Photo of the month

Roni and Delta Science Center board president Dr. Michael Painter pose for the cameras after receiving a proclamation declaring March 22, 2013, World Water Monitoring Day in the City of Oakley. Presenting the proclamation to the DSC is Oakley Vice Mayor Randy Pope during the March 12 Oakley City Council meeting. For more about the proclamation, read this month's newsletter. Photo by Bryan Montgomery.

March 2013

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Roni gives a presentation on behalf of the Delta Science Center about the importance of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Freedom High School students during AFRI Science Days, Feb. 21. About 20 different presenters introduced the students to such topics as Delta agriculture and water conservation. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn helps nephew Allen move his "house" up the steps during a visit to Glenn's folks' house in Hayward on Saturday, Feb. 23. Allen was impressed by his grandparents' recent move and likes to pretend he is moving his house too. Photo by Roni.

Roni visits with Glenn's mom and dad in the backyard of their new home. It was an almost spring-like afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

After a couple hours at the new Gehlke homestead, we ventured downhill to the old one, currently occupied by Glenn's brother Sean. Here, Roni and Sean sample some of the oranges from the backyard tree. Photo by Glenn.

Our own yard is starting to come alive as we get closer to spring. Our ornamental plum tree is in full bloom on Feb. 27. Photo by Glenn.

We take this photo every year and never grow tired of it. The blossom show only lasts a couple of weeks, so we have to enjoy it while we can. Photo by Glenn.

Together at last, the long-awaited upper (left) and lower Y buffer boards we hoped would repair our ailing Hitachi plasma TV. Photo by Glenn.

We've got the center cable connected to the two new boards. Time to install them. Wonder twin powers, activate! Photo by Glenn.

We hoped this would be the historic moment when we'd get to show you the repaired and fully functional plasma TV. Alas, the set is still dead, and that's that. Note the black tape on the wall; those are the dimensions of the new 70-inch set we've decided to buy as a replacement. Photo by Glenn.

At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, March 12, our new Sharp LED TV arrives from Best Buy. We've got the wall mount readjusted and ready to receive it. Photo by Roni.

What a great way to break in a new big-screen TV. It's Wednesday morning and CNN is introducing the world to newly elected Pope Francis. This set is huge, and about as large as our little house can handle. Photo by Glenn.

We get a lot of unusual visitors in our yard, but never before have we seen peacocks. A couple of pea hens checked out our back patio the morning of March 3. Photo by Glenn.

One of the peacocks makes herself at home atop our BAP pergola. A moment later and the two colorful visitors were up to the rooftops and continuing on their journey through our neighborhood. Photo by Roni.

We're more used to seeing the mourning doves nesting in the rafters of our pergolas. Mama dove keeps a watchful eye while tending her nest on March 17. Photo by Glenn.

And here are the reasons why she is so wary of our presence — a pare of recently hatched squabs are nestled inside the dove nest. We take advantage of mom's brief departure from the nest to photograph them with Roni's iPhone. Photo by Glenn.

The wisteria is at the peak of its bloom in this picture taken on St. Patrick's Day in our backyard. Photo by Glenn.

Now that we're into March seems a fine time to harvest the last of this year's citrus crop. Here are the last two oranges and both of our grapefruits, which all grew on the same tree. Don't ask us how, because we don't know. Photo by Glenn.

What could be cuter than a cat in a bag? Katy is pretty sure the answer is "nothing." Photo by Roni.

Ben and Eevee relax together in the living room. Well, Ben is relaxing, Eevee appears to be crashed out from fatigue. Photo by Roni.

It's March 16, and Roni has brought the Delta Science Center booth to the Contra Costa Youth Summit at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. The event was aimed at showing kids education and career opportunities. Photo by Glenn.

Roni smiles during a break in the action in the DSC booth at the youth summit. Photo by Glenn.

This is the proclamation the DSC received from the City of Oakley in honor of the World Water Monitoring Challenge. On March 22, students from around the world will test water quality of rivers, lakes and oceans, the results of which will be posted online for all to see. The DSC is leading the local testing effort. Photo by Glenn.

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Now playing at a home theater near you

March 21, 2013

Our long television nightmare is over… or perhaps it has just begun. After more than two months without a television set in our living room, we finally have a working set again, although not quite in the way we had hoped or planned.

