Thursday, January 27, 2011

The One Item I Wanted...

There was one item of my grandfather's that I wanted when he passed away.

It was a sword that he had hanging on the wall in his basement, where he spent most of his time. I didn't know much about it, other than I'm pretty sure he brought it back from his time in Vietnam.

He showed it to me when I was very young, and told me that I could look but couldn't touch, because it was sharp and could be very dangerous.

So I looked from afar when I was there, and always hoped that one day I would get a chance to hold onto it.

When he passed I let my mom know that if nobody else wanted it, I would be very appreciative if I could take it home. Strangely enough, when my grandma asked me if I wanted it, she told me that he had given it to me a long time ago. I guess that he knew how much the item intrigued me, and knew that one day I would love to have it.

After I brought it home, I started looking for some information about it. It's fairly hard to find information about swords from Asia, because there were so many different kinds and even ones that shared similar traits could be completely different in name and design.

It turns out that the one that he had was a Thai Dha. It's a single edged blade used for digging and, well, killing. They typically have a wooden sheath, which this one does, and a long handle even though they are designed to be used with one hand.

This particular Dha has some maker's markings on it. I've been looking around online to see if there are any good message forums that might be able to help me learn a bit more about the sword from the markings on it. I'd be really interested to know it's age and exactly where it came from. It's in good shape, but it does look fairly old. Older than from the Vietnam war era, at least.

Today I went to the mall here in town where there is a "Japanese" store. They sell a bunch of swords there, so I figured they might have some stands. Sure enough, they had a really basic stand that I picked up for the Dha. It's just really plain, which is what I wanted, because the stand doesn't take anything away from the beauty of the sword.

Here is a picture of the Dha in it's sheath, taken with my iPod which is why the quality isn't that great.

And here is one of the sword taken out of it's sheath. The pictures are hard to tell, but the sword is about 36" long in all.

It's a nice looking sword, and on it's stand it looks perfect on the mantle above the fireplace. For now, that is where it will stay. I may end up eventually putting it on top of one of the shelving units in the basement, but for now I like it on the mantle.

Rest in Peace Grandpa...

Today we went to Fort Custer National Cemetery for the burial service for my grandpa. It was a really nice little ceremony, and even the freezing cold weather and snow didn't really have much of a negative impact on the event. I was really impressed with the burial service, it was really nice.

Yesterday was the funeral in Lansing. As far as funerals go, it was a pretty good one. Lots of memories were shared and a few good laughs were had at great stories that involved my grandpa. It concluded with lunch at his VFW hall which was absolutely amazing.

All in all, it was a great way to remember a great guy.

I miss him already.

Friday, January 21, 2011

He Loved Beagles...

Tonight my grandfather on my mother's side passed away.

Just last night my mom called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with what they thought was lung cancer, but that there were complications to his lungs so the doctors couldn't be sure. This diagnosis was made on Monday.

I saw him just a few weeks ago at Christmas with the family, and he seemed fine.

He went to the store to get some groceries, and something happened on that trip and he never came back. A lady saw him in his car and thought he was just resting, but when she came back out and saw him in the exact same spot she called 911.

Enough about that, though...I wanted to post a few things about my grandfather.

His name was John Hedgecock. He was a retired member of the Air Force.

I didn't know this until just these last few years, but he loved beagles. I don't think I ever remember my grandma and grandpa having a dog, so I guess that's why I didn't know that. But when Cathy and I brought Dillon home, he was like a little kid around him. He even asked to watch Dillon instead of having my parents do it while we were on vacation once. Every time he saw me, he asked how Dillon was doing. He loved him.

He never wore least not that I saw. I heard a rumor once in the last couple of years that he put some on when he was on a cruise with my grandma and my Aunt Dawn and Uncle Dean. I still don't believe it happened. I spent nearly every weekend of every summer of my childhood at the lake, and he was there for a good portion of that. Even when we could somehow con him into going out on the boat or to the beach with us, I still don't ever remember a single time that he wore anything other than pants. It was always the strangest's a bunch of people at the beach, and this one guy wearing pants. It makes me laugh to think about it.

He had a unique sense of humor. One that I always related to, even if at times it embarrassed me. I remember one time I met my grandmother and him at a Finley's for dinner. We waited probably about 10 minutes for a table, and when the waitress came and asked us how we were doing, he said: "You tell me. I was a curly haired teenager when I first got to this joint tonight." She didn't get that he was joking, but I know he was. Even so, I still felt myself get a little bit red in the face. He always had a good joke, even if it was something a bit off color, but he always delivered them well and usually caused me to have a good laugh.

