Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hanging out in my frog-cave

Photo by Michael

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

TSA will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child or children.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Except for forcibly separating me from my child, TSA fully honored that promise last week.

Lisa, carrying our 2-week-old son, walked through the metal detector. I was sent to the AIT, which I opted out of. At that point, Lisa was on the far side of the checkpoint with our infant and all of our possessions, while I was kept out of sight and out of hearing range to await a pat-down. When I told the TSA again that I was traveling with my wife and infant son, I was told I could not move at all to be able to see them or let them know where I was. A TSA agent inspected our bags without waiting for me to arrive, so I could neither ask nor answer questions. A TSA agent confiscated most of our infant’s purified water for mixing formula without waiting for me to arrive, so I could not protest that decision (or even be informed of it until after the dangerous purified water had been removed to an undisclosed location).

This was in the security screening lane reserved specifically and exclusively for passengers traveling with children in strollers. These TSA agents were not dealing with an unusual situation. These TSA agents were simply acting in blatant disregard for the instincts of parents, the needs of children, and their own published promise.

Perhaps the key word in the TSA’s promise is ask. A careful reader would know that the TSA’s promise is meaningless, because the TSA never asks anything. They simply issue arbitrary and capricious demands, and then whine about the public not showing enough respect to go along with our compliance.

It’s enough to make me wonder out loud when Occupy Wall Street will expand to Occupy Terminal A?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Putting up mini-blinds is no fun when you don’t really like ladders. But I’m learning a few tricks:

1. Get better screws. The screws that came with the mini-blinds have lousy slots, so the driver tends to slip. 3/4" #6 pan-head sheet metal screws are making good replacements.

2. Get a longer screwdriver or driver bit. A 6 inch bit lets me use a larger power drill even though the bracket is right up against the window stop.

3. Use spacers to hold the blinds away from the window. I like to attach the mini-blinds within the window opening (between the stops) so the blinds don’t hide the casing. But I want them to be slightly in front of the window so they raise and lower more freely. A spacer lets me get a consistent distance. And if you tend to drop spacers (because you don’t have one hand to hold the spacer, a second hand to hold the bracket, and a third hand to hold the driver), then use several identical spacers and pick them all up afterwards.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What makes a library?

What is meaningful in a library? The books and media? The access to information, or to story, or to history? The gathering and cultivating and cataloging of those elements so necessary to civilization? The refuge from ignorance? The refuge from isolation? The people who make it all happen and help us understand the resources available to us? The open door?

A library to me is a public place, defined by who is allowed in rather than by public ownership. And on that measure, as well as every measure which I mentioned above, the library tent at Occupy Wall Street was a public library. They had over 5000 published books, original writing and poetry and art, people who volunteered there, and people who used the library. They had all that until New York City made the conscious decision to destroy the library.

That act of destruction was, to me, not qualitatively different from the book burning in Opernplatz in 1933. Both were political acts of destruction intended as statements of power, demeaning and diminishing those disfavored by the state, targeting the tangible instantiations of knowledge and discourse.

I want this week’s act of destruction to feel qualitatively different, because it makes me heartsick to have my birthplace behave in any way similarly to the birthplace of my grandparents, a birthplace they were forced to flee. I want to believe that the authorities’ behavior in New York City was callous rather than calculated. But I cannot find the significant distinctions. Is it because in New York only 5000 books were destroyed rather than the 20,000 in Berlin? Because the books in New York were seized and mangled rather than seized and burned? Because the authorities in New York used police and sanitation workers rather than students to do it? Because the destruction in New York was less fully coordinated with other cities, or because it targeted personal possessions as well as books, or because it was accompanied by police beating and teargassing their own citizens? None of those feel sufficiently distinguishing to allow me an easy rest.

Writing is my only means to scream my outrage and link arms with those who stand against this cyclic violence. I weep that my country would do this.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Many of the details of this photo are wrong for my home office. Not enough desk space, for example. But it’s finished and filled with books, and I am extremely envious.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Got dreidel?

The federal government would like me to buy a Christmas tree.

I don’t think the government should be promoting a particular religion. I don’t want my government telling my interfaith family which holidays to celebrate or how. I enjoy helping Lisa and her family celebrate Christmas at Lisa’s parents’ house, but it’s not my holiday. For me, a Christmas tree is religiously inappropriate.

And these ads should be disturbing to people who do not consider Christmas to be a secular holiday, but who view a Christmas tree as part of how you honor or celebrate one of your religious holidays. Do you really want the federal government telling you how you could make your religious practice better? Or telling you that your religious practice isn’t good enough?

Can you imagine the screaming if the USDA decided to run an ad campaign to promote halal meat?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I’m not sure hypothetical is the right word

Hypothetical scenario:

(1) There’s a city board in charge of granting out public money. (2) A member of the board leads the effort to set aside as much money as possible to pay for administrative expenses. (3) The same member of the board then leads the effort to have the board pay her sister to do administrative work, while simultaneously acting as her sister’s agent and only point of contact with the board. (4) This is administrative work which used to be done by board members for free, which could be done by volunteers, and which no comparable board pays money for. (5) The work will not be put out to bid, and the board will not ask for volunteers to do the work.

Is this more or less corrupt if the board member is also the board’s treasurer?
Aren’t there laws that ban this sort of action?
If the board is determined to throw away money on work that could be done for free or more cheaply, is the waste of public funds more important than the nepotism?
Would sunlight help fix any of this?
I resigned hours after (2) happened. Can I retroactively resign before (2)?
How do I get this rid of this overwhelming nausea?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mapping the electrical fantastic

Over the past few years, we’ve created a basic electrical map of the house. So I know which circuit controls each light, each outlet, each switch. I can see ahead of time what will happen if I turn off a particular circuit breaker. There’s a great-looking circuit mapper tool for doing this quickly, but we did it the slow way: two people on phones, one plugs in an outlet tester and the other flips breakers until the outlet loses power. Write down the result, move on to the next outlet. Eventually I sketched each floor of the house in InDesign, put in all the lights, outlets, and switches in their approximate locations, and marked their circuit numbers on the map. The map could be improved: I could note the electrical loads of each outlet, the date each outlet was last (re)installed, who last did the connections, and which outlets are tamper-resistant. But as is, it’s been very helpful in the last round of electrical improvements to know which circuit breakers to turn off, which circuits could be extended, and where a short-circuit might be.

In the last 6 weeks we’ve added 2 ceiling fans and switches, removed two wall sconces, and added outdoor outlets in two locations, a front porch outlet, basement outlets in two locations, and a lot of outlets in two upstairs bedrooms. We’ve upgraded numerous other outlets in the process to tamper-resistant or GFI, upgraded a couple more circuit breakers to arc-fault, replaced our outdoor lights, and done some other electrical clean-up. Oh, and we have a doorbell outside our house if you want to come visit!

