Today I ticked off about ten things on this summer’s giant to-do list, starting with getting my ladder back from the brother-in-law. He’s had it since last fall when they were having some gutter issues, and I didn’t need it until I saw buckets of water coming down from the center section of our atrium gutter and knew I needed to get up there to clean them out.

But first, in the morning I loaded up the Scout with 6 months’ worth of crap for a dump run and got in and out of there in 20 minutes flat. This cleared out the garbage can area by the garage and a pile of brush that’s been sitting next to the driveway since last fall. Then Finley and I took a drive to the Home Depot to get a replacement canopy and some other small items for scraping windows.

Up on the ladder I got the gutters cleaned pretty quickly and then started washing and scraping the windows that are staying (5 out of 7). That got finished pretty quick, and I was about to bust out the primer when a friend stopped by so that I could shoot her headshot for LinkedIn. I’d brought home the Canon portrait rig from work and with a piece of illustration board as a light bounce we got some good shots of her, Jen and Finley in no time.

After that was done I headed over to the neighbors’ to help him finish splitting wood.  I worked for about 2 hours in the sun and we got a couple of big rounds split and stacked, then called it a day.

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Having flown my Phantom 2 a bunch of times in the past couple of weeks, I can say I’m getting the hang of it, but I’m seeing some of the limitations of a 3-year-old product. The video monitor it came with is an odd variant of a DVD monitor with no inputs other than an antenna. I can’t dig up technical information on it and no manual exists online. It’s good but I’d love an HD monitor instead (this is a pitiful 800×480), with a stronger signal. The camera gimbal it came with is specific to the GoPro Hero 3, which is a fine unit, but doesn’t shoot at anything above 30FPS. I’ve read that the key to smooth video is shooting at 60FPS, which the Hero 4 will do. A new gimbal mount is $200. This is all stuff I don’t need to spend money on, but I’d love to tinker with it more.

Finley and I took it out for another spin on Sunday night and soon had attracted a crowd of local kids. Finley, who is always happy to invite total strangers to her birthday party, ran right over and told them about the drone, then started inviting the kids to fly it. Which then meant I had to break the bad news to them. I’m getting the hang of how it flies, and although I’m not Chuck Yeager I’m beginning to make it do what I want.

Meanwhile at work, my boss went to a networking function where a woman gave a presentation on 360˚ immersive video. He was enthralled, and thus I am playing with a Samsung Gear 360 this weekend. It’s a pretty nice little gadget, but because it’s Samsung and they want to try and play Apple’s game of keeping users within their ecosystem, their iOS app is isn’t as robust as the Samsung version, but I’m working out some of the bugs and learning about (if there’s a) production workflow.

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I love Death Cab for Cutie, and I loved Soundgarden. Here’s a cover of Fell On Black Days by DCFC where Ben Gibbard just barely pulls off the high end of Chris Cornell’s insane high range, and their version is arranged perfectly for acoustic instruments and piano.

Date posted: June 12, 2017 | Filed under family, geek, house, photography | Leave a Comment »

When I tell people that I’m starting to exercise, I don’t tell them that I’m running. Because I’m not running. I went out and bought the expensive shoes, and even some expensive sport socks that are supposed to wick the sweat away from my feet. And even some sporty shorts that will replace the irregular basketball shorts I bought at a long-defunct Champion outlet in Binghampton 20 years ago. I tell people that I’m working up to running, because I can only get 1-2 minute spurts in before I’ve got to slow down and let the puking feeling subside. I’m following a very loose and forgiving plan where I run as long as it feels good and then stop to continue walking, as long as I keep walking and stick with a schedule. So far I’ve been out four days out of seven and I’m still alive even if all my joints are sore and it hurts to climb stairs; this activity on top of my regular weekly chores around the house adds up to continual soreness. However, I think I’m feeling an uptick in my overall energy level, and I think my brain feels a little less fuzzy. I’ll check back in at the end of Week 2.

Saturday morning, after walking, I jumped in the car and checked out the local yard sales while the girls slept. In the line at Dunkin Donuts I ran into a neighbor who asked what I was out looking for, and I told him I had my eye out for a cheap set of speakers, among other things. He looked surprised and told me he had a pair in his garage he’d give me. We made plans to meet up later, and went our separate ways.