He always seemed like a tough old guy to me. You know, the kind that isn't going to put up with any kind of crap from anyone. When I was younger, I won't lie, he often times scared me. He seemed distant and cold. But you know what?? As I got older, and he got older, he started to lighten up. I don't know what it was, but as I grew up, he seemed to become more and more personable. Over the last few years, he seemed like a different person than I remembered. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to him, which I admit I didn't do often enough.

I remember one thing, probably one of the more disturbing things, of my childhood that involved him. I used to stay the night at their house quite a bit. Mom would drop me off and then come pick me up in the morning. Well, one night I was running around the house playing, and I noticed a cup of water on his night stand. I was thirsty, so I grabbed a drink of it. I didn't think anything of it, but then the next day I noticed that same glass of water...but this time?? It had dentures in it. Yup, that's right. I had taken a drink of water that was used to store dentures in. I was horrified...I don't think I ever told anyone about that.

I remember that he always had candy in the house...usually some spice drops in his bedroom and some hard candy in the basement. I always felt like I was getting away with something when I swiped some of it, as if I would get in trouble if he knew I was taking it.

Most of all, though, I remember a person that had a heart of gold. I don't think there's anything that my grandpa wouldn't have done for just about anyone. He may have seemed like a rough and tough old guy, but underneath that was a person that was friendly, caring, loving, and generous.

The kind of person that all of us should strive to be.

I will miss you Grandpa. I love you.

Tax Time...

The last couple of years, Cathy and I have struggled to get our tax situation straight.

I had usually set myself up to get a large return, and she had set herself up to get hardly any return at all. Last year was the worst for us, as Cathy had somehow gotten her holdings set up in a way that made it seem like we were married and had a all of the extra money that they took out of my paycheck was just barely enough for us to break even at the end of the year.

Well, this year we got it all straightened out. Our year end bonuses from work are taxed pretty heavily, but they also aren't high enough to put us into another tax bracket, so a majority of that tax we are getting back. We'll be getting $1,100 from the Federal Government back and $300 from the State. I already did the taxes and got them filed, so we should get the money back before we end up going to Las Vegas.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my half. I'm thinking I have a bill or two that I would like to pay off, and then the rest I will probably try to save as a start for Hawai'i next year.

Either way, it's nice to have finally gotten them all straightened out.

Got Tickets to a Show in Vegas...

Cathy and I got tickets to a show in Vegas a few weeks ago, and I forgot to post about it here.

We decided that we would like to see Carrot Top at the Luxor, so we got some pretty good seats to see him on the second night that we're there. It should be pretty entertaining...I like Carrot Top's humor quite a bit, and so does Cathy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Taurus is In...

I dropped the Taurus off tonight to have the new catalytic converter put into it on Friday.

Hopefully that will take care of the issue I was having with it. From what I've read, a faulty catalytic converter can cause the car to do exactly what mine was doing, so I'm going to guess that after the tune up I gave it and this replacement, it should be as good as new again.

The only problem is I don't think I'll be able to pick it up until Monday morning. Not really a big deal, but I would have liked to only be without it for a day or so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Cool New Toy...

I was at Target today and found this cool toy/game called "Perplexus."

It's a plastic maze that's inside a clear plastic ball. The object is to get a marble from the start to the end by twisting the ball all around and following the path. It's actually pretty difficult to do, but it's a ton of fun. I picked it up for right around $20.

Here's a video to show how it works...

It's Done...

Tonight I officially passed the 3-1 kill/death ratio in "Battlefield: Bad Company 2."

Like I said last week, it's been a goal of mine for a good several months now, and I just kept getting closer and closer over the last few weeks. The last week or so has been a challenging week in the game, with many rounds not going quite how I would have liked them, but in the end I still managed to boost my ratio to 3-1.

Oddly enough, I hit it EXACTLY at 27,000 kills and 9,000 deaths. I then finished the next round 41-6 to put myself officially over 3-1.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to hit 4-1...but I'm just gonna keep going.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good News About the Taurus...

Today I got the results of the tests from the Ford dealership on the Taurus.

I had taken it in last Thursday because I found out that my catalytic converter that has gone bad may have still been under warranty. They scheduled the car for a diagnostic today.

The results?? The catalyst failed for no reason and it will be replaced free of charge!!

That's great news, considering the amount of money that it was probably going to cost me. The cheapest replacement I had found was nearly $400 just for the part, and the labor was going to be another couple hundred. Now, I'm getting a much better quality Ford OE part (which costs nearly $1400) and getting it put in for no charge.

I'm really happy that I ended up finding out about the warranty on emissions components. It ended up saving me a ton of money!!

Not Been Posting Much on the Blog...

I haven't been posting much on the blog. Probably because not a lot has been going on.

