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.
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.
We’ve had a clutch of five baby bunnies living in our driveway for over two weeks now. Their mother apparently had no idea how to select a safe, protected nest for her children, so she abandoned them out in the open, where any crow, fox, cat, dog, or Finley could find them. Jen sprung into action and dug them out a proper nest, added paper bedding, and found a plastic organizer to put over them. Since then they’ve sprouted hair, opened their eyes, grown three times their original size, and are now venturing out of the nest. Mom seems to come and feed them at dusk, and they seem to be healthy; Jen has a dedicated following on Instagram demanding daily updates.
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.