Monday, December 29, 2008

Redneck: You Always Knew I Was

A joyous Christakwanzukkah to all. I hope everyone out there in etherland managed to spend time with family and/or friends, gain a few pounds, drink a little too much, and get away from the grind for a little while. I did about that, though my trip was a slightly complicated one as I shall recount here.

In Which Jamie Proves Conclusively You Can Take The Redneck Out Of Maine, But You Can't Take The Redneck Out Of The Mainer

Part of my trip last week involved getting back to DC with the 1980 Chevy Scottsdale pickup truck I kinda inherited from my late step grandfather. That is to say, while he didn't leave it to me, nobody else wanted it so I decided to add a third vehicle to my stable. What the hell I plan to do with it, I couldn't possibly say, but a 28-year old full-size pickup truck with a cap, and a mere 45,000 original miles on the odometer was just too good to pass up.

At left, a simulated image of my truck since I forgot to take a picture. But it looks strikingly like this one - brown, with a camper cap - but believe it or not, mine's in nearly mint condition.

A few weeks ago I had had the thing towed to a mechanic since I was told the brakes didn't work. $280 later, I had a new master cylinder. I spent a few more bucks having them give it a once-over and basic tune-up since I planned to drive the beast about 800 miles by the time I was back in DC. On Christmas Day my mother drove me the 80 miles from Boston to Stafford Springs, CT where I found the truck with keys under the floormat as promised by the very gracious folks at Monson Road Garage and I was on my way.

Can I tell you how unbelievably awesome this truck is? It's got the small block Chevy V8 - I'm guessing the 305 vs. the 350 since it doesn't seem especially overpowered. Which is probably a good thing, since I got awesome fuel economy, averaging 14 miles per gallon on my trip. You think that sucks, huh? Compare that to a brand-new 2009 Chevy Silverado, about the equivalent vehicle nearly 30 years later. Fuel economy for this marvel of modern engine design? 15 city/20 highway. Nearly three decades later, that's the best they could do, apparently. And the review I linked to lists fuel economy as a "pro", saying "good fuel economy for a full-sized truck!!" Pretty sad state of affairs if you ask me. I'll take the ever-reliable 305 with a caruberettor, thank you very much.

Anyway, moving on... while it's just a regular cab, I easily fit four adults across in the bench seat (another simulated image, right). That rocks. I could probably fit at least 12 day laborers in the back, too. On the down side, it does take up about half of my back yard, and parallel parking is a bitch. But it's the price we pay for hugeness.

The Journey

So, there were several goals for this absurd hayride to hell. I had to get to my sister's house in Boston on common carrier transportation so I could drive back. That meant flying out of National since I wouldn't be driving to the airport. I managed to get a flight less than a week before Christmas for 200 bucks, not bad, though it did invovle a layover at JFK. Three hours. Which is just as well since my first flight was delayed almost two hours.

This might have been my first time at JFK, and I have to say, I'm a pretty seasoned traveler, but that airport is designed specifically to baffle tourists. I'm fairly fluent in English and I still found myself staring at walls, signs, and arrows frequently trying to figure out where the hell I should be going. My odd flight was on two different airlines, so I had to go between terminals. Fair enough. Except there were absolutely zero signs in my landing terminal (Terminal 1) that gave any indication that there were even other terminals, much less how to get there. Finally I asked a nice man which way out of the twilight zone, and he directed me to a tiny passageway in a corner with no sign that even said "exit" which would apparently take me to the "Airtrain."

Once at the "airtrain," I marveled at this gem in the elevator to the platform. The sign outside had said "Airtrain, Level 2." Once in the elevator, I was confronted with this completely inexplicable set of button labels. As a non-blind person, I was able to correctly deduce that I should be pushing the center button to get to the "airtrain." But seriously. What the hell? Was the elevator installer smoking crack?

Once on the train, though, it was pretty cool, it felt very futuristic and monorailish as we swooshed around the airport high above the mayhem. Though the blinking red sign that kept saying something like "Pay Fare At Jamaica" was a little disconcerting. Luckily I saw the stop for my terminal before I ended up in Jamaica and made it to my next plane on time. Once in Boston, I met my brother and we enjoyed another hour on three different lines of the Boston "T," always a good time.

I had a lovely evening and day with my sister's family, including the three nephews who were remarkably well behaved on this visit. My sister's in the middle of expanding their Cape Cod-style house so I got to check out the work in progress. I still enjoy walking around unfinished construction sites, and I was intrigued by some of the modern techniques they were using for plumbing and wiring. I admit I am slightly skeptical of plastic plumbing, and as long as I'm not paying for labor there's no way I won't drop the extra bucks for copper in my own house, but it sure looked a lot easier to install than copper. I know it's becoming pretty common in new construction, I'm just a bit of a luddite... with a tendency towards overbuilding.

In Which We Place Absolute Faith In 28 Year Old Machines

Come Friday morning, the marathon begins. I departed boston at 6 AM in predawn darkness. The beast fired up right away despite the 16 degree temperature. Being scraper-less I had to let the frost melt off the windshield before I could go, but soon I was rolling along happily. My first stop was Maine. Another important factor in this mission was acquiring furniture and some vintage tools I'd also gotten from my grandfather's estate but hadn't been able to get back to Washington until I was up north in a car. So I hightailed it up there, and was on the way back south again about 3 hours later. I stopped off in Portland on the way back to say hello to Johnny Bigtime and his brood, then again in Boston to pick up an air conditioner my sister was donating to my cause (and I'd forgotten to get before). Then, it was on to DC.

My journey took me through West Cornwall, Connecticut, where I stopped over again to visit Aislinn. I had originally planned on spending the night with her family and finishing the trip in the morning. By the time I got there, it was 4:30 PM so I'd already been on the road for over ten hours, though with a few stops. But the weather report was ominous for the late night and morning: freezing rain, snow, sleet, brimstone, you name it. Now, while I'd already developed a strong trusting bond with the truck, I wasn't sure I trusted the rather crusty looking tires, and the vintage windshield cleaning system that did not involve a sprayer or an intermittent setting.

So, with great resolve I said goodbye and departed again around 7:30. There was a light rain for part of the trip, which was very annoying to say the least without an intermittent setting. The rest was kind of a blur. I learned a few thing, though.

1) When you are barreling down the road in a giant pickup truck, people get the hell out of your way.

2) Speedometer is off by 7 mph at 70. That is, I'm really going 77. After I kept blowing by people when I though I was doing only 70 or so (in a 65) I did a reality check using the GPS. Probably lucky I didn't get pulled over since I was doing what I thought was 70-75 most of the way.

3) Thank god gas was generally $1.50 a gallon

4) Factory 1980 radio (with two knobs and five buttons) sounds like ass, but creates perfect retro environment for reliving a simpler time.

5) It costs $6.35 to take the Jersey Turnpike from Exit 15 (GW Bridge) to Exit 7 (Route 295). WTF??? It was 2 bucks last time I did the drive!! At first I thought the toll attendant was messing with me. Maybe she thought my truck had three axles or something. But apparently, they had just raised the prices. Welcome to Recession '08, suckers!

