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March 3rd, 2019

The Bidet…A Couple Weeks Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2nd, 2019

Look What I Did Ma!

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

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

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

February 19th, 2019

Adventures In Upgrading My TV…(continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mindset never changes, only the buzzwords. 

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

February 16th, 2019

Adventures In Upgrading My TV

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15th, 2019

Not Quite Effete Enough

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Not Quite Effete Enough

February 14th, 2019

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

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

 

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

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

July 17th, 2018

Desert Hiking Safety Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

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

1 1/2 parts sweet and sour sauce.

Ice.

Combine in shaker, shake well. Serve over ice.

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

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

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


LP To Digital…Not As Hard As It Use To Be

I posted yesterday complaining that so many of my favorite classical music LPs still weren’t available in digital form that I could listen to on my iPod. Yes, I still use my iPod Classic, as well as my iPhone to listen to music. The iPod comes in very handy for when I’m just doing household chores, or I just want to disconnect from the internet tubes for a while and just listen to music, and work down in the art room. It’s been years since I last attempted to make a digital copy of one of my LPs, largely because the software I was using only ran on an older PowerPC Macbook, and had a limited number of exports to MP3  format you could make without buying the premium version, which by the time I’d decided to go ahead with that the software had been orphaned.

So the other day I finally began looking around for another program I could use, and pretty quickly found Audacity…

 

The appeal here is this software runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux, and I was really wanting something that would run on Linux because I had that running on a small laptop that would have been perfect for parking next to the living room stereo and connecting it up to the output jacks on the Dynaco PAS-2. I still have a source for new stylus for the Shure Type III I so I can theoretically get a good signal from any of my LPs that are still in good shape. What’s nice about Audacity is the editor is pretty easy to use and lets you mark each individual track on an LP and export them all at once with the track names as filenames.  So I can just set everything up, hit record and let the LP play, flip it over to side 2 without needing to stop the recording, then when it’s done I can disconnect the laptop, take it back upstairs to the office and edit out the dead spots and identify and tack on the track names, and then export it all to the directory I have on my central store, and later import everything into iTunes.

There are some nice bells and whistles…a level normalizer, noise filters and such. My Kenwood KD-600 turntable is pretty well isolated, and the LP I copied over last night was in good shape, so I didn’t any of the noise filters but the level normalizer worked well. The only hassle was finding the right settings to get Audacity to recognize my USB input device and the headphone jack on the laptop. Hassling with I/O devices is something you just expect with Linux. But at least I didn’t have to recompile anything to get it done.

I have a waiting list of LPs I need to do this with. But I’m happy. I had a surprising amount of music I could just not listen to any other way but on the stereo, or a bunch of old and very worn out cassettes and I don’t have a Walkman anymore, just the iPods for taking music with me. I grew up in a series of apartments mom and I shared, and time was if I wanted to listen to music and not disturb the neighbors I either had to wait for them to leave their apartments or play it on the headphones…I had a nice pair of Koss Pro 4aa headphones once upon a time…and that meant I was always tethered in some way to the stereo, literally at times. When the first Walkman came out I was immediately enchanted, but couldn’t afford one. But they eventually came down in price as other makers piled on and I remember how lovely it was to just be able to stroll around in a comfortable cocoon of music that would travel with me Everywhere. When the first iPods came out I was hooked immediately, and that quickly led to me buying digital copies of new music, where before it would have been an LP, plus all the copies of music I already had that I’d worn out from playing over and over.

In a way I’m kinda glad to see the LP coming back into vogue. LPs, when properly engineered and played back on good equipment sound wonderful. I’ve bought some new pressings and they’re, I’m here to tell you, generally Much better in quality than when I had to buy back in the day. But the LP tethers you to the stereo too, and once you have tasted freedom…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on LP To Digital…Not As Hard As It Use To Be

June 28th, 2018

And Now, For Something Completely Different…

Since this is a life blog, which I began way back when blogs were a new thing and not yet a commercial media thing, and since I’m way too friggin’ stressed out about the news these days, I’ll be trying a bit harder to post random life blog stuff here for a little while.

There was a post I saw elsewhere about how a chorus will sing a long single note in rotation, some singers taking a breath while others keep singing, such that the effect is the entire chorus is maintaining the note. That’s what I’m doing now. Because all last night I caught myself wondering if it was all still worth living, and I am not letting that happen to me. And if it’s happening to you because of the stress of current events…please…pause…take a breather. It’s okay. You can come back to the fight when you’re ready. We need you. We need everyone. Don’t let the stress of it break you.

This is one of those little Cut and paste about yourself thingees you see on the social media forums…something a little more light hearted about day to day life…a little more about me, because this is my life blog…


1. Do you make your bed?

If I don’t in the morning I’ll make it just before going to bed.

2. The first car that was officially yours?

1973 Ford Pinto, 1600cc overhead valve single barrel carb. I got 136k miles out of it before I had to give it up.

3. Three grocery items you don’t run out of?

Bread. Cheddar cheese. Tea bags.

4. When did you start doing your own laundry?

At some point in my early teens…like 13 or 14. I don’t recall any decisive moment, it was probably I needed it done at some point and just kept on doing it myself, a thing mom sure didn’t mind.

5. If you could, would you go to high school again?

Yes. And be a little braver this time about my sexual orientation and my first crush.

6. Can you parallel park in under three moves?

Yes. It’s simple once you know the trick.

7. A job you had which people would be shocked to know about?

I don’t know about shocked…I was stock clerk at a private mental hospital once…

8. Do you think aliens are real?

Well I think they’re out there. Visiting us, not so much.

9. Can you drive a stick shift?

Yes. Wish the car I had now had one. But they don’t import the ‘E’ class sticks.

10. Guilty TV pleasure?

Old ‘B’ Sci-Fi flicks and Republic Serials when they’re on.

11. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

Cold. It’s easier to warm up then shed heat.

13. Sweet or salty?

Who? Me? Depends on You.

14. Do you enjoy soaking in a nice hot bath?

No. Shower. Nice…hot…luxurious shower.

15. Do you consider yourself to be strong?

I’m a gay male who made it to 64 single and soul-lonely the entire time. I reckon I must be.

16. Something people do, physically, that drives you crazy.

Stopping to check their grocery receipt right in the middle of the exit door.

17. Something you do, physically, that you are sure drives people crazy.

Go off on a topics of personal interest at the slightest provocation.

18. Do you have any birth marks?

One odd little one on my belly, about the size of a freckle, that could either be a mouse or a coiled up snake.

19. Favorite childhood game?

Imagining worlds…telling myself stories about them.

20. Do you talk to yourself?

Well…I talk when I’m alone. Not so much to myself as to the house, or the car, or whatever.

21. Do you like doing jig-saw puzzles?

No.

22. Would you go on a reality show?

No!

23. Tea or coffee?

Coffee in the morning, sweet ice tea the rest of the day.

24. First thing you remember wanting to be when you grew up?

A cartoonist.

25. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, what are you an absolute snob about?

I don’t think I’m a snob about anything…but I’ll admit to sometimes taking excessive pride in personal art projects.

Play if you want to…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on And Now, For Something Completely Different…

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 | Comments Off on When Cameras Brutalize Film

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 | Comments Off on Why I Never Get Any Work Done Outside

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 | Comments Off on City Life

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!

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