Sunday morning, I accepted an invitation to go biking with my neighbors, who are both in much better shape than I. We did a combination of road and trail riding down the hill into Elicott City and through Patapsco State Park, and I kept up, mostly, until the last half an hour or so.
I am not ashamed to say I had to bail and walk for portions of the trail, because I haven’t done any serious biking in years. But it felt great to get out in the woods, and the promise of a cold Bloody Mary at the end of the ride is an added bonus.
I spent the first two days of this week working from home, but had to come in to the office Wednesday to film participants at a seminar. Washington is strangely quiet due to the snow, but life moves on. Meanwhile, Finn has been off all week because Baltimore County couldn’t be bothered to plow the sidewalks in front of her school.
Our first week of teaching at UMBC got cancelled as well; the move-in/first day stuff got plowed under and pushed back everything. I don’t know if they’re going to extend the semester another week to make up for time lost, but we’re ready to roll when the doors open back up. I’ve got 13 students in total, two of whom I had last semester. This class is going to be heavy in Illustrator and information design, which is an exciting new avenue to explore.
After the game on Sunday, I found myself in front of the TV when the new X-Files came on, reconfiguring my syllabus for the third time. Much like the old X-Files, the new version is a retread of the same dumb plot point bullshit I remember:
“It’s a conspiracy”
Weird shit depicted in lousy CGI
“This conspiracy goes deeper than we thought”
All evidence gets blown up by guys in black suits
Fuck the X-files.
I’m still here. Things are very busy, and like most other Januaries, my photography output has slowed to a crawl. Things will pick up soon, I promise.
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.
Jen and I attended a silent auction in the spring, and one of the things we bid on and won was a night at a hotel in Baltimore and a dinner for two, something we were really excited about. We planned a month in advance to have Finn stay at the neighbors’ house and made reservations for both places.
Last weekend, we got churched up, checked into the hotel, dropped our bags, and then drove to the restaurant, which is on the far side of my old neighborhood. Pulling into the valet lane, we were dismayed to learn there was a private party that evening, and that our reservation was no good. Let me be clear here: We made a reservation a month in advance, and the restaurant fucked it up. After the shock wore off, we pulled around the corner, got on our phones, and found another local restaurant with a 45 minute wait and a bar.
The Fork and Wrench was exactly right for us, and the man at the front desk seated us almost immediately at a lovely table upstairs. We proceeded to have an outstanding meal, starting with cocktails and a roasted pork belly in beer-adobo glaze over mashed yucca. Things only got better from there. What could easily have been a horrible evening was saved by excellent service, delicious food, and, of course, the company of my lovely wife.
The hotel was nice, but the room we were booked in was downmarket compared to the pictures on the website. We joked that they put us on the gift certificate floor, but really we didn’t care: we were by ourselves and away from the house for an evening.
Postscript: I called the restaurant who fucked up our reservation (they made it for the day Jen called, not the day she asked for), talked to the manager, and got nothing resembling an apology. Now, I’ve tried to control my temper in the last 20 years; time was when I’d just fly off the handle and either start swearing or go throw something. Not one of my finer traits. Perhaps I’ve swung back the other way too far, or maybe I just don’t like making waves, but I got off the phone without any resolution from the guy at all. Thinking it over for a few minutes, and talking with Jen about it, I called back a few minutes later and got the manager back on the phone.
At this point you might ask what I was expecting the guy to do. Comp me a meal? Pay for my hotel? Actually, no. I just wanted an apology for their booking mistake. What I got from the guy was a bunch of fumbling, repeated insistence that he didn’t know who was at fault, and, at one point, he told me my call was breaking up. I don’t know if this is a common scam or something, but how hard is that to do? Realizing he wasn’t going to make any effort, I got fed up and hung up on him, something I rarely do with anybody, and decided we were going to skip the meal we’d already paid for and sell the stupid gift card on Craigslist for 75% of its face value.
