I subscribe to many podcasts for my commute, one of which is NPR’s Marketplace. I’ve listened to this show for over 10 years now, actually, because it came on during my car commute back in the day. Imagine my surprise when one of the experts I work with at WRI, Joe Thwaites, was interviewed yesterday for a segment on Trump’s plans to cut payments into the International Climate Fund.
I’m sitting on the couch drinking an oatmeal stout with my brain turned almost completely off. The last week has been a blur, with family in town, a freelance gig, several appointments, and a large event happening at work all at once.
Family was the high point; my sister drove down from NY for Second Christmas and we all enjoyed opening presents in January (especially Finn, who had the lion’s share.). Renie had to bomb in and out due to work, and so only got to spend Saturday with us before heading home on Sunday. We did have a great afternoon, ate a delicious dinner, watched the playoffs, and went to bed early. Thus ends my season of holiday eating; I’m throttling way back on desserts and heavy foods because I feel like it’s gaining on me.
The kittens are settling in well with everyone; Bellatrix (hereafter known as Trixie) is chill by day but a raving terror at night. Nox will let me pick him up and lay in my arms like a drugged-out hippie for as long as I want to scratch his head. The two of them wrestle and fight and chase each other around the house, then pass out cold for hours at a time. As much as I hate cleaning a litterbox, it’s great to have the sound of paws on the floor again.
I took on a freelance gig last Wednesday, figuring I could knock it out in a couple of days, but was only able to really get to it over the weekend. The sketch went together quickly but the client asked to change the view after I’d gone to final art, so I had to redo the whole thing Monday night. It was a pretty simple job but it could finance the purchase of something I’ve been thinking about for a while–an iPad Pro. This would allow for the use of a pen and real-time drawing on the screen for illustration, something I’ve been waiting on for 10 years. One of my self-improvement goals for the year is to commit to drawing again, and find a workflow to make illustration fast and easy from sketch to screen. I think this might be the answer, and my ultimate goal would be to make it another source of income by the end of the year.
We held one of our major events at work Wednesday morning, which was the culmination of two weeks’ work for my team and about a months’ writing time for the larger group. My designers are aces and knocked together a great deck, and the system we put into place for production a few years ago helped streamline the process. Meanwhile, during production last week, I accidentally spilled coffee into my laptop, thus frying it, and had to scramble for a replacement. The IT guys gave me a castoff machine that wasn’t booting, and after some work I got it up and running, set up my workspace, and scraped the stickers off the case. It’s two years older than the dead unit but it’s the same form factor and has more memory. With a larger hard drive it should be usable, and I’m not going to complain one bit.
Using my personal laptop in the interim, it became clear how painfully slow a seven year old machine is. I can still make good use of it–so I purchased a SSD to speed up the disk. At some point this year I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new machine; the question is whether I go all-in on a Thunderbolt-only MacBook Pro or get one of the last multi-port models available.
There hasn’t been a Sears near us for a while, but anytime I venture into the one, I’m amazed they’re still in business. I read a Businessweek article a few years ago about the crazy Ayn Rand disciple CEO who is running it into the ground, but the news that he’s going to sell Craftsman off to Stanley/Black & Decker is a shock. I have a couple different sets of inherited Craftsman tools (read: 20 years old) in my collection, and with the exception of anything I’ve bought from them lately, I know they stand for quality. As a hedge fund manager, the CEO is going to make out fine either if he saves Sears or if he craters it, but hopefully the folks that make and sell Craftsman tools will come out OK.
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.
The fifth graders at Finley’s school are trying to fuck up Christmas for my kid. They’ve been whispering in her ear about Santa and now she’s having doubts. She spent the last month fishing for answers from us, saying things like, “If you and Mama were putting things under the tree and telling me they were from Santa, you could tell me, and that would be OK.” It makes me feel like a serial killer. I can’t wait for THAT conversation when it finally comes. Plus, once we’ve admitted it to her, she is the kind of kid who will find it impossible not to share The Truth with the rest of her classmates. So, Jen and I schemed for weeks and hatched a plan to make this a memorable Christmas.
