I haven’t really had much to write about around here other than small updates on lots of little projects.
- I’ve been working nonstop this week on a report at work that will be released both as a print and digital product; the process demands a completely new workflow which has been an uphill climb to learn and a series of trial-and-error attempts to get things right. When it’s done it will be an exciting launch, but it’s taken a lot of late nights to get this far.
- We’re still waiting on grout for the kitchen tile. I bought some “white” grout at the Home Depot and tried it on a test sample, and it dried more gray than white. There’s another color, called “avalanche” which looks whiter than white that I’d like to try next.
- I cleaned out the greenhouse last weekend, pulling all of the rest of the tomato plants out and consolidating the tubs. All of the yard furniture went inside with the last rain barrel, and I reinstalled the panel on the back wall. I’m sad to see it all buttoned up for the winter, but I’m already thinking ahead to next spring.
- Walking the dog last week, I passed by a house that’s been on the market for several weeks and noticed the owners were moving a bunch of stuff out to the curb under giant FREE signs. Always interested in FREE stuff, I bypassed a charcoal grill, several shelves, old office chairs, water jugs and other assorted stuff and focused in on a Dewalt tool case containing a corded drill in excellent shape; I then juggled that, my coffee, and the dog all the way home. I headed back in the Scout to see if I could score one of the shelves to use in the greenhouse. While I was loading that into the truck, the owner asked me if I was interested in a ladder. Sure, I said, immediately thinking of Glenn, who could use a ladder of his own. He showed me to a 20′ aluminum ladder in excellent shape, so I threw it in the truck and texted Glenn. He’d borrowed one of my ladders to pull his shutters off before having their house painted, so we swapped ladders later that day. I’m always looking out for stuff like that, and when I can find things for family, it’s that much better.
- We had an electrician come in and hook up the heater in the new bathroom, after a year of waiting in vain for my neighbor to come back over and finish it. That job went pretty quickly and as a result I had him come back out to put a switch and mount in for a ceiling fan in on the porch. He was smart and jumped a wire from the lighted doctor sign on the front of the house; it took a little longer than he was expecting but it’s all ready for a fan we haven’t bought yet. I’ve got a bunch of patching I need to do on the drywall out there because he had to cut a hole around the switch and up at the top of the wall to get through the sill plate.
- After several months of back-and-forth with Warby Parker, I’ve got new glasses on the way. I was trying to avoid going for an eye exam in person to avoid COVID, and they have an app that roughly tests for prescription changes that I tried, but I was told—after the test—that it didn’t apply to my prescription. After the in-person test I was told two things I already knew: my distance prescription hasn’t changed, and that I need readers. They made the case for a set of bifocals but I think I’m going to just find a cheap pair of readers at Target for now.
Some things I got done this weekend, in no particular order:
- Mowed the lawn myself for the first time all summer: our lawn guy comes intermittently toward the end of summer when he’s gearing up on his fall landscaping work, and the yard was looking shaggy. It was satisfying but I’m happy to do it only twice a year.
- Attempted to get the gas weedwhacker running reliably; and gave up in disgust. Fuck it. I took some pictures and posted the damn thing to Craigslist.
- Posted my unused brew kettle to Craigslist.
- Used the electric weedwhacker to work on the back half of the yard, around the woodpile and behind the greenhouse, which had become overrun with vegetation. Cut back giant bushes behind the woodpile and lots of tall weeds around the property line.
- Climbed the telephone pole by the driveway and disconnected one of two stabilizing wires which had been uprooted by the driveway crew and was hanging loose. Also cut a random telephone wire that was hanging loose and looped around the fence.
- Powerwashed the front stairs, three motel chairs, and two rain barrels to get them ready for storage.
- Bought the girls our first Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the 2020 season.
- Reorganized the garage, again, to fit more of the shit in there comfortably.
- Cut a set of 3/4″ plywood baffles for the back two basement windows from scrap wood and prepped them for quick installation. I’ve still got to do the two side windows and make something for the basement door. When the End Times come, I’d like to be prepared.
- Reinstalled the printer software on Finn’s Chromebook, Jen’s MacBook, my work MacBook and my work tower so that we don’t have to continuously turn the printer on and off in order to get it to fucking print something. Worst $100 I’ve ever spent on computer hardware.
- Repackaged the Anker sound buds I bought last week and set them up for a return to Amazon. I now have two choices: I can buy a pricy set of AirPods Pro, or I can buy a second set of the original Anker sound buds I had originally, which worked fine on their own, but did not work for taking phone calls.
Not much to report on about the weekend. I can bullet some of them out.
- We found a new place for weekend breakfast, neither closer or cheaper, but definitely tastier, in Ellicott City. Three sandwiches and three fancy warm drinks totaled out to a little under $30, but damn, a sausage cheese and egg sandwich between two waffles was the fucking bomb.
- Finn and I drove the Scout down there, after two weeks of slumber in the garage, and she ran great. But it was cold. It’s definitely time to get the hardtop back on her.
- My back could not take any more days on the couch, so Hazel and I moved upstairs to the futon on Friday night. She was relaxed enough to go right to sleep, but any stirring of leaves or wind through branches outside had her awake, hackles up, staring out the window. Several times she started barking, and I had to talk her back to sleep. Saturday night I closed the blinds and she didn’t hear anything or move for the whole night.
- Sleeping with Hazel is like sleeping with Finley at age 4: she’s all elbows and knees, and she puts off more heat than a wood-burning stove.
- Jen took a well-deserved mental health afternoon on Saturday, and Finn was invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover that evening. Jen and I were so beat that evening, we got a pizza, poured some drinks and watched a movie. It’s the first time we’ve done that in about five years.
- I got a little woodworking done in the bathroom on Sunday, but my time was limited. Progress was limited mostly to a coat of paint on the dining room windowframe, some woodwork painted in the bathroom, and a new stool cut for the front windows up there.
- I drive to Parkville at 6:30 to buy a vintage Sears bandsaw from a strange dude off of Craigslist. He lived in a little house with his Mom which was CRAMMED with stuff in neat piles all the way through the house. He took me to the basement and I had visions of ending up as a flesh raincoat, but the saw was good and the deal was done. The wall next to the linen closet is not straight, and there’s a piece of wood that sets in between the closet and the wall. Once I’ve scribed the wall’s curves onto the wood, I can use the bandsaw to cut that much cleaner than if I did it with a jigsaw.
I don’t have much to write about right now. This week has been a grind for various reasons, and I’m looking forward to the weekend so that I can keep making progress on the house.
- The dog is still in a holding pattern. We’ve got an appointment with an outside trainer who will come to the house and train us how to live with Hazel. Hopefully he can help us find a way for the five of us to coexist.
- I’m about to pull the trigger on having our driveway dug up and paved properly. It currently looks like shit. It was last paved around the Eisenhower administration so there are vestiges of asphalt under the grass and weeds, and now there’s a huge pile of mulch in the back half where the tree used to be. I found a company who will set up a diagonal drain to guide the runoff down into the neighbor’s yard (the lowest spot in the area) instead of directly into our garage. It’s not cheap but it will drastically improve the curb appeal of our house. They will also widen the entry so that it’s a proper two-lane driveway, which will make jockeying cars much easier.
- Windows are in but the front pair still needs insulation and final touches on the outside, and I can call that project done for now. Paint and final touches can come later.
- I’m headed to Easton on Sunday to help Karean with a pile of IT issues—she has an old Mac that contains her picture archives and a bunch of other hardware that needs service, so I’m going to pack up a toolbox and see if I can’t solve a bunch of problems for her. If the weather is nice I might drive the Scout over there.
As regular readers here might know, I’m loyal to the Apple brand, because it’s been good to us. In the late 1990’s my friend Logan asked me if I thought it would be smart to invest in Apple stock; this was before Steve Jobs had rejoined and before Ameritrade was a thing on the internet. If I’d been a smarter man I would have scraped together $100 at that point and found a way to buy some; I’d have made about $10,000 on that paltry investment by now.
When I look back on my history with Apple machines, I realize there are a lot of them that have come through my door. Here’s a brief account, mostly for my own edification, of what I’ve had and what happened to them all.
- Mac IIcx (Norman): Norman was the first computer I bought myself, having learned the rudiments of Macs at our computer lab in college. I knew I was going to need to find a new job—contracting was becoming a financial drain—so I resolved to learn some design skills. It so happened that a neighbor of a friend who I’d house-sat for was selling her old IIcx and offered it to me with Quark 3.1, an early version of Illustrator, and some other programs already installed. I took her up on the deal—I think it was $400, which was a lot of money for me at the time—and had to scratch more money together to afford a monitor. When I bought it, it was already several generations older than the ones I’d learned on in college, but still usable. Once I had that purchased, I used it for learning page layout and organizing my illustration mailings. That experience, and a well-placed friend from college, got me an internship. Later I put a a DayStar Turbo 040 card, which, as I recall, involved nervously pulling and mailing the logic board off to the company to be soldered together with the new card. Norman ran faithfully and well for years, but he was old when I bought him and like any nerd I had my eye on a newer shinier machine.
- Power Macintosh 7100/80 (1996, G-Force): This Mac was purchased after the internship changed to a full-time design gig at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there I inhaled Apple/IT information and reorganized our small network of Macs—optimizing and networking a Quadra 900, a Quadra 840AV and an older IIfx, which I later upgraded with a Radius Rocket to boost its speed. The 7100 was a stable, solid unit that I’m sad I ever got rid of. It got me through years of after-hours freelancing, and when it was relegated to second-line status I experimented and got an install of MKLinux running on it so that I could bang around inside Apache and learn Perl and web services. I donated this machine and Norman to the AmVets sometime in 2003.
- Powerbook 520c (Max, 1999): I bought this machine after I switched to web design. I was working at a regional sales/rental/services company that had moved into web design, and our small band of designers and programmers had a big grey cube all to ourselves–the wild west days of the web. The Mac was a rental that they were disposing of, and I got it for cheap. It was an early laptop with a plastic cladding over a magnesium chassis, which meant that most of the screws were stripped and the clutch mechanism for the lid was worn out. In comparison to today’s laptops with their millimeters of clearance, this machine felt like it was put together at the Fisher-Price factory. But, it was COLOR! and it ran System 7 pretty well. It worked OK for a while, but the tired battery gave out soon after I bought it, and the screen started flaking out, and it was soon relegated to novelty status.
- Compaq (1999, beige box): This was one of two PCs I’ve owned, acquired when I was deep into coding and all of the tools I was using were written for that platform. I don’t remember if I bought this or they gave it to me, but I had it for several years. It ran Windows NT, which allowed me to set up local domains and build and serve sites right on the machine instead of out on expensive public subdomains. For what it was, it worked well, and I used it for several years before I went back to Macs. I don’t miss Windows NT.
- Power Macintosh 8500/150 (Alpha, 1999): I bought this from the rental department as well, intending to use it as a replacement for the 7100 and a server in the basement. It worked reasonably well for what it was, but I don’t remember using it as a main machine until I brought it to the game company and stuck it under my desk to use as a print design and light-duty graphics machine. Much of the interface for Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom was built on this machine. I don’t recall what happened to this unit, but I probably donated it when I moved out of the city.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (1999): While I was working on a Windows unit at work, I was also lusting after new laptops. When I switched jobs to the dot-com, they gave me a blank check, and I ordered a top-of-the-line Pismo maxed out with RAM. It served as my main machine up until the day I left. While I was there I had a Sun workstation running some form of UNIX that was neat to play with, but was way out of my league.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2000): After I was laid off, I needed something to work on, as all of my home machines were pretty creaky. I bought this machine off of eBay and miraculously didn’t get ripped off. It was in good shape and had no dead pixels, and it was my workhorse laptop for the next three years, getting me through multiple freelance jobs and the pivotal switch from System 9 to OSX. This remains one of my favorite Apple machines of all time; the styling of the case set it apart from all other beige laptops of the day, and the keyboard remains one of my favorite designs. It was modular and powerful and sturdy as hell.