What the map doesn’t show, though, is the circuits themselves: the paths of the wires to get from the main panel to their various receptacles and fixtures. And that’s become an issue as we try to figure out how to replace a few short runs of wire partially buried in the walls. The tone generator and wire tracer aren’t working to tell me where the wires go once they disappear behind plaster and lath. I suddenly find myself a fan of surface-run wiring.

So I spent an hour yesterday following circuit #1 around our basement, and another hour trying to figure out how to figure it out. Seven junction boxes, most splitting the circuit into two or three directions, and eventually seven runs of wire heading up to the first or second floor. Four of the runs are obvious: they go up directly below a first floor outlet on that circuit. But three of the runs are completely mysterious: they head up nowhere near a corresponding destination. And even worse, there are only two items on circuit #1 which are unaccounted for: a key dining room outlet, and a wall sconce and outlet on the second floor which are clearly fed by the same run. At least one run heading upstairs cannot possibly be going anywhere good. Two of the mystery runs come from a junction box helpfully mounted directly over our furnace, so they cannot be disconnected without removing the furnace.

I have a start: I’ve laid out the basement spaghetti of circuit #1 on our map. (This will be a good exercise for me to learn how InDesign handles layers.) Of course, this fall was supposed to be about finishing house projects, not starting them, so a start doesn’t really feel like progress.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let there be light

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 changed the rules for light kits in ceiling fans. Prior to that, most ceiling fans with light kits took regular-base light bulbs. In 2007, manufacturers stopped making ceiling fans that took regular-base light bulbs. Many switched to candelabra bases, and others switched to CFLs. We have halogen bulbs with regular bases that we really like, though, so when we put in a 4-socket ceiling fan in 2008 that came with candelabra bases, I rewired the light kit and attached regular sockets.

I forgot about this silliness until we installed a new ceiling fan in the guest room last week. The last time I bought the identical fan for my office, it came with a single 75-watt-max regular-base socket. When I opened the new one, to my surprise it came with a tiny 75-watt halogen bulb. Very cute, good light output, and completely incompatible with using any new efficient light bulbs. Or even older more efficient light bulbs. In my office ceiling fan, I use a 70-watt regular-base halogen that puts out 1600 lumens. The tiny 75-watt halogen puts out 1300 lumens. The new efficiency rules are forcing me to use a less efficient light. And forget about ever putting in a medium-base CFL or LED, since the socket is wrong. This is clearly the wrong outcome of the new rules.

The ceiling fan manufacturer came through for me when I called, and sent me a couple of replacement regular-base light kits for when I want to switch to a more efficient bulb. But I can’t publicly thank them for that, because I agreed with their wonderful customer service rep that we never had that conversation and that they wouldn’t ship me anything. The correct light kits arrived yesterday, in time for installing the last ceiling fan on Thursday. Or would have arrived yesterday, if they had shipped me anything. Which they didn’t. At no charge.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Step 3: Profit!

The USPS wants to close the West Medford Post Office, because it currently turns a profit of only $300,000 a year and is less than 2 miles from the Medford Square Post Office. They are remarkably bad at explaining their reasoning, so everyone wonders why the USPS would want to give up $300,000 a year by closing a profitable branch. The USPS reasoning is presumably that if they close West Medford then the income will all shift to Medford Square when people bring their mail there, and the costs at West Medford will mostly be eliminated, so their total profit between the two branches would be higher.

On the cost side, the USPS is not exactly being honest. The West Medford labor costs are by far their highest expense. Those costs cannot be eliminated, since the workers cannot be laid off. The USPS will save maybe $50,000 a year on rent, utilities, cleaning, maintenance, and equipment.

On the income side, the USPS is being bizarrely optimistic. Some mail volume will go to the nearest branch, particularly for the sorts of mail which have no competition: postage-paid envelopes, first class mail, international mail. But Express Mail and domestic package shipping is a huge portion of their income at local branches, and that shipping has competition from UPS and FedEx. The USPS is betting that most people and businesses will not shift that sort of shipping over to UPS and FedEx just because of having to bring packages to Medford Square instead of West Medford. After all, it’s only an added 5-10 minutes of travel time, an added 5-10 minutes spent waiting in line, and the extra inconvenience of more difficult and unpredictable parking, parking further away from the door, and carrying packages up an extra flight of steps (or an extremely long ramp). For an infrequent shipper, that’s not a big enough obstacle to change their mail volume significantly. For a frequent shipper, that adds up quickly into an incentive to explore alternatives. And frequent shippers are the customers that the USPS should be most concerned about attracting and keeping.

My particular business situation is not unique among mail order businesses. We spend $10,000 a year on shipping. $1000 of that goes to FedEx Ground, and $9000 goes to the USPS. Of the USPS volume, most is picked up at our location (and is therefore counted as Medford Square income, since Medford Square handles those), some is dropped off at Medford Square, and some is dropped off at West Medford. We are probably only counted as $500 of income for West Medford, since that’s all the mail volume we drop off there.

But when we decide on which sorts of packages we are going to ship through FedEx Ground vs. through the USPS, we don’t know which packages we’re going to have picked up and which we’re going to drop off. What we do know is that the West Medford option, 5% of our annual shipping volume, accounts for the majority of our most important packages, and is by far the fastest and least stressful drop-off location for urgent packages. So we set the USPS as a default for 90% of our shipping because of that 5% that goes to West Medford. If the USPS closes West Medford, we will have to reconsider our shipping plan, and we could easily shift at least 40% of our shipping over to FedEx Ground, rather than shifting that West Medford 5% over to Medford Square. If we do that, the USPS will see $7 of lost Medford Square income for each $1 of lost West Medford income on our mail volume.

The problem for the USPS in modeling these outcomes is that they offer frequent shippers like us no way to express the importance of particular branch locations to our shipping decisions. I’ve asked if there is any way to have the USPS appropriately apportion the income they receive from us between West Medford and Medford Square, and there isn’t. That would require cooperation from Medford Square, and Medford Square doesn’t want to do anything that would hurt their apparent bottom line by attributing any income to West Medford. The USPS can’t figure out how to compete with FedEx and UPS, but they have figured out how to compete destructively with themselves.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy your life

I’ve always felt that speaking up publicly when we have something to say is a moral obligation. If we know ways that our community or our society can be improved, we should advocate for those changes. Advocacy can take a lot of forms: talking with friends, writing letters to politicians or to newspapers, distributing literature, holding signs, going on marches, organizing strikes, working on election campaigns, etc. But it was not always clear to me why peaceful public demonstrations would have any positive effect on the decisions made by those in power. It may satisfy that moral obligation to speak up, but is it also a practical tool when it is unlikely to change a person’s position on an issue?

