Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

JunkPile 005

You know those little remnants of soap after the bar has gone from brand new to working size to getting kinda small and now useless? Let's call them soap chips.

There were two of them in the shower this morning. I threw them out after my shower and replaced them with a new bar. I've got a few theories as to why these things never seem to go away:

  • Frugality- It's still soap, why waste any of it?

  • Laziness- I'll do it tomorrow.

  • Irresponsibility- Somebody else will do it

  • It's a test- Somebody is waiting to see if somebody else will do it. And each day that "somebody else" doesn't do it annoys the original somebody so much... Screwtape would love it.

  • Absentmindedness- I mean to throw them out, honest I do, and then I find myself in my office with a cup of coffee, the chips of soap a distant memory. Not that distant- they're on the ledge in the shower.

  • Non efficiency- Okay, here's my honest excuse. I can't stand to shower, get all clean and dried, and then reach into the shower and slime my hands all up again with soap. I'm too lazy to rewash and dry my hands, and I still haven't figured an efficient way of showering, throwing out the soap chips, then rinsing my hands, then drying off. I don't like water on the floor, so I'm not going to throw them out while the shower is running. I'm not going to reach out and drip everywhere. I'm not going to turn the shower off, drip all over the floor, throw them out, turn the shower back on... There's no efficient, simple way to do it, so it doesn't get done. That's the truth of it.

Today, for the sake of the junkpile, I bit the bullet and threw them out.
And then I washed my hands again. Phooey.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Aren't Legos Awesome?

Henry's creation reminds me of an A-10 Fairchild
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Truckin' on through the night

If there is any doubt of my heritage, here is proof that I am a Ruffing.
Grandpa and I had a blast strapping this 28-stepper to the roof of my car, recalling many other foolish things those with the name Ruffing have strapped, lashed, placed, welded, or otherwise moved with their vehicles.

Towing a motorcycle through the back-streets of a Denver neighborhood to the repair shop. Cheryl up front driving the car and me in the back, "motor-skiing" with a rope and a complex set of hand signals. I'm no the first in my family to do this. Grandpa.

A stove lashed to the top of a 62 comet from Cleveland to Dayton. I don't remember, I was only two at the time.

An uncle, who we'll call Jim, as that's his name, driving to Florida with a few hundred gallons of gas strapped to his roof rack in the early 70s. If you think the price of gas today is causing us to do silly things...

That same uncle, with a building on top of his station wagon, driving through the Ohio late at night at a snail's pace for safety, cost, and convenience. You see, someone gave him the building if he wanted to take it apart for its materials. So he did. By hand. He'd take it apart through the evening, load up his waon and trailer, go to sleep in the building on a cot with an electric blanket and, rising at 3:00 am, would make the 2 hour drive back home with the building. He only fell asleep and drove into a corn field once.

Making a move from Federal Heights (north Denver) to Englewood (south Denver) with a 4 cylinder Chevy S-10 and a very overloaded U-Haul. I found out what the brakes were(n't) capable of. Woah!!! Woaah!! Come on, woah!!! It's hard to stop a small truck with a big load on a downhill stretch into a red light.

With the ladder, I hooked her up, gave her a good tug or two, and weaved my way northeast through the New Hampshire and Maine night, with the Red Sox and the Rays battling through 14 innings and a few naps at rest stops along the way.
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Union Station, Washington DC

I'm sitting on a platform bench in the entrance atrium of Union Station in our nation's capitol, watching a slice of our country walk by. It's a calming, enjoyable experience. A class of college art students is pencil sketching the architecture about them, interrupted by their phones and flirting. I'd tease them a little, but I'm typing on a laptop with my mp3 player's headphones isolating me into my own little world, right next to theirs but not part of it.

For some reason, everyone looks happy. Everyone. Maybe travel by train is more relaxing? I'm soon to find out on the run up to Philly. But from the soldiers, politicians, grandmothers, and mennonites I've seen, it must be. This is not an airport. It's grand. People are walking slowly and, like the art students, looking around. Enjoying an ice cream or an ice coffee. Sitting for a few minutes. Looking at the others, me, the tourists, the drawings. People filter in and out of the shops, out of the staging area. It' s not hot. There's an assumption that things will run on time.

