Bruce Garrett Cartoon
The Cartoon Gallery

A Coming Out Story
A Coming Out Story

My Photo Galleries
New and Improved!

Past Web Logs
The Story So Far archives

My Amazon.Com Wish List

My Myspace Profile

Bruce Garrett's Profile
Bruce Garrett's Facebook profile


Blogs I Read!
Alicublog

Wayne Besen

Box Turtle Bulletin

Daily Kos

Mike Daisy's Blog

The Disney Blog

Disney Gossip

Brad DeLong

Dispatches From The Culture Wars

Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

Envisioning The American Dream

Eschaton

Ex-Gay Watch

Hullabaloo

Joe. My. God

Made In Brazil

Peterson Toscano

Progress City USA

Slacktivist

Slacktiverse

SLOG

Fear the wrath of Sparky!

Truth Wins Out Blog

Wil Wheaton



Gone But Not Forgotten

The Rittenhouse Review

Steve Gilliard's News Blog

Steve Gilliard's Blogspot Site



Great Cartoon Sites!

Howard Cruse Central

Tripping Over You
Tripping Over You

XKCD

Scandinavia And The World

Dope Rider

The World Of Kirk Anderson

Ann Telnaes' Cartoon Site

Ted Rall

Bors Blog

John K

Penny Arcade

Friendly Hostility

Downstairs Apartment




Other News & Commentary

Amtrak In The Heartland

Corridor Capital

Maryland Weather Blog

Foot's Forecast

All Facts & Opinions

Baltimore Crime

Cursor

HinesSight

Page One Q
(GLBT News)


Michelangelo Signorile

The Smirking Chimp

Talking Points Memo

Truth Wins Out

The Raw Story

Slashdot




International News & Views

BBC

NIS News Bulletin (Dutch)

Mexico Daily

The Local (Sweden)




News & Views from Germany

Spiegel Online

The Local

Deutsche Welle

Young Germany




Fun Stuff

It's not news. It's FARK

Plan 59

Pleasant Family Shopping

Discount Stores of the 60s

Retrospace

Photos of the Forgotten

Boom-Pop!

Comics With Problems

HMK Mystery Streams




Mercedes Love!

Mercedes-Benz USA

Mercedes-Benz TV

Mercedes-Benz Owners Club of America

MBCA - Greater Washington Section

BenzInsider

Mercedes-Benz Blog

BenzWorld Forum

April 23rd, 2018

When Cameras Brutalize Film

I use stainless steel developing tanks and wire reels to develop film. I’ve been hooked on them since I was a teenager, probably for the same reason I get hooked on a lot of things that aren’t made of cheap plastic. I like having solid, reliable, built to last things in my life. But there is a lot of interest in the plastic tanks and reels, largely because many of those systems claim to be self loading.

People complain the stainless wire reels are too hard to load without the film jumping over a track and ruining the negatives. I’ve never had that problem, and always assumed people were just doing it wrong. Keep a steady tension on the film and keep it aligned with the reel as you’re loading it and it always works. Plus, if you always shoot the full 36 exposure rolls there is a simple check to see if you’ve jumped a track: if you get to the end of the roll before you get to the end of the reel you need to back up and find where it jumped.

Granted all this is a bit hard at first in pitch darkness. When I was a teen I sacrificed a roll of cheap B&W film so I could practice loading the reels in daylight, until I could do it right every time with my eyes closed. Oddly, sometimes I still close my eyes in the darkroom, pointless though that is.

I’ve never had a problem with this…until recently. And now I think I understand better what’s going on. See…I’ve been a Canon camera kid since I was a teenage boy with his first F1 he worked all summer flipping burgers to buy. And the take up spindle in Canon cameras rolls the film With the natural film curl. My first 35mm SLR, the Petri FT, took up the film Against the curl, and so did the Maranda Sensorex I traded up for. They did that allegedly to keep the film perfectly flat against the shutter frame. Canon, more reasonably, just made the pressure plate bigger. Over the years I’d forgotten how much easier the Canon made loading film onto those wire reels because the film wasn’t all kinked out of shape by the camera.

But now I’ve added two Nikon SLRs to my camera arsenal: a classic F with both standard and Photomic Ftn metering viewfinders, and an F2, with the first generation Photomic head which I am still scouting standard finders for. And I am rediscovering how difficult it is to load the wire frames after those cameras have had their way with a roll of film. I shot a roll with the F last Saturday morning and that afternoon it was a pain getting it on the reel. It happened to be the first one going into the tank and I fussed with it for minutes until I finally got it on. Then came the others from the Canon F1N and they went on without any complaining, and that made me take notice of the difference and I remembered.

Back in the day I was a pretty fierce Nikon critic, and it was this sort of thing that gave me the bad attitude. Don’t even get me started. But time brings perspective and I can appreciate what they did get right, even if what they relentlessly got wrong still irritates. I work with them now, in addition to my Canon F series SLRs, because of a thing I suspect only the old fully mechanical cameras have…a kind of human/machine rapport that can work with you artistically, depending on what you are reaching for.

The analogy I make is to how some musicians have many instruments for playing different kinds of music. It’s more than tonality, it’s how the feel of the instrument helps the artist in the expression of the work. That may sound wonky to some but I’ll bet every guitarist reading this knows what I’m talking about. What I discovered some years ago, when I examined the Nikon F2 I eventually bought in a camera store in Topeka Kansas, is that cameras can give you that feel across the human/machine boundary that helps the work too. I’d never really considered that before in my cameras, though I’d long known about it with my brushes and pens. I’d been very particular about those since I was in my single digits.

So I’ve made my peace…kind of…with Nikon cameras. And actually the Leica’s take up spool does the same damn thing to the film, but I forgive it because the Leica engineers got Everything else exactly right. That little rangefinder blows both the Canons and the Nikons away.

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 15th, 2018

Why I Never Get Any Work Done Outside

I keep waiting for spring to happen here in Maryland, and I keep forgetting that central Maryland is one of those places where the weather gets squirrely this time of year. One minute it’s finally spring, the next it’s back to flannel shirt weather again. Yesterday it was in the 80s here in Charm City. Right now as I type this it’s cool in that bone chillingly humid way the mid Atlantic just loves to dish out. Humidity is like the secret sauce of miserable in these parts, though I can hear southerners laughing at me as I type this.

I was going to get some outdoor work done this weekend in preparation for spring eventually getting here, or maybe just a dash straight into summer. I never feel like I’m giving my little Baltimore rowhouse enough love. I put on new steel entry doors in the kitchen and basement. The original wood doors were still there and looking their age. I got a nice full length glass panel door with blinds strung between the glass panels for the kitchen entry, and now I’m getting use to having that extra sunlight coming in the kitchen, plus being able to enter and leave by the back door without having to fuss with it jamming in the frame all the time. Somehow when you make improvements like that it motivates you to pretty up the surroundings.

I had a list of things I planned to do. Yesterday was going to be prepping the backyard for spring flower planting and putting out the solar lights. But then I decided wanted to listen streaming music from Radio Paradise while I worked. Then I looked at where I have the Roku box mounted by the TV and saw the problem I’d been putting off fixing with the coax running to the TV antenna I have mounted to one of the front window panels. So I decided to fix that. Plus, a friend gave me his old Blu-Ray player and I decided to fix the issue with the cabling of that to the TV that I’d been putting off, while I was fixing the other problem. I was using an s-video to RCA cable on the DVD player but the Blu-Ray player didn’t have the s-video socket. It did have the usual RCA jacks though. So I went down to the basement to dig through my storage container full of cables to see if I had another good set of those, plus a coax extender for the TV antenna. I had neither. So I got in the car and drove to one of the big box hardware stores in Cockeysville to get some.

Why am I using RCA connectors on a Blu-Ray player…I hear you asking. Because my TV set is an old Sony Trinitron and I just don’t watch enough TV anymore to justify buying one of the new flat panel HD ones just for HD video. Local broadcast TV is really all I need. But the Blu-Ray player plays one of my Outer Limits season 1 DVDs that the DVD player wouldn’t, so there’s that.

When I got back from the big box and finally got my cables in order I tried to get the Roku tuned to Radio Paradise (remember, this is what started it) and discovered I was getting no video signal out of the Roku. I spent a couple hours fussing with it and finally did a hard reset, which meant I had to go log on to the Roku website, dig up my Roku account password, and mate the box to the account again. My crappy Verizon DSL bandwidth made that process drag out horribly. But I finally got it all done and in total getting distracted by the notion that listening to music while I worked would be nice only took about four and a half ours out of my day. By then I was ready for an afternoon nap. I’m old. But I did at least get a first round of cleaning the backyard deck done. That deck is going to need more TLC though before it’s ready for spring and the precious few weeks I can lounge out on it without getting eaten by mosquitoes. They say that mosquitoes aren’t very strong flyers so I think I might invest in an oscillating fan for the deck this year, as an alternative to festooning it with mosquito coil pots. I also got a bunch of indoor work done, but alas nothing on the drafting table.

I was going to make it up today with a burst of work in the front yard. I need to take the pressure washer to the walkway, weed whack the little amount of actual grass I have out there (it’s a narrow noodle of property I live on) trim the edges and get the flower pots ready for planting. But then this happened…

How can I possibly disturb this? Cats have this preternatural ability to curl themselves up into forms that would be absolutely inhuman to disturb. Plus, it’s become really chilly outside and she might want to go into that shelter I made for her and she won’t if I scare her off with the weed whacker and the pressure washer. So I did more yard work out back. Basically everything I was going to do yesterday until I got distracted by wanting to listen to music.

So things do eventually get done around here. Just not in the order I ever plan for it.

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 11th, 2018

City Life

Baltimore used to be a lot smaller than it is now. The little neighborhood I live in now was once a collection of small villages nestled outside the city. Hampden, Medfield, the old mills gathered by the Jones Falls river that sprang forth in what was once a settlement delightfully named Happen Chance. Eventually the city extended its borders outward and engulfed them, but the history of this place is visible to anyone with an eye to see and a mind that asks questions. Why does this street curve and bend like it does on its way down to the river? What are these old stone houses in the middle of the block? It should embarrass me that I haven’t explored more of my walking neighborhood than I have. But it takes a boy raised in the suburbs a while to suss out where it’s safe to walk alone in the city, and when.

This afternoon after work I decided to stroll down to the light rail station. But I was divided about whether or not I wanted to actually go anywhere out to the suburbs. It was coming home late after margaritas at Texas Roadhouse or Bar Louie’s I wasn’t interested in, though I like the food and drinks at both places. I took an aimless walk down streets I’d never been down before, that I’d been curious about for quite some time now. And I was rewarded.

There was an old narrow street I’d gazed down many times before while walking back from a night on The Avenue, that went straight down the long grade from Falls Road toward the river. I took a detour and walked its length for the first time, noting the randomness of the houses there. Some were stand alone homes on very narrow plots of land, next to which were one or more blocks of rowhouses. There was a low stone wall embracing a stone drainage gutter that went down into some underground darkness. I wondered if it connected to an original brick and stone drainage tunnel from back before the city borders changed. I turned this and that corner, wandering a section of the neighborhood I’d never walked in before. You could almost point to each block and tell when the houses on it were built. Some looked recent, some like they’d been there since the mills were alive and full of workers making cotton duck for the shipbuilders in Fells Point.

Up ahead of me I saw a block of new construction, new “luxury” townhomes advertised at a starting price of just  under 400k, and took another detour to examine them. I suspect nobody actually gets the just under 400k price once amenities are added on. They are four floors with roof decks and garages in that ugly new style that festoons the front with a confusing collage of different treatments to hide the fact they’re just little boxes. I wondered what the people buying them did for a living to be able to afford the mortgages. Some might say they’re out of place in this old working class Baltimore neighborhood, and yet they aren’t: the neighborhood like a lot of old city neighborhoods is an aggregate of whatever suited the times things were built in. Its history in row after row after Baltimore row with the pages all shuffled randomly. I could turn my head slightly and see a house that was probably built in the 1910s side by side with a 1940s one. A man and his son passed by gazing at the news houses in wonder, the boy telling his dad that he’d been told those houses went for a thousand a month. Oh no dear, at those prices the mortgages are likely to be several thousand a month. 

