I worked in Laurel, Maryland 25 years ago at a dot-com startup. We were based first in a small office building on Rt.1 and for about four months there was enough room to fit everyone in the same building. As the plans to expand unfolded, with the eventual goal of hitting an IPO, we started exploring the surrounding area for a larger office space. One of the places I passed by often and wondered about was a building up on a hill south of the space we eventually landed in. It was only barely visible from the road, but the company name was spelled out in large art-deco letters above the entrance: AEROLAB. It was occupied at the time but it looked like a secret military installation or evil scientists’ lair, which would not have been out of character: Laurel is a weird place.

These days, the building is abandoned and seems to be a popular destination for urban explorers (as well as the sizable homeless population in those parts):

Date posted: June 5, 2024 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

Cabel Sasser runs a studio called Panic, which makes excellent software for the Mac, has dabbled in video game production, and recently designed and shipped their own handheld video game console. Yesterday on his weblog he posted a number of scans of a series of catalogs produced in the 1980’s which featured gadgets of all kinds. The DAK catalogs had everything from breadmakers to radar detectors to audio equipment, and they used to come to our house addressed to the previous owners. As a young impressionable middle-school student I read the description for one of their products, a graphic equalizer, and obsessed over it for months. I recall asking for it for Christmas, my Dad turning me down, and me being a dick about it, which still haunts me.

Eventually I earned enough money to buy it, and I hooked it up to the huge Fisher audio system I’d bought the previous summer with money from painting the house. As I recall it didn’t amplify anything (the ad copy claimed my stereo would “literally explode with life”) but made the mix a lot muddier, no matter how much I fooled with the channels. I messed with it for months but eventually disconnected it, having learned an expensive lesson about believing ad copy without reading any reviews.

Thanks Cabel, that totally took me back. Read his post—it’s a fun look into the wild and crazy days of direct mail in the 80’s.

Date posted: November 7, 2023 | Filed under history, music | Leave a Comment »

I found this video link a week or so after the 80th anniversary of the Tidal Wave mission over Ploesti, Romania, during World War 2. Somebody did a pretty decent job of visualizing the raid with animation and 3D modeling, although there are several historical inaccuracies I saw immediately; the B-24’s in that theater were too early to have belly turrets, for example. I’ve often thought this would be an amazing opportunity for a movie or video game, but my fear is that it would get turned into garbage like the Midway movie from a couple of years ago.

Date posted: August 13, 2023 | Filed under history, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

As an amateur historian of World War II (and conflicts before and after) I’ve heard references to the 1973 fire that burned 17 million military personnel records, but there’s been little written about the disaster. WIRED did a good longform piece on the fire and its aftermath, and the lengths to which the government will go to fill in the gaps.

At the time, preservation experts were divided on whether archives should have sprinkler systems, which could malfunction and drown paper records. Yamasaki decided his building would go without. The result, the gleaming glass building on Page Avenue, opened in 1956. More puzzlingly, the architect designed the 728-by-282-foot building—the length of two football fields—with no firewalls in the records storage area to stop the spread of flames.

Date posted: July 19, 2023 | Filed under history, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Old office shelves

Wow, look at that. Fifteen years ago this week I started demoing the old exam room in preparation for a renovation; I think it was this same day Jen came in and told me she’d just gotten a positive result on a pregnancy test.

* * *

I’ve been using a cast-off MacBook Pro from work for email since before the pandemic; I have one good machine cobbled together from multiple out-of-service 2013 Retina models—this one has a drive from one machine, a replacement battery from another, and a screen from a third. It’s serviceable for what I’m doing on it, mainly email, photo selection/cataloguing, and other basics. But I’m stuck at OS 10.14 on this machine and I’d really like to upgrade to the latest version for security and modern features. It can’t talk to my iPad, which kind of sucks. It suffers from random 1-5 second freezes. There are some applications I can’t run anymore.

I think it’s time to upgrade my personal system here, given that the last truly new MacBook I bought was back in 2011, funded partially by the sale of my previous laptop. I’m looking at something ligher and slimmer (and cheaper) than a true MacBook Pro, which points at a MacBook Air: They’ve just updated the model to the new M2 chip and it goes head-to-head with the 13″ MBP with only a few minor omissions that I don’t care about at all. I’m waiting for a large expense report check to come in from work, and when that does, I’m going to pull the trigger.

