Ramblings from the Gryphon Rose

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Toot toot: Creative Couplings

Okay, I know I was just saying the other day that I don’t normally toot my own horn, but I just found out yesterday and figured I’d mention it: my latest (this is number four for me) Star Trek: SCE book, Creative Couplings, Book One, is now available. You can find it here:


and here:


Oh, and for some odd reason the cover isn’t on those, but you can see it here:


It’s the first collaboration I’ve done in a while, and the first fiction collaboration I’ve done in years, and I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out. Book Two will be out next month.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Ma Bell is Spinning in Her Grave.

I’ve posted before about the circuit box in my house. Well, I’ve had fun with the phone recently, as well.
When we moved, I decided to consolidate bills a little and get both local and long-distance on the same plan. After looking around, I chose AT&T’s CallVantage setup. It’s a digital system, so it runs through a router that’s attached to the computer, and your voicemail and control panel are all online. But it offers unlimited local and long-distance calling for a very good price. Sounds good, right?
First I had fun getting it. I went through about eight different customer service reps, on at least five different occasions. First they said that I had to switch my local and long-distance over to them. Fine, but that took a while. Then they told me that I had to relocate it from the apartment to the house. Okay, except that I later found out that wasn’t actually necessary at all, because they stop your regular service so that you can set up your same number through the digital system. Then they sent the router to the apartment, and I had to track it down, then go back and get it—fortunately the neighbor had brought it in and left it on the hall radiator (that’s always a good place to leave unfamiliar packages that might contain heat-sensitive materials, after all—on an active radiator). But finally I got it all home.
Ah, and then the rest of the fun started. The instructions said to disconnect the exterior phone line at the NID box. That’s the gray plastic box (sometimes black or green) on the outside of your house. Except that NIDs are only about ten to twenty years old. My house is a lot older than that, and apparently hasn’t had the phone system upgraded. So, no NID box. I did find a small white box, whose contents look nothing like the NID described or pictured. I decided not to mess with it for now.
Then I set up the router. That part was pretty easy. But the next step is to run a phone line from the router to the nearest phone jack. You’re supposed to have disconnected your exterior line already, which means that your phone jacks comprise a closed circuit—they’re all connected but have no input. When you plug that line from the router into one of them, you provide new input from the router, and all of your jacks are now on that system. Cool, right?
Except the cable modem and computer are in my office, and so that’s where the router goes. But I don’t have a phone jack in there. We’ve only got three jacks in the house—one regular jack in the dining room (right next to the kitchen counter) and two old four-prong jacks upstairs, one in the master bedroom and one in our daughter’s room. Nada in the office.
Of course, the exterior line wasn’t disconnected yet anyway, since I couldn’t find the box, so I figured I’d skip that step for now. I plugged a two-jack adapter into the spot on the router, and attached both a regular desk phone and a cordless phone. So at least we had our phone working again.
Cut to a week ago. I decide it’s time to try again. Looking at the little box outside, I traced its cords into the laundry room and to an odd object attached to our ceiling. Initially we’d thought it was the old doorbell, but that’s up in the kitchen in a bottom cabinet (I know, I know). And there are two lines running from this thing, both looking suspiciously like phone lines. And one runs right toward where that dining room jack would be, and looks just like the wire that comes up out of the floor there. So I disconnected the wires that lead into this exposed object on the ceiling. Now our jacks are cut off from the outside world. Then I ran a long (really long) phone wire from the router into my daughter’s room, and used a four-prong adaptor I’d bought to connect it to the jack there. And then I tried the cordless phone that’s plugged into the dining room jack (I’d plugged it in back when I thought they were going to transfer our regular landline to the house and then switch it to digital, and had never unplugged it).
Hm. I took a look at the weird object again, and realized that, if the one wire is the dining room jack, and the other wire is the two upstairs jacks, they don’t connect. They were both connected to the object, but not to each other. Which means now they aren’t connected at all. Two separate lines.
And I’d disconnected my two upstairs phones from the router, since it only has a spot for one cord and that was running into the jack in the other room. And I couldn’t connect either of them to the jack in the master bedroom because it’s a four-prong and I only have the one adaptor. Which was attached to the line from the router.
So I wound up disconnecting that line from the router and just reattaching the two phones for now.
Later, when I get the chance, I’m going to disconnect both lines from the basement object and connect them to each other, which will make them one circuit. I’ll still have to run a long line from the router to the other room, but then the phone downstairs should work. And I can replace the four-prong jack in our bedroom with a regular jack and connect one phone in there as well, so at least we’ll have two phones again. At some point I’ll have to drill a small hole through the wall between my office and my daughter’s room and install a jack in my office, so that the router can just plug in there directly. But that may be a while.
In the meantime, it’s good to know that the phone wiring is just as silly as the electrical wiring. I’m afraid to even look at the plumbing—it probably runs up into the roof and then back down again.