So, you might ask, what have I been doing lately?? Well, I've been playing a TON of "Battlefield Bad Company 2." I found a group of people to play with that are really fun to play with, so that's what I've been spending most of my time doing.

I've had a goal for a long time in the game, of getting to a 3-1 kill/death ratio...and since I started playing with this group, I've gotten pretty close to it. I'm currently at 2.97:1 and should be at 3:1 within the next week or so.

Other than that, I really haven't been doing much. I've played with the new A70 tablet a lot and built a really cool puppet...but other than that, not much has been going on lately.

Archos A70...

I've had my A70 for over a week now.

I absolutely love it. It's everything that I was hoping that it would be. Here is the review I wrote for it on Amazon, which pretty much sums up my feelings about it:

"Let me start by saying that I love gadgets. Things with touch screens that are thin and connect to the internet are right up my alley.

I own a laptop computer and an iPod Touch 4G. I have been using the laptop quite a bit recently while watching the bowl games and NFL games on TV. I only used the laptop for a quick second here and there, so it was a bit of a hassle to get it up and running when I knew I was going to only use it for a second or two. So I started using the iPod Touch in place of it for checking the web in quick spurts, but I wanted something with a bit larger screen and maybe a more full featured web browser than the iPod had. So basically, I wanted something larger than the iPod Touch but smaller and more convenient than my laptop. I also wasn't really interested in an iPad because I already had an iOS device. I started looking for Android Tablets.

I had originally settled on the Samsung Galaxy Pad, but to be honest it's price scared me away. That, and I really have no use for the 3G cellular service that is so integral to the Galaxy Tab. I came to Amazon and did a quick search for "Android Tablet" and the Archos A70 Internet Tablet was the first thing that popped up.

I checked it out, and it hit all of the points I was looking for:
7" screen is larger than my iPod...check.
Android Operating system...check.
Thin and light...check.
Capacitive Touchscreen instead of resistive...check (for those that don't know, capacitive is the same technology that the iPhone/iPod Touch uses...I find it much nicer than the stylus based resistive screens)
Fair price...check.

Basically, the Archos looked like it was hitting on all cylinders. It was even getting good reviews on Amazon. I found only one thing that had me a bit worried, and that's the fact that Archos isn't part of some Android co-operative thing, so the device does NOT have the Google Android Marketplace installed on it when you get it. It has a substitute, called AppsLib, which is good, but it's not quite the Google Marketplace. However, more on that in a moment.

I ordered the device and it shipped quickly. It arrived in a couple of days, as is par for the course for Amazon. I quickly opened it and started checking it out.

Upon opening the box I was surprised at how great the device looked. I have read that some people think it looks cheap. I disagree. I think it looks very nice and the flat finish does a great job of hiding finger prints. After pulling it out of the box, I was even more surprised. Archos includes a power adapter that actually has several other adapters packaged with it so that you can use it in foreign countries. I don't do a ton of travelling, and when I do it's generally domestic. But it's nice to know that if I ever go to another country, Archos has already included the correct power plugs for me to use. The package also includes some run of the mill headphones and a USB cable to connect the device to a computer.

The device goes through a Setup Wizard when you first turn it on that sets the unit up. I found this easy to follow and quick to do. I would recommend NOT installing the included Archos apps, for only one reason...after you set up the device you can instantly update it to the lastest version of Android, and when you do that it resets itself and you must then install those included apps again. So save yourself the time the first time around and just do it after you update.

Once I got the device up and running I was able to actually start playing with it. Android is definitely different from anything else that I've used. It's a cool operating system, but seems to be a bit more unpolished than the iOS on the iPod devices that I have used. With that said, I am impressed with the operating system. It really does have some neat features. I particularly enjoy the animated wallpapers. They are very cool to look at, but they are a bit of a memory hog, so once I had looked at them for a bit I turned them off and went with a static wallpaper.

Connecting the device to the WiFi in my home was as simple as can be. It didn't hesitate to connect and as soon as it was on I was able to instantly set it up for my G-Mail accounts and synced my e-mails. I then started browsing the web. I was impressed with the speed with which it loaded pages and the ease with which the browser was used. I also was extremely happy that it actually had a FULLY FUNCTIONAL BROWSER!!! None of that "mobile web" stuff. Sure, you can go to the mobile web pages if you want to, but who wants to do that when you can actually enjoy the web the way it was meant to be enjoyed??

After browsing the web for a bit, I decided to play with the AppsLib app that you can use to download software. I found some nifty games and other little trinkets to download in that store for free, and I enjoy them. The store is supposedly designed to be used with Tablets more than phones, so it's possible that in the future it will have more apps that are designed to go on the larger screens of tablets instead of the smaller screens of phones.