I took another detour, down another old narrow street that looked like it went all the way down to the river. Along the way I chanced on a restaurant and bar I’d gone looking for when I saw a random flyer for it posted somewhere on The Avenue, but couldn’t find because as it turned out I’d got the street number wrong. It was Chuck’s Trading Post, and the flyer said they served breakfast and lunch, and had a full service bar. The great thing about living here are all the local eating and watering spots and none of it is corporate franchise chain blah blah blah. Well…we do have Starbucks. But then, who doesn’t?

Chuck’s was located in an old building that once served as the local general store it seemed. The entire street was rich with the visible history of the place. Not too much further down was the old Clipper Mill and the Union Mill…now housing upscale industrial style apartments and a couple Very upscale restaurants and coffee shops. Gentrification. And yet Chuck’s immediately struck me as warm and welcoming, despite the vaguely city trendy feel to the inside.

I walked up to the front door just to take a peek inside. I wasn’t interested in coming in at that moment, I was in an exploration mindset. But the people inside immediately began motioning me in. They may have thought I was apprehensive about the two large dogs because when I opened the door the first thing I heard was “They’re friendly”. But so were the humans…

…and for the next hour or so I had a wonderful time chatting away at the bar with the people inside and the young woman working the kitchen behind the bar. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home in a spot than I did there. You really felt the energy in the place and its people, and yet they and their shop were thoroughly Baltimore and Hampden and unpretentious.

This is what I am coming to absolutely love about city life here in Baltimore. Out of nowhere you find these things and they are just amazing. I’m getting spoiled to it. I may never eat at a chain restaurant again.

Afterward I took another wander down to the road by the river. Here interstate 83 runs elevated along and over the Jones Falls river. I found more local camera candy and at some point when the weather gets warmed I Have to take a camera stroll down those roads. Then back to Casa del Garrett. All within walking distance. I stumbled into an amazingly nice place to live 18 years ago and I’m still discovering how amazing.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 3rd, 2018

Moving On…Letting Go…

When it began to look like I could never get the watch I’d worn all the way back to grade school fixed and ticking again…probably because the high end watch shops really don’t want to bother with the mass market watches the hoi polloi used to wear…I reluctantly began looking for a new one.

This…go ahead and laugh…was very difficult. Oh yes…at different points in my life I’ve worn other watches, the most recent of those being a “skeleton” watch I bought online, only to discover when I got it that it was actually very hard to read: unlike in the catalogue photograph, the small blue tinted hour and minute hands just get lost in the background of the watch gears. Lately I’ve been wearing a Soviet Tank Commander’s watch I bought at a flea market ages ago from a gentleman who’d apparently fled the country with a bunch of watches. But that grade school wristwatch, an inexpensive Kingsmark, had a long history with me…more even than my Canon F1 and me…and I get attached to things that have traveled the earth with me for most of my life. But the Kingsmark came back from the last watch repair shop in even worse condition than when it went in, even allowing for the fact that the repairman actually did fix the time setting mechanism. It was like losing a long time friend. 

But I started looking. Is this how people feel when a long term relationship fails and they have to start dating again I wondered. The other two watches I had were okay, but neither one was Mr Right. I started with various Google image searches because what was important to me was the face. Some clock faces are too piss elegant for me, some way too artsy, some just off putting for reasons I can’t explain. When I saw a likely candidate I looked to see if it was a mechanical wind it up watch. That was equally important.

The only electronic watch I ever desired was the Pulsar [Edit…no the Accutron] way back when. But that watch was, of course, way beyond the means of young adult, let alone teenage me, even if the nerd in me thought its mechanism was so very cool. When the first digital display watches came out I bought one because I am of the techno geek tribe and I just had to have one. And it was kinda cool to have that empty black glass on my wrist that magically told me the time when I pressed a button. I even had a Casio calculator watch at one point. But they didn’t last. Setting the date on them at the start of a new month was an even more irritating procedure than setting it on a mechanical watch. And something about that nightly ritual of winding the Kingsmark before going to bed felt right deep down inside. I am not a daily ritual kinda guy by any means…which is why gym memberships never worked for me. But the nightly watch winding ritual feels grounding somehow.

So it had to be a wind up watch, and preferably not a self winding one either. A self winding watch just strikes me somehow as a lazy person’s thing, or something for people who can’t be bothered with the humdrum of life. Some years ago wandering through the web I chanced on a place selling on of those watch stands for self winding watches that slowly rotate and wind the self winding watch for you. It reminded me of an old family joke about one particularly lazy relative whose self winding watch was always stopping.

Eventually Google showed me one that seemed likely. It was a German make and had an odd layout with the minutes predominant and the hours subdued, which immediately attracted my attention. I’d never seen a design like it before and yet it seemed so right. When I read a watch most of the time I’m not wondering what the hour is but the part of the hour it is. Time and I have a tenuous relationship…just ask any of my managers at work. When I’m paying attention to time at all it’s the minutes that matter to me. How many minutes until that 2 o’clock meeting. The light rail comes every 20 minutes…is now a good time to catch one? Is it time to take the french fries out of the deep fryer? There’s a reason why the minute hand is bigger than the hour hand. This watch took that to the next logical step. There was no date window in it, another plus. The Kingsmark had a day window and if you’ve ever had to fuss with one of those on a mechanical watch you know why I just stopped setting mine and ignored what it was telling me. Comrade Soviet Watch also had one of those. I’d rather a watch not have that. And there was something non-verbal about the artwork, the beauty of the face, that just appealed to me.

So I did a little more digging. It was a Laco…a German make. I discovered that what I was looking at was a replica of ones the same company started making in 1925 for the German air force…a pilot’s watch. The company sold several variants of the watch at different price points. The least expensive was, of course, the one with the quartz movement. But they also sold several all mechanical versions. I immediately gravitated to the one that was made in a “distressed” finish to appear vintage…only to discover that one was 2300 bucks. Not nearly as bad as a Rolex I suppose, but still a bit too pricey. I could afford it, but I couldn’t justify the additional cost just for the vintage appearance. And seriously that was a thousand bucks over the same exact model with the German innards. Plus…there was the association, delicately omitted from the sales pitch. 