When I worked in food service, I learned how to deal with unhappy customers; there were always times when things got messed up and it was our fault. My manager (the owner of the restaurant) taught me it costs little to apologize and comp a bottle of wine, a burrito, or a soda to customers who have already committed to walking in the door. Keep them happy, and they’ll return. This guy? I don’t know where he learned his business, but I’m not happy. Fuck him and his restaurant.
Two tech notes for this week. First is the rebirth of an old lens: the Nikon 1.4 manual lens I bought this summer came back after only a few days away for an upgrade. A nice man in Michigan filed part of the barrel down so that I can mount it safely on my D7000, and holy shit, it’s sharper than a knife. Some quick test shots show it’s got a razor-thin depth of field, and the glass is in great shape. I’ve fallen into my usual pattern of shooting less in the fall, but I’m going to put it on the D7000 and carry it with me for a week.
Secondly, my neighbor and I got to talking about our AV setups over brewing beer, and I explained to him what I was facing: the need for a $400 head unit that switches HDMI signal so that I could get all of the components up on the shelf and away from the TV, as well as feeding audio through the speakers on the floor instead of the tiny ones on the TV.
He shook his head and told me all I needed was a $15 HDMI switcher and a couple of patch cables, and sent me Amazon links, which I purchased the following morning. Because Prime, they were at the house the next day, and I hooked everything up last night. Sure enough, he was right: the AppleTV is now sitting atop my cable box, and both go into the splitter, which sends the signal out to the TV. I get cinema audio via an optical cable to the head unit. The splitter is smart enough to know it’s got two viable inputs (out of a possible five) and only switches between what’s plugged in.
He also told me about HDMI over Ethernet, which piques my interest, because I don’t want to lease another FIOS box for our bedroom. I ran at least two data cables to each bedroom, so I could split the signal out of the downstairs box, send it up to the TV, and use a wireless remote to change channels on both floors.
WRI is modernizing its 10-year-old offices in order to accommodate the multitude of new hires we’ve taken on. When I first came on board, I had a spacious office of my own, which I shared with a pair of file cabinets and tons of photography and video equipment. When we hired a web content manager and a graphic designer, I traded my oversized office for a smaller one so they could double up with room to spare. I’ve been in that office ever since, and I’ve grown to like it. I knew, however, it wouldn’t last forever.
Yesterday I packed all of my gear into about ten large crates, slapped labels on them, and walked out the door. On Monday they should all be stacked in a smaller office on the other side of my floor, which I’ll be sharing with my graphic designer for eight weeks. Then we move somewhere else for the next eight weeks while our new offices are completed, and we’ll finally be home–in an open floorplan. This doesn’t bother me as much as other people, who (presumably) have never worked in that environment before, but I’ll miss the ability to shut my door to shut out the people who come to bother me every fifteen minutes.
We’re all coughing here at the Lockardugan house. It seems to be something allergy related, at least for Finn, who has been on a one-two punch of Zyrtec and a nasal spray to knock back a horrible pneumatic-sounding cough. Jen started with a sore throat last week. My throat started hurting last Sunday and has developed into a serious cough and a two-octave drop in my voice. Zyrtec seems to be helping me too.
I finished the front walk last weekend, after a couple of weeks off. A quick tug with the tow strap hooked to the Scout made short work of the tall hedges on either side of the concrete, and the rest of the brick went in pretty easily. I had a bunch from this batch crack pretty easily, so I may need to make a return trip to Second Chance in the spring to replace them, or use commercial brick instead. Either way, I’m glad to have that done before the snow flies.
I’ve been quiet around here lately because life, work, and teaching are eating up every second of my day. Work is going very well–so well, in fact, that I’m exhausted at the end of each day. Management is a whole new set of problems and challenges that it’s taken me time to understand and adapt to; it’s like running my own studio with ten times the client base, plus a lot of bureaucratic busywork I’d be happier avoiding. It’s been rewarding having my own little department, though, and I’m very happy with my design team.