Date posted: January 24, 2023 | Filed under apple, family, finn, history, photo | 1 Comment »

There’s something impressive about seeing a theater company mount a production and watching it work from a pure entertainment standpoint but also from a logistical/production background. We went to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol downtown on Saturday with Karean and Zachary. The venue is in a building across the street from my old office on Redwood Street, which began as a bank, was renovated as a disco, and then was bought for the theater company and rebuilt. The tiered seating is set up almost vertically, so we were on the second level and sitting almost over the stage. We were able to watch the cast both perform and be stagehands, carefully introducing and removing various props while they were performing; it was like watching a tightly choreographed dance and I enjoyed every minute of it. They seamlessly wove music, singing, and even a Stomp-style rhythm into the play, and every cast member was fantastic—how refreshing it was to see so many people of color as the leads! It was an excellent production and I would definitely return for serious Shakespeare.

We had a great time with K&Z, stopping in after the play at an old Canton haunt called Nacho Mama’s, where we spent way too much time, money, and brain cells when we lived in the neighborhood. The man who founded it died ten years ago and I’d wager it’s changed hands since then, because the vibe, menu and quality have all slipped. I don’t think we’ll be going back, and I will miss Mesa Fries for the rest of my life.

* * *

Following some recent comments about video games and ramping difficulty levels, I’ve been playing a Season event in The Division 2, where there are a series of challenges that lead up to four minor boss fights, which then unlocks a major boss fight. I did the last Season primarily solo, as is my usual MO, and found the ramp to the boss fights achievable and challenging. Far from a simple walkthrough, I had to work at the boss fights but they were a solid test of my skills to that point and ultimately I enjoyed finishing it. When they rolled out this new season, I started with the first challenge and got to the minor boss fight; with a bit more work I was able to beat it and move on to the second challenge. It was there I got my ass completely handed to me. By default they ramped the difficulty level up to Heroic, which is four steps above “you will need nuclear weapons to beat this.” As mentioned before I like to play solo, but there was no way I could beat these bosses by myself. Last night I joined another player who was playing solo against one of the boss challenges, and between the two of us we took him down. I suggested we take on the third boss, and soon we were joined by two more players who helped us along. We all died multiple times but in the end we all finished it. There’s one more miniboss to beat and then it’s on to the main event; hopefully I can find some other players to help finish the season.

Meanwhile, the search for a new game continues. I did find one that I thought might be interesting to play, but it turns out it’s only written for the PlayStation or PC.

* * *

As mentioned earlier, there are nine new windows leaned up against the wall in the garage, waiting for installation. Between the holidays, work schedule, and family commitments, I may not be able to get any of these in before the middle of January, but I do intend to try. The first room up will be Finn’s; she has three circa 1925 windows which insulate about as well as a wet towel. I can’t wait to get the new ones in place and test the difference in both heat retention and soundproofing.

This is a lovely tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger, by his bandmates in Ivy, who I’ve written about before. They talk about their early years, who he was, and what drove him to create. It’s a really thoughtful tribute.

* * *

I spent a little time in ProCreate learning some more tools and working on another shirt design for the holidays. I’m about 75% happy with it, both for content and execution. I’d like to move towards more vintage designs to take advantage of the resurgence in antique trucks and Scouts in particular, but more practice is required.

Date posted: December 13, 2022 | Filed under friends, history, music | Leave a Comment »

It’s December, and that means we’re deep in the middle of List Season. All the professional knowers and taste arbiters compile lists of 25 Somethings You Should Something and try to out-cool each other by namechecking cultural touchpoints nobody has heard of. The big ones never fail to disappoint; reading Stereogum’s 50 Album list isn’t quite as pretentious as Pitchfork, but the vast majority of artists are unknown to me. Happy to see Drug Church, Beach House, Soccer Mommy, and Spiritualized(!!) on this list; he ratio of bands I’ve listend to this year to bands I’ve heard of to who is this? is about 5:15:35 in the list of 50. Get Off My Lawn, etc.

One good thing these lists provide is isolating some new music worth checking out, which I will do after triangulating across several of them.

* * *

We went to Finn’s chorus recital last night, which was quite lovely and mercifully short; spending more than an hour in a gymnasium with 400+ people in winter coats can get pretty close pretty quickly. They did well; there were only a few off-key notes across three grades, which was a blessing. Watching young gawky middle-schoolers file on and off the bleachers and giggle with each other reminded me of a time when the music program at school was my lifeline; all of my new friends were part of the band, orchestra or chorus. Our high school had a serious music program, something I was invited to early—I played upright bass for the high school orchestra in 8th grade, when I was technically still in junior high. The concerts were always fun but what I remember the most was that incredible time after the concerts, when my friends and I would go and hang out at the diner, jamming ten people in a 4-top booth to share a plate of fries and nurse a coffee under the watchful glares of the waitresses, laughing and killing time together until curfew hit. That feeling of finally finding a place to fit in was huge, and perhaps because I’ve been jammed in the house for so long, afraid of what the the world has become around us, crashing against the early 50’s question of what have I been doing for 30 years of my life and what does it mean, and thinking about my daughter’s future in all of this, I was feeling giant blue waves of nostalgia for those days of innocent, wide-open freedom.

* * *

I’ve had a dozen or so sales on my storefront so far, mainly variants of the Scout II grille designs, which totals out to a pretty depressing amount of money. That’s mostly because I pushed the store during a holiday sale, where the cost of T-shirts (and thus my percentage) was dramatically reduced. And, as you might expect, likes and shares do not equate to sales. I think I have to keep feeding the store with new merch; I hve an idea for a holiday-themed shirt but it’s going to take a couple of days to put together, and I’ll most likely run out of time before the holidays.

Date posted: December 7, 2022 | Filed under history, music | Leave a Comment »

Texas Raiders

Longtime readers here might know that I’m an aviation history buff; I love reading and learning about WWII-era planes of all kinds and I’m fascinated about the history of those still flying. So it was a shock to  read this evening that Texas Raiders, a flying B-17 on the airshow circuit, was involved in a horrific midair crash with a fighter from the same era in Dallas today. I was never able to see Texas Raiders up close but I did get to see it fly in formation with a small armada of antique planes in DC back in 2015 during the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. This marks the second loss of a B-17 in three years; Nine-O-Nine crashed as the result of poor maintenance back in 2019. Sadly, I suspect the era of seeing antique planes fly will soon come to an end.

Date posted: November 12, 2022 | Filed under history, photo | Leave a Comment »

I drove three hours up into the Poconos to look at a crusty truck on Sunday, hoping it would be good enough to drag home, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I was able to make the best of the trip by scooting through the Delaware Water Gap to visit our house in Hackettstown, where I went to elementary school up until the 5th grade. A lot has changed there and much is still the same. First I stopped off at the old house to see how it looks: it’s in good shape!



What strikes me the most is that a lot of the trees I remember are gone. The willow in the front yard I fell out of is long gone. All of the tall oaks in the neighbors’ yard to the east are gone. The house to the north looks like it was completely overtaken with new construction. And the overgrown forest and park down at the end of our street where I played Little League baseball and rode BMX bikes has been leveled and cleared, probably for some kind of new development.

Driving around town was wild. It looks like it’s doing very well—the fact that they have the M&M Mars plant anchoring the town is key. Main Street is busy and all the storefronts are full. My middle school is still standing, and still handsome despite the ugly emergency stairwells bolted to the front of the building. The winding route to my elementary school looks almost exactly the same. All of the buildings on the way  still stand, and the path up the hill from the dropoff circle is still there. As I drove out of town I found myself passing the VFW hall where I raced my soap box derby car, the Dairy Queen next to the river where we celebrated little league wins, and the Walmart that used to be a Jamesway.

I’m glad to see the town doing well. Sometimes I wonder how our lives might have been different if we’d stayed there. Hackettstown wasn’t perfect but I have lots of good memories from there.

Date posted: October 16, 2022 | Filed under family, history | Leave a Comment »

Jen and I got to talking over coffee yesterday morning about mixtapes and 45’s and the first albums we had as our own people (not inherited from our parents or siblings). In 1984 my sister and I both got boom boxes for Christmas (the exact model I had is in the picture above), with a selection of five cassettes to listen to. My five were:

Looking back on that selection, it’s pretty solid, from an early 80’s point of view. There weren’t a lot of clunkers there—the Def Leppard album fell off on the B side pretty steeply and there was some filler on that particular Van Halen album, but everything else was tight. I played all of these constantly and then when I got my first brick of blank tapes I started taping songs off the radio. At some point I probably had 30 or so cassettes like this, where the DJ was talking over the intro to the song, it played through, and they came back in again only to cut into another song. You Kids Don’t Understand, and all of that.

But man, I miss mixtapes. I miss the time and patience it took to sit by the radio and wait for the DJ to mention he was gonna play a Who deep cut at the top of the hour, and I’d sit with my fingers over the Record button hoping it would be Baba O’Reilly because there was no way I was going to spend $12 on Who’s Next for one song. I had a whole stack of “goddammit” cassettes, a hundred dollars’ worth of store-bought albums that sucked except for that one good track, and that really sucked at a time when when I was making $7.50/hr slinging tacos. Mixtapes may have sounded shitty, but we got the music we wanted.

Date posted: February 3, 2022 | Filed under general, history, music | Leave a Comment »