I finally arrived in DC at 12:30 AM. It was a hell of a long trip but worth it. I will post actual pictures of The Beast soon. And I will be accepting offers, opening bid will be $3,000. You laugh, huh? Check this out!

OK, never mind, I want to play with my totally impractical new old toy for a while... but I will definitely be accepting ideas about what to do with this behemoth. Late night conversation has already gone to Inauguration Day Float. Be very afraid....

Monday, December 15, 2008

Madoff's Billions

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one left trying to make a buck the old fashioned way. Like Smith Barney. You know, "we earn it." Ummm... wait... $700 billion bailout... oh, never mind.

Anyway, while such things as a few poeple pilfering $50 million from under the noses of the DC government are fairly shocking, this guy has apparently disappeared $50 billion in assets over a number of years. The article states that the firm had from 11 to 25 clients, some of whom may be other fund managers. Great. So even those of us too insignificant to even consider investing in something super high-dollar and super sketchy are probably going to suffer because our mutual fund manager bought Mr. Madoff a new corporate jet.

Anyhoo, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the entire global economy is really just a sham designed to make fewer than 100 people fabulously wealthy while the rest of us will end up looking greedily at stray cats as a possible dinner option in short order. But in the event that there is, in fact, some shred of reality to our financial system, here is some advice for staying afloat in the upcoming New World Order:

  • Don't give millions of dollars to someone who inexplicably is able to give a return on investment that is better than anyone else, yet won't show you his books.

  • If you have no clue how your potential investment works, probably you shouldn't invest in it.

  • Avoid anyone who's name is a homonym for "made off."

The guy apparently is apparently facing up to 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine. How they come up with this stuff is baffling to me. Shouldn't the guy who swindled people out of the GNP of many small-to-medium sized nations be facing a fine a little bit more than $5 million? I mean, he'll probably have enough money left over to buy his way out of jail in 3 years! On the other hand, a first-time offender caught with 5 grams of crack is facing a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. Chances are, Madoff will be back on his yacht in less time than that. What a system.

Anyway, the point of this post was really just to make a bad pun about Madoff's name. That being accomplished.... until next time.

Week o' Plumbing

I have been a landlord for exactly 15 days. And I must say my two tenants at Club Petworth have been more than accomodating, since in that time, the heat only half worked and the upstairs bathroom never worked. But since I wish to keep these tolerant tenants, I took decisive action this week.

Situation #1: No Heat The heat only worked on the radiators in the back of the house. I guessed it was a broken circulator pump, but wasn't entirely sure. Normally I would never bring in a "professional" before trying to fix something myself, but since these freezing kids are paying me rent and some parts of boiler operation are mysterious to me, I called Magnolia Plumbing. $700 later, the pump was fixed.

I am not going to knock Magnolia. The guy they sent was professional and knew what he was doing, so I have no complaints. But at the end of the day, I paid over $400 in labor to replace a part that was held on with four bolts. Of the 3+ hours in labor at $120/hour, at least one of that was spent going to the store to pick up the replacement parts, and another one was spent draining and refilling the system, bleeding radiators, and generally waiting around to make sure everything was OK. Like I said - not knocking Magnolia, it's not like they could have done it any faster or better... but I could easily have done it myself.

Although it pained me to see how easy this repair was, I'm not bitter, but rather reassured that my diagnostic skills were on point. Next time something screws up on the boiler, I'm going in.

Situation #2: No Water I became aware about a week ago that I really had to re-do all the plumbing in this house. This revelation took place when I was trying to hook up a clawfoot tub shower conversion kit to the showerless tub in the primary bathroom. This task was an utter failure as a result of the ancient steel pipes being ornery and too tight to the tub for any wiggle room at all. And besides, the water pressure sucked (shocker) since typically 100 year old steel pipes are so corroded that the inside looks like a bad medical condition.

So my hand was forced- I had to replumb the house. That began at 9:00 AM yesterday. It ended at 11:45 PM with several significant cuts but otherwise complete success. The irony. I paid a professional plumber $700 to do a repair on my boiler that makes changing the oil in my car look complicated. I retaliated by ripping out every inch of plumbing in the house and replacing it with over 120 feet of new copper pipe in a single day. Cost of materials: approx. $450. Something is wrong with this picture...

Anyway, everything's working now. There were a couple dicey moments - like when I was trying to put a new valve on at the service entrance and I realized the first pipe connected after the old shutoff valve was cracked and leaking. It had to go. But I couldn't shut off the old valve completely because it, like many 100 year old plumbing fixtures, didn't really work any more. It was impossible to unscrew the old pipe because it was basically fused to the fixture, and I was afraid if I worked it too hard I'd either break the fixture, or worse, crack the soft lead water main to which it was attached.

I ended up having to cut the cracked pipe out from inside the old valve with a titanium carbide cutting bit. But if I had damaged the threads on the valve while doing this, I'd have been competely screwed since I wouldn't be able to attach a new pipe to it then. Once you mess up the only thing standing between you and thousands of gallons of high pressure water, there's nothing left to do but cry, or simply run fast and far.

Anyway, overall it wasn't as bad as what I had to do at House #1. And when I turned on the water, for once, there were NO waterfalls! Every time I've done a plumbing project in the past I somehow failed to flux ONE joint, which means it doesn't hold under any sort of pressure. And it always seems to be the one in the really hard to reach area. This is incredibly depressing because you then have to drain the system again to fix it. But this time I finally got it right on the first try.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Comcast: You Can Blow Me

My last bill for the suite of services that I could almost certainly live just fine without - that is, cable television, internet, and my "land line," or IP phone, was $245.

That makes it officially the biggest single bill that I have ever received at my house, including gas in the dead of winter last year, despite having a house with windows that are older than Methuselah, a front door that seals so badly that I can clearly see the street when it's closed (and no, it has no windows), and no insulation.

Okay, technically it's three bills. But if you take out the phone ($40 a month, which I've been too lazy to cancel) and the internet ($35 a month, well worth it) we're still talking $170 a month for cable television.

ARE YOU F@&#($&*!ING INSANE?? I don't even have the full-on package! I've got HBO and Skinemax. That's all. Oh yeah, and I have such "services" as HDTV and DVR which used to be basically free. In six months there won't even be any non-HDTV, it's going the way of the dodo. The "teaser" price for this exact same set of services -- my first bill about 18 months ago -- was $105. In the intervening months, the price has gone up incrementally. I mutely accepted that, like a frog in a pot of water slowly coming to a boil. But last month, it went from the already outrageous $205 to $245. WTF? I haven't been paying the teaser rate for nearly a year now, so that's not it.

A regression analysis of the incredibly complex bill revealed that the rate for Skinemax and HBO was now $36 per month (up from $22) and the rate for my DVR service was $15.95 a month (up from $4.95 when this all began). The remainder I assume is bured among the various "screw you" fees.

Wow. That's a pretty big jump for one month. And frankly, no television is worth $170 a month. That's more than 5 bucks a day for Reno 911 and Alien versus Predator at 2 AM.

Comcast must have forgotten something very important.

