Yesterday I was out the door to catch the train at 7:30AM for the first time in 2+ years; I had a full schedule of meetings and a photo shoot in the afternoon, so I dragged some gear with me and set to work cleaning up my corners of the comms area. The first issue I had to deal with was getting online. At some point in the last couple of months the wireless network decided it didn’t like Macs, so I had to cobble together a wired connection to be able to look at my email. Then I had to deal with about 30 boxes of printed materials that have been delivered and stacked under cabinets and desks, most of which are already out of date and useless. The printers all forgot who they are and where they live, and the one next to my desk is completely broken, so I couldn’t print or scan anything. Then I had to sort and organize our video and photo gear, which has been scattered among houses, bags, closets, and locked drawers since lockdown. In the afternoon I set up a photo shoot for the South Korean ambassador, who signed an MOU with us to do climate-related work (they didn’t use the best photo I shot).
It was both strange and reassuring to be in the office for a full day. It was strange to wear a button-down shirt and work pants all day. I’m still navigating mask etiquette from house to train to station to office—I will be wearing a mask on the train, through the station and all the way to my desk—but it’s strange to have it off in the office but put it on to ride the elevator and walk through the lobby, etc. I ran into a handful of colleagues and the social animal part of my brain wept with joy to be interacting with human beings again. And I spent more time on my feet in the office yesterday than I do all week at my house, which was both exhilarating and exhausting.
The word is that we’re going to be going to 2 days a week sometime later this spring, which will be tricky. I’ll come into the office if I know other folks will be there, but I’m not going to spend time and money on the train if I’m going all the way to D.C. to sit in an empty office on Zoom calls. Doing the math, I’ll save money buying individual tickets two days a week instead of a monthly pass, and that makes me happy.
I got a very nice Audio-Technica needle cartridge delivered yesterday, and after dinner I installed it in the Technics turntable. Then I hooked the unit up to the amp in the basement. My Steely Dan album was upstairs on the shelf behind Jen, who was on a zoom call, so I pulled an Elvis album from the pile we saved at the Mildew House and queued up Hound Dog. The result: absolutely beautiful. The platter is smooth, and the sound was ten times better than the Scott—smooth, crisp, and clear. I can’t wait to hook it up to better speakers and a subwoofer.
I’ve been using a spare MacBook from work for the last 2 years as an email machine. It came back to me from a former employee right after COVID hit, and I figured I’d flatten the drive to use it while I wasn’t in the office. I went to update it yesterday afternoon to 12.o Monterey and it wouldn’t let me get past a prompt for Jamf, an enterprise nannyware application that I don’t want my personal information sitting underneath. I could attempt to use my wheezy 15″ MacBook from 2008, but older software is getting harder and harder to support—older operating systems, browsers and email clients don’t support modern encryption, which makes things difficult on a day to day basis. For example, our twelve-year-old server in the basement, topped out at OS 10.7, can’t load and display email on Apple’s native client. So it’s looking like I’m in the market for a new laptop for the first time in a long while, something I wasn’t planning on.
Finley did a great job at school last week so I treated her to something new and interesting: we rode down the street (it was cold, y’all) to a store called Trax on Wax and went record shopping. At some point last year, Finn found a purple standalone record player at the thrift store and excitedly brought it home. She hasn’t had anything to play on it since then, and she mentioned getting some vinyl in the car ride home from karate last week. She had an idea of what she wanted to look for before going in—I made sure she listed a couple of options before we got out of the car— knowing exactly what would happen: we got in the store and she was immediately overwhelmed. I reminded her she was looking for the first Black Sabbath album (no shit) or some Beatles. I had a couple of ideas as to what I wanted so we split up and started digging. I found a good copy of Steely Dan’s Aja but she struck out on Black Sabbath, so I walked her over and showed her how to pick a good album within her budget. We chose The Early Beatles and I treated her to her first LP.
I’ve got a pair of turntables sitting in the basement: Dad’s old Scott XXX and a Technics SL-DD33, which I got from our visit to the Mildew House, along with some CCR and Elvis records. The Scott is a bargain brand unit probably sold at Sears or K-Mart back in the day, with an integrated stylus and a very basic speed adjustment. The Technics is a much higher quality unit, with a heavy slab platter, a weighted, balanced tone arm, and a direct drive motor. The stylus on the Technics is also cartridge-based, allowing for worn out needles to be replaced. The needle was trashed when I got it, so I put a replacement in my Amazon cart. In its place I hooked the Scott up to my basement receiver and played my first LP in probably 25 years. There’s a reason audiophiles use Aja as a test record: the signal from the Scott is weak and carries a strong hum; I also think the motor is going out because I could hear the speed oscillating slightly. So I’ll replace the stylus in the Technics unit and figure out which receiver to hook it up to. Then, I’ll start building a small library of classic jazz.
- The entire family slept in until about 8:30, the hound included. Sweet sleepy bliss.
- Jen and I took Hazel for a 2-mile coffee walk in the sunshine for breakfast. She turned to me behind the coffee shop and kissed me, eyes twinkling in the sunlight. That was probably the best part of a great day. And Hazel didn’t drag too much.
- We got the truck out and drove into Ellicott City for a rental ladder and some supplies. I shot a selfie.
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- At home, I put the ladder up and finally cut in the new wall paint in the stairwell. Then I scraped and mudded some cracks in the corner, let that dry, and rolled ceiling paint everywhere I could reach on the ladder.
- On my way back from returning the ladder, a beautiful blue FJ40 Land Cruiser pulled in behind me and waved. He followed me down Main Street in Ellicott City where we got more than a few smiles and thumbs-up.
- I heated up the smoker and cooked 2 lbs. of salmon for dinner. The recipe was a bit sweet and spicy for our tastes, so I’ve got to find another that gives us more smoke up front. But it was easy, and fast.
- We spent 45 minutes on a FaceTime call with our niece and nephew, enjoying their conversation and seeing a lot of their tonsils.
- I finished off the last of Jen’s homemade Key Lime Pie ice cream, which was delicious.
We redid our kitchen back in the fall of 2005, when we were newlyweds and it was still a relatively good idea to walk into a Sears to buy Kenmore appliances. And for the most part, the appliances have held up. We had to replace the fridge a few years ago, but our stove and combo oven are still humming along. The dishwasher was beginning to worry us, however. Already a loud unit, it was getting louder and washing less with every week. It gets run pretty much every day, and due to Finn’s distracted method of loading it (skipping the step of scraping food off the plates first) it had to work extra hard. I’ve disassembled the screen and chopper several times, and mopped food sludge out of the bottom repeatedly. We weren’t surprised, then, when it stopped working last week: the light on the front flashed on startup, which meant that the computer was confused. I found a couple of reset codes on the internet and tried them all with no luck. I cleaned out the drains and the chopper. After another reset, I restarted it, but the light continued flashing sadly, as if to say, “that’s all, folks.”
So we hit the Home Depot to shop for a new one. We’ve got multiple relatives and friends who all swear by their Bosch, so we took the chance on German engineering and laid our money down on a 500 model. The 800 model has wi-fi for some reason. I guess it emails you when the pots are in the wrong rack, or to tell you when it piddles on the floor. They are all super-quiet and have a third tray on the top for silverware. Apparently we need to watch a video, take a quiz, and be licensed to load it properly. We had to settle for a stainless-front unit, as the black units are special-order and apparently trapped on a container ship somewhere. I’m going to see if I can get a black replacement panel and install it at some point, as we like the way a black unit blends in with the cabinet better.
Two guys showed up today and traded the old for the new in about an hour. I guess 17 years isn’t too bad, all things considered.
I’ve got a pair of decommissioned video cameras sitting here at the house, and it occurred to me that I could use them for recording things like working on the Scout or on the bus, or other projects. Having a record of how I pulled the radiator out of the truck, or a long capture of installing cabinets in the bus would be handy.
The first camera is Dad’s Canon Vixia HF R300, a consumer-grade handycam meant for shooting Junior’s chorus recital or walking around Disneyworld. He left it to me with a bunch of aftermarket batteries, two chargers and a good-sized memory card. It’s 10 years old, and works just fine; it even has a touchscreen fold-out display. That’s better than my 5-year old Fuji mirrorless.
The second camera is the Canon XF100 from work, a pro-grade camera made in 2010 that has two XLR inputs for sound, 2 Compact Flash slots, and a host of other professional options that cost a premium when it was manufactured. Both of these cameras shoot HD-quality video but not true 1080p or 4K video. It means they’re not fit for use at work anymore, but I can use them for B-roll or other stuff that’s not mission critical. The question is: which one is worth using? I figured I’d do a comparison.
I charged up both batteries and sat them side by side on the copier, then ran them both together aimed at the same thing. I let them run for a minute, downloaded the footage, and synced up the video in Final Cut to see how the quality compares.
As I might have expected, the consumer model can’t compare to the pro model. The Vixia has a smeared image and a weaker sensor. The pro lens is wider, and captures a cleaner, crisper picture, with better contrast and color fidelity. Plus, I’ve got an AC adapter for the XF100, and it’s built to record for hours on end, so it’s just a matter of getting a new battery for remote situations and two larger Compact Flash cards.
I enjoyed a quiet birthday weekend with family and friends. Karean and Zachary drove over from Easton and stayed at the house with Finn and Hazel while Jen and I went out for dinner in the city at a french restaurant called Duck Duck Goose. Jen powered through an oncoming migraine until we were served cocktails, and was able to beat it back enough with vodka for us to enjoy our meal. The duck confit wasn’t as good as Le Petit Louis, but I enjoyed it very much. We had a table inside but it seemed like the heat was set to “blast furnace” so we sat outside on the sidewalk, where we got to enjoy a lot of people-watching and pot smoke.
Fell’s Point is the same in some ways but a lot different in others. The center section of Broadway feels the same to me: busy bars and restaurants, lots of people on the street, lack of parking spaces. What struck us was the area around Fell’s and how much it’s changed; the whole east side, which used to be empty brownfields, is now high-rise condos and storefronts. It used to be when you passed SoundGarden the buildings were boarded up and the parking got sketchier. Now there are Porsches parked in valet spots and electric scooters lined up along the curb all the way to the water.
On Sunday we rose late and drove back into the city for brunch. Our first pick had an hour and a half wait so we drove further into Canton and parked in front of our second option. There was an hour wait there, and being ravenously hungry, we stopped in at a local coffee bar to get some snacks while waiting for our real meal.
The rest of the day was very low-impact. We were all pretty tired and so retreated to opposite corners of the house to recover quietly.
10 years ago today.
For the winter of 2022, I needed a project to keep me occupied while Peer Pressure is in the garage. I figured I’d find a used heater box and overhaul it, and maybe in the summertime swap it in with a new heater valve, which is old and bound up. After months of looking and three different parts Scouts, I found a very clean box for $50 and snapped it up.
Removing it is pretty simple: there are two screws to remove on the inner fender and two nuts on the firewall; cut or loosen the hoses and disconnect two linkages. Then it comes out with a little wiggling: this loosens some 3/8″ foam that seals up the air collection and distribution ports. The one I got was in fantastic shape, and the foam looked almost brand new on both sides.
I sprayed the whole thing with PB Blaster and used an impact gun to pull the screws out, which allowed access to the heater core and motor assembly. This heater core looks to be in excellent shape so I may just clean it and re-use it; new units are $100 and don’t have 90˚ elbows at the connections like the OEM units do. This means that the hoses go straight into the washer bottle and you have to either splice in an elbow or finagle the hoses in an arc without collapsing them.
This one only had a bit of flash rust on the inner and outer surfaces. Even so, my plan was to take it down to bare metal and refurbish the whole thing, so I started with some spray stripper and had terrible results. It was able to lift the top layers of paint off but sort of gave up after that, so I shelved it and went to the blast cabinet. Lesson learned: sandblasting > stripper. After dialing in my secondhand Eastwood cabinet with a new pane of glass and a new ceramic tip, I used gravity-fed sand to blast everything down to bare metal, including the fan element. So satisfying.
I ordered a can of Eastwood rust encapsulator with the new tips, and coated the inside and outside of the box with it, figuring some extra insurance is always a good thing.
I found a square of industrial rubber at the local ACE hardware, meant for plumbing and other repair jobs, and used that to replace the brittle black rubber stapled to the flap inside the blower housing. I just bent the staples open carefully with needle-nose pliers, punched new holes in the rubber, and bent it all back into place.
For reassembly, I used #10 1/2″ screws to hold all of the parts together. I shot them with black paint first and then assembled the bottom of the radiator well. I found a roll of sealing foam 1/8″ thick and 2″ wide, rated for 150˚ and heater applications. The width makes it perfect for fitting on either side of the core and cutting down for other areas. The trick is to pad each side of the core so it doesn’t vibrate around, on both sides and top and bottom.
I turned my focus to the electric fan motor. The motor itself is in good shape and tests fine on the bench, so I figured I’d just sand and paint it, clean up the wires, and replace the connector. Someone had cut and spliced the wires and wrapped them in miles of electrical tape years ago so I pulled that off, cleaned up the solder, and put heatshrink tubing over the joins. Then I replaced the connector with a new Delphi 56 Series 2 Pin connector and closed everything up. Using the original rubber gasket between the motor and the mount, I bolted it back up to the plate and re-installed the fan (The fan itself got a light media blasting and then a light coat of rust encapsulator). I soldered a new connector on the ground wire. New motors are available from the Light Line dealers, but there are also units available on Rock Auto for half that cost.
Next is the hose and valve unit. The inlets on my heater core are 5/8″, so I got a 5/8″ valve from RockAuto for $23 and a length of 5/8″ ID hose from my local NAPA to cut down. With all of that in place, the unit looks really good, and it’s ready to go into the truck when the weather warms up. I can’t wait to install it and enjoy a working heater control.