Thursday, May 24, 2007

Prom Prep

It's been an exciting couple of weeks at Casa Amos. The shed was recently completed, and I determined that it had to have power. The electricians came on Tuesday and delivered 2 new 20A circuits. I've spent the last couple of nights wiring the lights and outlets in the shed to take advantage of the new juice, and we also have 3 new outside boxes on the house.

All of this will be used for lighting at prom, which comes in just over a week.

We're also having some junk hauled to the dump, trying to get some mulch delivered for the newly-tilled flower beds in the back yard, replacing exterior lighting out front, seeding the section of yard that was torn up to lay the new electric lines, and cleaning the house.

If there's any time in all of it, I'm going to try to figure out what to wear, help Amanda plant some stuff in the yard, and clean the house.

We're off to Irvington this afternoon for some much-needed downtime. Hopefully after a couple of days of relaxing at the river, we'll come back charged up and ready to get it all knocked out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

3 concerts in 2 weeks

It's like we're young again or somethin'.

We saw Muse and My Chemical Romance at W&M Hall on the 28th of April, Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit and The Derek Trucks Band last night, and will see the Rachel Leyco Band on Friday night.

While the first of the trio was a really great show with excellent showmanship from both bands, great performances, and cool light effects, last night's show was decidedly on a different note. In a word, it sucked.

Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit was a monumental, groundbreaking band in the early '90's. Bruce brought together Jimmy Herring (a phenomenal guitarist who later went on to tour with the Allman Brothers), Oteil Burbridge on bass, Apartment Q-258 on drums, and Chuck Levelle (the former touring keyboardist from the Rolling Stones). Their music was southern rock / jam / jazz / experimental / fusion, kind of all tossed into one, with a little flair of country mixed in for good measure.

In the early days, they weren't so much a jam band as they've become. Sure, there would be a longish solo somewhere in almost every song, but each of these guys were virtuosos, and the song always had a cohesive beginning, middle, and end, and often the solos would work within the fabric of the song, telling a story that weaves its way back to the melody. The music was wildly inspiring, and seeing them on stage blew my mind. Twice.

Sadly, the Col. had some health problems in the 90's, and he left. He went on to some lower-key projects like the Fiji Mariners and CodeTalkers, but never really put another group of musicians together that were as talented as ARU. ARU, however, couldn't keep up the momentum without Bruce Hampton, and they disbanded. Jimmy went with the Allman Brothers, Oteil released some solo stuff, and the rest just went and played with other groups.

Last night, they were all together again, with some dude I didn't know playing banjo. Chuck Levelle was nowhere to be found, and Count M'butu (who originally played percussion) was slated to play with the Derek Trucks Band later. Weird, but ok.

Anyway, they sounded like they had never played together before. The Colonel didn't play much, and didn't call on his bizarre vocal tricks very often. He was very subdued, and the band was, too. Oteil was great, Jimmy was phenomenal, but it wasn't cohesive. The songs regularly dissolved into solo masturbation, each handing off to the next for minutes on end. It quickly became difficult to tell one song from the next, and the banjo player was pinching off a lot of notes: just not playing cleanly at all.

I still enjoyed it, don't get me wrong. But the music and the vibe have changed. There was a cool moment when Derek Trucks just showed up on stage and started jamming with them (I swear, the guys playing sounds exactly like Duane Allman's), and a couple of times when Apt. Q-258 handed the drums over to other folks in the middle of the songs. So it was an engaging and entertaining performance, but altogether lackluster.

We decided to catch a couple of Derek Trucks songs afterward, and that was all I could handle. His music was very proficient, but also very boring.

All in all, not really worth the price of the tickets, but it was great to see all my heroes back on stage together. I even got a pic of Col. Bruce talking with Derek Trucks between sets (I was just about 6 feet away from them, but couldn't get close enough to ask for an autograph).

I'm sure Rachel's performance tomorrow night will be much better. I know and enjoy her music, and this time, we get to take Alastair with us.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A fork in the road, and one in the eye, too.

A couple of weeks ago, our team lead quit. I'd worked with Lewis the entire 5.5 years I've been here, so it was a little jarring when he said he was leaving. He gave 2 weeks notice, but he really didn't get much accomplished during those two weeks.

