Friday, October 1, 2010

Good for Ames

We’ve been using an Ames plastic garden cart for the past couple of years, and we were really happy with it until it cracked down one side. Well, I figure, it has a lifetime warranty, so I’ll call the manufacturer. They took the info, didn’t demand that I fax them a receipt, and are shipping out a replacement. It’s just a big plastic shell and an axle and wheels -- the axle and wheels are replaceable, but the plastic shell isn’t, so they’re sending an entire replacement unit and suggested that I keep the old axle and wheels in case we need them later. Good service in just 5 minutes on the phone.

In other news, I’m looking to change my cable service to Ames. We’ll only get HGTV and gardening web sites, but I’ll appreciate dealing with Ames instead of Comcast when the cable goes out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What’s the tax id number of my local Starbucks?

Subject: Notice 2010-51

Dear Sir or Madam:

I run a small publishing business, and I handle the record-keeping and reporting responsibilities for my business. The new requirement under Section 6041 of the Internal Revenue Code would place impossible burdens on my business.

We often pay for computer equipment, book printing, catalog printing, shipping services, advertising, and other items by check. Those expenditures frequently total more than $600 per vendor to numerous vendors in any given year, and so would be subject to the new reporting requirements. I am familiar with the record-keeping and reporting burden of issuing 1099s, because we have to send 1099s to our authors who receive royalties. Having to issue a Form 1099 to each vendor as well would simply take more time and resources than I can afford.

We use accrual accounting for our business, following IRS rules. The new reporting requirements will force us to do a separate and redundant non-accrual accounting for all of our purchases. This added accounting burden is a serious concern and a significant expense for us.

The preferential treatment of credit cards being exempted from the new reporting requirements will introduce further friction into our economy. We currently pay as much as 5% per transaction in credit card fees. The new rules will put tremendous pressure on businesses to use credit cards for purchases and accept credit cards for payments in order to avoid the new reporting requirements. The costs will be enormous, and the only parties that will benefit will be the merchant account servicers collecting their fees.

I have not seen guidance yet on how the exception for credit cards will interact with the $600 reporting floor, but I am sure that the IRS realizes how confusing this will be for businesses. Will the reporting floor be $600 of non-credit-card purchases, or $600 total if the purchases include any non-credit-card purchases? With the exception for credit cards, should the amount reported include credit card purchases or not? When I purchase items from multiple stores in a chain, how do I know whether to combine them? When totaling my annual purchases, what happens if the vendor has changed ownership or tax structure or otherwise wound up with different tax id numbers for different portions of the year? The potential for confusion and error is enormous.

On a practical level, how do I obtain the tax id number for every vendor from whom I make a purchase? Before this goes into effect, will you require every vendor to put their tax id number on every receipt and invoice? That seems necessary if you are going to realistically expect every business to collect the tax id number of every vendor. Please bear in mind that for small businesses which use the owner's Social Security number as their tax id number, this will dramatically increase the risk of identity theft.

Please change the new reporting requirements so that they apply only to larger business entities, such as persons or entities that employ more than 25 people.

Please change the reporting floor to $5000, so that small purchases do not trigger a requirement to issue a Form 1099.

Thank you for your time and understanding.

Juvenile black-crowned night heron

I’m not certain about the identification as a juvenile black-crowned night heron, but the size and overall appearance are right. Good neck flexibility.

Photos by Michael

Monday, September 20, 2010

Avoid Renewal by Andersen

Renewal by Andersen just wasted 90 minutes of my life. On the bright side, they were finally honest about the fact that the only way they can sell their windows is like a bad timeshare. Informed customers of theirs are unhappy customers, according to the rep I just spoke to.

Renewal by Andersen will only provide pricing if both homeowners sit through the sales pitch, even though we don’t need the sales pitch. It’s infantilizing. We already have some Andersen Woodwright 400-series windows, and we like them. We don’t care if the outside cladding is vinyl like those or the Renewal’s fibrex composite. We’ve looked at glass samples, and wood samples, and we have both types of screen, and we know what windows we want. But we’re not allowed to buy them, because we’re not allowed to know how much they cost.

I’ve seen this sort of high-pressure sales tactic for overpriced timeshares, bad insurance products, and DirectBuy (an incredible scam). And now Renewal by Andersen’s windows. It makes me wonder: What’s so wrong with their windows? Or is it just their pricing that’s bad? Because there’s no way they insist on this if there’s nothing wrong.