Out on the street, I found a handtruck with two flat tires and got it for $10 (I’ve been looking for one for years but unwilling to pay $80 for it), a gravel rake for $2, and a half-size practice guitar for Finn for $9. The hope is that maybe I’ll dust off my guitar and she and I can sit and practice together, and get each other motivated.

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When I got back, the girls and I cleaned the weeds from between the bricks on the front walk and then swept two bags of sand into the joints, capping off that job. Then I went to get my hair cut and drove back to the house with six bales of straw in the Scout for use as a raised garden base. We gave up on the fenced-in mudpit garden a while ago, but Finley has been asking for a vegetable garden of her own for a couple of years. This approach keeps the weeds up out of the plants and is easier to work with; I sure hope so. We pulled the fence down, weeded the pit, and set the hay up as directed. Then I stopped over to pick up the speakers: a set of bookshelf KLHs, perfect for use in the garage with the dumpster Denon on the shelf out there. I enlisted Finley’s help to get the wheels on the handtruck pumped up, and they held air well until this morning when I found them both flat again. Upon further research, I need some tire bead sealant to paint the rims with first, and that should solve the problem.

Then we hit the shower and got dressed up to see a local concert: the Columbia Orchestra had a symphonic pops program with music from Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Dr. Zhivago, and Rocky, among others, but we were really there to see the two selections from The Force Awakens. That was after the intermission, so we sat through the other performances, including two high-school students who did complex solo pieces with orchestral accompaniment–and were amazing. I will admit, the sound of the strings tuning at the beginning, and the lush sweep of a full orchestra had me thinking back to my days on stage, and I felt a strong desire to go find an upright bass on Craigslist and audition. But I’ve got enough stuff to do right now, thank you.

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Sunday I got the lawn mowed and raked wood chips out of the grass for the third time; there are now seven bags of assorted lawn debris in the backyard waiting to be hauled away. The patches of mud back there are looking better now, but I’m waiting for some grass to grow back in. I’ll have to seed it all and throw some more straw down next week to get things kickstarted.

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Then we joined some friends for a hike in the woods after lunchtime. The weather was cool, so we weren’t sweating our butts off, but we got out for a good three hours with some water time and a close encounter with a freight train before heading home.

Date posted: May 23, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

We’ve been cursed with rain for the past three weeks, with intermittent days of warm sunshine. Usually these days fall on workdays when I’m stuck in a pair of chinos at my desk in DC unable to take advantage of the situation.

Saturday was one of those rainy days. We decided to make lemonade by getting out of the house and spending time together, running errands and taking Finley to be tested for a gifted and talented program at Johns Hopkins. They want to see where the kids fall in their ability to think, not measure how smart they are, reasoning that this is a better predictor of future success. Finn was a little nervous going in but came out feeling good about the whole experience, so we did some clothes returning and then some shopping, where I scored a sweet pair of black wingtip oxfords, Mama a dress, and Finley some much-needed summer clothes. Then we stopped in at a favorite sushi restaurant and celebrated.

It’s been a long, boring road, but we’re beginning to think she might be coming out of the flavor desert she’s had us trapped in for years. Up until that point she was a fearless omnivore, unafraid to try anything new and in possession of a gourmand’s taste buds. At about four that ability dried up and she wanted buttered noodles all the time. We don’t negotiate with terrorists, so this made meals difficult to navigate. We basically had to find stuff we’d all eat within the narrow confines of her taste.

At the sushi restaurant Mama and I got daring and tried a couple of wild new rolls we’d never had before, and each found them delicious. Finley, who had her own California roll, saw what we were eating and asked to try one, and then the other. We then had to stop her from eating the rest of our dinner. This and a couple of other smaller signs could mean she’s beginning to come around again–which would be fantastic.

Sunday was sunny and warmer, so I got out in the yard and started cleaning. First up was to finish staining the playset, which got done at about 11. Next I cleaned up the woodpile and got the bark in one area and the rest of the debris into bags. There’s big patches of mud under there but it doesn’t look like a brontosaurus shat all over the yard anymore (well, except for the pile of bark).

