Preparing for the New Arrival…and a little Tech Support…

Many mark springtime as a fresh start for our personal and professional lives, along with gardening, house cleaning and repair, and rededicating ourselves to a healthier lifestyle.  We performed a modest upgrade to our kitchen, installing new(er) appliances, and continued our long, slow process of converting the office/storage room into a nursery.  Most of the work was organizing, filing and shredding financial documents.  We also discovered that many items that laid beneath a layer of dust in the closet were highly sought after treasures, once we listed them on eBay, which generated a little revenue to help with the room’s transformation.
April 2nd, Good Friday, marked our fifth anniversary, which we commemorated at Shula’s 347 Grill, known for their top quality steaks.  We were drooling over the red meat selections, but when the server arrived to take our order, we both surprisingly chose seafood items!  Layla preferred the grilled shrimp, while I enjoyed the glazed salmon.  The portions were satisfying and delicious, and we were treated to some savory desserts, compliments of the manager.
Since our prenatal care is conducted at a teaching hospital, they also have a strong emphasis on patient education.  Three times each year, they offer a “baby shower” of sorts, to provide expectant parents with vital information on a broad range of childcare topics.  Around mid-day, a drawing is held, where over a hundred gifts are awarded, including some pricey Pack’n’Plays, car seats and bassinets.  Some guests went home with a mother-load of booty, thanks to companions winning on their behalf.  We were quite appreciative to take a bouncer home with us.
Several local radio stations hosted another baby shower the following weekend, marketing it as a “city-wide baby shower.”  It’s basically a scavenger hunt where new parents (and their accomplices) race through the convention center collecting “stamps” as fast as they can, to be eligible for a prize drawing at the end of the day.  Once inside, you could find 30-minute seminars on a variety of topics, and hundreds of vendor booths — a majority of which had nothing to do with parenting newborns.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay long.

By the way, does anybody know of a good “dad” website?  There’s, and is an Internet design firm, is very weak on content, and is just a form asking if such a website is wanted or needed (and the form looks really old, too).  It wouldn’t be hard, publishers: just buy some masculine domain names, change the color palette from pastels to bold “sports” schemes, mirror the RSS feeds you push to the mommy sites and then add some dad-centric content.

At a recent identity theft protection class, most of the information was common sense, but one thing stood out:  You know these credit cards that, rather than swiping the magnetic strip, you just wave in front of the register to initiate the transaction?  Well, it doesn’t take much for criminals to use a similar device to pull your credit card information without you ever taking the card out of your wallet, pocket or purse.  They could be standing behind you in line, and “blink”!…your identity is stolen!  I called the one credit card company that issued me such a card, asking for a standard card (explaining why I did not want it)…and they sent me a new card with the no-swipe feature.  I guess I’ll have to start using one of my other accounts…
Layla and I accepted an invitation to a reception hosted by Devlin and Christina Mann of the Backlight Theatre Group welcoming acting coach Rob Clare, who was in town teaching a Shakespeare intensive course at the Florida Theatre.  We reconnected with some old friends and were introduced to some new ones.  That evening, Devlin announced plans for Backlight’s upcoming season, as well as a residency program.
I was able to attend Rob Clare’s workshop on two of the three nights.  It was quite educational watching him work with other performers on stage.  Copious amounts of notes were taken by the participants, as well as the observers in the audience.  I had prepared a piece (one of my first Shakespearean roles ever) from Henry IV, Part One, where Harry berates John Falstaff at a pub.  I was hoping I could have a little fun with my good friend Redgie Gutshall.