YOU HAVE COMPETITION. Oh yeah, and it's a recession. When times get tough, ridiculously expensive luxuries like cable TV are the first things on the chopping block. Brilliant thinking - now that people are watching their spending, let's just jack the prices about 40 bucks for no good reason! Everyone else who didn't get their business degree from a cereal box is doing just the opposite- offering crazy deals to try to get their piece of the approximately seventeen dollars that the entire population the United States is willing to spend this year.

The resolution: DirectTV is being installed in two weeks. Their full-on package is $110 a month AFTER their teaser expires, and that includes about everything under the sun. Coincidentally, Verizon just mailed me an offer for their crappy DSL internet service for $9.99 a month for a year. So I'm going to get more channels and functional (if old-timey) internet service for exactly half the price of Comcast.

This Blog Is Not Dead

I'm just sayin'. Or at least, maybe if I keep sayin' it will be true. I've been busy as shit. But I think I will have a chance to come up for air soon. This time it's just work. I would honestly love nothing more than to be able to swing a hammer for a couple days and get some stuff done at one of the homesteads.

In the meantime, let us all rejoice at this news. For one week in January, as the first (openly) black man becomes the leader of the free world, the residents of Washington, DC will be able to booze at the bars until 5 AM.

Well, legally, anyway. Since most DC kids who enjoy savoring the wee hours have been doing that on the down low for decades at their favorite watering holes.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

House Fire near 13th & Quebec

I woke this morning to the sound of sirens. Not necessarily an unusual event, but the fact that I kept hearing more and more of them as I tried to snooze myself into an extra hour of sleep was a clue that this was not just your usual city morning.

The giant billowing cloud of smoke over the institution at 11th and Spring was another clue. A townhouse on the block of Quincy Quebec between 13th/Kansas and 10th Street was on fire. It was all smoke when I went by, and appeared to be mostly under control. Let's hope everyone was able to get out OK.

Here are a few pictures, more here on flickr.


Prince of Petworth story on the fire.

WUSA-9 Woman Dies In 2 Alarm Fire

ABC News 9:59 AM, body found in the house.

WJLA-8, 11:56 AM Deadly Townhouse Fire in Northwest Claims One Victim

Washington Post 12:19 AM, Body Found in Northwest Rowhouse Fire

City Paper City Desk 1:11 PM Two-Alarm Fire on Quebec Place , NW

Fall Fire">


From 11th Street


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Now even the Brits are talking about Petworth...

A couple other DC blogs have already noted this, but I thought it was worth pointing out here. Financial Times ran an article about Petworth on Saturday, noting in particular the good housing stock, central location, and bang for the buck.

“I like the size of the houses and I need all the outdoor space for my dogs,” [Angela Vassallo, a DC epidemiologist] says. “You get the most living for the price in DC.”
This mostly residential area in the north-west quadrant of the city is enjoying a boom as buyers flock to its tree-lined streets, still affordable stock of sturdy single-family houses and old-neighbourhood feel.

The article is pretty positive but also notes the problems, including crime and trash. I think it's pretty dead on. What is most interesting is that the description of the neighborhood reminds me a lot of Mount Pleasant when I first moved there in 1996. Vacant houses, crime, exactly the same problems. But Petworth has many of the same advantages that Mt. Pleasant has:
  • It's close to, but not IN that action of the business district. In Mt. Pleasant, I could walk to Adams Morgan in about 15 or 20 minutes. My new house in Petworth is about the same distance to DCUSA and the Columbia Heights business district. But it's removed enough that you avoid the noise and traffic.
  • It's residential with lots of trees and few apartment buildings. Whereas Mt. Pleasant abutted Rock Creek Park, a wonderful location, my Petworth house is steps from Rock Creek Cemetery, a large, beautiful, and tranquil space, perfect for running or reading a book, and the Old Soldier's Home.
  • It's convenient for commuting. In Mt. Pleasant Rock Creek Parkway was right there, a great route out of town both to Maryland and Virginia. Petworth is similarly close to North Capitol Street -- driving to Silver Spring or Capitol Hill takes less than 10 minutes, it's a breeze to get in and out of town.
  • Public transit is also pretty good - I'm only about 12 minutes on foot to the metro, about the same or even a little less than my walk in Mt. Pleasant to the Columbia Heights metro. Many bus lines also serve the area.
Now I don't think that Petworth homes will be selling for $800,000 any time soon. But at the end of the day, it's the physical characteristics of a neighborhood that make it a desirable place for people to invest, to fix up houses, to take an interest in making things better. It's because they want to actually live there for what it is. This is why Mt. Pleasant turned around in the late '90s and early '00s. When I moved there in '96 there were a half-dozen abandoned houses on my block alone. I bought a four-bedroom townhouse for barely over $200,000. Many houses in Petworth are selling for not much more than today -- pretty amazing considering that it's 12 years of inflation later, not to mention the dramatic changes DC has seen in desirability, with the result that the population had actually started increasing after decades of loss.

I think Petworth will follow suit over the next 10 years for exactly the same reasons Mt. Pleasant became so popular. It's got great houses, it's affordable (for now), you can walk to transit or services in 15 minutes or less, it's convenient for car commuting, it's got a great community and neighborhood feel, and it's got wonderful greenspaces and rich history that make it a pleasant place to live.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to Home Improvement... Petworth Edition

Ignoring the nagging doubts that festered in my gut like an undercooked McRib sandwich, I threw down half of my remaining cash for a down payment and bought another house. That's right, folks, while the stock market plunged to a place that had been forgotten seen since the previous century, and most people were buying gold and stuffing cash in their mattresses, I took out a second mortgage. The monthly mortgage payments on my two houses now equal 80% of my take-home income. Awesome.

But life is not without risks, eh? And the sucky housing market and economy are exactly the reason I decided to take this plunge. The house, a foreclosure, was a goddamn steal. It will be no trouble covering the mortgage with rent. At worst I should break even (which is basically making bank, since you have someone else paying the morgage on your house while it appreciates). At best I should clear a few hundred a month.

I put an ad on Craig's List yesterday to fill up the 3rd room in this house. Myself and a friend will be occupying the other two. I got two responses in the hour after I posted the ad. I got about 6 more last night. I think this will be a piece of cake to rent the room. The location is pretty good - 12 minute walk (about 6 blocks) to the Georgia Avenue/Petworth metro, residential street, and there's a little commercial strip a block away for picking up 40s.

Like any house I would buy it needs a little work, though this one is in WAY better shape than my current residence. It's perfectly livable as-is, though I will be taking care of some minor issues. Pictures below.

The Great Experiment

Because I am a super-green enviro-wizard, I have decided that house #2 or "PetProject" will be the subject of a great experiment in green renovating (and ultimate cheapness). My goal is to do all the work on this place -- and furnish it -- for less than $5,000 and using recycled fixtures, products, and building materials whenever possible. Since I'll be doing most of the work myself, that cost is largely materials, and if I need a new roof, the game is off. And I don't intend to do a crappy job - everything I put into this house must be of decent quality and in relatively good condition.

