Tag Archives: random musings

Getting Better All The Time…

I know it seems I say this EVERY week . . . but I’ve been assured that the geothermal system will go live today. No, really. The wells are complete — and have been connected to the house — and the majority of the work has been completed inside. But now the two have to be linked together — and that’s what’s going on today. By the time I get home this afternoon, I should be walking into a house that’s finally temperature-regulated.

More than anything, it’ll be nice to finally start to reclaim the house, which has been a disaster area for the last six weeks. I’ve started to work on the backyard, which was a sludgy gray mess, and now — as you can see from the pic below — looks like the surface of Mars:

In this little corner of Maryland, our soil is crammed with layers of shale, which get chewed up any time you push a shovel in the ground, and break off in enormous chunks. You can pick up the big stuff, but no matter how much you scoop up, you’ll keep finding big pieces of it for weeks, as if it were burrowing to the surface on its own. Which it probably is.

As for the inside, everything we removed from the basement and crawlspace is still crammed in the spare bedroom, my old office, the front parlor, and dining room. The rest of the house is covered in dust from all the cutting and drilling.

But there’s progress. Here’s the space in the basement, for example, that I cleared out — and painted white — all ready to receive the heating/cooling unit:

And here it is as of today, with the unit squatting in place and the ductwork fitted almost perfectly into the space:

And then, of course, there’s still this darn thing sitting in the boiler room, ready to be taken apart and taken out:

Typical of my luck, we discovered the doggone thing was not actually empty, even though our furnace stopped burning any fuel from it late last Spring. Apparently there’s a clog in the pipe that funnels fuel from the tank to the boiler. So we’ve got to figure out a way to pipe the remaining fuel — about 70 to 100 gallons, we think — from our tank over to our neighbor’s tank, about eighty feet away. We can’t move it out until then, or it’s considered a hazard.

More later. Here’s hoping we’re up and running this afternoon!

Booze Up and Riot!

In no particular order — and for no particular reason (I’m not even in a bad mood!) — here are Things That Bug Me:

* Child Actors Who Shout Their Lines.

Shouting your dialogue does not make it funny or more entertaining. Yes, I am talking to you, Cole and Dylan Sprouse from The Suite Life of Dumb and Dumber. It didn’t work for Larry Mathews from The Dick Van Dyke Show, nor for Christopher Olsen from The Man Who Knew Too Much. Cut it out.

* Debit Card Readers That Ask Too Many Questions

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve waited in line at CVS for twenty minutes just so you can buy a lousy Coke Zero. You get to the register, swipe your card in the card reader, and punch in your four digit code.

Want cash back? the machine asks.

You push the button for “No.”

>Total is $1.59. Is this okay?


>Are you sure?


>Are you REALLY sure?


>Cuz I can do this over again. Want to start over?


>Are you sure?


>Is that, ‘Yes, I’m sure I want to start over?’ or ‘Yes, I’m sure I don’t?”

Wait, what? CANCEL! CANCEL! *mashes keys with palm*



* Learning That Wonderfully Crappy 80s bands like Loverboy, A Flock of Seagulls, Bananarama, and Men Without Hats, are “Back In The Studio Working on a New Album.”

Trust me, Haircut 100, no one is really all that excited about your new songs or a new album. Just sing “Love Plus One,” collect your check, and move on.

* Getting DVDs From Netflix That Skip

This is happening more frequently as Netflix gets more and more popular. Really, there can’t be that many people renting The Pacifier, can there? Then why does each disc show up looking like it’s been used in an Ultimate Frisbee competition? And why does every defective disc seem to stop working right as the movie approaches its denouement? I need closure, darn it.

* The Phrase “Whole ‘Nother.”

The word you want is “another.” That’s it. You say, “that’s another topic,” and not “That’s a whole ‘nother topic.” I know, I know — it’s sorta dropped into the vernacular. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t drive me crazy.

And while we’re on the subject . . .

* Talking Heads Who Repeatedly Use The Phrase “Drank The Kool-Aid”

I’m not a fan of this phrase to begin with, but Anderson Cooper must have said it 200 times during the Democratic convention — and the more he used it, the more his co-anchors followed his lead and dropped it into their own comments. Enough already. After ten references, it just sounds dumb.

* Those Weird Infomercials That Use Sets Resembling Larry King Live

Have you seen these yet? They’re usually for get rick quick schemes or dietary supplements, and the producers of the infomercials have very cleverly decorated the set to resemble a somewhat generic Larry King Live set, complete with the colored dot map in the background, the curved interview table, and the big microphones. Like we’re gonna be fooled into thinking Larry King wants to discuss the value of coffee enemas on his show.