It contrasts with the anxiety and dim sweaty futile frustration of airports. They're not taking off their shoes, removing their belts, displaying their toiletries in order to pass through security. I'm going to have to leave this calm comfort soon; get up and walk to the platform and climb onto a train with my bags. But I'll be able to pick a seat, look out the window, see the countryside which exists below the clouds through a window large enough and without the shade in the up position for taxi, takeoff, and landing. It will take an hour or two, and then I'll get off, in another grand station in Philadelphia, and catch a subway line out to the airport.

Airport, I have a date with you tomorrow afternoon. I'll be there an hour and fourty-five minutes early, with my ID and my boarding pass ready for scrutiny. I'll fight for a seat in the aisle, or window, or, please no, not the middle! We'll cram into the can, wait our turn, rumble into the sky and keep seated, belted, for an hour and a half then approach and landing with tray tables up and electronics off and wait for the plane occupying our gate to pushback before we can remove our seatbelts so we can unfold ourselves from the worn contortions of our seat's debilitating curves too close to our fellow passengers and stumble out into the stank air of the jetway push past the slow walkers and the next flight's passengers blocking escape to freedom to the bathroom to the baggage claim through the gates across the peoplemovers up the elevators into the car down the exit spiral through the checkout line across the surface streets and onto the highway for home garage bed morning coffee.

Oh yes, the train will be relaxing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Junkpile 004- Why do I have this?

Henry came into my office for a paperclip.

I pulled one out of my little magnetic desktop paperclip holder cup and, hanging onto Henry's paperclip, trying not to be seen, was a large, bent paperclip. Now, obviously I had bent this paperclip in the past to fish something out of somewhere, or poke through a tiny little hole, or to, well, who knows what.

Paperclips are handy little things that do a lot more than clip paper. They're very much like clothes hangers in that regard. What's puzzling me is why, whenever it was that I had bent this paperclip and put it to its bent-form-use-that-no-other-tool-could-accomplish-so-well, I then re-folded the paperclip up and stuck it back into the magnetic desktop paperclip holder cup.

It had served its purpose. I had gotten more than a paperclip's value out of it. Surely the next time I need a similar tool, I will be capable of re-bending another paperclip to the same purpose? Good-bye paperclip. Thank you for giving your life to the good. Go and clutter the landfills with your spent brethren.

What clutter do you keep in the silly hope that you'll find it convenient and economical to use again some day?


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Junkpile 003- You call those clippers?

Three Junkpiles in two days? This might become a problem.

This is a quickie.

I just went to clip my fingernails. I started with my thumb-nail and, oh my gosh, it was like cutting an over-ripe tomato with a dull butter knife. Mush and tear. So into the the trash with you, you horrible, horrible clippers!

You shall not be lamented! You shall not be missed! You shall be replaced.

How many worthless things do you keep? Toss 'em!


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An interesting conversation with Jack

Jack, the exceedingly busy two year old, will often visit me in my home office.

One of his favorite things to do is grab the remote control for my mp3 player. He'll press the buttons; he'll stick it to the wall (It's magnetic, a great idea for remotes!); he'll mess up what I'm listening to. In general, a fun toy.

And so he visited me about ten minutes ago,* doing his usual thing. A little while after he left, I wanted to pause the music so I could concentrate. No remote. Not hanging on the wall, not back on my desk, not under the stereo. Gone. With Jack. Uh oh.

I walked down the hallway, "Jack, where are you?"
"He's in his room on his bed," replied lego-man Henry.

Now this is reason enough to pause and write- Jack is incredibly needy are rarely does things on his own- but there he was, in his room, on his bed, looking at a book, happy as a clam. I hated to disturb him.

Jack's verbal skills are late in developing. I mean outgoing verbal, he has maybe 10-15 words, and uses one phrase "Is dat!" to cover all bases. "Is dat!" as far as I can tell means any and many of the following:

  • "what is that?" as he points to an item and repeats until you tell him what it is.

  • "I want that!" as he points to an item and repeats until you get it for him

  • "Hi!" as he points to you

  • "I don't know" as he responds to questions like "did you spill all the milk?" Although, to be fair, he also has his phrase "no know," accompanied by shrugged shoulders, to cover these cases.

  • "it is what it is, man" as he responds to questions like "what's that?"

  • "Hello, anybody not listening to me yet?" which occurs when he repeats "Is dat" louder and louder until someone responds.

