- December 26: playing Fallout 76, watching The Professor and the Madman (verdict: not bad! ), bingeing the first episodes of True Detective season 3 (verdict: SO MUCH BETTER than Season 2)
- Dec. 27: Bingeing the first episodes of His Dark Materials season 2 (verdict: good, and they’ve tightened up some of my issues with the second book), Taco Bell for dinner. NACHO FRIES! (verdict: disappointing. The Dorito-taco-thing was very good. The resulting Run For The Border was as urgent I remember it from 20 years ago. Some things never change)
- Dec. 28: Working on the workbench, burgers for dinner, finishing True Detective Season 3 (verdict: I highly recommend this series.)
- Dec. 29: Working on the workbench, His Dark Materials season ender (verdict: I’m very curious to see how they approach the third season, as everything in that book goes off the fucking rails. And I wonder if they will give the main character any agency of her own, as it all disappears midway through the second book)
- Dec. 30: Finishing the workbench, Onward (verdict: that’s the hardest I’ve laughed during a movie in a long time. Not quite standard Pixar-level, but recommended.)
Back in the early days at the Lockardugan Estate, I had $4 to my name and a houseful of home renovation projects to tackle. One of the many things the Doctor did not leave us was a workbench of any kind to stage tools upon. Our basement was basically a big empty room containing a relatively new boiler, an ancient, broken washing machine, and a dryer the size of a toaster oven.
I made it through the first six months just leaving all my tools upstairs while we gutted and rehabbed all the bedrooms, but as we got those projects done and I was able to move back downstairs, I needed someplace to store everything. I built a quick and dirty tool bench out of 2×4’s, some leftover plywood, and some pegboard I found up in the attic, and it worked reasonably well for the next seventeen years.
But it had flaws. It wasn’t attached to the ceiling or the wall, and as a freestanding structure on an uneven floor it wobbled a lot if I put anything in the vise or hammered on it. The pegboard didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, and the small shelf I added later was too shallow to really be useful and too low to put anything underneath. Because the lighting circuit down there is a frightening mess I used a power strip plugged into a random overhead outlet and mounted it on a wood panel nailed to the wall behind the bench.
I did include shelving underneath the bench, but it was never enough space and the extra stuff started piling up around the bench almost immediately.
With a week of free time over the holiday, one of the top things on my list to tackle was an overhaul of the workspace down there. I began by completely deconstructing the bench and stacking the material up on the side of the basement. Then I put three studs on the wall and started building a newer, longer bench all the way to the edge of the staircase and raising the height by 4″. I re-used most of the material from the first bench and reinforced the surface with double-thick plywood, put in a single sheet of pegboard, and a longer, deeper shelf above the whole thing. Down below, the shelving extends all the way to the left side and there’s now a two-level section for toolboxes, which were always underfoot before. New rubbermaid bins replace milk cartons I’ve stored tools in haphazardly for 30 years—I’m going to have to find a way to retire those gracefully—and a 10-outlet shop power strip replaces the old one. Finally, because I dropped and broke the old fluorescent light fixture during the demo, I bought a new 2-strip LED fixture and hung that in its place.
It’s amazing how much more space there is; the drill press tucks neatly under the stairs and the available storage feels like it’s doubled in size.
There’s a truckload of debris and garbage that need to go to the dump, and more stuff that needs to be organized or tossed, but I feel like I’m finally making some progress down there. Next up is a laundry sorting area with a larger workspace and better lighting.
So far there have been no bites on the Steinberger; the listing has gotten 800+ views and 4 watchers but no offers. I’m not paying anything to leave it up there, so I’ll just sit on it and see what happens. Update: I got one offer this morning from a guy who wants to trade it for a Rickenbacker 4003 Pearlstar—something I might have been interested in back in my Geddy Lee worship days, but at this point I’d rather have the cash.
At work, I finally completed a torturous process that began two months ago to design and publish a digital report. The report itself launched last month but due to various editorial and review issues I had to update the PDF and then build the digital report. It’s a high-level view of the state of climate action with an eye towards the next 20 years, and it was a challenge to bring together all of the text, graphics, and digital assets. Even though the process is automated, I found myself diving into code at the tail end and fixing a ton of issues by hand, which was a pleasant surprise.
We’ve now made two different batches of Bailey’s, one from the recipe I posted earlier in the week and one from the Betty Crocker cookbook. Before you get the idea we’ve just been pouring cups of it over our cornflakes every morning, we’ve been sipping on each one slowly—the online recipe is lighter and very almondy and the Betty Crocker recipe is much heavier with more chocolate—but neither are a 100% stand-in for the real thing. So we’ll make our way through these and then we’ll try another recipe.
Jen did break out and use the galette iron on Tuesday, filling the house with the smell of Belgian dessert waffles and making it impossible to concentrate on work. There’s now a full batch sitting on the counter ready to eat when the urge to snack hits. She’s not as pleased with this batch compared to the previous one, so the search for the right modifications to that recipe continues as well.
And the duck boots that I ordered over a month ago finally arrived the other day: they are 1 size too small for my feet, which means I’m going to have to brave the crowds at Nordstrom Rack to return them sometime next week (depending on what the return window is). That was a bummer.
So I dunked the spare carb I found in the garage last week into a tub of Simple Brown (thus named because it previously was used to clean one of the Thermoquads) and let it soak overnight. I was curious to see what it was because A. I can barely remember where it came from, and B. I wondered if it might be a simpler 4-barrel replacement for the Thermoquad I’m currently running. I scrubbed it off with a toothbrush this afternoon to reveal the stamping number, which identified it as a Holley 2100C for a ’73-’75 IH 304/345 gas motor. Doing a little digging online and in my brain, I remember that these were not highly regarded carbs, and the garb guru I remember from the Chewbacca era describes it as a smogged carb with limited parts availability, which is a double-bummer. So I’ll probably fool around with it for a while and see what makes it tick, and then toss it in with the other junk parts. The next one to identify is the one on the spare 345 out in the garage—actually, maybe I’ll swap these two out so that I can bring that one in here and clean it up.
Jen started a Lockardugan family tradition after Finn was born, something I’d never seen until she explained it to me: an advent calendar. She spends a ton of time searching out fun activities and traditions for our family to enjoy together, and I’ve written about some of them in years past. This year proved to be an extreme challenge.
We spent a quiet weekend together continuing the calendar events, starting with a Friday night ride through the area to find the best Christmas lights with some hot chocolate. Some of the old favorites weren’t set up this year. There’s a house with music-keyed lights and a working, lighted disco stage that gets tons of visitors every year who put a sign up saying, in effect, “thanks for coming, we’ll see you next year.” But the good news is that most other houses that that have been historically dark are covered in lights: evidence of Jen’s theory that we’re all trying to find cheer where we can, and one way to show it is to clean out the Target decoration aisle.
On Saturday we got a lazy start and then got down to business making Christmas cookies: first we made a batch of molasses and then mint dark chocolate dough, and then baked both of them. We’d talked about making galettes after the cookies but I think everyone was tired after being on our feet into the afternoon so we took the rest of the day off.
After dinner, we went out to check out a new house that Jen had heard about, which by itself made up for all of the lame Christmas house displays of the past: a lone house up in Security that had an incredible display keyed to a metal Christmas playlist.
On Sunday we all had different things going on, so I cleaned out the kegerator and did some puttering in the basement before we went out for a ride to the store. When we got home I worked on the engine in the garage and then came in to watch some football in the warmth until it was time for our Sunday activity: a dinner picnic under the tree. Because we didn’t feel like making anything, we got chicken from Popeye’s, made a fire in the fireplace, and finished playing the rest of Thursday’s activity: a homemade game of Christmas Who Am I.
Jen spent a lot of time organizing the advent calendar this year, and really filled it with fun things for the three of us to do together. Despite all of the bullshit going on beyond the borders of our house, I feel like we’ve spent the best holiday time with each other this year than ever, and I feel more cheerful about this season than I have in a long time—even though we can’t see family or friends.
I’ve had a spare 345 engine sitting in the garage since 2013 that I got from Brian when he moved from his townhome. It’s been sitting on a wooden cradle since then, quietly waiting for me to do something with it. I’ve moved it here and there as I’ve rearranged things, but I haven’t really done much thinking about it until this fall. I’ve been watching a lot of revival videos on YouTube—mechanics find a car out in the woods or in a field and see if they can get it to turn over and run with a limited set of tools. I’m weird but it’s fascinating. I’ve learned a lot, and there’s something that comes up over and over again, and it usually has to do with how the engine was left: if it was running, even poorly, but with proper lubrication, there’s a good chance they’ll get it running again.
I don’t know much about this engine other than what Brian had heard from the guy he bought it from: it was low mileage and running smoothly when it came out, and I know Brian had put some oil in it to protect it from the elements—he’d been storing it in a shed behind his house. But it finally dawned on me that I needed to do some long-term preventative storage of my own.
So today I picked up some Marvel Mystery Oil, set up a space heater, and started pulling the plugs, starting with the driver’s side rear. The first plug (#8) I pulled was the worst. There was some rust around the inside collar, which got me scared the whole thing was locked up tight, but as I made my way through the others, they all looked clean. Everything was easy to pull out so the whole job was done in about 15 minutes. I used about half the bottle of MMO across the whole engine, and hopefully that will help keep things as loose as possible. When that was done I went through the box of parts Brian left with me and screwed both valve covers down so they’re not sitting loose. I hadn’t realized this but both of them have filler holes.
There’s a lot that can be done with this engine while it sits, and I’d like to tear through it a bit more to see how things work. I also want to sandblast the valley pan and other accessories and get it cleaned up to be wrapped tight in plastic.
But first, I’m going to spring for a proper engine stand at Harbor Freight and reinforce the back corner floor of the garage. I’ve been thinking about how to maximize space in there, looking at maybe buying a prebuilt shed to store the lawnmower, hand tools and other garden supplies, but that’s cash I don’t have on hand right now, so I have to make the best of what’s there.
I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts to get me through the quarantine; they make some kinds of work easy (design or coding, walking the dog solo, organizing the basement) a lot more manageable. I’m super picky about my podcasts, because there can be subject matter I’m completely interested in presented by hosts I can’t stand—either due to their voices or their patter. Car Talk, the venerated NPR show that was ostensibly about fixing cars but was really about two annoying men with shrill voices laughing at their own jokes, drove me nuts. There are many podcasts that do the same thing. Here are a couple of new ones I’ve been enjoying this year:
20 Macs for 2020
A deep dive geek-out on Macintosh hardware, this is sort of a retrospective of Computers I’ve Owned; I can claim 8 of the 20 models listed so far. Hosted by Jason Snell, a longtime writer and editor of MacWorld, back when it was a magazine I subscribed to, it features a deep dive into the creation and design of each machine, and features contributions from other eminent figures in the Apple sphere.
60 Songs that Explain the ’90’s (only available on Spotify)
This is a relatively new one on the list, but something I’ve also been enjoying for the nostalgia’s sake: Rob Harvilla goes through a wide variety of songs to tease out what they meant to us during the time they were popular, and what they mean to us now. His format is a little strange, and he’s a bit snarky but overall it’s a good listen.
The Big Picture
This is a movie podcast that covers current releases and the industry in general; the Ringer’s footprint is big enough now that they can get A-level guests to join them for segments, which is a bonus: they’ve had Steve McQueen, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater on in just the past couple of months.
I was dubious about this one at first but fell in love about 10 minutes in. The conceit is that the host was fired from the cast of Saving Private Ryan 20 years ago and just wants to know why it happened. Along the way he’s joined by some of the production staff and former cast members—Ron Livingston and Seth Rogen (who was not in the movie) are as awesome as I would hope they are, and another bit player talks about his experience on set and how it affected him afterwards. I burned through all of these last weekend building shelves in the basement.
Another podcast reviewing old movies, this has been a go-to for years. For all the reasons I didn’t like Car Talk, you may not like this one, but I genuinely enjoy the banter the four hosts enjoy. They’re all roughly my age and they like the movies I do—although their inability to appreciate the genius of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension led me to near homicidal rage. This was one of the podcasts that got me through weeks in the hospital and the low points of chemotherapy.
Lost Notes: 1980
Another music podcast. The host, Hanif Abdurraqib, dives into music made in one important year, featuring artists like Joy Division, the Sugarhill Gang, Grace Jones, and Minnie Riperton. The episode on Darby Crash and John Lennon was fascinating. I hope he does more.
Yes, another movie podcast. The concept here is that these are all movies that are made to be watched multiple times—with the understanding that the hosts picking the movies are white males, aged 40-50, from the east coast. They started out with Michael Mann’s Heat, one of my favorite movies, and they’ve rarely picked a dud.
Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds
This one is less about the music and more about the people behind the music, which is what makes it so fun: the hosts research the people involved and find out what happened and why they hate each other so much. Each episode goes on for about 20 minutes too long, in my opinion. I tend to cut it off around the same time every episode when it gets repetitive, but the bulk of it is good stuff.
The Smithsonian Institution has more stuff in storage than they can ever hope to display, and this podcast talks about that stuff (you get to go in the side door of the museum on a private tour). Their episodes on the Worst Video Game, Outer Space and Underwear, and Apollo 12’s Really Close Call stood out to me—but there’s a ton more to get into.
Slow Burn, Season Four: David Duke
This one has been fucking riveting. I was only dimly aware of David Duke when he ascended to power in Louisiana, but this podcast shows how his blueprint for success in 1991 should have predicted the Great Pumpkin’s success in 2016. The same playbook, the same coded messages, the same blatant use of the office for personal grift, the same indifference or outright cowardice from the Republican Party and the general public: silence equals consent. Also highly recommended: the other three seasons (Clinton, Nixon, and Biggie & Tupac).
You’re Wrong About
This is a relatively new one for me. It reexamines stories and historical events to see if what we’ve all agreed upon as the truth is, in fact, true. They’ve done a lot of deep dives on Princess Diana but have also looked at O.J. Simpson, the Ford Pinto, and the D.C. Snipers. I’m getting into it more and more as I listen.