There are three primary components to this plan which, together, will make it possible:

  • Freecycle DC
  • Craig's List
  • The Community Forklift and The Loading Dock

The first is an awesome mailing list where people just give stuff away. A lot of the stuff that comes across the list is lame-- I mean, does anyone REALLY want a used toothbrush? But there are plenty of finds to be had every day, like appliances, furniture, anything. The Community Forklift and The Loading Dock (in Hyattsville and Baltimore, respectively) are recycled building supply warehouses. People doing renovations can donate what they tear out and get a tax writeoff, and then people like me can go and buy the used stuff for pennies on the dollar. Great place for doors, windows, cabinets, tiles, you name it.

In just one week's time, I have already acquired the following:
  • Washer and dryer - $140
  • Toilet - approx. 1 year old - free. This will go into a new 1st floor powder room.
  • Vintage sink with new, quality fixture - replace existing ugly bathroom sink with broken fixture - $60 from The Loading Dock
  • Small sink - free - for powder room
  • Eight bar stools - free
  • Brass chandelier, 5-light, excellent condition - free
Sure - it requires a little running around. But almost all of the free stuff was within a 10 minute's drive of either work or home and required far less time than a trip to Home Depot.

I'm going to set up a page with a running list of everything I've bought or acquired and the cost for this house to see how it goes.

No, I don't plan to keep the fridge in the dining room.

The kitchen definitely needs a little TLC. And a dishwasher.

Bathroom? Check. Interesting note... there is no shower upstairs!! Apparently, everyone showered in the basement for the last 92 years. That is high on the list.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The people have spoken: Goodbye, Frank!


The reign of terror is finally over. And I'm not talking about Bush's wagon train a-leavin'. That's great and all, but what really matters is that Frank Winstead will no longer terrorize business owners, UPS truck drivers, and indigent Ping Pong players on Connecticut Avenue.

That's right, kids, the people have spoken and the witch is dead! The blight of Forest Hills Frank, soon-to-be-former SMD 3F04 ANC Commissioner has been voted back under the rock from which he came. The man who once accused the owner of Comet Ping Pong of "encouraging murderers and rapists,", by nearly a 3 to 1 margin, has been given the finger. Residents of Forest Hills decided that they didn't want a busybody making things suck any more between Chevy Chase and Van Ness. At least, not suck any more than they already do.

Let us all have a moment and reflect upon this important victory for the people of Washington, DC. Yes, we actually do give a crap what you ANC comissioners do with your petty power! While most ANC commissioners run unopposed - because it's a crappy, unpaid job with little actual influence - in the wrong hands, even a little power can be dangerous. You can go too far. And Frank did. So a hero named Tom Whitley decided to step in and run against him, and crushed Frank and his petty meddling into oblivion. Thank you, Tom! You truly are the greatest American hero. This great day in national and local political history will not soon be forgotten.

A history of the saga:

11/5/08 - City Paper City Desk - So Long Frank Winstead?

9/2/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - Anti-Ping-Pong Commissioner To Run Unopposed?

8/22/08 - Washington Post - Comet Amps It Up Again

6/18/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - D.C. Official: Outdoor Seats At Pizza Place Will Mean Rapes and Murders

6/16/08 - ANC 3F Meeting Official Audio Recordings - hear Frank go wild yourself!

5/8/08 - Farm Fresh Meat - Frank Winstead's Secret Life

6/24/08 - Brightest Young Things - From Ping Pong & Pizza to Rape & Murder

6/24/08 - City Paper City Desk - Confronting Frank Winstead

6/19/08 - City Paper City Desk - Frank Winstead Gone Wild: The Recordings

6/18/08 - DCist - Small victory for Comet Ping Pong

6/16/08 - Brightest Young Things - Comet Pizza Needs Your Help Tonight!

5/29/08 - DCist - Politics and Prose Jumps In Sidewalk Fray

5/8/08 - Farm Fresh Meat - Unraveling the Mind of "Forest Hills Frank"

5/8/08 - DCist - Outdoor Ping Pong at Comet is Dead

5/8/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - Saving Sidewalks From the Evils of Ping-Pong

5/3/08 - Federalist Paupers - Ping Pong Rally Needed

7/18/07 - DCIst - Ping Pong Safety Concerns Us All

The one that started it all:

7/17/07 - Grammar.police - Pong

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting begins... long lines in DC

The line outside the C. Melvin Sharpe school on 13th and Allison Streets NW, about 8:30 AM. My polling station is farther south on 13th Street where I will be a little later on this morning, when hopefully the lines are less frightening.

By the way... DO NOT vote for that Calvin Gurley chap who's flyer is taped to the Do Not Enter sign. That in itself is surely illegal, which is not surprising, because that fine citizen decided it would be a good idea to drop not one but THREE copies of that flyer on every single doorstep as far as the eye could see in my neighborhood. Even China Garden and Pizza Mart, who regularly leave their unwanted flyers at my house, have the decency to either stick them through the mailslot, or at least leave them somewhere remotely safe from wind. This fine specimen just threw them -- three copies of his 8 1/2 x 11 glossy flyer, so everyone in the household has their own copy to peruse, in case we didn't see 873 of them blowing around on the sidewalks -- on the first step of my porch stairs.

Guess what Columbia Heights looked like after the wind had been blowing for a few hours?

Obviously, this man represents the "trash our sidewalks" platform for City Council. Here's a big "eff-you" to Calvin Gurley. And hopefully a fine for violation of election and littering laws.

UPDATE: Since I didn't even read this idiot's flyer, I didn't notice before, but if you zoom the picture you will notice he's running for Ward 4 city council! I don't live in Ward 4. I live in Ward 1. Spring Road is the southern boundary of Ward 4. Great. So I have a jackass distributing flyers in my neighborhood to people who can't even vote for him. Furhther, he is not listed in the "DC Voter's Guide" as a candidate, which means he didn't even bother to submit a statement.

Oh yeah - also, please don't vote for Michael Brown for at-large city council. This jerk has been papering cars for weeks. His littering crimes are only slightly less than those of Calvin. And I hear he has been robo-calling people incessantly. I've luckily been spared that offense, but automated campaign phone calls are unforgivable.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama's Lead-Free Sex Toys

This seems to have become a rarely-updated political commentary blog. I'm sorry, it's just that it's so easy to find funny stuff to write about when skimming the news. Whereas writing interesting things about my own crazy life takes a lot of time to carefully edit details, names and places to that nobody can figure out that I was in fact the one who... oh, never mind.

So I was listening to this recording of Sarah Palin being prank-called by a comedy duo from Canada (is there anything those crazy Canucks won't do?). Which is pretty hilarious, if moderately painful. I mean, despite the fact that she's very frightening as a possible leader of the free world, her accent is really cute and you kind of feel bad for her. It's the moral equivalent of hoodwinking a 13 year old girl into giving you her allowance.

But what really cracked me up was the summary of other headlines that appeared on MSNBC at the bottom of the story:

How the hell do we use sex toys, lead-free or not, for voting? What is Obama's sinister election day plan...

This could be the shocker the GOP has been waiting for in the 11th hour.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You coulda fooled me...

From the Baltimore Sun: Race is expected to be a factor in W. Va vote.

