The Day My Life Changed – Part 11: Don’t Look at Your Own Head Scan Without a Pro

If you missed my experience with the MRI on Friday, it’s right here in Part 10.

So obviously, when we got home with the disk, we threw it in a laptop drive to see what we could see, like The Bear that Went Over the Mountain. The software to read the scan files was on the disk along with all of the scan files. Convenient. So, we looked at my brain. It looked like a brain. But, paranoia drew my eyes to the asymmetry.

“There’s this cavity on both sides of my brain, but it’s slightly larger on the left than the right! What does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?”

“…” Jennifer, “maybe it means your brain is broken and you’re insane.”

“That’s not really up for question, though, is it?”

When Jennifer drove me in for my EEG, I was obviously getting tired of tests, but trying to be a good sport and find the entertainment value. They’d told me that I had to get up at 6:00, no coffee, fast, and go in with clean hair, because they were going to stick a bunch of probes on my head. I did them one better and shaved my head the night before. The waiting room was small. Everything felt small. I felt small. There was another couple in the waiting room. He had one of those old lady walkers with the seat, and he was on an oxygen bottle. There was also a plant in the waiting room. I’m pretty sure there were magazines, but nothing that I wanted to read. After what seemed like an eternity waiting, I got called in. The tech/nurse/professional (I don’t even know what to call these people anymore) was a cute little black gal. She led the two of us to the testing room and directed me to a chair. Before she started wiring me up, she told Jennifer that she’d have to go back to the waiting room.

She started attaching the little sticky probe pads to my head, “clean shaved, making my day!”

“Well,” I said, “I usually keep it shaved. I was getting a little fuzzy, and I thought this might make your job easier.”

I knew that they’d put probes on my head. I do have Google, after all. But, I was thinking like six to eight probes. It took her a good twenty minutes to wire me up, because she stuck no fewer than a bajillion of those little sticker probes all over my head, my face, my neck, my chest… Why are you probing my nipples to scan my brain? the first part of the test was clearly to get me relaxed. She turned the lights off and told me to close my eyes. Get your brain out of the gutter. She did NOT light candles NOR put on romantic music. Next, I was instructed to hyperventilate. This also made sense. Brain, sleep deprived, no caffeine, relaxing, oxygenated. Sure, if they’re going to induce a seizure-like state so they can scan my brainwaves through my nipples, then all else they’d need is flashing lights, right? Oh. So, that was the next step. She had me close my eyes again and there was a strobe in my face that went at various intervals. The pattern got to the point that I knew what interval was coming next. Although my eyes were closed, the strobe was intense enough to see through my eyelids. Once the test was finally done, Jennifer drove me home.

I talked to Doc Neuro. He had The Disk in his computer in the examination room. We may or may not have copied said disk. Hey, we paid a lot of money for that disk! Spinning his mouse wheel, he noted, “yeah, your brain looks normal. It looks fine. And, these images are sharp! I can see you’ve got some sinus congestion, but you live in Oklahoma, and most of us have sinus congestion this time of year. I can prescribe something for that, if you’d like.”

To see what happened next, come back tomorrow for Part 12.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 2: That Morning

If you missed yesterday’s post, with the backdrop to this crazy story, you can find it here.

Fast forward through the week. On Thursday, April 27, Jennifer and I intended to get to bed early, as we were planning to get up entirely earlier than we ever do, unless we intend to harvest venison. We didn’t get to bed early. I don’t even remember why. But, one way or another, shiny happened, and we stayed up later than intended. So, Friday morning, on April 28, 2017, the alarm went off at 4:30 or some God-awful time that I didn’t know they even made an “a.m.” for. We zombied our way out of bed, dressed our corpses, made coffee, and motored over to the storage unit. I’m pretty sure we got there at 5:30. Nobody else was there. So, we sat in the car with the windows down, enjoying the cool breeze, still trying to wake up, waiting for our young compatriots to join us. When 6:00 rolled around, we were still the only ones there. I started making phone calls and social media messages. I got a message back from the other RGS founding member.

