God damn it, people, secure your frigging computers. (or: God damn it, Microsoft, get your heads out of your asses.)

I had some time to kill today, and started thinking about home automation, and looking at programs and systems that support the X-10 interface. (No, it’s not the X-10 camera people you love to hate.) These guys have a program for OS9 which allows you to control as many outlets in your house as you can afford to install. There are also OSX native versions from different vendors which all require further investigation. It would be great to have the server turn the lights upstairs on and off based on the time and date, or alert me if there’s an intruder…

And, on a somewhat related note: for all those that share my annoyance at over-complicated electronics, CNN did a story about it.

Date posted: January 30, 2004 | Filed under geek | Leave a Comment »

Besides the fact that I’m pissed that the debate is only available on MSNBC, the Democratic candidates all sound very good. I’m impressed with all of these guys, and they all have made some fantastic points. Dean doesn’t sound as good as Clark or Kerry; I like Kuchinich’s points and gusto, Lieberman sounds like he finally woke up, and Sharpton impressed me with a couple of great points. Food for thought.

Greasy Kid Stuff. Our buddy Nate is one of the more intelligent people I’ve ever met. There are only a few people on this earth I know who can lead a conversation through science fiction, programming, anime, music trivia, politics, and random philosophy safely without losing anybody; the man is sort of a geek buddha. There are a few areas where I tease him goodnaturedly, and because he is a benevolent, friendly fellow, he doesn’t kick my ass.

Among the many choices for fast food here in Happy Valley, there is a tasty Iranian kabob restaurant in a nondescript strip mall. The food is good, the service is friendly, and the garlic in the food has a half-life of fifty years or so. Next door to this restaurant is a store where Nate buys comic books. He’s unapologetic about this, for which I give him credit (some guys get all mad and insist that they’re called “graphic novels”, not comix, as if a different name for a picture book featuring guys in leotards makes it literature), and I’ve often followed him in there to browse while we wait for our food. Now, I’ve not bought a comic book in ten years or more, so it’s always kind of strange to walk in there with him. I don’t want to be that guy, the one who has a whole wing of his house devoted to boxes of comic books, or the shifty guy who buys the anime porn on the top shelf, or the guy who has the bust of Spider-Man on his dresser. I like books that have a good story, or look pretty, or in some rare cases, both.

So I see some Hellboy comix on the shelf, and think back to the ones Nate showed me, which I liked. I find a book that I haven’t seen, which looks great, and… I take it up to the counter. Unfolding my wallet, Ronnie James Dio starts singing “Stranger In The Dark” on the radio behind the counter. And suddenly, I’m that dork wearing the denim jacket in 1987 all over again.

It is a good book, though.

(Note: I did not like Ronnie James Dio in high school. I was just surrounded by people who did.)

Pop Media Recap. There’s a disturbing ad on the radio right now for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club in downtown Baltimore where they’re promoting midget oatmeal wrestling. I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the thought of midgets wrestling in breakfast cereal, or the way the dumb announcer chick pronounces the word ‘eoowwt-meel’ in that peculiar Baltimore dialect. There’s no accent more disturbing than a Balwmore accent, Hon.

I disagree completely with this reviewer’s take on Psyence Fiction, so I’m taking his review of the new UNKLE album with a large grain of salt.

Jen and I caught the Kajagoogoo episode of Bands Reunited on VH1 last weekend; besides humming the melody of “Too Shy” for the rest of the day, we thought it was pretty good. The band seems to have dealt with their meteoric rise and sudden plunge to obscurity pretty well; they were able to put aside their differences with relative ease and it looked like they had a great time playing together again. Discussion topic: Why would anyone change their name to “Limahl”?

Date posted: January 29, 2004 | Filed under books, friends, music, politics | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I enjoyed a snow day from work, which brought back memories of Star Blazers, Legos and grilled cheese sandwiches in second grade. Instead of regressing to age eight (I don’t own feety pajamas anymore) I packed Jen off to work, answered some email, and then looked over the linen closet in the hall with a fresh cup of coffee. Over the years it’s been hacked apart for access to the tub plumbing, new shelves have been jury-rigged, and the floorboards were cut open. I’ve been wanting to get inside and start rehabbing it for a while now, and because I’ve got the shared wall opened up in the blue room, the time was right.

