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 »

I’ve hated the steps of our back porch for as long as we’ve owned the house. They’re just tall enough to be hard to climb and dangerous to descend, not wide enough to be comfortable to sit on, and uglier than a mud fence. Among several other projects I started last weekend, I began scraping and repainting them.

First, though, I had to pick up my second ladder from my brother-in-law. Nothing sucks more than having to hump a single ladder back and forth while waiting for primer to dry on a second-story window. I found a way to wedge one ladder up to the windows over the garage-side porch (also with hideous steps) and washed the atrium windows before scraping them. By Friday evening I had those windows scraped and painted, the hallway window scraped and primed, and the back porch scraped and primed. Saturday I continued for as long as I could before the baby shower, and by Sunday evening I had the rest of the windows painted, washed, and ready for reassembly. I still have to hit the cream bedroom window, which, due to its location, has never been painted (the roof of the pantry makes it impossible to get a ladder on the window, and the pitch of that roof is nervous-making) and the back porch trim and ceiling.

Wednesday evening I took advantage of the break in the weather and ran out to get some deck paint, which then got brushed on to both decks and stairs. It’s amazing what a coat of paint will do to freshen things up. I followed this up each night after dinner with as much painting and scraping as I could do before it got dark.

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I have a plain-vanilla GoPro 3 Silver, which is the base model, and which (by coincidence) works perfectly with my Phantom 2. I just found out, quite by accident, that the GoPro 3+ Black will shoot 4K video or 1080p at 60FPS, and is compatible with the gimbal mount on my drone. I’ve been considering a second GoPro for backup since mine is semi-permanently mounted to the drone (two allen screws, but still) so if I could swap the original out for something that will do buttery-smooth higher-def aerial work, I gotta have that.

Date posted: June 24, 2017 | Filed under house, photography | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: June 15, 2017 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Nighttime sink

Date posted: May 17, 2017 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »

We are tired of buying expensive birdseed to see it get gobbled up by the local squirrels. All we’re doing is motivating them to learn new acrobatic tricks. We’ve moved our bird feeders all over the side yard, cut down overhead branches, added giant cymbals and round circular baffles. We’ve tried different blends of birdseed which claimed to make squirrels run in fear and shit blood. They ate it like popcorn at the movies. Every time we make a change, we get a couple of days of quiet while the squirrels figure out the plan of attack. Then, they combine the acrobatic skills of Cirque De Soleil and the safecracking abilities of Harry Houdini to find a new way onto our poles.

With some careful placement, we thought we’d fixed the problem once and for all this winter but then they learned how to BASE jump off the trees above, land on top of the shepherd’s crook and then hang nonchalantly upside down to eat all the seed. I bet they have a YouTube channel where they film all this and then laugh at us yelling at them through the window.

I’ve had enough. I ordered a Ruger .177 air rifle from Amazon with a box of hollow-point slugs on Saturday and it showed up last night. I assembled it after Finn went to bed and I toyed with the idea of a few practice shots, but my guess is that it’s pretty loud. I’m going to wait for daylight and then take out a few varmints from the second-floor window (shooting downward ensures there will be no dangerous ricochet). Then I’ll have to find some quiet woods somewhere to toss the carcasses.

Date posted: May 2, 2017 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

….But look how clean that playset is? That’s about an hour’s worth of pressure-washing.

Date posted: April 30, 2017 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »

My neighbor, the one with the drone I borrowed to take to Paraguay, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. We’d just taken it up for a spin to sort out a camera issue; he’d flown it over the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt to shoot some pictures but when we looked at the footage afterwards, it was pictures of him–he’d mistakenly set it for Burst mode, so it took five pictures and stopped, instead of Interval mode where it would shoot continuously every couple of seconds. I walked him through getting the GoPro app sorted out on his phone and showed him how the various modes work, and it immediately clicked for him. While we were working, he mentioned that he’s been thinking about getting a new drone and selling his, and I immediately told him I’d buy it.

So it’s a DJI Phantom 2. It was upgraded by the original owner with a camera gimbal to fit a GoPro Hero 3, a long-range transmitter-receiver, and a 7″ monitor that I can’t find a manual for anywhere. The camera sends real-time video back to the monitor to make flying easier. It comes with an extra set of propellers and the two new batteries I bought for the Paraguay trip, the three original batteries, assorted parts, and a pelican-style travel case. It’s in great shape, and for the price I couldn’t pass it up (he got it for a steal and sold it to me for what he paid, which is hundreds less than the going rate).

The only way I can justify this purchase is because I spent every waking hour on the ground in Paraguay running around shooting, preparing to shoot, or organizing gear for the next shoot, and thus didn’t eat much. Besides the complimentary hotel breakfast (which was lovely to look at but not much in the way of carbs or protein) I was subsisting on bottled water, Clif Bars I’d brought with me (having learned from previous shooting trips) until dinner. I paid for my meals out of pocket, which was just easier, but when I got home the per diem that came back to me was easily four times what I’d spent–and about $50 more than what I paid for this drone.

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What are the plans for it? Fly it, first. Learn how to keep it in the air, aim it at what I want to see, and make the movements fluid. I took it out with Finn earlier in the year and ironed some of the issues out, even though it was a windy day.

Eventually, I’ll have to see if upgrading the gimbal to a Hero4-compatible unit makes sense; the Hero4 adds a lot of extras in terms of camera angle, improved ISO and a higher frame rate. But that will only happen if I can get some paying jobs that call for a drone.

* * *

Meanwhile, I went through my old hardware box and pulled out ten old hard IDE drives that have been decommissioned for years to prepare them for disposal. First I put a rare-earth magnet over each drive platter for a couple of days to scramble the electrons. Then I broke a couple of cheap Home Depot drill bits going through each drive to render them unusable. They will get dropped off at the dump with a bunch of other large metal items I can’t put out by the curb, and hopefully be recycled into compact cars.

* * *

We had another contractor come out and look at the bathroom Thursday evening, which puts our grand total at four. One has responded with a price three times our budget, another went completely dark, we’re waiting for the third to respond, and the fourth will get back to us within the week (we hope). The last two guys are single-person operations so it may be a couple of weeks/months before they can get started, but it would be nice to get someone interested in the job for a reasonable price to sign a contract and get this thing moving.

Date posted: April 28, 2017 | Filed under house, photography | 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 »