Alas, that night, he did not attend, so I really didn’t have the heart to work on that piece.  I was working on a scene from Hamlet during the bi-weekly Shakespeare labs, but did not feel comfortable enough with the scene to get the greatest benefit from Mr. Clare.  Fortunately, a couple other monologues have stuck in my head over the years, so after quickly reviewing the text, I performed a scene from King John, for which Rob Clare had a great amount of input. That same week was Sun ‘n’ Fun, the largest aviation trade show and fly-in in the Eastern United States.  I couldn’t attend this year, but got a sneak peek of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association‘s sweepstakes plane for 2010.  AOPA made the trip from their Frederick, Maryland headquarters to Lakeland, Florida rather interesting, as they performed a “Road and Runway Rally,” matching the traveling capabilities of the Remos GX with the SmartCar.  Their last stop (and staging point for the flight to Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport) was St. Augustine, Florida, my home field, so I (and other members of the St. Augustine Airport Pilots Association) welcomed the two teams, and took plenty of pictures and video.
Up and coming filmmaker Wayne Bradstreet cast me in his short film that was produced on the west side of Jacksonville.  Last month, while waiting to audition for another film, he asked me to read his script “Death Comes For…”  The crew he assembled worked very well together, communicated openly and kept the day’s shoot on schedule, which permitted me time to audition for a regional commercial in Orlando that afternoon, before returning to Jacksonville for the last night of the Rob Clare Shakespeare workshop.
The next day, I got a call from my mother:  my grandfather wasn’t well.  She was on her way to the airport when she called, and the tone in her usually steady voice let me know this could be the final trip, and she wanted the family to be there.  I called my wife, knowing the pregnancy and her recent (scheduled) absences from work might prevent her from traveling, then after picking up her car from the service department at the dealership, I started making my own travel arrangements.
I had hoped to get home (or to a library) in time to check Orbitz, Kayak or Travelocity, but it was getting late, and I was concerned about getting a flight from Jacksonville that day.  That’s when I discovered the wonder of Visa Signature Concierge service.  I am not sure if all Visa cardholders have this privilege or not…it’s one of those “amenities” you see before throwing that membership services directory in the trash.  The number was on the back of the card and the representative was very helpful and understood my situation completely.
Within fifteen minutes, I had a surprisingly affordable flight booked, with just enough time to get home, pack an overnight bag and get to the airport.  There was a discrepancy on the itinerary (which I didn’t learn until I checked my email a couple days later), showing my return flight to be to Cleveland and not Jacksonville.  I contacted the concierge service to confirm my flight, and suggest they update their travel booking system to automate the itinerary, to eliminate the errors introduced by manual key-entry.  My initial seat on the plane was quite secluded: behind the rear galley, and right next to the left engine…I mean, you look out the window, and your entire view is obstructed by the turbofan, just inches away from the cabin.  Before takeoff, I moved to a vacant seat next to my mother, and it was nice to sit together, especially on a trip like this.
My Uncle Bill drove us from the airport to see Grandpa.  He couldn’t speak, so the family talked to him for about an hour or so, before going to bed and trying to get some sleep, ourselves.  On Friday, we gathered at the nursing home, brought Grandpa’s black Schnauzer Lottie, who cuddled up with him on the bed, and shared stories with each other, hoping Grandpa could hear us and appreciate our company.  The facility’s chaplain sang a blessing — it sounded like a Southern spiritual hymn.  It was beautiful.
Saturday morning, as we were finishing breakfast, Bill called us (he went to the nursing home early), and said, “They told me it’s just minutes.”  As we arrived, we saw facility personnel, including the housekeeper, crying, which prepared us for that morning’s visit.  He was still.  The family gathered around his bed, and my Aunt Karen said a prayer to commend his spirit.
We then contacted the rest of the family, so they could prepare for the funeral.  It was tough talking to Layla, not only because he was the only grandfather I had for the last thirty years and my only remaining grandparent, but also because the two of them had such a strong bond.  They connected on their first meeting and spent so much time together on every visit.  I knew the news would be just as hard for her.  She considered making the trip over the next couple days, and with the blessing of her employer, she traveled to Columbus for the funeral.
The service was amazing.  It was the first time I attended one that included full military honors.  My grandfather flew “The Hump” in China during World War II, and the servicemen who attended the service were such a blessing.  After the ceremony, we had an intimate reception at a local restaurant before I returned home.
