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Friday, May 28, 2004

I wish I had had a camera

Inexplicably, I failed to mention it, but I've been having problems with the satellite dish reception all week. They have a menu in the reciever that you can access to see signal strength on an unspecified scale. 70-80 is a good clear-skies number; you can get reception with a signal as low as 30-something. Ours was running at 20-30 even in clear skies. Time to call the dish merchants.

To their credit, Star Choice has a clever gimmick called Simple Satellite. The gist is that you cede ownership and the right to even touch your satellite dish (I think they allow light cleaning) and outside wiring. In exchange, you get what amounts to a lifetime warranty and the promise of a free dish installation in your new location if you ever move (which is a no-brainer for them: this effectively leaves your old home wired for satellite, and allows them to make a cheap pitch to the new resident on the virtues of satellite.

The repair agent for Star Choice arrived on the appointed day. He was polite and professional, and found the problem in less than an hour. The dish hadn't moved, the equipment was fine, but a backyard fir tree had grown a little too much. He helpfully pointed out the pair of long branches about 40' up that were blocking the signal. Okay then, I'll just get those taken care of.

Climbing up the tree gave me some time to contemplate why we had a dish instead of cable, which does not get blocked by trees that often. [ed note: not actually true; I had other things on my mind up the tree, but the fiction suits the narrative flow of this posting better] At first, the dish had proven a few bucks a month cheaper than cable, and I liked various parts of the Star Choice deal better than Bell ExpressVu's options (basically, I got the nice S-Video out receiver for cheap, and Simple Satellite). With subsequent price increases, I'm about on par with the cost of cable, but with a bit more flexibility about channel choices (we get more channels we like and less we don't watch. But I do have to pay for the Golf channel still. At this point, I don't feel any dissatisfaction about my service: ExpressVu offers advantages I wouldn't pay for (a PVR, NHL Centre Ice), and if I ever feel tempted to revert to Shaw, I just go watch hockey at my in-laws' place next door. Tony, for Greek-TV reasons, has Shaw's digital box service, but basic cable channels (which includes CBC, TSN, and Sportsnet) are carried as analog signals. I haven't gone HD yet (I'm waiting for HD projectors to fall below $1000), but the digital S-Video signal (touted as "Super Definition" by Star Choice) is more than just hype. My picture on these channels is considerably clearer than the one next door, even though we have identical Sony Wega 27" TVs.

After surveying the job, I figured there wasn't much to it: find a good hand saw, tie a rope to it so I could pull it up after me, use a short ladder to get into the branches, and climb up the tree. My brother did this numerous times to extreme heights while we were felling trees in Mom & Dad's backyard, how hard could it be? I don't have a fear of heights, do I?

So I got the rope and saw, put up the ladder, and climbed up into the branches. The tree was almost a perfect climbing tree: lots of branches in the right sizes and nearly ideal placing.

Nearly perfect. Aside from the fact that I foolishly went up "free", without any fall protection, it was raining, so the branches were a bit slick. I never slipped, but I spent a lot of effort making darned sure I didn't slip.

The first twenty feet were trivial, an easy climb within "funny story" distance of the ground. Then, as I got into "serious injury" heights, I had to make a slight adjustment to my route up the tree, which involved moving about 90 degrees around the trunk.

It took me a couple of minutes.

Then when I got within ten feet of the branches, there was another slightly complicated route, and I was now in full "don't look down too much" mode. At this point, I didn't like the looks of things, and I could feel my heart rate elevating. Being up a tree was not a super-fun thing. But being up a tree and starting to panic was not going to work. I sat down straddling a branch for a couple of minute, and calmed myself down. Only a few key thoughts kept me going at that point: it would be easier to go up ten feet than to go down 30' and back up at some other point; There was no way I was going to pay to have two lousy branches cut, especially when I had done 3/4 of the hard work of getting up to them; nobody I could easily call on would be any better at this work than me; and most importantly, I didn't want to disappoint The Lovely One, who wanted to watch Inspector Morse.

So, up I went. I finally got myself comfy and in a secure place, straddling a branch just a bit below and to the side of the two big branches I wanted to cut. Pulled up the hand saw, and away I went. Two branches later, and TV was restored. I slowly made my way back down the tree, pausing to push loose the cut branches, which had snagged on the way down.

And then, quick change of clothes, a little bragging to The Lovely One about my suburban adventure, and off to do the shopping. Picking up a wedding gift we bought from The Bay? That was even scarier! And amazingly, it took longer than my tree-cutting adventure. Seriously: I think Wal-Mart is one nice china section and a well-managed gift registry away from killing The Bay deader than dead. The service there defines atrocious (with a qualifier: I am generally impressed by the staff, but astonished by how few there are; it is literally easier to get customer service in Wal-Mart than it is in The Bay. That said, I think The Bay's centralized check-out is a qualified success, as compared to the old scattered cashier system), and the process for receiving a gift-registry item that was transferred from another store was handled by ratty paper binders at a desk in the china department. Except that the particular item we had ordered was a spoon, and that was over in housewares, and wasn't in the binders we had expected, and by the time we were done the mall was almost closed.

It wasn't a novel experience: we have purchased several wedding-registry items from The Bay, and almost every time there seems to be some stupid fiasco when we go to pick it up. As I say, the staff are very courteous, but the system seems to be completely useless.

But at last, home again. And to bed.

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