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July 31st, 2021

Adventures In Old Computer Repair

Old in computer years anyway. Old in Apple computer years specifically. Which is to say only a decade old and still perfectly good. Anyway…

Some years ago I bought a nice second hand Macbook Pro laptop. In 2012 it was the very top of the line for fifteen inch Macbook Pros. It has the 256k SSD, and 16gb core ram, and the new and improved “Retina” video display. It was expensive even for a Macbook Pro. But now it’s “old” and I got it for a much more reasonable price. I fell in love with it instantly. New Macs don’t have all the connection ports this one does. You have to buy their adaptors. This one not only has all the connection ports built right in, it has a built-in Superdrive, and an SD card slot, which makes it a nice travel companion for my DSLRs. And lord have mercy that Retina screen is Very Nice. It was everything I wanted in a Mac laptop, though it was admittedly somewhat heavy. Problem with it was it had a couple intermittent keyboard keys. E and D. They worked, but sometimes I had to press more than once to get their attention.

Eventually that became annoying enough that when I saw a Facebook ad for a place in Severna Park that repaired older Macs I took it to them. It was slickly and professionally laid out, not at all like some computer nerd’s basement. They not only repaired but also sold old Macs, and they claimed to be a fully authorized Apple service shop. I had great expectations.

The plague was in full swing then, and I was told when I dropped it off that it might take a while. I was fine with that. I told them if the keyboard needed replacing I would pay for it. The guy behind the counter, who was a bit stand-offish and rude, said it probably only needed cleaning, which would take less time and cost me a lot less. I was skeptical, but willing to be convinced, and I counted it a plus that they were telling me the repair would probably be cheaper than I expected. I asked if just having the Guest account was okay. I didn’t want to give out my admin password. They said Guest was fine. Several weeks later I got a call to come pick it up, it was fixed.

But it wasn’t. The same keys were still intermittent. So I took it back. I had to show the guy behind the counter that the keys were still intermittent, which wasn’t easy when the problem is…you know…intermittent. But I got it across eventually that the repair, whatever their technician had done, hadn’t worked. Fine says the guy behind the counter, still a little standoffish and rude, if it needs a new keyboard after all we’ll deduct the cost from what you paid previously. A day later I got another call that it was fixed and ready to be picked up.

This time I tested it at the counter. Same problem as before, but worse. The keys weren’t even intermittent anymore, they had simply stopped working. I was directed to another counter off to the side, and showed the guy there the problem. He said it might take weeks to get a new keyboard on it because it was a very labor intensive process to remove all the little screws they needed to remove. He really emphasised that. Very labor intensive. Very Very labor intensive. Probably take weeks. Maybe even months. Okay, fine, says I, but I want this fixed. I really want this laptop working because it is everything I want in a travel laptop. 

Two hours later I get a call saying they’d put in a new keyboard. I drive back and brought it home, not even bothering to test it at the counter because I pretty much figured they had done no such thing and it was either fixed now or I was taking it elsewhere. Ah yes…Now the 3, E, D, and C keys weren’t working…the entire vertical row was inoperative. Later I discovered that now the operating system wasn’t detecting the Superdrive. So I was done with them.

I looked around Google some more, and found a place in Parkville that did work on older Macs. It was a much smaller place than the one in Severna Park; basically a basement shop in what used to be a house on the main drag. I explained the problems to the lady behind the counter who, let it be said, was Much nicer to her customers than the guy in Severna Park. I asked again asked if Guest was okay. I couldn’t imagine why it wouldn’t be since all that was needed was to check that the keyboard and Superdrive were working. She said it was fine.

Two days later I get a call from some older man there telling me he couldn’t do the work without my admin password. Oh really? I told him I would take back the laptop instead.

So for nearly a year now the laptop has just sat idle. I could use it with a USB keyboard, but the firmware wouldn’t allow me to plug in another Superdrive. But this was a top of the line Mac not that long ago, and everything I want in a travel laptop. I just loved that big sharp 15 inch screen. A little on the heavy side maybe, but worth carrying it around for that screen, the big fast solid state drive and every port and connector I could ever need right on it. So a couple weeks ago I tried Googling for Mac repair near me, and discovered a new place had opened up in the Rotunda, which is walking distance to my house.

It’s part of a chain called “Juvix The Tech Guy”. They’d just opened shop at the Rotunda. I brought the laptop there and explained the problem. They asked Me right away if I had Guest enabled and I said it was. I told them about the trouble I’d had in Severna Park and the lady behind the counter grinned like she’d heard it before from her other customers. I wondered if it was that specific place or just all of them nearby that people were venting to her about.

First email I got from them a few days later said the Superdrive was working again and all it needed was to be plugged back in. Also that a new keyboard was on order. Apparently the Enter key and one of the shift keys weren’t working now either. A week later I got an email saying they were still waiting for the keyboard to arrive. A couple days later I get another email saying the new keyboard had arrived, and a few hours later another saying it had been installed and everything tested and my laptop was ready for pickup. Total bill was $141.

I bring it home. So nice to live where everything is in walking distance. I get it running and…wow…Everything Works. Just like that. My ideal Mac laptop is ideal again.

Sweet. I can’t speak to all the shops in the chain, but the Juvix The Tech Guy at the Rotunda here is a first rate operation with a good crew and not atrociously expensive. Email me if you need to know who the crappy repair places were.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures In Old Computer Repair

July 21st, 2021

Brood X, 2021…Not Entirely Done…

Brood X is but a memory now…but its mark can still be seen if you know where to look and what it is you are seeing. Here’s a couple iPhone photos I took today at work. I’ve lowered the image size for the page here, but you can see them full size if you click on them.

 

 

That first photo is of trees behind the Institute today, at the edge of Wyman Park. Those reddish branch tips are dead leaves where the females laid their eggs. Those branch tips have died off which is why the leaves are dead. Why did they die?

The second photo is of a branch end I picked up while walking across campus to get lunch (a thing I haven’t done in 18 months but was able to finally do today). It had fallen from a campus tree. Lots of those have the same dead branch tips. Some of them are going to start falling off shortly. Maybe the wind blows them off. Maybe they just drop. Look carefully and you can see where a female made slits in the branch to lay her eggs in. What I learned this year was she also deposits some sort of egg nutrient that also prevents the tree branch from healing over, and locking the eggs inside. And so the tips of those branches die off and you start seeing the dead branch tips everywhere, on certain favored trees, sometime after the last cicada finished the last song of their emergence.

See all those dead branch tips in the first photo? This is why you cover small saplings with a net the years brood X is out and about. They can’t handle it. The trees in that photo will just grow out new branch tips. I like to think they remember them fondly. Oh…I knew your great great great great great great great….etc times a zillion…grandmother cicada. I was just a young tree then and she needed a home for her children… Much of planet Earth’s life cycles are vastly longer than our little three score and ten.

I’ve no idea whether the eggs had hatched or not so I tossed the branch over onto a grassy spot. Eventually the eggs hatch and the tiny little cicada nymphs drop to the ground and dig in, attach to a root somewhere, and their unique cycle of life continues. At least we get to know our parents, and maybe even our grandparents.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Brood X, 2021…Not Entirely Done…

June 9th, 2021

The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

Time passes…the universe expands…I’ve lived long enough to see so many of my kidhood haunts coming down. Rockville it seems, is a city that just wants to eat itself all the time. Shortly after mom and I moved there, they tore down the old city center and built a doomed shopping mall they eventually tore down just a decade or so later, and then tore down what they’d built on top of that. A classmate posted that you can’t go home again, and I replied that’s especially true if home was Rockville, because you’ll get lost they’ve re-routed so many of the roads we used to drive down. I’m still stunned that Randolph Road now goes under Rockville Pike. My beloved high school got torn down recently and I’m still miserable over it, but I got a keepsake brick so there’s that. So much of my past is vanishing under the wrecking ball. But it’s not all bad. In fact, sometimes it’s wonderful.

