Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wax Fang @ DC9

I was staring at a boring Monday evening, so I thought I would see what the music scene had to offer last night. While Monday isn't exactly a prime candidate for finding a hot show, it's also pretty hard to be disappointed when your alternative is doing laundry or catching up on a week's worth of The Daily Show on the Tivo.
Wax Fang #9
The Louisville trio Wax Fang was making their first DC appearance last night at DC9. This place is probably my favorite small DC venue, so after reading some good stuff about them online I decided to check them out.

The band did not disappoint. They went through their catalog in about an hour and a half, including three encores, all for the roughly 12 people in the appreciative audience. The set of all original material ended with a Sonic Youth cover -- though I couldn't say what song it was since I've never gotten into that band before. The music is immediately accessible - tight, quick guitar riffs and driving drumlines draw you in quickly, but it's woven with musical virtuosity that gives depth to the tunes. It's the perfect combination of pop hooks and Zappa-esque complexity that makes the songs both catchy and geeky - and I mean that in the best possible musical sense.

I knew almost nothing about them before walking in last night, but I'm converted. Watch these guys.

More pictures from the show.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nathan Maxwell - Happiness in Time

Okay - this is far from timely, since the record in question came out in 2006, but I found this CD in my car a few months ago. I have no idea how it got there. If it's yours, feel free to reclaim it. But this is a fantastic album. It's soulful, uplifting, intimate, and reminiscent of old Rolling Stones all at once. The kind of CD you can just put the stereo and leave there and let it go 'round over and over again. Just check it out.

There's not a lot out there about this guy or his band. Neither his myspace page nor the band website say anything about live performances, but you can listen to the music there. He's from New York.

Apparently, I get into new music by finding random CDs when I clean out my car. But I'm glad I stumbled across this one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dulles: Still the worst

There are lots of reasons to hate Dulles Airport. The "mobile lounges," the impossibility of getting there in less than 2 hours on a weekday evening, the awful security lines. Let's discuss that last one for a few minutes.

I had an 8:30 AM flight to Portland, Maine on Friday. I checked in at exactly 7:35 AM. I have the boarding pass to prove it. Yet I missed my plane. It wasn't even close, actually, I didn't get to the gate until about 8:40. The hen had flown the coop probably 20 minutes earlier.

Dulles SunriseIt all began well enough. It was a gorgeous morning, so much so that I was briefly moved by the striking image of the main terminal against the rising sun, as you see in this picture I took on my way in. It was going to be a good day. I would land in Portland around 10, take a cab downtown, and spend a leisurely day shopping, catching up on some work in a coffee shop, whatever. I had the whole day.

So when I entered the massive security line a full hour before my departure time, I wasn't concerned. A stressed-out young lady was rushing through the line. Her plane left at 8, could she go ahead? Sure, why not! I had plenty of time. After a few minutes, a TSA agent opened up one of the corral gates and barked at us to move to a different line. This is when things started to go bad. We dutifully followed her orders and moved to a different part of the mass. After we stopped again, the guy in front of me looked at each other. Wait a minute. This line's longer! WTF? Well, still, I had plenty of time.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened. Another TSA agent opened a gate, and shuffled us off to yet another line. Once again, it was obviously longer. It was actually becoming a bit of a joke. I chuckled, but was thinking, if I didn't have 45 minutes until my plane left, this would probably be a lot less funny.

We were shuffled off a third time by a third agent. This time the target line wasn't that long. OK, maybe this will work out somehow. Unfortunately, TSA lines, like the supermarket, can be long and fast, or short and slow. The line we finally landed in was manned by the only TSA agent I've ever seen who takes his job seriously. And by seriously, I mean, if everyone scrutinized you the way this guy did, air travel would grind to a halt entirely. He spend easily a minute looking at every drivers' license and passport. He sent at least half of the people to dare to cross his gate to the "extra screening" line.

I was no exception. I handed him my DC driver's license. He pulled out the ultraviolet light, and the diamond inspection glass to verify that my identification met his uncompromising criteria. He analyzed. He squinted. He called his assistant over to take a look. After several agonizing minutes of this, he announced that my DC driver's license was not adequate identification.

Him: "There is a problem with your driver's license. Do you have another form of identification?"

Me: "Umm.. like what? There's a picture on my Costco card, will that do?"

Him: "Do you have a passport?"

Me: "Yes. It's at home. Do you normally carry your passport when flying domestically?"

Him: "How about a work ID?"

Me: "I work for a private company. We don't have IDs. Why on earth would I ever need more than my driver's license?"

Him: "Your license is missing a security code. I can't verify that it's authentic. You'll have to go for extra screening."