"I'm not voting for that n--, and I ain't no racist when I say that either."

-- Anonymous West Virginia Democrat

And I thought the red-state plumbers and builders and blacksmiths or whatever, who don't even know the difference between gross and net income and consequently will vote against their own financial self interest, were ignorant.

West Virginia is now the frontrunner for the "hairy mole on the ass of the United States" award, ousting Alaska. What are we, in 1950? Jesus. Get a grip rednecks. Or lay off the meth. Whatever. Just do something other than confirming the stereotype of your stupidity.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Columbia Heights Circa 1913

From a photography blog called Shorpy I found a little photo retreospective of the corner of 14th and Irving. Where DCUSA and Target now tower over Columbia Heights once stood the "Arcade Market," capable of accommodating hundreds of merchants. It opened in 1910, complete with "a balcony for ladies that overlooks the entire market." The marketplace was formerly a streetcar barn, which accounts for the large arched doors.

The last remaining piece of the original structure is the facade that was preserved on Irving Street and will be home to the incoming Elwood Thomas grocery.

Check out the high-resolution photos of the first two (click on the photos to enlarge, or visit the original source using the links to see ridiculously high-resolution versions of these photos). There are some incredible details captured, like the man changing the lightbulbs on the "Bowling" sign, and the two women looking out the window above the cigar store.

Arcade circa 1910

Arcade circa 1925

Facade in 2004:

Today (more or less):

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Impalin' The Truth

"That her performance was considered anything but a
farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk. "
-- Michael Goldberg, The Guardian

The article is well worth reading. I apologize in advance if the picture gives you nightmares.

Meanwhile, as the Dow continues to plummet, from a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday entitled Biden's Fantasy World:

"In any case, Mrs. Palin may not know as much about the world as Mr. Biden does, but at least most of what she knows is true."
-- Editorial Staff

What kind of drugs are they taking over there? As their wealth is evaporting under the failed policies of George W. Bush, they continue to justify ignorance and trash experience.

Well, here's one bit of good news: Independent Voters Move Toward Obama. Even if the conservative press sniffs all the glue in every hobby shop from midtown Manhattan to Capitol Hill between now and the election, at least money still talks to the average American. Yep, those maverick, joe-sixpack-lovin', folksy heroes of the Republican army sure screwed ya good! Looks like the curtain may really be coming down this time.

I just hope these events speak louder than a wink and a nod, doggone it.

Columbia Heights Day Pictures

It's all over, and it was a lot of fun. The turnout was good. The tents and activities were pretty busy throughout the day, despite the open field itself seeming somewhat sparse at times. I thought this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, since it meant there was plenty of space for people to relax and watch the music, or play frisbee, or an impromptu game of foursquare. The vibe was good and there were plenty of fun things to do and see over the course of the day. I ran into lots of people from around the neighborhood, both new and old friends, and felt generally that there was a lot of good energy throughout the day.

While I think we did a great job pulling this together, there are definitely some things that could be done differently to make the event even better. Part of this is my own impression from being there, and part of this is from reading some of the criticism that came out on a couple blogs yesterday. One of them seemed to have sparked a little firestorm, which I already made a comment about this under my original post before Columbia Heights Day and I won't say anything more about that here.

From this point forward I think what's important for us to do is take the online feedback from individual attendees for what it is - individual experiences. While myself (and obviously some others) were surprised to read from a neighbor who said she didn't find much interesting going on, the fact that she didn't mention any of the major activities should tell us that we didn't do a very good job of letting attendees know the day of the event what was happening and where.

So lesson number 1 for next time: We should make the events schedule and a detailed map of the grounds more readily available. This could be in the form of large posters at various strategic points throughout the grounds, or flyers available at the door. I think I like the first option better from a waste standpoint.

I have some other thoughts, but we haven't met as a group to discuss how it went for everyone, so I don't want to say anything else here. But regardless of what went wrong, I think there was a lot more that went right and throughout the day I saw hundreds of people laughing, playing and enjoying themselves. So I'll close by sharing a few pictures from the event.

Coverage so far:

Columbia Heights Day - Good Times (Prince of Petworth)

Columbia Heights Day (Creative DC)

Columbia Heights Day - Dull Times (City Desk)

Columbia Heights Day Pulls Community Together (The Hilltop Online - Howard U Student Paper)

All my pictures here on flickr. I have more still to upload.

More pictures from others on Picasa

Free Yoga @ 10 AM with Quiet Mind Yoga

Rise and Shine Yoga

Petting Zoo

Dog, Meet Camel

Cupcake Eating Contest by Sticky Fingers Bakery


Food line

Food Frenzy


Four Square

Early Morning Coordination

Allison Making It Happen

Best Buy/DCUSA

Best Buy and DCUSA



Friday, October 3, 2008

Palin Drone

I don't usually get into too much of the political analysis and ranting, except about local stuff, because that's usually got a lot of humor value. But I came away from watching last night's debate with a few thoughts. First, the moderator of the debate mostly sucked. Sarah Palin came right out and explicitly said she would not answer the questions. And so she didn't, she simply chanted one of three scripted monologues that she had memorized, never having anything to do with the question. I can't believe the moderator didn't even call her out on this.

But never mind that. I had some deep thoughts about what might happen should they be elected. So without further ado...

Pros and Cons of a McCain/Palin Presidency


1. Constant use of term "Joe Sixpack" could result in trade embargo from China, effectively tripling the cost of most products sold at Wal-Mart and consequently plunging 46% of the US into poverty.

2. Maverick in Chief is constant reminder of stupid Mel Gibson movie of same name.

3. Palin's folksiness even more irrating than George Bush's.

4. Hippie names become popular among conservatives. Consequently you can no longer assume someone named "Sierra" or "Rainbow" smokes pot.


1. We will have the world's hottest leader when McCain dies, dramatically improving relations with banana republics and most European countries.

2. Palin is even easier to make fun of than Dan Quayle.

3. Saturday Night Live will be funny again.

4. Cute accent reminds you of Fargo.

5. Potential for combining Bristol's shotgun wedding with the inauguration in January; could be the drunkest party in DC history.

6. Moose steaks available in area supermarkets.


The economy may collapse but there will be awesome entertainment in DC.


Buy property in Canada but bring your DirectTV dish with you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Columbia Heights Day

I am working on the Columbia Heights Day planning committee, which has been taking up a decent amount of time in the last month or so. At least it's a good an excuse as any to blame for my utter lack of posting lately. So in the absence of a thought-provoking or entertaining post (that requires 10 minutes that I don't have to think) I thought I would plug it here in this time of no posting.

This is the 2nd year of the event, which is this coming Saturday, October 4. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. About a dozen volunteers have been working tirelessly since April on planning the event. Well, a couple in particular (Allison, Serge) have been working tirelessly. The rest of us have been doing what we can in our spare time and making lots of bad jokes to keep the tireless workers entertained or annoyed at the meetings.

Anyway - the web site, which is out of date because I've been away for a few days and am still catching up on work, will give you some info. There's a full day of live music, a petting zoo with a zebra and other exotic animals that you can't normally see except from afar at the zoo, a second stage with performance art and other cool stuff, and tables from all sorts of local artisans and businesses who will be showing off and peddling their goods and services. There will be food too, and many local restaurants and bars are offering drink specials all day long. Come out and join us! The weather is supposed to be excellent.

