Thursday, December 27, 2007

NYC

Went to NYC the weekend of December 15th. The weather was shite, basically 34 and sleeting with 40 mph gusts. But it made for some very cool scenery. Below is the Empire State Building on the Sunday morning the 16th.

Click the image to enlarge.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Crosswalk Madness

Once again, the increasingly whiny DC public has freaked out about something that's really the same as it's always been, and the government has reacted by throwing together an insanely disproportionate response which will surely have no effect, or perhaps even make things worse. In this case, it's about the pedestrian fatalities.

As you know, there have been a bunch of pedestrian of accidents in which an automobile-free individual was struck and killed by one of the automobile-enabled citizens of this city. As of Dec. 3, there had been 24 fatalities, which is in fact the highest it's been since 1997. So in response to this crisis it seems that the ever-image-conscious government has decided to mobilize an army of crossing guards. Because obviously, people in this city are incapable of crossing the street by themselves. Well, at least 24 of them were.

While it's a quaint idea, and I could see some value to them at particularly nasty intersections where people don't like to yield to pedestrians when turning. But they're bloody everywhere now. Therein lies the problem. Like most DC initiatives, flooding a situation with people who have no fucking idea what they are doing does not help matters.

On my way to work a couple days ago, I was driving up Georgia Avenue approaching a red light. There were cars in the right two lanes, but the left lane was open. As I was approaching the intersection, the light changed to green. So, I started speeding up again since my lane was clear ahead. As I am entering the intersection, I suddenly become aware of a madly gesticulating crossing guard in the middle of the road ahead of me. Of course, I couldn't see her at all until I was about 10 feet from the intersection, as she was in front of the other cars to my right. It was way too late to stop by the time I saw her - luckily she did not decide to step right in front of me, but it was damn close.

What on earth is a crossing guard is doing in the middle of an intersection with a green light? Was she waving pedestrians across when it said "don't walk?" Was she just not paying attention to the signals? Whatever the reason, she very nearly got herself killed. There is a point to WALK/DON'T WALK signals. I can't see around other cars. At controlled intersections, it seems incredibly dangerous for a crossing guard to be managing traffic and pedestrians in any fashion that contradicts what the lights are saying. With a lot of traffic around, it's impossible for drivers approaching the intersection to see what's going on in front of other cars. That's the whole reason we have these signals.

If this were an uncontrolled crosswalk, then a crossing guard might actually do some good by getting traffic to stop for pedestrians as they are legally obliged to do. But at controlled intersections, the lights determine the right of way. As long as the traffic signal is functioning properly, there is no reason for a cop to tell people to go against the signal in any way. It can only lead to disaster when someone else approaching the intersection, and can't see what's going on, finds themselves head to head with a pedestrian or a car that should not be there.

So, luckily, nothing happened, and a crossing guard did not become DC's 25the pedestrian fatality this year. But back to the numbers here. In and of itself, this "upswing" is meaningless. Just look at the lame chart of pedestrian deaths provided by DDOT, which only covers 2000-2004, but as you can see, the number varies wildly from year to year - anywhere from 8 to 18 in that period, and obviously, it was 24 in 1997. What's important to understand is that any analysis of statistics involving very small numbers (such as 8 and 24) is essentially meaningless. There really is no crisis.

Beyond that, DC's population is increasing. METRO ridership breaks new records every year. The streets are teeming with people like never before. We would expect that as the number of pedestrians increase, so would the number of fatalities.

I'm all for measures to make the city safer for pedestrians. DDOT has a nifty web site with their pedestrian master plan which actually looks pretty well thought out and involves updating the infrastructure in problem areas with fancy crosswalks, special signals, and so forth. This is all good. Let's have at it. But the crossing guard thing is out of control. They don't know what they are doing, they aren't helping things, and they might just get themselves or someone else killed as a result.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Internet Scam Backlash

I got a class action lawsuit settlement notice in the mail yesterday. You know, one of those multi-page, trifolded, rather bland looking things that generally require you to read a lot of fine print. After which, you usually toss it, because the fine print basically says that as a member of the class, you are eligible to receive a coupon for $10 off Verizon accessories, and a bunch of lawyers will probably be receiving $120 million.

Well, this one turned out to be interesting enough to bother submitting: with almost no effort at all, they'll send me a check for $25.00, or if you can prove actual losses, you can file for that amount. The upshot of this class action is that credit card companies inflated the exchange rate for foreign credit card transactions over a period of years, costing consumers from 1 to 3 percent in extra fees on such transactions. That's pretty serious. It make the Office Space scam of rounding off the pennies, look like shoplifting. Anyone who spent any significant amount of time overseas in the last ten years probably is eligible for a good chunk of change. Of course that would require having kept your credit card statements for that time period. Who doesn't do that?

Anyway, I have traveled very little in that time and $25 is probably more than I deserve, so I just went for that one. This is where it gets interesting.

I did a quick google search on this thing because I was curious about the specifics of this class action suit. One of the articles i found had quite a bit of user discussion, much of which discussed this question: IS THIS A SCAM?

Now, I'm as paranoid as the next guy. I pretty much automatically assume every single unsolicited email I receive is a scam. For U.S. Mail, anything that looks like a bill or a "congratulations!!" sort of letter, I assume is a mild scam or simply a lame advertisement.

But I have not once in my entire life received a legalese-filled letter that turned out to be a scam. Except to the extent that class action lawsuits in general, are simply ways for lawyers to extract large sums of money from corporations with marginal benefit to the actual victim. Now that's not to say I wasn't slightly skeptical of this one when I first read it: after all, in clear language it basically says you can get $25 by simply going to this web site and clicking OK. But it was pretty easy to get to a comfort level on this one: Googling revealed the details of this settlement in legitimate news sources, and the letter itself contains the names and physical addresses of the law firms involved, also easily verifiable. And finally, and most importantly, in order to request the $25, you need provide no additional information. All you do is click "OK" to verify your name and address. What possible motive would a scammer have? The only information that he would get out of this, is a confirmation that you received the letter.

But in this discussion, the paranoid are not to be convinced! Check out these comments:


Kad2112: I just got the same letter with 3 options as well. I am going to trash it. I think it is a scam. It offers me $25. To me it is not worth the risk.

Rudy: This IS an elaborate scam. There is absolutely no reason to think otherwise other than to believe what you read on the internet?!?!?! My lord, people! You are just ASKING for trouble!

Jennifer: I received the same packet and letter and I’ve never even traveled outside of the US.... If its not a scam, I have no idea why they would think I’ve spent money outside the US. Its obviously trash, so I’m throwing it away. Oh yeah, and they printed my address wrong. Sketch

David: All I know is they must get your name and address from public records. I bought a house and they put the wrong address on the deed, then fixed it and that’s the only time my name and that wrong address was together. Now today I receive the same letter everyone else got and to top it off, I have never been overseas in my life. I’ve never been out of the U.S. So I find it hard to believe that there’s any merit to this “so called claim”.

sonny: this completely reeks scam. everybody that is planning on using the last form ( ithink the red one), consider yourself warned ..

John P: I am filing a mail fraud compalaint with the local USPS. Phishing on the internet is one thing. Mail fraud occurred when they used USPS to send out fraudulent documents. This is clearly a scam.... HOW MANY OF THE SCAMMERS ARE MONITORING THIS BOARD & CONVINCING YOU THAT THIS IS LEGIT?????????????????


