Saturday, June 16, 2007

Best Farewell Present EVER, OR, The Magic Cleavage Window Makes Everything Better

Jon got me a little something to see me off on my way to the new job next week. He made sure that I would have company in my new pod, company of the HR infraction variety:

Thanks Jon! I'll think of you everytime I look at her. Ewww, not like that!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pandora and Imeem

I love music. I don’t listen to the radio much, since I have audio books in my car, but I like having some music in the background when I’m doing schoolwork or programming on the computer. I have an extensive MP3 collection somewhere, but I have no MP3 player (I know, what decade am I living in?) and hauling out the CDs is kind of a pain.
Instead, I use an online music streaming site that I found a couple of years ago. If you want the radio experience online, but do not like the playlists you find at places like, check out Just enter in an artist or song title that you like and the “Music Genome Project” will put together a streaming playlist that features similar artists. I have been introduced to quite a few new artists that I may have never heard this way. You can customize your playlist by marking songs you like or dislike until the station plays the type of music you want to hear. It is revolutionary as far as streaming music goes. I do not see why more companies don’t adopt this model. If you sign up, let me know and I’ll share a station or two with you.
Duddy recently introduced me to another music station. This one is like MySpace for playlists. People upload their favorite music on their profiles, and other people are free to link to it in their own playlists. The result is a huge database of songs with which to build endless playlists. Unfortunately, it appears record labels are flagging their artists’ work slowly but surely on the site. Instead of complete tracks for these artists, you’ll only get 30 second samples. Even ignoring those f-wit record executives, you can make a mighty playlist with everything available. You can also share tracks and entire playlists with others. You can find me by searching for merlintwizard under “People”. I’ve got one eclectic playlist and a couple others favorited. Try it out at while there are still good songs online.

Movie Review Bonanza!

I was going to write up my usual take on the movies I’ve seen this month, but I’ve posted a ton today already and things are about to pick up here at work – I mean, um, I would never blog at work, that would be an ineffective use of company time and inappropriate use of company property! Um, anyway, here’s my abbreviated take on the latest cinematic adventures I’ve viewed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Fitting bookend to the trilogy. Nothing above and beyond the first two that makes this one really stand out. It was an entertaining piratical romp. Rush and Knightley make this one worth watching. Of course, Stacy would have you believe that Depp made it worth watching, but while his Sparrow is entertaining, he doesn't do it for me.
Three out of Four Jolly Rogers

Shrek the Third
Meyer’s Shrek is wearing on me. He was the least entertaining character. Luckily his supporting cast of fairytale friends hit the laughs often. Add in a dash of Python players in the form of Cleese and Idol, some delightful Julie Andrews, and a couple of rousing speeches to sway the villains one way or another, and you get a decent movie. I did like the second one better, though. For the record, nothing beats Snow White lilting to the woodland creatures in a voice straight out of the original Disney movie before launching into Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song.
Seven and a Half out of Fourteen Jellied Eyeballs

Surf’s Up
Surprisingly good! I expected more of the standard CGI schlock that has littered cinema screens in the wake of Pixar’s gems. However, this one succeeded where others have failed miserably. The voice cast really did it for me. I love Diedrich Bader’s work and having him reprise his character from Napoleon Dynamite was perfect. Speaking of Napoleon, Dynamite himself gave a great performance as the hapless stoner chicken. Jeff Bridges basically played the Dude in penguin form, so that was cool. James Woods does great voice over work. I loved Brian Posehn as the older brother. The LaBeouf played the lead character, but I find that lead character voices in the CGI movies all sound alike, so I didn’t realize until I looked him up.
Nine out of Ten Chum Buckets

Hero or Villian, I’m Still a Nerd

Which Super Hero are you?

My results:
I am Spider-Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Iron Man
Wonder Woman
I am intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Which Super Villain are you?

My results:
I am Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom
Lex Luthor
Mr. Freeze
The Joker
Dark Phoenix
Green Goblin
Poison Ivy
Blessed with smarts and power but burdened by vanity.

Click here to take the Supervillain Personality Quiz

MAF Take 2

A long time ago, back in Utah, I had some car trouble. I had to keep my foot on the gas at all times or the engine RPMs would flatline and the car would stall. This made for some interesting stops as I double-footed the gas and brake. I’m not good at hitting the brake with my left foot. I use that foot for the clutch. You don’t ease the clutch pedal down, you hit it, and then gently release.

Picture me jamming my foot down on the brake like I’m trying to stop the car with my feet. Heck, just imagine Fred with a red beard and no hair and you pretty much have it.

The cause turned out to be the Mass Airflow (MAF) sensor. It sits on the air intake vent just behind the air filter. All it consists of is a couple of tiny pieces of metal that test the air as it passes through. It helps the computer decide how to mix the air and fuel, though. A problem with the MAF means your engine doesn’t get the right mixture.

The first time I removed it and cleaned it out with the assistance of my father-in-law. Very easy and very cheap fix. In case you can’t figure out where I’m going with this, it happened again.

My experience was a little different this time, so I didn’t assume it was the sensor right away. I took the car in to my mechanic to have him read the error codes. Apparently, they don’t know how to read them since the 95 Probe shares so many characteristics with the Mazda MX6. They didn’t charge me for the code reading and sent me to a Ford dealer.

Any guess at Ford’s answer? Only a $1500 dollar quote to replace the MAF sensor AND the distributor. Thanks, but no thanks. I think that is about the car’s net worth now. I paid them the $90 for the code reading and took my busted ride home. I tried to get the MAF off to clean it. I had forgotten that Ford is run by a bunch of proprietary jerkholes. The two tiny bolts holding it down were star bolts with a peg in the middle. That meant that my star bit would not fit since it didn’t have a depression in the tip. Naturally, no local hardware or auto shop carried the bit. So I said, “scroot,” and drilled out the bolts. Replacement hex bolts from Home Depot cost me $0.20.
The MAF was pretty dirty, so I polished it off and put it back in. Excited to test my fix, I hopped behind the steering wheel. I didn’t even get out of my parking spot.


I drove my wounded bird to the mechanic and gave them Ford’s prognosis. Stacy picked up a cheap MAF from a local auto shop and dropped it off for them to try first. Distributors cost a lot more than MAF sensors and are a lot harder to replace. They popped in the new one while I was at work and the engine purred like a kitten. The final price from them was $80, but it included the charge for installation and additional testing on the distributor and system.

All told the entire situation cost us $300. That’s just a little bit less than Ford’s quote. Only one frickin’ fifth of their quote! How do these people sleep at night? I kicked myself a little for not just replacing the MAF sensor myself in the first place, which would have saved about $180, but what’s a little extra to be sure it’s all working?

Until next time you break my car, Murphy.

On to Bigger Things

On a decidedly good note, I have a new job lined up. After nearly seven years in the NOC, I am moving on to work I actually like doing. I met with my new manager a few weeks ago about a programming position on his team. Ironically, I was in Dulles that week attending a programming training course. My current manager set June 18 as my transition date. Tomorrow is my last day in the NOC.

I have talked to one of my future teammates. It appears that I will be doing the scut work for a while. Whenever something comes across their desks that they don’t want to handle, they’ve been setting it aside for the new guy. Ah well, that’s fine by me. Anything is an improvement over what I’m doing now.

It’s been a few weeks now, but I was involuntarily moved to the IC side of the desk when management split them back off from dial and wireless support. I miss dial and wireless. I miss sitting at the desk with Jon. I'm a mess without Jon. I miss Jon so damn much. I miss being with Jon, I miss being near Jon. I miss Jon’s laugh. I miss Jon’s scent; I miss Jon’s musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think Jon and me should get an apartment together.

So yeah, IC sucks unmentionables. I love programming. So even though I’m going to be inheriting a bunch of PERL maintenance gigs (PERL is an fergly programming language,) I am happy to leave the NOC work behind. However, I will miss the NOC. More specifically, some of the people I worked with. Many have moved on, but those that have not know who they are. Once you guys get to Dulles, we’ll do some lunches.

