A couple of weeks ago, Jen was working at home when the doorbell rang. An older woman stood on the porch and asked her about the house, and it came out that her grandfather was the first owner. She was in town from Florida on family business and wanted to stop by and see it. Jen, being Jen, invited her in and gave her the full tour, which she was not expecting but appreciated.

We’ve always been curious to know the history of the house, and there are no historical pictures of the place that we’ve been able to find, so it was wonderful to get some first-hand descriptions of what it was like before 1950. The woman took Jen’s business card and promised to get in touch if she was able to find any pictures from her family’s archives.

A few weeks later, Jen got a call from the woman, who had been in town to resolve her cousin’s estate. She saw from Jen’s card that she was a designer, mentioned that her cousin was a graphic artist, and did we want any of the supplies left in his studio? Well, we said, we’d sure love to take a look.

Saturday we drove up to the place, which is situated right next to the Loch Raven Reservoir and set back in the woods. It’s very run down, as there had been some delays in the legal proceedings and apparently the son of the owner was living in the house without taking care of it. In the time between his passing and discovery the pipes had frozen and burst, so the whole house was filled with mildew. We met the lawyer’s representative outside and she warned us about the conditions, so we let Finley peek inside for a few minutes before setting her up with a book and a chair out in the fresh air.

The studio was on the ground floor by the front door, and had already been picked through, but there was a whole closet full of shelves and drawers to look at. We found a stack of excellent books on type, illustration, and design. There were two oil paint kits in wooden boxes that I set aside, as well as watercolor dyes, brushes, other paints, and a linoleum cutting set that took me back to my college days. I took an old-school single slide projector (the kind our elementary schools used) but passed on an overhead duplicator that would have taken up all of the room in the CR-V. The original owner had used gray index card shelving to catalog and organize his stuff, and every new drawer brought a surprise. He was an illustrator and designer, and we stumbled across his portfolios from the 70’s and 80’s, featuring watercolor, scratchboard and linoleum cuts. I was tempted to take some of it, but most of the examples were mildewed and stained, and it wasn’t really my style.

A pair of estate sellers were going through the house at the same time, and pointed out a beautiful oak easel to us, which I took, as well as a Technics turntable and some records (wow! records!) I have to replace the stylus but the unit itself is quality and should last a long time. We scored some classic albums with the bargain (Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Don McLean and others) and now we have a reason to go visit Glenn’s uncle down the street in Catonsville.

As we worked our way through things we explored more of the house as the day went on. The upstairs was dark and musty and had a different, more metallic smell than the downstairs. It had clearly been a nice house at one time, and the master bedroom was gigantic. The details were not to my taste but I could see how it could easily be improved upon. Downstairs, I ventured back into the workshop and if we had more time I would have gone through it better, but we did take an old Craftsman bench grinder and some smaller hand tools, including a complete tap and die set in a metal case.

After about two hours Jen and I both had a headache (and probably tuberculosis) so we wound things down and gave our thanks. We’d passed on any remaining furniture and a lot more books, but most of the things we were interested in were already in the CR-V. Right now it’s all out in the garage airing out; after the parade we’ll haul it out into the sunshine and see if we can bake the smell out of it.

Date posted: June 28, 2017 | Filed under history, house | 1 Comment »

Bel-Loc counter

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.

Bel Loc 2

* * *

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.

Date posted: March 27, 2017 | Filed under apple, Baltimore, history, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

“I’d jump his bewns.” Jen and I still quote this to each other.

That thing is the Citizen Kane of wasted teenage metalness,” says Rick Ballard, who makes a brief appearance as part of a gang yelling curses at the moviemakers.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot is like a live-action recreation of my high school yearbook: the faces, hairstyles, and attitudes are almost identical, even though the accents are pure Dundalk. Previously, previously.

Date posted: March 29, 2016 | Filed under history, humor | Leave a Comment »

There are few things I’ve ever done regularly for 15 years. You’re looking at one of them. When I started this weblog on a boring March afternoon in 2001, I had no idea that I’d stick with it for this long, or that it would become the chronicle of my life from that point onward. It was a sick shade of ocher brown, carried over from my homepage at the time, which was colored to match my illustration mailings in an attempt at branding.

Month One

In 2001, I was thirty, working in an office in Washington, D.C. I had no concept of the changes life would have in store for me. In the years since, I’ve gotten engaged, married, and had a beautiful child with the woman I love. I’ve seen friends and family marry, gained two siblings-in-law, become an uncle to three children, and buried my paternal grandfather and namesake. I’ve also been to two continents, had six jobs, owned my own business, sold and bought a house, five cars and two Scouts.

