Santa brought me a technological upgrade for Christmas this year. I’ve been using a base model Kindle Fire since last Christmas, when a rock bottom sale made the purchase a no-brainer. It’s a decent bit of gear for the money but I found it lacking in a lot of ways, especially after comparing it to the iPad it replaced. The battery life is short, which is no surprise given its size. The touchscreen is less responsive. And the interface, while functional, lacks some basic features–like a file system that lists files alphabetically. Santa took advantage of another sale this year and got me a Fire HD, with a bigger screen, faster chip, and better battery life. These small improvements have finally presented a useful replacement for the iPad; it’s faster, the battery lasts longer, and the screen is more responsive. It’s cheap enough that if it gets broken I’m not going to cry about the cost, but it’s powerful enough that it does the main things I need it for. Plus it’s got a mini SD card slot so I can add storage space when I need it.
This means my old Fire is available for Finn to use in a limited fashion; I’ve been reading up on how to lock it down for child-friendly use. Amazon has a couple of different approaches available for parents, from setting up a household account and making a user profile for your kid, to using an app called FreeTime which essentially locks the Kindle down to only what you want them to access. I haven’t figured out which one is better yet, but I’m going to get this sorted out in the next week. She’s asking to play Minecraft, because pretty much everyone else her age is already doing so, so I’m going to have to read up on that as well.
And speaking of games, I installed Steam on my work laptop over the break, mainly so that I could play Firewatch, which was available through a holiday sale. I initially tried to run it on my personal laptop but it was so choppy as to be unplayable–not surprising for a 7 year old machine. (This also raises the question of a new laptop sometime this year). I was excited about this game when I saw the previews; it’s produced by an indie game developer and funded by the company that makes several Mac apps I use on a daily basis, and it got excellent reviews when it was released. I played about an hour of it after installing, and immediately was hooked. It’s a first-person mystery exploration game, so there’s no running and shooting, and all of the information you get is through a walkie-talkie with an offscreen female voice or what you pick up along the way. I’ve played about two hours of it now and the mystery portion is just setting in. I will have to ration it out so that I don’t play through the whole thing in one sitting.
Meanwhile I started archiving photos from this year and making room for 2017. We’re running out of space on the basement server, so I bought a 4TB drive to replace the cramped media storage drive that holds our movies and music. I began reorganizing the miscellaneous files there to free up space, but it’s obvious I’ve got to rethink the whole situation, especially in light of the gigabytes of photos I’ve got from 2016.
Satan’s Hairy Armpit is upon us, with temperatures in the mid 100’s, and all of our air conditioners are cranking. Jen asked me to haul them all outside and clean them out earlier in the summer, and I’m glad she did; they were all disgusting inside, full of black yuck and gunk in the bottom. I disassembled each, sprayed them with mildew killer, hosed them out, and sat them to dry in the sunlight. Now they’re keeping us cool without spraying our lungs full of tuberculosis as we sleep.
I’m considering taking out a home equity line of credit before the election, as I don’t think the new bathroom will be completed without it. We can’t seem to get any traction going in there, and now that I’m not freelancing as much as I used to, I don’t have extra cash appearing magically to throw at it. I have no idea what the markets will do if either candidate wins (but I can guess what will happen if Trump is elected) so I think it’s time to get a fixed APR locked in before everything goes in the shitter.
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.
This is unscientific, because the Idiot forgot to set the same ISO on each camera. So we’ll call this “Round 1”. What you’re seeing is two cameras with three lenses shooting on the same focus point. These images are unedited other than bumping up the D90’s exposure to match the D7000, but I’ll fix that in the next round. The first two lenses are manual and the third is a modern AI at the same focal length.
When I was in the third grade, I was diagnosed as nearsighted. My teacher noticed me squinting to see what she was writing on the blackboard. I didn’t notice anything wrong; all I had to do was squinch them up a little bit and everything was fine. But, I was issued glasses. My eyesight got worse until it leveled out somewhere in high school, and I haven’t had a change in my prescription since then.
1980 was also the height of Star Wars mania. It was the barren time between the first two movies, when we didn’t know much about what would happen and the modern PR machine didn’t exist, so everything we heard was third-hand rumor. Boba Fett was whispered about like a boogeyman. Millennials don’t really understand the cultural impact of the franchise on my generation; I heard someone claim The Matrix was bigger, but I just laughed in their face. Star Wars was EVERYWHERE. We loved it; our parents loved it. We all lived and breathed the trilogy and were sad to see it come to a close.
Jen and I have been debating on when to expose Finn to the series, and how to handle things. We decided early on that we would show her the movies we saw at roughly the same age we did; we agreed to leave the prequels out completely, because fuck that. On Saturday we screened Star Wars at home, and Finn loved it. Sunday was Empire, and Monday we saw Jedi. Each night we fielded 20 new insightful questions before putting her to bed. We’ve got the 2004 DVD series, which means they’ve been “enhanced,” and while we cringed at the cutesy CGI additions, Finn loved them. Gauging her response after Jedi, we debated taking her to The Force Awakens (we’d been planning on getting a babysitter and going ourselves) but ultimately decided she’d be fine.