“Um, the storage place doesn’t even open until 7:00. You might go grab breakfast,” his message read.

Well, crap. There was a McDonald’s about a half-mile down the street. When we got to the drive-through, Jennifer requested her regular Egg McMuffin with hash browns and coffee. I ordered a large Coke.

Jennifer asked, “you aren’t going to order food?”

“My stomach isn’t awake this early,” I answered, “I need more caffeine.”

So, Jennifer started munching on her food, and I started sipping on my drink, “my taste buds must not be awake either; this Coke tastes funny.” But, I kept drinking it.

By 7:00, other volunteers started rolling in, along with the rental truck. When I say “rental truck,” I don’t mean the half-ton you can get by the hour at Home Depot, or even the full-size box truck you can rent from Uhaul. I’m talking about a commercial Isuzu NPR. I don’t know what size engine it had, but I’m pretty sure it was the 5.2L. Big. Truck. As the sun rose, we loaded the truck with arcade cabinets, display cases, shelves, rubber balls, and miscellaneous stuff. I took some time lapse video of us loading the truck. I was starting to feel a little more awake; less numb, less tired. It actually felt good to get the door closed and latched on the truck. The first aforementioned founding RGS member approached me again.

“So,” he said, “all of us came in cars individually.”

“uhuh,” I said. I had a feeling I knew where this was going.

“So, I wondered,” he requested, “if you could drive the truck to the Fairgrounds… Because you’re the only ones who came in a car as a group…”

Crap. That’s where I thought this was going. I’d never driven anything as big as that stupid truck. For a time, I drove a one-ton diesel box truck a hundred miles, twice a day. I got cut off by Mini Coopers in that thing. They were nearly crushed like bugs. When I was a teenager, I drove a 1978 Lincoln Mark V. 6500-lbs, 18-ft long, 6.5-ft wide, 460 V8. I put SEVEN THOUSAND MILES on a Ford E350 Super Duty in TWO WEEKS. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not at all unfamiliar with large vehicles. But, that NPR was notably bigger than anything I’d been behind the wheel of. I was uncomfortable.

“I don’t really want to…” I looked at Jennifer.

She threw her hands in the air, “don’t look at me!” she said.

He said, “we really need you do do this.”

I was still sleepy enough that I couldn’t think of any good excuses, or simply say something to the effect of, “eff no.”

“You lead in the car,” I told Jennifer, “take the interstate, but stick to the right lane, and let’s not top 45mph. Please.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the hilarious and harrowing trip in the giant truck in Part 3.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 1: Background

I’ve been actively taking first responder training for my whole life. I was in first-aid classes as a child. in my adult life, I’ve taken classes in CPR, AED, etc… For that matter, I know how to properly apply a tourniquet or chest seal. I’ve been taught how to respond to someone having a seizure. Jennifer and I have had opportunity to respond to other individuals seizing on two separate occasions. Thinking back, we could have responded better, but to my knowledge, both individuals made through it just fine. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, right? So, I’ve seen seizures, but I had no idea what recovery was like.

Also, I’ve been healthy my entire life. I’m 39. I once had a baby tooth extracted, but I’ve never had surgery. I had a green stick fracture in a finger as a small child, when my finger got slammed in the back side of a door at church, but I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had cuts and scrapes, but I’ve never had stitches. I’m not on any medications, and I have no significant allergies. Any time I’ve filled out a medical screening, it’s been “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no….”

I’m redacting and/or changing names here, as I’ve asked no permissions, with the exception of my lovely wife, with whom I’ve been discussing this post for quite some time. Also, I won’t swear that any of this is perfectly accurate, but my memory and perception of events.