After weeks of frustration trying and failing to find the circuit boards we needed to repair our 55-inch Hitachi plasma set, we thought we had at last found salvation in a small online company located in Hong Kong. In last month’s newsletter we wrote that the hard-to-find lower “Y buffer” board was on its way to us via FedEx and would be here within days. Sure enough, the board arrived Feb. 27 — a day earlier than expected due to it crossing the International Date Line.

Bright and early the following morning Glenn was up eagerly installing the part into the TV, anticipating the joy of eating lunch while once again watching the latest news headlines in stunning HD. A few ribbon cable connections later, he had the set propped up, plugged in and went to hit the power switch. The screen came to life again — for about 10 seconds. In that short time we saw an image that was somewhat improved from what we’d last seen in January, but not enough to call repaired; there were still horrible white bands running through the picture. Then the screen went dark and remained that way, exhibiting the same symptoms that had plagued us for more than a year as the TV was going through its death throes. We could hear the audio just fine, but no video.

In the past we had been able to unplug the set for a bit and then plug it back in to clear up the vanishing video signal. But not this time. Try as we might, the set refused to give us a picture, and it was time to deal with the grim reality of our situation: we had invested nearly $350 in parts and still had the equivalent of a 100-pound paperweight sitting on our living room floor. Calling in professional help might run another $600 for parts and labor, assuming that a repair was even possible given the long list of similar sob stories we’d seen online. In poker there comes a point at which the stakes are so high that you have to decide whether your hand is strong enough to ante up again or fold to protect what’s left of your stake. By now we’d seen enough to know that our track record with this repair process wasn’t good, so we decided to cash in our remaining chips and walk away from the table.

We soon found ourselves standing amid the electronics displays at Costco, taking notes and comparing features among the current generation of big-screen televisions. A lot has changed in the six years since we bought our 55-inch Hitachi, not the least of which is the base price for an equivalent plasma TV. Had we wanted to, we could have picked up one for as little as $600 — about a quarter of what we originally paid — loaded with capabilities our old set didn’t have. The new sets are sleeker in design, thinner and lighter.

But we’d been there and done that, as far as plasma is concerned. Our recent experience with the Hitachi had soured us on another plasma set, and Glenn especially had wanted to go with a larger screen in a few years, at the point when we originally had hoped to have to replace the TV. So we started looking at LCD models in the 60-inch range. They would give us a bit larger picture with the newer technology.

We exhausted the options at Costco and made our way to Best Buy, eventually falling in love with a Sharp 60-inch LCD at the attractive price of $999. (OK, we’ll call it a grand since we aren’t marketing people, but the price was still nice.) We might have pulled the trigger on that model, except that Costco no longer had any in stock, and the price for the same model at Best Buy was $100 more. The Best Buy folks offered to sell us an older model that wasn’t Internet enabled for the $999 price, but we decided to shop around some more. Eventually we wound up at Fry’s in Concord.

The difference between Best Buy and Fry’s is that the latter doesn’t have sales clerks in your face every two minutes so that you can actually walk around and check out the products on your own. We did that on a Saturday afternoon and found it educational if not a bit overwhelming. So many models to choose from, and so many details we had to consider. Did we care about 3D? Wi-fi capabilities? “Smart” features such as web browsing? Screen refresh rates? Perhaps the easiest aspect was price, as there was a model to fit any budget. The main question for us kept coming down to size.

Try as he might, Glenn wasn’t satisfied looking at the 60-inch sets, which seemed just fractionally larger than the 55-inch model we were leaving behind and already seemed too small on our living room wall. At Fry’s, we both found ourselves attracted to the Sharp Aquos 745, and spent a long time mesmerized by its picture quality as we watched it run through its demo modes. If the 60-inch model looked that good, just imagine how the 70-inch version would look mounted on our wall.

We’ve never been ones to make snap purchase decisions, so for the next week there was a lot of time spent comparing models and prices online. And the more we researched, the further away we got from making a decision. All we knew was that we were tossed up between three models of the 70-inch Sharp TVs, each separated by a couple of key features and a few hundred dollars. Customers had good and bad things to say about all of them, so how to choose? Roni made the decision much easier when we found one of the models on sale at Best Buy and suggested that we head over there to take one more look. We both knew what that meant; it was time to pull out the checkbook.