Renewal by Andersen has cancelled the appointment they had made for Wednesday morning to measure our windows and give us pricing. So I won’t lose that time as well dealing with Renewal by Andersen.

I’m surprised that this issue didn’t turn up when I searched gardenweb, my usual go-to source for helpful opinions about house products. And the admission that informed customers are unhappy with Renewal by Andersen windows was really startling. If you’re considering replacement insert windows from Renewal by Andersen, I’d reconsider. Take a look at Pella (but not their special low-end Lowes line), Marvin, or Harvey.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Massachusetts primary on Tuesday

For state treasurer, the candidates are Steven Grossman and Stephen Murphy. I’m voting for Steven Grossman, but I won’t be upset if Murphy wins.

For state auditor, I’m voting for Suzanne Bump. She’s got the best chance of beating Glodis, who’s a corruption-prone and racist asshole. Bump also seems like a good person for the job. I’m happy about this vote.

For Governor's Council in the 6th District, there are two candidates on the Democratic side. Terrence Kennedy is campaigning, while Suzanne English-Merullo isn't campaigning. The winner will face Republican Paul Caruccio, who thinks illegal immigration is a major problem in MA. Even though I’m tired of former prosecutors like Kennedy controlling our judiciary, I’m voting for Terrence Kennedy.

For state senate and state rep, nobody’s running against Jehlen, Sciortino, or Garballey. I’m voting for my incumbents for those offices and all others except:

For Attorney General, I’m leaving the ballot blank. Please do not vote for Martha Coakley.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Monday, August 30, 2010


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bridge, Quechee Gorge

Photo by Michael

I focused on perspective in this photo, hopefully giving the sense of falling into the frame. This should be reinforced by the sense that the photographer’s perch is insecure or perhaps in midair. I was actually on a path running along the gorge underneath the bridge, kept quite secure by a tall chain link fence. You can see a bit of the chain link in the lower left corner, but the photo doesn’t work as well if you crop it vertically to remove that.

The bright sun made for an exposure challenge, but I’m glad the stark shadow of the bridge surface parallels the support girder on the left edge of the image. That softens the slight deviations from symmetry in the bridge structure.

Red pine, Quechee Gorge

Photo by Michael

Friday, August 13, 2010

Monarch alighting

Photo by Michael


Photo by Michael

Friday, July 30, 2010


Photo by Michael

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Choosing movies

Last spring, we spent a couple of days in New York while they were filming bits of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice outside our hotel. Nicolas Cage was really nice about signing autographs and posing for photos with fans while wearing his leather trenchcoat costume on a hot summer evening. We also saw fancy cars on flatbeds with full film rigging, but fortunately missed seeing either of the car accidents that make you wonder why they would film car chase scenes in Manhattan.

Filming in crowded locations apparently works as advertising—I really want to go see the movie, just because I was there while they were filming bits of it. So I was glad to read someone saying that it’s actually fun, because I don’t want one of my two movies a year that I see in a theater to be truly bad.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Someday we’ll remodel our bathroom


When we do remodel our bathroom, it will still be 1/6 the size of this bathroom. And it won’t have a fireplace.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The issue of whether the Green Line Extension is built correctly is the most important issue my neighborhood has faced or will face for 50 years. Please send the letter at this link, even if you don’t live near Boston:

Then pass this link along to everyone you know, and ask them to send that letter as well. It only takes a few moments.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Points to remember for next year’s Readercon

First prize was one John Norman novel. Second prize was [all together now] two John Norman novels. Except it wasn’t. Second prize was an autographed John Norman novel.

Theodora Goss for reading her stories. Mary Robinette Kowal for readings and voice workshops and panels. Lev Grossman for talks. Cecilia Tan for panels and talks. Samuel Delany on a panel when I want to hear someone who sounds like my father.

The Tiptree bake sale is worth supporting, but selection may be limited.

Kaffeeklatsches can be fun if you actually sign up for them.

There are many panels and talks featuring people running a small press or a magazine. War stories are fun, but remember that almost all of these people have day jobs.

Random readings are generally better than random panels.

Papa Razzi on the other side of 95 is a much better real food option than the pub.

There are many paths to Readercon. On Friday, the highway routes are not the right choice.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Out for a walk

Photo by Michael

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mute swan

Photo by Michael

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don’t shout FEIR in a crowded auditorium

Comments for the Green Line Extension public meeting this evening, as delivered by Lisa:

I live in Medford Hillside, and I look forward to the day when the Green Line Extension comes to Route 16, so that I can actually walk to the Green Line. I am gravely disappointed that the state is still not planning to extend the Green Line to Route 16 by the end of 2014.

