gadgets


Middle of last week there’s an email in my inbox from the Olympus camera company telling me about their PEN Ready Project and how they’re giving away more than 1,000 cameras to more than 1,000 folks and that “we think you’ll be a perfect addition.”

I have no idea how they came to such a conclusion since I’m not a blogger of any renown or one who’s prone to reviewing things (and even then it’s usually stuff I’ve bought), but if Olympus wanted to send me a $500 PEN E-PM1 camera that was mine to keep — especially when they added I was under no obligation to be anything but honest in my assessments and opinions of the device — who was I to say no?

So I emailed ’em back and said hell yeah and they emailed me back and said cool along with a link to an online form to fill out that was full of waivers and rules (the main one being I have to post a minimum of 20 pictures to the PEN Ready website by October 31). After they received it they said hold tight we’ll get your free-to-keep camera out to you in a few days.

It arrived this afternoon. Say hi:

With its compact size, external flash and removable lens system it’s a unit that Olympus has positioned as an alternative to those in the market for a camera who want more than a point-and-shoot but aren’t ready to go the full DSLR route.

Being so well-versed and immersed among various Canon DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras these last few years, there will no doubt be a learning curve as I learn the language of its bells and whistles, but being not a total idiot, I was able to install its battery and start shooting with it right out of the box. Literally I swung my desk seat around and clicked snoozy Ranger (click for the bigger pictures):

Then I wandered out back and snapped a late-season cactus flower:

Me likey the results.

Being able to snap with it from the get-go is great, but another thing that will take getting used to is its size. It’s certainly compact and far smaller than my Canon Rebel, but the externally mounted (and interchangeable) lens (none others included) sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to my trusty Canon Powershot SD1100, that I can holster on my belt or backpack or keep in a pocket ready to point-and-shoot it on a moment’s notice.

I know: Oh boo hoo.

Trust me. I’m not griping. Just noting an adjustment regarding mobility. If I carry this cam with me on bike rides it’ll either be in my pack or around my neck if I wish it to be more readily accessible (and I’m decidedly an anti-strap guy). Because you know I’ll be carrying it with me on bike rides and other adventures.

So last week, a technician came out and restored our suddenly dead 2-month-old fridge to working order, by diagnosing the problem as a refrigerant leak and making the necessary repairs and refills.

All was cool, literally, until less than 24 hours later when the fridge started making this noise for extended periods of time:

Sometimes it would be louder, sometimes quieter. Sometimes it would continue for a few minutes, occasionally it would rattle for more than half an hour. Never was it not infuriating.

I called Samsung back and in the course of the understanding rep listen to me wax incredulous about how we bought the appliance for its ability to keep our food cold and  NOT for its potential as a random alarm clock, a new service appointment (with a different company) was scheduled for yesterday.

More than three near interminable hours after this repairman arrived the fix was in, but the first 2.5 hours involved him checking and replacing sensors and the refrigerator of course not making the noise with the tech really having no clue from my recording whether it was from something inside or outside of the compressor. Finally I got down there, pushed on the thing and voila: there was the noise, which it turned out was being caused by a copper tube from the compressor being too close to the nearby circulating fan, and when the tube would ice up enough contact with the blades and the frozen water would be made.

Part of the problem, the tech said, was that the previous repairman had overcharged the compressor with refrigerant, which in turn was causing the copper line from it to ice up when the compressor operated at its highest output. So he then reduced the amount of coolant and as an additional precaution moved the pipe away from the fan.

Now everything’s quiet and cool.

My Christmas gift to myself this past holiday season was a bit frivolous — a new stereo system for the truck I basically drive every few weeks to Costco. To make matters more damningly indulgent, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the 13-year-old factory in-dash stereo.

The 13-year-old speakers though — or rather the left rear speaker — was done, and had been for several years. A separation of the cone from where it attached to the edge left it rattling and slapping any time anything resembling a bass note would come through. So bad was it that I somewhat surgically set the stereo’s fader and balance to send juuuuust enough sound so I could hear music out of it, but barely. And I lived with that in part because I drive the vehicle so little.

But when my original five-year-old Sirius stereo unit finally crapped out (after threatening to for the last couple years) I ordered up a new one and when it arrived I set up an appointment just before Christmas and took it over to the local Best Buy to have it installed. While I was there I told the installer my problems and said that while I could get away with just new speakers, I might be interested in a new stereo unit, providing it wasn’t too sophisticated (meaning: expensive) for my simple tastes (meaning: because I’m pretty much a cheap bastard). The reality is I like music while I’m driving but I’m no audiophile in need of state-of-the-art.

He showed me a low-end Pioneer box that he said would do what I needed, matched it up with a new quartet of speakers and it all came out to less than $300. Sold. And less than two installation hours later, for the first time in a looooong time my truck’s music-reproducing equipment was working well and in concert with each other.

The main thing that I regretted from the purchase? The lack of that dinosaur: a cassette player. In and of itself it wasn’t a pressing matter… more just of a sad recognition that the music format with which  I’d literally grown-up — from my first tape-player in elementary school, to my first Walkman in high school, all the way through to only a few years ago — was officially dead.

Beyond that, it meant eventually there would be time spent converting to MP3 files all the song on all the 250 or so cassettes that had been packed away for so long in a box buried somewhere in the basement that would probably take me 30 minutes to find.

But then a lightbulb went off in my head and in my head I saw a variation of the following (click any image for minor biggification):

Which sequentally translates into (left to right): 1) male/male miniplug cable, 2) 1991 Sony Walkman that still works 3) new stereo’s aux-in jack, 4) Walkman headphone jack, 5) cassette tape

All that was left was to push play…

…and enjoy my success at finding a way on those rare times I’m actually driving the truck to listen to any of those 250 cassette tapes in the basement that I’m really in no hurry to excavate.

The mailman rang the doorbell yesterday holding an air mail package that he said needed a signature, so he handed it and a pen to me through the screen door and since I hadn’t been expecting anything I looked it over unsure what it was and where it had come from. For Susan, perhaps? No.

All I could immediately tell was that it originated in Shanghai, and it was indeed addressed to me. For some odd reason the address on the label also included my Google Phone number.

I hesitated for a split second since I was certain I hadn’t ordered anything from the People’s Republic of China, but with a curiosity-stoked what-the-hell I signed it anyway, returning the package and pen to the postman so that he could tear off the form and be on his way.

I closed the door and looked again at the package for clues. The return address was simply “DX Shanghai Postbox 443-068.” No company name. Nothing beyond a registered mail barcode label, and a postage meter stamp indicating it began its journey to me on November 28. Later on I’d run that barcode number through usps.com, but come up with nothing but the following chronology:

  • Delivered, December 17, 2010, 12:39 pm, LOS ANGELES, CA 90026
  • Arrival at Unit, December 17, 2010, 8:05 am, LOS ANGELES, CA 90026
  • Processed through Sort Facility, December 15, 2010, 9:47 am, JAMAICA, NY 11405
  • Origin Post is Preparing Shipment
  • Foreign International Dispatch, December 08, 2010, 11:20 am, SHANGHAI, CHINA PEOPLES REP
  • Foreign Acceptance, November 28, 2010, 1:16 am, PORTEE

On the back was the customs declaration indicating the category of the item as “gift” valued at $4.10. The description: “Festival Gadgets.”

Inside? Nothing in the way of additional documentation, just…

… five, individually bagged battery-powered strands of 30 LED lights (as seen above in that hard-to-tell-what-the-hell-that-is photo of the bunch of ’em with one powered up). These are MUCH nicer then the strings of 10 LEDs from Ikea that I adorned my santa suit with for last week’s All-City Toy Ride.

Which makes their unannounced and unintentioned arrival from halfway around the world all that much more of a mystery.

Since this may pretty much be the first I’ve mentioned anything about us wanting a new car, you might think of our purchase yesterday of the above-pictured Ford Escape Hybrid was something of an impulse buy. To the contrary, this is the end result of a process that began about two years ago with me telling Susan that while my trusty 1997 Nissan truck and her trusty 1994 Honda Civic hatchback would last us pretty much forever, it would be pretty nice: A) not having to rent a vehicle whenever we wanted to go for a road trip, and B) having a vehicle capable of carrying more than the two of us… you know, for those rare instances about once a decade when we’re sociable and want to take someone out — but not need them to pick us up because while technically our vehicles can each seat four, we don’t hate anyone enough to make them have to struggle getting in and out of the backs of either ride. And I do mean struggle.

But two years ago we were in no hurry, what with hopes of refinancing and renovating the upstairs. Neither were we much more in that hurry a year ago when that monumental task was finally completed.

But then came last December when we went to Yosemite and back with my mom in a Ford Escape rental and we really liked the car. And while we remained pretty laid back over the idea of  a new addition at that point, we recently got the ball rolling on another refi that shaved a couple hundred off the monthly mortgage payment, and we were thinking that with year-end clearances coming up, now might finally be the best time for a vehicular upgrade.