  • "Yes, I'd like some of that" in, "Jack, would you like some Hershey's Kisses?"
Inbound verbally, he's ahead of the curve. If you say something like "Jack, can you go the toolbox in my bathroom and get the green tape measure?" he'll give his affirmative "is dat" and be back in a jiffy, with the green tape measure. So imagine my surprise when I asked Jack, sitting on his bed, where the remote control was and he responded simply "wall."

Dad: "wall?"
Jack: "Is dat."
Dad: "Jack, where's my remote control?"
Jack: "Wall!"
Dad: "It's on the wall? I don't see it."
Jack: "Is dat."
Dad, plucking Jack off the bed and placing him on his two feet: "Show me."
Jack: "Is dat," and off he went, down the hall to Luke's room, raising his voice and his arm to point "daaaaaaaaad!" (me, one of his words). He ended up pointing at Luke's dresser: "wall."
Dad: "No, Jack, I need my remote for my music. This is Luke's room and that's not a wall. "
Jack, walking up to the dresser and pointing at the drawer, matter of factly, and quite calmly, explained: "wall."
Dad: *sigh* "Okay, let's look." Sure enough, there in the drawer was my remote control. "Thanks, Jack. You can go back to your room now."

And the little bugger skipped off to his room, climbed on the bed, and went back to his book. This bigger bugger went to the office and wrote it up. And that, as they say, "is dat!" Dennis

*previously posted on another, private blog.

Junkpile 002- Wiillllllmmmmaaaaaa!

Hot on the trails of Junkpile post number 001 comes Junkpile 002. I didn't think it would happen this fast.*

A quick explanation of the numbering scheme: I figure if I get to over 1000 posts on this, I'm either going to be insane or they're going to have to start calling me St. Francis of Assisi, as I will have rid myself of my worldly possessions.

Which brings us back to the prize that sits in the garbage along with last nights plate scrapings.
The Flintstone's Complete Season One, Disc 3 DVD. Not much of a loss. In fact, not much of a possession. It's the kind of thing you buy because of nostalgia- "ooh- remember the Flintstones? I love their cars with the foot power and the foot brake! Remember those wise-cracking appliances that were pterydactyls or sea turtles just working the grind, 9 to 5? I just gotta buy this and watch it."

And so you buy it, pop it in the DVD, and have a "I've turned into my parents" time-warp moment as your kids prove very capable of sitting on the couch for hours at a time watching the Flintstones. Only it's worse, because they can watch the Flintstones fifteen epissodes in a row, any dang time they want. What garbage! It's worse than that Sponge Boob, who at least has the occasional wacky hi-jinx. But then again, they can watch Sponge Boob fifteen episodes in a row, any dang time they want. All they have to do is turn on Nickelodeon, and there he is. Morning, noon, and night.

Thank heaven for four year olds, who can destroy a dvd just by looking at it, or by handling it, or by scratching it across the fireplace's brickwork. Usually, I'll make a backup copy of a DVD we've purchased, and let the kids destroy the copy. When they do, go get the original from the vault and make another copy. But some DVDs are very special, like the Flintstones. They get to use the real thing because I can count on them having a half-life that's about all I can stand.
So yesterday afternoon I walked into the living room, and there were the kids, zombied in front of Barney and Betty as the dvd struggled to fight its way through the corrupted disc, advancing a half-pixelated frame every five seconds. Didn't phase the kids one bit. They only perked up when I went over, hit the eject button, took the disc out and walked away.

"You're free now!" I siad to the my children the zombies, who awoke into and instant commotion where before was silence. I walked over to the trash can and, without ceremony, stuffed the dvd into some leftover mashed potatoes and barbeque sauce.

See-ya Fred. One disc down, three to go.

* side note, this was previously posted on a private blog, the same day as Junpile poste number 001. It would be nice if there was a cross-posting feature, but I'd probably be the only one using it, and I can copy-paste and write explanatory footnotes quicker than starting a campaign for a new fewture form the fine folks at blogger.

"...a long straight row of firewood standing in the yard in springtime is like money in the bank."

And this is money in the tank.

Being frugal and freaked out about the winter to come, I've been stocking up on money, in the bank, to pay for fuel oil. When we moved to Maine back in May of double-aught-five, fuel oil was expensive- something like $2.69 a gallon. We did a price-lock pre-buy of, oh, $2000.00 worth and it saw us through the winter. In the winter of 06/07, I spread my investment portfolio; half up front and half on demand. I lost the bet and paid a bit more than the full lock in rate would give me.