I believe that the decision to use the College Avenue Station as a terminus is a terrible mistake for the project as a whole and for my neighborhood. The Route 16 Station would allow Somerville and Medford residents to take the Green Line to green space and grocery shopping. The Route 16 Station would serve Medford Hillside, West Medford, West Somerville, and East Arlington, including the environmental justice neighborhoods that were used to justify the entire extension, but are ignored by the proposed project. The Route 16 Station would provide thousands of residents with better access to jobs, to education, and to health care. And the Route 16 Station would avoid the negative impacts of having College Avenue as a terminus. The Green Line Extension is supposed to benefit Medford Hillside with access to the Green Line, not burden us with more traffic and more pollution.

College Ave will serve Tufts and South Medford, but it will not serve Medford Hillside. The map of Medford Hillside in Appendix C of the FEIR is wrong. The walk access analysis in that appendix is misleading, deliberately hiding the fact that almost nobody in Medford Hillside lives within half a mile of the College Ave station.

More than 2,500 people signed a petition asking for the Route 16 Station. We filled the Route 16 Station Workshop beyond the room’s capacity. We submitted over 100 letters supporting the Route 16 station in response to the DEIR. We’ve done our part. You’ve said that Route 16 is your preferred alternative. It’s time to start treating it that way.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And sorry I could not vote for both

Two roads converged in a twisted maze,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one driver, long I stayed

And waited while my neurons frayed;
I doubted if I should ever get home.

The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (acronym not actually BURP or BUMPY) would like to know which intersections in your town need improvement, or at least a little couch time with a traffic therapist. Yes, you can vote an intersection off the island!

Here in Medford, 2 of the 5 worst intersections for crashes are within 1/2 mile of my house, and it’s not because of the way I drive. Seriously, I strongly recommend you select your town and vote, or just vote for my least favorites.

My votes and submitted reasons for Medford intersections:

Worst: High Street/Winthrop Street
Tied for worst: Mystic Valley Parkway/Winthrop Street

I drive through the High Street/Winthrop Street rotary and the Mystic Valley Parkway/Winthrop Street intersection all the time, sometimes 4 or more times a day. Both intersections are horrible, terrifying experiences, with cars stacked up and frustrated drivers who get aggressive and do stupid moves. The MVP/Winthrop intersection causes longer backups, but the High/Winthrop rotary causes more near-crashes and often at higher speeds. Both intersections are sheer hell to cross on foot safely, which is a grave concern given that there are commuter bus stops at the High/Winthrop rotary.

A lot of traffic uses both intersections, and the intersections are very close to each other, so a unified solution would make sense. I wish I could vote for both.

Bonus intersection: Mystic Valley Parkway and Auburn Street

I've seen more crashes at this intersection than any other. I've seen more red lights run at this intersection than any other. The light cycles are unclear, traffic often blocks the intersection, and a stunning number of cars end up using the wrong side of the road on Auburn Street coming from Whole Foods to turn left onto Mystic Valley Parkway.

Hosta leaves

Photo by Michael

I rescued these hosta leaves from a garden cleanup session and gave them a new home. 48 hours later, they still look great!

This variegated hosta was supposed to be a dwarf, and was certainly small when we planted it. The individual leaves are each now the size of my hand.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Roofers and writers

Why won’t the major textbook publishers hire freelancers who live in Massachusetts? WGBH produced an excellent 10-minute segment explaining the problem. A 2004 rewrite of the independent contractor law in Massachusetts said that a company can only classify a worker as an independent contractor if “the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer.” A restaurant can pay an interior designer or a web designer as an independent contractor, but a sous-chef is an employee. This law was written to target the construction industry in particular, in the hopes that more of the folks with serious work-related injuries would actually have worker’s comp coverage.

Over the past few years, textbook publishers have figured out that the law might apply to them as well. (There’s no reason why it wouldn’t, the way that it’s written.) So they’ve largely stopped hiring freelancers in Massachusetts when they need a writer, editor, proofreader, illustrator, photographer, or indexer. The publishers haven’t stopped downsizing and outsourcing—they’ve just stopped using in-state talent or they’ve inserted an employment services firm as an expensive buffer between themselves and their freelancers.

This is very frustrating for people who have honestly been freelancers in the creative industries for a long time. But the ridiculous part is that the Attorney General, Martha Coakley, has been ignoring her responsibility to issue clear guidance to employers about the law. Enforcement is extremely limited in practice but not in theory, so some companies are avoiding hiring any freelancers in Massachusetts while others are ignoring the law entirely. The law is in a section on fair competition, but there’s no level playing field when companies are taking such divergent approaches to complying with the law. We should have a clear discussion about when we want to allow companies to hire freelancers as independent contractors, and the decisions we make should apply to all companies. The WGBH segment is a good first step.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Restart My Day

Screenshot by Lisa

Monday, June 21, 2010

Black-crowned night heron on the Mystic

Photo by Michael

These black-crowned (or black-crested) night herons are more comfortable with proximity to people than the great blue herons, but they don’t like being approached from behind. While we’ve mostly seen them perched just above the water line on a branch or bank, they’re also happy to land on branches 10 feet over the river. We’ve seen up to four of these small herons on the Mystic near the house, but a few days ago they all moved on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Passover wines

Best selection I’ve seen around around Boston was at Gordon’s Wines in Waltham, though the staff there was useless. Probably worth trying to go to a tasting, since they have one every year.

Winner: Tishbi Emerald Riesling 2009, purchased 2010: This is the Passover wine I want to have every year. Very drinkable for unsophisticated palates like mine, good on its own or with food. Semi-dry, fruity, no wood notes, not complex. Emerald Rieslings don’t have a very good rep, but this one startled me in a nice way.

Herzog Selection Vouvray 2006, purchased 2010: Good, but not as appealing as the Emerald Riesling.

Not impressed by the reds I found in 2010, which I think were a Yarden Mount Hermon Red (mostly cab and merlot) and a Dalton Canaan Red (cab, merlot, and shiraz). One of them, maybe the Yarden, was supposedly the owner’s favorite Passover red. Whichever it was, I definitely don’t share his taste.

I’ll try to remember to add notes to this post as time goes on. Comments and suggestions are certainly welcome.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I’m pleased that I was able to convince Comcast to remove the dangling 1-foot chunk of old utility pole from my street this week. A neighbor pointed out last weekend that the rope holding it up was fraying, and asked if I knew who to call.

The power company is responsible for the pole itself, and each utility is responsible for connecting and disconnecting their cables to the pole. The power company can install a new pole, but they cannot move the other company’s services from the old pole to the new pole. Nobody takes responsibility for coordinating between the power company and the other utilities, so we end up with lots of doubled-up poles. In this case, Comcast was the only company with cables still attached to the old pole segment 15 feet off the ground. 5 days, 7 Comcast reps, and 2.5 hours on the phone later, it was becoming clear why my neighbor had sounded so frustrated.

On Thursday I finally reached a live person at Comcast Executive Customer Care, the only folks at Comcast who appear interested in resolving the problem rather than resolving the phone call. In 3 hours, my street was filled with Comcast vans. If you were unable to get a Comcast technician to respond to a trouble report on Thursday afternoon, that’s because I was collecting the whole set.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Preaching to the bleachers

Johnny Baseball is the new Red Sox musical at the American Repertory Theater, a feel-good all-American musical about race relations.

I will never know the depths of despair that the Fenway faithful went through from 1918 to 2004. 86 years is a long time without a pennant, but I only became a local (and thus a Red Sox fan) in 1994. 8 years before that, I’d been cheering on the Mets among fellow New Yorkers clustered on Manhattan sidewalks around televisions tuned to the game in store windows on every block. I thought at the time that the drought for the Mets since 1969 had been a long time, literally a lifetime for me. I had no idea.

Johnny Baseball gives a sense of it, framing the story of the Curse with a group of long-time season ticket holders at Fenway Park watching the pivotal Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. We see their devotion to superstition and ritual, their certain knowledge of impending defeat, and above all their commitment to cheering a team that can never win the World Series.

But why can’t they win? The talented cast will sing you the story, and it’s not the canonical Curse of the Bambino. Babe Ruth is here, or at least the echo of his ego, but he’s not the center of the story. What comes to life is the story of Johnny O’Brien, a fictional young pitcher who joins the Red Sox in 1919 and would lead them to the Series if not for Boston’s legendary racism.