Now, let me get to a couple of things that are interesting about the Android Operating System. I read once that you can compare Apple's iOS to a well policed city and Android to the Wild West. Well, what does that mean?? It means that with Android, pretty much anything goes. It means that even a device like the A70 that does NOT come with the Google Marketplace and isn't supposed to be able to use the Google Marketplace CAN in fact have it installed on it. I did some searching on the web (I won't say the name of the site because I'm not sure that Amazon will allow it in the review, but let's just say if you search for "Archos Fan Forums" you should easily find it) and quickly found an easy .ask to install on the device that gets the Archos A70 access to the Google Marketplace. It's not complete, there are some missing apps, but there's another fix for that which you can easily find on that same site where you found the instructions to install the Marketplace.

So, now I have an A70 that runs apps from AppsLib AND from the Google Android Marketplace. That means that I have an endless array of places to get apps from, and I have downloaded quite a few of them. I haven't found any that do not work with the device, and I have found some that are really great. I'll leave those up to you to find, though.

I only have one small coplaint about the A70, and that is this: sometimes the device just kind of freezes, or other little bugs pop up, like icons changing from what they are supposed to be to some random generic Android icon. I would like to say that this is caused by the installation of the Google Marketplace on the device, because I did NOT have these issues before installing it. However, they are easily rectified with a quick reboot. To be honest, I have found that rebooting the device every now and again is a great idea because for whatever reason Android likes to keep things running in it's background long after you have finished using them. Rebooting is a great way to clear all of those programs out of the memory. Not a huge deal, really, but I wanted to throw it out there.

After having the A70 for a couple of days now, I am happy to report that I am thrilled with the purchase. It's everything that I was hoping for and it hits every point that I was shopping for. It's thin and light, the screen is beautiful, the touchscreen works fantastically, and it's nice and convenient to use. Now, instead of dragging my laptop out and waiting for Windows 7 to boot up when I want to check the box score of a game, I just grab the A70, hit the power button, wait one second then I'm on the web and checking.

Overall, I highly recommend the device."

The ONLY issue I've had with the device is the case I ordered for it. I ordered a case from a seller on Amazon the same day that I ordered the A70, December 30th. The A70 came on Monday the 3rd, the case still hasn't come yet. Yesterday I went to Best Buy and found a case that fits it...I'm not sure what I'll do with the other case when it shows up.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Maybe Some Good News About the Taurus...

After doing quite a bit of looking around, I was able to find something out that I never knew anything about.

The EPA requires vehicle manufacturers to warranty "critical" emmissions components for 8 years or 80,000 miles.

The catalytic converter that has gone bad on my car is one of those critical components. My car is 7 years, 8 months it falls under the age requirements. It only has 65,000 miles on it, so it falls under the mileage requirements.

So tomorrow I'm going to head to the Ford Dealership to see about possibly getting the catalytic converter replaced under warranty. I'm sure that they will try to claim that it's something else that has gone wrong with the car that has caused the catalytic converter to fail. I don't know, maybe they'll just fix it. I've never actually tried to get any warranty work done on a car before, so it'll be new for me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Finally Figured Out the Taurus Issue...

Well, after a few weeks of driving with some kind of issue with my Taurus, I finally got it figured out. It gave me a check engine light the other day (at last) and I was able to get it scanned.

The bad news?? It needs a new catalytic converter. The good news?? It's the ONE converter (out of three) on the car that can probably be replaced with just a universal replacement.

I'll try to get it done in the next few weeks. I'm trying to decide if I want to have just the one replacement welded in or if I want to spend the extra money and get both front catalytic converters replaced.

I'll be talking with the mechanic at work to see what he would suggest. I'm guessing that the stuff that was slightly out of tune on the car (like the spark plugs) have contributed the most to the early breakdown of the catalytic converter. Hopefully once I get this replaced, all of the issues will be resolved.

Resolutions for 2011...

This year I have two resolutions. One of them is two-parts, though, so it's more three.

1. I need to save some extra money for our trip to Hawai'i in 2012. I would like to try to put away $50 per paycheck for the trip, which would mean I'd have at least $1300 by the time we go next year.

2. I want to get into better shape. Working out and eating better MUST become higher priorities for me. Since it's winter, I will start with going to diet soda and eating less junk food (again) and doing my "EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp." To go with that, I'll use the exercise bike a bit. Then, when summer comes along, I'll have my bicycles, my land paddling, and hiking. With all of those options, getting into better shape should be a breeze!!!

I did okay on working on these goals for last year, so it's time to expand on them and do even better this time.