Just heard on another page that this place is going under the wrecking ball next week. I couldn’t be more delighted. It was originally called Fritzbe’s. I have a particularly bad memory…a really Bad Memory…that place played a supporting role in. I have wanted to see it razed for decades.

What Happened:

It was a lovely summer night in 1981. I was in my middle twenties and on the downside of my second disastrous crush. We were close, or so I thought. I sent him love letters from the road while on a road trip with friends in the southwest. On my return it seemed we became even closer. But he was straight. What I learned from it is that straight guys can fall in love with other guys too, but for them it’s a purely platonic thing. For the gay guy who gets that deeply involved with a straight guy it’s a heart wrenching mess.

That night in 1981 he suggested we go to this new place that opened. It would have been at one time an easy walk, nearly a straight line from the apartment I grew up in to Congressional Plaza or the Radio Shack across the street from it. But the new Metro subway system was under construction and my path across the railroad tracks was now forever blocked, so my friend picked me up at the apartment and we went to Fritzbe’s. At Fritzbe’s I learned another lesson.

I was having a night out at a new place with the guy I was still crushing on madly. So I put on my best blue jeans and favorite shirt, got my long hair all washed and blow dried, put on my new Nike’s. But let’s face it, I was a scrawny ugly faced twenty-something no matter how well I dressed, and the summer humidity probably didn’t do wonders for my hair either. We got to the door to Fritzbe’s and there were two doormen standing there. One of them said my friend could go inside, but I couldn’t.

I was stunned. My friend told me he wanted to go in and just look around for a bit. So he did and I waited while the doormen made sure I stayed outside. When he returned it was clear to me that he wanted to spend the evening with the other cool people inside but first he had to figure out a way to dump me without making it look like he was dumping me. My memory of the rest of that night is a bit fuzzy, but I clearly recall saying something on the order of what’s wrong with me that I can’t come in I look okay, and under his breath he said “actually no you don’t”. So that was that. I politely excused myself from the evening and walked back home.

I got put in my place…which, of course I was. What was I thinking when I went out that night? Me? Really? The weird kid from the other side of the tracks. Clothes he bought at Sears or JC Penney…hair’s a mess…crooked teeth…no social skills at all…queer… Oh I know… Falling in love feels so wonderful, until the moment you hit the ground. It was impossible anyway, he was straight after all, but had the positions been reversed I’d have walked away from that place rather than go inside without my friend. I’ve actually done that a time or two. But that night I saw I was disposable. And that’s never just a circumstantial thing. It is what you are. Always.

People who look like that, want people who look like that…

Fritzbe’s eventually folded…I can’t imagine why. Well yes I can. Turn the uncool away as a matter of policy, to cultivate the shallow beautiful people, and eventually they’ll flit away to the Next Big Thing and what’s left are all the customers you might have had if you hadn’t pissed them off. So the name on the door changed but I never set foot in there. I was told not to go in and I don’t need telling twice. And now it’s going under the wrecking ball.

In its place, so I’m told, will be a massive new development of some sort that will occupy the entire block. Until that eventually gets torn down. Rockville just does that to itself. But eventually so does everywhere. The only thing that endures is the reputation you made for yourself. Whoever owned that chain and set its policies and created its theming probably made a lot of beautiful people very happy for a little while, and broke a lot of hearts for much, much longer. And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I probably shouldn’t blame the poor building. Like Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s novel, some places cannot help but take the shape of their builders souls. And the people who occasionally occupy them. But I am definitely taking one of my cameras down to the old neighborhood and snapping a few shots of the destruction. I’m toying with the idea of taking a few c notes with me and asking the wrecking crew if I can pay them to let me take a few whacks at it myself. But probably I’ll just go watch for a while, snap a few photos, and applaud at inappropriate moments.

I could hope they sow the ground with salt afterward. But concrete and asphalt will do.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

March 23rd, 2021

Makes It Easier For Me To Keep Coming Back, This

Made my usual pilgrimage to Biergarten at Epcot. Still the same COVID dining changes I saw since last September. Instead of it being buffet eating, they bring the buffet to your table, and since there’s a plague going on and I’m a party of one I’m the only one at the table. I fear a lot of food gets wasted this way. I’d wondered how they were going to manage having guests at the buffet counters and thought they’d just mark out six foot increments like they do elsewhere in the parks where there are lines. But no…they’ve dispensed with the buffet altogether.

At first the German staff that used to work here are nowhere to be seen. Except the band. The only thing that’s changed with them, apart from a couple members, is when the sing the German drinking song, Ein Prosit, they no longer call out at the end Oans, zwoa, drei, gsuffa!  Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, and the crowd is supposed to reply, hoi, hoi, hoi! and it’s never loud enough so the band leader has us do it again but LOUDER before we get our Prost! I’m guessing that’s so we aren’t all shouting COVID into the dinning area at the top of our lungs, assuming anyone who has it got past the multiple temperature screenings before they got inside. So the band is still there, but I figured it was like last time when all the regular workers were all gone, and worried that they were never coming back. Apart from the Usual Suspect, I’d actually made some friends there and I was worried about them.

But as it turned out some of the usual German staff are here, hard to recognise when we’re all wearing masks, and I talked to a few and got the scoop. Disney is slowly calling them back as things either improve or they get better at figuring out how to do things in the new reality. But they also tell me a certain someone has officially retired. He came back when Disney was calling the workers back, but then he retired. If he did that when I suspect he did, it was because he’d just made it to his full social security retirement age.

The saddest story was another older guy I used to see all the time here apparently came down with Alzheimer’s and can no longer work. I feel badly for him for a couple reasons. He always wore an expression like someone stuck in a job he really didn’t like but just kept at it because he was too old to go anywhere else. I never saw him smile. But also, the way a certain someone used him as a setting off point for a story that, as the story progressed, turned into a confession, the sadness of which I’ll take to my grave. I don’t think this old guy deserved to be used that way.

The staff I spoke with included some new faces, but they knew my classmate and offered to tell him I was there. I told them why that wasn’t a good idea, and then on the spur of the moment I did something that always irritated him… I showed them pictures I took of him back in high school. That was always a big hit with the ladies and tonight was no exception. Oh he was So Adorable!!!!! Squeeee!!!!

Oh yeah…made my jaw drop too…once upon a time. I tell myself that in a better world I wouldn’t have had a chance with him anyway. I was the little dweeb from the other side of the tracks whose clothes never quite fit and whose hair was always a mess. But then maybe in a better world that wouldn’t have been true either. It’s hard to reckon with how that torrent of hate and loathing you grew up under, long before you even began to suspect anything about yourself, cut into the life you could have had, were all of that not there.