For Johnny loves a colored girl, and that just will not do.
Fans might forgive a drink or three, and painted ladies too.
But there is no joy in Boston when a hero of the field
Decides to love a colored girl, so something has to yield.

The racism certainly runs deep in the history of baseball and of Boston, but blaming the Curse on Boston’s racism is only slightly less problematic than claiming that the racism has ended. Throw in a magical negro in the second act of a musical decrying racism, and you start to wonder whether writers Richard Dresser and Willie Reale are also claiming that irony has ended. The only way past it is to focus on the love story between Johnny O’Brien and Daisy Wyatt, and cheer them on with the modern open heart that the historical characters lack. That’s a clever piece of pander, particularly when the show’s story allows us to point to the 2004 World Series win as proof of our moral superiority. While we’re merrily congratulating ourselves on that, will we even notice that the lyrics arguing for the right to love anyone you choose are carefully non-gendered?

Diane Paulus, director of this production and CEO of the ART, wants to bring new audiences to her theater, and it’s always interesting to see what she’s selling along with her trademark emphasis on concessions (sausages, hot dogs, and beer in this case). I heard her at the Boston Foundation last week discuss her inaugural trip to Fenway Park last season for a meaningless end-of-season game. She was confused by the odd slow clapping for a team that had fielded their worst players for the game and performed terribly, until a friend explained that it was [pause, beat] ironic applause. Her subtext: My God! If they can invent ironic applause, perhaps they might appreciate art! Or at least theater!

So now we have the Red Sox musical for Red Sox fans, because that’s a big market in this town. She says she wants to sell them tickets and convince them that they’ll be comfortable in the theater. That’s a fine goal, but the sociodynamics of an all-white audience watching a musical about racial integration are exaggerated by choosing the Loeb’s thrust stage configuration instead of its proscenium configuration for the production. (Mixing in the predominantly white Red Sox fan base does not change the racial balance of the ART’s usual predominantly white audience.) When she chooses the thrust stage configuration, does she innocently want to echo the shape of a ballpark? Or does she imagine it will comfort the Red Sox fans in the audience if they can more easily see so many white faces in the other seating sections? Or does she hope to reinforce the show’s message of social change by highlighting the lack of racial diversity in both the Red Sox and ART audiences? The only explanation that clearly isn’t right is that she knows how to block for a thrust stage. The entire show is played to the center orchestra, with only occasional nods, winks, or thrown peanuts to the side sections.

Messages aside, Johnny Baseball really is fun. The music is catchy, the musicians are great (with the wonderful Tim Ray on piano and conducting), and the cast is fabulous. Stephanie Umoh (Daisy Wyatt) has a couple of stunning solo torch songs in the first act, and I wish I had those songs on my playlist. There’s a good balance of humor and angst throughout the show, and we have the benefit of knowing how the game turns out. You just have to go and see it from a position of privilege. In the center orchestra.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Young robin

Photo by Michael

I believe this young robin on our back deck is displaying the prejuvenal molt on its way to juvenal plumage. There were a lot of nesting robins near the house this spring.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fiddleheads: fugu for vegetarians

From my friend Erika:

Fiddleheads must definitely be well cooked in order to detoxify them. Boil them for at least 5 minutes and discard the water. If you want to serve them "raw", boil them, then chill them and call them raw, or else face risking the reaction Bob had if you actually eat them without boiling first (some individuals are more susceptible to their toxin than others). Stir frying or light steaming is not enough to detoxify them. If they taste bitter, don't eat them!

Note that ostrich fern fiddleheads are the least toxic. Bracken ferns have toxins that are carcinogenic and mutagenic and well known to cause bladder cancer in cows, so if you're going to collect them yourself, you need to be able to recognize the species. We have about 30 common fern species around here and the guidebooks generally only show the mature plants, not the fiddlehead stage, so getting starting with fiddlehead collecting on your own can be tricky.

Fiddleheads should be eaten in moderation and in season, since they contain thiaminase, which breaks down B vitamins in the body and can lead to vitamin B deficiency. While raw fiddleheads have been shown to contain vitamins A and C, nutritional analyses are on RAW fiddleheads, but this is meaningless since you can't eat them raw. I haven't seen any data on nutritional analyses of fiddleheads that show whether or not any vitamins remain after cooking and throwing out the water. So, they're a treat if cooked thoroughly, but not a nutritional staple by any means.

(Another food you must boil well before eating to detoxify is shell/dried beans, especially cranberry beans and kidney beans. Never, never eat these raw from the garden, or you'll get very, very sick. They need to be boiled at a high temperature to disable the phytohaemaglutanin. That's why they're safe from rodents in storerooms. Boil, don't simmer, until soft.)

People used to boil the heck out of vegetables for a reason--not to make them gray and slimy, but to denature any toxins. Cultivated foods have had the toxins bred out and more nutrition bred in, so they are much safer to eat raw or only slightly cooked. With wild, uncultivated foods, you really need to know what you're dealing with because many contain toxins to prevent predation. As long as people were used to gathering some of their foods wild, they knew they had to be careful about really cooking them well. But in the last 30-40 years, wild gathering has been replaced with virtually exclusive cultivated eating. This has allowed more culinary experimentation and crispier tastes to develop. But it has also meant that people have forgotten, or not even learned, the wisdom of their elders when dealing with wild foods. My grandmother used to boil all her vegetables for a long, long time, and warned me never to eat raw beans. Of course, I didn't listen to her, and that's how we ended up with bean poisoning. Not once, but twice, because we couldn't imagine that undercooked beans could make us sick.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Welcome to our home

Welcome to our home. We hope to give you a sense of place.
You are in a house once lit by gas and warmed by coal.
Others added electricity and indoor plumbing,
and we are adding our own small details.
This house is also on top of a continental plate
that is shifting even as we speak.
A few hundred million years ago that plate—and this spot—
were south of the Equator.

We love this quiet corner of Medford Hillside,
now comfortably ensconced in the northern hemisphere.
The playground next door has been a park, and a school,
and has heard the voices of children
raised and hushed for a hundred years.
In the other direction is the Mystic River,
where swans and herons and turtles have replaced the shipyards.
Before the houses, the river wrapped around farmland.
And around the farmland, there were woods.
Over the river and through the woods—
those words were written a few hundred yards east of this spot.
Our cherry and maple trees now strive each spring to reclaim the land,
though we keep to other plans for our garden.
Other words from another place:
We hope you have fun.
We hope you find at least one surprise.
We hope you leave thinking about something interesting
you hadn’t thought about before.
And one more hope from us:
Before you leave, we hope you’ll stay a while.
We find comfort and inspiration in the company of friends.
We are all spinning around the axis of the Earth at 750 mph,
and flying around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
Share your stories with us. Our stories are our seatbelts.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How was your day?

The good news is that a community group cleaned up the playground this morning. The bad news is that I couldn't be there for most of it because I had to get my car inspected. The good news is that my car got a desperately-needed oil change and passed inspection. The bad news is that someone drove into the side of my car on the way home. The good news is that it was at low speed and I feel ok. The bad news is that I was too mentally shaken up to go to as much of Somerville Open Studios as I'd hoped to. The good news is that we saw some wonderful art and bought a lovely piece. The bad news is that we came home and found out that our water is now hazardous. The good news is that Lisa was able to buy some bottled water. The bad news is that neighbors we love are selling their house and moving away. The good news is that today is almost over.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Schooling PowerPoint

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Palin v. Public Garden

Walking across Boston’s Public Garden this morning was a surreal experience. The Garden is lovely in early spring colors: the cherries and tulips are blooming, the early leaves on the willows are the brightest green imaginable after the brown of winter, and the cool, dry air and dappled sun puts a Spring in your step.

And just across Charles Street is a hoard of people supporting our country---right and wrong, or right and left depending on your point of view. Over there, it’s bright, crowded, and angry with flags and posters and t-shirts.

As I was leaving the Garden, I passed a man with a t-shirt that said “The American Constitution is a BFD!” I wish I knew whether he was a supporter or a protester.

I haven’t wanted my Obama button so much since the election, but it’s in my other bag.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Thursday, March 25, 2010

2009 vs. 1600

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Caption contest

Submit your caption as a comment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The antonym of cubicle

I value being able to look out my office window and see pieces of the river in winter, and trees amidst the houses, and squirrels, and occasional large birds, but my office is nothing like this:

Maybe if every object on my desk blocked my view of the outdoors, I’d keep my desk less cluttered.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

City Hall: “This conversation is over”

Back in 2006, we changed some aspects of our house: we tore down a shed, removed an enclosed porch, and added a deck. This was all done with a building permit, and I thought that the building department would tell the assessor’s office what changes had been made. That never happened.

