Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Night Videos

This video of "Roundtable Rival" is gloriously gonzo. Crazy old west steampunk, outrageous dance moves and production values that are amazing in this era where YouTube is the only real outlet. Very impressive. And Lindsey Stirling is fantastic. I mean, she's an excellent musician, clearly. But to play the fiddle and bust those dance moves? Nobody else can do that. She has a magnificent sense of showmanship.

Beyond the video, the music is quite catchy, too. Frankly, I'm astonished at her popularity. Not because she doesn't deserve it, but because this type of neo-Celtic sound has been around for a long time but never broken out beyond a niche audience. Her style reminds me of some Cape Breton-style fiddlers, and her sound reminds me of Leahy, but nothing I've read about her online indicates any kind of Celtic/folk influence on her. Which I find hard to believe, given how her music dovetails so neatly with that genre. Perhaps she'll serve as a gateway drug to these other sounds?

Oh, and that Kodak Ektar lens? Not period.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kasey Lansdale.

Now Playing: Various artists Celtic Moods
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, October 20, 2014

The story so far

Today, The Wife and I signed away our home. We've lived here 11 years, and closing the sale was bitter sweet for us. Our real estate agent was actually concerned we'd back out. But we'd made a commitment to the young, newlywed couple who are giddy and eager to settle into their first home together, and it would be cruel to renege on the agreement. So, we are no longer homeowners. We have a three-week lease-back, and after that, we're homeless.

Yeah. That's proven to be an "interesting times" situation.

We had settled on a house, 3148 Oak Hollow Drive, New Braunfels, Texas, to be specific. You can Google it if you want. On the surface, it had everything we wanted--almost 3,000 square feet of living space in a house with some quirky charms. There was a detached three-car garage with a garage apartment that could be converted into a spectacular photo studio for Lisa On Location Photography with minimal effort. It was quiet and rural, with plenty of space (and woods!) between us and potential neighbors. Oh, and did I mention it came with more than three-and-a-half acres? It was just about as perfect as we could ask for.

Except... it was a forecosure. It'd sat vacant for more than two years, and was owned by Fannie Mae, which had a reputation of being difficult to work with. The house and apartment needed work. Siding and soffits and such had suffered damage over the years of vacancy. An above-ground pool had devolved into so much scrap metal. It looked like it needed work, but we could make it our own. So we began negotiations. And negotiated, and negotiated. Fannie Mae and their representing agent, ***** ******* of ******** ******, were indifferent at best, slow to respond to our offers and insulting in their counter-offers. Very inflexible. Most of the time it seemed like they didn't care if the house sold or not, which you have to wonder about, since it was a foreclosure taking up red ink on their books. After nearly a month of back-and-forth, we reached an agreement and got the property under contract. Then we had our home inspector take a look (they were selling it "as-is" with no disclosure) and that's when everything took a turn for the worse. Raccoons had invaded the attic, destroying all the HVAC duct work, ripping out a tremendous amount of insulation and leaving feces and fleas everywhere. Our inspector was repulsed by the mess and so concerned about hanta virus he insisted with both wash down with massive mounts of sanitizer. Squirrels and rats and found their way inside as well. All the wiring in the house turned out to be a do-it-yourself kind of job, violating pretty much every building code known to man. The foundations were solid--very solid, in fact--but laid in such a way to almost guarantee water would seep into the house. And yes, we found copious evidence of water damage. The water well wasn't functioning properly and... well, I'll be here all night if I try to write it all out. I'll save us all the trouble and just let you read the actual 3148 Oak Hollow Inspection Report

Suffice to say, the house was unliveable. Our lender wouldn't finance unless the most egregious of the hazards were addressed by the seller, so we wrote up the list and submitted it. Seeing as how our option period expired that Saturday, and Fannie Mae is closed over the weekend, we were eager to have some sort of closure so we wouldn't risk losing our earnest money. So when our rep contacted the listing agent that Friday, she was rewarded for her hard work on our behalf with an ass-chewing. The listing agent was quite rude, and concluded the sad affair by saying, "I don't have time for this." She's a realtor. That's her job. She doesn't have time to do her job? So we rescinded our offer. By that time we had little faith they'd be responsive to the problems with the house anyway, so we thought it best to cut our losses and preserve our earnest money.

The downside is, of course, we have no home awaiting us in three weeks. We do have a Plan B, but that's a story for another time. Fingers crossed.

Now Playing: The Kinks Give The People What They Want
Chicken Ranch Central

Babylon 5: The War Prayer

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Old friends and relatives dominate this episode, "The War Prayer." Delenn is meeting with an old friend, Shaal Mayan, a famed Minbari poet on her way to Earth for a major artistic tour/performance. She is to give a poetry recital on Babylon 5 later, before she departs for Earth. A Centauri ship arrives with detainees--young-adult Centauri lovers, Kiron and Aria, who are fleeing arranged marriages. They demand to see their cousin, Ambassador (!) Vir Cotto. Finally, Malcolm Biggs, Commander Susan Ivanova's old lover, whom she broke up with years before in order to accept a career-advancing post far away from him, choosing duty over romance.

After Mayan leaves Delenn's quarters, she's attacked by the Home Guard--xenophobic humans (think futuristic KKK)--beaten and branded on the forehead. This sets the station into an uproar, with the alien ambassadors outraged. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suspects, as hatred of the alien races is high amongst the lower-rung humans aboard station, and some of the more powerfully-influential as well. As for the Centauri lovers, it turns out that Vir exaggerated his position just a little bit. Londo is unsympathetic to their pleas, arguing that love is overrated and that he despises all three of his wives, whom he calls "Pestilence, Disease and Famine." Marriages are for political and financial gain, nothing more. Vir grows a little bit of a backbone and argues with Londo, but to no avail. Londo is to weary and bitter about life to care. Kiron and Aria sneak off to the hydroponic gardens to be alone and feel sorry for themselves, and are attacked by the Home Guard. Kiron's shot with a blaster and Aria is stunned with a taser/club. Ivanova has a romantic dinner with Malcolm, who tells her he plans to set up permanent residence on the station so they can be together. Ivanova's surprised, and her stand-offish facade begins to crumble. They head back to her quarters, but before anything lustful happens, Ivanova's summoned back to duty because G'Kar has whipped the aliens up into a riot. Reviewing security video, Garibaldi finds that Malcolm had met with a prime Home Guard suspect--and recruited the suspect into the Home Guard. Ivanova is stunned. Commander Sinclair asks her to introduce him to Malcolm. Sinclair begins treating the alien ambassadors brusquely, to win over Malcolm's confidence. Sinclair rants that victory in the Earth-Minbari War tasted like ashes because the Minbari let Earth win. Malcolm is downright giddy at the prospect of reeling in Sinclair as an ally, but still wary. Sinclair and Ivanova rendezvous with Malcolm at a secret meeting, and many Home Guard appear, having been disguised by Earth Force "black light camouflage" devices. Malcolm tells Sinclair of a plot to orchestrate a mass assassination of the alien ambassadors on Babylon 5, for which they'll need Sinclair to grant them access to secure areas. As a test of Sinclair's loyalty, they bring forth a terrified alien delegate for the commander to execute. Garibaldi's security forces swoop in, and Ivanova captures Malcolm. Malcolm insults her for siding with "them," but man, Ivanova is stone cold, no regrets. She despises Malcolm something fierce at this point. As for the Centauri lovers, Kiron recovers, and Londo informs them they'll be sent back to Centauri Prime where they will enter into "fosterage" with his powerful, ancient family. Fosterage is a rare practice in modern Centauri society, but still prestigious. The fosterage will last until the lovers come of age, at which point they will be free to decide for themselves who to marry.

What Jayme Says: The main plot is no great shakes. The symbolism of racist vigilantes terrorizing those who are different from them is obvious and heavy-handed. Part of this stems from the fact the Home Guard springs forth fully-formed and active. It is too much all at once. Gradual escalation over several episodes would've served much better, but of course, Babylon 5 is still firmly in the episodic series mode right now. And I repeat myself by saying the introduction of the Home Guard will pay off more in the future, but it's the truth. The best parts of this episode are the glimpses into the alien cultures viewers are afforded. Characters as well. During their argument, Londo tells Vir, "'My shoes are too tight.' Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'My shoes are too tight, but it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.' I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance." This is incredibly sad and poignant, showing Londo as a thoroughly defeated person, bereft of hope. Londo, of course, is symbolic of the Centauri Republic as a whole--hopeless, in decline and hidebound by ritual and tradition. In contrast, G'Kar's brief appearance casts him as the rabble-rousing agitator, provoking conflict for conflict's sake, likewise reenforcing our perceptions of the Narn species as a whole. The other attention-grabbing moment comes when Sinclair visits the Vorlon Ambassador, Kosh, to warn him about the Home Guard attacks. Kosh is uninterested, and instead studies a screen showing scenes from Earth's pass. When Sinclair presses him, Kosh cuts him off abruptly. Afterward, Sinclair reflects back on the events of "The Gathering". Dr. Kyle and telepath Lyta Alexander--the only two humans to ever see a Vorlon outside of its encounter suit--had both been transferred off Babylon 5 shortly after that incident. But if Vorlons always wore encounter suits, then how could the Minbari assassin from that incident have applied poison directly onto Kosh's hand? Curious indeed. The bread crumbs and back story are starting to build up, but thus far for the viewer they look like so much window dressing, clever little throw-away bits with no greater long-term significance. Amazing how much you pick up on the second run-through.