Quick Update: Busy as Hell

Other than Columbia Heights Day (see the adjacent post) keeping me busy, I'm in the throes of: being incredibly slammed at work as I'm pushing to get a new web site live, getting another mortgage and buying a house in Petworth, getting my taxes done (on my usual filing date of October 15th), doing a frenzy of little punch-list jobs on my existing house so I can be ready to rent another room in a month or so. Not to mention my trip to Austin over the weekend, which was a blast, but couldn't have come at a busier time. It was a nice getaway, I'll post pictures at some point when I have a little more time.

In the next month I'm going to try to tie up all the loose ends in my kitchen so the house seems at least put together, if not completely renovated. Specifically..

  • Finishing the window exteriors - just brick molding and sealing at this point. I finally got the 2nd window sill in yesterday so they are almost done. Huzzah!
  • Repositioning a cabinet that's tweaked and installing the last piece, a bookcase that goes next to the fridge
  • Cleaning up some of the wiring that I didn't finish because of the previous item (the switch is going to be in the bookshell for logistical reasons)
  • Hanging a couple more pieces of drywall
  • Figuring out why the hell my bathroom is still leaking when one person in particular showers (you know who you are) -- or just gutting it and redoing it once I close on the other house and have a functioning shower somewhere
  • Tiling backsplash, finishing mudding and painting.

Okay, it's not a small list, but believe it or not this could all get done in one or two weekends of focussed effort.

I'm also supposed to drive to Maine the weekend after this coming one to get some furniture. Ugh. Well, it needs to be done.

Well, that's about it. Back to work...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall is here

I am really busy and don't have time to say much, but this is about the longest I've gone without a post since this whole thing began so I wanted to drop by my own blog for a minute.

It's been a pretty crazy week in finance. It remains unclear what will happen in the long run, but it's pretty safe to say that the face of Wall Street is pretty damn battered and will probably never be quite the same. It's amazing that after all the bank failures and crises we've already been through, the end seems far from written.

I'm not here to make predictions of apocalypse. But it is concerning at a personal level, because I'm right in the middle of trying to buy my first investment property. I have a contract on a foreclosed house in Petworth. I won't give specifics because I don't want to jinx anything, but it was a great deal and is in good shape on a good street. But just as I came to a deal with the bank that owns the house, the shit hits the fan in the financial sector. Now, maybe this will have no effect whatsoever on my little transaction. But part of me worries, will I still be able to get financing? What if the loan that was no problem a week ago suddenly is a problem? I've said for years I wanted to invest in real estate for the long haul - not flip houses, but keep my eyes open and buy up good deals that come up once in a while, rent them, and then hold them for at least 10 or 15 years. This is to be my first step and the rent from this house should easily cover the mortgage right away. There are deals galore right now as foreclosures from the last round of bank agony are being sold off. So hopefully the current pain won't affect my ability to pick one up.

Anyway, that's been keeping me pretty busy for the last few weeks, as I've been house shopping, getting ducks in a row, that sort of thing. And enjoying the fall weather to be sure. So wish me luck. I have that stupid butterfly excitement feeling all over again, and this is my third house purchase and it's not even a house I'm planning to live in! But I just love these old houses and this one is cool...

Oh yeah, and have you noticed how awesome the weather has been the last couple days? I love changing seasons, and I especially love fall with the leaves and crisp evenings. I love change. I'm ready for it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bocce Was A Blast

How was your labor day weekend? Mine was all right. I deep-fried a turkey, ten pounds of potatoes, and almost everything else in the fridge; played a game of scrabble at 6:00 AM; fixed my broken couch and credenza; bought a $200 bottle of bourbon and drank a third of it; caught up with a couple out-of-town friends who were in DC; ate heirloom tomatoes from my garden with fresh mozzerella; made and offer on a house but didn't get it and looked at three other ones; went to a speakeasy and had a Pimm's cup and a couple drinks I've never heard of; decided against going to work on Tuesday and ate brunch at the diner instead; beat Pat at a Guitar Hero song on Expert (he's really good); trashed my house; cleaned my house; made turkey stock; and destroyed two computer monitors with a bocce ball.

That last one. Oh yeah. Well, a few of us were drinking some mimosas on Sunday afternoon and we decided to throw a couple rounds of Bocce in the backyard. That got old quickly, but it was hard not to see the potential excitement that could be created from the two ancient (e.g. tube-based) computer monitors that were in by backyard, awaiting a trip to the dump for disposal, and the heavy bocce balls that we were throwing around.

Being the photographic types, Jeff and I both got ready with our digital SLRs (mine still new to me) to capture the moment in all it's glory. Kenny was the pitcher. Here are my shots of the event.

The moment of impact


Glass is still flying

Shattered 2

The dust has settled

Shattered 3

The best part was the neighborhood kids who were hanging out in the alley behind my yard smoking weed while all this was going on. The first one made a pretty good bang when it smashed, and someone yelled "what the hell?" after the noise. But the second one was even louder. One of these kids bolts down the alley and is like, "what the hell are you crazy motherf*ckers doing, shooting guns off back there?"

I have to say I never expected that it would be me freaking out the neighborhood ne'er-do-wells.... er, anyway, it was pretty funny.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gone Fishin'

My friend Lee invited me to go fishing last Saturday. An old family friend of his in-laws runs a fishing tour boat in the Chesapeake Bay and offered to take them out for a trip, and I was lucky enough to be invited. While waking up at 4:30 in the morning to meet the boat by 6 AM was slightly intimidating, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sleep be damned.

The weather was fabulous, and it was also my first opportunity to get to know my new camera, a Nikon D60. Our guide, Sean, was a charming fellow and taught all us rookies the ins and outs. We ended up catching 24 bluefish and one rockfish. Technically, I caught the rockfish, though I can hardly take credit for being the one who happened to be standing next to the "china line" at the time something bit. While we mostly were fishing with rods and reels that were thrown out behind the boat at various lengths, some with heavier weights to bring the lures near the floor of the bay. But the rockfish was caught with a simple line that was just dropped behind the boat and tied around a cleat at the back. It was weighted heavily to keep the lure on the bottom below the back of the boat.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip. The rest are here on flickr.

Chesapeake Predawn 3

Chesapeake Sunrise 2

Learning to Fish
Learning To Fish 2

Lee Gets A Bite
Got A Bite

Fighting Fish

Reeling Him In
Reeling Him In 1

End of the Trip
Rods 2

Good Catch

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Neighborhood Update

I can't even remember when I posted last. I hope there's still someone out there reading this. Ahh, I don't care if there isn't, I don't need your damn validation, I write this for myself! That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Anyway, if you're all still there, here's the run down of life in the 'hood lately.

