Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meet Ashka

This is Ashka. Her likes include getting brushed with her favourite comb, getting petted and rubbed, falling asleep in my lap, playing with pieces of denim, getting attention. Her dislikes are seemingly limited to fleas and having to take showers with me.

She is as adorable as her photographs make her out to be, and since her shower and flea treatment, she is looking much cleaner and healthier than when we first got her. We bathed her in the sink on her first night here, and it helped, but not by much. Yesterday morning I got some kitty-friendly shampoo and decided to give her a shower to really clean her. Thinking ahead, I put on a pair of my lifeguard swim shorts and then, thinking a bit more about those kitty claws, I added a t-shirt to my shower-wear.

She cried the entire time, and I know she felt suddenly betrayed. I had to hold her several times to lather in the shampoo, and then to rinse her off with the shower head. She climbed around my t-shirt onto my shoulder and back, mewing in my ear "Why? Why are you doing this? What did I do?" I felt so sorry for her. Her wet fur made her look miserable, and she was noticeably shivering, even in the warm shower water. I made it as fast as possible, then dried her off. Once I had myself dried as well, I took her into the living room, cradled her in my lap and combed her until she was dry and warm. It took a while to get her to her fluffy self, but a lot less just to get her purring. She was still shivering when she started to purr and fall asleep.

She's forgiven me since. When she wants attention, she will pester me until I let her sit in my lap. She's not allowed in the living room if we're not there, so at night and when we're shopping, Ashkas territory is the hallway and bathroom. When she does get to stay in the living room, she loves sleeping behind my PC, as in the second photo above, and she seems to really enjoy the keyboard. Regardless of where I leave it, she'll walk on it, sit on it, scratch herself on it, purr and mew for attention on it. She's been typing messages to Claire, and teaching me all the shortcut keys.

Right this second she's lying in my lap, clawing at my arm, so I'm going to finish up here and give her some love and attention and get a pack of band-aids for my wrist. Later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Differences Between Cats And Dogs

When you tell a dog to stop doing something, eventually he will learn not to do that.

When you tell a cat not to do something, eventually she will learn not to do that while you're watching.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Response To Your Question...

My taste in music has never been in line with the other kids of my social circle. In secondary school I enjoyed the musical stylings of Garth Brooks and Bryan Adams. The second through seventh CDs I ever bought were Garth Brooks. It was a box set. The first had been the soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank.

Anyway, the point is, I've always enjoyed music that isn't exactly topping the charts in Ireland. I don't think "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" counts, as even Bryan Adams hates that song now from what I've heard.

A while ago I discussed my amazing discovery that the Xbox 360 is female. This accurate assumption is based on the fact that she can multitask, playing games and music at the same time! While describing the life changing effects this revelation had on me, I casually mentioned that I was now used to playing games listening to such artists as Chesney Hawkes and Hanson. Amongst the hundreds of comments that followed this controversial and groundbreaking blog post, my good friend Lynn questioned "Hanson AND Chesney Hawkes? Did you buy them ironically". I shall now explain.

Chesney Hawkes is easy. "I Am The One And Only" is a guilty love of mine. At home, when Claire is still at work, I love singing Chesneys one hit wonder at the top of my lungs... or, at least, slightly above an inaudible murmur.

Hanson is a little more difficult. For well over a decade I joined any sane minded individual in cringing at the sound of an "mmm-bop" or the sight of a pack of long, blond haired males. The mere mention of Hanson was enough to make me laugh. And Claire agreed with me.

Until last year when someone mentioned them in one of the many, many blogs she reads. More specifically, they mentioned a particular documentary series made by the band themselves called Strong Enough To Break. The entire thing is up on YouTube by the boys themselves in an epic series of 12 posts! It is well worth watching, telling the story of how Hanson evolved from the teenyboppers they were at the time of their breakout number one hit to the pop rock grownups they are today.

Claire spent a fair length of time telling me and anyone who would listen how cool Hanson suddenly were, but we all ignored her. Then she got hold of the latest two albums, 2004's Underneath, and 2007's The Walk and got them onto her iPod. Thus followed an unavoidable exposure to the works of Hanson on any car journey that lasted longer than three minutes.

Not that it actually took that long. I found myself humming along to the tracks before we had left city limits. Penny and Me quickly became one of my favourite tracks to listen to while walking, cooking, or, yes, even playing Xbox. Crazy Beautiful, Misery and Georgia are also fantastic tracks, but honestly, it's just trying to pick from an incredible bunch. There are few artists, Messers Brooks and Adams included, that have entire albums that I enjoy listening to. Hanson almost has two. I leave out the last track from Underneath as it includes a hidden track, causing it to also include five minutes of silence. Annoying if you have your iPod in your back pocket and would rather not have to fish it out to move onto the next track.