Ghost of X-Mas Past

Back from Christmas, and mostly recovered. Actually, we had a nice time, as usual. I had Thursday and Friday off from work, so we hung out at home and did a little cleaning and sorting (and I spent far too much time trying to scrape old paint off a radiator cover—I know, I know, but I am a perfectionist) and generally relaxed. We went out to my wife’s grandparents on Saturday for Christmas “dinner” (it’s at 4pm, so I can only euphemistically call it dinner). Her grandparents are great, in their nineties but still sharp and fun, and my wife’s cousins and aunt and uncle were also there, which was cool because they’re all in NJ and we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like. The only downside—and the reason we don’t see them that often—is that it took three hours each way: one hour to get from our house to Penn Station, one hour to get out to my wife’s cousins, and then one hour to drive with them to her grandparents (who don’t really live near an NJ Transit station). But we had fun, and caught naps on the way there and back (okay, my daughter and I did), and were home in time to greet my youngest sister when she arrived from the airport. She’s staying with us for a few days before jetting off to Israel with some classmates, and my dad came in yesterday, so we’re having a good time.
Some people like to list their Christmas gifts, but I’m not really big on that (gee, me not tooting my own horn? Shocking, I know.). I will, however, offer the following:
Coolest gift I’d been wanting: Hero on DVD (though Rio Bravo is a close second)
Coolest gift I hadn’t expected: an emergency spotlight/radio/clock that can run on a handcrank. Great gift for a new homeowner!
Silliest gift: the Spiderman CD my sister sent me, which looks like it’s a narrated story with musical interludes. I can’t wait to play it.
And in general I got some nice stuff. I hope the rest of you had a nice time and got cool things as well.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Welcome to Our Town—I Mean, Party