The answer lies in the fact that our position on an issue does not dictate our impact. In my experience, our impact is largely determined by our expressed level of passion and by our connections to others, and a peaceful public demonstration can affect both of those. People who participate in or watch or discuss Occupy Wall Street may discover that they are not alone, may connect to a like-minded community, may feel empowered to participate in ways they had not before, may feel emboldened to speak up in ways they had not before. Hearing others sing gives us the freedom to raise our own voice in song. It is too easy to despair over the discordant national chorus that the media loves to promote, and forget to sing ourselves. Occupy Wall Street will succeed in having a positive impact if it changes the balance of who decides to speak out, if it provides inspiration and courage to the disempowered and disenfranchised. Our nation is not a sprint, and our needs are neither short-term nor small. May the occupiers of 150 public spaces give us the strength to more fully occupy our own lives so we all do more than just take up space.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A filter by any other name would taste too sweet

Lead paint chips aren’t really the problem with lead paint. The problem is lead dust, which is much more difficult to deal with. And using a regular vacuum on lead paint chips can create a much worse lead dust problem.

An important part of the solution is to use a proper HEPA vacuum (a vacuum with an actual HEPA filter and a sealed system so that all exhaust air is forced to pass through the HEPA filter). And those are expensive: the cheapest HEPA shop-vac that I could find is about $500. So contractors and painters mostly refuse to buy them, and complain bitterly (and somewhat falsely) that HEPA vacuums are at least $1000. The reality is that contractors and painters hate the new lead rules and wouldn’t use a HEPA vacuum if it were free.

Or would they?

I’d like to see Massachusetts simply give a HEPA vacuum to every single licensed contractor and painter in the state. No more excuses about the cost of the vacuum, no more reasons to spread lead dust. Just a proactive approach that makes it clear we are serious about reducing this particular environmental hazard.

And we all benefit, whether the HEPA vacuum is being used in our own home, or on our neighbor’s property, or in our workplace or school, or in the restaurants and stores we go into, or in friends’ homes that we visit. This isn’t a gift to contractors and painters. It’s the smart move for all of us.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Four hours left

I'm supposed to use this time before Yom Kippur to try to make things right with other people, so I can focus during Yom Kippur on trying to make things right with God. I feel utterly lost on how to do that this year, because the people with whom things are distinctly not right seem so intractably alien. Perhaps the work is supposed to be hard, but this year it seems absolutely hopeless.

I don't think I'm at odds with anyone who reads this blog, but if I am, I apologize. I don't want that.

I read an interesting theory today that the best way to convert an enemy into an ally is to somehow persuade them to do you a favor. Their cognitive dissonance (I don't like this person, but I helped this person) will likely be resolved by them convincing themselves that they actually do like you. It seems worth a try as a last resort in some cases, since I've tried everything else. It runs completely counter to my instincts, which are to try to be of service to others rather than ask others for help.

So a request to my readers: please help me out by leaving a comment here. Tell me something good you hope will happen in your life over the coming year, because I want to enter this coming year full of hope for my life and for yours.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A year as co-chair

After 3 years on the arts council as a very active member, I thought last summer I should take a turn helping out in an officer role. The existing chair said she was agreeable to sharing the chair position as co-chairs, and I hoped to make progress in that position towards improving our transparency, our visibility, and our external communication. In retrospect, I should have realized there might be trouble ahead when she unilaterally postponed the officer elections for a month.

The work was not easy (more on that below), but I feel good about some of the work I was able to do. For transparency, I put a couple of years of past meeting minutes online, and helped our recording secretary start posting new meeting minutes online. This past summer, I started posting meeting agendas there as well. Our visibility efforts were certainly helped by a program we nominated winning a statewide award. I designed a billboard about the award, and arranged with the city to have that added to the rotation on two electronic billboards along Route 93 for several weeks last spring. I also wrote a detailed guide to the postcards project that I created in 2010, and put that guide on our website. That allowed the state cultural council, which was extremely supportive of the project, to promote it further to other local cultural councils. I led the arts council into joining a new and very active coalition of local arts organizations and served as our liaison to the coalition for the year. The coalition is putting on a city-wide festival of events this fall, which we provided the seed grant for.

I feel my biggest success this past year was advocating for including public art in the city’s new 7-year open space plan. After I spoke at a public meeting about the plan and got a little coverage by local media, the city added questions about public art to a survey about priorities for the open space plan. I got the arts council and local arts groups to ask their friends and supporters to participate in the survey, and in the end a survey which the city was expecting would have a couple dozen responses got a couple hundred responses instead. The responses showed enthusiastic support for including public art in the open space plan and no significant opposition.

The council made a huge conceptual leap forward this past year in planning our first-ever fundraiser. When I joined the council and started advocating for raising funds, the idea met with a lot of resistance. Now that there are new faces, including at least one who is very interested in fundraising, the idea has had time to percolate and it was just a matter of a lot of hard work by a couple of other people on the council. I’m delighted that we’re now willing to raise funds, and impressed at the success of our fundraiser ($1500 raised). I’m also gratified to see someone else on the council leading a significant project from conception to completion.

All was not a success, though. My co-chair fought me tooth and nail the entire year, doing her best to sabotage or stall everything I suggested. She refused to reply to my emails or phone calls, and in fact refused to ever discuss how we should divide our responsibilities other than to say that she didn’t like my suggested division. That left me with no idea of what my responsibilities actually were, no idea what tasks I didn't have to worry about, no way to lead the council forward, and far too much time wasted on one-way communication. I have no real experience working with people like that, and it took me almost 6 months to realize that the situation was hopelessly broken. I decided to remain co-chair for the rest of the year, because that was at least useful in communicating with the world outside of the council.

Another council member volunteered to take over the postcards project for 2011, stalled for several months, and then vanished without ever putting out a call for art. After doing my best to create an easily sustained annual project (complete with detailed instructions), it looks like that was just an absurdly successful one-off. And I wasn’t able to recruit anyone on the council into posting news regularly to our blog or facebook account.

My year as co-chair ended as it began, with a postponed officer election. I’m back to being a regular member now, a little sadder and wiser. My co-chair has reclaimed her throne, has begun actively advocating for identity politics on the council (an attitude I find absolutely repugnant), and appears determined to avoid publicizing our state-mandated grant application deadline. As I said, all was not a success. My energies are needed elsewhere, however.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hot or not?

On a hot air duct in our basement:

Which director is filming your life?

David Vos:
Next Thursday, our attic insulation will be replaced. I talked to the contractor who installed the insulation wrong 10 years ago, and he explained his mistake and made prompt arrangements to correct the problem.

Frank Capra:
Next Thursday, our attic insulation will be replaced. I talked to the contractor who installed the insulation wrong 10 years ago, but he said he wouldn’t come look at the problem he caused. So I called another insulation contractor, who came out a few days later to take a look at the work required, explained our options, and gave us a quote for a reasonable amount of money.