I had to give it some thought. Actually I had to give the entire line of watches some thought. That “vintage” aged watch looked absolutely lovely…but it was probably worn by pilots bombing the hell out of Poland, France and Britain. Once a friend of a friend I was driving to our weekly happy hour referred to my ‘C’ class as a Hitler Mobile and I almost told him to get out and walk. But that was more about the German someone I’d crushed on madly back in high school who I’d found again after years of searching for him, and probably I over reacted. German cameras, German lenses, beautiful mahogany German cabinet Hi Fi-stereo equipment, German automobiles…back in the 60s and 70s you knew they were high quality items. To buy something specifically for its association with the German air force in WWII seemed morally wrong. But I wasn’t buying it for that. Still…who buys a watch specifically aged to look like it was worn by the luftwaffe? So…a thousand bucks just to make it look vintage, plus the fact that it’s vintage fascist. Even More reason to give it a pass. But I gave it one more longing look anyway as I clicked off it. 

So…back to the base model. Do I spend 1300 bucks for the 100 percent German one or just less than 500 for the visibly identical model made with Japanese made mechanics (über alles!)? But the Japanese innards were self winding, which I didn’t want because it just strikes me as laziness. Then I saw that it could also be hand wound, though I wondered if doing that at the end of every day might not lead to over tightening the mainspring since it’s theoretically also winding itself throughout the day as I’m wearing it. But was just under 500 bucks and as I said, I’m at a stage in my life where frugality is becoming more important.

But also, I am not interested in a watch as a status symbol either. I needed a friend, not a trophy. So I decided to go with one made in Germany, from Japanese gears. If they make their watch parts in Japan like they make their automobiles and cameras I reckon we should walk together for a long time.

I’ve put the watch I wore in grade school away. It’s broken again…I’m pretty sure the last guy who worked on it damaged it, even though he did repair the broken time set mechanism. But setting its time was noticeably less smooth, almost as if the mechanism had grit in it now, and I wondered if he’d done something to further damage the timekeeping mechanism which was what he finally said he couldn’t repair. Shaking it to get it to tick caused it to run for almost a day, but when I wound it again it simply refused to tick at all no matter which way I shook it, and tapping it against my hand caused the second hand to come right off. I was heartbroken, but truth be told it also felt like something telling me to move on.

I like having solid things in my life, and even when I was living a severely low budget life I bought things on the basis of was it built to last. But even the Canon F1 I had in high school, though it still works mechanically, now has an intermittent light meter and I’m afraid to take it in for repairs because all the old skill sets are dying out and I don’t want anybody touching that camera if they don’t actually know how to fix one.

So I have a new watch now, which I’m wearing now. I had to take it to the shoe and leather repair shop down the street from me to get a couple more holes punched into the strap so it would fit on my scrawny little wrist. It feels exactly right being there on my wrist which is a good sign. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Moving On…Letting Go…

February 2nd, 2018

Mine!

December 20, 2011, I took delivery of the car I’d wanted since the summer of 1971 and I was a teenage boy, bedazzled by my uncle’s Mercedes-Benz 220D. Just this moment I finally paid it off. They say I’ll get the new title papers in the mail in a couple weeks, because for some reason even though the bank funds can transfer at the speed of electricity nowadays they still take a couple weeks to complete the process. So it won’t be officially mine until the Maryland DMV says it is, but I’ve made my last payment, and that’s a big chunk of money off my monthly budget now.

A Mecedes-Benz ‘E’ class was more expensive, and truth be told more car than I really wanted to take on. What I wanted was one of the little ‘C’ class diesels. That would have been the right size car for a single guy and it would have got amazing fuel economy. But Daimler wasn’t importing those (and as of last summer and the Germany diesel emissions scandal they’ve stopped importing their diesels altogether) and I figured I had a chance to finally own my dream come true car and so I went for it, and now I’m glad I did. You get one life. If all your dreams can’t come true, at least some of them can.

It’ll feel real when I get the new title. But it feels pretty real now. I want to go somewhere and celebrate tonight.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mine!

April 4th, 2017

Best Happy Hour Ever!

Here’s what I did during Happy Hour last Friday…

jwst_visit

How was Yours?

(I’m the guy in the orange Mountain Parka on the right…)

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Best Happy Hour Ever!

September 16th, 2016

In This Wonderful Age of Social Media, Why I Blog

This graph I saw just now on Facebook says it all.  Mostly.

what-i-think

Why I blog.

  • I don’t get interrupted in the middle of answering a question or explaining something.
  • I don’t get told to make it brief. I can make it as long or as short as I feel it needs to be.
  • I can think about what I want to say, write it out, and then tweak it until I’m satisfied with it.
  • I can put it out there and not have to worry about what people actually understand; because some will and some won’t but either way I got it out there and I’m happy with it. (This also applies to my artwork and photography)
  • People who think I’m over verbose or don’t like what I have to say don’t have to read my blog. Unlike how Facebook and Twitter decide what you will see in your newsfeed or tweet stream, you actually have to go visit my website to read my blog. It’s an active not a passive activity. So if my words are not to your liking then you can completely ignore my blog and be welcome. There are cats and Willy Wonka memes out there you probably haven’t seen yet.
  • It gives me a record of my life and thoughts I can look back on to better understand where I’ve been and where I am now.

 

Another reason I blog: It’s taken me decades to claw my way out of the shell I left Jr. High School in due to bullying, plus that closet those of us who were growing up gay in the late 60s and early 70s inevitably shut ourselves into. And while I’m still not the free and cheerful kid I once was I’m better at just being Me now than I’ve been since I was a teenager. But some days when it feels like I’m being shoved back into that cocoon again for various professional and personal reasons, I know I can always turn to my blog, and my artwork, and get it out one way or another. This is how some of us, who’ve never found our significant other, computer nerds mostly I reckon, cope with trying to be understood.

