Birthday weekend in review.

15 February 2009

Lyssa and I started off our Valentine's Day by getting up far earlier than should be allowed by law on a Saturday morning to go to our local H&R Block office to finish getting our taxes done. That morning marked our second trip to get our finances straightened out in Uncle Sam's eyes. I'm sorry to say that our combined medical expenses for FY 2008 weren't enough to earn a deduction, though the repeated trips to the thrift store to get rid of stuff appear to have come in handy. There is a question these days over how many deductions may be taken on one's W-2 form to strike a balance between cashflow for the month and possibly having to pay more money in taxes at the end of the year, and that's a question that I unfortunately don't have any answers for. At this time I have three deductions listed on my W-2, and that appears to have screwed me in subtle ways this time around. If anyone has any information on this sort of thing, please leave a comment to this post.

Following our trip to the tax preparer's office we headed down the block to Uniquities, a knitters' specialty store that carries some hard to gets sorts of yarn, or so Lyssa tells me. When we were trying to figure out what to do for our first Valentine's Day as husband and wife, we decided that the ideal gift for her would be yarn, so after arriving I settled in to read for a while as Lyssa picked out yarn for her next couple of knitting projects. I keep telling myself that I'm going to learn to knit one of these days, even if it's just finger knitting, but I find myself having to manage my time carefully right now. Lyssa picked out a couple of hanks of yarn suitable for knitting lace, which were wound into more useful balls later in the evening. After departing Uniquities we made a beeline (or as close as northern Virginia can approximate) for Paint Your Own Pottery in Fairfax, at which we had reserved some time at the worktables. Painting pottery is one of those relaxing activities that Lyssa and I don't partake of very often but enjoy greatly when we actually get around to doing it. The tricky part, I've found, has always been picking out a piece to work on because their selection tends to run toward piggy banks, small figurines of animals, and stuff that kids like to paint. After a few minutes of digging I eventually found a small ceramic tile with an abstract four winds-like pattern on it that I quickly developed a color scheme for and set to work. For her part, Lyssa had a busy afternoon painting a small dish shaped like a lotus blossom, a butter dish to add to our arsenal of crockery (because the one thing we seem to not have right now is a butter dish), and a small ceramic egg that I didn't get a very good look at because I was absorbed in glazing all of the tiny curves and pockets in my own tile. When we get our stuff back (probably in a week or so) I'll post a couple of photographs of what we did.

I discovered later that afternoon that the SD card I keep in my smartphone appears to have gotten corrupted. I may have lost a significant amount of data, mostly photographs, but I'm going to take a shot at retrieving whatever files I can. I suspect that it happened when my phone ran out of power on Friday afternoon.

After we left Paint Your Own Pottery Lyssa and I realized that we hadn't had anything to eat since 1000 Saturday morning (just before our tax appointment), so we headed back toward Tyson's Corner to get dinner before everyone arrived. For fun we tried to see if we could get a table at P.F. Chang's at Tyson's-II, but unfortunately they were flush with reservations and were seating everyone else wherever they could. Legal Seafood not far away was full up with reservations only. Mind you that our original plans were to go to Konami for sushi on Saturday evening; going to Tyson's-II to see if we could get something else was one of those last minute "what the hell, it might work" ideas that wound up not panning out. In hindsight, while the Konami Special Roll is tasty (and if you're into sushi and find yourself at Konami I highly recommend that you try it) it's also far too much food if you also order a dinner or entree. I suspect that we paid for a couple of things in our order which the waitstaff wound up not bringing out to us. Our plans for the evening were to celebrate my birthday a day early by going to Spellbound for a night on the town but practically everyone invited was sick, just getting over being sick, or exhausted for other reasons, so it was well recieved when word was sent out that plans were changed and we were staying in for the evening. The night before, Lyssa had made tiramisu in lieu of a more traditional birthday cake, so once people started arriving we divvied it up and sat around the living room talking about this, that, and the other thing, as we are wont to do. Rialian was one of the first people to arrive, and he brought with him a bunch of RPG supplements that a good friend of mine helped work on. Mika and Jason arrived, Hasufin a bit later with a hand-made braided leather watch fob (which I'm going to start wearing), then Nick and Cate. Laurelinde, unfortunately, was still recovering from this year's plague and wasn't able to come. Somewhen around 0200 on Sunday morning we headed a ways down the road to the Silver Diner for a late night snack, and somehow managed to not frighten the waitstaff too much. I finally went to bed around 0330, only to wake up again at noon on Sunday, my actual birthday. I lounged around the apartment for a while reading and spoke on the phone a bit with my mom to wish her a happy birthday, who happens to share my birthday, modulo a couple of years. After Lyssa and I got ourselves moving we headed down the street to Micro Center to pick out my birthday gifts: I've been meaning to build a media server for the home entertainment center for a couple of years now so that we can play back everything we've accumulated over the years, so I picked out a CPU (Intel Core 2 Duo E7400) and mainboard (Asus P5Q SE2) to go along with the two terabytes of disk space that have been sitting around since Yule. I also picked up a SATA DVD burner to assist in pulling files out of cold storage; for a few dollars more than a DVD-ROM drive, why not go for the extra functionality? Now I just need RAM and a video card before I can put everything together.