Oh. Wait.

Into the Homestretch . . . But Still A Mess

From the Thanks for Asking! Department, we’re still in the process of installing the geothermal system, so we’re not yet basking in the luxury of indoor cooling — but we’re getting there. Two 350-foot wells have been drilled and a loop of black tubing has been run down each, then grouted into place inside each well. The two open ends of each black tube are now sticking out of each well, ready to be tied into the main system. And as you can see, it’s a complete mess:

That gray sludge you see is pulverized bedrock — which, once it mixed with the bit of water that came out of the ground, has now taken on the consistency of putty. At the moment, walking across this section of our yard is like walking on a waterbed. I’ve been assured that all this yucky stuff will be scraped off and buried in the trench that will connect the wells with the house.

Speaking of messes, our HVAC crew is doing yeoman’s work in removing the old boiler-based system from the house. The 80-year-old boiler — which was too heavy for me to remove from the basement myself — has been expertly dismantled and hauled away, and now the 4-year-old replacement boiler has also been disconnected and is waiting to be shipped to the Great Scrap Iron Heap in the Sky:

All that other junk in the background? Also stuff that came out of the boiler room. Yup, it’s gross.

The rest of the work is scheduled to be completed early next week, and the system should be fired up by mid-week. I’ll keep you posted.

I Love This Town!

Can it really be post-Labor Day already? Weather-wise, it doesn’t seem like it — although we’ve been blessed with cooler temperatures in Maryland for most of the summer, more heat is on the way, and the lack of rain has turned every yard in town a crispy brown. Still, it won’t be long before the flowers start to fade and trees start to shed.

In our neck of the woods, though, Labor Day marks more than just the start of the turn toward autumn; it’s also the beginning of the drop in tourists and out-of-town visitors that make Washington, D.C. such a mess during the summer. Suddenly, public parking lots near the monuments are empty. The Smithsonians look like abandoned, though perfectly-preserved, warehouses, giving you lots of time to stroll and read every sign. The Metro is all but deserted, giving you room to spread out and lay your bags or the newspaper in the seat next to you.

Barb, Madi and I went into the District on Saturday evening — not yet Labor Day at that time, I know, but the crowds were already down — for a leisurely walk through the Ripley Gallery, where there’s a terrific exhibit on the works of Jim Henson, and a slow stroll through the Natural History Museum, where there was a nature photo exhibit Madi wanted to see. After dinner at the DC Hard Rock Cafe (where we sat below a large frame holding . . . well, somebody’s bandana, we were never sure whose…), we then walked the west end of National Mall to visit some of the sites as the sun was going down.

It was dusk as we stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with a slight haze as the heat of the day burned off. Looking east from the steps, here’s the view we had:

And then this, directly behind us:

I love this town.

Sleestak! Pakuni!

The latest from the Hollywood Messes With Another Childhood Memory Department: the Land of the Lost remake is officially underway, with Will Ferrell in the lead role of Will Marshall. In this new version, the Will and Holly rounding out the Marshall, Will and Holly triumvirate will be adult companions of Will Marshall, and not his children. Way to blow the initial conceit, Hollywood. Yeesh.

As a kid, Land of the Lost was one of those shows I adored. What’s that you say? The dinosaur was clearly a puppet? The waterfall was Tidy Bowl blue? The Sleestaks had seams at the necks? The acting was Shatneresque? None of it mattered; we accepted it all without question, and my brother and I tuned in dutifully every Saturday morning, that magical day of the week when television was just for us. We shuddered when the Marshalls tiptoed up to the Sleestak temple (or, better yet, battled Sleestaks in a pit filled with dry-ice-fog), scratched our heads at the Three Stooges-type antics of Chaka and his Pakuni brothers, and cheered when Will and Holly finally figured out how to get Dopey the Brontosaurus to tow a cart. And we couldn’t wait for that moment in every episode when the Marshalls would ram the “flyswatter” — a gigantic shaved tree trunk — down the throat of Grumpy, a raging T. Rex, knowing full well that he would be back next week for the same abuse. Brain the size of a walnut, indeed.

In the afternoons, my friend John and I would play Land of the Lost in his enormous sandbox (I always insisted on being Will), and the neighborhood kids would debate the question of why the Marshalls didn’t simply look for the waterfall and climb back to the top.

Still, while Land of the Lost was great, there was always something somewhat creepy about it. With its lost cities, shimmering pylons (where there was a foggy doorway leading back to our world, if you could juuuust figure out how to make the crystals work), and vaguely threatening music, there was always this sort of sinister undercurrent running through the whole thing, as if something dangerous were about to happen at any moment.