I bet he never sets foot in Walt Disney World ever again. It’s how it looks to me like he ducked out the moment he reached full Social Security (I’ll avoid abbreviating it SS in this blog post out of respect). I don’t think he liked his job and I don’t think he really liked his employer much. His co-workers yes, but not the company. Mom did exactly that same thing. She worked for the company that had the advertising contract for the Yellow Pages, back when Ma Bell was a monopoly, for thirty-five years, and the instant she reached her full retirement age she was OUT OF THERE.

I on the other hand, love my job, and I’m still amazed to be working where I do. It’s just so wonderful. If it wasn’t for the heart attack, and then the second heart “event”, plus my legs now starting to give out on me and I’m starting to feel like my body is getting close to its End Of Maintenance date, I wouldn’t even be considering retiring. But I’d like to have at least a few years to spend doing other things, mostly time to spend on my artwork, and being able to have more time in California if possible.

If things ever get back to some semblance of Vacation Normal around here, I can visit Biergarten more often and not have to worry about whether You Know Who had enough peace and quiet that day or not. It’s not everywhere a single person can sit at a table and chat with the other diners there. Plus it’s real easy to get into, even when its crowded, since if you’re party of one you can be filler.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Makes It Easier For Me To Keep Coming Back, This

November 30th, 2020

Treat Your Cars Right, Even, Or Especially, The Loaners…

…poor thing might never otherwise know what a owner love is. Hoisted from today’s Facebook Memories…November 30, 2012, just because…

Back from dropping off Traveler at the dealership while it gets a minor ding in the driver’s side door fixed. Beware the decorative metal planter rails between the sidewalks and the street parking along 17th street between P and R in D.C.

Every time I get a loaner car from my dealer I am reminded of Dan (another Mercedes owner) telling me the car would change my idea of what normal is. You really notice the difference in solidness of build. I am thoroughly spoiled now. On the other hand, not being born to the manor I didn’t have to sit in it like an upper class twit wondering how to adjust a non-power seat. I’ll treat you right hon…my first car was a 1973 Ford Pinto and it took me to California and back.

Not only do I know how to work a stick, I can also work a manual door window! I haz life skills!

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Treat Your Cars Right, Even, Or Especially, The Loaners…

June 20th, 2020

The Things You Realize In Hindsight

I’m pretty much finished setting up a full paper darkroom down in the basement now. And somehow the entire house just feels different.

I’ve been posting this play by play adventure to my Facebook page because it’s so much easier to just snap a picture of the work in progress with the cell phone and put it up there. But this is a big event in my psyche and in the thread of my life and that’s exactly what I set up this blog to write down and it’s inexcusable that I’ve neglected it here. So this is a start at remedy.

A couple years ago a co-worker offered me her grandfather’s photographic enlarger. She was moving out of state and needed to shed some extra things and among them were what was left of her grandfather’s darkroom stuff that she’d inherited but never really used. She wanted it all to go somewhere it would be appreciated and used and she knew I was a photographer. So she made me the offer of all of it including the enlarger.

At the time I’d made my peace with not having a complete darkroom. My rowhouse was small and there was no room in the basement to build such a thing. The previous owners had finished the front half which I was using as an art room. I had the drafting table set up there, and a desk for the art room Mac, and the two scanners, one for my cartoons and the other for my B&W negatives. There was a small half-ish bathroom in the back that I set up to develop film. It had a tiny shower that I didn’t really need, and for a time I thought about taking it out, along with the good ol’ boys bar in the front half, and building a paper darkroom in that space. But I decided I wanted to keep the bar, and the shower stall became a storage closet instead. Developing film and then scanning it in and doing the rest in the computer proved to be so much better than the labor intensive and now very expensive process of developing prints on silver bromide paper. Plus, the only photographic paper I wanted to use in my printmaking, Agfa Brovira, was no longer in production. The Agfa was so much better than Any of the competition I just didn’t feel it was worth the effort if I couldn’t get any. By then I had an excellent large format inkjet printer that makes very high quality B&W prints, so I was satisfied.

I told her as much, but then fatally added that if the enlarger was a Beseler 23c I’d take it, because that Beseler was the only enlarger I ever wanted. And it was true. I lusted after that one back when I was a youngster. Unlike the others it had a two rail construction which made it as sturdy as a tank. You could tilt the enlarging head on its side to project on a wall and do huge prints…providing you had a way to develop them. But living on a youngster’s budget and having only the bathroom of the apartment mom and I lived in to use as a darkroom, the Beseler just wasn’t in the cards.

Well…guess what kind of enlarger it was.

The deal was I would give her the first good print off of it. So I accepted and when I got it and everything she had boxed with it home I took an inventory and tried to figure out what I still needed and where the hell was I going to put everything. The back basement shower stall seemed the likely place to set up an enlarger table. I could turn off the water service to it easily and build some shelving to support it and store things like paper and trays and such underneath. But where would I develop paper? The little bathroom was too small to lay out trays.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. Or where I would put things. And I still needed some things I didn’t have anymore. I’d saved a bunch from back in the day when the thinking was someday maybe I’ll own a house and build a darkroom. But I hadn’t saved everything. I had the darkroom timer…a nice Time-O-Lite I preferred over the GraLab everyone else liked when I was a kid, mostly because it was all metal and the mechanism just fascinated me. I had the Very nice Rodenstock Rodegon 55mm enlarging lens I’d bought back in the day, but I needed a good 75mm one for the medium format negatives I had and that would be expensive. Plus a lens board for it. I would need negative trays for the Beseler in 6×6 and 6×7 format. I needed a new print dryer. The print flattening and glossing agent I used to use, Pakosol, wasn’t made anymore. Agfa Brovira wasn’t made anymore and what was worse in my opinion was everything that was available now was multigrade paper which Kodak Polycontrast had taught me to hate. The Beseler did however, have a much better arrangement for using them: a tray that was just below and above the negative carrier. Back in the day I had to use a clip on tray for my Polycontrast filters that sat below the enlarging lens and I just knew it was subtracting resolution from the print. But I would need to buy a set of multigrade filters too.

All told, I reckoned I would have to spend just over a thousand bucks to get everything back together again. The 75mm enlarger lens would be about half that expense, but I wasn’t settling for anything less than a Rodenstock if I was going to do this. Then there would be the cost of the paper. Everything about analog photography is expensive now. Probably because it’s only a few of us diehards that are still doing it,

I was a perfect storm of indecision. It’s really hard for me to break out of one of those. So I dawdled over it. For two years now I’ve dawdled over it. And I began to feel guilty which only made me avoid it more. Then something just…came over me…and I had to do it. Maybe it was the lockdown. Maybe it was just the sight of that poor enlarger sitting on my dryer with a plastic bag over its head all this time. I decided to go ahead and spend the money for the things I still needed, and work through how to set up a darkroom in the back half of the basement.

When I lived with mom in the apartment in Rockville the bathroom sink was wide enough for me to place three 8×10 trays on it, with one actually in the sink. The enlarger sat on the toilet seat. I cut a drain hole in a plastic wash tub and put that in the bathtub to wash my prints. The sink in the back basement here at Casa del Garrett was much too small for that. There was just no room in there, really, even to develop film. I’d made it light proof so I could load a film tank, which I then took out to the bar in the front half and did my processing there. I could was the film in the film washer I’d kept from my kidhood, which I could connect to the faucet of the utility room sink in the back. But for paper I needed more space. Which meant I needed to make the entire back basement light proof. 