We bought the 70-inch Sharp Aquos 845 on Saturday, March 9, and it was delivered to our home the following Tuesday morning. Not exactly the price-conscious purchase we’d sought to make, but perhaps one that we would be more satisfied with over the long haul. Glenn had used the time between the purchase and delivery dates to read the user manual online and recalculate the location of the mounting bracket on the partition wall between our kitchen and living room. The new set being 62 percent larger than the old one, the bracket had to be higher if we wanted the base of the screen to clear the small bench we’ve kept along that wall as an accent. The relocated bracket fit perfectly, and with all three of us working together we were able to lift the 86-pound set into place — without dropping it, much to our relief.

It took a couple of days for our eyes to adjust to the larger screen, but so far we’re happy with our purchase. It gets nice color and has built-in apps for Netflix, YouTube and some other services. It also has 3D capability, although we haven’t tried it out yet because the two pairs of 3D glasses that were included with our purchase didn’t arrive with the delivery. Best Buy is holding them for us and we hope to have them within a few days, not that we plan on spending a lot of time watching 3D content anyway. We’re less impressed with the audio quality, but we are excited that we can hook up headphones for private listening, something we were unable to do with the Hitachi.

Meanwhile, the late plasma set has been relocated to a corner of the living room, shrouded in a bed sheet, until we can decide what to do with it. It will probably go to the electronics recycling center. There is no room for it in the garage. Not liking to admit defeat, Glenn has said that he might take up electronic circuitry repair as a hobby and learn how to diagnose and fix whatever part caused the TV’s demise. If not, there are a bunch of parts that might be salvageable. We know of at least three boards that are in like-new condition, in case you happen to be in the market for them.

* * * * *

During our travels in search of our next television set, we encountered our next door neighbor while browsing at Costco. He and his family recently sold their two-story house and we were curious to know for how much and to whom, as it didn’t look like they’re in much of a hurry to get packing. What he told us was illustrative about the current real estate market in the Bay Area.

The house went on the market for $225,000 around the beginning of last month, and by the end of the first weekend they had received multiple cash offers as well as a few syrupy letters from less endowed shoppers hoping to appeal to the seller’s compassionate side. Who could possibly turn down a letter from a child explaining the personal sacrifices he would make just to help his mom and dad win the fierce bidding process? In the end, money talked. Our neighbors accepted an all-cash offer for $240,000 and are renting the property back from the buyer until their new house that is under construction in the Sierra foothills is completed. Our neighbor said that if he had been more patient and waited a couple of months, he likely would have received even higher offers. “I’d have enough money to afford one of those 70-inch big-screens,” he joked, pointing at the same Sharp model we’d been considering.

A couple of days later, we received a flier in the mail from Prudential Realty concerning a house on our block of the exact size and floor plan as ours. The listing agent, trying to drum up business, wanted us to know that the house sold after just one day on the market and commanded about $24,000 more than the asking price.

We thought about that as we listened to the clattering of freight cars and the rumble of heavy equipment on the railroad right of way just beyond our back fence. It’s not like we’ve seriously been in the market to move, but when you realize how much of a seller’s market it has become, it is very tempting. For the nearly 22 years we have lived here, there has been talk of the railroad being double-tracked. Work on that project began at the end of February, so weeks from now we will be listening to trains on two tracks running by our back fence at speed. That in addition to a work train that shunts cars in and out of the nearby DuPont rail siding almost every day. We don’t usually mind the railroad, but lately the increased activity has eliminated much of the peace and quiet we enjoyed about our location.

Is it time for us to move? Probably not now, but that day may eventually arrive.

* * * * *

We are writing a portion of this newsletter on the road from Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. Apart from the fact that it is Ben’s current house of higher education, it is also home to the 2013 Contra Costa Youth Summit, where Roni is holding down the fort at the Delta Science Center booth. It is one of several events she has been involved with recently on behalf of the DSC.

The booth today — it’s Saturday, March 16, as of this writing — is located along a walkway in the quad of the community college campus, and is one of more than a dozen booths focused on information about education, career and community service opportunities for high school kids. Roni’s booth is always a curiosity with event visitors, who stop by to check out the various Delta fish the DSC brings to display. She’s got eight fish today, including a black bass (with a fishing line still stuck in its mouth from a previous encounter with a fisherman) and a couple of huge catfish that have decided late this afternoon to start jumping in their enclosed tanks. That doesn’t work so well.

It’s about 2:30 p.m. and the crowd is starting to dissipate. Exhibitors are packing up their booths, so looks like we’ll have to as well. This is perhaps a good time to say thanks for reading another month’s mental meanderings, and we’ll have more to share with you in April.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 22:19 hrs.

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