It started out with two ex-coworkers, my old boss El Korbo, and another guy, Roy. I had never been to a MarketPro Computer show before, and for over a year he promised that we'd go together (since he knows a majority of the vendors), and I always backed out for some reason. I felt bad, and then he asked again in January, and I had to back out AGAIN! This time, I was going to do this hell or high water, and then Chance's 11th birthday party was scheduled for the same day. ARG! But I managed it anyway by doing the MarketPro in the early morning, which worked out for El Korbo because he had stuff to do in the afternoon as well (his daughter had to be dropped off at her grandmother's or something).
Then I got a call from Roy, who said he had to go with his current boss, and he didn't want to get stuck with him (his boss is... well, unpleasant but thinks of Roy as a pal). So he used me as an excuse not to hang out with his boss, and said he had to give me a ride home. Which he did (sort of, he gave me a ride to Sean's house).
The show itself was kind of fun. It was mostly what I expected, but still had enough "Oooooh ... look at that!" to be worth the $7 entry fee. I help Roy pick out a barebones Linux box. El Korbo showed me the vendors he trusted and why. Two things struck me about these things, and everyone I say these to act unsurprised. First, there were a few vendors illegally selling OEM and even pirated software. There wasn't any one vendor who was selling racks of obvious pirated stuff, but often you'd see copies of seemingly legal retail versions mixed with CDs in paper envelopes that had the registration/serial number written in pen across it. Second, almost every vendor had two prices: one for cash, one for credit cards. I happen to know that's completely against bank contracts; if Visa caught you do this, for instance, you'd never be allowed to accept Visa or Mastercards again. I know why they do that, because when you make a credit card purchase, the company takes a percentage of the sales from the vendor. But they are not supposed to pass along the cost to the consumer, at least that obviously. But I am no whistleblower, but that kind of practice sets red flags that the vendor may not be reliable if they are already obviously defrauding banks. Some companies wanted cash only sales, and that limited my desire to buy anything.
I did buy a finger mouse, so I could read on the laptop in bed without being hunched over all the time. Lazy lazy lazy...
After that Roy dropped me off at Sean's house for Part 2 of the day: Chance's 11th Birthday party. CR was already there, and the family hung around waiting for Sean's dad to come by. Sean's dad is awesome; he's really a nice guy. Then we went to Ultrazone, which is kind of an indoor warrior like thing for lazertag. They really wanted me to go with them, and after the Vegas disaster, I really wanted to have fun with Sean. But, sadly, I sort of forgot these venues are in near darkness, and with my night vision as bad as it is... first of all, I am thankful that the girl I was supposed to be keeping an eye on, six-year old Scarlet (Chance's sister), ended up being my eyes and ears, and I followed her LED lights and shirt which thankfully brightly glowed under the blacklight. She probably saved me from a grievous fall-related injury. I must have banged into dozens of corners and low overheads. I didn't focus on attacking or defending as much as I did trying not to trip and fall on the floor or Scarlet, hurt my healing foot, or lose sight of Scarlet. I don't know what that place looks like to normal people, but if you have poor night vision, this is what it looks like:
You're in some empty pitch-black space, with a strange loss of balance since you don't have any visual references to tell your body if you're upright or not. You get a rising sense of panic during this sense of free-fall, but try and assure yourself this won't last long, an you're not really falling, it's just pitch black and you don't know which way is up. There are moving sets of brightly-lit flashing LEDs. Your team is green. The other teams are red and yellow (which looked too close to green). Once in a while, you get visual clue to walls by paying attention where lights disappear, or there's a huge set of strobes a few times a minute which burn a reverse image into your retina for half a second. Sometimes UV-reactive paint lines some corners and walls, but not many. The floor keeps changing shape and angle, and randomly, something (usually a cored or wall) knocks into your shoulders, head, toes, and arms. You often lean onto solid objects very suddenly, because you have lost balance, but couldn't tell. Thankfully, the corridors are narrow so you can easily feel your way around. Then it ends. You get a scorecard that shows those redneck kids with the buzzcuts have totally creamed your team.
I got rank 34 out of 34 for the green team (the score is based on shots, hits, bases captured, etc...), but I take pride I went through the thing without having a panic attack or being seriously injured. Then we had cake, pizza, and the help from an unusually friendly teen staff. I say "unusually friendly" because, you know, a lot of teens just go through their work like they don't care. Not all of them, true, but in urban areas, teens that care about their quality of work are rare. What struck me about Ultrazone is how low they clip their overhead. We ate cake we brought ourselves and Pizza we ordered from Papa John's on metal folding chairs in front of plastic tables. There's nothing wrong with that, actually, because it is perfectly functional. And the staff was very polite and helpful, so... go Ultrazone management!