The rest of the month consisted of more auditions and preparing for my son’s upcoming arrival.
I also had time to repair my brother-in-law’s laptop.  We brought it home after our last visit to the Florida Panhandle in March to take a look at it, but his step-dad already performed a thorough diagnostic, so it really was just an academic exercise, since I doubt there was anything he missed.
This is a Toshiba Satellite laptop with Windows Vista that had an error while booting up.  Normally, you attempt to start in “Safe Mode” when this happens, but in this case, the same error occurred.  I made sure there were no disks or data cards in any of the ports, and tried starting the computer using various methods, to no avail.  Since Phillip already attempted restoring the computer with the factory restore CD, I tried that next, setting the computer’s BIOS (which I still could still access) to boot from the CD drive rather than the hard drive.  This, too, was unsuccessful.
I was flabbergasted and befuddled.  These are typically the “last-ditch” efforts for correcting problems with computers, especially the latter, which deletes all information from the hard drive, and resets it to “like new” condition.  My best guess is, since the power cord for this computer is damaged (and the battery is completely burned out) that, during a Windows Update, the cord was jiggled, taking power from the unit during a time a critical patch was being installed, thus permanently damaging the start-up routine.  This, of course, is entirely a guess, but a hypothesis that just happens to be supported by the evidence.
I slept on it, a little disappointed in myself that I couldn’t fix the problem (everything can be fixed, can’t it?).  Then I remembered there are free Linux operating systems that supposedly can run directly from a CD or USB jump drive.  A while back, when upgrading an old desktop computer, I made copies of Ubuntu and Damn Small Linux distributions, so I decided to pop one of those disks in this laptop, just to see what would happen.
Immediately, I got the Ubuntu startup screen with the message, “This will format and partition your hard drive.  Do you want to continue?”  Ohhh…yeah!  The install took about as long as a Windows install or upgrade, and I dreaded the power cord failing, thus forcing me to restart the hours-long procedure.  But it didn’t.  The new operating system was completely installed, and I was ready to “goof around” with the OS I never used before.  Unfortunately, a license key is required in order to access the system for the first time, even though it’s free; at least, that was true for the old Version 8.1 that I happened to have — I think they changed this on successive versions.
So, I sat, tapping my feet and gritting my teeth, wondering what the next step could be.  Hmmm.  What is the next step?  There’s gotta be a way past this.  What to do?  What to do?
Wait a minute — the computer now starts up properly and gets to the network login screen at least, right?  What would happen…if I now dropped the Toshiba Windows Vista Restore CD in the drive?  What could possibly go wrong?…if I messed it up, I can probably at least get it back to the Ubuntu login screen again…right?  So, I  gave it a shot, and Voila!…Trumpets sounded, the crowd cheered, confetti fell from the skies, a rainbow formed overhead, the birds sang in harmony, and all was right in the world (at least in my mind) !
The install was completely successful, and I spent the next several days getting all the Windows Updates and current versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader and installed…using my Toshiba laptop power cord to minimize the risk of any future download interruptions.  The computer is now as good as new, as certified by one Scott J. Smith, and tucked away in its case, waiting for its rightful owner to pick it up.  I already emailed him a couple websites where he can get a new battery and power cord at affordable prices.
So, something you might want to do, in case your “last ditch effort” doesn’t work, is just download one of the free Linux distributions and burn it to a CD or DVD, and keep it with your other restoration software.  Worst case scenario, you’ll need to learn how to use Ubuntu or Damn Small Linux, both of which offer great online resources and have a graphical interface Windows users are familiar with.
I finished the month with a re-shoot of a commercial I worked on in March.  Once the piece was produced, it looked too similar to a competitor’s product, so they decided to recall the cast and re-shoot.  It seemed to go by relatively quickly, which was a good thing, after staring into the sun and reflectors for a couple hours!
There is still plenty of preparation required prior to our son’s arrival.  I think we’ll make it.
Scott J. Smith
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