Ken Burns:
Next Thursday, our attic insulation will be replaced. After numerous phone calls and an office visit, I finally talked to the contractor (MS) who installed the insulation wrong 10 years ago. He stalled for a while and passively refused to even come look at the problem he caused. So I started making phone calls and checking websites, since the work could in theory be done by an insulation contractor, a pest removal company (since they often have to deal with the collateral damage), or a general contractor. Several companies never answered their phones or promised return phone calls that never happened. Several others said that it isn’t work they do and offered no referral to anyone who could do the work. Two energy auditors said that the current situation is a huge problem and threw up their hands. The company with the informative website (BG) replied that they were essentially out of business. One (GB) scheduled a meeting and never showed up. One (GD) looked and said he wouldn’t do it. Two (WC and ATH) looked and promised an estimate that never came. Three companies (GW, PI, and JB) actually scheduled meetings, showed up, and gave us estimates. While it took two weeks and five phone calls to arrange the meeting with JB, they were the only ones who discussed what the right approach would be, listened to our requirements, and gave us a detailed enough estimate to assure us we would end up with what we wanted. We’ll still need to find someone to hang drywall, but we can live for a while with just the FSK paper that they’ll install over the fiberglass batts. So after seven weeks, dozens of phone calls, and nine different meetings with people looking at the attic, we finally got three quotes and accepted the only detailed one.

James Ivory:
Next Thursday, our attic insulation will be replaced. Our housekeeping staff had noticed that the work needed to be done, and of course made all the necessary arrangements. We wrote a check for a perfectly reasonable amount of money, thanked the nice people who did the work, and did not let some silly subplot distract us from the real drama of our lives.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This week on The Death of Rosetta

Apple: We’ll sell you a laptop with System 10.6.8 installed.
Me: Great! Here’s my money.
Apple [after a week]: Here’s your laptop.
Me: This laptop has System 10.7.
Apple: Right! Don’t you love it?
Me: No.
Apple: Well, you should. Do you want to buy System 10.6.8?
Me: No, I already paid for that.
Apple: Too bad, so sad.
Me: [Several bad words.]
Apple: We’ll mail you System 10.6.8.

[Three weeks pass.]

Apple: Here’s System 10.6.3.
Me: This is the wrong version; it can’t boot my laptop.
Apple: Right! Don’t you love it?
Me: No.
Apple: Well, you should.

[Scene shifts to Apple Store.]

Me: Please install System 10.6.8 on this laptop.
Apple [entire Genius Bar suddenly gathers around and bursts into chorus mode]: We can’t! We won’t! The computer will catch on fire! The build number won’t allow it! Apple put in secret hardware that will break the old system! Our corporate policies won’t allow it! We don’t have any install discs! Downgrades are the work of the devil!
Me: Please install System 10.6.8 on this laptop.
Apple: Let me consult our secret database. [Several minutes of pretend typing.] Well, since this computer actually shipped with 10.6 in a previous life, we can try.
Me: Do or do not. There is no try.
Apple: Here’s your laptop back with System 10.6 installed!
Me: Was that really so hard?
Apple: Have you tried System 10.7? You’ll love it!

Join us next week on The Death of Rosetta, as Michael attempts to explain to the IRS why it’s ok with Apple that none of his old financial records are readable.

The steps may change

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dear electrician

I know that my house has been ill-favored by the code compliance gods, and all previous work was done by monkeys who had been blinded by a combination of hubris and feces. But it’s my house, and I want to like it. So please be temperate in your immediate verbal assessment. The evolving color in your face (previously a healthy pink, now white headed towards green) is sufficiently expressive. And trust me, there has been positive progress. The panel is no longer quite the circuit breaker ceviche that it once was. A lot of leaky old wiring has been removed or replaced. And we started a wiring chart of the house, so you can see which circuits are truly overloaded instead of having to guess based on the scorch marks.

We’ve tried to come up with a priority list and a wish list. Perhaps some items on the wish list are more achievable than we’ve feared, and perhaps your weekly rate is more affordable than your daily or hourly rate. We won’t know unless you tell us.

We know you’ll find some unexpected problems. Tradespeople find unexpected problems whenever they work on our house. Hell, they find unexpected problems whenever they drive down a street near our house. Just keep us informed, and remember that while we’re the present owners, we neither designed nor built the house.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Guest room amenities

What are important amenities in a guest room? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what is important, what is helpful, and what is more of a detraction than a help.

A comfortable bed is obviously central to the mission of a guest room, though everyone has different tastes in mattresses. (We’re changing our guest bed from a king to a queen, which seems to be large enough for many people when they’re traveling even if they’re used to a king at home.) A variety of nice bedding and pillows allows you to adjust the bed to your personal preferences.

A guest bathroom is a lovely amenity, but not one we can add here.

A light that you can adjust and turn off from the bed was a huge upgrade in our own bedroom, so I’d like to provide that. I don’t find fan remotes all that important, since I’m not usually trying to change the fan speed in the middle of the night. But having a fan and windows you can open is important.

Guest towels. Somewhere to stash your luggage and hang some clothes. Convenient power outlets so guests can charge their cell phones, laptops, and cameras. Power outlets near the bed for CPAP machines, laptops, alarm clocks, etc. Window shades and/or curtains so the light level from outside can be adjusted. Some books to read. Can there be too many books in a guest room? A television? The purpose of a television can be handled by providing a computer, and an internet connection seems far more vital when traveling. A landline telephone might be an annoyance if you don’t turn off the ringer, since guests probably don’t want to answer the phone and certainly don’t want to be woken by it.

Little shampoos and soaps? Candles? Fresh flowers? Pen and paper? A mini-fridge and microwave? How far should a guest room go towards imitating a hotel room, rather than learning from it?

I don’t mind lots of bookshelves, as long as they’re mostly filled with something interesting. My parents turned the bookshelves in my old room into file storage, and that makes it much less pleasant to stay there. What guest room mistakes have you seen?

Sales tax holiday

This weekend is a sales tax holiday for Massachusetts. Some year I’ll actually be organized enough to order something significant like replacement windows during the sales tax holiday, but it hasn’t happened yet. The only things I was ready to buy this year were a few Costco and Best Buy items and a laptop.

Costco charged sales tax online, and required me to call in to have the rep fill out a form to email to a different department at Costco to refund the sales tax.

Apple charged sales tax online, and said that they’ll refund the sales tax to my credit card. Not clear if that’s automatic or because I called.

Best Buy charged sales tax online, and had to redo the order on the phone, and then lower the item price by the amount of the sales tax so that the new total with sales tax would be slightly less than what the order should have been without collecting sales tax.

These are all retailers with significant presences in Massachusetts. I’m a bit baffled that none of them could handle this correctly, but it makes me feel better about the fact that my own web site has the same problem.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chihuly in motion

Photo by Lisa

Monday, August 8, 2011

Who owns your house?

