I found out through a post on Instagram that the venerable Bel-Loc Diner has closed after 53 years, due to be knocked down and replaced with a fucking Starbucks of all things. I’ve loved the Bel-Loc since I moved to Baltimore 28 years ago (damn); in college we made pilgrimages up to the Parkville area for breakfast, haircuts, and the Hechinger’s when there was no diner food, weekend banking or lumberyards in the city. It’s been a landmark since I’ve been here, a shining neon constant. I think I’ve shot pictures of it with every camera I own save one. In a world of cavernous fake modern diners with no soul, it was a cozy room made of curves and angles and stainless steel. You could sit in a booth and feel the conversations around you while you ate; it had a communal sense about it. Much like the departed Forest Diner, it was an experience. And we don’t have too many authentic experiences left anymore.
I made some updates to the backend of both this site and the Scout blog, which were both being unreliable (the Scout blog was actually going down and up for a few weeks). Shutting off all of the plugins, updating them, and selectively turning on just the crucial ones brought full functionality back, and tweaking the settings in Jetpack helped fix a couple of strange bugs (the Media library wasn’t loading, for example). I was thinking my ancient handmade template was obsolete for a while there, but everything seems to be working correctly now. Thankfully I run this blog fast and lean, because if I had to deal with multiple dependencies or outdated plugins, I’d be sunk. At one time I could make WordPress sing, but I’ve forgotten most of it in the last couple of years.
I got a freelance check in the mail for the job I did on the flight to Paraguay, so I’m researching the iPad Pro, paired with an Apple Pencil and an app called Procreate. My hope is that I can use this combination of hardware and software to emulate scratchboard and also work in Illustrator. The big question here is whether the smaller model would be big enough for my needs or if I should shell out for the larger one. Unfortunately the education discount is only $20 for the iPad, so I’ll have to consider carefully. I think a visit to the local Apple Store is in order.
I’m sitting on the couch drinking an oatmeal stout with my brain turned almost completely off. The last week has been a blur, with family in town, a freelance gig, several appointments, and a large event happening at work all at once.
Family was the high point; my sister drove down from NY for Second Christmas and we all enjoyed opening presents in January (especially Finn, who had the lion’s share.). Renie had to bomb in and out due to work, and so only got to spend Saturday with us before heading home on Sunday. We did have a great afternoon, ate a delicious dinner, watched the playoffs, and went to bed early. Thus ends my season of holiday eating; I’m throttling way back on desserts and heavy foods because I feel like it’s gaining on me.
The kittens are settling in well with everyone; Bellatrix (hereafter known as Trixie) is chill by day but a raving terror at night. Nox will let me pick him up and lay in my arms like a drugged-out hippie for as long as I want to scratch his head. The two of them wrestle and fight and chase each other around the house, then pass out cold for hours at a time. As much as I hate cleaning a litterbox, it’s great to have the sound of paws on the floor again.
I took on a freelance gig last Wednesday, figuring I could knock it out in a couple of days, but was only able to really get to it over the weekend. The sketch went together quickly but the client asked to change the view after I’d gone to final art, so I had to redo the whole thing Monday night. It was a pretty simple job but it could finance the purchase of something I’ve been thinking about for a while–an iPad Pro. This would allow for the use of a pen and real-time drawing on the screen for illustration, something I’ve been waiting on for 10 years. One of my self-improvement goals for the year is to commit to drawing again, and find a workflow to make illustration fast and easy from sketch to screen. I think this might be the answer, and my ultimate goal would be to make it another source of income by the end of the year.
We held one of our major events at work Wednesday morning, which was the culmination of two weeks’ work for my team and about a months’ writing time for the larger group. My designers are aces and knocked together a great deck, and the system we put into place for production a few years ago helped streamline the process. Meanwhile, during production last week, I accidentally spilled coffee into my laptop, thus frying it, and had to scramble for a replacement. The IT guys gave me a castoff machine that wasn’t booting, and after some work I got it up and running, set up my workspace, and scraped the stickers off the case. It’s two years older than the dead unit but it’s the same form factor and has more memory. With a larger hard drive it should be usable, and I’m not going to complain one bit.