Luckily that wasn’t such a big problem. The basement is two-thirds underground and the only outside light that gets in the back is through a small window that I could cover over. I made a light seal out of quarter inch black foam core and darkroom cloth I had left over from when I made the bathroom light proof. Then I sat in total darkness back there for about ten minutes while my eyes adjusted to make sure it was all light proof. After a while I was able to detect a couple small light leaks. I patched them and did the experiment again. It was all good.

I needed to figure out how to layout a darkroom there. The bathroom took up a lot of the space already. But the shower stall in it could hold the enlarger. The washer, utility sink and furnace were on one side of the back basement opposite where the shower stall was built. In the other back corner I had my dryer, and a chest freezer…the tops of both were about even and at the right height to set my developing trays.  I could put a safelight in the rafters above.  I began work on setting up the enlarger in the shower stall, but first I needed a place to put everything I was storing there. So I had to build some more shelving and redistribute some things elsewhere in the house. Here’s the mostly finished result…

Running electric cords to the Time-O-Light was all I needed to do. The Time-O-Light controls both the enlarger and the safelight I put up near the ceiling. The shelves can store my trays and negative carriers and such. 

I think I have everything ready now. In a little while I’ll mix up some chemistry and make my first silver print in something like 35 years I think. I’d stopped in my mid to late 20s after I accepted that I’d never be a photojournalist. Later, when I did begin getting newspaper gigs again, mostly for Baltimore OUTLoud, it would all be digital anyway. I had what was left of my print darkroom things stored away in a box for decades, only to get the film development stuff out when I bought the house, and set up a film only darkroom in the basement bathroom. The rest of it just sat in the box. Until my co-worker, Courtney, gave me this enlarger.

It’s odd…I bought the house in 2001, but now somehow it feels more like it’s really mine now that I’ve set up a full darkroom in it.The art room was certainly me. Pretty much everything in the house by now is me. But all this time one essential piece was missing. When I give Courtney her print later, I need to thank her for bringing me back to this, and back into a place I didn’t really know I was missing for so long. The house is complete now.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 9th, 2020

Memo, To The Lords Of Silicon Valley

What is your purpose? What is this brave new world that you are taking us to? Do you even know? Is it a place that merely exist in a set of principles? A belief system that will deliver us to a better world that you can’t precisely define, but you know will be better than the one you are taking us further and further away from? Do you even know where it is you are taking us?

Today I settled down to install the new version of the tax software I’ve been using for years. Alas, so I’m told under the shrink wrap, it does not work with the current version of one of the operating systems on one of my household computers. But I’m lucky in that I’m somewhat of a techno geek, plus I earn my living in IT. So I have several computers in my household network I can choose from. When I started the installer on the other machine I chose to install it on, I got a popup telling me that next year I’d better have updated my OS or I wouldn’t be able to use that one either. 

It’s not so simple though, because the latest and greatest versions of the operating systems, even Linux now, require the latest and greatest hardware. The least expensive solution then is to just take my taxes to a brick and mortar tax service, otherwise I’m paying over a thousand bucks just to use the next version of the tax software, which only costs me around fifty bucks. Oh I could get a cheaper computer I suppose, but then it’s only good for a few tasks and not the things I usually use my computers for, such as photo editing, artwork, and of course the software development tasks I perform for a living. I’d need to buy another one eventually to do everything else I normally do on a computer. A cheap computer then, is actually more expensive than a good one.

I have updated hardware in mind for sometime this year, but the budget isn’t there for it Right Now. And there is a reason I’ve dawdled over doing it. Several actually.

First, there’s the time consuming task of migrating everything over to the new computers. I mitigate that somewhat by storing my data on a network drive. But that applications and their configurations need to be migrated. Then I need to reconfigure the new computers for my network. That should be easy but with a variety of different operating systems it can be a little tricky. Then there are all the changes to the user interface I will need to learn. It takes time for it to stop being a constant struggle. Then, more critically, there are all the applications I depend on that the new versions of the operating systems will break. This is why I sweat blood over every security update.

The biggest culprit here is Adobe. Once they decided to force their users onto a software rental policy, where you must pay a monthly fee to keep the software activated, a lot of users, myself included, decided just to stand pat on the last perpetual licensed version. But that is not a sustainable practice, as evidenced by the notice on my tax software that it will shortly stop working on the older operating systems. Plus, Adobe is looking for ways to turn off software you’ve legitimately purchased, to force you into the population of renters. I had my Windows version of Photoshop bricked when Adobe decided, after letting me use it for two years, that it was a bulk license that had expired two years previously. So I’m actively looking for alternatives to all my Adobe artist’s tools. But that involves relearning an assortment of new user interfaces and again, that’s time I don’t have a lot of to spend at this stage of my life.

Which brings me to my main point. I’m close to my retirement years, and living on a fixed income therein. Going forward, I’m not going to have a lot of money to keep spending thousands of dollars every three or four years for the latest and greatest hardware, so the latest and greatest operating systems can run on it, so I can spend even more money on the latest and greatest versions of the software tools I use, so I can keep doing my artwork, or perhaps earning a bit more income as a software developer. And I’m in a good place compared to a lot of my fellow Americans, elderly and not. I appreciate that in the rarefied bistros and boutiques of Silicon Valley, income levels are a wee bit different from the rest of the country. But do you even take the occasional walk outside of your comfort zones? I mean, other than going to a tech conference somewhere?

I ask again, what is this brave new world you are taking the rest of us to? Let me take a step back: Why should anyone want to own a personal computer? What are they good for, that anyone would want to bring one into their household? Can you even make a case for why anyone should want to own one? There are good reasons to want food…and clothing…and a roof over our heads. There are good reasons to want health care, a decent education. There are essentials. Then there are nice to haves. Then there are luxuries. Where do you say the personal computer fit into this? 

I know what I can say. Let me say it with a story I’ve told here before. It takes place in the 1980s. Back in the early days of the personal computer. Back in the days of the Commodore C64, the Atari 400 and 800. Back when IBM produced the PC, and then the XT. Back in the days of MS-DOS. Back in the days of modems and the first dial up computer bulletin boards. Probably before some of you were born. 

I was a user on a small, single line dial-up BBS, whose sysop graciously added a gay echo board to the mix after I came out on a different board. It was the first time I had access to the wider gay community beyond my suburban neighborhood. Before that moment, the only access I had to any sort of gay community was a seedy local bar I wasn’t comfortable going into, and the yearly pride fests in downtown Washington DC around DuPont Circle.

It was a revelation. Here we all were, not just from all over America, but all over the world. There were linked BBS systems in Britain, in Japan, in Brazil and Ireland and the Netherlands. It was a chatty, gossipy, fun place. I got to know other gay people from all over the world, in a setting that wasn’t a dingy bar. And what I saw were people, all different kinds of people from all walks of life. We were human beings. The stereotypes fell away like tattered paper in the wind. 

One day, we got a post from a BBS in the Netherlands. It was short, and to the point. I can still vividly remember every word…

Hello. I’m 14 years old. I think I might be gay but I’m not sure. How did you know? What was it like for you?

That was it. That was all there was to it. And then something amazing and wonderful happened. From all over the world, or as much of it as we had connected at the time, this kid started getting coming out stories. Not the part where you come out to family and friends: the part where you come out to yourself.

The stories spanned the entire spectrum from awful to hopeful. Some got disowned, others accepted. There were tears and laughter, there was struggle and pride. You saw it all, day after day, post upon post. I posted mine, and read every one of the others. It went on for two weeks to silence from the original poster. Then finally they said something…

Thank you. You’ve all given me a lot to think about.

And that was it. We never heard another word from the kid. If a kid they were. Even then you had to know it could have been anyone. Perhaps someone trying to see if we were all a bunch of child molestors ready to pounce. Perhaps just a young teenager confused and worried. But I knew for certain watching that entire exchange, that for everyone posting their story, there were maybe dozens more watching raptly, hungry for those same answers.

And I saw it then. I saw what this technology had done for us, and that we would win this thing after all. When I came out to myself in December of 1971, everything I knew about homosexuality, and about what it was to be a homosexual, I had learned from the heterosexual majority. All the books, all the newspaper articles, all the pop culture representations on TV and the movies…everything I knew about homosexuality I had learned from heterosexuals. And now, thanks to this technology we could talk among ourselves. We no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes anymore.

That is what the personal computer did for me. For us. 

More specifically, that was what MS-DOS and an IBM PC I built from parts did for me. That is what modems and a dial up BBS systems running on 1980s hardware and software did for us. Yes, yes, the technology has improved greatly since then. You can do so very much more with a personal computer now, than you could back then. But…what for? To what end? What is the purpose being served, that could not have been served as well, if at all by those first personal computers and the software that ran on them, that we all have to spend a thousand dollars and more every three or four years or we’re kicked back out of the revolution due to lack of funds? What happens to anyone now, who could still benefit from the personal computer, but can’t keep spending this kind of money so frequently, and throwing away hardware that still works just fine, it just can’t run your latest and greatest software anymore. The hardware isn’t what’s dying, it’s your software that’s killing it. And that’s not all it’s killing. All those gay kids in the middle parts of the country…you know…where the main streets have been dying for decades…where the pulpits thunder at the homosexual menace, where the bullies prowl the school hallways and doors get slammed in gay faces because religious freedom…what happens to them now? What happens to the elderly, the shut ins, the low income workers struggling to make a better life for themselves? Can you even see the rest of us?

Tell me oh lords of silicon valley, what your latest and greatest hardware and software can do for me, for any of us, that can compare to what MS-DOS and it’s like did for many of us back in the 1980s. Yes I see a lot of shiny new bells and whistles. But what does it all amount to? Is the world any better for it? A thousand dollars plus every three or four years better for it? Really? What is your purpose? What brave new world are you taking us too?

Think about it…maybe…while you’re sitting on your billions in market value?

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Memo, To The Lords Of Silicon Valley

July 29th, 2019

My Hellhole City…

Morning in my hell hole city…

I get up early these days, make some sandwiches for lunch, put food and fresh water out for the calico. Many street cats here in Baltimore like her have one ear tipped. It’s a sign that she’s been fixed and given at least an initial round of shots. The city would like it very much if you don’t bother the tipped ear cats. They keep the rodent population down, and also the street cat population since they can no longer breed.

I live where I can walk to work when the weather is nice. This morning I’m out the door just after 5am. I was up at 4. It’s my insomnia. I try to make it work for me. When it gets me up early enough, but not too early, I just stay up. Flex time means I get to go home early too, and maybe do some work at the drafting table before bed. The early morning summer dawn lights my way, but the street lights are still on. I go out the back door because I don’t want the calico following me.

The alley behind my little Baltimore rowhouse is still and quiet. Everyone here has done their backyard up a little differently. Some have big expansive gardens, others have put in parking pads or big outdoor decks with barbecues and deck furniture. Trees, probably planted decades ago, have grown taller than the utility wires strung down the alley, and have to be regularly trimmed. A couple dogs wander close to their fences as I pass by, but do not bark at me. I’m a familiar human. They will rise a hellacious din when an unknown human walks down the alley. Or a known human walking their dogs.

Or a squirrel. In the years I’ve lived here I’ve seen maybe a few hundred squirrels for every rat. Or maybe it’s just a couple squirrels and they just get around. Tree branches and utility wires are all the same to them. The street cats do their job keeping the rat population down. Also the city. You have to make a really big mess of your property for the city to complain about it, but a single rat sighting will get animal control knocking on your door faster than the speed of sound. But it’s not all just squirrels and rats and pigeons. I’ve seen deer and foxes, which probably come down the Jones Falls river (creek trickle stream) from the ‘burbs. Last winter I looked out my front bedroom window one night and saw a deer feasting on the ivy buried under some freshly fallen snow.

Deer in fact, were a frequent sight in my neighborhood, which is just a couple miles from the urban core. I’ve seen foxes too. One night I opened the front door to see if the Calico needed feeding and found a raccoon by the empty food dish giving me a look as if to say, well, where’s the food buddy!? You got a food dish here and it’s empty! What’s up with that!? Hawks, owls and falcons are regular visitors, especially around Wyman Park and Jones Falls. Snakes too, alas, but so far I have seen no venomous ones. But the empty lot at the end of my street where the wildlife used to gather has been turned into expensive luxury townhomes. Starting price was 350k and most of them sold for over 400k. The development was completed just last spring, and now the model home is the only one left unsold. A storage container factory that used to be located not far away was closed and the building demolished and they are building even more expensive townhomes on the site as I write this. Another empty lot behind the Giant Food grocery store a couple blocks away was turned into a luxury townhome development that was completed last fall.

On my way to work this morning I walk past the Giant. There are places in this city that are food deserts, but my neighborhood isn’t one of them. I live within a short walk of the Giant, and there is one of those trendy organic food stores in “The Rotunda”, a largish old building that was once the headquarters of some big insurance company, and is now a small city mall with stores and offices in it. What was the big parking lot behind it has been turned into a 400+ luxury apartment complex, with rents ranging from just under a thousand bucks a month to just over 3,800 for a space that’s still fewer square feet than my little Baltimore rowhouse. I have no idea who is paying that kind of money for those units or where they work, but they seem to be nearly all rented out now.

There is a Starbucks among the Rotunda shops that opens at 5:30am. I stop in for an ice coffee and danish to take with me as I walk to work. The Rotunda is a halfway point in my walk. A few delivery trucks are parked at the loading docks, but the morning is still very quiet. The day shift is just getting started. There is the Mom’s (that trendy organic grocery store…), the Starbucks, a drugstore, a barber shop, a UPS store, a couple restaurants and a dine-in movie theater here. The folks who live in the apartments above them probably have it even better than me when it comes to walkability, especially if they work in the Rotunda, as some of my coworkers do.

I go on my way, down 40th street to University Parkway. Now I am walking through what is probably Baltimore’s most upscale neighborhood: Roland Park. My path just gives it a glancing blow but even here the homes are big and lovely. There are large English style rowhomes, with slate shingle roofs and large patches of lawn and garages behind them, accessible through the alley. Even at the money I am making in my current job I could never afford one of these. They’re all old, solid, and beautiful. And they adjoin Wyman park, which itself adjoins the Johns Hopkins University, which is where I work. Not for Hopkins, but for AURA, the Association of Universities conducting Research in Astronomy.

We operate the Hubble Space Telescope here, and are working on the ground systems for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Hopkins graduate programs in Biological, Biomedical Sciences, Engineering (Biomedical, Electrical & Environmental), Human Development and Family Studies, Health Sciences, Humanities, Physical and Mathematical Sciences and International Affairs and Development, all rank among the top 10 of their respective disciplines. Students come here from all over the world. It’s a lovely campus to work at, and taking my lunchtime strolls I hear languages of the world spoken among the kids. But this is not an inexpensive university to attend. These kids, unless they got grant money, come from money. But it’s a different kind of atmosphere here, than one I suppose I might find at a Yale or a Harvard. These kids are here mostly to become scientists, researchers, astronomers, or engineers. Some days I walk among the carefully maintained greens between the campus buildings, or along the walkways of San Martin Drive with Wyman Park on one side and the University on the other, and I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Now I walk through Roland Park to University Parkway, and from there across a bridge over Wyman Park to San Martin Drive, which winds and bends between the university and the park. Tall trees and forest on one side of the road, I could imagine myself in one of the national parks, perhaps somewhere along Skyline Drive. I go past the Lacrosse field on the other, and the ROTC. Soon I am at my workplace. I have to use my key card to open the door as it is very early, and sign in at the security desk. Security is tighter here now, than when I first started working here, since we began building the Mission Operations Center for James Webb here. One of my key cards grants me access to the building, and I have access to several computer rooms configured on it. Two other cards on my strap grant me access to the James Webb MOC and to Goddard in Greenbelt Maryland.

I am but a mere integration and testing person, not a flight engineer, and I also write business software for progress tracking and reporting. So when my phase of the work is completed they’ll probably take away my MOC access. But I can say I was there, and was a part of it all. I have participated in testing James Webb’s optical and science instrument assembly (OTIS), and watched it speaking its first words on my telemetry screen as I helped capture data for later replaying and testing of the ground systems we’re developing here.

Here. In my hell hole rat infested city. Except it isn’t. It’s one of America’s vibrant, busy, energetic cities and there is lots more going on here than you might think if all you ever watched was The Wire or read Donald Trump’s and his peanut gallery’s tweets. I feel as though I lucked out unreasonably getting the job here I did, and the little Baltimore rowhouse I have within walking distance of that job, and the grocery stores, and the lovely bars and restaurants and shops that compass everything I might need on a day to day basis. The nightlife hub locally is called “The Avenue” and it’s become so popular most of the bigger places have valet parking now. But I can walk to it so that’s another perk of where I live.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. I thought I’d live in the ‘burbs all my life. Then I discovered what it’s like to have everything you need in walking distance. My city neighborhood is as safe as any suburban development I’ve ever lived in, and since we are all more tightly packed together here than in the ‘burbs we know each other perhaps a little better, and we can keep an eye on our neighborhood a little better. Diversity. It works. My neighborhood is largely white, but has a growing mix of black, Asian and Hispanic leavening it. But that’s just one part to diversity. My neighborhood also has a nice mix of older retired folk and younger professionals, and that means there is always someone here during the day keeping an eye on things, and at night not everyone keeps the same bedtime schedule. The neighborhood never really sleeps, it just gets quiet. Which is a relative term here in the city. The entire neighborhood doesn’t just empty out during business hours like some of the suburban apartment developments I’ve lived in. And older rowhouse neighborhoods like those here in the city, have Front Porches! This is something the new “luxury” townhouses are sadly leaving out. Front porches are places where people sit when the weather is nice, and chat with each other, and passing neighbors out for an evening stroll. People like me.

City life is Wonderful. Baltimore is wonderful. Yes, it has its problem zones, like all big cities do. And if Donald Trump and his constipated voter base think otherwise they can certainly help improve the livability of this and other American cities by staying out.

My thanks in advance!

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on My Hellhole City…

March 3rd, 2019

The Bidet…A Couple Weeks Later

So…the bidet… And if you think this is oversharing feel free to change the channel. But some people expressed interest in how well the thing actually works.

Just to recap, I bought one of those bidet toilet seat conversions when I saw a really nice one that Costco was selling for slightly better than half off. I’m assuming it’s an about to be discontinued model, because when I last checked they still have it listed on the manufacturer’s website.

It was a pretty simple and straightforward installation, but then I have a bunch of tools and a near lifetime of experience doing my own simple household repairs and improvements. Even growing up in a bunch of suburban garden apartments you found that fixing leaks yourself got the job done quicker than calling the landlord, plus it kept strangers out of your nest. The thing most people get wrong when replacing things like a toilet float, hoses and faucet washers is they over tighten the connections and then they leak. Hand tighten, and then just a tad more with the wrench will usually do it. (When changing an oil filter, Only hand tighten.) This time I had to go back and gently add some torque to a couple of the connections a day later when I noticed some minor drippage, but it was pretty simple otherwise. My bathroom had outlets nearby but I did have to run a power strip to the wall behind the toilet. The instructions said to use a surge protector.

Does it work? Well I can’t speak to how well it works on lady parts, but as to the part we all share…yes. Absolutely! Gets you spic and span. Much Much better and more hygienically than paper. But there are adjustments you need to tweak: water temperature, pressure, nozzle position and whether to turn on the aerator. The spray is timed for a minute and then automatically stops, or stops instantly if you get off the seat. Repeat as needed. My experience is adjusting the position of the nozzle back and forth while it’s working gives best results. I only use toilet paper now to dry myself and that’s cut down my use of it considerably, and counter intuitively it’s also cut down water consumption. That’s from flushing the paper down. Now I flush less often, so that’s less water down the drain. There’s an air dry function that’s timed for three minutes but I have no patience.

There’s a seat warmer which is nice, and is adjustable. There’s a fan that turns on and pulls air out of the bowl while you’re sitting on it, and out through a carbon filter to keep the bathroom stink free. It shines a soft blue light into the bowl which is nice for when your bladder insists in the middle of the night. I give it a thumbs up. Money well spent.

Except… Due to being needed at Goddard first thing Friday morning I rented a room in Greenbelt Thursday night. Shortly after I got there I realized that when I travel from now on I’m going to miss having that bidet whenever wherever I need to hit the john. All technology is a two edged sword.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Bidet…A Couple Weeks Later

March 2nd, 2019

Look What I Did Ma!

Got back home from Greenbelt yesterday at around 2PM. I’d rented a room for the night at the same Holiday Inn I usually use when I need to be at Goddard first thing in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. For the past two days I’ve been participating in tests of the JWST ground control network…first in the Mission Operations Center at Hopkins, and then Friday at the backup MOC at Goddard. My job was Test Conductor, calling out steps in a test procedure over one of the NASA voice loops with Goddard and White Sands, and jotting down the results. We were linking the MOCs up with the spacecraft over a Deep Space Network link from White Sands, and sending what they call NoOp commands (Here’s a command, but don’t do anything just tell us you got it and then drop it on the floor). It’s just to test the network connectivity, not the spacecraft. Those tests are also in progress, but so far I haven’t been directly involved in any of them.

I’m also involved in other aspects of this mission and I can’t discuss details, but I cannot begin to tell you how cool it is to see myself, a kid who watched the first Mercury astronauts being launched into space, talking over a NASA voice loop, helping to birth a spacecraft, and watching it speak its first words. Mom lived to see me get this job, and it made her proud. I wasn’t expected to amount to much in some quarters of that side of the family. But there are times I really wish she could see what her boy has gotten himself into now.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Look What I Did Ma!

February 19th, 2019

Adventures In Upgrading My TV…(continued)

As I said in our last episode…once I plugged in the new TV, almost the entire house of cards fell apart and I had to rebuild a lot of it, mostly how everything connects together. That isn’t just the TV and its specific peripherals, such as the BluRay player, it’s also the stereo. I have a very nice home stereo system I’ve been building and adding to since I was a teenage boy and it’s all old  (by today’s standards) components that all connect together with RCA cables. If all you’ve ever watched your TV with is the built-in TV speakers you are missing out on a lot of what’s there…not just in the background music but the sound effects.

The new TV wants HDMI inputs and only has one TosLink optical digital audio output jack to connect to a stereo with. So connecting everything back together was going to take not only a bunch of new cables but also some digital/analogue converter boxes. And not just to hook up the stereo either. The two VCRs and the Laserdisc player have analogue NTSC RCA outputs that I’m going to need converter boxes for so they can talk to the new TV. But one thing at a time…

Since I’m having to take apart nearly all the connections to the stereo and rearrange things, now is a good time to do something I’d been meaning to for a while. I’m not quite this fussy but I get frustrated easily while concentrating on a task and sudden roadblocks confuse me. So dealing with a potential source of frustration in advance can be rewarding later on. Everything is getting labelled so the wires all tell me which peripheral they came from.  And here’s why…

Lawd have mercy what have I got myself into. The power strip at the bottom is necessary because all this new stuff I need to add to make everything talk to everything else needs these dinky little power transformer things. The box above it is the new Ethernet switchbox I had to add because the TV and the Roku box both want to talk to the Internet tubes. The odd little box above it (I placed it further up on the wall to keep it from blocking the heat vents on the switch) is the TosLink to RCA converter that allows the TV to talk to the stereo. And boy howdy the sound coming out of the new TV is really nice!

First thing I did to test it out was fire up the Roku and tune to Radio Paradise and I spent the rest of the afternoon listening while working on putting everything back together and it was wonderful. Several years ago I bought a Roku 3 thinking it would be a simple upgrade over the Roku 1 I had. But unlike the Roku 1 the 3 only had the HDMI output. There were no RCA output jacks which everything else, including the Sony Trinitron needed. So I never bothered hooking it up, I just kept on using the Roku 1. With the new TV the Roku 3 finally made sense. And I don’t think I’m imagining it…it sounds better through the new TV connection than it did directly to the stereo through the old Roku box’s RCA outputs.

This is going to allow me to hook everything up to the TV via the HDMI cables and then back to the stereo through one set of cables, rather than having a bunch of things going directly to the preamp. Or trying to anyway. I had so much going back to the Dynaco I had to put in an RCA switch box to make it all work. I think I can get rid of that now.

Just to make it clear why I have to fuss with all this. Yes…that’s a cassette deck sitting on top of what is maybe a second generation CD player. I am not a Luddite obviously, but neither am I a buy the latest new think kinda guy. I need to see a need for the technology in my life. Once I can see it I will dig into it. But stuff that just keeps on working I’ll stick with. New CD and DVD and Blu-ray players are thin as the credit cards people buy them with these days. But these two components have never stopped working all the years I’ve had them, and I still have media for them, and so I reckon I’m keeping them.  I think now since I don’t need to connect any of the TV periperals to the stereo I have just enough inputs in the Dynaco to not need the RCA switchbox anymore.

But this raises a grip I’ve had more and more over the years. The CD player dates back to the DOS day’s. The cassette player to well before. Funny how, before Apple and Microsoft ruled our world hardware just kept on working and things just kept on working together regardless of who made what and what version of which operating system was part of the mix. This…

…is a proprietary Apple connector with a digital authentication chip in it to prevent third party equipment to connect to Apple products. They say the chip has now been cracked but I had to buy an adaptor from Apple to allow my iPhone 6s that connects with one of these, to connect to the stereo in my Mercedes because the Mercedes was built in 2011 and used the connector Apple was using back then which was the 30 pin docking connector. I had to buy the adaptor from Apple or otherwise the authentication chip would not allow the car stereo to access the iPod functionality in the iPhone. It was that, or buy a new car…preferably one that has Apple Carplay installed in it. 

Once upon a time all these things had standardized connectors and form factors and you could replace one thing from one company with something better from another and you didn’t break everything and have to buy all new stuff because it all still worked together because there was some sort of market standardization. Now that’s next to impossible. The new business model is lock your customers into your product line so they can’t escape. Kinda like how the old railroad tycoons would buy up land out west to keep competing railroads from laying track anywhere near the customers they wanted to monopolize.

The mindset never changes, only the buzzwords. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures In Upgrading My TV…(continued)

February 16th, 2019

Adventures In Upgrading My TV

 

So I finally got around to putting my home audio/visual system back together. Just this afternoon I got the Roku back up and running. But there is still a lot of work to do. Once I plugged in the new TV, almost the entire house of cards fell apart. I have to rebuild a lot of it. Mostly, how everything connects together.

I’d skipped a few generations of technology improvements. Well…okay…maybe more than a few. Because until now those improvements mattered not to me. TV isn’t really a big part of my life compared to my teen and pre-teen years, though with this one I can see the pendulum swinging back a tad. But in skipping all that technology I’ve left most of my home system a tad behind. Well…maybe more than a tad. Next to none of my existing…things…which I am not replacing, interface natively with the new stuff.

So to start with, I need a bunch more cables. HDMI 4k capable cables. Because…let’s face it…the old RCA connectors just can’t handle the new bandwidth requirements. Stuff I was happy to let talk to each other over RCA connectors now needs a high bandwidth connection. Some of it already has the output jack. Some of it does not.

I had to buy an HDMI switch box…again 4k capable…because the TV only has two HDMI inputs, and I have…let’s see…five peripherals that I need to talk to the TV. Of that, two of them, the Roku and the BluRay player have the requisite HDMI outputs. The two VCRs, one VHS one BetaMax (yes, yes…) and the LaserDisc player, do not. I bought an RCA to HDMI adapter to try as a proof of concept. If It works, I’ll need to buy two more.

I needed to buy another Ethernet switch box because now I have more than one item that wants to connect to the Internet tubes. That would be the TV and the Roku box. I was hesitant about chaining switch boxes but they say you can chain up to three. I have an Ethernet cable drop down to the basement from the front office/den/bedroom router. It feeds into a gigabit switch in the art room that feeds the two art room Macs, the printer and the Roku by way of another Ethernet cable going back up to the living room. That maxes out that switch box’s ports. I could have just bought a bigger switch box and run another Ethernet cable to the living room, but the easy option was to just put a switch behind the TV. I figured if I got any more peripherals that needed Internet I’d have to run more cable upstairs otherwise.

Just…don’t get me started as to why I don’t just WiFi everything. I grew up with wires connecting everything…okay?

The TV’s only audio output is an optical digital connector. My stereo preamp is a Dynaco PAS 2, which some call the most important pre-amplifier ever made, and which runs on vacuum tubes. I’ve been meaning to give it an up to date re-capping job, but it and the Crown amplifier it talks to, still give me lovely wonderful sound. Optical digital input wasn’t even a twinkle in some engineer’s eye when they were designed. So I need to get an optical digital audio to RCA adapter. Plus an optical digital cable. But this makes it a bit easier to channel sound to the stereo now. I’ve over subscribed the Dynaco’s inputs and had to add an RCA switchbox some years back, largely because I judged the Sony Trinitron’s stereo output sound inadequate. So I ran everything from the peripherals directly to the stereo. Now I probably don’t have to do that anymore, so I can just eliminate the RCA audio switchbox.

This is what happens when you lag behind. But I lagged behind because what I had suited me just fine. It was when I decided to add something new that the entire house of cards fell apart. Okay. But this new TV’s picture is…stunning. I’ve been binge watching the Smithsonian Channel’s travelogue stuff. I regret nothing.

But…good thing I’m a techno nerd and I can deal with all this and actually enjoy it. I can see why all this might scare some people in my age group.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures In Upgrading My TV

February 15th, 2019

Not Quite Effete Enough

When you figure that you, a longhaired gay male city dweller Mercedes-Benz owner house crammed full of books painter photographer cartoonist computer nerd classical metal new age swing music lover couldn’t possibly be any more effete elitist and Costco offers to hold your brie…

 

This blog post may strike you as a bit of oversharing, and that’s fine…you can click away now. Otherwise bear with me, because…

…this is something that’s mystified me ever since I learned of the existence of bidets, and that they weren’t a women only thing. Yes, yes…girl parts are different from guy parts. But some parts are common across all makes and models and this is about hygiene, which you can’t have enough of when there are upwards of seven and a half billion souls walking this good earth. Yet here in rich and worldly America, where indoor plumbing, let alone indoor bathrooms, flush toilets and showers, are regarded as a birthright, we wash every part of our bodies with soap and water…except where the shit comes out.  No, no…that part we have to wipe holding onto a piece of paper flimsy enough to be flushed down the toilet and not back up the sewer pipes. What the hell.

I first learned about bidets when I was very young and they were described to me as some weird female bathroom fixture in the ladies rooms of upscale restaurants and maybe train stations. This suggested to my young brain that they were some sort of lady parts only thing that boys and men did not need. It wasn’t until I got older I learned that in other parts of the world a bidet was something both sexes used to clean their ass too.

I would have been all for that had I had them available. At some point so far back in my childhood I forget when I even started doing this, I would wad up a bunch of TP and hold it under the sink faucet to get it wet before using it. I think this might have started during a period of sickness, when purging constantly made my ass sore from wiping so much, and in desperation I tried wetting the paper first. A bidet in the bathroom would have saved me a lot of trouble, let alone soreness. Were they commonplace here in America there might not be so many sewer systems backing up because of people flushing wet wipes. 

But no…anything to do with female parts was off limits to manly American men, even if it could be useful to us guys too. And I was taunted all through early grade school for being a thin weak and girlish kinda boy, so I kept my mouth shut about why aren’t bidets everywhere.

First time I could actually try a bidet was at South of The Border…that campy tacky bit of roadside Americana. As it turns out some of the deluxe rooms nestled around the indoor swimming pool have bidets. One trip back from Florida I stopped at South of The Border and discovered my bathroom had a bidet, so I gave it a try. And…yeah…it felt weird that first time using it. But when I was done my ass was spic and span and all I needed the toilet paper for was to dry myself off. 

So I determined that Casa del Garrett needed one of those. Problem was the bathroom in my little Baltimore rowhouse is kinda small. No room really for a dedicated one. I tried searching the local big box hardware stores for toilets with built-in bidets. But no…not even the upscale toilets had those built-in. In fact nobody selling for the average Harry Homeowner sells a toilet with a built in bidet. But I discovered they made toilet seats with built-in bidets and that looked like a promising alternative. I could just buy one of those and install it on my existing toilet. Except anything that looked like it had a reasonable chance of working as well as a dedicated one was Very expensive.

This month the Costco flyer had a really good one on sale half price and I snapped it up. I’m installing it now. I’ll spare you the details because you probably think I’ve overshared enough as it is. (have I mentioned this is a Life Blog?) But as I said earlier this is something that completely mystifies me. Why aren’t these things standard on toilets? Why aren’t they everywhere? No paper being flushed, let alone those damn wet wipes. Less flushing necessary just to get the paper flushed, so there’s water saved. Better hygiene. I don’t get it.  Yes, yes…they benefit the gals in a way guys don’t need. But what of it? The bidet/seat I bought has a setting for lady parts clean and a setting for ass clean. So I don’t need the one setting. Maybe a guest will use both. Fine. Whatever.

The only decadent part of all this I can see is it also has a seat warmer. That’ll come in handy too as it’s still winter here in Charm City.  

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 14th, 2019

In The Rocket World Of Tomorrow, People Will Still Need Alcohol

While I was down at Goddard getting my badge recertified I decided to stop at their gift shop and saw this thing and had to have it.

 

It’s a cocktail shaker. I need to find something appropriate to break it in with.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on In The Rocket World Of Tomorrow, People Will Still Need Alcohol

July 17th, 2018

Desert Hiking Safety Kit

There’s a joke I heard once on the Johnny Carson show late one night. It was one of those 1960s lounge lizard sort of jokes and Ed McMahon was telling it. So it went: one way to never get lost in the desert is to pack along stuff you’d need to make a good martini. If you find suddenly that you’ve lost your way, just unpack the martini fixing and start making yourself a good martini. Sure enough someone will come along, tap you on the shoulder and tell you no, no, that’s not the way to make a martini.

As I said, a lounge lizard joke. But nine year old Baptist kid me still thought it was funny, and I still do. You can alter the joke in many ways and still get the same punchline. Take your laptop computer with you out into the desert. If you get lost take it out and begin typing out a vigorous defense or brutal criticism of The Last Jedi. Sure enough someone will come along, tap you on the shoulder, and begin arguing with you about it.

Which brings me to the perfect margarita. For me that’s what I first heard was called a Godfather Margarita. I first tasted one years ago at a place in DC called Alero. It was Wonderful! From then on it was my go-to margarita. But all I knew about it from the menu was it had Amaretto in it.

For years off and on I’ve been trying to figure out how to make one at home, and failing miserably each time. Several weeks ago, at Bar Louie’s, on a hunch I asked the barmaid if she could make me a margarita but swap out Cointreau for Amaretto. She did…and that was it! Perfect! Good thing I was taking the light rail that day.

So I went back to work, fiddling with classic margarita recipes, and failing miserably. Nothing I did at home seemed to work. When I tried just swapping out the Cointreau for Amaretto they all tasted horrible.

Long story short, what I finally figured out is most bars don’t make you a classic margarita, which according to the Received Knowledge is just tequila, lime juice and either simple syrup or agave. They’re using sweet and sour mix instead because that’s what they have mixed up for making drinks. So I tried using sweet and sour sauce and it clicked. Finally. My perfect margarita.

Here it is:

2 parts tequila. I use Tres Generaciones blanco, but any good top shelf tequila will do. I am convinced now that the reason tequila has such a bad reputation in this country is Cuervo. No Steely Dan, the Cuervo Gold does not make this night a wonderful thing. Treat your fling a little better and they might come back for more.

1 part Amaretto. Note: Disaronno is NOT Amaretto. They seem to be really good and obtaining shelf space at the liquor store, but they don’t make Amaretto. Amaretto is made with almond infusion. They can’t even call it Amaretto on the label anymore, probably because some Italian rule says unless it’s made with almonds it can’t be called that. I use Lazzaroni, and drink that by itself on the rocks from time to time and it’s Very nice. Try a real Amaretto once and you’ll see the difference immediately. Way more flavorful.

1 1/2 parts sweet and sour sauce.

Ice.

Combine in shaker, shake well. Serve over ice.

Is this a strong drink? Yes it is. So…no driving afterward, please. Have one at home with a nice cheese plate.

And if enough people object that this is not the way to make a good margarita, I will definitely take the fixings with me when I go hiking in the desert.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Desert Hiking Safety Kit

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