I think of ownership of an object as a question of who gets to make decisions that involve the object. If I own a chair, I can paint it, smash it, sell it, give it away, or move it to the attic. I don’t own my house in quite the same way.

1. You own your house. That was easy.

2. As long as you have a mortgage, the bank that holds the mortgage owns your house with you. The bank probably gave far more money to the previous owners of your house than you did. You have much more control over your house than the bank does, but the bank is essentially a (mostly silent) partner in your house ownership. If you owned your house outright, you could tear your house down or reduce its value in a more limited way, and you could sell it for whatever amount you wanted. The mortgage means you can’t do some of that without the bank’s permission. If you don’t keep paying your mortgage, the bank can kick you out and do what it wants with your house, because it’s their house too. I’m not thrilled about sharing ownership with the bank, even though I don’t want to do anything that the bank wouldn’t agree with, so I sought a shorter loan term the last time I refinanced (i.e., found a new bank to share ownership with me).

3. Your local government owns your house with you. They exercise this ownership through zoning restrictions, building codes, and building permits—these affect what you are allowed to do in the house and how you are allowed to change the house. And since failing to pay your property taxes can allow your local government to take your house, they have a similar ability to foreclose on you that the bank has, even though the local government didn’t actually pay the previous owners to turn the house from their house into your house. Or is that starting to feel less completely like it’s “your” house?

4. The state government owns your house with you, since building codes are primarily decided at the state level. But this is enforced at the local level, so it’s functionally the local government that owns your house with you.

5. The federal government does not own your house with you, according to the 3rd Amendment, at least as long its peacetime. Whew.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When you owe the bank a trillion dollars

“The federal government shouldn’t borrow money because the federal government should use the same financial approach as households and businesses, who never borrow money.”

Households don’t borrow money? What exactly is a mortgage, then? What is a car loan or a student loan? Where does credit card debt come from? The particular borrowing decision may be a good idea or a bad idea, but mortgages have a rather long track record as the primary method by which apartmentholds become households. It’s prudent to keep our personal debt loads from growing to absurd proportions. It’s insane to think that we should eliminate all household borrowing.

Businesses don’t borrow money? On a day-to-day basis, they actually buy almost everything on credit extended directly by the vendors they buy from, and pay the money later (net 30, net 60, net 90—these are the number of days until the money is supposed to be paid). Business start-up, business expansion, and large-scale business operation is typically financed and refinanced by banks and private investment groups and the stock market. You may have heard of the stock market.

So when I hear pundits say that the federal government shouldn’t borrow money because the federal government should use the same financial approach as households and businesses, who never borrow money, I wonder what isolated third-world village those pundits live in. And then I remember that those isolated third-world villages borrow money too, from Kiva and the World Bank.

The old saw is that when you owe the bank a million dollars, you have a problem; when you owe the bank a billion dollars, the bank has a problem. When you owe the bank a trillion dollars? Turns out then nobody has a problem, until brain-dead politicians decide to turn it into everyone’s problem.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Taxing the job creators

The latest rhetoric about taxing the job creators could not be more backwards. We don’t tax people when they create jobs. We never have, and we never will.

If you earn a million dollars, and you put that million dollars into paying people for their work, then we don’t tax that million dollars. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a person or a corporation: you don’t pay taxes on the money you pay for salaries and benefits, for training, for overhead, for providing people with a place to work and tools to work with. Every dollar you put into creating jobs is not taxed.

Raising taxes on the superwealthy only affects them if they DON’T create jobs. If the superwealthy are supposed to be job creators, let’s treat them better when they create jobs and let’s treat them worse when they don’t create jobs. The higher the tax rate, the more incentive they have to create jobs. Instead, we’ve lowered their tax rate, which means we’ve reduced their incentive to create jobs.

So the next time someone cries about raising taxes on the job creators, remember that those job creators are continuing to fail us, are continuing to NOT CREATE JOBS, and therefore deserve all the taxes we could possibly imagine. The moment the superwealthy want to stop paying taxes, they can do it very simply by creating jobs.

Attic daydreams

The staircase to the attic could have 14 steps at a 10" run and 8" rise instead of the current 14 steps with a 7.1" run and 8" rise. Since we can’t move the bottom of the staircase, a longer run would take us into the Land of Inadequate Headroom (LIH). But we can solve that by adding a landing 2 steps down, creating a Landing of Adequate Headroom (LAH). So you wind up on the landing, turn around, and go up the last 2 steps into the main space. The main attic space can then go the entire width of the house, interrupted only by a railing around the stairwell and a chimney.

View towards the LIH from hovering over the staircase

View towards the LIH and the existing finished room from the chimney

View towards the chimney from the existing finished room

View towards the LIH from the existing finished room

View towards the existing finished room and the LIH from the turret at the front corner of our house

If you go up the stairs, you reach the LIH over the 2nd floor bathroom. The LIH has an 8-foot peak and the roof slopes down at a 45° angle, so there’s 4 feet of width where the ceiling is at least 6 feet high. And 8 feet of width before you reach 4-foot kneewalls, if we put in kneewalls. I’m tempted to put in extremely short kneewalls, maybe 2 feet high, creating 12 feet of width. The LIH is most useful as a natural light source for a window at the back of the house, with perhaps a small reading nook at that back wall. I’ve always wanted a staircase landing with a window and a reading nook, and we can’t create that on the 2nd floor without removing our only bathroom.

View towards the LIH from the existing finished room

The structural question is how to support the LAH and staircase. The LAH is over our 2nd floor hallway where there’s a lowered ceiling, so it’s the right place to lower the attic floor. But apparently floors don’t support themselves.

While the ultimate dream would be to add a small bathroom up there, there’s no good way to get the plumbing into place.

There’s also questions of wiring and HVAC. We may have to put in a secondary electrical panel in the attic. A/C could be a mini-split and a couple of ceiling fans, and I’m hoping we could divert a heating duct up through a second floor closet, but it’s a sizeable space to try to keep comfortable.

The insulation, drywall, flooring, paint, and windows seem reasonably straightforward. And then we could have a 450 sq ft room in our house (plus LIH, minus stairwell and LAH and chimney), whereas no single room in our house right now is much over 160 sq ft.

View facing towards the back of the house; existing finished room is on the left

View from the LIH, with the staircase down behind the avatar

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thank you, Shel

I love the smell of cellulose in the morning

Up in our attic, we have one finished room, though it’s becoming less finished as time goes on. The ceiling in that room is thin sheets of something that isn’t sheetrock, and in 1999 a contractor added cellulose insulation above the ceiling.

Now the ceiling is falling in, because the cellulose is too heavy, and the cellulose is falling all over everything. The contractor won’t do anything because it’s been too long, even though they’ve learned since then to do things differently. So I need to find someone who can add enough strapping to hold the ceiling up or sheetrock the ceiling to cover everything. We’d love to tear it all out, spray foam the roof, and finish the entire attic, but that’s not likely to happen in the next 2 months. And I’m not actually convinced the ceiling has 2 months left.