Then I pulled the grape trellis stakes out of the ground and cut down three newer, taller ones to replace them.  I was at the point where I could put them in when we had to clean up and run across the street for Finn’s piano recital. She did great for a kid who had just smeared both knees across the sidewalk in front of the church, requiring disposal of her mangled tights and four band-aids before her performance.

We had the neighbors’ kids over for playtime afterwards, and as I was finishing the yardwork their parents walked over with some drinks and we enjoyed the evening sunshine catching up. They invited us for dinner, so we grabbed some drinks and steak fries and made an evening of it on their deck while the kids played past their bedtime.

 

Date posted: May 16, 2017 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

Learning about airplanes

Last Friday I took a day off work to take my folks down to the Udvar-Hazy museum outside of Dulles airport. They’ve been in town for a couple of days while my Dad gets some more testing done at Hopkins, and there are several days in between each of the appointments. We decided to have Finn join us, so she got an extra day of spring break tacked on.

My Dad hasn’t seen the museum yet, and in his mind he thought we would be walking around outside in a big field. When we pulled up to the building, he said, “That’s a big airport.” I don’t think he was prepared for the size and scope of it.

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Since the last time we were down there (about 10 years ago), it’s gotten updated and they’ve added to the collection. The restoration hangar in back is now open, so we got to see the Apollo 11 Command Module sitting down on the floor, the fuselage of the Flak Bait, and the Sikorsky JRS-1, the only remaining plane that was present at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

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The space hall has been expanded upon, and they’ve dramatically increased the exhibits on either end of the main hall with commercial aviation, rotary wing aircraft, and additions to the warbird collection. We walked for about 4 hours, taking a break in the middle for lunch, after which Finn and I tried out the simulators. She was nervous at first, so we tried the one on hydraulic jacks, and it turned out that she loved it. Then we tried a dogfight simulator that spun 360˚ horizontally to simulate rolls and flips; I think Finn had fun but she was squealing too loudly to know for sure.

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Saturday I took the family out with me on errands to get everyone out of the house, so we hit the Lowe’s, the Target, and then the runner’s store so that I could get fitted for specialized running shoes. This took about 45 minutes, as they made me run in place, checked my arches, and then showed me some sneakers. I wound up leaving with fancy insoles and a pair of Adidas running shoes, which I intended to start breaking in this week.

We came home and took advantage of the weather to get out into the backyard and clean up the leaves; Jen cleared out the driveway while we were gone and I cleaned up the woodpile area after getting home. Sunday was more of the same; we got outside and worked in the warm weather. I’ve been throwing stuff in the garage since the weather got cold, and so I haven’t been able to access anything behind the Scout for four months. A couple of hours of organization later, everything was in its right place and made more sense.

Moving some car parts around, I was carrying one of the spare Scout windshields across the open area when my right foot came down on a piece of wood the wrong way. Because I was carrying about 100 lbs. of metal and glass, the effect was magnified, and I felt a searing pain on the outside of my foot below the ankle. At first I thought it was a sprain but a spot on my foot swelled up to the size of a golf ball, so we drove out to the urgent care to have it X-rayed. They diagnosed it as a fracture and sent me home with a giant ski boot, which I am wearing until I see the orthopedist on Friday.

Date posted: April 13, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

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.

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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.

 

Date posted: January 12, 2017 | Filed under apple, art/design, family | Leave a Comment »

Jen traveled to Southern Maryland to attend a funeral on Saturday, which meant Finley and I were on our own for the majority of the day. I told her ahead of time that we were going to be handling a lot of errands, and asked her to be my co-pilot.

We started out with some breakfast after seeing Jen off. Down the street we got some BE&C and then completed that day’s Advent activity: reindeer droppings for breakfast. This was more delicious than it sounds–a bagful of chocolate munchkins at Dunkin Donuts look suspiciously like the real thing. Next, we hit the bank. From there, we drove into the city to go pick up a company lens I had dropped off for repair at the camera store a few weeks back.

While we were there I looked at a couple of used Fuji lenses and then asked if I could see the 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 zoom. I’ve been looking at this lens online for weeks. I’m committing to building a Fuji kit that spans a wide range of focal lengths, and this lens fills the middle to long-range gap. I hemmed and I hawed, but the focus speed and range sold me, so I put the money down for it.