I had the opportunity to watch the first few episodes of the first season on DVD a while back, and, to my surprise, not only does the show still hold up (for what it is), but that same sense of creepiness is there — only now I understand what they were up to a bit better than I did at seven years old. With science fiction writers like David Gerrold, Ben Bova, Larry Niven, and Ted Sturgeon contributing scripts, the show had a surprisingly sophisticated mythology (remember Enik’s backstory?) and a weird internal logic. Basically, the Land was an alternate, closed universe that doubled back on itself — in other words, keep walking in one direction long enough, and you’ll end up back where you started. Truly bizarre.

Land of the Lost lasted only three seasons (from 1974 to 1976). Every kid on my block watched every episode with a religious-like devotion, though we all grudgingly agreed the show jumped the shark with the departure of Rick Marshall at the end of season two (we never saw him go) and the introduction of lame-o Uncle Jack for season three.

How’d You Find Me?

One of the more unusual pleasures of running a blog or website is that you can pull down all sorts of interesting and oddball statistics on how readers are finding you. Sure, you can see where your visitors are coming from (hello there, My Regular But Shy Reader in Berlin!), and even what browsers they’re using to read you — but that’s the easy stuff. More fascinating is the ability to see what search words are being typed into search engines and steering folks your way.

Just for fun, then, let’s look at some of the more interesting search terms that have driven people here over the past four weeks.

Damnboo: Oddly, this is one of the most frequent search terms, guiding readers toward this entry from May. I can only imagine it’s typed into a Google search box with the same pounding keystrokes that I used years ago when I started searching for ways to get rid of the stuff.

Thwip!: The Sound-Effects Savvy are obviously searching for their favorite webslinger — but only manage to make it to this entry on the Library of Congress’ acquisition of the original Lee/Ditko pages from Amazing Fantasy 15. Dare I say . . . SNIKT!? (and let’s see how many Wolverine fans that particular term pulls to this page in the coming weeks…)

Crows of Pearblossom: This one’s a sleeper that continues to draw numerous hits each week. I like to imagine there are Aldous Huxley completists out there, searching for this obscure children’s book to fill the one remaining gap in their Huxley collection.

Jack Kamen: The early August death of the EC Comics’ artist drove more than a few casual browswers this way.

And finally, my two favorites, straight from the Stream-of-Consciousness Department:

English murderers Jay Jones and Roger: Type it into Google and see what shows up. I don’t know what they might have been looking for, either.

Is Sir Walter Gilbert remembered today?: Answer: Doubtful.

Monday Afternoon Musings

Whoops, sorry once again to have been away so long. We were in Austin for several days, to pick up Madi, who was coming in from Phoenix so we could whoosh her back to Maryland.

For my airplane reading, I picked up Eric Clapton’s autobiography, which turned out to be a surprisingly good read. I mean, where else are you going to see someone so casually toss off a line like, “Backstage, John [Lennon] and I did so much blow that he threw up, and I had to lie down for a while.” Killer.

Hammers are still flying here at home as our Trusty HVAC Team continues its work to bring modrun conveniences to our Old School home. Next up is running water and flushing toilets. Ha ha! I keed! But only slightly.

Know what bugs me? Professionals in the Olympics. I saw a photo in the Washington Post of the Williams sisters celebrating their gold medal in women’s tennis, and my heart failed to swell with cries of USA! USA! Instead, I just thought, “meh.” They’re professionals, after all — of course they’re beating everyone. Same goes for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. I know, I know — being competitive and all that. But I still don’t like it.

Lately I’ve been corresponding with Michael Black, one of our premiere Irving scholars, and having a a generally terrific time. We’ve got our differences of opinion on Irving, his works, and biographies in general, but what a pleasure it is to converse with a true giant in the field of Irvingiana. We’ve each extended mutual invitations for dinner and discussion, and I’m truly hoping we’ll have an opportunity continue our conversations either in New York or Maryland one of these days.

Back tomorrow, I promise.

Random Abstract

It’s a beautiful day here in Maryland this morning — 70 degrees, lightly overcast, and one of those days where you’d really like to spend the morning in bed with the window open, enjoying the breeze and listening to the birds chatter.

But I can’t.

Some random bits today:

The HVAC crew is back at it again today, working hard to bring us into the 20th century, and maybe even a bit into the 21st.