Air Conditioners, Can’t Live Without Em, Can't Let Em Piss On Themselves

My recommendation to everyone that has a central AC: don’t break it at the beginning of summer.

Stacy and I have known since we moved in that we’d have to replace the AC within a couple of years. We were tipped off by the home inspector who said, “Yeah, you’ll have to replace the AC within a couple of years.” It’s old and it creates a noticeable halocline right at the second floor (yeah, yeah, halocline is the vertical salt water/fresh water barrier in bodies of water and has nothing to do with temperature, work with me here!) We figured the deafening sound every time the AC kicked on was another step towards that great big Freon factory in the sky. Little did we know that the AC’s demise was closer than we thought and that it would not die of natural causes.

Poor little AC, it deserved better than that.

It started early in the season shortly after the first heat wave hit us. Stacy found a puddle of water at the feet of the furnace/condenser stack in the basement. I figured it was the pvc pipe leaking since I never cemented the couplers I installed a couple of years ago. I was proved wrong after finding that the AC had soiled itself again post-cement.

Time to call a professional.

That was a mistake.

The HVAC tech said the condenser wasn’t draining properly and installed a little clear U-pipe near the top of the pipe leading out of the unit (yes, Jon, I said unit.) Yay! Our problem was fixed for only a couple hundred dollars!

That is, until the AC left a puddle like a puppy frightened by the postman. This time we could see the leak inside the cabinet. The water was going down the U-pipe, but it couldn’t make it back up the other side because it was actually higher then the beginning of the U-pipe. Basic physics must not be a prerequisite to servicing HVACs. The leak was actually on the other side of the cabinet, right above the electrical panel and eventually leading down to the furnace pilot light. Warning bells rang in the dim recesses of my mind. Surely this was not a good combination.

I fashioned a makeshift drain out of some old dryer ducting and a bucket. Macguyver’s got nothing on me! Of course I can’t leave well enough alone. We had already called the HVAC guy back, but I wanted to see what I could do in the meantime. I must have bumped the dryer duct, because as I was messing with the U-pipe on the other side, I could smell the telltale scent of burning plastic and metal that signals an electrical fire and the HVAC’s impending doom.

Being the genius that I am, I continued to work at the U-pipe while the AC struggled on. It didn’t last long, though. A loud snap-pop, the death rattle of the aged equipment, signaled the end of it all. Stacy ran into the other room to hit a circuit breaker, but it was too late. I glanced in the cabinet and saw a small blue flame. I snuffed it out and hung my head as the acrid smoke wafted up from the HVAC.

What’s the cost of a new HVAC? Oh, only five grand. It’s a good thing we’ve been saving up. What’s that? We haven’t? Darn. I guess it’s a good thing we’ve got credit for it. Oh? We don’t have that either? Crap. Well it’s good that the HVAC company offers 12 months same as cash! What do you mean I don’t qualify for that? What’s that? Home Depot is selling window AC units for $200? Sold!

I didn’t find out until yesterday that applying jointly, Stacy and I qualify for the 12 months same as cash from a different lender, so it looks like we’ll get a new HVAC next week. I’m really not sure how Stacy’s complete lack of income helps us qualify when I can’t get the financing alone. Ah well, at least we’ll have a cool house once the 100+ temperatures hit.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t let your AC piss on it’s own electrical panel.

I’m ba-ack!

And just a few days shy of a full month off blogging. Meh, nothing has happened. Unless you count my air conditioner story, or my car problems, or my new job, or Paris going to jail. Okay, I probably won’t write anything on that last one except for the fact that it lifts my spirits to see a privileged fame-whore experience justice like everyone else should. I have also been to several movies in the past month, so expect to see some reviews up in here. Ah, there’s nothing like timely movie reviews, right?

So, if you read from top to bottom, this post is completely extraneous. For those of you that move forward through time, here is the beginning of a veritable flood of posts (plood? floop?) from yours truly.