We decided that because Santa got all the glory last year with the bike, we were going to take back 2016 with big guns. Finley draws pictures of cats constantly. She plays cat games with her friend from school. She was asking for a cat five minutes after we put Pique to sleep. We’ve been waving her off since that time, enjoying the absence of vet bills, cat hair, and litter underfoot in the basement. This past month, she saw a commercial for a robotic cat on Cartoon Network, and asked Santa to bring her one.
Jen scouted out the local shelters and pet stores, and found a fresh batch of kittens at the local Pet Smart. She picked one out and took me to take a look, and she was right: the kitten was a beautiful little tabby with white socks, and she purred the moment I picked her up. While we discussed the paperwork, her littermate looked up at me and pawed at the door of the cage: a jet black boy with gold eyes and a small blaze on his chest. I picked him up and he immediately started his motor, reached up and batted at my face, and then crawled up my shoulders. I was smitten; he reminded me of Teller. So we walked out with two instead of one.
What followed was three weeks of subterfuge and skullduggery; the kittens were boarded at the piano teacher’s house while we prepared the surprise. We borrowed the neighbors’ dog kennel, set it up as a kitten hotel, and after the kids went to bed on Christmas Eve Jen went out and brought them back to the house. Meanwhile I’d built a box with a removable lid that Jen wrapped with a bow, and I preset some cameras on either side of the tree. Christmas morning, we had Finley open Santa’s gifts first and then she opened several clues: two sets of cat bowls, a scratching pad, and some toys. While she got through the last of those I wrangled the kittens into the box and placed it down in front of her, quiet mewling coming from inside. As it opened her eyes got big, and as she reached in the black kitten shot out of the box over her shoulder. She pulled out the girl and held her in her lap, and that made the whole thing worthwhile.
Santa brought her some cool stuff too, but 2016 will be known as the Year Of The Kitten.
…writeup to follow (click the link to view the video).
Jen traveled to Southern Maryland to attend a funeral on Saturday, which meant Finley and I were on our own for the majority of the day. I told her ahead of time that we were going to be handling a lot of errands, and asked her to be my co-pilot.
We started out with some breakfast after seeing Jen off. Down the street we got some BE&C and then completed that day’s Advent activity: reindeer droppings for breakfast. This was more delicious than it sounds–a bagful of chocolate munchkins at Dunkin Donuts look suspiciously like the real thing. Next, we hit the bank. From there, we drove into the city to go pick up a company lens I had dropped off for repair at the camera store a few weeks back.
While we were there I looked at a couple of used Fuji lenses and then asked if I could see the 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 zoom. I’ve been looking at this lens online for weeks. I’m committing to building a Fuji kit that spans a wide range of focal lengths, and this lens fills the middle to long-range gap. I hemmed and I hawed, but the focus speed and range sold me, so I put the money down for it.
Finn and I returned home and took a short break before going back out again, which was fortunate because just then I got a call from the contractor, who wanted to come by and see the bathroom space. I walked him through the area and he took measurements on windows and square footage, and hopefully we’ll get an estimate in hand sometime this week.
Then we warmed up the Scout and went out Christmas shopping for Jen. After taking care of that task, we hit the Panera on our way back for a late lunch. As we looked at the menu, a nice man told me I’d left our headlights on, so we went out and checked. This was a false alarm (the sun’s reflection sure did look like it) but we struck up a conversation as Finn and I came back inside. It turns out he’s got a diesel Scout he rescued from a barn, and Peer Pressure is the first Scout he’s seen around these parts. I wrote my email on a napkin and told him to get in touch so that we can set up a day to meet up and talk Scouts.
Back home, Finn and I put the lights on the porch and then I put the candles in the windows to make the house look cheerier. We then made some warm milk with cardamom and watched Rudolph before bundling up for bed.