Finn and I returned home and took a short break before going back out again, which was fortunate because just then I got a call from the contractor, who wanted to come by and see the bathroom space. I walked him through the area and he took measurements on windows and square footage, and hopefully we’ll get an estimate in hand sometime this week.

Then we warmed up the Scout and went out Christmas shopping for Jen. After taking care of that task, we hit the Panera on our way back for a late lunch. As we looked at the menu, a nice man told me I’d left our headlights on, so we went out and checked. This was a false alarm (the sun’s reflection sure did look like it) but we struck up a conversation as Finn and I came back inside. It turns out he’s got a diesel Scout he rescued from a barn, and Peer Pressure is the first Scout he’s seen around these parts. I wrote my email on a napkin and told him to get in touch so that we can set up a day to meet up and talk Scouts.

Back home, Finn and I put the lights on the porch and then I put the candles in the windows to make the house look cheerier. We then made some warm milk with cardamom and watched Rudolph before bundling up for bed.

Date posted: December 13, 2016 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

Helper

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I posted a version of this on Instagram, but I like it so much I put it here too.

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My folks are in town this week so that my dad can do some testing at Johns Hopkins for his breathing. They saw him on Wednesday and then had him come right back on Thursday for observation; he’s been there ever since. They’re trying to untangle why he continues to have issues getting full lungfuls of air. So far everything is good. He’s in good hands at the hospital. They’re feeding him well, and he’s comfortable. Unfortunately, this meant he missed our Thanksgiving dinner. Due to other illness, we were down three other family members, so we had four empty seats and an 18 lb. bird to eat. Luckily, the Redmans were free, and we found a way to stuff as much food in our stomachs as possible. Finn had a friend to play with, and we adults got some time to talk amongst ourselves.

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The piping in the basement is fixed. I got a plumber in the door on Wednesday and within a half an hour he had the joint sweated, sealed, and finished for only $100. So we came out about $400 ahead of the deal.

Date posted: December 3, 2016 | Filed under comparison, family, finn | Leave a Comment »

Saturday morning broke warm and sunny, and we all got up eager to get outside. At least, I did. After prodding the neighbor to come and split wood (he was working) I lit a fire and got busy splitting the last of the small stuff, and actually split a 30″ round by hand. I’m definitely at the point where I can’t do anything else without hydraulic assistance so I’m at his mercy in terms of scheduling.  I cleaned up the area, adjusted the tarps on the cribs, collected a wheelbarrow full of dry chips for kindling, and a bunch of other small yard tasks before the sky turned dark. In the space of about five minutes it went from sunny and 70˚ to gray and 50˚, and the wind howled in like the aftershock of a nuclear blast. I came inside and changed the cartridge on our water filter, which has needed doing for a while now, only to find that the outgoing valve (the one that keeps water on the house side from pouring back down onto the floor) is leaking uncontrollably, because it is made of plastic and is shit. The plumbers will be here Monday morning to look that situation over, and meanwhile we have a 5-gallon bucket keeping the floor dry.

That was OK though because Mama and I had a reservation at Parts & Labor, a butcher/restaurant in Remington, and it was time to get ready. After setting the babysitter up with the technology we drove into the city and found a spot across the street. Remington has changed dramatically since the last time we were up there; there’s a huge condo/workspace around the corner from the Paper Moon diner that looks like it landed from Mars.

Parts & Labor is a lovely restaurant with killer cocktails and a very courteous staff. Our meals were delicious (Jen won this time with the lambchetta) and we enjoyed every minute of our stay. Strangely, we were done in an hour and a half–usually we shut restaurants down when we’ve got a sitter–so we moseyed up to Golden West and joined the hipsters at the bar for more cocktails. There we enjoyed a couple hours of uninterrupted conversation before the CR-V turned into a pumpkin.

I’ll say that even though I was a little rocky this morning I’m gaining an appreciation for both a well-mixed Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I don’t drink bourbon or rye as a rule (brown alcohol and I don’t mix) but these two were delicious. Jen and I discussed laying in some good bourbon, bitters, and vermouth and trying to perfect our own recipe over the winter.