So I went to the office holiday party on Friday. That was a bit mind-blowing.
For those of you who don’t know, I should mention a few background details. I work for a publishing house which is part of a larger company. In this case, NewsCorp. Yes, Rupert Murdoch. And this was not our company (which is pretty big on its own)’s party—it was NewsCorps’ party. As in, the holiday party for every NewsCorp employee in the NYC area.
We heard later that they actually had busses for the people out in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and other outlying regions. I believe it.
For us, the trip was a lot easier. It was at the Hilton, which is right near our office. So after work we—myself, my boss, her husband, my co-worker, our freelancer, our boss, his wife, our newest co-worker, and his wife—all trekked over there. And no, my wife didn’t go—she wasn’t feeling all that well, and she’d already decided that this wasn’t going to be something we could bring our daughter to. She was right.
The Hilton, not surprisingly, is huge. They have an entire floor dedicated to conference space, including a massive ballroom. NewsCorp rented that. Not the ballroom, mind you—the floor. It was divided into four areas, each one its own room and each with a smaller anteroom before it. Each room had open bars all around. One had dessert trays and appetizer tables all around. Another had several massive buffets. A third, the movie room, had old-fashioned popcorn poppers, mixed nut roasters, and candy girls. The fourth had a live swing band and a dance floor. Needless to say, NewsCorp hadn’t exactly stinted on this shindig.
My favorite room by far was the movie room, Fox is part of NewsCorp, and the movie room had something like eight big screens, and each one was showing random clips from various Twentieth Century Fox movies, including Miracle on 34th Street (the original), Zorba the Greek, Sound of Music, Titanic, The King and I, Mrs. Doubtfire, and a whole lot more. I had to get out of there after a while because otherwise I’d have stood there for hours, just identifying each film as it came up on one of the screens.
One of our group heard from someone who worked there how many people were in attendance. It was loud, though, so I can’t be sure whether she said 7,000 or 70,000. Either way, that’s the size of town. And probably a lot more money in that room—both in terms of the net worth of some of the attendees, and in terms of the money spent on the party—than many towns can muster.
The only downside I could see to the thing was the lack of door prizes. They handed out little sparkly glowing pins, glitter-encrusted hats, glowstick-necklaces, and little flashing rubber necklace-things. And, as you were leaving, they gave you a bag with a book (a Simpsons cartoon collection) and two DVDs (I, Robot and the other is a surprise). Come on, this is the best NewsCorp can do? I was planning to win a Plasma Screen here, people, and that’s hard to do when you don’t even offer one! Hell, my friends in Illinois won a Plasma Screen last year, and I bet this party cost more than their departmental budget! On the plus side, I did get the sparkly things, and I had wanted to see I, Robot but missed it in the theaters.
I had a lot of fun, though that was because I was there with my friends and co-workers. It’s the type of party that, if I had gone to it alone, I would have ducked in, walked quickly through each room just to see them, grabbed some food off the buffet, and then left. Instead I was there for four hours, and enjoyed myself. I didn’t touch the free bar, alas, because I was still recovering from my cold, but the food was good, the desserts excellent, the company exceptional, and the setting—well, it was something to write home about.
And would you look at that, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


Sorry for not posting much this week. I have a cold.
I hate getting colds—not that anyone likes them, of course (“Oooh, look at me, I finally got that cold I was hoping for!”). I always feel rundown when I’m sick, and I get cranky, and my eyes hurt from staring at the computer screen—which is of course what I do all day long.
Plus the weather has finally turned cold. I say “finally” not as someone waiting excitedly for this to happen (“My new X-Box is finally here!”) but as something that we knew would have to occur eventually (“That old jalopy of his finally broke down”). It is, after all, the middle of December, so it’s only fair to expect the daytime temperature to drop below freezing. The house is heated just fine, and so is work—it’s just those annoying bits in between, like the walk to and from the subway. It’s entirely possible that the change in temperature caused my cold, or at least encouraged it, which doesn’t make me enjoy the falling temperatures any more.
Things are pretty good otherwise, though. I’ve got two projects to get done before the end of the month/year, and a few more lined up for next year, though after February my schedule looks comfortably clean right now. The house is good, and we’re getting things more organized and arranged all the time. My sister is coming to visit next week, which will be cool, and we’re going out to my wife’s grandparents for Christmas Day, which will also be nice. My friend Sam and his wife are going to stop by for dinner one night, which is great, since we haven’t seen them in a while. Then we have our big New Year’s Party/Housewarming party, which will be fun.
Oh yes, and I have the office holiday party tomorrow, which looks to be entertaining. Apparently it’s quite a shindig—I’ve heard about it for the years I’ve been here freelancing, but now as a full-time employee I actually get to go. I doubt I’ll stay long, esp. if the cold is still kicking my butt, but I do want to check it out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Screwed by the Landlady

