Apparently, there is a tropical storm bearing down on us this holiday weekend in the Northeast US, and watching (mostly listening to) the news has me wondering how serious this storm really is.  The weather service reports:

Ernesto is expected to weaken and become a tropical rainstorm within the next 6 to 12 hours, but will still pack strong winds on its trek northward Friday into Friday evening. ... The system will spread very heavy rain north across the mid-Atlantic states from North Carolina and Virginia Friday morning and during the day Friday, then into Pennsylvania and parts of mostly central and western New York state later Friday night into Saturday. ... Life-threatening flooding will occur across parts of North Carolina and Virginia and possibly north into Pennsylvania.

I'm not convinced that the weather service is above hyperbole for the sake of safety, but haven't we weathered tropical storms before? Was all of this hysterical panic present with all prior storms, or is it just overinterest caused by last year's bout with Katrina?  I'm going to need to see some photographic evidence of the flooding they're getting in North Carolina and Virginia before I start to get concerned way up here.

Friday night, while the remains of Ernesto howled through Twin Hills, Abby and Riley hung out at Pop-Pop's house and Berta and I spent the night alone.  Having recently watched a Food Network show, "Good Eats", where the host explains how to make your own sushi at home, we decided that we would rather have someone make it for us. We dined at Aoki, and sat at the sushi bar. We didn't get to order anything fancy, instead opting to eat off the menu. I don't think the chefs at the bar were too enthusiastic to be creative with their food construction, and have become a bit too Americanized with an expectation that if it's not on the menu, then it's not available. In any case, the food was tasty.  We considered going to see a movie, but the next showing of the movie we wanted to see was not until late, so instead we went over to the mall to shop for a bed. Yes, I know movies and beds are not even close to the same thing.  We came to the Sleep Number store in the mall, and waited for the sales guy to free up from these two daft ladies who weren't going to buy anything. We asked a few questions, tried out the beds. I think my sleep number is 35, but that might change with the arrival of our own bed.  The Sleep Number bed is basically a mattress with several air chambers that inflate to provide support. The mattress is fully inflated at 100, and gets softer the lower the number goes. There is a remote-operated pump that puts air into the mattress and lets it out. Each side of the bed can be inflated or deflated separately, so we can both sleep in comfort on our own side of the bed.  The bed we picked has a kind of cushion built into the mattress top. It's not that temper-foam stuff, but it's squishy and nice. It's a king size, so it should fill the room a bit more (our bedroom is big and looks really empty) than our current queen. The bed will also come with a wireless remote rather than two wired remotes. Our bedroom is going to have more remotes than the family room soon. One for the TV, one for the light/fan, and one for the bed. Crazy.

We also went nuts and took advantage of the Labor Day sale to order mattresses for the kids. They aren't getting the frilly mattress we got, but they will have the wired remotes to inflate and deflate their beds and sleep in a bit more comfort than the rock-hard mattresses that came with the bunk beds we got for their rooms.  Saturday afternoon we did finally make it to that movie. We saw The Illusionist. It was a pretty good story. I've always enjoyed Edward Norton's movies. The fundamental idea is that there is a girl in who is born to a noble family, and she falls in love with a peasant boy who has unusual magical gifts. When they are caught trying to run away together, he leaves town and travels the world looking to enhance his abilities and make a name for himself. Eventually, he returns as a grown man and meets her again, but she's to be married to the prince, who is an evil man. Some bad things happen, and he chooses to seek his revenge in an interesting way.  The movie is nothing extraordinary. It has a few neat effects. The story is fine. It's just as I heard the review on the radio: A good date movie.  We puttered around, doing not much of anything, stopped home briefly, then off to pick up the kids.  Sunday morning we didn't do anything, and I enjoy having a weekend where there is nothing so pressing that it can't afford a bit of relaxing, especially since all of our new TV stuff is hooked up. I've been staring at the HD picture for a while, and although I know why, I keep wondering why we didn't get one sooner.  In the afternoon, we headed to the Kornagas for their Labor Day picnic, a new party this year. They acquired a bushel of crabs, which we ate on their porch.  Through a strange circumstance of Riley being cranky, I managed to wrangle a ride home while Berta took the kids home early. Long story short, there was beer, and stan drove me home on Monday morning.  Later that day, I primed the riding mower for the first time since we've been in the house. After figuring out how to get the blasted thing started (the engine must be in high idle) and then how to engage the lawnmower blade instead of just driving over the long grass and doing nothing, I ran out of gas having done only about 3/4 of the front yard.  From this experience I have learned a couple things. First, this old riding mower does not make sharp enough turns. Second, I'm not keen on ever cutting the grass again. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking that I'm done with yard work entirely. I specifically said that one of the things I wanted with a new house was very low maintenance groundskeeping. Instead, I put out five bags of random cut foliage with the trash this morning. Unbelievable.  Monday evening, Mom and Nana came over for dinner. We grilled some ribs, had corn and potatos, salad and sugar snap peas, and some other good stuff. The cake Mom brought was pretty tasty for dessert.  It's nice to have marked the unofficial end of summer with such an active weekend. We're looking forward to a September full of active weekends.

A service called Bringo offers to wade through call trees (those mazes of menu options when calling a corporate phone number) and then call you when they've found a human to talk to you.

The Google Image Labeler is like a game where you and a partner try to give labels to images that match. I'm not sure how the point system works, but it's neat to see how you can guess similar keywords for images to someone else.

I find myself driving a lot more often than I would like. During those times, I am usually listening to my XM radio. The XM tuner uses an FM modulator that allows me to tune my radio to an otherwise empty channel and listen to satellite radio.  I also have a Creative Zen Micro that I use on longer trips to listen to audiobooks. I'm using some Belkin-brand FM modulator to listen to the Zen playback on channel 107.3.  The funny thing is that these two devices don't always work as intended, and I think it's the fault of the iPod.

As I drive, I'll hit intermittant spots where the modulator goes to static. Since the modulator itself hasn't moved relative to my car's radio, I can only assume it has been affected by an outside influence.  There are a few regular outside influences I am aware of. For instance, the stone-front bank at the light at 30 and 322 puts off some kind of signal that simply blocks everything - satellite, radio, whatever. But mostly, my interference is caused by other drivers with modulators.  Every so often, whatever I'm playing will be completely supplanted by some strange music. Then, as quickly as their Mercedes drives by, it's gone.  With the modulators I have, I need to crank up the volume just to hear my own music, but when these guys drive by, I hear their stuff over mine as clear as day. My main question is this: What brand of modulator did they buy, and where do I get one? They had better not be iPod-only.