After that, we went back to Sean's house, opened presents, and... okay, I just want to point out something to ALL grandparents out there. When a girl is close to "coming of age," as it were, and you feel the need to buy a book explaining the changes one's body is about to endure, it is NOT a good idea to present such books in a public venue. A private moment of, "Hey, here's a book you might want to read that explains changing from a girl to a woman," is a better place to do so. Oh my God, poor Chance. They might as well given her a training bra an a box of tampons. I mean, I may not have a daughter, but even I know that. I applaud Chance for not running out of the room, screaming like Carrie during the shower scene. Anyway, we gave her "The Color of Magic," by Terry Prachett, and a $30 Borders Books gift card (the book store near them) so she could get some other stuff she wanted. The book is my ... plan ... to slowly make her one of us. Mwah ha ha...
Hey, did you know all the cool Alan Dean Foster books I grew up to are NOT in book stores anymore? Well, the Flinx series still is, but they didn't have the first one. I am outraged!
Afterwards, I hung out with Scarlet and Keiran, who really just ran around. Scarlet is quite the performer. It's kind of funny, Scarlet and Chance are so different. Chance is very well-read, with a quiet mood, who hates to perform, and wants to hang out with people older than... okay, she's a Goth. I mean, she doesn't wear the black yet, and has to pass some parental test before she can dye her hair, but I feel like I should get ahold of Suzi and introduce the two. Rogue comes out of her self-imposed religious retreat soon, as well. On the other hand, Scarlet is remarkably a normal outgoing and performing "I wanna be a princess" girl on the outside, but that's just a ruse. Deep inside that little brain, large, heavy gears are running at speeds that are hard to measure. She's already an incredible reader for someone her age, and from my own personal experience, you can't hide much from a reader. She also has a deeper sense of compassion that most girls that age, and she's a very good caretaker. And with her already rudimentary social skills, I think she's going to figure other adults out, and may be a born leader. Keiran is only 3, so it's hard to tell, but already his personality must be heard. He seems to have some of the skills of Scarlet with people skills, and I think he quietly watches his eldest sister.
Later, because of some discussion Anya, Matt (aka "The Big Smooth"), and my family had, we determined the Herndon Chuck-ee-cheese has really good pizza. So we planned to go Saturday night and have pizza there. Then it occurred to Christine and I, why not bring Chance? Chance doesn't get to be herself as much as I think she likes (she's got the classic older sister role of helping take care of the younger siblings), and I am trying to give her a release valve so she has an easier time in life. I have personally known, thanks to many friends during my troubled times, how much of a lifesaver this can be. And I know Chance is a worry-wart like me. I got to see her run around that night, and she never tired out. She was happy, hyperactive, and acting like a normal girl her age, which I think she needs. CR and The Big Smooth ran around, too, having a blast. Anya, Christine, and I had a long discussion about our past, parents, and losing weight.
Afterwards, we dropped off Chance, and then Anya suggested we go out for coffee. So we did, and I ended up having an Oreo Sundae as well. The CR started getting tired at 1am, and we all went home.
But one significant thing happened at Chuck-ee-cheese. I don't know what it was, and I fear if I analyze the magic, it would go away. But for the first time in probably many months, I felt happy. It only lasted an hour, but that's an hour I didn't have before. Maybe it was the combo of friends, seeing Chance happy, drinking fruit punch, and getting an extra chance to study for the RHCE. I don't know, but the event was significant, and I held onto it like a small spark of joy for as long as the glow lasted.
Today, I slept really late, like 1pm. I had a headache. Then I watched "The Incredibles" DVD, some extras, did cleaned dishes, did the finances, and wrote this entry between chunks housework. I felt depressed most of today, but I think it's the weather. At this point, "Depression without reason" seems like a favorable alternative to the last ... gads, 18 months? I almost feel happy to be depressed, knowing it's just a chemical imbalance, instead of some real reason I can't escape.
Still haven't been hit by a harpoon.
I have another 4am build tomorrow. This time, they assure me, it will work. I have to laugh. It's very unusual and against department policy to do an install on a Monday, but we were pressured to push it out again because apparently this is attached to some massive public release project, and they got some clout to push it out ASAP. And even though it gets me in trouble, I am going to document everything everyone says on the call. I am going to document the whole process through the backout that will eventually happen at 10am. I left my schedule open for just that purpose.