Last Friday was a lovely time. I went by the landlords’ to drop off our second set of keys and get back my security deposit. I already knew that the latter was only a possibility—not because we’d done anything bad to the apartment (we lived there for six years, never had a major problem, only had to get the landlord to fix something once, when the upstairs neighbor’s illegal washing machine caused the ceiling in our living room to leak, and we even redid the walls and ceiling in the bathroom because the seven to nine layers of ancient paint were peeling and hanging down in strips) or because we’d left it a mess (we’d swept it out completely, scrubbed the floors a little, removed all nails and tacks and tape, and generally left it as good as we’d gotten it—Jen had spent an entire day scrubbing it when we’d first moved in, and between us we spent a whole day cleaning it upon moving out), but simply because we both knew that the landlady could be an utter b*tch and often complained about her tenants (indiscriminately) and seemed to be the type to grab at every penny.
Boy, were we right on the mark there.
I got there just as my landlord (who we’ve always liked, but who certainly falls into the “hen-pecked husband” category) was getting home. Rather than talk to me himself, he called his wife to the door as he opened it, and then went in past her—he spent most of the next half hour behind her in the hallway, saying nothing. One time he tried to interrupt her to tell her something, and I’m amazed he had a head left after she snapped at him.
And yes, I said half an hour. That’s how long she yelled at me about what a mess the place was, and how we’d ruined every room, and how it was so disgusting that she’d shown it to two people already and they’d both run screaming, and how now she was going to have to pay to clean it, and how they’d given it to us sparkling and freshly painted and look what we’d done to it. I pointed out that WE had painted it (on Jen’s twenty-fifth birthday, which isn’t something we’re likely to forget), that we’d had to scrub it when we’d first moved in, and that we’d redone the bathroom walls and ceiling. Yes, the bathroom tiles need to be regrouted. I’m not the landlord—that’s not my job. And after six years it’s no surprise that they need that. Yes, I did break the soap dish in the shower, while repairing the walls and ceiling, and I apologized for that. But that’s really the only damage I’d done, and the place looked pretty good for six years of a single tenant, and for being right next to the LIE. And did I mention that, because we hadn’t found time to sell it, I’d left our fridge for them? We’d had to buy it when we moved in, and we would have kept it except that the house came with a bigger one. So I’d scrubbed it out and left if there, so that they could actually rent the apartment with fridge.
But of course they didn’t acknowledge that, or the work we’d done in the bathroom. Just kept going off about how filthy it was and how people had run screaming from it (gee, a month earlier and they could have made some good money by showing it as a haunted house, or at least a ruined old mansion). Finally she told me that she’d give me back half my security deposit—but if the cleaning came to less than the remaining half she’d give me back the difference.
Yeah, sure. Like she’s going to call me up and offer me more money.
By that point, as I’m sure she’d hoped, I was so sick of dealing with her that I said “whatever.” One of my friends thinks I should take them to court, or at least threaten to, and try to force the rest of the deposit out of them. But that’s a lot of effort, and a lot of antagonism. I’m inclined to just wash my hands of them and never go back. But what a note to leave on, after six years of being fairly happy with the place and with our landlord.
It certainly made me glad to go home, though.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Breaker, Breaker, Come In