I’ve said here before, this is a life blog. That’s something blogs just were before they became a media for political expression. Nowadays there are probably as many blogs out there as reasons people blog. Facebook, Twitter and other social media have cut into what was for a while a vibrant blog culture based around blogrolls and readers, but for those of us who have a need to get it out there in our own voices blogging is still an ongoing thing. Just recently a writer I follow, Jim Wright, had a post he put up on Facebook taken off after some unknown jackasses complained about it. The post in question was a heartfelt and angry reflection on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, so you can see why it might not have been to everyone’s liking. But Wright is a thoroughly decent man, a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer and he knows how to make himself clear even to nitwits. Eventually Facebook put it back up and apologized, but you could always read it on his personal website, Stonekettle Station. This is why it’s a good thing blogs are still out here.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on In This Wonderful Age of Social Media, Why I Blog

September 11th, 2016

Small Measures of Success

small_measures_of_success

My signature, same as I put on my artwork, has been sent into space three times…so there’s that…

63 tonight as I write this, at 4:40am.  It’s been a life. Struggle, disappointment, wonder. Cars, cameras and the open road. Love, and heartbreak. Amazing good luck…

 

 

spacesig

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Small Measures of Success

August 17th, 2016

Oh Microsoft…How I Love Your Pretty Little Lies…

Mostly, I do business software. That may seem surprising since I work for the Space Telescope Science Institute and we not only operate Hubble for NASA but we’re also working on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is the project I’m deeply involved in at the moment. So you might think the work I do here is all sciencey and stuff and it mostly is, but not in the flight engineering sense of it. I do business software, and science like everything else has to account for its money and time. So as it turns out, a lot of my work still revolves around Microsoft products, and doing traditional business client-database applications.  The other day I was tweaking something I’d done in Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications…a product Microsoft hasn’t upgraded in decades, probably because there is so much legacy stuff out there in their business user base). It was your basic fetch some data from a backend database server and feed it to Excel and let Excel make tables and charts out of it for management to ponder. And I needed to do something that I figured I could use a custom document property for. Which I could, but not exactly in the way Microsoft’s documentation said I could.

You run into this phenomena quickly in this trade:  The Documentation Lies. Or more charitably, it is out of date. The documentation is buggy. The documentation is written by people who write software and hate writing documentation. If religious fundamentalists had to actually use passages in the bible like we software developers have to use the documentation and example code snippets we’re provided with maybe they’d stop waving that thing at everyone, and try a little figuring things out for themselves like we’re always doing…desperately at times. Oh you’re worried about the second coming are you? Let me show you my project’s Gantt chart…

See…I hate using Magic Numbers…

In programming, a “magic number” is a value that should be given a symbolic name, but was instead slipped into the code as a literal, usually in more than one place.

It makes the code hard to understand, which makes it hard to maintain. This is something a programmer is wise to avoid, even if it’s code you are nearly certain only you will be maintaining. Time passes, the universe expands, and you open a code file you haven’t touched in years to make a small change and you’ve forgotten what ThisWorkSheet.CustomProperties.Item(1).Value referred to.  Better to write it ThisWorkSheet.CustomProperties.Item(“GetsGraph”).Value. And lo and behold the documentation says I can call that property with either a numeric value (the property index) or a string value (the property name). But it does not actually work that way.

Let it be said Microsoft is hardly the only culprit here. My first experience with this sort of thing happened right at the starting gate of my career as a software developer many many moons ago, when I was a youngster doing volunteer work for a gay BBS system (before the Internet Tubes came along) and I was asked to write a system for a local gay activists organization to generate welcome letters and membership funding letters and mailouts and so forth. They had a licensed copy of Ashton-Tate’s dBase IV which back then was the powerhouse database system for PCs. It was working my way through the dBase documentation while trying out their code snippets I had the displeasure of finding out that computer documentation will lie though its teeth at you and laugh at your pain and suffering. In those days I hurled many a programming book across the room. Nowadays I glance at the time and do a quick rough calculation of how many minutes until Happy Hour. 

So I got through my little difficulty the other day by creating a sensibly named numeric constant that I can pass in lieu of actually passing the value of the name of the custom property whose value I want to check. That’s what we call in the business a kludge, because I’m not certain the property I want will have that index value Every Time. I think it’s likely since I’m the only one maintaining this code, for now, and I only have that one custom property in there. But what happens when someone else gets into this code? Okay…I’ve commented my useage of the property. But maybe the next update to Excel changes the starting index from 1 to 0? Surprise! 

Oh well. So I get things working to a close approximation of my satisfaction. Then I sit back and I ponder the Five Stages of Software Development…

Denial: Oh I probably just forgot to close a parenthesis somewhere.

Anger: Oh F*ck Me…that is a COMPLETELY LEGAL FUNCTION CALL!!!

Bargaining: Maybe if I use single quotes instead of double quotes…

Depression: I should have gone to art school…

Acceptance: My software tools are buggy, the vendor is shady, the next upgrade cycle will probably depreciate my entire code base, but the bar at Rocket To Venus is open late.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Oh Microsoft…How I Love Your Pretty Little Lies…

March 22nd, 2016

Left Brain, Right Brain, Silicon Brain…

Browsing through my local network folders I stumbled on some old BBS message files and an associated log file that made me realize I had written my own NNTP client way, Way back in the day. I had completely forgotten this. So I went looking through my old source code tree for the source. It was a program I’d named TRILOBYTE. Back then I was into naming my programs after obscure critters.

I finally found it and looked over the code to see if it jogged any memories. It’s kinda disturbing I didn’t remember this one At All. But there it was. It was a riff off something I’d written in another modem program’s scripting language that basically just logged onto a service, downloaded all the new messages on the boards I was interested in, uploaded any replies I’d previously placed in an upload folder, and then logged off.

I’d written it in VB1 it seems, but I think looking at the main source file I had a DOS version I’d worked on first. It contains my first ever state machine code to process the NNTP transactions. I know it worked because I have folders with USENET news articles in them this thing downloaded, and reply files it successfully uploaded according to the log files. Writing my own NNTP state machine, with nothing more than the protocol documentation to guide me, was actually a pretty big accomplishment for back then. I’m a little concerned now that it completely dropped out of my memory.