Using my personal laptop in the interim, it became clear how painfully slow a seven year old machine is. I can still make good use of it–so I purchased a SSD to speed up the disk. At some point this year I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new machine; the question is whether I go all-in on a Thunderbolt-only MacBook Pro or get one of the last multi-port models available.
I’m tired of having to sign in to my fucking iCloud account every five fucking minutes. Fix that shit please.
Having upgraded all of our WRI work laptops to current models, I’m phasing out our older machines. This means I’m able to buy them for a nominal fee. Last week I grabbed a 15″ MBP for Finley, who has been using a tablet at school and borrowing my laptop to do schoolwork during snow days. I spent some time flattening a spare drive and installing El Capitan (I fell prey to a somewhat common bug with all of the USB installers I’d created before I got one to work) and creating a user account for her. I’m now in the process of locking it down as tightly as possible. The parental controls in OS X are a new adventure for me, but with a little research and some experimentation, I think I can make it kid-friendly and lock out all but the G-rated sites we’ll allow her to browse.
At the same time, I’ve got to rebuild my work laptop from scratch. About a month ago I had a dumb travel accident with my coffee thermos and soaked the lower half of the case, which prompted a trip to the Apple store and an emergency rebuild. They left the hard drive but replaced the lower case, display, motherboard, and several other components. When I got the machine back it booted up into an older version of my user account, but it’s been acting funky. Playing video from the internet sometimes blows up wireless connectivity and/or crashes the browser, and the Microsoft Office suite goes up and down randomly.
I grabbed a spare drive from my stash at work and cloned the drive. Over this next weekend I’m going to do a full reinstall of the OS and build it clean from the ground up.
Meanwhile, Jen’s laptop, which is newer than mine, decided it was time to throw a tantrum and blinked off. It’s doing something I’ve never seen before: the startup sequence drops out about 2/3 of the way through and blinks to a dead gray screen. Booting into Recovery Mode, the Hardware Test, or from an external recovery drive has the same result. I’m stumped, so I pulled her drive and transplanted it into Finn’s computer until I can diagnose the hardware problem. Great!
Another repair in the works is our balky plumbing system. Last fall, when I was in Abu Dhabi, our new toilet stopped flushing. Jen had plumbers come in to diagnose it, and they replaced the toilet after snaking the lines. Soon after that, the basement flooded, and they snaked the line again. That was when we found the pipe was clogged under the magnolia tree, and we dug a very expensive trench in the yard to replace it.
After Christmas, to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, the toilet clogged again.
The plumbers put a camera down in the line and diagnosed a problem with the cast iron pipe that links the second bathroom with the main waste line; when the original plumbers installed it, they didn’t add any downward angle to the last length of pipe, which runs about 2/3 of the width of the basement. This means the waste didn’t have any help moving to the main sewer line, and sat in the flat section of pipe, where it hardened and clogged. So, they replaced that entire length of iron with PVC at a proper angle on Thursday. It was expensive but if and when the upstairs bathroom ever comes into use, it’s necessary for keeping things flowing smoothly.
Friday morning, we woke to a cold house.
The boiler decided it didn’t want to stay lit, which meant we needed to call the plumbers out. Again. This time, the diagnosis is a bad spark unit, which is a module about the size of a sandwich. Unfortunately, the boiler itself dates back to Jimmy Carter’s term in office, so the part isn’t normally in stock anywhere. My plumber couldn’t source it today because his supplier is doing inventory all afternoon, so I’d have to wait until Monday. So we’re going to find a couple of space heaters, close off the outside rooms of the house, and hunker down tonight.
I made a few calls and found a different guy in town who can get the part for me by tomorrow morning; I’m going to take a $160 non-refundable chance and put it in myself (it’s three wires and two screws). If that fails, I’ll have to keep the plumbers of the world in business myself. I don’t have the money, after paying for a fancy new toilet, a trench in the front yard, two more visits to unclog the lines, and a new waste pipe, to put in a new boiler, so I really hope this works.