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Live at Blues Alley
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Farscape: Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue
My Farscape rewatch continues with "Rhapsody in Blue," one of those punnish titles the writers were ever so fond of.

Crichton dreams himself back on Earth, at an earlier time, lounging around the bedroom with his girlfriend, Alex. After exchanging pillow talk/banter, Alex informs Crichton that yes, she has accepted the position at Stanford, which will separate her and him, effectively ending their relationship. A heartbroken Crichton reaches down and pushed an engagement ring under the bed to hide it from her. A sudden starburst jars him awake, and reaching the bridge he learns Moya's detected a pregnant leviathan's distress call. Other crew members experienced dreams reuniting them with lost spouses. Upon reaching the location, however, they find no leviathan, only a planet with a small enclave of Delvians. The leader, Tahleen, apologizes for mental deception she used to draw them to the planet, but she needs to meet with Zhaan. Wary, Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo and Zhaan descend to the planet, where they are greeted warmly. Many years before, Zhaan was an angry, violent anarchist, but used the mental disciplines she learned as a Delvian priestess to gain mastery over her impulses. Tahleen wants Zhaan to mind-meld and share this discipline with her, because this enclave of Delvians had unlocked great mental powers that are slowly driving them all insane. Without Zhaan's discipline, they are all doomed--which conveniently explains why they can't wait around and learn it themselves over a period of years/decades as Zhaan had.

Zhaan is suspicious and reluctant. She goes to Crichton for advice, and so that he truly understands what is at stake, has Tahleen project a mental image of Zhaan mind-melding (they call it "Unity" here, but who are we kidding?) with her lover, Bitaal, a high Delvian muckety-muck who participated in a coup on Delvia, ruining lives and imperiling their world. So Zhaan killed him with her mind during their unity. Cold. Crichton's not too happy, but Zhaan needed him to see what she had once been. Conflicted that Tahleen may use her powers to harm whilst also freeing Delvia, Zhaan waffles, but eventually agrees to help. Determined that the crew of Moya not interfere, Tahleen has her followers distract them with mental projections and false memories. Crichton suddenly finds himself with Alex, who was his co-pilot on the Farscape project. D'Argo chases after Peacekeepers who appear to have his son, Jothee. Rygel shrinks to a very tiny size. Aeryn's pulse rifle falls apart and she cannot reconstruct it. Tahleen and Zhaan complete unity, and while Tahleen is clearly stronger, the madness has also taken root in Zhaan. Tahleen is not satisfied, though, as she still doesn't have all the mental power she craves. She intends to mind-meld with Zhaan again to take every last bit of mental discipline, even if it kills Zhaan. Crichton argues with Alex about helping Zhaan, and Alex plays every sort of guilt trip card available. Finally, the the Delvian reveals herself and admits Alex was a construct, and says Crichton's devotion to Zhaan convinced her Tahleen's path is wrong. Crichton finds Zhaan, who is halfway into the deep end, and mind-melds with her to save her. Zhaan, obsessing over the darkness within, sees herself as Crichton sees her: Noble, gentle, caring, wise. This gives her anchor and she regains control. Tahleen attempts to destroy Crichton's mind, but Zhaan blocks her--the unity worked both ways, and Zhaan picked up some of Tahleen's mental abilities, rising to a 10th-level Pa'u in the process. They then return to Moya, but Zhaan leaves the vestments of a Pa'u behind, as she deems herself no longer worthy.