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Sunday was 40˚ and windy, with gusts of 20mph or more (definitely more) and my neighbor was working again, so there was no splitting for us at all. I went down to pick up the CSA, then came back to clean the yard for winter. This included re-fastening the plastic on the far side of the greenhouse, which had come completely loose, and organizing the contents so that the rest of the chairs and hoses would fit inside. Other than that, it was a relaxed Sunday.

Date posted: November 20, 2016 | Filed under family, house, life | Leave a Comment »

This weekend was long and productive. It started out with a spectacle: Cinderella the musical was playing at the Hippodrome in Baltimore. All three of us got churched up in our fancy clothes and we drove into town for the evening. The show was fantastic–the script was updated for modern audiences, but Rodgers & Hammerstein is timeless. The cast was outstanding and the whole production was fun and energetic. At several points during the show I looked over at Finn, who was on the edge of her seat, eyes filled with awe, and knew that Mama had done right by getting tickets.

A photo posted by @idiotking on

Saturday morning we rose and cleaned the house in preparation for a sleepover with one of Finn’s friends, for which she was very excited. Beds were made, toilets scrubbed, rugs  vacuumed, and rooms straightened. Finn had a soccer game at noon, so we worked up until it was time to leave and then got her to the field with minutes to spare. She worked really hard during the game and even though her team lost by a goal, she played ace defense and ran her legs off on offense. We stopped for some groceries, grabbed a celebratory donut and headed back home. From there I took the Scout to Lowe’s to load up on lumber while the girls went shopping for some new fish.

Back at the house I unloaded the truck and lit a fire in the pit, then got to work building a third firewood cradle. By dinnertime I had it in place and filled with another half cord of wood while the girls played in the yard. Around dinnertime the Geblers stopped over with Bear. We all hung out in the backyard as the sun went down, and I loaded up the grill with dinner. We all ate our fill and stayed up way past our bedtimes; the girls went down with only a peep at 11PM.

Sunday morning we rose early and I helped put a pancake breakfast together with Jen, then headed back outside to put a fourth cradle together and stack the remaining wood. After I finished that task, I turned the Ravens game on the radio through the garage speakers, dragged my brewing equipment outside, and put a grapefruit IPA recipe on the burner that I’ve had sitting around since June. It was the perfect weather for being outside with a fire; 60˚ and sunny all weekend. I’ve got piles of bark from the split wood laying around that I thought I’d never find anything to do with, but it turns out bark burns pretty well–and fast. I made the first pile disappear by Sunday afternoon, and made a dent in the second pile at nightfall. I doubt it will be that comfortable outside again this year, but I’m glad I took full advantage of it.

Date posted: November 7, 2016 | Filed under Baltimore, brewing, family | Leave a Comment »

From the Asbury Park Press:

Thomas J. Dugan, 97 of Toms River, was born on October 10, 1919 and peacefully passed on October 27, 2016 with his wife by his side.

Tom served in the United States Navy during WWII and was stationed on the USS Borie. Tom was proud of the time spent in the Navy and talked of it often.

Tom moved to Toms River in 1953 where he settled to raise his family. Tom worked as a supervisor in the Powerhouse at Ciba Giegy, retiring in 1982. Tom was an active member in his community and was a parishioner of Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.

Tom Dugan was a huge man with striking blue eyes. He lived up the street from my Uncle Tom (my Dad’s cousin), who I visited often as a boy. He always had time to stop and talk to my cousin TJ and I, and their door was always open to us during the summers I visited there. He drive a gigantic yellow Cadillac, which I thought was the essence of cool, and he always dressed sharp–I remember him as a man with style. He inspired a life of community service in his family; his son served in Vietnam and later became a police officer, as did his two grandsons.

As I grew up I was fascinated with the history of World War II, and one day he told me the story of his service on the USS Borie, a 4-stack destroyer that hunted, depth-charged, and rammed the U-405, a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. The Borie wound up high-centered on the U-405’s hull and the two ships were locked together for an extended period of time, during which the two crews fought with deck guns, sidearms, and cooking utensils until they separated in the heavy seas. The U-405 sank shortly afterwards, having sustained heavy damage, and the Borie limped away into the fog, to be scuttled by friendly fire the next day.

Tom Brokaw made a big deal about the Greatest Generation, which always sounded trite to me, but Tom Dugan was the real deal. Godspeed.

Date posted: November 1, 2016 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »