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November 17th, 2022


When I was a kid, the comic books that attracted my attention mostly had science-fiction themes or they were humor titles. But I had to be careful. My bitter Baptist grandmother threw a lot of them out when I wasn’t there to protect them from her. She would say they weren’t fit for children, but I’m pretty sure it was I thought they were fun and the son of Bill Garrett wasn’t allowed fun. I had a bunch of Scrooge McDuck comics that would be collectors items today if she hadn’t put them in the trash. But then, so I’m told, a lot of kids of my generation have similar stories. Thank you and rot in Hell Dr. Wertham.

My only interest in anything Super was the TV Superman played by George Reeves, but the Superman comics of that time were hit and miss with me. I only have a few left from those years. Oddly, so it may seem, the early Batman comics struck me has having a kind of science-fiction element to them because that character had no super powers, but he had a lot of futuristic gadgets. Back then DC would publish Annuals, which were thicker reprints of much older stories, and that’s where I came to know that golden age Batman and Robin.

I had high hopes when I saw the first TV ads for the series by William Dozer. But it almost completely ruined the character for me. I realize it’s still enjoyed by a lot of people for it’s campiness but Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (who also did Action Philosophers) in The Comic Book History of Comics really hit it on the head in their chapter on Pop Art. In it they describe how Dozer, a TV producer was given the job of bringing the character to TV by the network. So he bought a few Batman comics and his initial conclusion after reading through them was that putting Batman on TV was nuts.

But then he had the idea of going so over the top with it, making it so square and so serious, that adults would find it amusing. And it was a hit. The network’s market research showed that it was a hit with small kids who took it seriously and loved the colorful POW ZING, and also with adults who thought it was hilarious comedy. But teenagers Hated it. Van Lente and Dunlavey suggest that it was because that age group realized their culture was being mocked by it.

That was me. But back then I stayed tuned for the gadgets and that cool Batmobile, and also watching some big name guest stars ham it up. But it quickly became tiresome and I stopped watching. Worse, by then the comics had become infected with camp too, and I stopped buying, except for my usual science-fiction titles. And Mad Magazine, which did a killer parody of the TV show. I still have that issue. Yeech!

Time passes…the universe expands…and none of the later Batman and Superman movies and cartoons did anything for me. I’m sorry, not even Chris Reeve’s Superman movies did either. I’d say he was the best of the lot, but I just could not get into the stories. And I began to realize that part of the problem with bringing those characters to life was they needed to be set in the timeframes they were created in, because they really didn’t make much sense in the here and now.

Then Batman The Animated Series came out, and I was wowed.

It was Miller’s Dark Knight (which I liked the first couple issues of and then hated the rest…don’t get me started on Frank Miller…) meets golden age Batman…and they set it in an art deco Gotham City that seemed as if it was still 1930s/40s but also today. The art direction was pitch perfect: it set the character squarely in both its time frame and ours, which I didn’t think was possible. But you can do things with animation you can’t, or can’t easily with live action. I still think that the Gotham City they created for that series was among its most stunning achievements. But the voice actors they got for it was another.

None of it would have worked without the great writing, and none of those stories would have worked without the voice artists. I had no idea that Mark Hamill was voicing the Joker, but the voice he gave that character was perfect. There’s a YouTube video of Hamill at a convention panel somewhere and he’s asked to give that Heath Ledger Joker line “Why so serious” but in His Joker voice. And he does and the audience roars with cheers and applause.

All of the voice actors who worked on that series were perfect. The characters weren’t campy clowns mocking the audience anymore, they were integral parts of the story that made the stories make sense.

And especially Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. The series rescued that character for me from Dozer and camp, and Miller and his bitter strongman fascism. He made the character larger than life, because those characters have to be that, and yet his Bruce Wayne/Batman was so very Very human. In it’s way as amazing an achievement as the art direction. It all worked, and Conroy’s voice acting was a big reason why the character worked, and why everything else worked.

And now he’s gone and I feel the loss of it, because he did so much for those of us who really wanted to like that character and his stories but just couldn’t for all the stuff the studios had done to him.

And now I understand more how Conroy could make that character come to life in a way nobody else could. This is from a Facebook gay superheroes page I follow (Gay League). Representation matters…not just to us, but to everyone. Because our stories resonate deeply in the human status. Everyone benefits by hearing our stories too.


I cried a little today when I heard Kevin Conroy had exited the stage for the final time. His death is the second time he’s elicited tears from me and I’m generally not much of a cryer, especially where celebrities are concerned.

A little background ( and by little, I mean a lot. Hang in there. It’s worth it):

I have to admit, I was never the biggest fan of Batman. I’d seen and loved Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989. But, even that was not enough to make me care for the character much.

Of course, I liked Batman as a mainstay of the Justice League. But his inclusion in their exploits (and reruns of the 60s era television series) was pretty much where my interest ended.

It was 1992 and I was visiting my aunt who had the television on for my younger cousins.

I had my head buried in a book, much like I always did, when I first heard the iconic theme song of “Batman, the Animated Series” and Kevin Conroy’s distinctive, “I am VENGEANCE! I am the NIGHT! I AM BATMAN!”

And. I. was. hooked!

Batman, the Animated Series was my new jam. I was obsessed with finding and watching every episode I could find from then on.

If I had to pick a favorite episode from the first season, undoubtedly it would be “Beware the Gray Ghost” featuring my other favorite Batman, Adam West, as the titular Gray Ghost – Gotham’s first crime fighting vigilante in the continuity of the show.

Conroy would go on to portray the DCAU Batman for over two decades in “Superman Adventures”, “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” as well as many other projects featuring the character over the years.

I truly hate when fans claim a character in this way. But, in this case it must be said: Kevin Conroy was MY Batman. When I think of the Dark Knight Detective, I think of Conroy. Every time without fail. All other Batmen are measured by his standard.

It’s always his voice I hear in my head when I read the comics. Kevin Conroy (and Bruce Timm, natch) made me like Batman way more than I ever would have otherwise.

The stories he starred in made me actually care about this privileged orphan boy millionaire who had a fetish for dressing in a leather bat suit and beating people up accompanied by a pre-teen boy wearing little more than a domino mask and a cape, little green undies and elf shoes (okay, when they finally introduced Robin in the show, he was wearing pants and boots, but you get the idea).

When Conroy was briefly featured in the Episode 2 of the WB’s live action Arrowverse “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event as Bruce Wayne, I cheered!
This was *the* man!

The only actor I feel who ever brought true depth to the character was reprising his role -LIVE ACTION- even if only for a single scene and I. Was. There. For. It.

I never knew until recently why he resonated so much with me, why – out of dozens of portrayals over the years, some by the biggest, most sought after actors of their time – Kevin Conroy’s Batman was the only one who ever caught my interest.

And here, those who have followed from the beginning of this screed will be happy to learn, is where my first set of Conroy inspired tears were made manifest.
Earlier this year, shortly after Kevin Conroy came out publicly as a gay man in his 60s, DC Comics published their 2022 Pride Issue which featured a number of Queer characters in their stable.

I have mixed feelings about those sort of things because on the one hand I am very wary of non-Queer people who profitize and corporatize Queerness into a commodity.

But on the other hand, I understand how vitally important representation in such things can be for young Queer people grasping for something – anything – which make them feel less an outcast, less a misfit, more accepted for who they are and more loved by those around them.

I usually hold my nose and buy the Pride issues anyway despite their exorbitant pricing and dubious quality as a “special edition” (whatever that is) because I know DC will only keep making Queer interest material so long as it sells.

This time around, the yearly Pride issue contained a story about a hero we hadn’t heard from in a completely Queer context before.

Kevin Conroy – MY Batman – had written “Finding Batman”, a biographical comic at the end of the issue exploring the trials and tribulations of coming of age during the height of the AIDS epidemic, of being a closeted actor in an environment which was completely unforgiving to gay actors, of the many times someone casually called him “faggot” as if that were acceptable.

He spoke about living a double life, being one thing in private and another in public, hiding who he truly was to protect himself while watching practically his whole generation of gay men succumb to AIDS while the world just…watched.

It was a story of growing up Roman Catholic while watching his world fall apart around him. It was a story of a young man whose parents divorced as his father succumbed to alcoholism and eventually death.

It was a story of watching helpless as his brother was taken away inch by inch by schizophrenia at the same time friends and colleagues were wasting away in hospitals dying of a disease no one wanted to talk about.

It was a story of survival and a story of triumph.

Finally, the masked cowl could come off and he could be seen as who he really was: a phenomenal actor who inspired an entire generation of comic and animation fans-who, as it happened, was also a gay man. Finally, he could openly embrace who he was, his own story fully without fear.

Suddenly, this man who had always played a role in both his personal and professional lives could take off that mask and be who he wanted and needed to be.

As the short narrative drawn by the excellent J. Bone came to a close, I shed a few bittersweet tears as I thought about my own journey, my own “secret identity”, my own experience with AIDS both as a gay man and a person living with HIV.

Suddenly, I got it. I knew why Conroy’s portrayal resonated so perfectly for me when Hollywood heartthrobs the like of George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Bruce Willis, Christian Bale and Robert Pattenson looked good in the suit but ultimately fell short.

In fact, I feel like all of them were adept at playing either Bruce Wayne or Batman consistently but couldn’t quite nail the other. But, not Kevin Conroy. He could do both flawlessly and made it seem effortless.

I know what you’re thinking, “We get it. It’s because he’s gay and you’re gay and blah blah…”

Who TF is telling this story anyhow?

Yes, acknowledging my people for their achievements is important. The fact he’s a gay man is a definite plus. But, it goes far deeper than that.

I’m a gay man, yes. But before I even knew what that meant, I was a comic book nerd and like him or not, like all comic book nerds, I KNEW Batman!
? ??

Conroy may not have had washboard abs or bulging biceps to fill out the leather and latex outfits. But, he did have authenticity of character. He practically was Batman in a way none of the other hunky hunks who played the role could even approach in their clumsy heteronormativity.

Conroy could convincingly play a man with a double life because he had lived a double life most of his life.

He could play a man driven by tragedy and trauma because he *had* experienced loss, tragedy and trauma on an almost daily basis.

He could play a successful man who was awash with guilt and anger because he had survived while his friends and family were not so lucky.

He was believable because that imaginary mask was a reality for him.

As I write this, I’m streaming “Batman: The Animated Series” on HBO MAX and remembering all the times as a young gay man I lost myself in an episode of the series.

As a few more tears escape the near watertight edges of my eyes, I want to thank Kevin Conroy for all the times he was there for me and other kids both Queer and straight when we didn’t have anywhere else to go.

For some of us, no doubt, Batman saved us from our own traumas, our own trials and tribulations, our own masks and double lives and Kevin Conroy was the vessel through which he acted.

I can think of few stories more inspiring than knowing Kevin Conroy-the best, the ONLY Batman – got to take off his mask and be his authentic self after years of hiding his trauma from the world and living a double life for the benefit of his public life and his career. Would that we all could come to terms with ourselves so completely.

I only wish he’d been able to enjoy it longer.

Rest well, old friend.

You are missed.

But never, ever forgotten.

-F. Daniel Kent


by Bruce | Link | React!

August 24th, 2022

Walking Through Hell To Get To Heaven

I still need to buy frames for these.

23 years and a few weeks working for the Space Telescope Science Institute, a year and a few weeks as a contractor, 22 and a couple months as staff, I managed to get a few awards and recognitions for the work I did. Plus some photos with the astronauts. At the moment I’m not sure I have enough space on my den wall for all this. But I will make some if I have to. Maybe take down the dry board and the cork board and put them on the back of the door to my den.

The little DayTimer page there at the bottom is where it all starts. Where everything that was wondrous and wonderful began. Although I would have told you I was doing pretty good already then. No love life, I would never have a love life, but I had work that I thoroughly enjoyed and which made me a good living. I had an apartment of my own. I was able to buy a new car. I was living the life. Mostly. Somewhat. I don’t think Keith had dumped me just yet.

When I became a contract programmer I started using the 24 hour day DayTimer pages as a work diary. The page in this photograph is Monday November 16, 1998…the day my life changed. That was when a Maxim Group recruiter named Rodney cold called me at the contract I was working, and asks if I was interested in some part time side work for the place that operated the Hubble Space Telescope. There in the section for Phone Calls is the number he gave me to call Lee Hurt at the Space Telescope Science Institute. I see that I worked until 6PM that day, with a half hour break for lunch at 12:30.

Rodnay didn’t have to ask me if I wanted that work twice, and would not have even had I not been upset that the work I was doing was not the work I was promised.

I’d been told I would be creating a system to migrate all the local databases of the regional insurance companies that the big one I would be working for had gobbled up into the big one’s master database. It sounded great. But when I got there I found out that system had already been written and put into production and I would just be doing some bug fixing and maintenance.

The guy who had written it had converted to a very conservative form of Mennonite and was renouncing the use of computer technology. He was only staying on long enough to hand the system over to me. When I took a look at the code I was horrified.

It was written in Visual Basic. Okay…I was one of Maxim’s VB experts…I actually taught classes in it for them by then. No problem right? Well…Yeah…this guy had written the backend engine in a very primordial form of Basic…which VB would allow but….why would you? It was awful. His code was full of GOTOs and GOSUBs and the variables were all global and yes, mostly declared at first use, which sadly at the time VB would allow unless you put “Option Explicit” at the beginning of your code. He used friggin’ Numbers for the labels his GOTOs and GOSUBs were supposed to go…I guess to make it look like the Basic of old. His variables were weirdly named. It was excruciatingly difficult to read, let alone follow the program flow.

The only thing I can think is VB was mandated by corporate, and like a lot of degreed programmers he had no respect for what Microsoft had done with it and very little grasp of how to program in it other than everything he’d heard from CompSci professors who hated it. Microsoft gave the language structure and scoping since DOS days. I hadn’t needed to deal with line numbers since the Commodore C64 I started with. I had subroutines and functions (MS Basic had both). I could scope variables tightly and pass them either by value or by reference…although under the hood it was always by reference…when you passed by value a temporary variable was created and the reference to that was passed. It just acted like you were passing by value. And you didn’t have pointers, you had pointers to a descriptor which had the actual pointer in it. You needed to know that distinction if you were doing mixed language programming and needed to throw a pointer somewhere.

The only fly in the ointment was error handling, because then it was On Error Goto, which everyone hated until Dot Net came along and gave us Try-Catch blocks. But you could finesse it with a centralized error handler and some fancy resume 0 resume next footwork.

Anyway…I was appalled at what I saw in there and was immediately primed to get the hell out. The codebase was a rat’s nest. Maintaining it would be a nightmare. Everything I had written up to that point had, in some sense, User Interface stuff, Processing stuff, and Backend stuff, as isolated as I could make them. Even before I heard the term three tier programming and saw it modeled. I considered it self defense. What I saw had everything mushed together in five huge Dot BAS files that had no logical rhyme or reason to them. It was the worst Basic code I’d ever laid eyes on, and by that time in my career I’d seen some whoppers.

Then Rodney called. It was like the gods saw my anguish and decided to cut me a break. He gave me the number of Lee Hurt at STScI and I called and it turned out to be full time work and I begged Maxim to let me out of the contract I was working and go over there. I’m not doing anything creative here I cried. I’m being asked to maintain code I don’t even want to touch without rubber gloves. Every time I open one of those Dot BAS files I feel like I’m walking into the Addams Family house. Get Me That Space Telescope Job!!!!

When the contract boss, who was listening to that conversation just outside the conference room door where I’d gone for privacy, heard all that he gave me the boot anyway and I was free to go.

So I interviewed with Lee Hurt, and then her supervisor at the time, Mark Kyprianou. And I was in. Did my first work there Thanksgiving week. A little over a year later they asked me to come on board as staff and for the next 22 years and 2 months I made the Institute and the Hopkins campus home. It was like the myths say about having to walk through Hell before you get to Heaven.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

July 22nd, 2022

20 Years…Well…Actually 23…

Finally! My 20 Year Service Award came. They FedEx-ed it to me a few days ago. I was sincerely afraid I would never get it because it is the kind of thing that routinely falls through the bureaucratic cracks at other workplaces. But they remembered me…and I have to assume everyone else that didn’t get theirs in 2020 because of the COVID lockdowns. 2020 was when I hit the twenty year mark.

I’ve never worked so long anywhere else. Partly that’s because gay guys tend to get the pink triangle…I mean Slip…once management figures out why you’re expressing an insufficient interest in the opposite sex. But also because who in their right mind walks away from a job like this one? For twenty-three years I worked somewhere they harvested light from near the dawn of time and gave it to astronomers, physicists, and other researchers to study. We were Space Explorers. And I was part of that team. Not an astronomer, not a physicist, simply a computer systems engineer who helped them. But I was part of it. I helped test the Mission Operations Center systems. I conducted tests across the deep space network. Just basic end to end testing, and only for a short period before the Goddard flight engineers took over, but I spoke instructions over the Deep Space Network. I had to learn how to use the systems in order to test them, and then for several years prior to launch I tested them. I managed the telemetry stream from the initial cryovac tests, first from Goddard and then the big full up OTIS test in Houston. I maintained the telemetry streams from all those tests and cataloged the data so other engineers could use it to develop the flight systems. I helped with the playbacks. I did performance testing on the final system designs. I watched a spacecraft being born and speaking its first words. I did that. I was a Space Explorer.

It’s still so…amazing to look back at what my life eventually became, against all odds and expectations.

So now I have a complete set of service awards to hang on my den wall. I have 5, 10 and 15 year awards and they are all like this one except they’re beautiful Hubble photos. For the twenty I asked for this artist’s rendering of JWST because I knew I would be retiring after launch and I wanted the set to end on the project I was working on when I retired.

23 years I worked there…almost half my working life. It’s been amazing. I was the kid without a dad, living with his mom on the other side of the tracks. But the techno geeks and freaks in the nice neighborhoods on the other side recognized a member of the tribe in me, and kept encouraging me to go for it when I had my doubts. We are still a tribe.

Somehow I need to rearrange the STScI memorabilia on my den wall to accommodate all four of these. It’s do-able if I remove the shrine to my three strikes. Maybe I should do that. Do I really need that shrine in my den? Maybe. That’s also a part of my life, if not the best one. What do You think, LonerNoMore?

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

June 8th, 2022

Gun Owners: We Are Not All Of Us Afraid For Our Masculinity, Or Driven By Bloodlust

…and those of us that aren’t anyway, are reachable and open to ways and means of getting these mass shootings under control, and especially away from our schools. But there are a lot of stereotypes getting in the way of having that conversation, and in the interest of clarity and hopefully a little progress, let me add a note about what motivates some of us to own, and enjoy shooting guns.

A friend on Facebook recently asked us what sort of fear we have that compels us to own a deadly weapon, and what is its basis.  But it’s not always fear that brings the gun into your life, and it’s not always a masculinity crutch. I’m a gay man and I made my peace with masculinity issues long ago. A constant low level of fear isn’t all that surprising given the state of the world and the society we live in. Some of us were bullied growing up. You read the newspapers and watch TV and you see violent crime happening all the time. When the fear of it gets preoccupying or paralyzing you should probably get some therapy. The well adjusted among us watch the neighborhood, stay aware of our surroundings when out and about, look out for our neighbors, keep the doors locked, and maybe have an alarm system installed. Some of us also keep guns, as opposed to katanas or pit bulls. We do not all of us live in fear, just in a world where you need to be careful and aware.

But…bear with me now…there’s another, atavistic fascination that attracts some people to guns, that isn’t about bloodshed or killing anything. It is, I think, a uniquely human attraction, and one that can also be very dangerous in a person without a strong moral sense, plus a lot of common sense about safety.


I was a kid who loved thunderstorms, the stronger the better. I would turn off the lights in my bedroom and throw open the blinds and watch raptly. It drove my mother crazy, she hated thunderstorms. We would both go around the apartment and unplug things when a bad storm was coming (I still do this). But then I would go watch. I loved the fireworks displays on the 4th, setting them off with my friends and their families behind the apartments where we lived, and I wondered why we couldn’t do that all year. When friends and I went camping, I was often the one who took charge of the campfire, getting it going, feeding it, and meticulously putting it out. I have a friend who also loves that duty and that also, unsurprisingly, is a fellow gun owner. The thrill wasn’t merely in making fire, but being its master. Since I was a kid watching the first astronauts going into orbit, I’ve always envied their view from space, but also that amazing ride to it on fire. There’s mastery. That humans can do that with fire is just amazing.

So when I was a young man, and a friend back from a tour of duty in the marines invited me to come shooting with him, and he let me try his Ruger Mk1, I think I was hooked at the first shot. Hitting the target wasn’t even really the point, more than it was proof that I had that powerful fire there right in my hands, you could feel it in the recoil, so powerful it would blast me apart if it wasn’t safely contained and controlled, under my command. With every shot in the black I was its master. 

Fire. A powerful force. It can burn down forests, wipe out entire neighborhoods. It can heat our homes and cook our food. It can bring down buildings. It can take us to space. To master it is a thrill, but it is dangerous when uncontrolled. And so are guns. They both need to be well regulated. Also some people.

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 9th, 2022

I Actually Did Have An Amazing Life

Loveless though it was…

I’m still really proud of the Rube Goldberg contraption I made out of a Raytheon Eclipse CECIL script, a DOS batch program, sftp, a bash shell script, a cron job, and three different computers to let me get email notifications whenever we lost the telemetry link to Goddard because I was the only one maintaining that link and Goddard would not allow email (completely understandable) on the JLAB machine we were using.

Six years ago I shared this award with two of my co-workers in the Integration and Test branch.


by Bruce | Link | React!

February 5th, 2022

And Just What Did You Think Retirement Was Going To Be Like…?

The struggle today of setting up…actually fixing up and making it workable again…a local apache web server on the art room computer, so I can test fixes to my website before pushing them up to my host, is basically telling me that I will never escape what I know about IT, not even in retirement. 

I need to do this because I’m going to make a bunch of fixes to the file structure of the website that I’ve been putting off for years. Mostly because I want to get back into the political cartoons, and maybe work my way back up to doing a weekly one again once I have the time for it. But No Kidding, it was like putting in a full day at work in deep focus on a problem, actually a series of problems, that I knew once I made a breakthrough the rest of it would be simple to fix. And it was. But lord have mercy my brain hurts now, and my heart has been telling me for months I can’t drink like I used to, or take a cigar walk and claw my way out of that deep focus.

But I got it working, so there’s that. Not the WordPress part…that would require setting up a MySQL server, and getting php running. Both things I can do and have done at work. But…you know…work. I’m supposed to be retiring. And anyway that’s not what I need to test here. I’m just going to be moving around a bunch of files, mostly cartoon files, and I need to make sure I’m not breaking any links. Currently those files scattered hither and yon because I started my website twenty years ago without a good idea of what I wanted it to be, and I need to get it better organized.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 4th, 2021

Hello Again!

Back at ‘cha…

by Bruce | Link | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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 | React!

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