About four years ago, our teenage son asked about “vintage or retro video games, you know, the old ones…” So, Jennifer and I dug through our parents’ attics and got out our Atari 2600s, her original Nintendo NES, my original XBOX, and whatever other goodies we could find. The three of us got to playing the oldies. I went on a mission to the junk shops and garage sales, and wound up expanding the collection of stuff. It was good times. Jennifer forwarded me an email from work, in which they mentioned Super! BitCon, an upstart, local video game convention. Ticket prices were cheap, and they advertised an emphasis on older video games. We had to go. We spent entirely too much money. If memory serves me correctly, the first SNES game I ever purchased was “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” in 2014. It was wonderful. After the event, I did a little social digging and we wound up involved with the Okc chapter of Retro Gamer’s Society (which is the original chapter, IIRC).

By the second year of Super! BitCon, Jennifer and I were the official leads of the Photography Team for the convention. That first (second) year, I didn’t have my own DSLR, so I borrowed my Dad’s first or second generation Canon Rebel with its kit lenses. The building was dark, and I felt totally outclassed, watching other photographers with their bleeding-edge Nikon and Canon gear. Regardless, I worked the aging gear and captured some beautiful and compelling images. There was already a spark telling me that I needed to pursue professional imagery work. This pretty well ignited the fire that pushed me down that rabbit hole.

So, for the last three years of Super! BitCon, we have been not only Photography Lead, but regular, workhorse volunteers for the convention. Fast forward to Saturday, April 22, 2017. We attended the final preparation meeting for the con. We had assembled our photography team. We were pensively ready. I was confident in the members of our team, but we were rag-tag. There were people that I wanted to get for the (fully volunteer) team that couldn’t make it, and one or two that I hadn’t initially counted on that jumped into the fray. We were good to go, though. As the other volunteers were shuffling out of the conference room to enjoy what was left of their Saturday, one of the club’s founding members caught my attention.

“What are you doing at six in the morning on Friday?” he asked me.

I laughed, “sleeping. That was my plan, anyway. Why? What do you have in mind?”

He tipped his head and said, “I wouldn’t not want you to be at the storage unit to help load the truck.”

“Hmmm…” I sighed, “I think we can probably work that out.”

Please do come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about how that morning played out, in Part 2.

Interesting Times. But, Let’s Not Talk Politics.

It seems that cycling has become a more popular hobby of late, in my hometown anyway, but I suspect the local is not a completely unique sample section. Sure, I have memories from childhood of the group of Sunday cyclers who would clog local roadways in their tour around town, but it seems that more and more regular people are making a more regular habit of donning their cycling uniforms and taking to the streets on their bikes. A friend of my parents, who is a local restaurant owner, regularly bikes fifty or so miles around the metro area. My brother recently purchased himself a new bicycle that he rides around the University campus from class to class. I still have my Grandpa’s old Peugeot that I’d like to restore; I just wouldn’t mind spending some time on two wheels again, as it’s been since my teens that I last really rode a bike on a regular basis.

They are fascinating devices. Today’s carbon fiber wonders with intricate gearing mechanisms make my childhood Huffy look like a dinosaur. The Oklahoma Museum of Science has a small but interesting exhibit of historical bicycles. Although it almost seems there is more lore about the origins of the bicycle than history, it is widely accepted that the first one was invented in 1817 in Germany by Charles, Baron Von Drais. Unlike the modern bicycles that we know, this early example had no drive mechanism, but did sport a padded seat and a steerable front wheel. To all you cyclists out there, did you realize that your hobby turns 200 next year?

Back when foundational garments for women included girdles, these now archaic garments were being made from rubber up until the material was in a shortage due to the efforts in World War II. In response to the rubber shortage, Dr. Joseph Shivers, PhD, working for DuPont, began research to develop a new material that could be used as a replacement for rubber in clothing. Through much effort and perseverance, and over a decade later, he and his team invented “Fiber K,” which was renamed “Lycra.” This fiber stretches up to 600% and returns to its original length, in a slimmer, lighter, and more breathable package than its rubber predecessor. Over the course of the next few decades, Lycra, or Spandex, found its way into specialized garments and textiles in applications so varied and vast that I doubt Dr. Shivers himself could have imagined the impact.