I plan on using Miro to organize what we already have because it was designed for just this sort of task, as well as pulling down new stuff from RSS feeds.

While I didn't mention it earlier, I also recieved a couple of gifts from my mother last weekend which I only recently got around to opening. I've wanted to get a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey on disc ever since it came out because my VHS tape is going on twenty years old. I now own it on Blu-Ray,, so it will be interesting to see what details were lost (or simply forgotten) from watching a relatively low-res version of the movie all these years. I also recieved Johnny Long's new book, No Tech Hacking, a text about highly unconventional methods of breaking security and penetration testing. The proceeds from this book go to a project that Johnny's been working on, I Hack Charities, but it appears that his site's been hit with a case of the creeping WTF, and it'll be running in reduced capacity for a couple of weeks.

Much to my surprise, I also recieved an OCZ NIA, a device which I had a chance to play with last year and consequently fell in love with. So far, I haven't had a chance to experiment with the one I just got, but I plan on cleaning some of the junk out of Windbringer's Windows XP partition and installing the application software. Maybe I'll finally get around to teaching myself to write device drivers, like I always promised myself I would.

So many projects, so little time.

After catching a quick lunch at the Tyson's Corner food court, Lyssa and I met up with Bronwyn at the movie theatre to catch the theatrical run of Coraline, which is an adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman's more macabre stories to the silver screen. Enter Coraline: a young girl uprooted from home so that her parents could work on a catalogue of gardening supplies even though they don't like dirt, which is something of a prerequisite if you plan on growing anything. Due to the fact that her parents are more concerned with their careers and not with their child, Coraline as often as not finds herself wandering the grounds surrounding the flat the family rented and counting things inside the house, such as the number of windows and doors.. one of which is bricked up save at certain times of the night, when one could crawl down a passageway into another world, if one were so inclined. A world in which Coraline meets reflections of everyone she met at her new home, save that they were far more well disposed toward her and had pairs of black buttons for eyes. When things are too good to be true, they just might be...

Coraline is a fantastic movie, to put it frankly. It's done entirely with stop-motion animation and highly detailed miniatures and sets. Most everything shown was made by hand.. even Coraline's sweater and gloves, which were knitted by hand by one Althea Crome, who is known in the knitting community for her sub-miniature works. The Coraline costumess were knitted using sewing rather than knitting needles and thread, though she says that she's worked with far smaller tools (needles no thicker than a human hair). Watch the video I linked to, it's impressive. Now, all of that said, this is not a children's movie, as not a few parents that evening discovered the hard way. It touches on matters of abandonment and some aspects of faerie lore which will scare the living hell out of little ones. I'd suggest waiting until your kids are about eleven or twelve before letting them see it. Afterward, the three of us headed down the road to Ledo's Pizzaria for a late dinner to wrap up the weekend and unwind a bit after a movie that left us all a bit twitchy, truth be told.