Anyway. Over the course of this "discussion" numerous other folks provided links to credible news sources, indicated that they had actually contacted the court, and even references to the actual case on the government web site. But the paranoids could not be convinced!!

So it seems that we've come full circle. People have gotten so used to scams - phishing, pyramid, Nigerian investments, whatever - that far from there being any chance of being suckered into one, the trick now is convincing people that something ISN'T a scam. No matter what you say, there's always an answer -- the press release is a fake! The law firms are fronts! The case number in the system, but it's not the same case!

Well. Indeed, I suppose it is conceivably possible to perpetuate a scam of such epic proportions. In fact, one could argue that the credit card companies who now owe $336 million, got away with exactly that, for a while. But if this is such a scam, then the entire world must be in on it. In which case the entire fabric of my existence is a scam, and so it really doesn't matter anyway. I'm in. Twenty five bucks in the Matrix is still buys me five beers that taste as good as real ones.

Official web site for Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust Litigation Settlement

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Worst Radio Commercials

I've been driving to work a fair amount lately, as a result of my wonderful girlfriend living in Baltimore and me working in Silver Spring. The drive, surprisingly, isn't that bad - it typically takes about 45-50 minutes on the way in and a half-hour on the way out. Since my metro ride is about a half hour door to door, the added time on a given day is only about 20 minutes. But that's not what I'm here to write about.

Since a car commute that lasts longer than 15 minutes is a bit of a novelty to me, I've started listing to talk radio in the morning. I used to listen to NPR when I had a short drive to work, because I liked getting a little bit of news in the morning. But NPR news radio, with it's smooth monotones, non-confrontational musical choices and cute-accented reporters with funny names, just doesn't cut it for 25 minutes of 85 miles per hour followed by 25 minutes of stop-and-start traffic. For the first part, I need something a little more agro for getting around all the dolts on the road, and for the second part, I simply need to stay awake.

Therefore, it is with some shame that I must admit to listening to the Elliott in the Morning show on DC 101. Now, this guy is not as obnoxious as Howard Stern or Don Imus or the like - which is obvious by the fact that he still has a job. But still, he's basically cut from the same cloth. The show is pretty much bathroom and redneck humor, lots of sexism, some slightly right-wing politics, and a dash racial and religious stereotyping thrown in for good measure. And on top of that, his voice is grating. But listening to all the idiots who call in is pretty entertaining, and generally it serves it's purpose well: keeps me awake, and pisses me off.

Anyway, one of the consequences of actually listening to the radio is having to listen to radio commercials. And there are a lot of them. And I have to say I have grown to hate some of the advertisements so immensely that I will actually change the station simply to avoid listening to it. Others are more subversive and just annoy me subconsciously. But on to the list.

Worst Radio Ads during Morning Rush Hour

#1. Charleston Alexander Diamonds. Annoying primarily because of the unbelievable saturation - at least once every 20 minutes. Second, every sentence uttered by the silky-voiced narrator ends on a downward inflection. You know, he lowers his the last syllable. I am sure that they must have done some study that determined that this speech pattern was most likely to induce people to buy diamonds, but to me, it just makes me feel like I'm being mocked. Can't take that one.

#2. Empire Today. 1970's jingle-ized version of their phone number that is repeated at least 12 times. It's permanently stuck in my head. Though I may find myself dialing it when I'm 86 years old in some kind of amnesiatic haze, I swear I will never buy anything from them as long as I am a functioning member of society.

#3. Stub Hub. I am not sure if these guys are some kind of scalping agency or bricks-and-mortar ebay operation, but the sing-songy way they say "Stuuuub Hub" drives me nuts.

#4. Anyone who uses traffic sounds in a radio ad. Are you fucking nuts? Who the hell thinks it's funny to put honking car noises in an ad that airs during rush hour? Or screeching tires? Or the sound of an 18 wheeler whizzing by you? Even though I've heard all these ads a thousand times I still can't avoid being startled when I hear those sounds. People have enough to worry about with the real traffic, and I could easily see someone reacting and getting in an accident.

I honestly can't remember who the conspirators are for #4, probably because I'm so shocked about the impending accident I believe to be underway, that I completely lose focus on the radio. I think Stub Hub has honking cars on top of their primary offense, but ALL of these sounds come up during the advertisement rotation that airs every morning.

I urge everyone to boycott the companies mentioned above. Anyone have anything to add?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Signs of the Apocalypse #239: DC Government

In the last few months, I've had several attempted communications with the DC Government.

1) September 18, Office of Tax and Revenue. My house is not receiving the "Homestead Deduction," despite having filed the proper form when I closed on my mortgage. Letter requests that status be updated, and taxes adjusted retroactively.

2) September 26, Adjudication Services. I write to deny guilt in the matter of my cell phone ticket.

3) October 12, Office of Tax and Revenue. I notice on DCRA's real property database that the homestead status of my house has been corrected. Unfortunately, the taxable assessment has not changed. In addition, the proposed tax for 2008 is about 14% more than the 2007 assessment, which is in violation of the 10% annual increase cap. So I write them, again.

Beyond that, I tried to dump some cinder blocks at the Fort Totten Transfer Station. They said I couldn't dump them and gave me a photocopied sheet explaining that they weren't taking masonry while the transfer station was being renovated, and that the renovation would be complete in late summer 2007. The irony of it being November at the time, was lost on the fellow. Fortunately, the sheet included three other places nearby where I could take such stuff (for a fee, I am sure). Unfortunately, when I called them, each said the same thing: no, actually, we don't take masonry. Nicely done, DPW.

Anyhoo, today is November 27. I have never received any communication from "Adjudication Services" (whatever that is), or OTR on either of these matters. While I understand that OTR has probably been distracted by about 31 million other problems, obviously someone read my first letter since the status changed. Too bad they can't be bothered to actually write me back. Of course calling them is completely useless, since they just tell you to write them a letter.

As for the cell phone ticket, I'm not especially concerned, except to the extent that the silence I am experiencing probably means someone just tossed the letter. Which will result in me getting stern notices of fines and loss of my driver's license. I should have sent that one by registered mail...

Anyway, methinks the time has come to write letter #3 to DCRA, since this one actually will cost me a lot of money if one of those crooks doesn't deal with it. Not sure about the cell phone one, though. Maybe no news is good news.

In fact, the only communication I have received from DC in the last few months in response to my contact with them, is from the Department of Motor Vehicles. I registered for a vanity plate online, and got a letter about two weeks later saying that it had been approved. More on that soon.

But seriously. When DMV is the only moderately functioning agency in the DC government, the apocalypse must be near.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Construction and Sidewalk Closing

The massive development that DC's been seeing lately has had some unfortunate side effects, one of which is sidewalks (seemingly everywhere) being closed by construction companies. This causes pedestrians to either take long detours or (more likely) take a dangerous walk through the traffic lane of a the road. As DCist reported a week ago, DDOT has announced that they will unveil stricter regulations at the end of October. Let's hope their bite is as bad as their bark and the new regulations can help.

In my own experience, part of the problem isn't just practicality - but plain laziness on the part of the developers. Sure, it is more expensive to create covered walkways or work around the sidewalk. But what gets me is situations like the one that I have to walk through every day on my way to and from the Petworth metro. On Rock Creek Church road, the sidewalk is closed for a small stretch which basically drives pedestrians into the street. While the road itself isn't very busy, cars do sometimes come flying around the corner from Georgia Avenue. Visibility is bad because of the construction, so I'm never very comfortable with the walk. But it seems silly to cross the street twice (which puts me in the middle of the road anyway) just for the 50 feet that are closed.

Why on earth couldn't they have just moved the fence back 6 feet and left the sidewalk open? There isn't even anything in the space that is consumed here, as you can clearly see from these pictures. Hopefully these new regulations will save us from this stuff in the future.


Above: From the south. Below: from the north. Click on a picture to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Police Cruiser Hits Pedestrian

A police cruiser hit a pedestrian crossing in a crosswalk on Wisconsin Avenue yesterday. According to the story, a 70-year old man was crossing. A car stopped for him in one lane, but the cruiser went around him and struck the pedestrian.

This pretty much sums up why I have so little respect for DC police. They talk on their cell phones while driving, yet ticket us for the same (even if not moving). Some people in this city actually try to do the right thing, and stop at a crosswalk (as is legally required) for pedestrians, yet the cop (probably talking on his cell phone) blows right by without thinking, maybe, the car in the other lane had stopped for a reason. My instinct is to always slow down at crosswalks in this situation - these guys spend all day in the car, shouldn't they care as much?

This is the same police department that in the wake of several pedestrian accidents involving Metrobuses, starts aggressively ticketing jaywalkers. Never mind that the victims weren't jaywalking.

How about taking some goddamn responsibility for the actions of the city agencies? How about giving us the slightest indication that you care one whit about the laws that you so aggressively enforce, other than for the money the tickets bring in?

Columbia Heights Endangered

It's hard to miss the dramatic changes that have been happening to DC's historic rowhouse skyline in many parts of the city. The rapid gentrification of many neighborhoods over the last few years has resulted in an influx of money, and consequently an influx of developers looking to take advantage of that.

The Washington Post today reports on this phenomenon. The article is timely, as a house that sold across the street from me only a month ago has already been gutted and popped up, towering above the two-story roofline across the street from my house.

I lived in Mount Pleasant for ten years. That neighborhood has been been given an historical designation that defines strict guidelines about exterior renovations. Over the years, I was involved in many discussions about this status and it's impact. A lot of people complained that it was discriminatory, because one consequence was that repairs or renovations would almost always be more expensive than necessary in order to meet the guidelines. While I am sympathetic to this position, the reality is that the Mt. Pleasant historical review board bent over backwards in many situations to try to accommodate special situations.

At the same time, everyone loses in the long run if this kind of thing is allowed to continue unchecked. One of the primary components of the value of our neighborhoods is the architecture itself. If people can just do whatever they want to the old homes, our beautiful streetscape will completely lose the charm that makes it so desirable. A few dollars saved on a cheap renovation, or a few more dollars earned by a developer by adding some square footage with a third-floor bump-up, are a short term gain only. The desirability of our historic neighborhoods will decrease as they start to resemble horrible suburban sprawl, with builders explioting every angle to put as much square footage of living space as possible in a postage-stamp sized lot.

The D.C. Preservation League has identified Columbia Heights as one of the most endangered places in 2007. Even in the short time I've lived there I've seen numerous examples of fine properties that are being completely reconfigured with no regard for the style of the street, with appalling visual results.

I hope that Columbia Heights can get an historic designation like Mt. Pleasant's before it's too late.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Goodbye Gus...

I didn't know Gus personally, but this is just so cool... a sidewalk memorial to the passing of a beloved neighborhood cat. I love Columbia Heights.

Intangible Arts: No Gus, no glory...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's All About Pizza

The DC blog roll is on a love fest with DC's recently elevated brick-oven pizza scene. I feel a personal connection to two of the most prominent members of this community, Comet Ping Pong and RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria. I lived steps away from Comet the day it opened its doors, and the timing of my move to Columbia Heights also happened to coincide with the opening of Red Rocks. So I have the dubious honor of being one of the first (if not the first) regular at both of these joints, and at the same time watching their offerings evolve as the restaurants hit their respective strides.

City paper blog adds its two cents today, following up their odd piece in last week's city paper about RedRock's chef that isn't really a review so much as a window on the politics of the DC brick oven pizza "scene."

DCist reports on Jamie R. Liu and Don Rockwell's head-to-head comparison of Comet, RedRocks, 2 Amys, and Bebo Trattoria (a suspect addition since it's in Virginia). Comet #1, RedRocks #2.. take that, 2 amy's babyland!!

Many other local blogs and forums are rife with discussion about these joints, this is just the tip of the iceberg. But in the end, all that matters is that life has never been better for pizza-lovers in DC. A few years ago, DC was a pizza wasteland, arguably the worst pizza city in the country. How things change.

And to the New Yorkers who will never eat a slice that didn't come from under a heat lamp at 3 AM on Amsterdam Avenue, to hell with ya. I'd kill for New York pizza here too, but this isn't the same thing. It's almost apples and oranges. And besides, I bet that a New York style pizza made here in exactly the same way would somehow end up tasting like Manny and Olga's. It's the water...

Friday, August 31, 2007

OK, Virginia's not ALL bad...

At least there are a few people with a sense of humor over there. Though I am still not going across the river ever again unless absolutely necessary, since I believe that there is now a mandatory death penalty for driving 80 in a 55.

Courtesy of Bill M., taken at a recent DC United game (yes, the D is cut off)...

dcunted

Courtesy of The DCeiver:

agina

Now I know what they mean by Virginia Is For Lovers...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blelvis Update


I didn't realize this at the time. But August 16 - the day I ran into Blelvis - is the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death.

I am a believer.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DC Drunk Driving Deaths Down

The Examiner notes that deaths due to driving under the influence of alcohol are down significantly in 2006 versus 2005. Well, down from 19 to 12. With a sample that small it's hard to read too much into it. Of course that didn't stop MPD from taking credit for the decline, because of their "outreach" programs. Whatever that means.

In reality, if anything's responsible, I'd have to go with DCist - it's Metro being open until 3 AM on the weekends, which only started a few years ago. So why on earth would Metro be considering ending late-night service to cut costs? That's possibly the single best thing that's happened in DC since Marion Barry left office. Let's hope this idea is off the table in a hurry.

Friday, August 10, 2007

El Pollo Rico is Back!

El Pollo Rico, the insanely good spit-roasted chicken restaurant in Wheaton, is back open for business. The storefront had been shuttered for about three weeks following a raid in which nine employees were arrested by the INS. Four members of the Solano family, who own the joint as well as another outlet in Arlington, had been arrested on Federal charges of tax evasion, money-laundering, and harboring illegal immigrants.

None of that mattered today. Francisco Carlos Solano, one of those charged, was behind the cash register as always, selling half-chickens and fries for about six bucks a pop as fast as people could buy them.


Dozens of people waiting for their chix fix from the crook cooks.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

All Right.... Crime Spree!

You really have to wonder what's going through her head. DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, in response to the typical summertime surge in crime and the typical gentrifier's outcry upon realizing that the ghetto where they bought their $670,000 house last month has crime, enacted the All hands On Deck initiative for the third time this summer.

According to Lanier, this miraculous program, which costs nothing, "is good for public relations, which to her, plays a part in successful policing." At least she's being honest: it's all about PR. I'm so pleased that our police department puts it's public image at the top of it's "to do" list, rather than, say, actually fighting crime in any kind of effective way.

So, what exactly is the result of these brilliant "All Hands" initiatives? Well, they sure arrest a lot of people - more than 1,000 in a single weekend, to be exact. Unfortunately, arresting drunks, hookers, and pot dealers -- the vast majority of whom will be back on the street the next day -- doesn't really do much to keep people safe from street crime. Frankly, your average small time drug dealer probably improves public safety - he's there all the time and knows everyone who comes and goes. Thugs don't mess around on blocks where everyone knows everyone. But the proof is in the pudding - and these initiatives so far seem to have had little effect.

OK, well, if it doesn't cost anything, what's the big deal? Unfortunately, this is, quite simply, a lie. Nothing is free. You cannot wave a magic wand and create police officers who are willing to work overtime, for free.

The cost is coming now. As the Examiner reports, all these cops who worked overtime for the latest All Hands fiasco last weekend, have been taking some time off later in the week. From the aforementioned Examiner article: "In the 1st District station on Wednesday afternoon, 14 officers were on patrol for an area where the department requires at least 30."

So, Ms. Lanier, perhaps you can explain why double-loading the police force for two days, and then being half-staffed for two more, helps us in any way. If more police is better, than why isn't fewer police worse? To the extent that you think a greater police presence will hinder crime, don't you think a dramatically reduced police presence will be a free pass for the same criminals?

So, kids, grab your pipes and chains... the cat's away. This weekend, it's gonna be a crime spree!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dog Days

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit driving to work. The uphill walk between the Silver Spring metro and my office this morning was excruciating. Fortunately I brought my machete, so I was able to carve a swath through the wall of humidity. No matter. By the time I got to the office - which, in a departure from the usual, is mercifully well air-conditioned today - I probably looked about like this minus the Hawaiian shirt.

Oh yeah, and this just in: Major delays on the Red Line due to a suspicious package left on a train. That means I'll probably be rotting on the outdoor platform in Silver Spring for at least 45 minutes before a train comes.


Not exactly what one likes to see when contemplating public transportation.

Signs of the Apocalypse #238: Rep. Bob Allen

In another all-to-frequent incident of lawmaker hypocrisy, Rep. Bob Allen (R-Fla) has been arrested in a sting after agreeing to pay $20 for a blow job.

Allen was the Tampa Police Union's 2007 Lawmaker of the Year. The Florida Times Union reports: "In his seven years in the Legislature Rep. Bob Allen of Merritt Island has built up a 92 percent approval rating with the Christian Coalition of Florida on issues like abortion, marriage and pornography."

The story just keeps getting more bizarre, as Allen, following his arrest, claims, in essence, that fear of black men and the weather led him to this situation. Just read it. Awesome.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Suing your customers

In this story we read about 19-year old Jhannet Sejas who recorded about 20 seconds of the Transformers movie with the video mode of a pocket camera, and was promptly arrested for video piracy.

In the comments (from another site) someone writes:

"i took out a cell phone in a theatre recently, to check the time, and put it on vibrate. a guy can down from the projection box apparently, asked to see my phone. i ask why, he says to check if it had a camera.

So. It seems that the MPAA is tearing a page from the RIAA's handbook, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater: they are pissing off the very people they depend on for survival, their customers.

The absurdity of hassling people for recording (or, in the case of our commenter, simply opening his cell phone) a movie with a pocket camera, or cell phone, cannot be overstated. Within hours of a movie being released (or in some cases, before it's even been released), a high-quality bootleg is typically available on the Internet. These are sourced from prerelease DVDs that get leaked, or are telesync recordings that are made by the video camera operator himself. What possible threat, then, is a barely-watchable, and necessarily incomplete recording made by a patron for fun?

RIAA and MPAA have apparently decided that the best way to deal with sagging record sales and movie viewership is to have their customers arrested. Yet these are the people who are actually still going to movies, and still buying music! These are fans of Hollywood, the very consumers of their product! This kind of legal action has no effect on piracy as everyone knows. Movies and CDs continue to proliferate freely around the internet.

I believe in paying for a product, even if I can get it for free, if it's a good product. I buy CDs and DVDs all the time. But when I read stuff like this, it doesn't exactly make me feel good about supporting them.

This continued hostility towards their own customers shows how shortsighted the entertainment industry is. More than eight years after Napster forever changed the way people consume music, they still aren't getting it. Where once there was an opportunity for these organizations to embrace the technology to the benefit of everyone, instead they continue to dig their own grave as the world marches on around them.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Weekend getaway

I went to Maine over the weekend for the 2nd annual running of the Beach to Beacon 10K by myself, John & Tony. This race is in it's 10th year and is probably Maine's biggest running event and also a nationally recognized race that attracts elite runners. The race course is very cool, if hilly, winding through Cape Elizabeth and finishing on the waterfront near Portland Head Light. Which, conveniently, is about a mile from John and Leigh Ann's home. And it's an excuse to come to Maine in August, when the weather in DC is atrocious, and hang with good friends. Best of all, the beer drinking and fried seafood eating is fully justified by the 10K.

This year was not my finest performance (you can look up the results at that link), but no matter... the race was fun, and the rest of the day was amazing. Perfect weather for taking John's '69 Pontiac Bonneville convertible to the beach. I can't think of anything that would have made for a more perfect day.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Shut the Internet down!!

This is absolutely priceless. Clearly fame has it's privileges. No matter how much of a crackpot you are, you can still get your looney tunes opinion in print.

"I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span."

Ummmm... we'll get right on that!!

"In the early seventies there were at least ten albums released every week that were fantastic."


I am guessing he's referring to this sort of thing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

DC is like...

Comment from a story on DCist. Cracked me up.


MD is the butterface girl who kinda smells but has a HUGE rack and will blow you behind the bleachers because she thinks this will make her popular but everybody's really laughing at her.

VA is her cuter sister who's kinda dull but she can hold her liquor, she knows how to field strip a gun in the dark, and she doesn't mind cleaning fish.

DC is the baby daddy next door who's doing them both, all the time telling them, "Please, baby, please, baby, baby, please! That girl don't mean anything to me. I f**k her but I LOVE you! Can you help me out with $1.2 billion to take care of my shortys."

He also does it with men once in a while but HE'S NOT GAY. He just wants to get his pole smoked once in a while.

[64] Posted by: monkeyrotica | August 1, 2007 3:24 PM



Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Finished floor pic

Here's a picture, at last. Two coats of polyurethane. Compare to the "before" picture.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Police @ Hershey Park

I finished the floor on Saturday. But my camera battery was also finished so still no pics.

I wanted to post a quick concert review in the meantime. I saw The Police at Hershey Park Stadium last Friday, July 21st, with my brother David. Thank god for technology. Traffic was backed up for nine miles coming into Hershey. If it weren't for my GPS and his Google Maps (it is possible that we are way too wired) we probably would have missed part of the show. Luckily we managed to dodge about four miles of standstill traffic using backroads, as guided by divine navigational satellites and internet access.

Anyway, my capsule review.

Pros:

  • Great show. Band was tight, energetic, and had a lot of interesting new arrangements of old favorites. As far as these reunion shows go, it was about as good as I could have hoped for. Didn't feel phoned in and the guys even high-fived a couple times.
  • Really nice outdoor venue, and the weather was perfect.
  • No security to speak of. If only I had know that before, so I could have brought my own refreshments. (See "Cons," below).
  • Impeccable sound - sounded great from up front where our seats were, and just as good when walking around other parts of the venue.


Cons:
  • Traffic sucked. Think Nissan Pavilion, but worse. Took almost 90 minutes to get there from where traffic backed up about 9 miles out - and that, with our GPS backroad dodge.
  • Traffic really sucked. Another 90 minutes on the way out just to get to a road that wasn't a cluster f*ck.
  • Pennsylvania blue laws. Beer lines were horrible, by the time we got into the place and waited in line a half-hour for a beer, it was 8:30. At which point I noticed the sign saying beer sales would end at 8:45. Jesus, the band hadn't even started yet! And limit two per customer of course. The only thing to do was buy two, and pound one immediately while the guy was taking our money - which entitled me to buy another one. Unfortunately, my beer-chugging skills have grown weak. I didn't have the stones to take the 2nd one down before we had to move on. But we were able to jump back on line before the cutoff, finish the beers in line, and get two more before it was all over for the night. So I managed five (large) beers out of that situation, which was OK. But next time there is no question I'm bringing my own. Props go to David for successfully occupying the beer vendor during the purchase process long enough for me to kill one and buy another. What was merely unfortunate, could have been tragedy.




Unfortunately, I didn't think to bring a camera. So the phonecam will have to suffice. View from our seats of the stage.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Floored

I sanded and put a coat of polyurethane down in the front hallway last night. I guess I was high on the fumes, though, because I forgot to take a picture. It looks pretty cool already, and I'll post a pic after the next coat of poly. This wasn't exactly a high priority (compared to, say, the waterfall coming off the end of the gutter that I noticed when it rained a couple days ago). But I'd been looking forward to trying out my new tool, a Milwaukee 1/2 sheet sander. It pretty much kicks ass.

Sanding floors with a palm sander (even a big one like this), is at best, a very time-consuming activity. I took this approach just because the floor was unfinished (pictures) and really just needed some stains sanded out, and the surface cleaned up a bit. If you tried to sand a finished floor this way, or one that needed any significant amount of material removed to make the surface even, it would take forever.

I started with 60 grit to get the stains out and take down some ripples from the previous (not very good) floor sanding job, then finished with 150 and 220 grit. All told I did the whole hallway, about 16 feet by 4 feet, in a couple hours.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Urgent IT Bulletin

From: ******
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 4:29 PM
To: All
Subject: IT Bulletin
Importance: High

Please remember to be very careful of opening an
attachment or link within messages where you don't
know the sender or if the message looks the least
bit suspicious. When in doubt, leave the email alone
(ie. don't forward it to anyone or click on anything
in it) and call or email the helpdesk for assistance.


Sigh. I work for a consulting firm. Even with an industrial strength spam filter, I still get a dozen or so junk mails a day. As does everyone else here, I assume. Yet still, we need to tell people - professionals, who work in offices - not to open the virus/scam/trojan horse emails.

This is 2007. Most people don't even realize that "spam" was actually a canned meat product before it was junk mail, and googling news about "phish" will return as many results about phishing scams as it does about the band.

I am just trying to figure out: exactly who isn't getting it? Who reads that email that says "Your [CLASSMATE] has sent you an invitation, click aakdkdk.iluv.superscams.ru/28231uiopjj32138129038lsdaxxxx.jsp.exe to view it" and thinks to themself, now THAT sounds like a good idea?

It really takes a lot of effort to fall for an internet scam these days. Email programs and web browsers warn you relentlessly about running any executable. Attachments are filtered mercilessly - to the point where it's actually quite a challenge for me to get an executable to certain clients for a legitimate purpose. You can't just accidentally read the email - you have to open it, follow the link, then click yet another link which actually downloads the virus. Then, your browser will give you dire warnings about running programs from the internet, or force you to save it to your hard disk, at which point you can finally commit technological suicide.

The moral of the story is, it's pretty hard to prevent stupid people from hurting themselves. I'm not sure that warnings like this really work. You might as well tell people not to stick their hand in a vat of boiling oil, it might burn! Oh yeah, and don't eat broken glass. It hurts going in AND coming out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sketchy Fundraising by Barack?

I got a phone call a couple days ago from Barack Obama's campaign. Here's how the conversation went:

Phone rings. Number is "Unavailable". Sadly, I have a client who blocks their phone number, so I must answer these calls.

Telemarketer: Hi, this is so-and-so calling you back from the Barack Obama campaign. How are you today?

Jamie: I don't remember calling the Barack Obama campaign. Umm... I'm doing fine. At least I was until I answered this call.

Telemarketer: You made a pledge for $25.00. Your pledge is as important as ever. Will you still be able to fulfill your pledge?

Jamie: I definitely don't remember making a pledge. I'm a little confused. When did I make this pledge?

Telemarketer: Um, let's see, you made it in April over the phone.

Jamie: Hmm. Three months ago, things were a little crazy. It is possible that I drunk-dialed the Obama campaign, made a pledge, and blacked it out. I better dig deeper. This is strange, because I don't remember making a pledge. I also don't remember getting anything in the mail from you. Can you tell me the address you have for me?

Telemarketer: Reads address to me. The address is one I have not used in more than two years; I've moved three times since then.

Jamie: Something is fishy here. If I made a pledge over the phone, and they didn't ask me to pay right then, why wouldn't they have my correct address? Would I really have committed to giving money to the campaign, yet not have given them any way to collect the money other than calling me back? Would anyone really take a pledge without verifying the address of the donor? Excuse me, that address is more than two years old. I don't remember making a pledge, and if I had, I can't understand why you would not have my current address.

Telemarketer: Oh, er, hmm, I'm sorry, I guess there must be some mistake. Goodbye!


Well. I suppose there could be some scenario under which I had made a pledge, didn't give them my current address, asked that they call me back in three months to collect the money, and then completely forgot about it.

Or, on the other hand, the much more plausible scenario: Obama's campaign is engaging in some sleazy fundraising. Tell people they "pledged" a sufficiently small amount of money, and most people, wishing to honor a pledge that they can't say for sure they didn't make, will just pay it.

I'm going with #2.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Farm Fresh Meat

In a moment of clarity, I suddenly remembered my very favorite domain name that I registered years ago. Not quite as cool as freshmeat.net which should be familiar to any self-respecting geek, but they only got the dot net anyway.

Anyway, since my dreams of starting an internet-based business for selling organically-raised beef, half a cow at a time, never came to fruition, I decided that it was as good an identity as any for my blog.

Welcome to farmfreshmeat.com. I will be updating the logo when I have a chance.

Signs of the Apocalypse #223: Ping Pong Safety

From DCist, I find news of my old neighborhood. Little did I know that while I've been away, a dire public safety situation has been threatening this whitebread enclave. As shocking as this sounds, it's really true: there is outdoor ping pong playing on Connecticut Avenue.

ANC Commissioner Frank Winstead has carefully documented and Fox News-ified a video of the sidewalk in front of Comet Ping Pong. It indisputably shows people playing ping pong. To anyone watching this surreptitiously obtained video it seems possible, even likely, that a ping pong ball could enter the busy street, perhaps even hitting a car! I can only imagine the consequences should a ping pong ball, weighing perhaps one-half of one ounce, roll into the street or strike a moving vehicle. We all owe Frank a debt of gratitude for bringing this developing crisis to the public eye.




Don't be fooled by this idyllic scene. The innocent-looking ping pong table could be the greatest threat to DC public safety since the shotgun stalker.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saturday: Destroyed

The kitchen. Not me. Really. Thank you to everyone who came to help, or just to hang. I think if I hadn't actually forced them to stop working, Kelly and Joe would still be at my house now, most likely tearing bricks off the back wall, after having finished turning the kitchen into a smoldering pile of rubble.

A lot of work got done, and against all odds, there were no trips to the emergency room. I really appreciate all your help.

Here are a few pictures from the party. I wish I had taken more but didn't think of it until too late... though I did see a disposable camera that was abandoned in my living room, so maybe that will reveal some more secrets. If anyone wants to reclaim it let me know, if not, I'll post the good pics here. Especially the one where you were dressed as a policeman in drag. That's right, you know who you are.

You can click on a picture to expand it.























Friday, July 13, 2007

And now for something completely different...

A brief rant. In today's post, there's an article about Metro's upcoming plans to issue new "paper SmartTrip cards":

Metro wants to upgrade its Farecard machines so riders can use cheaper, paper-based SmarTrip cards, under a plan approved by a board committee yesterday.

Disposable SmarTrip cards might be preferable for tourists and other infrequent users who don't want to spend extra money for the regular, plastic cards. The minimum purchase for plastic SmarTrip cards is $10, including $5 for the card. The limited-use cards will probably cost less than $1, officials said.


Can someone explain how this would differ from a REGULAR F#&?@NG METRO CARD? What makes these geniuses thinks that someone who wants a "limited use card" would pay even $1 more than the $0 you currently have to pay to get a paper metro card that works perfectly well? I am struggling to understand what possible benefit there could be to a consumer to have something between the existing metro card (which is, by definition, limited use) and a SmarTrip card (which is, by definition, meant for frequent riders). If this is about the busses - and I give huge props to any tourist who's ever set foot in a metrobus, because I lived here for at least 8 years before I figured that out - then this seems a completely backwards solution. Instead of creating yet another technology that needs to be supported by every bus and metro station, why not just update the busses to accept the existing paper metro cards?

Also in this article, disturbing news from the Mint:

As part of the upgrade, all 900 Farecard machines will be able to accept new dollar coins that will begin circulating in January...


I guess I missed the press release, but I am deeply troubled to see that we are about to have yet another dollar coin. What is this, the fourth one in the last 20 years or so? It should be clear by now that Americans simply will not accept dollar coins, any more than we will accept a hamburger with a tomato from McDonald's. Most people either accidentally spend them as quarters, or assume they are foreign currency and stick them in a bowl on their dresser.

Besides, the only way these things ever got into circulation was in change from the Post Office vending machines. But those are hardly even around any more, and will all be gone by 2010. So it's unclear how anyone is going to end up with one of these new dollar coins in the first place.

Speaking of the post office, I recently realized that first class stamps cost 41 cents now. I am pretty sure this is the third rate hike within a year. The only thing the PO has done right lately is to issue that forever stamp that will always be valid in the future. Since the price of postage seems to change more often than my age does, and I can't even remember that, at least it is no longer important what the current price of postage might be. Hmmm... I wonder what the return on a large-scale investment in forever stamps might be?

Well, I'm glad I got all that off my chest. Obviously, the folks at WMATA, USPS and the Mint have been drinking a little too much of the Kool Aid. Or maybe it's just because today is Friday the 13th. But at least it keeps us on our toes here inside the beltway. Back to our regularly scheduled house renovation.

Speaking of which, the kitchen will be gutted tomorrow. Watch here for pics...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Heat

I took a little break from home improvement last week to try to settle in. That means going through the mountain of boxes that covered most of the downstairs floor space, and finding homes for the contents of each. Or in some cases, just moving them to another room. But either way, the goal was to be able to reach my television & stereo so I could hook them up.

So I got a lot of this stuff put away, got the music working, and the TV basically hooked up. Of course, I don't have any furniture, so for now, television viewing will be done from the floor. Next on the shopping list: sofa. Anyone who has one in their basement that they don't want... let me know. While I don't plan to revive the ages-old group house tradition of alley picking for furniture, I wouldn't mind having something free or cheap to fill the void until I can make the effort to buy something more permanent.

I got a little bit of organizing done in the basement, and wired up a dedicated circuit to the downstairs window unit A/C. This was a necessary, since as it was, I could only run one A/C at a time. Pretty much all the outlets are on the same circuit now. That's going to be rectified over a long period of time, but the predictions of fire and brimstone for this week scared me enough to get that solved. And not a moment too soon. It's EVIL out there today.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

GPS: Backcountry will never be the same

I went on an overnight canoe trip with John, Lee & Mark to celebrate Mark's final days of bachelorhood on the 3rd and 4th. We did about 30 miles of "mellow water" canoeing on the Shenandoah river and spent the night on the shore. The trip was great. Haven't done that sort of thing in ages, it seems like, and we had great weather too. Lee's going to post pictures soon so I won't duplicate his effort. It is so nice to check out of life for a couple days and just enjoy the simple things. Or maybe not so much... which brings me to the subject of this post.

I recently signed up for Verizon's GPS navigator service on my cell phone. Very cool - brings a full featured navigation system to my cell phone, which is handier than one built into the car for any number of reasons. It's portable to any vehicle so I only pay one service charge; it's good for navigation on foot too in the city; you can look up restaurants and shops by category or by name in any area; and apparently it also has some value for being OFF the road.

I fired the thing up in the middle of the river on the first day and lo and behold, it was able to give me a basic map of the river, which I could easily match against our paper map to figure out exactly where we were on the route.



Pretty cool huh? Well, maybe more gimmicky than useful for a 2-day river float, in which we had to remove a crossbar from the canoe in order to fit our giant beer cooler. But nonetheless valuable, since we were able to figure out later in the day how much farther we had to go before our campsite. I suppose in the old days, you could actually stay sober enough to pay attention to which bend in the river you were passing, but this was a lot easier.

It also gives such incredibly useful information as direction and speed. Did you know that a full-bore paddle in a canoe heavily laden with beer is about 6 mph? I bet you didn't.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Upstairs Bathroom

My house came with 1.25 bathrooms... a small but efficient full bath upstairs, and a toilet in the basement. My original plan had been to build a full bathroom in the basement first, and then gut the upstairs bath and expand it into the "office" (third bedroom) once I had another bath to use in the meantime.

After living here for a couple weeks, I realized there was no way I was going to keep using that bathroom, in the state it was in, for what could be months. The hot water in the sink barely worked, and the base cabinet was disgusting and rotting. There was a space between the bathtub and base cabinet where stuff had obviously been dropped and lost over the years, and I was starting to have nightmares about what kind of organic life might be festering in that dark crack.

So this weekend I decided that a hundred bucks or so for a new sink is a small price to pay even if I do completely remodel in six months. So I ripped out the old stuff and put in a new pedestal sink. In the process I also replaced the shutoff valves and discovered the reason for my lack of water pressure - the iron water supply pipes had a ton of rust and debris built up at the ends. That was quickly cleaned out with a screwdriver and wire brush, restoring glorious water pressure. The tiles under and behind the old base cabinet, once cleaned up, turned out to be in perfect shape.

The bathroom (pics later) looks so much better, I'm actually starting to rethink if I really want to gut it any more. There's still some unfortunate caulking around the tub that needs to be redone, and the blue tile isn't necessarily my first choice, but other than that it's not it bad shape at all. Amazing what a few new fixtures and some Comet can do.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Goodbye Sulgrave Manor

At 6 PM last night I had the final walkthrough of my apartment at Connecticut and Nebraska, and dropped off the keys. So I say goodbye to my home of nearly nine months and begin again in Columbia Heights.

I guess it's time to change the banner on this blog, which is part of the facade of that apartment building. I'll think of something...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Before and After

Here are a few pictures of the progress so far. You can click on the pictures to show a much bigger version.



Downstairs hallway. It's hard to tell just how nasty that old carpet was from the picture, but my friends who had the misfortune of seeing the house before it was banished will attest to it's horrificness. It also had the effect of making the entire place smell like a hookah bar, since apparently the previous tenants liked to burn some rather pungent incense. I probably should have been wearing a hazmat suit while I ripped it up, but so far I haven't contracted any incurable infections from having done the work.


The black marks are the reside from the glue that was used to install the tiles over this wood floor. It will probably come up with a light sanding. Overall the floor is in great shape and appears to be unfinished - it seems that someone actually sanded the floor, perhaps with the intention of refinishing it, but instead decided to put those tiles down. Whatever the reason, it's great for me since I just need to do a light sanding and throw down some polyurethane.






Staircase. You can see how the stairs are pretty worn as I described before. We'll see what happens with some sanding.






Upstairs Hallway. The floor is in pretty good shape, but has some kind of brown stain or paint on it. Shouldn't be too hard to sand it off.






Electrical Panel. Not much explanation needed here.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Electricity

Got the power upgraded today. My ancient 60 amp panel, with 8 breakers, has been replaced with a giant 200 amp panel, which should satisfy my need to consume energy. I'll take some pictures and post later. This will open the door to such services as central air conditioning, a dryer, plasma television, and (before I get central air installed) running more than one window unit A/C at a time. Woo hoo!!

In other news: during the course of the last week, I tore out all the carpets in the house. I had no idea what to expect, really. I had looked briefly before, and saw wood floors under some, and some kind of formica tiling under the front hallway carpet. That was somewhat concerning because those things are usually cemented with really nasty glue. I might have been looking at a lot of work to save whatever floor was underneath them. As it happens, I got incredibly lucky on the floors -- the tiles were "floated" on a backer on some kind, and only glued to the backer. I was able to rip them all off the floor in about a half-hour and scrape up just a little bit of residue that remained. There are a few places that are stained with the black cement, but I'm guessing it will sand out. Other than that, the floor in the front hallway is in great shape and unstained.

Upstairs, the floor is in slightly worse condition, and is stained dark brown. But overall, still a pleasant surprise to find hidden beneath a despicable carpet that's been there for at least 40 years. The stain should sand off without too much trouble and with some very minor repairs the floor there should also look great.

The stairway, which had not one but TWO runner carpets nailed to it, is the most problematic. There is significant wear on the edges of all the treads, and some of them have a good amount "rippling" on the surface of the treads, which is probably a result of the carpet backing rubbing against them for years and years as people used the stairs. Only one stair had a broken tread, though, and that should be repairable.

I still think I am going to save it, though. Even though they won't look perfect or even well preserved, I think with some sanding they will be fine, or good enough, at least. In the long run, when all the interior work is done, I'll have all the floors sanded professionally anyway - so I can decide then after living with them whether I want to do anything else. So for now, they stay.

Pictures soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Old Kitchen

Well, I have a functioning sink now. You are looking at my "temporary" kitchen... the "old" kitchen, soon to be the new kitchen, is through the door. I'll have a fridge sometime soon, really. In my last post I said I was going to salvage the old sink temporarily. After mucking with it for a little while I decided that it was just too nasty to live with even for a couple months. So I checked on Craig's List, hoping to find a cheap cabinet & sink I could use for a while, maybe from someone else's kitchen remodel or something. No luck. But Noah pointed me to the The Loading Dock in Baltimore, a non-profit organization that "recycles" used building materials. Their target audience is low-income homeowners and builders, but anyone can join. A really cool place - and they had exactly what I needed. The cabinet, chunk of counter and completely functional stainless steel sink with Delta fixture set me back the princely sum of $70. Don't be surprised to see it become a wet bar in the basement when the real kitchen's finished...


The original kitchen for this house was actually in the same spot as this temporary sink and base cabinet. You can see discoloration on the wood floor where the old counters used to sit, and the water pipes were simply rerouted through the wall - they still protrude through the floor in this room. So, for a little while anyway, the kitchen has been restored to it's original location.






The old kitchen... sink used to be under those cabinets. The PVC pipes next to the doorway is new plumbing and goes to my "temporary" kitchen, on the other side of that wall. That is also most likely temporary as the sink is probably going to be in a different place when the kitchen is reconstructed. Unfortunately the existing stack there was steel and was so rotted out, I couldn't save it even for a couple months.






Back door of my house from kitchen.






That's the original stove. The thing leaning against it was the sink counter.



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 1 - Dawn of Demolition

Thank god I bought this house, since I've been having such a hard time coming up with anything interesting to write about. It's not that my life is really that boring, rather, it's been so strange that I am afraid of future repercussions should I actually spill everything in this public forum. But I've said enough already.

Instead of baring the frightening machinery of my soul here for a while, I'm going to use this space to memorialize the renovation of my house. It began Sunday. Matt, in from Seattle for the weekend, came over for a couple hours to check the place out, and we couldn't resist getting into it with the hammers and pry bars. Before too long we'd torn down half a wall in the kitchen. I use the term "kitchen" loosely. It's really a room that contains a sink, a couple cabinets, and a stove, none of which are functioning properly. The stove has since been banished to the backyard. The sink is going to be salvaged temporarily though -- I am going to create a temporary kitchen in the next room, what will be my dining room. Actually, this room is where the kitchen originally was in this house -- the current "kitchen" is in an addition on the bacl. The dining room has a floor-to-ceiling built-in cabinet with glass doors, and you can see discoloring on the wood floor against the back wall, a legacy of the original counter. The water pipes still poke through the floor at the back of the dining room - when the kitchen addition was built, they just elbowed them through the wall, leaving about 8 inches still sticking up from the dining room floor. So it's back to the roots for a little while as the new kitchen is built.

That project begins tonight. Pictures tomorrow.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Moving

It's been almost a month since I last posted. What a month it has been. I don't have time to give every last detail here today, but suffice it to say that I am once again a homeowner. I closed yesterday on a 1913 row house in Columbia Heights, about three blocks from the Petworth metro. According to Wikipedia the northern boundary of Columbia Heights is Spring Road, and the eastern is Sherman Street, so that puts me in the far northeastern corner of the neighborhood, a mere three blocks from the Petworth metro. I like to think of it as the quiet, suburban corner of Columbia Heights - far away from the riff-raff near the Giant, future Target, and Ruby Tuesday's (yes, really) on 14th Street. It's a pretty well kept block, seems pretty quiet, and everyone I've met so far has been very friendly.

The house has some really cool architectural features but (true to my nature) it needs a lot of work. While this isn't unfamiliar territory for me, this is a little more than usual... this one doesn't just need work, it needs a whole kitchen. So I'll be living out of a microwave oven for a while as the work progresses. No matter - it'll be worth it to be back in my own space.

Anyway, lots to do. Here's a couple pics for now.






Friday, May 4, 2007

Music to my ears

I've seen a lot of music lately. Not a surprise, really, since I spent last weekend in New Orleans for weekend one of Jazz Fest. But I've also been listening to some other new (or new to me) music that's worth mentioning.

First - the bad. Last night, I saw Meshell Ndegeocello at the 9:30 club. I've always loved her unique and ever-morphing style, and was looking forward to the show. Unfortunately, Meshell phoned it in. The show was, from start to finish, a disjointed series of what amounted to radio-edits from her catalog. Nothing ever clicked, no effort was made to engage the audience or move outside the most basic interpretation of each number. On top of that, the sound was bad - the bass was smeared, overmixed and washed out the whole sound. You could barely hear the guitar and vocals. The entire uninspired show clocked in at barely over 45 minutes.

Well, that's out of the way, and I don't begrudge her despite my disappointment - everyone's got bad days. A commenter on her myspace page mentions allergies or something, so maybe she just wasn't feeling well. Following the show (which was over by 11:30) I walked back to Utopia to catch up with a friend there. En route from 9:30, I passed no fewer than 8 cafes and clubs with live music plainly audible from the street. It's funny how these things creep up on you. U street is by all rights the new center of the DC music scene, reclaiming some measure of it's cool from the 50's and 60's. I never really gave it a second thought until last night, when you could hardly walk out of earshot of one band before you heard the next one a few doors down.

We ended up at Cafe Nema where The Young Lions were playing their regular Thursday gig. Over the course of the set, they were joined by a few other musicians who seemed to just keep walking in off the street, instruments in hand. The band was rocking - and there was no shortage of surprises as the lineup kept morphing with each cat who walked in the door. Highly recommended. They also play every Friday night at Bohemian Caverns.

Speaking of Bohemian Caverns, I've caught the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra twice at Bohemian on Monday nights, which appears to be the TWJO's new home. It's an intimate and unusual space, which has been graced by many legendary jazz performers in decades past (see the History page on their web site). The two nights I saw TWJO play, they put on completely different shows, with selections ranging from standards to eclectic original compositions. The performances were consistently excellent.

Back to New Orleans... Thursday night I caught Rotary Downs at d.b.a. on Frenchman. They put on a great show - largely consisting of eclectic tunes somewhere between alt-country and indie-rock. At the same time they aren't ashamed to throw in a few hooks which kept at least one song stuck in my head for a day afterwards. Good stuff - definitely worth the price of a CD after the show.


Kirk Joseph




On stage Friday I was largely camped out at the Congo Stage, which began with Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove. Kirk Joseph, formerly of Dirty Dozen, heads this outstanding funk/rock/jazz group.



When The Saints Go Rhyming In





Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue took the stage next, producing a variety of funk-rock, hip-hop, not to mention a good dose of rock-n-roll as they exploited AC/DC's "Back in Black" - an interesting juxtaposition to the rapped-out "When The Saints Go Marching In."




The final act of the day was Soulive, by now an old-school jazz/jam band. However, both their lineup and style have evolved since I've last seen them, most notably with the addition of reggae singler Toussaint as a full-time vocalist. I wasn't familiar with most of the songs they played, presumably many of which will appear on their upcoming album, No Place Like Soul., but the new sound and style that Toussaint brings is fresh, funky and welcome.














Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Loose Ends (Part 3)

David S's shop is a converted garage adjoining his home in Boiling Springs, PA. It is simple and professional. The primary workspace is a "countertop" directly inside the door with a carpeted surface to protect the delicate wooden instruments on which he works his craft. A special neck rest permits laying guitars flat on their back while supporting the headpiece.

I'd given David my own guitar as well as another from my friend Joe - an old Epiphone that needed some serious help. Joe had been holding onto this guitar for a while, but it was unplayable in its current condition. The neck had broken and been poorly repaired with a large bolt (perhaps from Home Depot?); the fretboard was cracked clean through where the neck joined the top; and a smattering of other less serious problems were pointed out by David as he made his inspection. At the same time, the body itself appeared to be in nearly perfect condition, probably the saving grace for this unfortunate-looking relic. David's estimate for the Epi was about 500 bucks. Not a lot of money for the amount of work that would probably go into it - but nonetheless, a lot to pay for an instrument that you'd never even heard before. In the end Joe decided to do the work.

David had already done a lot of work on the Epi and it was clearly coming together nicely. The neck was reset and reglued, the fretboard repaired, and some fretwork done. In fact it looked nearly done except for a lot of cosmetic work on the neck. I am dying of curiosity to hear what this thing sounds like.

My guitar, on the other hand was finished, and, as usual, played beautifully. The D16s of this era had a construction known as "forward shifted scalloped bracing" which to my understanding, makes the guitar lighter and creates more resonance, giving a huge, full sound - especially in the middle. The light construction, of course, also makes this thing react to every change in the weather, which is why it was here in the first place. The last time it had been repaired, David added cleats under the top to keep hold the crack together. He'd initially just thought it had shrunk due to dehydration and broken the cleats. In fact, the cleats under the top held, but the wood shrunk unevenly, creating a small crack only on the top surface, and not underneath. Rather than try to humidify the crack back together this time, he filled it. With any luck this should make it less likely to crack again in the future. Of course I could actually try to take CARE of this thing too... but that requires filling up the humidifier very day all winter long. If only I had such discipline!

We got what we came for and didn't hang around too long, because we still had a lot of driving ahead. The guitar found a safe nook in the back of the pickup truck, nestled along side the pressure washer. The ride was definitely starting to get the complete redneck appearance: beat up pickup truck, gas-powered tools, guitars... if I could just find a mangy, underfed golden retriever on the side of the road and throw him in the back with the rest of the stuff, I'd probably fit right in! That, and a "Freedom isn't Free" bumper sticker, and I could probably pass for someone's cousin.

But I digress. We pushed on and an hour later arrived in Gettysburg. It was turning out to be a spectacular day. Sunny and high 60's were the perfect remedy for a winter that had been lingering for too long. Mark wasn't home, so I went in through the back door. Ah, life in the country, where everyone is honest. Or maybe Mark's just absent minded. No matter - I obtained the necessary access and opened up the garage, where the grill was stored.

As you might remember from earlier in the story, we were here to pick up my propane grill and deliver it to Tyler's house. This thing is large. Very large. It is made entirely of stainless steel which doesn't do much to keep the weight down. Even for two strapping individuals such as ourselves, lifting it is a bit of a dangerous prospect. After some reflection we decided to take off the side burner, which would reduce the weight a little bit and also make it easier to get purchase on it from that end. The problem wasn't so much here in Gettysburg, getting it on the truck, but at the other end - we knew we had a couple tight turns to get around in order to bring it into Tyler's house. It seemed sensible to get it in as compact a form as possible before trying to maneuver this beast up the stairs in Columbia.

A few minutes later I had the side burner off, which revealed a rather shocking amount of grease and other nasty byproducts of a grill that hadn't been cleaned in a long time. And then sat in storage for an even longer time. It was clear that we had some work to do before we brought this thing back to Tyler's pristine new home. So we rolled the thing out the the backyard and tackled it with grill cleaner, engine block degreaser, liquid soap, sponges, steel wool, and whatever other implements we could find to get two years' worth of fat and oil off the grill.

To be continued...