Sometime in the 1970s, purpose-made cycling clothing was made from Spandex blends for competitive cycling. Over the subsequent decades, these clingy garments have trickled from the race track to the aforementioned town cruisers. As I wrote in the original paragraph above, regular people will put on their cycling uniform to pedal the local streets. So essentially, for well over 150-years, people managed to enjoy cycling without junk-hugging Spandex. But, my how times have changed! Now we live in a world where it’s hard to go into a coffee shop without seeing some folks nonchalantly meandering about in their skin-tight bike outfits. That stuff leaves nothing to the imagination!

I kid, of course. At least these people are generally in better shape than your average Walmart shopper. As much as I like to rail on people for fashion (not pants!), I honestly don’t care what people choose to wear. Apparently, there are good reasons to go Spandex if you’re biking the long haul well beyond looks or aerodynamics. Heck, maybe I need to get Grandpa’s Peugeot up and running so I too can justify wandering into the bagel shop clad in nothing but skin-tight Spandex and a pair of Oakleys. I think Grandpa would roll over in his grave.

Local Police – But Let’s Not Talk Politics

I was really looking forward to this election cycle; not looking forward to the results, mind you, as I’m pretty sure the results will be disastrous one way or another. But, the cycle itself, campaigning and drama, it really seemed like it would be great blog fodder. But then, there was just too much material. We all knew campaigning for the general election would get juicy, but this is like trying to drink from a fire hose! I was freaking overwhelmed. So, as to politics, we now have to decide if we’re going to vote for the old, rich, corrupt narcissist, trying to put on a show for the common man, or the old, corrupt narcissist, trying to put on a show for the common man. Or, you could go third party and vote for the pothead, calling himself a libertarian, whose ideals are anything but libertarian. Except for the pot. And oddly, I don’t feel that any of the preceding is all that controversial. But, I said I wouldn’t get into politics, and so I digress…

There have been some palpable changes in our local police department over the last few years. A few years ago, they replaced all the motorcycles in my hometown with these souped up BMWs that have some kind of biometric lock that secures their short barreled ARs to the back fender. How a rifle makes any kind of tactical sense when you’re on a motorcycle is completely beyond me, but they look cool, and I haven’t heard of any hi jinx associated therewith, so I suppose it’s all good. I tried to get an in, to go take pics and blog about the new bikes, because they’re cool, but the receptionist simply took my name and number, and I never heard back from them. *Eek!* That probably means I’m on some list somewhere, of citizens who are just a little too curious about the cops and their motorcycles with mounted SBRs. In the past I’ve had contacts with the local PD that made me nervous, but those are stories for another time. More recently, in fact the last two contacts that I’ve had, however, have been nothing short of exemplary. Put that eyebrow down. One was when I rolled over grass in the median to get in the turn lane (there was no curb at the intersection) and the other was for a burned out tail light bulb. It’s not like I’ve been smoking my tires or drifting through intersections. These were two different officers, and I wish I’d gotten their names so I could publicly laud them, because they were both the shining example of how an official contact should go. They were both appropriately respectful, professional, enthusiastic, and downright understanding. The latter (for the tail light) even went so far as to say, “thank you for carrying a gun. Good people like you, carrying, only make my job easier, so please keep that up.” Yeah. It’s little things like this that make endear me to my hometown.

We don’t watch much TV; heck, we don’t even get broadcast television in our home. Pretty much all we watch is on YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime Video. However, I’ll catch a news broadcast every once in a great while at the house of a family member, or in a public space. Anytime there’s a local event that calls the local media to ask for a statement from the police, it seems like two personalities show up over and over again. There’s a female officer whose name escapes me, but she stands out because of her looks and screen presence. She just has the happiest, most pleasant-looking face you could imagine. She’s got the semi-circle, anime eyes, and bright smile. She really looks like a live-action anime girl stuffed into a police uniform. And, she’s always bright and bubbly on screen. Even when they’ve called upon her to talk about something unpleasant, she manages to deliver in a pleasant manner, still paying due gravity to the situation at hand. You wouldn’t mind getting pulled over by her. When she asked for your license and insurance verification, you’d say, “d’awwww! Yes, ma’am.” I tried to ID her on a Google search, but to no avail. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty obvious why the PD throws her in front of the camera over and over when the media comes a-knockin’.

The other regular Okc TV spokesman that comes to mind is Captain Steve McCool. Don’t bother to image search him, just read his name again. Out loud. Captain Steve McCool. Captain McCool is always… well… cool. And to the point. Whenever he comes on the screen though, Jennifer and I will say in unison, “Captain Steve McCool!” with great emphasis. I can just imagine little seven-year-old Stephen (Steven?) McCool, riding down the street on his bicycle, thinking to himself, “self, with a name like yours, you’re destine for greatness! Someday, I’m going to make Captain in the police department.” I mean, seriously! With that title and name, he sounds bigger than life! Captain Steve McCool sounds like he should be the main character in a spy movie, as a cartoon cat! He sounds like he should be the captain of some great airship, blowing villains out of the sky with cannon fire. I’m just saying the guy has a cool name. I’ll bet he still got made fun of for his name when he was a kid though. If you never got made fun of for your name growing up, please tell me about it in the comments section. Kids can be such little jerks.

The first car I bought after Jennifer and I got married was a 1983 Honda Civic Wagon. That was my second ’83 Civic Wagon, after I totaled my first, which was my first car. That’s a story unto itself. I cranked, wrenched, and painted on that second Wagon until she was cherry. We loved that car. I had her just about perfect when this sixteen-year-old girl in a Ford Expedition meandered into my lane through a curve and crunched the front fender and the edge of the hood. Subsequently, a friend gave me an ’82 Civic hatchback to use for spare parts. The hatchback was a complete car, and I drove it home. It seemed like a shame to strip the hatch for parts, so I sourced sheet metal to patch up the Wagon separately, and made the hatch into a toy. At first, I stiffened up the valvetrain on the original 1.5-liter engine, opened up the intake and exhaust, and stripped the interior and air conditioning, as well as some other tweaks here and there. The engine would redline at around 7,000-RPM, and would spin the front tires from 60-mph. The real trouble was, running it that hard, I couldn’t keep it in head gaskets; as in, every 5,000 or so miles, I’d change the oil and head gasket. So, I yanked the 1.8-liter engine out of a 1979 Accord and shoehorned it in. I truncated the exhaust from there and added a Weber carburetor and a cowl induction hood scoop. I know that’s a lot of lead up to the actual story, but please try to bear with me.

I’d been tinkering on the hatchback (we called her Medusa) one day, tweaking and adjusting this and that, and I wanted to see how my efforts would pan out in real life. So, I wheeled her out to the little road behind our neighborhood. I looked carefully to make sure that there were no other cars or pedestrians. And then, I romped on it. And, I upshifted and floored the throttle again. And then, I saw the cop car behind the trees. I immediately started to decelerate, and the red and blues pulled in behind me. “Yup, he got me,” I thought to myself, as I pulled over and shut off the rowdy four-cylinder. The officer who came to the window was an older gentleman with a pleasant demeanor. It was almost like he’d just walked off the set of the Andy Griffith Show.

“Good afternoon,” he said cheerfully, “I suppose you know why I’ve pulled you over today.”

“I have an idea,” I replied, handing him my license and insurance.

“I was sitting here, watching for drivers in violation of seat belt laws, so I wasn’t watching my radar,” he politely fished for admission, “so I don’t know how fast you were going, but the way you were accelerating, I’m pretty sure you had to be speeding.”

I smiled coolly, and admitted to nothing.

“Well,” he smiled back, handing me my license and insurance, “slow it down, and please be careful.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

In today’s day and age, the police are taking a brutal and unwarranted political beating. The vast majority of the police that I see in action are doing a fantastic job, too, both local and abroad. Of the interactions I’ve had with the police, only a small fraction of them have been negative in the least, and I’ve never been in fear for my own safety. I know I’m preaching to the choir for anyone who ever comes to my website, but I just had to put this out there. These men and women are doing a job that I, frankly, wouldn’t want to. Often times, when I see our local officers around town, doing their thing, I’ll give them a smile and wave. This is my little way of participating in Robert Peel’s Principles. “Hey, you, thanks for doing what you’re doing! Keep up the good work!” I know I said I was going to keep it unpolitical, and I’ve probably skirted politics a little too much by now, but whatever. To my friends in law enforcement, for those of you who I’m pretty sure will read this, as well as those of you that probably wont, thank you. There are plenty of us out here that won’t make the news that approve and appreciate you. Because we don’t block traffic or break windows, we are the silent majority. But, we are the majority, and we very much appreciate what you do. And, at the risk of getting too mushy, I’m just going to leave it at that.

Kilted to Kick Cancer 2015

Most of y’all already know that September means wearing a kilt. I wear a kilt to raise awareness and funding for male specific cancers. Yes, all September. Here I am at the liquor store:

DSCN0871

Why yes, I am carrying a .45 in that photo. The shop’s proprietor, “Mom,” asks me every year why I’m wearing a skirt in her hard Korean accent. I’ve tried to explain, but English is not her strongest understanding. This is just part of the job. Over the next thirty days, I hope you’ll support my efforts in this endeavor. There will be challenges and promotions. I’ll do stupid things to earn your sponsorship. Please be gentle. Go here: link. Donate and tag my name to your donation. It’s a great cause and we’ll have fun.

My Good Deed for the Year

In past years, our son has kind of lost his mind over summer breaks between school years, and the ensuing fall has been quite a struggle. So, in the last few years, I’ve assigned him projects to complete, not to fill up his break or keep him busy, but to keep the brain active. Two years ago, I had him write a research paper on the Soviet Union. Last summer, he read The Diary of Anne Frank and worked on video editing and digital music composition. This has successfully eased him into the last few school years, so I think we’ll keep doing this until graduation. This year’s project is to learn to design video games and Android development, with the end goal of publishing a downloadable game on Google Play. This assignment came with the disclaimer that I didn’t really know how much work that would entail, and if it turned out to be an unreasonable goal, we would reevaluate and revise if necessary.

This week Teen Bot is taking a video game design class. It’s a workshop offered to local area youth for four days this week for seven hours a day. Yesterday morning, I got up, took him to the grocery store to pack him a lunch, and dropped him off at the community center. I was quite excited for him, and admittedly a little nervous to entrust him to strangers. It’s odd how we as parents do that. I know full well that he’ll soon be an autonomous adult, but I still can’t help but be a little protective. I returned to pick him up in the afternoon, and he was excited to tell me about his day. He used some kind of game design program to make two video games, one of which includes three levels of play. Of course, I’m looking forward to hearing about today’s experiences this afternoon.

As we made our way home, he asked me, “did you see that phone back there?”

“No I didn’t,” I responded, “what and where?”

“There was a smart phone lying in the street right back there,” he said.

Imagining some deprecated piece of junk phone roadkill, I humored him, “do you want me to turn around and go back for it?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said.

So, I turned the truck around, and he pointed out the device in question, lying in the street as he said. As we passed it, it appeared to be intact. I turned around again and instructed him, “I’ll pull up, and you can reach out the door and pick it up.” When he retrieved the phone, we could see that it was an AT&T HTC in a sturdy case with a screen protector. This was clearly someone’s baby, not their beater. I don’t know the HTC models very well, but from the lack of wear, I would say that it was not very old. I figured once we got to the house, I’d try to figure out who it belonged to and reunite it with its owner.

When we got back to the house, Teen Bot began to gather the phone up with his lunch bag and other stuff. I stopped him and said, “why don’t you let me take care of that phone?” I took it back to my desk to try to figure out what to do with it. I thought maybe I’d browse the contacts and see if I could get in touch with a family member of the owner. When I hit the power button, it brought up a lock screen asking for a password. Great. A quick Google search gave a few suggestions on how to hack past the lock out, using a PC and Android exploits. Red flag. I pulled the case off of it to see if there was a serial number or other identifying marking in the battery compartment. Not being familiar with HTC products, it was not immediately clear how to open the battery cover. I put the case back on the phone, wondering what to do next.

And then it rang. The caller ID came up as just a number, evidently not in the contact list. I answered the phone in my friendliest, warmest tone, but there was no reply. “Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you, if you can hear me.” But, there was nothing on the other end: no voice, no background noise, just dead silence. A few minutes later, it rang once more. This time the caller ID read “mamma.” I attempted to answer it again in the same fashion as before, with the same results. When the phone disconnected, mamma began to call it incessantly. When I tried to answer it, I still got nothing. I tried to call the local AT&T store, but I wound up in automated-message, on-hold hell, with the classic, flat, female voice informing me that all customer service representatives were currently helping other customers. There were options that she suggested, but I missed them over the cacophony of mamma calling. “Teen Bot,” I said, “let’s take this phone down to the AT&T store and let them deal with it.”

As we drove the two miles, give or take, to the store, mamma continued to ring the phone, evidently as often as was possible to connect, go to voice mail, disconnect; lather, rinse, repeat. Arriving at the store, I expected them to be very busy after my failed phone call, but they were not. As I came through the door, a sales girl, Suzie or something, diligently approached me, no doubt hoping to score SPIFFs for selling me a new iPhone 5.1sx or Galaxy S23 along with a phat new contract. Before she could say anything, I presented the HTC to her, saying, “I found this laying in the street in my neighborhood, and somebody is going to want it back. Can you make that happen? It rang a couple times, and I tried to answer it, but…” Before I could finish, mamma cut me off as the phone rang yet again.

The sales girl answered it, saying, “this is Suzie at AT&T.” *pause* “I work at the AT&T store on Blank Street.” *pause* “Yes, your phone was just turned in.” *pause* “Blank street.” *pause* “Well it’s here now, and you can come pick it up.”

I lipped “thank you” to her and left. Perhaps this will earn me some Karma points. I have to wonder what the story was on the other side. There weren’t any street rash marks on the phone or case. I can understand that stuff gets dropped by accident, but people are usually more careful with The Expensive New Toy, not that I’m being judgmental toward them. I wonder if they thought their phone had been stolen somehow, and the strange male voice coming from my end was the perpetrator of the crime. I hope not. Rather, I’d like to think that they were thankful to the anonymous stranger who went out of his way to protect their lost valuable property, and see that it was returned in a timely fashion. At the very least, I hope it made for a good story they can tell.

St. Paddy’s Day Cheer Aftermath

Oklahoma news station KOCO reports the following:

OKLAHOMA CITY —The Myriad Gardens says a synthetic, organic compound was the substance used to turn their water features green this weekend.

Fluorescein is a compound often used as a fluorescent tracer. It was used in 1962 to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Myriad Gardens officials said they will drain the lake to one-fourth its normal depth and will refill it using an underground stream and city water.

The garden is waiting on a final analysis because eventually the dyed water will be dumped into the city sewer system.

Garden officials said cleanup from the prank could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for the vandalism.