Crime: One major crime sighting this week, about typical. Walking to the Red Derby one night over the weekend, I saw a a huge brawl around 14th and Otis. There were a half dozen cop cars. As it happened, a friend who is a DC cop had also just showed up and said he'd helped take someone down on his way there. He left when it was under control. But as we were watching the scene, he pointed out a guy on a bike and said, "I bet that guy's got a gun." My obligatory response: how the hell do you know that? "Well, I saw him heading towards the scene, then he turned around and went the other way. Now he's back about 5 minutes later. He went home to get a gun." Damn, Sherlock! That seemed like a pretty big stretch for me, but...

He pulled out his cell phone and called up a friend who was on-duty and working the scene and told him to stop the biker because he probably had a gun. Sho' nuff. Call me impressed.

Punishment: I have not been running consistently AT ALL and am supposed to run the Annapolis 10 miler on Sunday. And, I have a friend's 40th birthday party on Saturday night. I hate bailing on races, but this could be lethal. I'm going to hit the pavement a couple times this week and see how it goes.

Internets: Everyblock DC has opened for business. The site culls all sorts of news, crime reports, and other locally relevant info about your neighborhood. Actually, even as specific as my block. It seems interesting, though I could probably do without the regurgitation of all the service requests people have entered at Kind of a metablog, I'm going to check it out for a while and see if it's worth the time.

House: Ummm.... no comment. That is: I've done jack in two months. Hey, it was a nice summer! There's things to do, places to go...

Entertainment: I already wrote about Commonwealth. Have not been back. I've had a couple-a Pete's Apizza and I remain a Red Rocks fan. It's decent stuff, but Red Rocks... er.. rocks. My only disappointment with Red Rocks is that they've been so damn busy lately, you can never get a seat at the bar any more. So I've not been spending much time there, though I've definitely had a few carryout pizzas. Still the best pizza in town.

Other than that, I don't think any new eateries of particular interest have opened. I anxiously await the arrival of the Meridian Pint, and the wine bar at 11th and Lamont!

Mosquitos: They are horrible.

I think that's all the news that's fit to print. Until next time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Strange Things Are Afoot

I am aware that I've become a infrequent blogger as of late. This is not for lack of things to blog about. Quite the contrary, I've had so much going on that I'm just too busy to be bothered to share it with all you cretins. Okay, that's not exactly true. It's more like, I could tell you what I've been doing, but then I'd have to kill you. But here are a few little pearls of wisdom that I took away from the weekend's events.

Rock Creek Church & Warder Fire
1. Always carry point and shoot camera. While trudging arount Petworth at 2:30 AM or so on Friday night, between random party on 7th street and the Red Derby to meet my friend and bring her there, couldn't help but notice the massive fire which was devastating a bodega at the corner of Rock Creek Church and Warder Street. Sadly, it seems it was a total loss. I did get the cell phone picture here which should give you a sense of the scale. This must have happened very quickly because when I walked by around 2:00 AM the first time, there was nothing going on.

2. Close Your Eyes Before Eating Bangers and Mash. Went to Commonwealth, the newest addition to Columbia Heights' ever-growing restaurant scene on Sunday with my friend K. I had been craving the sausage & spud, and she ordered some chips. The sausage looked, remarkably, like a dog poo. I was advised (later in the day) by my British friend A. that this is traditional. Perhaps it was the several glasses of wine we'd had by the time I ordered the food, but it was futile to try to stop laughing hysterically when it was placed in front of me. I couldn't find a good picture online, so just trust me. Anyway, it was good, if a bit overpriced at $15 for a, er, snassage on a little pile of mashed potatoes. I like the picnic tables on the patio. But I'd go broke if I tried to eat here very often. The beer prices seemed reasonable, though. We'll see how this place fits in to the Columbia Heights dining lexicon in time.

3. We shall never speak of Saturday again. But the trespasses of that day shall not soon be forgotten. That is all.

Carry on, then.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Cigarretts

CVS at 14th & Irving in Columbia Heights.

No Ciggaretts

I wonder why they keep all those "cigarretts" around if they haven't sold them since 1990?

What an awesome school system we have...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cougars at College Park?

City Desk reports of a possible cougar sighting on the UMD College Park campus. Okay... I am sure you can guess where this is going, and yeah, I'm going to go there. But the language of the article just left me rolling on the floor.

The possible cougar is a new threat for UMD, says Brandt. “We have never dealt with this before,” he says.

I should certainly hope not...

“Cougars are not an indigenous species of the state of Maryland. . . . They’re just not seen around here."

That was certainly my understanding. It's why the night life is so great.

"We will get the occasional report of a coyote on campus, which usually will end up just being a fox.”

And what a wonderful place it is, where the coyotes turn out to be foxes!!

"There has been no report of aggressive behavior on the part of the animal, but community members are warned that cougars are a predatory species and that, if seen, the animal should not be approached.

Nothing to argue with there.

Ahem. Soooo... moving on, then...

House Update

As you might have noticed, I've had little to say about the home improvement project. Let's just call it a summer haitus. Once I got the kitchen functioning, I thought a couple months off to let the wounds heal might not be a bad idea. Okay, that's a lie, I've just been enjoying the great weather too much to be bothered to work on the house much. I did make some progress with the kitchen windows this month, but that's about it.

As we wind into the dog days of summer -- though truth be told, the weather has generally been great this summer, with relatively few really disgusting DC days -- I expect I'll be more interested in being inside working on some project than outside in the swamp. But I wanted to reflect briefly on how far I have come in my first year.

The majority of what I did in 2007 was make the place livable. It looked a bit like a crack house when I moved in. Apropos of crack - that reminds me, while cleaning up the yard a couple weeks ago I found a crack vial. Full. Judging by the wear and tear on the plastic bottle, it looked about late '90's vintage, possibly Marion Barry era. I can't count the number of little cocaine baggies I've found before, but this is the first time I've found actual drugs back there. I guess this is proof of the old adage: "Only users lose drugs."

But moving on. I tore up about 20 contractor bags full of 50 year old, partially decomposed carpet, and found generally beautiful wood floors beneath them all. I sanded and finished one stretch in the downstairs hallway. I replaced the toilet and vanity in the bathroom, the latter of which was beyond description, having rotted into an entirely new form of life. My friends were afraid to go near it. I put in a washer and dryer; replaced the ancient boiler; upgraded the electrical panel to 250 amps. I installed a temporary sink in the "kitchen" so at least I had running water and could wash dishes. All these were necessities for basic civilized living. And once that was done, I rested for a few months.

Then, becoming restless, I began the real kitchen project in December, which is chronicled here in the archives. It started with completely tearing down the ceiling, revealing the significant plumbing issues. So I had to replace just about every inch of plumbing in the house before I could even begin construction in the kitchen. I installed cabinets, wired the thing up, fixed walls, put in the counter, and went through endless other details to get the kitchen to it's "mostly finished" state of today.

The last thing I did was replace the windows in the kitchen, also described here, which brings us to today. The kitchen has a bunch of finish work to do, which I plan to begin soon. This fall I'm going to fence in the back yard, and with any luck, install ductwork for central air conditioning over the winter. This is a task much better suited for cool weather since crawling around in the attic during the summer is as about much fun as being waterboarded by a power tripping marine.

So, to reflect upon the last year I wanted to put up a few pictures of "before."