The reality was starting to set in. I might actually miss my plane. I was escorted to yet another line. At Dulles, apparently, they have a special line for people who've been selected, that moves even more slowly than the other lines. Every other time I've been selected, they just pull you aside and do the extra screening right there. Apparently, the Dulles folks thought it would be very customer-service oriented to make those unfortunate enough to go through the extra screening, have to wait another 15 minutes for that privilege of having to take longer to get through security.

At last I got to the front of the special screening line. Now, the real fun begins. Over the next 15 minutes, I was asked at least a half-dozen times by numerous TSA drones why I was there. -What's the problem? (Something's wrong with my driver's license). -Is it expired? (Did you even look at it? No it's not expired.) -Do you have another ID? (Sigh. No, I wouldn't be here if I did). -Where's your boarding pass? (One of your mates has it, I have no idea).

At one point, in sheer frustration, I asked the current Driver's License Inspector if it would be easier if I just pretended I had lost it. I have actually flown without ID before. All that happens is they automatically select you and do the baggage search. But I was getting some kind of extra special treatment reserved, apparently, for those suspected of possessing a fabricated DC driver's license. Anyway, that suggestion was not met with much enthusiasm.

I finally got through the line about 5 minutes before my plane was to depart. Given that I still had at least 10 minutes of strange travel involving the mobile lounge and dashing to the A1 terminal, which, conveniently, is the most distant from the "mobile lounge dock." I knew, at this point, I would not make it, but I went to the gate anyway on the off chance the plane had been delayed. It was not.

House IslandAn hour later, I was rebooked on a U.S. Airways flight. Out of National airport. Since they would not change my return, I had to leave my car at Dulles, so I took the bus, then the metro to National. I checked in, and laughed out loud when I saw the "SSSS" pre-printed on my boarding pass. I had been randomly selected at National.

Anyway, at National things were far more civilized. The line moved fast, nobody gave my license a second look, and the extra screening added no more than 60 seconds to the process. Landing in Portland 5 hours later than I had planned to, my leisurely day killed by Dulles security, I was at least rewarded with this incredible sight of the snowy Maine coast.

Monday, February 11, 2008

And the dust begins to subside...

Kitchen - Week 7 #4I had a long weekend to myself because of some travel plans that changed at the last minute. Since I'd already planned to be off work Thursday and Friday, I figured I'd take the time off anyway and try to make some more headway on the house. I am now entering the 7th week of work on this project in earnest which began in December.

And much progress did I make. The turning point has actually been passed. I am done with the demolition and infrastructure-building part of this project, and actually starting to put things back together. At the end of the day Sunday I hung my first piece of drywall and started plaster repair. Another round of plaster followed by skimcoating, and I'll be ready to hang the upper cabinets.

This may not look very exciting, but it's the first time I've actually put a wall back together rather than tearing one down.

In those four days I finished the vast majority of the electric, the gas for the stove, and the rest of the prep work needed before I can install cabinets. For electric, all that remains is the recessed lighting overhead, which I can't do before leveling the ceiling. This involves attaching a stud to each joist to bring them all down to the height of the lowest joist. This is a typical part of doing a ceiling in old houses, since some joists have settled differently than others and they must be even before installing drywall. But this won't stop me from getting some cabinets in place (and out of my living room).

The electric was kind of tricky because the counter is against an exterior brick wall - meaning, nowhere to run wires. So using a rotary hammer, I notched holes into the brick for the outlets above the counter, and ran EMT conduit for the wires against the edge of the brick. These will be plastered over. The thickness of the plaster is just about the same as the 1/2" conduit so it worked out pretty well.
Kitchen - Week 7 #3
In this picture you can see that behind the new range (ain't she beautiful?). The conduit goes between each outlet and switchbox. It's pretty time consuming to set up all that conduit because you have to measure and bend each piece precisely. The only alternative would have been to use metal clad cable instead, but plastering directly over cable almost certainly violates code, and if I ever had a problem I wouldn't have any recourse but to tear out the cabinets and wall to get access. This way, new wires can easily be pulled through the conduit in the future if ever needed for repair or an upgrade of some kind.

So, at the end of four days of work, I turned on my range for the first time. It was mostly ceremonial since there aren't even any cabinets in yet, but you have no idea how good that felt! I will cook no more on my electric frying pan...

This week I should be able to finish the ceiling (so I can actually turn on a light in there) and get all the base cabinets and appliances installed. At which point, the kitchen will actually be functioning, if not finished. At the end of this week I should be ready to order a countertop. The end is in sight.

I created a flickr photoset for the renovation project, so I won't post all the pictures here from now on.