In the end, music is for your soul. It needs to be felt within you, not just listened to. As much as MMMBop reminds me of teeny-boppers and terrible taste, Hanson makes me smile, hum, sing, and dance (when no-one's looking). Their stuff won't be for everyone, but it deserves to be heard by a lot more people than it is currently. Give them a chance. Listen to their most recent works. If you don't like them, that's fine. Just don't ignore them based on a single from 1997. Instead, try out their latest single "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" from their newest, just released album, Shout It Out.

I have no excuse for Chesney Hawkes. Sorry.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Secrets Revealed

For weeks everyone knew. But no-one told me. No-one let it slip, or even drop a vague hint that suggested what the big secret might have been. After, everyone asked if I knew, if I even could have guessed. I really didn't. I knew it must have been amazing if everyone was so paranoid about spoiling it for me. Plus, I had been told that the "wrath of Claire" would be great on he who so much as hinted towards what it might be.

When the day finally rolled around, I was impressed to see how many people turned up. Were they here for me, or to finally see whatever this thing was? Probably a bit of both, but more of the latter! Honestly, I was distracted by babies for the afternoon to care. My day was already looking terrific before most people had even turned up!

Claire arrived home and bundled something into the spare room, causing everyone to head in that direction one by one. They all returned to the room smiling broadly, telling me I was going to "freak" when I saw it.

At some arbitrary time of her choosing, when the majority of people were in attendance, Claire made me face away from the door and brought in my birthday present. The following is a video account of my speechless reaction.

Special thanks to Quinn for recording that moment.

I was truly awed. Never in a million tries would I have guessed this. Ok, maybe a million. After exhausting "A comic-book Spider-Man costume" and "a six pack of Vanilla Coke", I might have stumbled onto this as a possibility. But I certainly didn't think of it before my birthday. In the past, Claire had talked about upgrading my digital camera, but I had that guess shot down when one person who knew the details told me she had to look up what the gift was because she hadn't a clue if it was cool or not. While she may not be the most technologically minded of people, I was pretty confident that she knew what a digital camera was.

But this?!? This was amazing! The Master Replicas Rocketeer Helmet, licenced by Disney and limited to 2000 pieces. I have number 243. It is better than anything I could have imagined, though a six pack of Vanilla Coke does come a close second.

So many people chipped in to get me this. I don't even know who exactly, but if you're reading this, then "Thank You!" You made my 30th birthday a very memorable one. I have no idea how I'm going to get the thing to Canada, but it sure ain't staying here stored away in some wardrobe!

Finally, if anyone has photos from the evening, I'd really like to post them on my Flickr account to share them with everyone. I'd really appreciate if you emailed them to me, or gave me them next time we meet. Thanks. You guys are the best!

Thank Ya Kindly, Ma'am

Let me tell you the tale of the Ryan Family Kids.

It all started way back in the halcyon days of 1998 when the eldest Ryan, young, dashing Denis moved to Cork to attend college. Instead of returning home once his education had been completed, he remained there for the next twelve years, finding a lovely Limerick girl that didn't stab him and "hooking up with her", as the kids call it today. And so began what would be called in the family history books as "The Great Exodus". In 2001, his brother Philip moved to college in Limerick. He then fled to the great land down under, Australia in 2006 or so, from where he has yet to return. The youngest of the Ryans wished to work with animals, and so, following her dream, Margaret-Ann moved to England to study in Bristol. Stephen, the youngest of the three brothers, finding himself at home with nothing to do, decided that the best thing for him was to pack up his Xbox and move to New Zealand, the land of grass and sheep. So, rather like home then.

Suddenly realising he was the only one of the Ryan Kids left in Ireland, Denis looked at where he was. He had a job he loved, but the pay wasn't great. He had, without a shadow of a doubt, the best friends in the entire world. But the itchy feet that had befallen his younger siblings had now afflicted him. Denis' wife too, the fair and beautiful Claire, had an urge to travel, brought on by a combination of poor management at work and poorer management in the nations government. Together, they made a pact. Canada would be their destination. A land rich in many things, but three above all others: opportunity, trees and endless wilderness to dispose of the bodies of their enemies.

Back on the family land in Killea, the people of the village jokingly questioned of the Ryan Kids mother. "What did you do Kathleen? They've all left". Smiling, she shook her head and claimed she did not know. But she did know. She had taught them love and care, compassion and courage, faith and the belief in a better world. She had shown them glimpses of how incredible that world can be, and encouraged them to be free, to live and to explore.

And so, one by one, they traveled to the four corners of the globe to spread her lessons to everyone they met.

And the world lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Look!

A few weeks ago I was enjoying a cheese burger and chips in Supermac's when a father and daughter came in and ordered.The father then picked up the free newspaper from the counter and sat in the kiddies section, opening the paper and reading up on the latest reasons why we are all doomed to a meaningless existence void of any hope or joy.