Last week my friend Paul came over to give me a hand with the house. Paul’s good with electrical (and actually works with lighting and wiring professionally), and he’d offered to help me replace all the outlets, because they’re all ancient two-prongs and half of them are so old they’re falling apart. We stopped by Home Depot, picked up a bunch of new outlets, and then walked home from there (picking up a small end table and a little bookcase on the way). And then the fun began.
First we took a look at the doorbell. Now, let me set this one up for you. When we bought the house, we noticed that there was a doorbell by the front door—and another just inside it. Or, more precisely, there was a fairly normal-looking doorbell on the outside of the front wall, and then a much older-looking round metal doorbell between the storm door and the front door. Obviously that second one was the original doorbell, and when they added the storm door they simply added the second doorbell instead of moving the first one over. Strange, but okay.
While painting, however, we discovered that only one of the two doorbells worked—and you can guess which one. That’s right, when I got home in the evenings I could ring the bell to let Jen know that I was already inside the storm door, but no one on the outside could get to it. Not terribly useful, right? Paul offered to inspect it and see if he could fix it. And, that very afternoon, Jen had been startled by a FedEx guy showing up and ringing the bell for a delivery—because it turned out that the outer bell did work, but only if you pushed it in the right spot.
So Paul took the outer doorbell apart—and discovered that its wires ran from the inner doorbell. These people didn’t actually add a new doorbell—they basically added an extension to the old one. Wacky. So then we had to get the original doorbell open and get to its wiring. Turns out the original wires are fine—but the newer wires running from there to the extension were falling apart. The house is like that all over, by the way—things added later are in bad shape, but the original materials are still strong.
Paul replaced those second wires, and now we have two working doorbells. You might wonder why he didn’t just remove the inner one. I told him not to. First off, the wires wouldn’t actually reach from inside to the outer doorbell. Second, removing it would leave an odd hole in the frame of the storm door. And third, I think having that inner doorbell is amusing. And hey, it’s my house, I might as well get some amusement while I can.
Now we had working doorbells, a nice set of them, and started looking at the outlets. Paul and I went downstairs to check out the breakers, and discovered that they’re all neatly labeled—things like “kitchen,” “kitchen refrigerator,” “second floor,” and so on. Which makes it easy. We flipped the “first floor” breaker, and the living room lights went out. Perfect. Except that when Paul started unscrewing one of the living room outlets, it sparked.
Then we flipped a different breaker, and the living room outlets went out. So did the dining room light. And the family room light—yes, the one in the basement. But not its outlet, or the ones in the living room.
Yes, apparently my house is wired like a jigsaw puzzle, with randomly shaped pieces on each breaker. Charming. We’ve relabeled them—the ones we could figure out—and they now say things like “living room outlets, dining room light, family room light” and “Kitchen outlets, one dining room outlet.” That last part is because the dining room must be some sort of nexus—it’s got three outlets, and each of them is on a different breaker.
Oh, but the second floor is easy. As far as we can tell, it’s all on one breaker. All three rooms, plus bathroom, plus hallway light. When Adara becomes a teenager we’re going to have to budget her hair-dryer hours or she’ll short everything out on a daily basis.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Turkey and Beignets

Okay, I’m back. Did you miss me?
The reason I haven’t posted for so long is because Jen, Adara, and I went down to New Orleans for Thanksgiving. And, because I had a lot of vacation days laying about and because we had foolishly thought that by mid-November we’d be in the house and all set up, I took the entire week off, and we arranged our trip to run from Saturday to Saturday. Yeah, I know. So we got down to New Orleans on the 20th, and my dad picked us up. My younger sisters didn’t get in until Wednesday morning, and my older sister had a plane mix-up and didn’t get in until Thursday, so Jen and Adara and I had several days with just my dad, which was nice. Very low-key—we took lots of walks along the river (Adara loved that), wandered the French Market, checked out lots of little stores (my dad lives on the non-touristy end of the Quarter, where the shops are smaller and less pricey), and just spent time sleeping in and lounging about the apartment. We went shopping on Monday, and once my sisters had arrived we started cooking. We wanted to make all of the things we always have for Thanksgiving—all the dishes my mom always made—and it’s quite a list! But we did pretty well, and the dinner was very good. And of course we had leftovers. My older sister left Friday, but the my middle sister left when we did and my younger sister stayed until Monday, so we got to spend Saturday hanging out with them some more. Adara loved seeing her grandfather and her aunts, and spent several hours (not all in a row) playing with my sisters and being held by them, which was a nice break for Jen and I. She also liked the dog, who is very big but very mellow and kept licking her toes when she was sitting down, and the cat, who is less mellow but took to her fairly well. I liked seeing my family again, and getting to spend a week not dealing with the house. And yes, we got beignets several times. No snowcones this time of year, so we had to settle for bubble tea. And more beignets. And some pralines. And then, to top things off, a few more beignets.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Mind the Gap

Hey gang, sorry for the delay in posting. I was out of town and offline all last week for Thanksgiving, so I didn’t get a chance to post anything. Things are going fine right now, and I’ll put up a longer update soon, possibly this afternoon. In the meantime, watch the closing doors.