So this year I filed an application for abatement to get those changes entered. I asked them to remove the charge for the shed we tore down, remove the charge for the back enclosed porch we took off, and add a charge for the new wood deck we built. I wasn’t sure how it would all balance out, since I didn't know how they valued enclosed porches and decks, but I wanted the official record of our house to at least show the outline of our house correctly.

Turns out they were willing to do all of that, even though they refused to answer questions before, during, or after the process. And the net result lowers our property tax bill slightly, so that’s ok. But the last thing that I asked them about on the application, the chimney that is listed as a bonus item on our property, was apparently one item too many to even ask about.

Almost every house on our street has a chimney. Some have more than one. But we’re the only ones who get charged extra for a chimney. Since property taxes are supposed to be assessed fairly, I think we shouldn’t be charged extra if nobody else is charged extra. But according to the assessor’s office, my view is ludicrous. So ludicrous that they refuse to actually respond to my request or any more questions. I apparently exceeded my secret allotment of questions. “This conversation,” I was told, “is over.”

It turns out that it’s possible to gather more information by the simple expedient of continuing to converse. I learned that they can print out a property card that has far more information than the version available on-line. A finished enclosed porch is worth $60.43 per square foot, a wood deck is worth $8.81 per square foot, unfinished attic space is worth $8.63 per square foot, unfinished basement space is worth $17.27 per square foot, and regular living space is worth $86.33 per square foot. We may have a mixed use occupancy certificate. They pull information from MLS listings when a house is listed for sale, even though those listings are frequently exaggerated or simply wrong. They have no idea how to do a basic count from their own database of how many properties have a particular feature. They charge for printing out listings, but they don’t know how much they charge and there isn’t actually a way to request those printouts. And they really, truly, deeply despise homeowners. Almost as much as they despise answering the phone.

But I still don’t know why my street address changes at random from 11 to 13. Or why they changed Lisa’s last name in their records, or how to change it back. And I still don’t know why my chimney is worth $2600 more than anyone else’s chimney, or why it’s worth $700 more than it was last year. Perhaps there’s a silver lining. In my chimney.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A friendly elephant seal

Our time at the elephant seal rookery near San Simeon, CA last January was amazing, but we couldn’t get quite this close:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The unwelcome approach of January 19

In a bit over a week, those of us in Massachusetts will be asked to go to the polls and choose a new United States Senator to serve out the rest of Ted Kennedy’s term. I will go to the polls, but I will not vote for a candidate on the ballot.

Martha Coakley is deeply unprincipled. She serves her own ambition, and nothing else. She does not believe in the rule of law, or fairness, or justice. She willfully damaged her community as a prosecutor over and over again. She sanctioned child molestation, shielded predators, and persecuted the innocent. And when given the responsibility to hire and train young attorneys, she coached them to lie to judges, conceal evidence, and do everything in their considerable power to destroy people’s lives, innocent or not, in a quest for headlines.

I will not consent to give a person like that my vote.

While I would prefer that political candidates be, on the whole, cut from better cloth than they generally are, I do not refuse to vote for candidates simply because they are thoroughly flawed. I do not refuse to vote for candidates simply because their ideals, principles, beliefs, goals, or actions are at odds with some of mine. I can overlook a lot, but I cannot vote for a person I truly believe is evil. I believe with all my heart that Martha Coakley’s success has been a triumph of evil.

I know that there are many good people and informed people who will vote for Martha Coakley. You, dear reader, may be one of those people. You may believe that Martha Coakley cannot possibly be as bad or dangerous or immoral as all that, or you may believe that there are other concerns which warrant voting for someone who is. If so, please know that I disagree.

I do not wish for a Scott Brown victory next week. But despite my abhorrence of many of Scott Brown’s positions, I think that encouraging Martha Coakley's long-term political ambitions would be worse for our commonwealth and for our country.

The likely outcome of this election is a small turnout and a huge victory for Martha Coakley, just as she had in the primary. The best outcome, in my opinion, would be a small victory for Martha Coakley and a large turnout of people not voting for any of these candidates. A higher than expected number of voters who do not vote for any of the candidates on the ballot is the best way to encourage new candidates in the 2012 election for this seat, the election that will seat a Senator for 6 years instead of 2. Your vote cannot stop the media from telling fictions about the significance of this election or the reasons for your vote. But your vote should reflect your conscience.

If you share my values and would be swayed by my opinion, please vote for the write-in candidate of your imagination. That is what I will do on January 19.

Friday, January 8, 2010