Commentary: This episode gives some much-welcome backstory on Delvian society, although the big reveal about the biological nature of their species still remains in the future. Curiously, some Delvians have hair. This is never explained. Considering the fact that Vinginia Hey departs the series, in part because of the need to remain bald for the role, I find this quite curious. It is obvious from the first moment Tahleen appears on the screen that this benevolent religious sect is anything but, but seeing the power-grab play out is interesting. As far as allegory goes, portraying the double-edged sword that is religion works pretty well, even if it is heavy-handed. And although Zhaan has been a Vulcan analog from Star Trek from the get-go (raging, dark emotions threaten to take control and lead to madness if discipline is not maintained, anyone?) the politics of their society along with their amplified mental abilities distinguish them and help stake out their own identity. Zhaan is progressively less of a Vulcan analog from here on out. Not anywhere close to being among my favorite episodes, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "It's like Disney on acid! Ten years of really great sex all at the same moment!"

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Live at Blues Alley
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Night Videos

I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager this Kasey Lansdale has got a future ahead of her. She's been building her music career for a number of years now, and she's got a heck of a voice. Sure, there's a bit of Reba there, but on some songs she sounds like an improbable fusion of Patsy Cline and Janis Joplin. "Sorry Ain't Enough" isn't my favorite song of hers, but there's no arguing it doesn't show off her talent. Kasey also gets major bonus points for making a country video that doesn't utterly suck--a trend I've ranted about before. Not only does Kasey's video not suck, it's actually pretty damn good and succeeds in conveying some of her personality. Hard to believe this the same person as the teen who took it as a personal affront when she lost a Miss Aggiecon contest to a reptile many moons ago...

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Huey Lewis and the News.

Now Playing: The Go-Gos Return to the Valley of the Go-Gos
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In which house-hunting takes a turn for the suck

We've identified a house we want to buy. We've actually had our eye on it for quite some time. In fact, back in June, when I first kinda semi-seriously flirted with the idea of selling our current home and moving, I searched some real estate sites just to see what kind of properties were available and whether or not a move would even be worth it. This house was the very first one I looked at, and convinced me we could make a move work.

So with our house under contract, our lender pre-approved us for a certain maximum price level we could offer on any particular property. Once we close on this home's sale, said max loan increases, as we'd no longer be carrying that mortgage. So we made an offer on the Prime Target.

A little background is in order. Prime Target is a Fannie Mae-owned property. It was a foreclosure. It has been on the market for 100-plus days at this point, and undergone several price cuts in that time to bring it close to our pre-approved loan amount before closing on our sale. Our offer was on the low end--our max ceiling was still less than the current asking price. We had reason for optimism, though. We were offering about 10 percent below asking price, and we'd seen Fannie Mae homes sold for that kind of price cut when they'd been on the market as long as this one. In addition to it being on the market for a long 100-plus days, other homes in this area and price bracket were newer and swankier. This one wasn't so much a fixer-upper as a cleaner-upper. We did some digging, and discovered it'd actually been on the market, off and on, since 2008 with no takers prior to going into foreclosure. I tracked down the original owners, and they were quite forthcoming about the circumstances of the foreclosure, their plans for the home (it's completed, but a lot of finishing touches such as replacing the vinyl siding with stone and stucco weren't accomplished). They want someone to buy and live in the house and bring it back from the brink of neglect Fannie Mae has left it in. They bid us good luck in our effort to buy it. There were quite a number of cosmetic issues that detracted from it's potential value to the average buyer. For us, though, it was a blank slate upon which to put our stamp. More than 3 acres of property, no HOA and a triple garage with upstairs apartment that simply begged to be converted into a full-blown studio for Lisa On Location Photography. It was perfect for us, decidedly imperfect for anyone else.

Today Fannie Mae responded to our offer, saying they had received a competing offer and inviting us to make our "best and final" bid.

You're telling me this house has languished on the market for seven fucking years without buyer interest, and the very week we make an offer somebody else does as well? Really? Really? Coincidence much? My gut tells me this is total and complete bullshit, a fake auction conjured by Fannie Mae to squeeze a few more pennies out of us. A little internet research turns up any number of people who've experienced the exact same thing as us. There's no way to prove the competing bid exists. There's no way to prove it doesn't. And there is no way for us to up our bid--at least not until Oct. 20, when we close on the sale of our current home (at which point this "best and final" auction will be ancient history).