I’ve taken what I learned in my first full semester of teaching and expanded on my syllabus, projects, preparation, and class interaction. When we were at the beach, after the girls were in bed, I roughed out three lectures–on typography, grid systems, and paragraph/character styles in InDesign. While most people were outside enjoying the idyllic weather this Saturday, I was inside finishing the typography lecture, splitting it into separate decks on history and pairing and setting type. The lecture on Monday went pretty well, and I enjoyed the refresher. This class is smaller than last year’s group so I’ve got more of their attention and time per student during critiques. Strangely, four students registered for the class still haven’t shown up yet.
We’re all back in the groove after vacation, and Finley is in her second week of school. She really likes her teacher, which is great news, so we have high hopes for the First Grade.
This weekend I’m headed to my friend Brian’s house to help swap an engine out of his Wagonmaster, which should be lots of fun. I’m bringing my Hydroboost setup in the hopes that we might be able to install it in an afternoon; I’ve got to ask the experienced members of the group what supplies I’m going to need besides the basic hardware (brake fluid, etc.)
As it turns out, it costs $50 to fix a Hamilton watch that’s stopped working. I’ve got to look at the warranty that came with it to see if I’m covered (I doubt I am) but because I’m the unfailingly honest person I am, I told them I’d dropped it on the floor in the letter I sent along with it. And, of course, they’re going to charge me $25 to ship it back.
Friday I took the Scout on a roadtrip up to a town outside of Frederick for a small company retreat. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to do it. The morning weather was 65˚ and sunny, so I left the top up. One of the Crazy Ray’s locations is on 70 halfway to Frederick, so I planned for a visit as the doors opened at 8. Life being what it is, I arrived at 8:30 to a sleepy parking lot–just a few guys sipping coffee in their trucks. Inspecting the sign on the door, I found the times posted there are an hour later than those posted on the web, and, discouraged, had to leave empty-handed. The retreat itself was great; our host owns a beautiful spread on the side of a mountain, with three horses and a stand of woods visible from the back porch. We got a lot done and I was packed up by 4:30 for a brisk ride home with the top down.
Our weekend was one of ups and downs. I spent a good part of Saturday cleaning and reorganizing the den. In the evening we drive down to Ellicott City to take in a starlight showing of Frozen at the Wine Bin; the crowd there has grown since the last time we were there, and so we had to squeeze into some spots saved for us by friends, but the movie is still just as good the tenth time as the first.
Sunday the girls went to church while I kept cleaning (it’s hard to put a Dyson down once you’ve picked it up) and then we were invited to the local pool in the afternoon. After running out to pick up lumber, groceries, and lunch, we threw food together, packed our bags, and Finn and I hit the road, leaving Mama home for quiet time. We unpacked, the kids jumped in the water, and within 10 minutes they blew the whistle again: someone pooped in the pool. Dejectedly, we packed everything back up and regrouped at the neighbors’ house to cook dinner.
All was well until Finn said something rude to one of the other kids, and that stopped everything cold. I walked her outside and talked it out; after getting vague, noncommittal answers, I packed all of our things, thanked our hosts graciously, and hiked her out of there. I immediately got her bath started and Mama and I started talking things out with her. While they got her cleaned up, I returned to our host house to pick up some things I’d left behind, and apologized to them at length; to their credit, they spent just as much time putting me at ease as I did explaining and apologizing.
I’m not entirely sure what possessed Finn to say what she did; I think she was trying it out to see what would happen without really knowing how hurtful it could be, but it was said in a way that told me she knew it might be hurtful. We had a long talk with her, and hopefully the lesson got through to her. She’s going to say dumb stuff in the future, I know, but I want her to start thinking about what she says before she says it–something it took me years to figure out.
I moved the trashcan subwoofer into the living room over the weekend, and finally read up on how to hook it up correctly. I’d been using a single-wire RCA plug from the amplifier, which didn’t seem to send enough signal to the subwoofer unless I really cranked up the volume. In the living room, both sets of speaker wire come through the floor in the same location and then snake to the speakers, so I hooked them up to the plate on the back of the subwoofer and then ran leads from there to the speakers. So now the signal comes in through the subwoofer, which keeps the lows for itself, and sends the midrange and highs to the speakers. It makes a huge difference in that room!