Alright, quit looking at me like that. Although I’d kind of like to claim credit for this ingenuous bit of hilarity, I haven’t been near the Myriad Gardens in years. The best prank I ever pulled off was when I parked a classmate’s car inside the band room in high school. We didn’t break or damage anything, and that was far more harmless fun, although the band director didn’t seem to appreciate it so much. But seriously, that’s a brilliantly demented mind that dumped fluorescein into a major water feature in the city to dye it green for the holiday! Whoever you are, well-played sir. But seriously, next time don’t do something that is so expensive to clean up and has the cops looking for you. 😯

*Corrected title to “Paddy’s” from “Patty’s.” Thanks for the catch, David. I can’t believe I did that!

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.

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And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.

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I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.

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I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.

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I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.

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When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.

FDE Is the New Black

It’s the new fad anyway. And, I don’t say that disparagingly. I think flat dark earth is cool when executed properly. You all know of Jennifer’s famous pistol.

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Heck, some of my favorite customers have FDE guns.

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And of course, Jennifer has been working on building her new rifle, based on an Aero Precision lower receiver finished in flat dark earth.

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She will certainly have something posted about her progress soon. I will throw in that this stripped lower is top notch. From what we can see so far, these things are hard to beat for the money.

But still, as cool as FDE guns are, this is a current trend. It’s a fashion. I suspect tack blactical will always be with us, even as manufacturers taper off their offerings of other trendy colors, just as automotive manufacturers tapered off production of tail fins as though they were an embarrassing piece of the past to be ashamed of. My parents once had a refrigerator in harvest gold that they had purchased new. Almost twenty years ago, it was still running like a top, but was horribly out of style. so, they had it refinished in white. It has since died and been replaced. A good refrigerator will last decades. A good gun will last several lifetimes. As people accumulate guns in pink, purple, flat dark earth, and olive drab, as opposed to the classics in stainless or blue, black and wood, will they ultimately fall out of fashion and look gauche or do these trendy colors have staying power?

In twenty years, will we see people painting black over their FDE guns? I certainly hope not! As I previously stated, guns last a long time. What is trendy today will fall out of fashion and look hokey; this is inevitable. However, let time continue to do its work beyond that, and it will come back around and rather than unfashionable, these guns will suddenly become retro. Jennifer and I nearly bought a house that had a complete kitchen straight from the harvest gold era. Only, the appliances were olive green. The tile was brown and the cabinets were all walnut stained. Although it was very dated, it was well done and clean enough to have charm in its apparent age. Had we purchased that home, we probably wouldn’t have changed a thing in the kitchen.

I didn’t have much experience with guns in FDE when OldNFO opened up his Pelican case of toys and pulled out his FNP45 Tactical. It was a full-on assault on the eyes. Although the action was tight, and the gun had an overall feel of quality and competency, it was that weird color: not quite brown, not quite green. He commented on how much he hated it, but not because of the color. It was because of the decocker. You can carry the gun cocked and locked, but as an avid 1911 shooter, OldNFO would hit the safety hard enough to decock the gun, defeating the purpose of carrying it ready for an initial single-action shot.

Contrary to his personal code, OldNFO sold us that gun, and Jennifer has loved it for the last two and a half years or so. I eventually got used to the color scheme. It’s gotten comments from fellow range patrons, blog meet goers, gun manufacturer reps, and others. In our stable, it is joined by Jennifer’s new rifle project in the same color scheme.

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There is not a doubt in my mind that these will go out of style and look goofy next to more classic offerings or whatever the new trend turns out to be, but I’m at complete peace with that. Just as it’s a conversation piece now, it will be a conversation piece in half a century, or probably even more so. Besides that, it’s fun to talk about an evil black rifle that isn’t black. Indeed, the next rifle I build will probably be in a funky color instead of Scary Black. Keep on buying those funky colors, and carry them proudly, even when they’re no longer cool!

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Sadly, Ruger has already abandoned the gold anodizing on their 22/45 LITE in lieu of a more easily marketable black anodizing. I will still cherish my obsolete gold model though, complete with the pink ivory grips I made to fit it. So, to celebrate the trends that will almost certainly fall by the wayside, I write these words while wearing my pale tan western boots with brown lizard wingtips. Where did I put my disco shirt anyway?