The daughter decided that sitting down to wait for food was much too boring and looked around for something to amuse herself. She was only two or three years old, and it didn't take long for her eyes to fall on Supermac's attractive looking wet floor signage. Google has failed me. I cannot find an image that even resembles the signs Supermac's uses. So here's a quick sketch:

That's a terrible picture. Blurry, poorly lit,
out of focus, asymetrical and the wrong colour.
But it does have the important details.
Edit: Dave found it-

This little girl stood in front of the sign for a few moments before her eyes lit up. She turned, putting her back against the sign, spreading her legs apart and stretching her arms out sideways from her body, mimicking the plastic man. But she still wasn't happy. She looked side to side at each of her arms, then turned her neck further to look at the yellow sign behind her. Realizing what she needed to do, she pointed her right index finger up and her left index finger down. Smiling brightly, she looked at her arms and the sign again, now happy with her work.

Turning, she called her father: "Daddy, daddy, daddy! Look! Look what I did! Dad! Daddy. Daddy. Dad."

Without looking up from his paper, her father replied dismissively: "That's lovely dear."

The little girl put put her arms down and returned to the table to start eating the chips that had just arrived.

I pray that, when I have kids, no matter how busy I am, I will never ignore my childrens calls for my attention. Those moments are fleeting, and will never happen again. They are unique and special, and as a parent, they are all yours if you want to enjoy them.

Preschool Teacher By Day, Movie Editor By Night

As we reach the end of another school year, I find myself once more stressing out over things I know will be fine and work out easily in the end. Mostly, it's the video we put together using all the photos we took during the year to show parents all the work their kids did and how utterly adorable they are. Except... well... go back and read the last sentence, starting at "mostly" and replace "we" with "I".

I've done this every year that I've been working in the preschool, and every year I run into new problems. The first year it was all the teething issues. Video files not playing nice with the software, having to find appropriate codex's to edit proprietary video camera movie files (oh, while I'm on that subject: Fuck you Sony), recording too much background noise and then having to try to clean up the audio as best I could, and many, many more. The second year was more of the same, but with the added stress of having to one-up myself from the previous year, coupled with how attached to the group I had gotten. It was the first time I had to let go kids I had been teaching for two years, and they were an amazing bunch of kids.

This years problems started and finished with Windows Movie Maker. In past years I have had the luxury of using advanced, expensive, professional and complicated software to help edit or re-encode the video. This year, however, may be the last year that I do this, if plans fall into place (See future blog), and the preschool manager wants to be able to do this herself next year. The preschool manager is, however, very computer illiterate, and advanced, expensive, professional and complicated software to help edit or re-encode the video is far, far beyond her abilities.

So I decided to limit myself to three programs.  The bulk of the work was done between Movie Maker, Windows free built-in basic movie editing tool, and Picasa, the awesome, free and simple-to-use photo editing tool. Let it be said here that I love Picasa. It is far from a professional tool, but it's great for the amateur photographer who doesn't really care too much about the final product. And it can produce very slick looking video compilations of your photos in a widely accepted format with zero hassle. But enough ass-kissing, back to the point. The third and final program was a simple and free video converter program I needed to convert the video files we shot using the camcorder from a proprietary video format to a Movie Maker readable format (once again: Fuck you Sony).

I could do everything I needed to do, and in record time, using only these three programs. AVC would re-encode what I needed to, Picasa would put each sections set of photographs together into a beautifully presented clip, and then Movie Maker would add the soundtrack and produce a single, 12 minute long movie to be shown on this Friday. Except... It didn't.

No matter how often I tried, Movie Maker would not produce a movie. It got to 25% every time and then froze, the "Estimated time remaining" figure slowly climbing upwards as no further progress was had. After three failed attempts at getting it to work, I eventually produced each section individually. Picasa had produced three photo compilations for me, and those, along with the video segment of the children talking about what they want to be when they grow up, meant I had four sections that needed a music track. So I produced four segments of photos with soundtrack in Movie Maker, each one working perfectly, then I put them all together and produced a completed movie. I have no idea why Movie Maker refused to edit the segments together and put the soundtrack on at the same time, but happily edit the four segments with the soundtrack pre-attached without complaint.

Either way, it's all done. I set the whole thing up and showed it to the preschool manager today and we both got all teary-eyed. That's why I don't have my projector or Xbox here tonight and instead I have time to blog. They're in school waiting for Friday. I would normally wait until Thursday to bring all that stuff up, but I'm going to a friends wedding tomorrow instead. Two days left in school, and I take one off! Ha!

To Blog Or Not To Blog

The last few weeks have been kind of busy for me, not all productive though. Red Dead Redemption has eaten up a lot of time I hadn't allocated to gaming thanks to it's surprisingly great gameplay and amazing story. I've been meaning to blog about lots of things. Short posts on random observations, reviews of games and most importantly, a proper blog about my birthday that I promised over a month ago. I've wanted to give that one the care and attention it deserves, not for me, but for all the people that made it so damn awesome!

Tonight I have no projector, and no Xbox. Expect to be blog-bombed.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Movie Night: The Thomas Crown Affair

In honor of the astonishingly low tech theft of up to $1.27 million worth of paintings from the Paris Museum of Modern Art, we're showing the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. While Mr. Crown only steals Monets "San Giorgio Maggiore at dusk", the actual heist two weeks ago got away with five paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Braque!