars Episode III was released, and Wal-Mart has an exclusive bonus disc. So I went in, got it, bought it, and was out in 5 minutes. It felt wrong, though. Not wrong enough not to have the bonus disc, though. Ok, being the best of the prequels still doesn’t mean that much, but the reviews I’ve read say the audio and video quality alone is the new benchmark by which to measure DVDs, and the bonus disc has a look back at the classic trilogy (ok, I’m still addicted).

Interestingly, Sheryl’s reconsidered since:

Griffin Dunne: [laughs] I remember when you took on Wal-Mart in the lyrics to your song “Love is A Good Thing” (“Watch our children while they kill each other I With a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores”) a couple of years ago. That was really cool.

SC: You know what’s weird about that? I read recently in the L.A. Times where Wal-Mart has kind of readdressed their position on it [gun sales]. They’re being tighter than the laws actually require, and [Attorney General John] Ashcroft is up in arms. What used to happen is that if your approval, or whatever it is, didn’t come up in the allotted time, they’d just give you a gun anyway. They’d assume you were going to clear, or that the delay meant it was clearing. Now Wal-Mart’s saying that if the approval doesn’t come through, they’re not going to give you a gun at all, and Ashcroft is having a hissy fit about it. It’s a really responsible position for Wal-Mart to take. And in a weird way, it’s kind of validating that song.

GD: It really put a focus on them.

SC: It did. But unfortunately, a huge amount of record sales were lost, because in towns like my hometown, only Wal-Mart sells music.

On the other hand, they’ve also banned Jon Stewart’s America (The Book) because of the Photoshopped nude picture of the Supreme Court lineup. And there’s that whole killing off mom and pop stores and not paying their employees enough to afford their own health care plan. I don’t know, maybe I’ll shop there if I have to, but I’m used to doing most of my offline shopping at Best Buy and Target these days.