I started by pulling the shelves down and the trimwork out, then began to scrape the ancient wallpaper the old-fashioned way—hot water and elbow grease. Once the walls were clear, I started a wire run from one side to the other (the door opens from left to right, and we decided to have a light switch on the left inside wall). By dinnertime, I had wire installed from the inside of the Blue room (the linen closet will share the same circuit) up the wall, over the doorframe, and down the left wall to the switchbox. There’s a ton of stuff to be accomplished before it’s done, but having a light in there will be a great start.

Your Mailbox is Full. Based on the amount of bullshit email I got this morning, this stupid new worm is making the rounds. If you emailed me in the last 24 hours and haven’t heard anything from me, assume I mistakenly deleted your email with all the emails titled “Mail Delivery System” and “Test”. Apparently the purpose of the worm is to DDoS the SCO corporation, which is kind of funny, but still annoying. I’m glad I run OSX.

Random Fun Links. Excellent reading from Edmunds.com about Car Salesmen. Given the dilapidated condition of the Taurus, I’m sure this will come in handy.

Date posted: January 27, 2004 | Filed under geek, house, links | Leave a Comment »

Movie Star Penn

This morning we got up early to dig Jen’s car out of the snow so that she could follow misguided company policy and be one of only seventeen people in the Baltimore area who had to go to work today. Catonsville was pretty quiet, because the snow was sitting on the roads refusing to melt and the plows were just pushing it around. Once I got the driveway cleared, we got Jen out and on the road to work, and I looked over at our next-door neighbor’s house.

Now, when Jen and I started looking at houses in the this town, she warned me about the neighborhood—not that it’s bad, or filled with toxic waste, but that it’s as old-school as old-school gets. There’s a church every thirty feet. We moved in next to a house with a crucifix on the front lawn, flanked by a plastic sign featuring the Ten Commandments; we knew things would be interesting with our neighbors when they found out we were engaged and not married, and bless their hearts, they have been warm and cordial with us—until I gave them our Christmas card. We’ve not seen them much since then; it could be because the average temperature here in Maryland has been hovering around the 20-degree mark, or because they are inside praying for our mortal heathen souls.

So I cleared the sidewalk out in front of their house with my non-believer shovel.

Wow. From Rob, I found this link to Margaret Cho’s site. It seems some right-wing site quoted part of her website and suddenly she was inundated with half-literate emails from racist homophobes. Isn’t America lovely?

Date posted: January 26, 2004 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

flower (special thanks to Dad for the macro lens), 1.25.04

Among the things Jen and I got done this weekend was meeting with our florist for the wedding, which started out like Scott’s expedition to the North Pole. We were referred to a wonderful lady north of the city, and with her help, working out the arrangements took about two hours. I think we both left the shop relieved and confident—the flowers came within our budget and beyond our expectations.

Saturday evening we drove to the Ram’s Head in Annapolis to meet up with the Montheazletts and Caudizzis for drinks and dinner to celebrate Nate’s birthday. Entering the bar with no dinner reservations, we stood at the bar for a while until we found some seating at the Irish pub down the street. We also got to meet Dave the Tunemaster, who looks a little too much like me (skinny, goateed men with square glasses and hyperactive temperaments, although he has better hair than me), and Steve and Carol. While I pimped my real estate agent on Kristen, Jen and Heather made plans to hit the original bridal shop to have a steel cage match next weekend.

Sunday I was able to get power, data and cable run from the Blue room to the basement, as well as insulation put in the wall and surrounding the bathtub, which will put us in the vicinity of the schedule I was hoping for.

Date posted: January 25, 2004 | Filed under friends, house, photo | Leave a Comment »

hard-knock life, 1.20.04

I think I got more mail about meatloaf yesterday than I’ve gotten all month about anything I’ve written here, which is alternately flattering (“…you like me….you really like me!”) and funny, because if I’d have known how much response it got, I would have started a whole page on handling ground beef years ago. Or abusing Martha Stewart. Our friend Linda brought up a related point:

…as for Martha Stewart, I’m pretty confident she’s not a very nice person, but not for one second do I think a MAN in her position would be as scorned or persecuted.

I’m not too sure. I think any media celebrity in her place would have been just as crucified; I think she’s a convenient placeholder for people like Ken Lay of Enron, who, by most accounts, is going to be impossible to prosecute. (I searched for a relevant article on this subject that ran a few months back in the New Yorker, but they’re not providing past articles for deep linking. Essentially, the author argued that no jury will ever be able to understand months of boring testimony about numbers.)

Heather wrote:

…the recipe sounds wonky to me- People who suggest carrots and celery in meatloaf have their heads up their asses.

I think we’d agree with you there, girl.

Renie wrote to tell us she almost made meatloaf at Christmas for us. Which would have been nice, but I should probably explain a bit further: It’s not that Jen hates meatloaf, per se, but that she hates the idea of meatloaf: generally it makes her think of a blackened, tasteless pile of carbon scraped from a pan and covered with ketchup. Yum!

How F**king Dangerous Is That Dept.: the iTunes Music Store now has something called “iTunes Essentials” which are compilations of songs, like Hair Bands or 70’s AM Radio Classics, programmed much like Greatest Hits or AOR radio playlists, and priced as singles or as group purchases. Keep my credit card away from my computer, please. (On a related note, I need to look at Zero 7 and Verve Remixed when I get some money together.)

Random Fun Links. Holy Mary, Mother of God, what I would give to have this calendar.

Date posted: January 23, 2004 | Filed under friends, music, photo | Leave a Comment »

Jen, in her loving, special way, decided she would try to make me some meatloaf this week. (Actually, she has been planning to bring the cow for about a week now, but took sick last Thursday.) She looked at Martha’s site and found a recipe that sounded good and looked easy. Now, let me just clarify here: She hates meatloaf. As with tacos, eggs, ham, water, and practically any other recipe, her mother has burned, undercooked, or otherwise wrung the enjoyment out of meatloaf for her to this very day. So it was with a sense of destiny and great foreboding that she mixed the ingredients and placed it in the oven. I got home, gave her a kiss, and told her that it smelled really good (it did); we waited for the required hour, and pulled it out.

It was not done. It was still pretty loose; it smelled good but had a gooshy texture, so we upped the temperature and put it back in. And we waited.

45 minutes later, the top was black, but the insides still fell apart like loose ground beef. it did not look like the example in the picture. I tried to console Jen, telling her it was because the recipe was bad, and I think she agreed with me, but she has vowed to never make meatloaf again.

Which, upon reflection, isn’t really a bad thing anyway.

Call Me. Looks like AT&T Wireless is putting itself on the block for sale. Considering Jen and I both have AT&T as our cell carriers, it should be interesting to see who buys them and what happens after that. I’m still trying to find the time to research other cell plans and decide who to go with.

Random Fun Links. Yesterday I updated both the Pink and the Blue room pages with some boring shots of wiring.

Date posted: January 22, 2004 | Filed under geek, house, links | Leave a Comment »

I called one of our real estate agents last week and got the name of a roofer she recommended; he stopped by this morning to give us a quote on repairing the roof leak. I’ve had people guess how much they think the repairs will cost, and their answers confirm my anxiety—I was thinking this was gonna be at least a grand or so. So when the roofer stopped back in and gave me a price of $100, my jaw hit the floor. For $200 he’s going to repair the leak and a couple of other slates further down, and I couldn’t be more relieved.

Wow. I’ve loved Gary Panter for years—he’s an artist/illustrator who has an extremely raw style and unique voice in the world of commercial illustration. Anybody who can stay as true to his craft as this guy, and become as well-known, is a hero to me. (Anybody that will coat cicada shells in latex and sell them to the public, while cheerfully warning you not to eat them, is a genius.) Turns out he’s selling custom drawings for $125 based on a couple of keywords you send him; I think this is a bargain and a unique opportunity reminicent of Howard Finster‘s ads in the back of Rolling Stone. (Sidebar: Our old boss at Cidera, a mild-mannered manager who suffered some of the worst paint-peeling halitosis known to Man, had answered one of the ads in the early 80’s and had an original Finster. I was envious.) I don’t have a whole lot of money right now, but I’m seriously considering this.

Date posted: January 21, 2004 | Filed under art/design, house | Leave a Comment »

Bow down before the One Hit Wonders. This makes me want to fire up the P2P all over again. (I went through another site about two years ago which listed the top 100 songs by year and started plugging the ones I remembered into Kazaa. That was a good day.) Also, on a related note: The Guide To Electronic Music.

!!?!??! I guess everybody has their prid—I mean, price.

Date posted: January 21, 2004 | Filed under music | Leave a Comment »

The idea of owning a newly-constructed house has never really appealed to me, for many reasons. The lack of soul in any recently built dwelling has been enough to put me off, really—there’s a line I draw between ‘Modern’, (loosely defined as ‘simply designed for elegant living’, and translating into ‘you don’t have enough money to live this cool’) and ‘Cheaply Built’. Cheaply Built apes the easy parts of Modern, in that there are little or no finishing touches—not because the builder was consciously making a design decision, but because the carpenter was doing time for drug possession that week. (My experience has shown the three groups of people who are always holding are carpenters, painters and waiters.) Cheaply Built means that there are no trees within thirty feet of the house. It’s a lot like government contracting—the people who built your house were the lowest bidders. Walk into any new condo or McMansion and you will see great swaths of bare wall offset with little tiny strips of molded wood shavings which are called ‘finishing’. The floors will be wood laminate or linoleum in some hateful pattern, and the siding will be vinyl in a pastel color. And you will be lucky to have ten feet between your neighbor’s bedroom window and your own.

All that having been said, owning an older home presents its own set of problems. That charming slate roof, which should last 100 years, is now 85 and dropping shingles like dandruff. The mature trees surrounding our house, which add so much character, were in dire need of a pruning five years ago. The wiring throughout the house, which was installed in fits and starts with each passing decade by electricians of questionable license, now resembles a handful of cooked spaghetti. There’s no way to explain why the piping for the heating system is routed under the front porch, or why the linen closet was once painted metallic silver. And the idea of more than one full bathroom is madness, unless the prior owners decided to add an extension.

All this doesn’t faze me, though, because I grew up in a variety of different houses over the years. My parents owned everything from a 60’s tract home to a prewar Cape Cod where they built a master bedroom out of the attic. I’m used to mysterious cold drafts, unheated rooms, balky furnaces the size of luxury sedans, flooded sump pumps, ancient wiring, carcinogenic insulation, hot pink bathroom tile, and barely functional appliances. I’ve had a 50-year-old used tampon fall out of the ceiling on my head while demoing a basement. (Don’t ask.)

We’ve had a family joke for years that says that the Dugan Way is to buy a house, spend a number of years fixing it up, and the minute it’s finished, sell it and start over again. We spent years helping my Dad shingle roofs, hang drywall, sweat pipes, run wiring, fix cars, and landscape yards. If you had asked me at age 13 if I enjoyed any of that, I would have denied it, because given the choice I’d rather have been riding my bike than digging a hole in the backyard for a pool, but I see the value in it now. I grew up in awe of my Dad, because the guy could do anything. Having seen him cut holes in the roof, or mix concrete, or build an entire bathroom from scratch, I grew up learning how to do stuff, and more importantly, without fear of doing it myself. I don’t think I could have been given a better gift than that.

I’m also thankful that I found a woman who will put up with having all her laundry out on a subzero porch, or inches of plaster dust on all flat surfaces, or living six months without a proper bedroom. She has the vision thing, which means she can see past the cracking plaster, moldering carpet, dying shrubbery, and leaky basement into the future, when we have happy children playing in a clean, painted, updated house.

I have to admit, though, that the kitchen floor has been freezing the last couple of weeks, and I’m kind of tired of that.

Date posted: January 19, 2004 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »