I had no idea the Maryland Historical Society was writing such excellent pieces. This one is about the lost breweries of Baltimore, from Gunther’s to National.

Date posted: February 28, 2016 | Filed under Baltimore, brewing, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties…

Source: The Governing Cancer of Our Time, from The New York Times

Date posted: February 28, 2016 | Filed under politics, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

After many years of quiet, Lush is going to release a new EP in the spring, and just released their first single. At first listen, it’s a modern update on their original sound. I like it.

Date posted: February 25, 2016 | Filed under music | Leave a Comment »

Here’s an excellent article on how to use a Hi-Lift jack for all kinds of things from the Overland Journal. When I bought my Hi-Lift I knew how it worked but there are a lot of little tips the author includes that make it essential reading.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: February 23, 2016 | Filed under Inspiration, Scout | Comments Off on Jack of All Trades

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Updates on last week’s issues: Firstly, our boiler is still down. It worked fine yesterday, and seemed to be providing heat through the weekend, but this morning we woke to a cold house. I turned it off and on again, and watched as the valves all clicked and hummed, the spark unit fired, and the burners lit…and then died. Lit…and died. About five cycles of this, and the boiler stopped trying. So the plumbers I got the part from will stop in tomorrow to see if they can diagnose the issue.

Jen’s laptop appears to be suffering from a GPU failure issue that Apple has acknowledged, and should honor under warranty. We’re heading to the Apple Store this evening to see if we can have it repaired under their program free of charge. Fingers crossed…

Date posted: February 23, 2016 | Filed under photo | Leave a Comment »

Finley sat on the bench next to me, wailing out loud as small groups of people skied and boarded past us. We were at the top of the bunny slope on Liberty Mountain, on our third trip down, and she was at the end of her rope.

We’d taken Thursday off to learn how to snowboard together. The mountain was pretty quiet for a weekday, which meant I’d chosen a good day to go. We got our lift tickets, rented boots, helmet, and boards, and changed into our gear with no lines. I walked us into the pro shop to pick up snow gloves (we were both wearing knit gloves, which would have been icicles in 15 minutes) and then we walked outside to find the instructor.

We got a goofy kid named Jeff who punctuated every sentence with the word “Cool,” used interchangeably as a declarative statement and question. He showed us how to stand, start, stop, and ride the chair lift. Finley did pretty well at these, but had difficulty controlling her board when moving from place to place.

We rode to the top of the bunny slope and continued the lesson, mainly on stopping, turning, and switching direction. She did really well at balancing herself, and was quickly moving down the slope in control of her direction. When she was looking off at the chair lift, over in the woods, or at other skiers descending the slope, however, she wound up losing control and falling over. For a child who spends about 30% of her attention on what she’s actually doing, this was problematic.

With our lesson over, we took a break and hit the lodge for some lunch, which she devoured faster than I did. We shared a hot chocolate and then geared up to go back out.

A photo posted by @idiotking on

Lining up at the lift, she got herself on the chair like a pro. We laughed and chatted on the way up, but at the top she wiped out directly under the dropoff point and froze. The attendant stopped the lift and helped her off, and she struggled to get out of the way.

At the top of the bunny slope for our second run, I told her we were just going to concentrate on starting and stopping, and we practiced her turns and braking. And she did really well! When I figured out that I had to give her a visual point of reference to work with, she turned and braked like she was born with a skateboard. We slowly made our way down the mountain with no problems, but she began to get frustrated with the ice at the bottom of the mountain.

Hoping I could keep her on the horse, we got on the lift and headed right back up. I gave her a pep talk and words of encouragement all the way up, but she wiped out at the top again, which shook her confidence. She crawled over to the bench, defeated, and this is where our story begins.

I calmly started talking to her while she cried in frustration. She told me she was tired of falling and that she was hurt and didn’t want to keep falling down. I pointed out that she’d only fallen hard once, and that on a normal school day she came home covered in bruises she didn’t remember. She then told me she wasn’t physically injured, she had emotional injuries and that she was just going to walk down the mountain. We went on in circles like this for about twenty minutes, enough for several groups of beginners to pass us twice, each time eyeing Finn warily as she carried on.

As I talked to her, a second part of my brain stood off to the side and observed, quietly amazed that I wasn’t embarrassed by her outburst, and that I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. She was clearly overwhelmed with the feels, and it was my job to help her navigate through this.

Eventually I got her to calm down and convinced her that she wouldn’t hurt herself, and that we should continue slowly making our way down the hill so there was no chance of falling hard. She finally acquiesced and we rode down twice, until she fell (gently, I should mention) and worked herself back up into a state of anguish again. At this point she began unclipping her boots from the board and stood up, ready to walk.

I was at a crossroads. Should I continue talking her down from the ledge, or should I play the nuclear option? I chose nuclear. Because at that point, I was pretty much done. I said, “OK, I’ll see you at the bottom,” and turned and began boarding away. This was not easy to do. Turning my back on her is not something I’ve ever really done, but I felt like Tough Love was the best course of action here.

For whatever reason, the part of my brain that is still, somehow, tuned to the frequency of her cries was still active, because it made me stop and turn about 100 yards down the slope. She had dropped her board and was wailing at the top of her lungs.

I unclipped my board and walked back up to her. She was saying (screaming) something like, “YOU LEFT ME ALL ALONE ON THE MOUNTAIN” until I made it up next to her, and we sat down together. She told me she was tired of falling down, etc., etc., and was upset I’d left her. I told her she’d quit on me, and I wanted to have fun with her. Then, I don’t remember if it was me or her, the subject of fear came up, and she told me she was afraid of boarding down the mountain. I gave her a hug and reminded her that she had already done it twice. I told her it was OK to be afraid, but if she let her fear get the better of her, she’d quit whenever things got a little scary. I told her that if she quit on this, she would find it easy to quit on other things, and that she’d miss out on a lot of the fun things in life, like snowboarding with Dad or skydiving with Mama. She reached out and I gave her a big hug and reminded her how proud I was of how she was doing.

Once the storm passed, she seemed to gain some confidence in herself, and I gave her a pep talk. And then, God bless her, she strapped on her board, stood up, and we started down the mountain again. About 2/3 of the video above is from that last run, where she gets up, has a good ride, falls down, gets back up, and keeps going.

We left after that run, as I think she learned a good lesson and went out on a high note, and she’s told me she wants to go back. I had a blast, and I’m definitely going to take her. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Date posted: February 19, 2016 | Filed under finn | Leave a Comment »

Having upgraded all of our WRI work laptops to current models, I’m phasing out our older machines. This means I’m able to buy them for a nominal fee. Last week I grabbed a 15″ MBP for Finley, who has been using a tablet at school and borrowing my laptop to do schoolwork during snow days. I spent some time flattening a spare drive and installing El Capitan (I fell prey to a somewhat common bug with all of the USB installers I’d created before I got one to work) and creating a user account for her. I’m now in the process of locking it down as tightly as possible. The parental controls in OS X are a new adventure for me, but with a little research and some experimentation, I think I can make it kid-friendly and lock out all but the G-rated sites we’ll allow her to browse.

At the same time, I’ve got to rebuild my work laptop from scratch. About a month ago I had a dumb travel accident with my coffee thermos and soaked the lower half of the case, which prompted a trip to the Apple store and an emergency rebuild. They left the hard drive but replaced the lower case, display, motherboard, and several other components. When I got the machine back it booted up into an older version of my user account, but it’s been acting funky. Playing video from the internet sometimes blows up wireless connectivity and/or crashes the browser, and the Microsoft Office suite goes up and down randomly.

I grabbed a spare drive from my stash at work and cloned the drive. Over this next weekend I’m going to do a full reinstall of the OS and build it clean from the ground up.

Meanwhile, Jen’s laptop, which is newer than mine, decided it was time to throw a tantrum and blinked off. It’s doing something I’ve never seen before: the startup sequence drops out about 2/3 of the way through and blinks to a dead gray screen. Booting into Recovery Mode, the Hardware Test, or from an external recovery drive has the same result. I’m stumped, so I pulled her drive and transplanted it into Finn’s computer until I can diagnose the hardware problem. Great!


Another repair in the works is our balky plumbing system. Last fall, when I was in Abu Dhabi, our new toilet stopped flushing. Jen had plumbers come in to diagnose it, and they replaced the toilet after snaking the lines. Soon after that, the basement flooded, and they snaked the line again. That was when we found the pipe was clogged under the magnolia tree, and we dug a very expensive trench in the yard to replace it.

After Christmas, to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, the toilet clogged again.

The plumbers put a camera down in the line and diagnosed a problem with the cast iron pipe that links the second bathroom with the main waste line; when the original plumbers installed it, they didn’t add any downward angle to the last length of pipe, which runs about 2/3 of the width of the basement. This means the waste didn’t have any help moving to the main sewer line, and sat in the flat section of pipe, where it hardened and clogged. So, they replaced that entire length of iron with PVC at a proper angle on Thursday. It was expensive but if and when the upstairs bathroom ever comes into use, it’s necessary for keeping things flowing smoothly.

Friday morning, we woke to a cold house.

The boiler decided it didn’t want to stay lit, which meant we needed to call the plumbers out. Again. This time, the diagnosis is a bad spark unit, which is a module about the size of a sandwich. Unfortunately, the boiler itself dates back to Jimmy Carter’s term in office, so the part isn’t normally in stock anywhere. My plumber couldn’t source it today because his supplier is doing inventory all afternoon, so I’d have to wait until Monday. So we’re going to find a couple of space heaters, close off the outside rooms of the house, and hunker down tonight.

I made a few calls and found a different guy in town who can get the part for me by tomorrow morning; I’m going to take a $160 non-refundable chance and put it in myself (it’s three wires and two screws). If that fails, I’ll have to keep the plumbers of the world in business myself. I don’t have the money, after paying for a fancy new toilet, a trench in the front yard, two more visits to unclog the lines, and a new waste pipe, to put in a new boiler, so I really hope this works.

Date posted: February 19, 2016 | Filed under apple, geek, house | Leave a Comment »

Pretty much what it says on the label: Pets That Are Stuck But Pretending Everything Is Fine

Date posted: February 16, 2016 | Filed under humor, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

I’ve had this song running through my head for the past week. Mmmmm sludgy goodness…

Date posted: February 16, 2016 | Filed under album of the week, music | Leave a Comment »

Jen and I are sitting on the couch looking at our school email and reconfiguring our syllabus to account for 2″ of snow and another lost day of class. It’s not actually snowing right now, but they decided to close UMBC to be safe. I’ve got the day off for the holiday anyway.

We’ve had Jen’s old friend Chris in town for the weekend, which has been fun. Saturday we took him out for dinner at Victoria Gastro Pub, where we all ate until we were stuffed. Sunday was laid back, which was good because it was about 10˚ outside and nobody wanted to go anywhere. Originally we’d planned on hitting the Visionary Arts Museum but we didn’t get our act together until 4 in the afternoon.

My tentative plan for Thursday is to take a day off work and drive Finley up to Whitetail to spend the day learning how to snowboard. The weather is supposed to be sunny and mild, which will make for a happier Finley and thus a happier Idiot.

Date posted: February 15, 2016 | Filed under finn, friends | Leave a Comment »