This same room had a squirrel break-in which damaged the windowsill and the floor, and a Delonghi space heater that tried to set fire to the room. I never saw this room until after I moved into the house, even though it’s the largest room in the house. I’m wondering if I should go back to pretending it just isn’t there.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Photo by Michael

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Just a square on a quilt

Between shows last Friday, we thought we’d pop in to the American Folk Art Museum to listen to some live music and see their new digs. And sitting in the front hall, far enough from the screaming audience to listen the music while preserving our hearing, I gradually refocused on my surroundings and realized that the quilt on the wall across from us filled with names was a 9/11 memorial quilt.

The dead from the planes were on a panel on the left. I briefly panicked, unable to remember his name while I was looking for it, but found it quickly nonetheless. It’s been 10 years, and it’s not exactly a shock any longer, but remembering still produces a discomforting echo.

I touched the square, and took a few photos to perhaps send to his coworkers, because I still imagine that they continue to see themselves as his coworkers. There’s an odd parallel about losing track of all of them around the same time: they become as frozen in time as the dead. And knowing that I could run into some of them makes me think I could run into him.

I can’t.

And the music continued, and the audience screamed their appreciation again, and we continued talking, and I let my attention shift back to the now. And he stayed on his square, not reproachful, frozen on a square on a quilt.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Basement bulkhead

Here are photos of our basement bulkhead entrance. (Sorry to those of you who really don’t care about this, but we needed somewhere to make these photos available.)

The current metal doors (49" across, 70" long) are level with the ground at the bottom and about 36 inches above ground at the top. They’re set on a masonry surround which is crumbling (at least the part that’s above ground). The masonry surround opening is about 40 inches across, so we just need doors that have an opening of 40 inches or larger. It has a masonry top landing that’s roughly level with the ground, and a built-up angled lip that you have to step over. From the inside of the masonry top landing to the house is about 43 inches (level with the ground); from the outside of the angled lip where the doors end to the house is about 65 inches (level with the ground).

We need to remove the existing doors and the existing masonry surround that’s above grade, and replace that all with something.

If the masonry surround were parallel to the ground instead of sloped, we could get bulkhead doors with angled sides.

It makes sense to build up the masonry surround so that it’s higher than grade, so that water can’t get under the doors easily if there’s a heavy rain and the driveway floods a little. But the back end of the bulkhead doors need to be about 36" above grade, which is a steeper angle than normal.

We could build a new masonry surround that’s sloped like the current one, and get flat doors to mount on that. But then we can’t get the bulkhead door that looks ideal for us, which is the ClamDoor:

The ClamDoor is a fairly lightweight one-piece door which lifts up, doesn’t need painting, and comes with angled sides so that it can go on a flat surround. But if the back side against the house is 31 inches high including a 6-inch flange (covered by shingles in this photo), then the back opening against the house is only 25 inches high. Which means we need to make the masonry surround 11 inches higher than grade to get our 36" high opening, and that’s pretty high to step over. We’d end up with something like this photo from the Lucigold website:

So how do we make the ClamDoor work for our house without losing headroom as we exit the basement and without having a crazy high masonry surround?

Monday, June 13, 2011


Monday, May 23, 2011

Blow, wind, blow

Medford has been trumpeting the amount of power that their wind turbine has generated on massive electronic billboards along Route 93. (Oh, the irony.) We are supposed to be impressed by the large numbers: 196,000 kWh since January 2009! But the turbine was supposed to generate 150,000 kWh per year, and it’s generating less than half of that. It cost $650,000 to generate 7000 kWh per month.

The solar panels on my parents’ house on Long Island went operational the same month, and generate 1250 kWh per month for an initial cost of $75,000. That’s 50% more efficient, less maintenance required, and costs are still dropping fast on solar.

Neither party directly paid full price, of course: Medford had grants for most of the wind turbine cost, and my parents received rebates and tax incentives for 2/3 of the solar cost. But you can’t justify large-scale decisions on energy production by hiding the costs.

I’m glad we’re experimenting with wind, and I think negative results should be published. Just not as if they’re positive results.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Photo by Michael


Photo by Michael

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Photo by Michael

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Red #1

Photo by Michael

Public art follow-up

After sending my letter to the Community Development Office and following up, the city has actually decided to include public art in a survey about what our open space priorities should be. That’s a good start, and every positive response helps! So before May 20, please fill out the online Medford Open Space and Recreation Public Survey. You don’t have to answer every question.

Your answers on this survey will affect the city’s priorities for the next 7 years! The survey is at:

In question 22, select “Public programming” and “Public and community art” as items that you think need the most improvement in Medford’s parks.

In question 23, say that you do feel that public art should be a priority. Here are just a couple of reasons: public art enhances the quality of life in Medford by encouraging a sense of place and by introducing people to works of art that can reach out to them. Public art energizes our public spaces. And public art can engage and involve the community in its creation, creating pride and a welcome sense of public ownership of our public spaces.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Draft letter for public art: please comment!

[I want to send this letter, or something like it, next week. Medford is creating a new 7-year Open Space and Recreation Plan to lay out priorities for upcoming projects.]

Dear Lauren DiLorenzo,

I encourage you to include planning for public art as a key component of the new Open Space and Recreation Plan you are developing for Medford. Public art inspires people, engages communities, and enlivens public spaces. Public art provides highly visible opportunities to improve neighborhoods, to support local artists, and to involve children, teens, and community members.

When we paint a wall, we have an opportunity to paint a mural. When we rehab a field or park, we have an opportunity to install a sculpture. When we create a path, we have an opportunity to add interesting designs in the path itself. When we order park fixtures such as benches or lights, we have an opportunity to commission some of those fixtures from local artists and craftspeople. The value of our community increases when we seize these opportunities.

Boston’s Public Garden would not be the same without the Make Way for Ducklings statues. New murals in Arlington, Somerville, Malden, and right here in Medford have fostered community pride and turned kids into artists. Union Square recently added diverse and functional art benches. Art such as this in public spaces draws people in, changes their interactions with those spaces, and makes spaces memorable.

The McGlynn School playground is a perfect example of thoughtfully incorporating public art, with its colorful ground design showing the historic contours of the Mystic River and the distinctive curving wall following that contour. We can expand on that success across Medford, giving each playground its own signature artistic component for people to explore. We can include display space in our recreational facilities for rotating art displays, benefiting our artists (whether they are students, professionals, or amateurs) and bringing art to new venues and wider audiences. That is a future I personally want for our city, and I know that I am not alone. When the Medford Arts Council most recently surveyed Medford residents in 2009 to find out what projects should be our highest priority, more than 100 people (half of our respondents) said that they wanted to see more public art in Medford. The Open Space and Recreation Plan can and should respond to that need.

There are numerous arts groups in Medford who would be delighted to offer suggestions and feedback. Please let me know if I can help put you in touch with them.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Passover wines 2011

For 2011’s seder we’ll go with last year’s winner, the 2009 Tishbi Emerald Riesling, for the first glass. Second glass will be the only red this year: a 2007 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. If we’ve finished those bottles by the third glass, as seems likely, we’ll open a 2007 Ella Valley Chardonnay, from the valley where David defeated Goliath. Then for the fourth glass we’ll go with a lightly sparkling Bartenura Moscato.

The Tishbi Emerald Riesling was my favorite again this year.

The Bartenura Moscato was startlingly light and clear, with almost a spritzer feel. At 5% alcohol, it barely feels like drinking wine.

The Recanati Cabernet was very dry, and those who like dry red wines seemed happy with it. Lisa and I both strongly preferred it with food, particularly paired with the lamb tagine that we served. It was not right for following the sweet Emerald Riesling.

The Ella Valley Chardonnay was fine, not very sweet, with no flavor notes that really stood out.

For 2012, we tried a Galil Cabernet and a Rashi Moscato d’Asti. They were ok.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


When you have a couple of minutes, click on the squares.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lies, damned lies, and BoingBoing; or why 42.03% is a dangerous number

A widely-read and widely-quoted post on BoingBoing said:

“Note 1: normal lifetime incidence in U.S. is about 42% (of developing any cancer). The increase in risk, i.e. 1 in 30 for 3,000 mSv (300 rem), changes the 42% to 42.03% chance of getting cancer in the exposed individual’s lifetime.”

1 in 30 = 3.3%, not 0.03%. Saying 42.03% understates the increased risk by two orders of magnitude. But BoingBoing trumpets the author’s credentials, highlights the sound bite which falsely trivializes the cancer increase, and ignores the numerous comments pointing out the error.

If you want to reassure me, you’re not going to do it by lying about the math.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Suppose you’re the Japanese government, trying to decide whether to expend the resources to evacuate 300,000 people from a hot zone where they’d receive a 3000 mSv cumulative dose over the next year. It might be nice to know whether the consequence of inaction is 10,000 additional people getting cancer or 90 additional people getting cancer. Math matters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Last night at the PDF Hospital

Lisa checked a 6-page file into the PDF Hospital last night on behalf of a colleague. The complaint was a page that rendered very slowly and was impossible to modify.

Triage showed that the file was only about 2 megs, and the page in question only appeared to have a few images. Exploratory surgery confirmed that the problem was with the image components of the page by progressively removing the non-image components and still seeing the same symptoms.

This left 4 images to explore in depth. Each image was composed of a single background image, and 1024-16,384 copies of the foreground image mask and associated clipping path. The background image was larger than the foreground image mask, so it was easy to select and move out of the way. When we moved a copy of the foreground image mask, it disappeared because it was now outside the associated clipping path. But with the background image and one copy of the foreground image mask out of the way, we could select and delete the remaining image masks and clipping paths in the original image location. Once all of the clipping paths were deleted, the foreground image mask appeared again, and we verified through on-screen inspection and test prints that it was complete. We could then move the remaining background image and foreground image mask back into their original location without disturbing any of the item layering on the page at all.

Repeating this process on all 4 images resulted in a symptom-free page. We released the file back to its owner, and were left with the mystery of how you end up with thousands of identical copies of an image in a file. It’s almost certainly not the result of someone pressing a button 16,000 times.

The key is probably that the number of copies were powers of 2. If you are copying outside images and placing them into a file, the expected process is that when you select a new image to copy, that replaces the previously copied image in whatever bit of memory is being used as the temporary clipboard. Select A, place A, select B, place B. If, however, all previously placed images remain selected in memory along with the new image selected, then you’ll have exactly this sort of exponential result. If the brackets show the items previously placed, then you end up placing A, [A]B, [AAB]C, [AAAABBC]D, etc. You’ll have 16,384 copies of A happen after only placing 14 items. Fortunately, the damage was treatable in this instance. But it would be nice to know what software workflow is resulting in exponential pastes.

I’ve been thinking about opening the PDF Hospital for a while. We operate on PDF files all the time, and we’ve seen a lot of strange problems. Does your PDF file load or print really slowly, or give you PostScript errors? Do searches on the text not work? Do some pieces of text appear as different characters when printed than when they’re on screen? Do accents disappear, or capital W’s print as barcodes? Do some PDF viewers show little boxes in your PDF file? Do you want to move items around on the page, or make something larger or smaller? Do you want to remove or add items to the page? We deal with all of this frequently, so opening the PDF Hospital to outside business is the obvious next step. Not everything is treatable, but many problems are. The challenge is setting a price structure and managing expectations.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Help, I’m trapped in an elevator

No, seriously, we were trapped in an elevator on Saturday evening. Thank you to the Watertown fire department for getting us out. Apparently Schindler Elevator Corporation has repeatedly failed to fix the elevator, so people keep getting stuck in it.

It turns out that Massachusetts has no process for tracking elevator entrapments. The Department of Public Safety handles inspections, but they don’t take reports of entrapments. Neither does anyone else in the state. This means there’s no way to find out if Schindler Elevator Corporation is a terribly incompetent, dishonest, or dangerous company by tracking how many of the elevators they maintain fail repeatedly and compare that failure frequency to the failure frequency from other companies. It’s impossible to know whether this experience is an unusual occurrence linked to a single elevator that is supposedly maintained by Schindler Elevator Corporation, or a single incompetent repair technician working for Schindler Elevator Corporation, or a company-wide pattern of gross negligence. There’s also no way for the state to track whether elevator entrapments are linked to other sorts of elevator accidents, and no way for the state to decide whether elevator inspections should be about more than whether the alarm button makes a noise.

I like data. More than that, I like the idea of data, because I like thinking that decisions informed by data are, on average, better decisions. On the other hand, the building’s owner knows that they’re paying $4500 a year to Schindler Elevator Corporation, and they know that the elevator is failing constantly, and they know that Schindler keeps trying and failing to fix the elevator, and they know that people keep getting trapped in the elevator, and all of that is data. And the building owner’s decision is to keep paying Schindler, so clearly not all decisions informed by data are better decisions.

The plural of anecdote is not data. But the plural of silence is not data either. And since the data is unavailable, I’ll go with anecdote. Anecdotally, I don’t like Schindler Elevator Corporation right now. Because I don’t like being trapped in an elevator.

And no, I’m not retitling the post “Schindler’s Lift.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Working my way up

For flooring, wide oak boards cut in curves and wandering paths to minimize wasted lumber by Bolefloor.

To put on that floor, an Art Nouveau rug from Sawbridge Studios, and perhaps one of their cherry and birdseye maple tables.

On second thought, maybe Lisa is right that the flooring should be on the wall, so you can see it properly.