I can still recall coding my first PIM software (I called it “Beetle”)…and “Owl”, which was going to be my own weird client/server take on BBS-ing. I’d developed an entire system based around the concept of a message board warehouse where instead of logging on and reading and writing online you would run a program that quickly connected, downloaded all your new messages and email, upload your replies, and then disconnected. You would then read and write offline. It was a solution for the days when long distance phone charges were high and most amateur BBSs were single line and if someone was hogging the line nobody else got in. I figured if I could create a BBS system that reduced connection time to a bare minimum it would make connecting to out of state, maybe even out of country BBSs cost effective and feasible. The Internet pretty much wiped all that away by the time I finished developing my new system. So it never really got much past the early prototype stage. Such is life.

I’d completely forgotten I wrote Trilobyte. And it had some pretty nifty code in it too. Some of it probably came from the client part of Owl. There’s the Twit filters and Scud Topic filters which were things I’d implemented in LOGMOP, a PDS Basic program I’d written to clean my BBS message file downloads of flame wars and idiots.  It was lost to the grey matter, but there in the silicon. I wonder if this is some sort of new evolutionary path we’re all going down now…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Left Brain, Right Brain, Silicon Brain…

March 13th, 2016

At The Range

This is a part of me I know some folks may find disturbing, but so be it. I like to shoot guns. I have a few of my own. It’s not like I have an arsenal or anything, just a few handguns and rifles. It’s never been that big an interest with me that I spend tons of money on it, and it was more a thing when I was a younger man who couldn’t get enough of things that go bang. And that’s really the essence of it with me, and I suspect, with a bunch of us. It’s not about Dirty Harry fantasizing or anything like it. It’s about another elemental part of the human psyche. Fire.

Fire. I was the kid who turned off the lights in his bedroom, threw open the blinds and raptly watched every thunder and lightning storm that passed by. The louder and closer the bangs the better. It drove mom crazy. But I knew as so long as I watched from safely inside it was okay. I was that teenage boy at the quarter mile racetrack watching the fuelers blast down to the finish line in a glory of fire and smoke. Nighttime races were the best because you could see the fire coming out of their pipes as they idled at the starting line, and then leaping into the sky as they raced down track. I was the kid who smuggled in out of state firecrackers and set them gleefully off on the fourth while my friends kept an eye out for approaching adults. I was the one who built and carefully tended the camp fires at the end of a day’s backpacking, or in the fireplace of our winter break ski shack, then watched it raptly through the night.

But I’m a geek child, not a psycho. And the geek dives into their interest with an intensity of spirit that, yes I know, can be off putting to others. But sometimes that’s exactly what is called for, especially if what lights your fire, is fire. You learn the nature of the fires you wield, and how to keep yourself and the people around you safe. I don’t want anyone getting hurt. I don’t want to get hurt. It’s no fun if anyone gets hurt. Those people who, they say, go to races hoping to see a crash mystify and appall me. What I want to see is mastery of excessively powerful engines and Newtonian forces. I want to see them surfing the fire. Likewise, I am disgusted by nearly everything I hear nowadays from the so-called gun lobby. By now I suppose a lot of people who enjoy this sport are. We’re not all Ted Nugent.

I recently got a membership at a local pistol range. At 62 I qualified for the geezer level discount which cut the cost of a year’s unlimited range time neatly in half. “Unlimited” in this context could be a tad misleading; time at the range is limited by the cost of ammo, and for one of the large caliber handguns I have, a Smith and Wesson model 25-5 (chambered for the old 45 Long Colt, cartridge. As I said, I like big bangs), it’s Very expensive. A box of 50 rounds cost me 40 bucks the other day. Another box of 50 45 ACP rounds cost 25. It’s a much more widely used cartridge. The Long Colt dates back to the black powder days. It’s the cartridge of the famous Single Action Army Colt of the old west…the one you always saw in the movies. There was actually a nicer 44 Smith and Wesson top break gun sold back then but it’s the Colt that’s the classic western movie gun.

So I had my Model 25-5 and my Colt Officer’s Model at the range this morning. And I’m writing this blog post now for the benefit of everyone who thinks all you gotta do with a gun is point and shoot. No. Just…no. You have to practice.  Bunches.  And to my shame I hadn’t.  Well…not with mine.

Visiting my brother in California, he’s taken me a bunch to ranges he’s a member at, and I’ve shot his guns there and was very pleased with myself at how good my aim was with them. But those weren’t my own guns, and it lulled me into thinking I was still good with my own, even though I hadn’t practiced much with them lately. This morning I took the Smith and the Officer’s Model to the range. I hadn’t shot either one of them in years. A friend of mine used to take me to his pistol range as a guest and back then I shot it and my other guns a bunch. But he got into skeet and I take more pleasure in shooting handguns. So I didn’t follow him into that. And for a long time my guns just sat, and got the occasional cleaning, inspecting and oiling.

So I load the Smith and take aim at a bulls eye target and half my shots initially miss completely. Eventually I figure I’m low and to the left and make some adjustments. The Smith has adjustable sights and I thought they were sighted in for me. Maybe five years ago they were. Not now. Eventually I’m putting most of my shots in the black and I move the target back some. But my groups are all over the place and I’m not happy with myself.

Then comes the Officer’s model. Every friggin shot from my first clip misses the target completely. Mind you, I’m shooting at a target only 15 feet away. Eventually I figure out I’m shooting low and to the left with this gun too and I make adjustments and finally get my shots mostly in the black again and I move the target back some. But I’m even worse with this gun than the revolver.

So I pay my bill and leave the range and in the back of my mind I’m thinking about all the morons I seem to be reading about every day now who shoot themselves or shoot someone else and it’s obvious they think a gun is just another adult toy like a fast car or sex and it’s all so Easy…you just point and shoot…just like John Wayne! No. Just…no. Jim Wright, a writer I follow on Facebook, has wisely said there are no gun accidents. He’s right. Drunk driving isn’t an accident either. You get yourself or others hurt by not following the rules. And treating guns like fetishes in a culture war (I’m using the word in its religious sense) practically guarantees people aren’t going to pay attention to what the gun actually is and that’s how people get hurt.

But I hadn’t been paying as much attention as I thought either. So I had my lesson for the day. If I’m going to keep these things in the house, I need to practice with them regularly. As I said, it’s about fire. The fun is in the mastery of fire. If I’m not going to maintain a level of mastery I might as well sell them and be done with it. Otherwise they’re just dangerous weapons sitting there in the gun safe slowly becoming even more dangerous if their owner can’t even hit what he’s aiming at. I have an alarm system. I have a shotgun. I don’t need more than that for home defense. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on At The Range

September 26th, 2015

Back To Work…

Back working on A Coming Out Story, Episode 19. I know…I know…it’s taking me forever. But I’m getting motivation now from a certain someone down in southern climes.

I’d forgotten about how Heathkit builders knew you needed, in addition to a good soldering iron, solder, various wire snips, screwdrivers and such…a cupcake tray.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Back To Work…

August 12th, 2015

Wishing For A Lost Old Friend…

I have a story to tell about my life that I really should have told here before now. It’s about how a boy raised by a single working mother with very little household income and absolutely no hope of going to college, ended up working on the Hubble Space Telescope project and then the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

I got to thinking about it lately because I’ve begun a personal project at home to get a DOS virtual machine running. I wanted to be able to run some of my favorite old DOS programs again, XyWrite and PC-Outline, and archive and preserve some of my old DOS program and data files. It brought me back to a time when I was still just tinkering around with computers and had no idea what I was going to do for a living or what my future might hold, other than it would probably be as it had always been up to that point, just a series of low wage warehouse or service jobs. Mom had spent her entire working life as a low wage clerk for a company that processed ads in the Telephone directories, back when Ma Bell was a monopoly and you rented, not owned your telephone. I always figured my life would be pretty much the same as hers.  But it wasn’t.  And the story goes further back than those days I spent tinkering with the IBM PC compatible I’d built from parts I got at a HAM Radio Fest.

I should tell the whole thing here because looking back on it now amazes me, and I actually lived it. Here’s something I posted to my Facebook page reflecting on that first computer I built. I’ll just leave it here, with a few editorial tweaks, as prologue…

I’ve been wishing for years now that I hadn’t given away the first IBM PC compatible I built from parts. Yeah it was a parts machine, but it was my first hand built computer and I used the very best parts for it I could find at the time, and all in all in retrospect I’d actually designed a pretty good system.

It was based around an 8088 motherboard with the full 1.meg complement of memory (user memory was only 640k) and what was said to be the most compatible BIOS of the time. Just to make sure, I bought a shrink wrapped copy of IBM-PC DOS 3.1 just to verify that. If it would run PC DOS it was compatible enough for me.

I bought a “clamshell” PC case for it….

clamshell Case
This one is very similar to the one I bought,
though the innards of mine were a tad different
and I’m pretty sure I had the floppy drives on the left
side of the bay.

Clamshells weren’t FCC approved because they leaked radio emissions like crazy. If you ever run across an original IBM PC and wonder why it had that awkward metal sleeve over a metal frame construction, keeping it from leaking RF was partly why (also, back then IBM just over built everything because…IBM). I knew I would be constantly tweaking and improving the thing, and that case with its door opening like the hood of a car would make that easy. To the case I added a toggle switch, tucked under the front cover, to switch off the speaker. I was still living in the Rockville apartment with mom back then, and I didn’t want her disturbed while she was trying to sleep. The switch was for things that went beep in the night.

I didn’t have the money for a hard disk drive when I first built it. I bought two Teac 5 1/4 floppies which were then the best floppy drives made. Hard disks were hellaciously expensive then, but as it turned out, an expansion RAM disk card was affordable. I bought a two megabyte RAM expansion card, mostly for its speed. Then I would create floppy disks with batch files on them that copied my programs and their data to the RAM disk, and when finished, copied the data back from the RAM disk, and simultaneously to a backup disk I’d placed in drive B. Running things from the RAM drive made everything blazingly fast, even on an 8088, even off the hard drive I would later buy. Eventually I would add an external print spool device too, with a 250k RAM buffer that allowed programs to dump their print output quickly and give me back control. Most of you reading this will probably will never know the frustration of sending output to the printer and being unable to do Anything, even turn the PC off, until the printer was finished with your job. Ah…the bygone days of DOS…

Back then even the most expensive color cards and monitors were hard on the eyes when it came to displaying text. And I didn’t have the money anyway. So I opted out of color altogether and bought a Princeton Graphics amber screen MDA TTL text monitor, which was the sharpest text display on the market then, and the amber color of the text was easier on the eyes IMO than the standard green. I paired it with a Hercules Graphics Plus card, which was the best monochrome graphics card of the time. It had a very nice video graphics mode which alas never caught on, although early versions of Microsoft Word could utilize it and its user defined RAMFONTS mode.

My first computer was a Coleco Adam that only lasted a few days before I had to take it back because the printer stopped working. I bought a Commodore C64 afterward, and for several years the Commodore was my introduction to the computer world and what I could do in it. I wrote my first BASIC programs in Commodore PET Basic (which I would later learn was a variant of Microsoft Basic). I took my first tentative steps into the online world with it. Hooked it up to my shortwave radio and read the teletype traffic. But the Commodore was a closed system aimed mostly at game play and lightweight household tasks. The IBM PC was the real business computer. The Commodore was an 8 bit machine that came with 64k of RAM, of which maybe 40k was user RAM. The IBM was a 16 bit machine that had an entire megabyte of RAM, 640k of which was user RAM. 640k! 16 bit! I remember that first day after I got mine all put together and it ran and booted PD-DOS, sitting in my room on the edge of my bed, just looking at it, awed by what I’d just done. It felt so wonderful…and yet so scary…to have all that power at my command. Maybe this was how normal boys felt about finally getting that Mustang they always wanted. “That’s a real computer…” I kept thinking to myself. “What have I gotten myself into now…?”

Little did I know. Eventually I got a 20 meg hard disk for it. Eventually I got a copy of Microsoft PDS Basic, with the Jet database engine and learned to write business software on it. Eventually I got a 1400 baud modem for it, then a 2400 baud US Robotics and found my way to a gay community safely away from the bars where I could actually relate to anyone. Eventually I moved on to a hand built 386 tower with PC-DOS 5, then 6, and Windows, and Visual Basic. Eventually I got a job writing programs for Baltimore Gas and Electric, and then an apartment of my own and a new car. Eventually I got a job at the Space Telescope Science Institute and a house of my own.

I sure wish now I’d never given that first PC away after I moved on.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wishing For A Lost Old Friend…

May 5th, 2015

Everyone Needs A Hobby…

After three years tobacco free I am officially back to my cigar hobby. Because some days alcohol just isn’t enough, drugs are illegal, and it takes forever to come back down off a bullet to the brain. Yes…slowly killing yourself can be a hobby, you just need to take an geek like interest in the details.

In 1967 CBS ran a short lived comedy series called “He and She”. It was smart, witty, the main characters, a young couple in New York bantered with each other and the other characters in this very dry humor I just loved. I was attracted to it instantly and watched it religiously. So of course it was cancelled after just one season. There was a scene in the first episode, I forget the lead in to it, but the Dick Hollister character (a cartoonist!), played to perfection by Richard Benjamen was arguing with his wife Paula, played by Paula Prentiss, and she says to him exasperated “What are you’re saying!?” and Dick says “Never mind what I’m saying, just listen to me!”

Don’t you just hate conversations like that? Especially when it’s your manager and he keeps asking you what went wrong and every time you start telling him he interrupts and says he didn’t want to know that. “What went wrong?” “Well…A, B, C, D…” “I don’t want to know that…do you realize if we had done the entire operation manually we’d have been finished long before this?” “Well if I knew at the beginning what I know now…” “I don’t want to talk about that…”

He came down to my office and we went though the process. At least one of the problems I kept running into manifested itself for him. Some tasks fight you in a big way, but it’s the ones that fight you in every minute teensy little way possible that completely demoralize you. Either way, if my orders are to save the Kobayashi Maru don’t ask me why I’ve got a bat’leth sticking out of me afterward. Did you know that Klingons fight back? Surprised the hell out of me, let me tell you…

My attitude is this: why let stress kill you when can smoke a good cigar while death puts a scythe in your heart. Life is short. Never pass up an opportunity to enjoy something good.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Everyone Needs A Hobby…

January 12th, 2014

The Parka That Represented A Mindset

OhMyGod…Sierra Designs is (or was) making it’s original Mountain Parka!!! It’s on the kind of sale that looks like it’s a discontinued item (again) and some sizes for some colors are marked as not in stock. But you can get to them from the main page if you go to “Men’s Apparel -> 60/40 Heritage”. Or you can just do a Google search on them like I did just a few moments ago on a lark.  Or just click this link.

See…I’ve been wishfully thinking about that parka for decades. Decades. I had one way back when, but not understanding the concept fully I bought one that had a Thinsulate liner and really, it’s supposed to be a shell. The idea was if you needed to you wore something else under it like a sweater or a vest. Otherwise it made a good wind breaker for back country hiking.  But there was more to it.  Oddly enough, a piece of clothing can also represent something more than itself and the purpose it was made to.

Back when I was a kid a lot of outdoor stuff you saw was made the same way they’d been making outdoor equipment since almost the turn of the century…much it merely riffing off old army designs that even the army wasn’t using anymore. Nobody was really thinking about what the equipment was supposed to do. New materials were mindlessly used in old designs that had been originally made with canvas and trotted out as something new and great simply because the canvas had been replaced with nylon or some other synthetic fabric.

In the late 60s a few small companies in California began rethinking everything. One of them was Sierra Designs which began selling their Mountain Parka in 1968. It hit the outdoor market like a bombshell for its innovative design and over engineered construction (they used to guarantee their stitching for life). It quickly became a thing. If you’ve ever watched the original Carl Sagan “Cosmos” series, that parka he was wearing at various points in it was one. It was a very recognizable item because its design was so unique for its day, yet it made so much sense for its purpose.

Nowadays all this is old hat…but I remember the thrill of walking into a Hudson Bay Outfitters store in the 70s and seeing so many new ideas and designs for outdoor equipment (I was in my wilderness backpacking phase then) that looked so different and yet made so much sense. Because some people had started rethinking what that equipment was For, had begun to realize what new materials and new technologies could accomplish. And those people got other people to thinking too.  This was the same think outside the box mindset…you saw it mostly but not exclusively on the west coast…that would eventually yank the power of the computer out of the mainframe and put it on people’s desktops, and then into their hands.  It was this:

We keep moving forward opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney.

After the stifling 50s, that was the future I thought was was walking into when I was a teenager.  Well…it wasn’t all that.  But in some ways it was.  And still is.

Time passes…the universe expands…my economic status declined rapidly after the Reagan recession and the Savings and Loan scandals wreaked the economy. I got rid of my Thinsulate lined parka when its fabric got hopelessly torn and I had no money for a new one but I figured I’d get one of the basic shells at some point. But the company changed hands, joined with other outdoor companies like Kelty and stopped making some of its classic products including the Mountain Parka. Every now and then I’d check the company web site to see if they’d re-introduced it but it was never there.

Last Christmas my brother bought me a really nice L.L. Bean down vest and I started thinking again about the Sierra Designs parka and just now I looked and it’s back!  So of course I bought one. I didn’t need one…I have some very good coats and parkas in the coat closet already. But sometimes you wear an item of clothing not for what it is entirely, but for what it represents.

sagan-cosmos-2

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Parka That Represented A Mindset

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


    What I'm Currently Reading...




    What I'm Currently Watching...




    What I'm Currently Listening To...




    Comic Book I've Read Recently...



    web
stats

    This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

    This blog is powered by WordPress and is hosted at MomoWeb. Some custom design was done by Winters Web Works. Some embedded content was created with the help of Adobe Photoshop for MacOS and/or The Gimp. I proof with Firefox on either Windows, Linux or MacOS depending on which machine I happen to be running at the time.