Lewis's departure put me in an interesting place, though: I have a unique opportunity to decide how my IT career will pan out over the next several years. He was our only SAN administrator, and was far more knowledgeable in a lot of areas than the rest of us. He was also the first person our supervisor would come to, our principal architect, and very visible around the work area.

2 weeks wasn't enough time to back-fill his position, so my company is looking at me to step in and take some of the burden. So here are my choices:

1. Step up to the challenge, attend several training classes for SAN and Citrix administration, update my certifications, and take on the lead position, even if only for a while.
2. Accept provisional responsibility for the interim, backing away from serious challenges.
3. Quit and take one of the myriad other jobs that are out there right now.

I'm working on Option 1, but I'm scared by it. Training and certification almost certainly mean travel, and potentially a lot of it (the first piece might be a 2-week trip to California in June).

Option 1 also has the benefit of enhancing my income and my resume at the same time. While I have no particular desire to leave my company, anything that makes my resume look better is a great thing, especially since our contract options run out next year.

Option 2 is much easier for me while I settle my grandmother's estate, and allows me to spend more time with Amanda and Alastair, which is my favorite hobby in the world. It allows me to pursue my hobbies, too.

Option 3 is really not viable, but I'm feeling a lot of pressure from a lot of areas from my life, and it's tempting to look for an easy exit strategy. It wouldn't be fair to my company, to the client, or to my wife and child. There's also no guarantee that any job would be any more permanent than this one, and I can't afford to bounce between jobs. Of course, I could potentially get a $15K raise...

So my job is in flux, that's the fork in the road. The fork in the eye has 2 tines: 1 is my grandmother's estate, and the other is the Miata's rollcage.

I'm worried that my mom is trying to bamboozle me in settling my grandmother's estate. Against all good sense, I was named Executor of the estate, and mom is "doing me a favor" by getting all the accounts and statements in order. She thinks that I'll just go and sign any papers she's prepared, and she can file them, and that will be that. Only, as I've said before, I trust my mom as far as I can throw her, so I'm going to take all the papers she brings me to a lawyer. As executor, I'm responsible if anything is wrong, and I'm not interested in going to jail so that my mom can get her hands on some cash.

I tried to meet her for lunch last week to tell her this, and she brought a friend, so I didn't feel comfortable telling her that I don't trust her. So screw her: if she's going to surround herself with safety-dates to keep people from being forthright with her, she can go to jail for being sneaky.

The rollcage, as stated, is the other issue that's keeping me up at night. Wes Richard, the original guy I had lined up to do the welding, won't return my calls, and I have less than 3 weeks left until the next autocross. So screw him, too. I contacted Jeff at Delta V today, and this afternoon, I'm going to take the instructions for my cage to him and try to convince him to take the job. The work will probably cost almost twice as much, but with the settlement of CD's that were payable upon my grandmother's death, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

In the good news department, there's a man in my backyard building our new shed today. He'll be there almost all week, and then there are folks coming to till the yard after he's done. Hopefully we'll then get around to paving the driveway and replacing the fence.

So much to do... It's part of why the career choice is so tough. Do I really have enough personal time to devote to all these projects, and still be able to pursue certifications?

Time will tell, I suppose.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I'm a lucky guy

One of the problems I've encountered with building the Miata has been a lack of industry support. It's a weird problem, because there are thousands of Miatas racing in America, and undoubtedly many more around the world.

One particular area that's not well supported is seating. The Miata has a narrow seating area, and the options are somewhat restricted on what you can mount. But that's not really the problem. The problem is that nobody, and I mean nobody, makes a standardized mounting platform for seats.

In the BMW world, Turner Motorsports makes this trick little plate that mounts to the factory floor holes, and provides hundreds of threaded holes to bolt seat adapters down. It's perfect for a large number of seat brands and shapes.

I spent months searching for solutions, and I called a few seat manufacturers to see how people were getting the job done. Solutions ranged from the simple to the terrifying. I heard that some people use the factory seat rails and just buy narrow enough seats to bolt right onto them. That didn't seem safe with the seats I was using. Other solutions involved grinding off the factory mounting tabs and putting the seat on a 2x4 bolted through the bottom of the car. 2x4 = fire hazard under my butt, so that was quickly ruled out. The most bizarre solution involved grinding off all the factory mounting positions, including a structural thanks.

I went with a modified version of the first (factory rails) for the driver's seat, putting side-mount rails on top of the factory sliders. This gave the seat some extra strength because any load put on the aluminum seat would be shear instead of tensile. Blah blah blah. Anyway, it made the seat way too high, such that it intersects the rollbar. That's bad.

For the passenger seat, though, I decided to show some ingenuity. I ordered angle aluminum, cut it to length, and shaped it to fit the factory mounting tabs. Then I drilled holes in it to side-mount the seat. Perfect!

Well, not so much. I just found out this morning that in cutting the aluminum, I was putting my life in serious danger. Turns out aluminum dust is not just highly flammable, it's also a serious explosive when wet. You see, aluminum flakes, when introduced to moisture, heat spontaneously and emit hydrogen gas. There's an ignition temperature of about 360-C, and then presto: an extremely powerful explosion. The stuff is so volatile that it can detonate a vacuum cleaner just due to static electricity.

And here I am just using a big ol' 7" cut-off wheel in the back yard, leaving the dust to sit in the rain. Good grief, I rock!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Miata Update!

I'm excited to announce that I've secured an additional co-driver for the 2007 racing season. He comes with the added responsibilities of crew chief and manager (and he can be vicious if pushed around).

We snapped a pic of him getting ready for his first race of the season. Unfortunately, his racing suit didn't come in time, so he's not wearing the official ahamos racing livery, but I'm proud to introduce him just the same:

Just look at that game face. He's ready for action!


I don't know if it's grief, the prospect of the nightmare that the estate settlement is sure to be, or just a random case of the blues, but I'm feeling pretty down this morning.

It's probably the whole settlement thing. My grandmother named me Executor of her estate, bypassing my mother. She thought that would create checks and balances. But I don't have the emotional energy for this, and my mom's a freakin' lunatic.

A week before my grandmother died, she cleaned out the safe deposit box, while my grandmother was lying unconscious on her death bed.

The prospect of handing $$$$ to a lawyer to put her ass in place isn't exactly thrilling, and my original hope, which was simply to take all of my grandmother's paperwork to an estate lawyer has been complicated by her simply taking all of the documentation. Oh, yeah, and my attorney doesn't seem particularly interested in doing that anyway.

My cousin Cory sent me another name, and I'll give her a call today, but I'm only 2 days into this and I'm spent.

Dammit, I fix computers and tinker on cars. I love cats, my family, and NOT BEING BOTHERED.

Historically, people believed that some aspects of life were sufficiently complicated to leave to professionals. Most folks don't try to fix their own plumbing, repair the fuel-injection systems on their cars, or rewire the electrical box. You'd never try to represent yourself in a major legal battle, so why have we orphaned the estate lawyers? We still rely on them to plan, but so many folks believe they're qualified to settle their own estates that there aren't many estate lawyers left. Those that are left apparently charge a ton.

I'm holding out hope that this might resolve itself with minimal pain, but there's little chance of avoiding a row with my mother, particularly as I think some of the actions she's taken might be illegal. Did I mention that my mother is a lunatic? She holds grudges that go back to her childhood.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Saturday morning, 6 months after realizing she was ill, my grandmother passed away. It was her second encounter with cancer, and she decided not to fight it. When I asked her why, she said that since my grandfather had died 10 years ago, and since so many of her friends had passed, she didn't see what was left to live for.

She was excited about Alastair, and evidently talked about him all the time, but I don't think she saw that she could be an active participant in his life.

She was not excited about her relationship with her daughter, my mother. The two of them had been at loggerheads since my mother was a child, when a thyroid condition made my grandmother an unbearable witch. Unfortunately, all the medication in the world can't erase the emotions attached with an unpleasant childhood, and my mother never let go of her anger.

So it was with great peace the she accepted her fate, and I believe that she was looking forward to going home to God.

I spoke with her a couple of weeks ago, and asked her to tell my grandfather that I miss him, and that I'm trying to raise Alastair in his image. She told me that she had really enjoyed her time with Alastair, and that she had been holding on to hope of seeing him at Christmas this year.

I'm a little sad, but her illness has been so protracted that I've done most of my mourning. I'll be too busy settling her estate to have time for much more mourning.

Catherine Vernell Chamberlain, you will be missed.