This weblog has walked a fine line in those years. For a long time, and to this day still, I don’t make it widely known among friends or larger family. My immediate family knows about it, and most of my close friends, but I don’t cross-post to Facebook or social media often. (I do cross-post my Scout blog more than this, and as a result, the daily traffic there is much higher). It’s not in my email signature or on a business card. Why is that? I crave the likes on Instagram as much as the next guy, but I never hooked into the social media part of weblogging (I don’t even like the word Blog).

I’m interested in documenting what I do weekly but uncomfortable waving it in front of everyone I know, which feels false and vain. I’m aware that vanity is the key driver behind posting a journal online, but I’ve always been uncomfortable drawing direct attention to myself, going back to my school days of being the new kid and remaining anonymous. For the first four years it was a blind directory on my personal site, and then I bought a domain and told almost nobody about it.

Many of the weblogs that inspired me in 2001 have either gone commercial, spawned writing careers, or died off. People have moved on to social apps I pay no attention to. Most of my friends who had blogs gave up on them around the time Twitter took off. Several are still up and running, though, and show no sign of stopping; interestingly the author of one of these wrote a piece called “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog,” where he remarked that “Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.” It’s true; I doubt any teenager in 2016 has ever seriously considered starting up a Blogger account. I often wonder what Finley will make of this when she reads through it. Most of it is pretty dull, but there are some good posts in there that will shed some light on her parents for sure. Much of my posts since her birth have been about her anyway.

I’ve got a lousy memory for dates, times, or even timespans; I usually turn to Jen to help me remember the specifics of big events, or do a search on this site to see if I mentioned it. (The other helpful tool I use is Flickr’s Camera Roll, which helps me pin down exact dates. This also makes it easier to rationalize carrying a camera everywhere). So this site has become my digital limbic system, something I wish I had for the first 30 years of my life.


It’s much harder to do long-form posts these days, as my free time is measured in chunks of minutes. I’m a great writer of facts and opinions but the artistry of writing eludes me. It takes a long time to get what I want to say down in a way I’m happy with–lots of editing cycles, rewrites, and review. This makes it hard to write well each day. Hell, I started this post two weeks ago, and I’m on the eighth edit.

When I first started, I was hand-coding the HTML, so I’d keep the document open and add to it multiple times each day. Most of my posts were Twitter-length: stuff I saw online, dumb observations. When I switched to Movable Type I started writing more long-form posts, and post once a day. I hooked up the sideblog sometime after I got WordPress running, which is the place all of the small posts go, and that category has the highest post count–almost double that of the second largest.


You can see by the chart above that my frequency goes in cycles. Seems like I fall off in December and pick up in the spring; my Flickr feed maps almost exactly to this pattern. But overall, averaging out at 18 posts a month isn’t too shabby these days. I still look forward daily to writing, taking pictures, and documenting the high points of life.

So here I am, back in an office in Washington, D.C., chronicling another day in my life on my weblog. I don’t think the internet is going anywhere, and as long as they’ll allow me to have a domain and hosting, I’ll have a website, which means in another fifteen years you’ll find me here.


Date posted: March 19, 2016 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

I know International Harvester was toying with a new design for the Scout in the late ’70s, and the pictures I’ve seen of it turned my stomach in disgust. Today I stumbled upon this article, which contained pictures of a prototype I’d never seen before:


Not as ugly as the SSV, but about as bland as a cheese sandwich. Still, if I squint, I can see the Scout II windshield; it looks like they stuck an Astro van nose on the front and just sketched in the rest. And they took the Hoffmeister kink out of the rear window.


Date posted: February 11, 2016 | Filed under history, Scout | Comments Off on The Scout that Wasn’t

1998 - 2002

Gutted to see the current state of my city oasis.

Jen and I were in Baltimore for a night on the town, and found ourselves in my old neighborhood with some time on our hands. I’ve been curious to see how my house is, and I kind of wish we hadn’t looked at the backyard. Apparently they’ve nuked my planters, knocked the walls down, put some shitty corrugated fiberglas on the trellis, and removed all of the deck.  Looks like they’re using it as a parking pad now.

Date posted: December 6, 2015 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

In 2003, Jen took me to explore a funky little settlement of buildings alongside the Patapsco River outside of Ellicott City, and we spent a couple of hours crawling around exploring them. I posted some pictures on my site, which longtime readers may remember.


Abandoned House 22015

Today, on our way back from a client pickup, I made a detour down that same street to see if Finn and I could find the house while the weather was warm. Nestled into the hillside under a sea of brambles, all of the structures still stand, worse for wear but intact. Finn and I climbed over nettles and under creeper vine until we were inside the main house, and her inquisitive nature took over. We started trying to figure out what the buildings were for, how long they had been there, and who had built them.

Abandoned House

I’m still unclear myself. The buildings are too small to be inhabitable, and there’s no evidence of insulation or interior finishing. The exteriors are all constructed with a high degree of quality. And the masonry alone must have taken years to plan and complete. Sadly, it was so overgrown, we didn’t see any of the riverstone decorations that were clearly evident 12 years ago.