We all loved it. Jen and I have been studiously avoiding any kind of spoilers for weeks now (I will avoid them here) so everything was fresh for us, and it was a treat. The main beats of the movie hit really well. The character and story arcs are written skillfully; there’s more character development in this single movie than in all three of the prequels. Each character had a clear sense of purpose, direction and emotion, thank god. I like the new characters they’ve introduced, and it was great to see our old friends joking, smiling, and kicking ass!
Finally, the movie looked like a Star Wars movie in a way that the prequels simply did not. Practical effects, real sets, real props, a return to the original lighting direction and a cautious use of CGI go a long way. The Millenium Falcon is a real set. It exists somewhere, and the characters can touch it.
Gripes? Just a few. It’s JJ Abrams, so things are paced a little quicker than I’d like. It’s quite derivative in terms of plot. I wanted to spend just a little more time with some of the characters and the places they visited. But if I squint just a little bit, it’s 1980 again, and I’m happy to be back in that world, if only for an hour and a half. I can’t wait for the next one.
Christmas has come and gone, and we are enjoying a quiet day of doing nothing in our pajamas. the house is quiet after an eight-day visit with my sister in law and her son Scott, who is a cute and very active two-year-old. It was challenging to fit the two of them into our daily schedule, host my folks last weekend (hooray!), host three cats, and prepare for Christmas, but now that everyone is gone I think we’re all quite depressed. The house is silent and we haven’t bothered to pick anything up.
Christmas itself was great. We hosted the Lockards here (there was a slight chance Rob might have joined us Christmas eve but his flight out of Philadelphia took off on time) and Jen outdid herself with milk-braised pork, brussel sprouts, potatoes, and arugula salad. Finley came downstairs to a new bicycle from Santa, as well as a bunch of excellent new books, educational toys, and, most surprising of all, a 3′ Crystle Carrington doll from Dynasty–yes, Dynasty (don’t ask.)
Santa was good enough to bring me an iPad Air two Christmases ago, when I settled into my commute to DC and needed something portable to read and write email. It was great, and I enjoyed using it on a (mostly) daily basis. It has a combination of excellent battery life, portability, and convenience that made my first year on the train an easy one.
When I started teaching, things got more difficult. This past semester, I found myself carrying a ton of extra stuff for each class. I bring a pad of paper to class, along with an attendance sheet that doubles as a notepad. Then I was humping design books, Pantone swatchbooks, paper samples, and other bulky items to show the students each day. Adding all this to a 13″ MacBook Pro, a camera, a Moleskine, and about 5 pounds of other stuff meant that the iPad got left on my desk more often than not. Santa brought me a medium sized Timbuk2 messenger bag, but as I’ve found, the bigger the bag, the more crap you want to cram in it, and the heavier it gets. My intention is to pare the things I carry down to the bare minimum.
- MacBook Pro 13″
- Leatherman Skeletool
- Cree Ultrafire LED flashlight
- Fuji X-E1/18-50mm or Nikon D7000/35mm
- Ray-Ban 4115 sunglasses
- Pilot Precise V7 pens
- MARC monthly ticket
On Black Friday I saw that Amazon had discounted the Kindle Fire to a price I couldn’t pass up, so I bought two of them. One for Jen, to complement her phone as an entertainment device, and one to replace my iPad.
I’m impressed with it so far. It’s less than a half the size and weight of my iPad, and it has the main features I was using my iPad for–watching Netflix movies and reading eBooks on the train. It takes time to get used to a non-Apple interface, but overall they’ve done a decent job of laying things out and letting me get to my stuff. I could do without the ads on my home screen, but I didn’t pay extra for that. The browser is responsive and small, but it’s good to have something to check smaller screens with. As with our earlier Kindle (thanks, Linda!) I can dump books on it with Calibre, the ugliest OS X application I’ve used in 20 years.
Meanwhile, my Mom has been using a white MacBook for email and websurfing since we got it for her in 2008. It’s getting very long in the tooth, and even though it’s still working, things have been getting funky with it; the browser chrome is blinking out, and the fan cycles up to “tornado” regularly. It’s running 10.7.4 which is the latest version the processor will support, so she’s way behind the times in terms of security. It only made sense to give her my iPad. During their visit, I wiped it and we got her set up with email, her browser settings, an Apple Store account, and found apps to replace the ones she’d been using on her laptop. She’s thrilled and I’m happy it’s going to a great home.
I’ve been using the Fuji X-E1 for about six months now, and I’m finding its limitations a bit frustrating. My primary complaint is that the shutter lag is maddening. Waiting for it to find focus is irritating, having been spoiled by years of lightning-fast DSLRs. It’s pretty useless in low light even with ISO cranked to the ceiling because the camera can’t find anything to settle on. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to purchase a used 27mm fixed lens for it to slim it down or to sell it and look for a better camera.
While my sister-in-law and her son were here, I made a conscious effort to use the Fuji as much as I could, which meant daylight and quieter situations to avoid movement and low light. It works great in those environments. However, I needed something that could keep up with an active 2-year-old and his mercurial facial expressions–which led me back to the D7000.
I’ve been noticing that the shots I’ve been taking lately aren’t as crisp as I want them to be. It could be the new 35mm lens I bought isn’t sharp, or that the camera is out of alignment, or that I’m just not using it correctly. Something I’ve got planned for this coming week is to set up a tripod and shoot comparisons of the AI 35mm and 50mm lenses I have as well as both non-AI lenses with both the D7000 and Jen’s D90 to see if I can nail down what’s going on.