The office in my first house: the beige PC, 8500 and a Pismo on the desk. Hi Penn!
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2001): I bought this from a friend for Jen to use as a freelance machine, and it served her very well until the day it fried itself.
- Various G3 iMacs (2003-8): I went through a phase where I was buying and fixing cheap old gumdrop iMacs and using them for various things, including reselling them. For a while I had a music server at home and one under my desk at work with a giant iTunes library, and ran them until they all fizzed out. Purple was the longest-lived unit, serving all the way to 2008, and then it finally gave up.
- Powerbook 100 (Junior): I found this little gem on Craigslist, I believe. This was the initial offering Apple made to the portable market, and was nothing more than a Mac SE with no floppy drive and limited memory. I used it for simple writing tasks for a year or so but again, because the batteries were long dead it was mostly just a novelty. My sister wound up with one of these and donated it to me when she moved. I tried, but couldn’t get one good machine to work out of two. At some point in the late 2000’s one of the caps blew and it stopped booting, so I traded it for a Powerbook 160 and $10.
- iBook G4 (2005): I upgraded to this machine when my Pismo was getting long in the tooth. It was between this and a full-size Powerbook, and I had to go the cheaper route for financial reasons. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad decision, although as the average browser screen size got larger the size of the iBook display limited the way I saw things unless I was hooked up to an external monitor. This machine served me through a year or so of back-stairwell freelance gigs (always be hustling) and two years of self-employment. It went to Orlando, out to Portland and later to San Francisco, and across the Baltimore/DC area. It was a great machine. I sold it in 2007 to finance the purchase of a new production machine.
- IBM Thinkpad R30 (2006): I bought this as a development machine when I got the TalkPlus gig in Portland, and used it as a coding box while I did all the visuals on the Mac. It was flaky when I bought it but did what I asked of it (running HomeSite and several other handy coding apps) and I humped it and the iBook west for both trips; in hindsight I should have just spent money on a single dual-boot Powerbook. After a while it devolved into chaos when the clock battery died; then there was some nonsense with the BIOS that involved a three-step boot process, and after lending it to my father-in-law for a brief period, it came home and sits on a shelf in the office. It needs to have the drive pulled and get donated.
The Thinkpad hard at work, California, 2007
- Powerbook G4 Aluminum (2007, Dugan Portable) I bought this for the low price of $300 on Craigslist, and while I don’t use it every day, it’s been a dependable workhorse of our fleet. It had a bad LCD, which I replaced soon after I purchased it, and since then it’s been pressed into service whenever I need to go back in time to use an old piece of software or hook up an old peripheral. It also came with a bombproof Brenthaven laptop backpack, which has been used for everything from carting the 17″ MacBook Pro around to hiking trips in the woods.
- Powerbook 160 (2007): I don’t remember why I bought this, but I did. It worked for a while and I had some fun with it (I think I loaded some old floppies in the drive to see if it could read them, that sort of thing) and then I put it aside. Soon after that it stopped booting. I haven’t followed up on it lately, but I’d love to find someone who can troubleshoot and repair it. Having done a little research online, I wonder if it’s the power supply?
- Powerbook 1400cs (2007): this was actually in response to the Powerbook 160 dying, and I wanted something that would still read some of the floppies I had laying around, as well as the ancient CD-R’s I’d burned in my early days. I got it off of Craigslist and was happy to see it booted quickly and came with a PCMCIA slot, which meant after some calisthenics and scavenging a first-gen Airport card from a sick Base Station, I was able to get it connected to our wireless network. I break it out every year or so and boot it up, and apart from a screen issue where the lower half is ghosted for a few minutes, it runs fine.
- Power Mac G5 (2009): I traded some IT time for two of these big boys, as a client was downsizing and didn’t need either of them. They were both finicky, fragile pieces of shit that were constantly overheating and randomly crashing, requiring constant vigilance and multiple surgeries. The first unit suffered from bad RAM and thus kept corrupting its startup disk, and the second had cooling issues which meant it would go down at random intervals with no warning. I installed a older copy of OSX Server and used these machines to learn how to administer it, which came in handy for several IT gigs. I dragged them along for as long as possible but replaced them with a decommissioned Mac Pro from work as soon as I could. When that was complete I gutted both chassis for usable parts and brought the aluminum cases to a recycler, where they fetched about $20. Good riddance.
- MacBook Pro 17” (2007, IdiotCentral): A big-boy portable that wound up being too big. I got this in December of 2006 after dealing with the aforementioned iBook screen, and I think in hindsight it was overkill. This machine was a monster in size and weight. It was great for working on large layouts, and all of the standard connections on a MBP were nice to have back after the limited selection on the iBook. I used this for several years of solid web design work both as a freelancer and at a full-time gig. It suffered from a video board issue later in its career where the lower half of the screen went blank. I cracked the case several times to install new parts, and after installing two inverter boards, I was able to resurrect it in order to put it up for sale. This was sold in 2011 to help pay for a new 15″ MacBook Pro.
- Macbook Pro 15″ (2010, IdiotBrain): This has been my workhorse machine for the last nine years. In frontline service for the first 6, it faithfully traveled with me to and from work at the agency, keeping my freelance work separate from my 9-5 gig. A couple of years ago I upgraded the spinning drive to a solid state unit, which sped it up dramatically. I had few problems with it up until early this year when it unceremoniously blew up. I figure the motherboard just fried itself after thousands of cycles. I pulled the drive and any swappable components out and put it out to pasture. I then put drive inside a decommissioned 15″ MacBook Pro I got from work. This model is two years older than the original, but the drive installed cleanly and it booted up like it was no big thing. The trackpad click function is broken but other than that it runs fine. To all outward appearances, IdiotCentral is still running, even if I’m only using it for personal email and backing up website data.
- iBook, Pismo G3 (2013): These two laptops, mirror images of two machines I’d already owned, were in a closet at the agency and weren’t being used for anything, so I dragged them home and cleaned them up, and they both run OK. The Pismo had never been converted over to OSX (WOW) and the iBook was used for someone’s travel laptop, so they were both used lightly. I recycled the batteries and put the iBook on my workbench downstairs for a couple of years for research needs. The Pismo got juiced with the leftover goodies I’d collected from our old fleet and sits in a container on the shelf.
- Mac Pro (2015, New Brain): I got this from work, as stated above. It had been sitting unused in the corner of a studio room for a year until I saved it and ran some tests. It turned out the RAM was bad, so I bought it for $50 and swapped the bad chips out for new ones. It’s been in the basement ever since, serving out 16TB of data flawlessly. Unfortunately, it’s trapped at OS 10.7 which means I can’t upgrade the OS beyond where it is, and that also caps some of the software I can install. I will eventually replace the platter boot drive with a solid state drive and fill all four bays with gianter drives for our data, but for now it hums along happily.
- Macbook Pro 13″ (2017, WRI Mobile): This is my work-issued laptop, and I’ve had it for about three years now. The first machine I had was an inherited 15″ MBP, which was decommissioned, and they replaced that with a used 13″ machine. That laptop met a sticky end with a full thermos of coffee in my messenger bag, so they gave me another used 13″ that had seen some hard use. I scraped and washed some old running stickers off the case, opened it to dust out the fans, and dropped a larger solid state drive in it, and it’s been my frontline machine ever since. I’m looking at trading it for a new Touchpad MBP sometime at the end of this year.
Grading is complete, grades are submitted, and all my grading sheets are in the Outbox. The last step is to shoot some pictures of student work and then drop it off at the university.
Stuff I accomplished this weekend, in no particular order:
- Took a load of stuff to the dump; my nostalgia/hoarding filter is extremely thin right now, so I finally chucked a bunch of stuff I swore I was going to save to “use later,” including two of our old kitchen cabinets I had to take off the wall to be able to fit the fridge. Little by little, the basement is clearing out (aided in no small part by a trip to goodwill last weekend). I still need to figure out where to dump the old CR-V hood, two Scout brake drums and a spare steel wheel; the dump doesn’t take car parts of any kind.
- Mulched the rest of the front bed with Jen. This also allowed us to find several of the gladiolus bulbs poking through the soil that we’d planted a couple of weeks ago. Success!
- Ran over to Christi & Glenn’s house to pick up my ladder, which they’ve had in their garage since last fall. While I was there Glenn and I crawled up on their garage and removed about 30 pine boughs from the tree behind it, which were sitting directly on the slate, as well as about 6″ of pine needles stuck in the snow catchers. We threw all the boughs into the yard of the retirement community behind them, who haven’t pruned their trees in decades.
- Replanted a bunch of marigolds from the big pots Finn and I had planted them in to separate singles, and learned you have to pinch off everything past the first two pair of leaves to promote blooms and keep them from getting leggy.
- I was taken down by a stomach ache Saturday afternoon, probably from the sushi we’d had the night before, and had to lay down for a nap until dinnertime.
- Cleaned the gutters over the new bathroom, which were completely filled with helicopters and sprouts from the sugar maple in the driveway. Which is living on borrowed time, because I emailed a signed contract to the tree removal service on Sunday in the hopes we can get it taken down in the next couple of weeks. I’m also hopeful they can drop it and leave the wood away from the central part of the driveway so I can get our cars in and out.
- Fertilized and trimmed all of the tomatoes back. I’ve been using a different method of pollination and it seems to work better; it’s basically just flicking the flowers with a finger for about 10 seconds. I’ve been pretty lethal about cutting stray shoots and old growth back, and the plants are still alive, so that’s a relief. The romas by the door have gone absolutely crazy—there’s at least 14 tomatoes working on that plant alone.
- Took an hour or so with Jen to wrap the grape arbor with netting to try and save as many of the new shoots as possible. This involved cutting half of the old netting away and attaching the new netting to the remainder; picking grapes later in the season will be interesting.
- Rebuilt the edging around the herb bed, which dates back to 2004 or so. One side had collapsed, so we picked up new wood on Saturday and I had the new bed complete by Sunday afternoon.
- Disassembled and cleaned out the A/C units for our bedrooms, which were disgusting. This prompted me to look into ductless air conditioning systems, something that could be a workable, cost effective alternative to heavy window units or rehabbing the whole house for central A/C. The system uses a single compressor outside and relies on thin hoses that go up the side of the house into wall-mounted units in each room. This avoids installing a giant air handler in the attic and a bunch of ducts in the ceiling; while having an appliance bolted to the wall of each bedroom isn’t the most attractive approach, it’s a hell of a lot better than plugging up the windows. If I’m serious about a home equity loan to finish the bathroom, this might be the other thing we spend on to raise our quality of life.
- Split, stacked and covered enough wood to fill the second cradle. There’s no end in sight.
- Watched Finley make a stellar assist in soccer, resulting in a goal for her team.
- Celebrated said game with donuts.
- Went pumpkin picking and had dinner with the Morrises.
- Picked up the CSA in the Scout
- Fixed our old HP printer, which went on the fritz last year at this time. A new network board solved that problem right quick.
- Put some old electronics on Craigslist
- Watched my neighbor fly his drone 400 feet over our neighborhood with my GoPro.
- Watched the Ravens lose
- Made dinner for the family
- Worked on a presentation for this event on Tuesday evening. 90+ RSVPs. Yikes!