Original kitchen, in the addition (which will be torn down and rebuilt at some point). My favorite part is the sink drain.
Original Kitchen

Where my new kitchen was built. Facing the back of the house. The original kitchen is through that door.
Kitchen Facing East

Another shot of the "new kitchen" room. This is the wall with the windows where the countertop was installed. I dismantled and rebuilt the cabinet on the opposite wall.
Kitchen built-in cabinet

Not-quite-current picture of the kitchen, after construction. I've since replaced the windows and drywalled the ceiling.
Kitchen Counter 1

Thanks for sharing

I've occasionally ranted about ridiculous emails that people in my office send to the entire company. They've been coming fast and furious lately, sometimes with as many as four or five completely irrelevant emails per day -- often, followed by the dreaded "Reply to All" dialog in which a couple people feel the need to go back and forth seven times (while cc'ing the entire company).

So I thought analyze this phenomenon in a little greater detail today for you entertainment. These emails fall in several major categories:

1. Personal Assistant. Example: "Does anyone have an advil?" usually followed five minutes later by, "Thanks, got one!" Seriously. Can't you just ask someone next to you, or, god forbid, walk downstairs to the 7-11 and get your own damn advil?

Some recent subject: "need a small philips-head screwdriver," "fish bowl for trade show booth," "URGENT - help needed in 5 minutes to bring fridge doors upstairs." Don't ask.

2. Useless information. These are typically emails advising us of something that either you couldn't care less about, or about something that's already happened. Examples include: "Window washing today" (I care??), "Severe weather warning" (umm, yes, I noticed that there was a torrential downpour outside), "fire alarm testing today" (thanks for the head's up, I caught on after the third time we evacuated the building).

3. Thought you'd like to know. This is generally a link and brief "analysis" of some article online that's related to the environment. Usually, it's stupid anyway. But even if it was relevant to our industry at large, do you think I care? If you work for, say, an accounting firm, do you think that everyone in the entire office wants to hear about the latest tax code updates? Wouldn't those who give a crap about that already be reading whatever industry news sources are relevant to their job?

Priceless example:

Subject: Wikipedia. I was scared already.

Body: You are probably all familiar with the Web page Wikipedia. Really? Wikipedia? I think I've been to that "web page" before.

In doing some research yesterday, Ralph and I were pleasantly surprised by the amount of information we could find on a company, including facts and statistics. Shocker! Wikipedia has stuff about... er... stuff!

It is particularly helpful that it is all collected in one place. That's so cool! Have you heard of this "google" thingy? Someone told me it can be very useful in finding stuff on the interwebs.

Verifying the information with other sources takes a lot less time than gathering it all greenfield.Thanks!! And to think, I was getting ready to spend all day in front of the card catalog at the Library of Congress today.


4. Mule Requests. "Is anyone going to (insert client) today? I have a package to go there." Ummm... there are probably five people in the entire office who EVER go to our client sites. Figure it out.

5. Bizarro You read it, and then again to make sure, but you just can't be sure that you haven't been slipped some kind of hallucinigenic drug.

In this category, I'll leave you with this one to think about. This is an actual email.

Subject: In the ladies restroom...

Body: Did someone happen to leave a pair of jeans in there? If they are yours I have them at the front desk.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Damn you, Activision

Anyone who knows me knows that I love video games. And I'm pretty damn good at them. As a nerdy kid I became ridiculously good at Pac Man (without learning a pattern from a book, I made up my own), and from there it just went downhill. There's hardly a video game I didn't waste countless hours (and quarters) mastering.

Then, of course, console and computer video games came along. Goodbye teenage social life. It took me years to recover from that. Luckily, I more or less gave up video games in college, when beer and girls suddenly became more interesting than Ultima III. With the exception of a brief stint that began with the dawn of the first person shooter (I mean, c'mon, Doom was like nothing I'd ever seen before, how could I not get hooked on that?) and finally ended with many 4 AM session of Unreal Tournament, I cut myself off. Call it a self-intervention. I deleted all that crap from my computer and didn't play video games any more.

Until now. I got a new roommate a few weeks ago who brought an Xbox 360 into my house. Seemed innocent enough. I'm over that, I can handle it.

Enter Guitar Hero.

I'm probably the last person on earth to have gotten hooked into this craze, but it hooked me hard. I mean, it combines all my favorite things - rocking out, playing guitar (sort of), and video games. It's air guitar with a scoreboard. And believe it or not I actually believe that the finger dexterity it develops will help me when playing ACTUAL guitar (which I swear will happen again. Once I can get through Knights of Cedonia on Hard).

So anyway. I am telling you all this so you know why I haven't posted much lately. It's because I'm completely sleep deprived from staying up until all hours playing Guitar Hero, instead of thinking of things to blog about.

I believe I've taken the first step towards recovery. I'm aware that I have a problem. I also have a pulled muscle in my right arm from playing Dragon Force's "Through the Fire and Flames" on Medium last night. Badly, I might add. How the hell does anyone play this on Hard, much less Expert?

There I go again. I am going to try to care about something other than this game. To that end I decided to finally take the plunge and get a digital SLR camera. I decided on the Nikon D60, it is now officially on order and I should have it in a day or two. If it takes an expensive new toy to get me away from the life-sucking Xbox then so be it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The 911 Script

Yesterday at 11 AM, Adams Morgan again became the wild west as a Latino male was shot in broad daylight. The Prince of Petworth's story has an excellent account of the events in the comments.

There's also a bit of discussion there about the way the 911 operator handled the call. I was immediately reminded of the last time I called 911. They said the operator would not dispatch police until being given a street address. My own experience was similar. I told them I was on 11th Street NW between Park and Monroe. After negotiating about whether it was Park Place or Park Road for a while, they demanded a block number (which luckily I know because I live a couple blocks away) despite the fact that I'd told them it was halfway between two streets.

By the way there is a Park Place in DC - but it sure as hell doesn't intersect with 11th, in fact, it's parallel. If you put 11th and Park NW into Google Maps, it pulls up the right place in a second. Apparently, 911 operators don't have internet access.

I am sure there's some reason for this amount of anal retentiveness when fielding 911 calls, but whatever it is, it's not good enough. When you call 911, you're freaked out. That's why you called - because there's a crisis or all bloody hell is breaking loose. You don't have time to look for street numbers on nearby buildings, if there even were any to be found. You don't have time to go to the corner and look at the block number on a street sign, if there even is a street sign.

I understand if people give ambiguous directions or don't say the quadrant. But that is not the case in these situations. If you give a 911 operator an intersection, or a block between two streets, there should be no reason for any further discussion. This is how we tell cabs where we are going, this is how we describe locations to our friends. It works. Just. Fine.

This situation delays police response and frustrates people to no end. Why can't this be fixed?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pet Extra

Perusing the blog roll today, I saw one of my blogger friends had just lost her cat. I've always loved animals and have had cats most of my life. Her lament reminded me of how much these creatures have added to my own life. This post will be dedicated to my menagerie, past and present. There are a lot more pictures here.

My current creatures:







Creatures from my past life (alive and well):







Creatures from my past life (no longer with us):