I read this piece over on WendyC’s Writes in the City blog — providing some pointers she learned at the Southampton Writer’s Conference on how to present your work — and thought they were all dead on. For my part, speed is my enemy. I can talk at about 30 words per second, and slowing down takes a conscious effort on my part. I was on a radio show in Santa Fe earlier this year, and after asking me the first question, the deejay looked up at the clock in the studio to check the time. As soon as I saw that glance at the clock and became aware of the time, I was finished — I talked a mile a minute for the next 26 minutes (that would be 26 miles, if you do the math — a verbal marathon on my part). When we were finished and the deejay went to commercial, he flicked the red light off, looked up at me over the top of his glasses, and said simply, “Wow.”

Oh, and I started poking at a proposal for book two this week, too.

Stuporman To The Rescue

From the Here’s Why I’m Not A Superhero File:

Years ago, I was walking east on East Capitol Street — almost literally within the shadow of the dome of the Capitol Buidling — when I spotted a woman about block in front of me running frantically in my direction, chasing after a large golden retriever. The dog was running at full speed, its leash trailing along behind it, visibly delighted in that Whoopee! I’m A Dog On The Loose! way.

Because I’m always willing to help, I stepped over into the grass on the lawn of the Library of Congress to put down my shoulder bag, then moved back onto the sidewalk in a wide stance, bracing myself to take the full impact of the speeding golden retriever, hoping to stop it from its flight of fancy and earning, I was certain, the gratitude of the damsel in distress who was chasing after it.

As the dog careened toward me, I grit my teeth and, with an atypically-elegant move, all at once snagged the leash and shouted “Whoa!” at the dog. The dog pulled up short, ears up and alert, staring at me with a hurt look that all but screamed Why would you DO that?. I stood there with the leash in my hand, waiting to hand the dog over to the running woman . . .

. . . and she jogged right past me, frowning. With a short whistle, she called the dog back over, and the two of them turned left across the front of the Library of Congress, continuing on their evening jog, which had been only briefly interrupted by the Crazy Guy in the Suit Who Had Jumped At Her Dog.

Too Many Notes!

So I finally caved in and bought a new cell phone. Hardly an exciting or life-altering moment, I know, but you have to understand: I can’t stand cell phones. Yet, I know I need one, so I keep trying to skate by with the simplest phone I can find. I don’t need a phone that takes pictures and video, or plays music, accesses the internet, has GPS capability, or converts into a Transformer-like robot with fist-fighting action (. . . er, though that actually would be pretty cool). All I really need is your basic phone with a decent template for my contacts, so I can store several numbers under each name. The rest is all fancy bells and whistles and waaaay too much phone for me. So I had a dopey, simple, dumb guy phone. And I was happy with it.

And then our daughter turned twelve.

For Madi’s Big One-Two, Barb and I decided to get her a cell phone of her very own. It was an easier decision than we thought; not only has Madi shown herself to be incredibly responsible (she’s taken good care of her iPod nano for two years, for example), but we’ve arrived at the point in her life where her calendar of activities is so much easier for all of us to manage if we know we can always reach each other at any time.

We took her to the Verizon store to let her choose her own phone, and she decided on a Verizon Alias, a phone with way too many features, most of which require the dexterity of a 12-year-old to operate properly. To our 12-year-old, however, the most important feature is its microscopic-sized, full QWERTY keyboard.

The texting began. Lots of it. Tons of it. All written in that abbreviated language that, remarkably, still accurately conveys meaning and intent. My phone beeped regularly with short messages informing me of her schedule, her whereabouts, her mood, her menu, and all usually in ten letters or less.

I tried my best to respond on my archaic phone, but it was a losing battle. Understand, I’m terrible at texting to begin with. First of all, it’s almost impossible for me to text with a standard telephone keypad — I’m forever passing the letter I need, then have to circle around again for it, at which point I usually pass it again — and secondly, I don’t like to abbreviate or intentionally misspell words. I know, I know — completely anal, but it’s the way I’m wired. I’ll take the extra keystrokes to spell out “great!” rather than simply write “GR8!” which makes me an irritatingly slow texter. So in the time it takes for me to slowly spell out “Please meet me at the front door of the recreation center,” my daughter has already written 237 messages to friends across the United States, as well as to several astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle.

So I finally caved in and bought a new cell phone. It takes pictures and video, has GPS capability and internet access, plays music, and converts, I’m told, into a Shogun Warrior. But I wouldn’t know anything about any of that — all I care about is it also has a full QWERTY keyboard so I can much more quickly type out messages like “Move over and give me a bit more room on the couch,” and “Stop texting me while I’m driving.