At this point, there's nothing for it. There are three outcomes, all beyond our power to affect: 1) out current "best and final" wins the day and we get the house straight up, 2) we lose the house and someone else goes "neener neener" at us, or 3) all "bids" are rejected and the house stays on the market, or gets de-listed for a couple of weeks only to reappear at a later date. Regardless of how this shakes out, we'll be fine... given enough time. But again, I dread the prospects of having to go the short-term rental route as we hunt for a replacement that ticks as many boxes as Prime Target does.

Losing out on Prime Target is one thing, but the overwhelming feeling of being scammed is tough to stomach, regardless of the outcome.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, September 29, 2014

Under contract

Have I mentioned how much I hate moving? Because I do. I hate everything about it, from the selling of the house to the buying of the new house to the actual packing and hauling and storing and trying to make vastly differing closing dates work so that we don't find ourselves homeless for a spell. It's actually every bit as bad as I remember from last time--which was 11 years ago. Nothing is different, other than the fact that this move is, believe it or not, by choice.

The Wife and I are fully committed to living out the remainder of our lives in whichever house we end up with, just so we never have to move again. Oh, yeah--we don't have a destination yet. Joy.

Yesterday marked the end of our prospective buyers' option period. Which means they're locked in to buy, and we're locked in to sell. The closing date's roughly three weeks out, but could possibly be moved up if their financing falls into place. Which is fine by us. After that point, we have a three-week lease-back, and then vacate. Won't that be fun? The buyers are a young couple, married a little over a year, practically kids. They don't really know what they're doing, but that's fine, because neither did we when we bought our first house. They're getting a great deal, though. They should be happy with their new home.

But back to that option period, and the source of my current headaches. Their building inspector turned up some issues they wanted us to address. No surprise, that's what building inspectors do. But the guy was a jerk, and shut off the power to the house even though he knew The Wife was working on a wedding on her computer at the time. Fried the entire batch of photos she had open in Lightroom, and made the computer very glitchy for about a week, until she emptied the entire cache to wipe the slate clean. And he departed leaving lights on, the AC set to sub-zero conditions and faucets trickling water--pretty much completely disrespecting us and our home. But one of the big demands they had from him was to install peak vents along our roof. A somewhat condescending explanation accompanied, which just about set us off. Our current vents weren't good enough for them? What they were demanding was no small task, and no small expense. Especially after we'd gotten a brand-new, Energy Star roof installed just a year earlier. We were this close to firing off a blistering counter-offer when I got a little twitchy feeling. The inspector's report hadn't said "install more vents," it said "install vents." Suspicious, but not really believing it possible, I pulled the ladder upstairs to take a look inside the attic and visually inspect our extant vents. That photo up above is what I saw. The roofers had shingled over our vents! Checking our contract, there were clearly line item charges for A) removal of existing vents and B) re-installation of said vents. I don't know where to begin. Fortunately, the roofing company seemed suitably embarrassed by this mess and ought to have the situation corrected before I get home. Except now I get a concerned call from home that gives me a dread feeling that even this simple task may have been botched. *sigh*

Now Playing: Sting Mercury FallingBut that's just one thing to fix. The concrete slab outside where the central AC unit sits has subsided over the past decade, so that the unit now sits at an angle. That needs to be leveled. I'm doing this myself, and managed to raise the shebang about 4 inches yesterday. Another 4 inches should do it, and I'll tackle that this evening. Another chore is to climb a ladder and check out a couple of bare spots where wind has pulled away siding. We suspect the siding simply telescoped into adjacent panels as we've never found any loose pieces on the ground, but it's still a logistical pain to accomplish two stories up. The final item is one I can't DIY, however. Our electric meter box has somehow pulled out of the siding and whatever it was mounted to inside the wall, and is now just dangling. It looks like a simple fix--three long screws, maybe use some sort of drywall anchor to make it more stable, and you're done in 10 minutes. Except the meter box is locked, and I'm not terribly keen on working around high voltage. I called the utility company, and they refuse to help. "Call an electrician," they said. So I called an electrician, who'd be happy to help, but they need the utility company to come out and unlock the box. And thus an infinite loop is created.

All of this would be more tolerable if we simply knew where we'd be living in another month, but even that is denied to us. The house we want, that ticks pretty much every box for us, won't take contingency contracts, period. And the amount we're pre-approved for whilst owning our current house falls just short of the magic number to get it under contract. So we wait, and watch, and occasionally look at other houses in an effort to compile a viable "Plan B" list in case our hoped-for home gets bought out from under us as we wait for our current house to close.

Have I mentioned how much I hate moving? Because I do.

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling
Chicken Ranch Central