Archive for May, 2006

A minor geek moment

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

My multimedia lifestyle has reached another pinnacle.

I’m one of the developers on a project to provide a Linux server for the Hauppauge Media MVP and since I moved over here, I haven’t really done much on it apart from a few bug fixes. The main reason is that the MVP I bought has a SCART socket and that’s a European standard. If you want to use SCART here, you have to get adaptors that go from SCART to RGB/Composite/S-Video/Audio.

Last year, I bought a SCART to S-Video adaptor from a US supplier but I never got around to playing with it because I always forgot to buy the S-Video cable.

So, this weekend, I bit the bullet and bought a couple of S-Video cables from CompUSA. One was for the TiVo so that we didn’t have cables sticking into the front of the TV in our bedroom and the other was for the MVP.

As usual, I leapt out of the car whilst ripping the packaging off the cables before I’d even got into the house. I plugged everything in and flipped the power switch. I was expecting a blaze of light and sound the likes you’ve never seen but was greeted with a black screen.

After some minor jiggery-pokery on the PC to reinstall some stuff I’d forgotten was required, I made sure that the MVP was talking to the PC but still no picture.

With all my technical projects, I start them at around 10pm and never get to bed until about 3am after admitting defeat. This one was an exception as I decided to say “Bollocks!” and sleep on it instead.

This morning, I prised open the SCART cable to find that the US supplier had given me the cable I’d asked for but I’d asked for the wrong one. I’d got one that only had S-Video input and I needed output.

As luck would have it, I hadn’t destroyed my soldering iron from the amplifier project so, after a dash of solder, the wiring was corrected and I had picture.

Having experienced PAL vs NTSC issues with the LCD TV in the front room, I thought I’d be in for some minor reconfiguration on the MVP to output a NTSC signal ( which it can do via a menu ) but there was no need. I don’t begin to understand why but I can keep the MVP with PAL output. Result !

This afternoon, I have been mostly watching Doctor Who.

Random update

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

I had an attack of social conscience the other week. It was Earth Day and the school had scheduled a gardening session on a Saturday morning. The budget cuts on education spending have meant that there is nobody to tend to the flower beds.

So, after making sure that I stayed in bed longer than a week day so that it qualified as a lie-in, we all got dressed and trooped to the school to find about 3 people instead of the multitudes that we normally see at school closing time.

This was pitiful and I can say that with complete sanctimoniousness/sanctimonosity/smugness seeing as we volunteered and nobody else did. It was a shame that they only scheduled 3 hours as we could have got more done. We didn’t have a fork to turn the soil so that made weeding a little more involved than it needed to be and we actually stayed longer than the principal.

We’re thinking of scheduling another clean-up on a Wednesday when all the kids finish at 1:30pm. That way, none of the other parents can claim that they are busy.

Bunch of excuse-makers.

This past Friday, we went to the school’s dinner and auction to raise more funds. It was well organised and there were a large number of baskets that had been gathered together as lots for a silent auction. I’m led to believe that we contributed some money to a Movie Night basket which included a Madagascar DVD and a popcorn maker. The classes had all made various items as well. Rachel’s class made some TV trays with stencils and paint. Joanna’s class made a wall hanging with the class’ handprints and various pieces of social advice. Their theme was “Everything I ever needed to know about life, I learned in Kindergarten”.

From the rumours that I heard, the school raised about $10,000 on the auction items. There was a little confusion during the live auction as there seemed to be some miscommunication between the parents and their offspring as to when to raise the bidding paddle. Consequently, a couple of the lots were bought for a little higher than intended.

It was a good evening, the weather was great which meant that Rachel and Joanna spent most of their time outside playing on the monkey bars.

This past couple of weeks has seen a vast improvement in the weather. It’s back to the sun and blue skies that we saw last year. Not to be too happy about it, today was too hot 🙂

April Update

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Another month, another 30 days of not updating the blog like I should do 🙂

This month saw me file my taxes.

Taxes are filed in two parts: Federal and State.

I shouldn’t have left it so long but, as per most of my student life, I left it until the last minute. I went to H&R Block in Millbrae after arranging an appointment only to find that the receptionist booked me in for a different day than the one I asked her for. The lady I spoke to had a client coming in at the same time but he never turned up so she saw me instead. I explained my circumstances, including the part about them needing to enter some dummy number in the box for Sam’s Tax ID as we needed to submit the ITIN application at the same time as filing the return. She entered in some of the details and got to Sam’s Tax ID and then spent about 5-10 minutes hitting the keyboard and tutting as she tried to get the cursor out of the field and stop the computer from beeping at her. She finally had to call over her colleague to tell her what to do. It was at that point that she told me that the Millbrae branch wasn’t qualified to deal with my tax return and I needed to speak to their Premium branch. That was disappointing. She could have told me that before I went into the office.

So, an appointment was arranged through the Premium office manager and I duly arrived on time only to find that there was no record of me speaking to him. D’oh ! It did, however, mean that I got a $32 discount on the tax preparation work. I spoke with a lady who took me through the questions on the return and I gave her the details from my UK P60 and P45. At the end, she told me that I was owed a large refund from Federal but I owed money to State. She also told me what the cost for the work was and that she would call when I could pick up the finished return. She got a bit confused and had to speak with a colleague on the best way to file my return.
I got the call a couple of days later and went to pick up the return. I got a bit of a shock when I was told that the final bill came to over double the cost I was shown previously. I queried this and got to speak with their “Master Accountant”. He sat down and looked through the return and discovered that the lady had entered in a lot of the details incorrectly and, more importantly, had not thought I could claim for Rachel and Joanna. He spent about 20 minutes working through the figures and it turns out that I get a slightly lower refund from Federal but I actually get a refund, of probably the same amount, from State. Woohoo ! The downside is that the cost of the tax preparation was more than when I went in :-S I weighed up the pros and cons of this and it boils down to: PRO: I get a better refund from State, CON: I have to pay more to H&R Block, PRO: I get a better refund from State. The total cost of the preparation is more than covered by the refund so I put this one down to experience.
This is only going to happen this time as I was only in the US for part of last year and could claim a tax credit for my UK earnings. I’m also going to be able file electronically next year so I won’t need to use H&R Block for tax preparation.

The other benefit is that because I filed for a refund, the fact that I filed late won’t mean I get penalised.

So, I’m waiting for my Federal refund to come back and that should include the ITIN for Sam and then I can file my State return and get the refund back on that.

I like this country. I’ve made certain, like I did in the UK, that the refund comes back as a cheque because it’s always nice to see the government give something back.

The other important news for this month is that we’ve bought and paid for our tickets back to the UK in June for my brother’s wedding. My family have been arguing over who loves us the most and where we can stay. I think we’ve got it sorted out. The most important thing is that I get to watch all three of England’s first-round matches. Going to visit Sam’s family is a little more difficult as they don’t have the space to fit us all in so we’re staying with some friends for a few days and then moving to other friends for a few more days and then moving to other friends for a few more days. During this time, I will be working in the UK office so that we can get an extended stay.

Our first port of call is likely to be a curry house 🙂 I’ve certainly missed UK curries. In Millbrae, there is a lot of Asian influence so we have Thai and Chinese restaurants but no Indian restaurants. There are a couple in San Mateo but they don’t deliver.

We need to make a list of all the British things we want to bring back with us when we return to the US. I’m guessing that PG Tips are high on that list as is Dairy Milk. I may see if Cadbury’s do international deliveries.