So Susan put on her research cap and started comparing models and prices and options and narrowed it down to what she wanted in a 2010. About the only thing our opinions differed on was the color. I preferred the dark gray, she the silver.

As luck would have it, Vermont Ford is basically down the street from us, and it just so happened to have a 2010 that most closely matched what we wanted. Susan signaled her interested to the dealership via the internet and yesterday we went over there first with something of an unusual request. We told the first salesman to intercept us that we didn’t need to test drive it so much as test park it in our tight 1916-built, two- jalopy river rock-walled garage — not so nuch to make sure it would fit (we measured that out already), but to make physically certain it would fit comfortably.

We were a bit disheartened to learn that the one Susan wanted (and pretty much the only one in the greater Los Angeles area that had the package she wanted) had sold. So instead we took a base model they had and sure enough it fit in the garage beautifully.

As we were driving back the salesman mentioned they had a new 2009 practically identical to the 2010 we wanted that they saddled themselves with in a dealer trade and had unsuccessfully been trying to get off the lot for months. So when we got back to the lot we looked at it and not only did it have all that we wanted (and only 200 test-drive miles on the odometer), but it was in Susan’s color and at a remarkable deal not just several thousand below the sticker price, but a couple hundred more below the invoice.

But it wasn’t quite enough below invoice for hardball-playing Susan who wouldn’t budge from the price she wanted and neither would the salesman from what he begged was the lowest he could go. So we left, and literally a minute after we walked in the door the phone rang and it was him willing to move down $500 of the $700 Susan wanted.

Good enough for us. So we went right back and bought it and brought home the poor 2009 Ford Escape XLT  Hybrid that no one else wanted.

Welcome to the family, Silver — which is what we named her. As in “Hi ho, Silver. Away!” And by “away,”our first trip with her is next month to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park.

But first, who wants to go to dinner? We’ll drive!

When you last saw our beloved 1954/55 O’Keefe & Merritt Model 535-2 With Grillevator and Hi-Vue oven periscope, she was enjoying a new oven safety valve and functionality to all her burners, but was short a couple cosmetic elements in the form of the frames around the Grillevator vent and periscope window and that left her looking a little less awesome.

She was missing those parts because they were both in a sad state of disrepair and we entrusted them with the fine folks at Antique Stove Heaven who left with them to work their restoration magique.

Well, today the repairman returned and installed them, bringing her back panel to a gleaming level not seen since she rolled off the assembly line so long ago (click for the bigger picture).

I came thiiiiis close to ordering a rechromed “griddle in the middle” but decided to give it some thought first.

Above is our beloved mid-1950s O’Keefe & Merritt stove that I’ve gotten so enamored with in since the oven’s valve failed and we had the fine folks at Antique Stove Heaven come out to make repairs last week — which included fixing the range’s “Grillevator” broiler that has not functioned for at least the 10 years Susan’s lived here and cooked with it, and perhaps a lot longer than that.

As an aside, the only reason I knew about Antique Stove Heaven wasn’t via The Google but rather The Old-Fashioned Way. I found the place on Western Avenue when me and my friends Julia and Dave and Jeff and Amanda put on our crazy shoes and spent a day walking the 28-mile length of the street from Griffith Park to the sea in October 2008.

As we await the repairman’s return with the repaired and rechromed frames to the gaping holes you see behind the burner/griddle deck — that’s the broiler’s vent on the left and on the right the oven’s “Hi-Vue” periscope window (a niftycool and energy efficient golden-age gimmick that allows looks at whatever’s cooking in the oven rather than opening its windowless door) I’ve paid some attention to some of its long-neglected bits. I’ve put lights back in the oven’s dual sockets, and I’ve cleaned the periscope’s mirror as well as the internal piece of glass in the oven’s roof that one looks through to see a reflection of whatever’s in there baking, like so:

And in between such administrations in hopes of finding out if the unit was made in 1954 or 1955 (the internet is surprisingly lacking readily available pages devoted to these dinosaurs), I’ve tried unsuccessfully to read the info on the ID plate attached rather inaccessibly under the deck’s lid, down there with burners, and worn down by wear and tear and time and grime.

So today I finally quit craning down in there and failing and just extracted the plate:

Trouble is after 56 years it’s pretty much as hard to read out in the open as it is down in its regular location, but here’s what I’ve deciphered through the wear and tear of time and grime:


Sadly, no actual year is stamped into the plate, but it’s cool knowing it was made right here in L.A. In fact, odds are our O’Keefe and Merritt didn’t travel far from its birthplace as the company’s main manufacturing plant was on OLympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights.

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