I’ve had my iPhone 6 for over two weeks now, and I have to say I’m impressed. It’s bigger, yes, and slipperier–the first thing I did was buy a Skech case for it, which I like–but having touch recognition is frickin’ magic. iOS 8 is much peppier on upgraded hardware, obviously. It’s amazing how much difference three years’ technology makes. The screen is huge compared to the 4s–the difference in pixel density alone is tremendous. I took some time to consolidate five screens worth of icons down to two, which meant I ditched some stuff along the way, but I haven’t bought anything new to add.
I took in the Superbowl last night at my neighbors’, in front of three widescreens. I was the only one rooting for the Seahawks, mostly because I don’t like the Patriots all that much. It turned out to be a fantastic game, and I thought the Patriots had sealed things up in the last three minutes. When the Seahawks drove down the field, I was thinking we were going to see a miraculous comeback. As it turned out, I was wrong–and I still can’t believe the play they called.
The yeast in my session IPA kicked in with a vengeance on Monday night, which brings me a sigh of relief. There’s at least 2″ of krauzen at the top of the carboy and it hasn’t slowed down since it started.
Jen tells me my new iPhone is sitting in a box on my desk–just in time. I think my 4S knows its time is up, because battery life has plunged off a cliff in the last week or so. However, the case I ordered (and fancy touchscreen gloves) won’t be here until tomorrow.
Not much else happening on the home front. It’s been too cold to do anything on the house, and schedules just haven’t worked out to get anything done on the weekend. I’m getting itchy…
After Jalopyrama yesterday, we followed the Morrises into the crowded center of Annapolis to grab a bite to eat. As we bit into our dinner, my left kidney began to throb, and within about 15 minutes I was up in the men’s bathroom splashing water on my face, trying not to throw up. Jen and Finn bundled me up in the car and hauled ass all the way to the Howard County hospital, the folks who took such good care of Finn before she was airlifted to Hopkins. (The Morrises texted me in the car on our way home: “Best dine N dash ever! LOL”)
After an X-ray, a CAT scan, and some urinalysis, it turned out I was dealing with a kidney stone working its way down to my bladder. Jen found a bed for Finn at the neighbors’ and came back to pick me up when I was discharged. For most of the overnight I was OK, but at about 6AM I had to bust into the pain meds to get back to sleep.
Nothing has come out yet as far as I can tell, and the afternoon has been pretty mild compared to dinner yesterday. Hopefully I’ll see some progress tomorrow, because I’m staying home from work until I’ve got an idea of what’s happening.
Renie mentioned she’d upgraded her 4S to iOS 8.1 and it’s been much better for her, so I’m looking at a progress bar on my phone this evening. Hopefully I won’t have to try and roll it back. As it turns out, I can’t use Instant Hotspot with my phone, as it requires a 5 or higher. Most of the Continuity features require a 5 actually, so I’ll probably stick with my upgrade plan.
I did some minor housekeeping here at IK central while I was on the couch, mainly moving the sidebar and utility links from the bottom of the page over to the sidebar. Given the average length of the posts here, it was getting to be a drag to scroll all the way down to find the search and links and other functions.
Hooray! We’re going to Jalopyrama #11 on Saturday. Nothing but 1962 and earlier American hot rods, customs, and race cars. I will be bringing a good camera and a big memory card. We’re also meeting the Morrises there to hand off their iMac and maybe see the sights in Annapolis.
My home laptop is now running Yosemite, and seems to be pretty happy. I like a lot of the new features they’ve baked into things, although I won’t be able to take advantage of a lot of the phone -> computer functionality until I upgrade my iPhone (dialing and making calls on my laptop, Continuity with my files, or tethering). Most likely I’ll wait until 2015 for a new phone, as the holidays and some home renovation projects demand my extra cash. Or maybe they’ll have a good update to iOS 8.1 that makes my old 4s happy.
Also, I used a feature of Mail.app I never knew existed until last week: Preferences -> Junk Mail ->Reset. I’ve been getting more and more spam mail over the last two years, to the point where 95% of my inbox was junk (at a rate of about 150 messages a day). Each evening I’d waste 5 minutes of my life weeding through spam mail and moving it to the junk folder. Having reset the filter I’m seeing 3-5 junk messages make it through and another 2-3 valid ones get marked as spam, but that’s a much better average than before.