Finley’s pretty sure there’s a chicken house and a donkey stall and provisions for other farm animals. I’m not as convinced, but somebody obviously had a vision for the place. I’d love to dig up photos of what it looked like in its prime.

Fall Finley

Date posted: November 15, 2015 | Filed under comparison, finn, history, photo | Leave a Comment »

Eleven years ago today, I married this lovely woman. While it hasn’t always been easy, it sure has been interesting. I love you, blondie.

Date posted: May 22, 2015 | Filed under history, life, photo | Leave a Comment »

I don’t have many things left over from my time at Cidera other than a damaged liver, some old promotional materials, a suspicious bottle of red wine, a bunch of great friends, and a black Pelican case. (I’m not listing my wife because I’ve never presumed to own her).

The Pelican case has been sitting on my shelf in the basement for years. It was originally bought to carry the roadshow laptop, a bit of paramilitary flavored theater for a serious mission (for some context, my boss was famous for owning a certain yacht): a dog-and-pony presentation given to investors who might possibly provide the next round of seed funding, and a crucial part of the dot-com burn cycle. I was in charge of building the presentation and buying the hardware, and spec’ed out three blindingly fast Thinkpads with three identical Pelican cases. I’ve written about the experience before. After I bailed out I’d forgotten I had one of the cases at home, and wound up with it when Cidera imploded months later.

In 2003, I refitted it to carry my Pismo Powerbook to Bimini with a spare battery and power supply. Specialty replacement foam was expensive, so I found a shop in Federal Hill who sold closed-cell foam and cut it to fit myself. It worked great; I carried it on the dive boat and offloaded pictures from my then-cavernous 256MB CompactFlash cards between dives. Then, it returned to a shelf in the basement.

I’ve been thinking about travel since I joined up with WRI, and the question is not if, but when. Now that I can afford to kit the Pelican out for photo gear the way I want it, I came to realize I didn’t remember what model it is. I called the number on a sticker pasted to the inside of the lid, and talked to a salesman from the company who’d originally sold it. I gave him the case number, he did some research, and he was able to give me the info I needed. Then he chuckled and said, “Ha! It says here Cidera was my account. I must have sold them this case.” I chuckled back at him and said, “I’m the guy you sold it to. Nice to talk to you again!”

Date posted: May 20, 2015 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »


This goofy guy is my grandfather, William Dugan Jr. I share a couple of things with him besides my name, my physique, and my DNA. His name is Bill, but I have always known him as Grampy.


He was born in April of 1915, the same month as Muddy Waters and Billie Holiday. Woodrow Wilson was the the President of the United States. The Allies were landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in one of the largest and most useless campaigns of the First World War. Charlie Chaplin had just released The Tramp. A month later, the Lusitania would be sunk off the Irish coast, helping focus America’s attention on the war in Europe.


He married my grandmother, Ruth, in 1938, and shortly afterwards my father was born. The worried looking baby he’s holding in this picture is most likely my Dad.

Untitled-2The notes I have on this photo say it was taken in Jersey City. They lived there until 1953 before buying a run-down farm in Upstate New York.

Untitled-3After moving the family north, he supported them by driving across the state each Sunday night to be in New York City by Monday morning, painting houses and hanging wallpaper through the week, and leaving for home Friday evening. Then he would spend all weekend working on the house, adding insulation and central plumbing.


This series of photos is from a larger group that I scanned in 2006. I borrowed a video camera from a friend and filmed my grandfather talking about and identifying all of the people in these pictures before he forgot who they were and the information was lost forever. I have the footage  (the original MiniDV tapes are in our fireproof safe) and keep meaning to organize and catalog it all, but work, child, and life have made it difficult to finish the project.


He’s going to be 100 years old tomorrow. Until just a few years ago, he was living in his own house, in complete control of his own faculties. At last count, he has eight children, eighteen grandchildren, and seventeen great grandchildren. I’m not even half his age, and I can’t imagine experiencing all the things he has in the span of his life.


This is the Grampy I remember. A pair of loud shorts, those thick glasses, and a white undershirt. And dogs. Always dogs. I think the shepherd in the front might be Pumpkin, but I could be off by a decade.


I’m not positive, but I think this one dates back to 1974 at my aunt Mary’s wedding. That’s some tuxedo he’s rocking.


This is from a family reunion sometime in the mid-80’s. There are other better shots from this series, but I like the informal candidness of this picture.


This is from about 2000, with his brother Tom.

We’re going to have a celebration for him tomorrow and on Saturday, and a bunch of the family is coming into town. I can’t think of anything better to say other than that I love this guy and I’m proud to share his name. Happy birthday, Grampy.

Date posted: April 23, 2015 | Filed under family, history, photo | Leave a Comment »