And maybe that proverbial guidance counselor was right that I should go into a high-paying field, so I can actually afford this stuff.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Understanding the Fukushima news coverage

News coverage about the problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactors has been somewhat confused.

Radiation and radioactive are different terms. Radioactive substances emit radiation. A release of radiation is dangerous to those nearby. A release of radioactive substances is a wider problem, because those substances can then travel and emit radiation wherever they end up. For those of us who aren't near the Fukushima reactors, the key question is the volume and type of radioactive substances that are released into the environment, not the radiation levels near the plant.

A fuel rod within the reactor being exposed to the air does not mean that the fuel rod is exposed to the environment. There is air inside the containment structure. The concern with fuel rods at the Fukushima reactors being exposed to the air is that they then overheat, damage the cladding around the fuel rods, and make a core meltdown more likely.

A core meltdown is not, by itself, a widespread disaster. A meltdown that happens within an intact containment structure, as at Three Mile Island, doesn't mean that radioactive substances will escape. The key question with meltdowns at the Fukushima reactors is whether the containment structures stay intact.

Spent fuel rods are not safe. And the spent fuel pools at the Fukushima reactors are not inside containment structures the way that the reactors are (or used to be).

Using sea water for cooling is not just as good as using the purified water that is usually used for cooling. Purified water that becomes activated (turned radioactive) has a very short half-life. Sea water contains a lot of other substances that will stay radioactive a lot longer. Sea water can also damage pumps that are designed for fresh water, and the salt left behind may physically block continued access for the water needed to cool the fuel rods.

When radioactive substances escape into the outside air, it doesn't make a lot of difference whether they escape in a hydrogen explosion, in a steam explosion, in a fire, or in a steam release. What matters is the volume and type of radioactive substances that are then in the outside air, because they will gradually fall down to the ocean or the ground. The other key question that is unknown is how far the fallout will travel.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


On its way to becoming a poster...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Five O’Clock Shadow

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tempo lib(e)ro

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If you were my camera, where would you be?

If you were my camera, where would you be?
Would you be tasting salt spray in Paia, or gazing
out over the yachts in Camden Harbor all bundled up
for winter?
Would you be climbing the steps toward the dome of St. Paul’s,
or patiently waiting for a glimpse of blue sky after
we land, after
we dock, after
we leave this God-forsaken gray?

If you were my camera, would you wonder whether the elephant seals were back, or
where the humpbacks go for winter, or
why the great blue heron is always on the other side of the river?
Would you demand a daily walk?
Would you prefer a quick shot after dinner to take the edge off the day,
or a good long time staring up at the night sky pointing out meteors?

If you were my camera, would you sit in that
bag, in that
corner, in that
room with nothing to read?
Would you search your memory for brighter days?

If you were my camera, would you wonder where I was?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Now I just need a cat

I wonder if we could scale this up for Dobbie. She loves perching high up on the back of the couch or on the end table.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Heard it on the radio

I love the radio when I’m driving. Lisa prefers her own playlist on her iPod, but I love the randomness and diversity of spinning the dial. At home my music selection is mostly limited to folk and rock and jazz, but in the car I happily add in hip hop and country and Latin and the frequently uncategorizable local college station shows. And sports radio, and talk radio, and hate radio, and NPR, and almost anything that’s not Diane Rehm. But I only recall being really stunned by music on the radio twice.

On July 21, 1990, I was driving in a small town in Pennsylvania and heard a cover of a song from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. And then I heard another. In my memory, it was Joni Mitchell doing “Goodbye Blue Sky.” And then I found out that this was a live broadcast from Berlin. I hadn’t heard this concert was happening, and here I was listening to a concert in Berlin while it was happening from my car in Pennsylvania. My 5 minute drive across town lasted over an hour.

About 250,000 miles later, on January 10, 2011, I was leaving Pennsylvania and had just started picking up radio stations in upstate New York. It was 11 a.m., at the time of the national moment of silence for the Arizona murders. The most prominent victim, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was lying in a hospital, somehow alive after having been shot in the head. I had wondered what music stations would do for the moment of silence, and the station I was listening to chose to play “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. With the repeated lyrics “I would go through all this pain, Take a bullet straight through my brain, Yes, I would die for ya baby, But you won't do the same.”

It’s almost enough to make me get an iPod too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Resolution isn’t everything

On the left is the custom design job for a client to be printed at 11x17. On the right is what was just delivered. Forgive the webcam limitations: the printed version on the right has deep blacks on a perfect white background and is sharp as a tack. Except that everything has been turned into some sort of Space Invaders parody. Thanks, cafepress, but try again.

Slow down, you move too fast

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It’s not just a pack of lions

Each year, local cultural councils in Massachusetts give grants to over 5000 projects and events. We’ve just found out that one of the projects we helped fund last year is being named one of the 6 best for 2010 by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

This is a tremendous recognition, and I’m really proud that we gave them funding, promoted the event, and nominated them for this state award. I’m proud that a top 0.1% project happened in my town. I’m proud that the Massachusetts Cultural Council has given my town two awards in the past three years. We should be trumpeting this from the rooftops, showing the rest of our local government that our town can properly lay claim to a recognized arts scene, and telling our community that they should be proud too.

And because this project spanned two towns, and was funded by a neighboring local cultural council as well, they should be just as proud. And it gives all of us an opportunity to celebrate together, to construct more connections between our arts communities, and to break down some of the parochial walls that the local cultural council guidelines sometimes encourage us to construct. My conversations with people who serve on nearby local cultural councils have been encouraging, enlightening, supportive, and far too infrequent.

I want to have a party, damn it. I want to invite everyone we can think of, and get it in the papers, and celebrate what the organizers and performers and supporters and funding agencies made happen. I want to encourage our current and future grant recipients by showing them how successful they can be if they set their sights high enough. We can have a combined reception, hosted by both local cultural councils, for our grant recipients and our supporters and our local politicians and us. We’ve done one of these for just our town two years running, so we know what works. People from the Massachusetts Cultural Council would be happy to come and present the award in person at our party, and everyone could mingle and talk and celebrate and feel a sense of growth in this era of endless budget cuts.

But our towns are not equal, and there are class resentments, and perhaps more people would come from one side than from another, and then the balance would be all askew and nobody would have a good time. So the other local cultural council, the one I so hoped to forge connections to, would rather avoid the possibility of some perception of imbalance. Why have a celebration for 100 people when you could have a celebration for 20 instead, and thereby ensure a more perfect sense of equity?

It’s a lost opportunity, and an extremely rare one. The state has never given this award to a project that spanned multiple towns. I’m very frustrated that we are throwing away this chance to tell our story to 100 people. If we’re not even willing to do that, how are we going to tell our story to the 50,000 who live in our town?

A top 0.1% project happened in our town last year. We should be proud.

Saturday, January 15, 2011