Which brings us to election year, where worry and environmentalism and nannyism and speculation(ism?) have bought the price of oil and everything that is delivered by oil or once dated a girl whose cousin had a friend in the oil business has inflated.

So what we're looking at here is a 13/16 full 225 gallon tank. We're talking $799.80 worth of fuel oil. Oooooochie! Now this past winter, when the weather was cold and the roof was off the house, something like this lasted about 4 weeks. But then again, we had a plastic barrier and we were only running heat to the first floor... I'm praying this lasts 5-6 weeks of winter weather, 'cause man, $4,000 a year to heat a house is a bitch.

I love Maine, but to compare cost of utilities and other to a house of similar size and value, the one we lived in in Colorado, is a nice Roth IRA different. Sample cost of living/utilities in Maine:
Property Taxes, ~3200/year, pre-renovation.
Heat oil, $300/month annualized!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Electricity, $180/month. Yes, that's triple digits. I get to pay a "delivery" fee in addition to what I use.
Propane, $30/ month.
Water? Well, it's a well. So that's good. Keeping the emergency fund for when the pump goes. I'm not cynical, just a realist.
Plowing. Last year was spectacular! I paid about $800 for the convenience of being dug out. And we had a lot of snow storms.

Okay Colorado, what you got to say?

Taxes, $1200/year.
Heat Oil/ Utility natural gas, See electricity- one utilities company provided them both
Electricity, umm, are you sitting down? I dug into my Microsoft Money and, combined, Natural Gas and Electricity in our last year in Colorado ranged from a low of $95 in Sept 04 to a high of $177 in Feb of 05, in the heart of the winter.
Water, $45 every three months. Limits on sprinklers due to droughts... or shipping the water to California. Not sure which, it's just another good reason to bitch about Californians. *

So on a raw comparison, Maine is $2400 (that's +$200.00/month, y'all) more expensive for the taxes. It's $3900 (that's +325/month, y'all) on utilities. Add $800 for the plowing ( I never, ever shoveled in Colorado. Back out of the driveway in the morning over six inches of snow, come back in the afternoon and it was gone. Bright sunshine and a southerly facing driveway would melt it away) and we're summing to $7100 extra off the top.

Is it bad compared with our neighbors? Sure, in some ways; NH (the way Maine should be, as the clever bumper sticker says) has a utility company and no income/sales taxes. Oh, and Liquor stores strategically located to capture revenues from neighboring states. Mass is no relief, and who would want to live there? As a public service, Mass does provide the Red Sox to get us through the summers and the Patriots to get us through the winters, and the Kennedys and Kerrys to make us laugh.

7345 But when you drive over the bridge from Portsmouth NH into Maine, you know the rest of the country is behind you, with a buffer state of NH just in case. When you see that sign, "The way life should be," you have to smile and think of ball fields, woods, water, and friendship, and bumping into someone you know when you go out the door. In Colorado, by contrast, you'll trip over a Starbucks or a Home Depot when you walk out the door, and, if you can find your way out of the development, you'll be swinging the kids round to soccer practice spring, summer and fall in a Honda Odyssey or Ford Expedition anything less and you're in trouble. The lifestyle is quite different in the suburbs
our neighborhood in the mega block of Bowles and Kipling in Littleton, CO. Can you find waldo?
of Denver/Los Angeles/Atlanta/Chicago/Dallas/Boston/Orlando/Raliegh than it is in Maine:
Our home here in Manchester, Maine. The woods across the way have a huge pond and tons of trails.
Ayuh. Woods and water and family close enough to visit but not so far you have to stay too long.
My tank is full, there's some caulking in the new clapboards, and we're about to enter the season 'tis the reason' that God ave us Maine. The Fall.

*For those of you in the northeast, Californian = anyone from away, and therefore a relative term. Example: if you're from Maine, it's the Massholes. If you're from NH, it's the Massholes to the south, the Maniacs to the east and north, and those weirdos to the west in VT. Vermonters, you must wonder about up-staters, and of course you'd live in NH except that they're all so mean and close minded. A similar dynamic occurs in most regions of the country. In Colorado it was the Californication of Highlands Ranch (a Mission Viejo company!) and the onslought of Texans. I once overheard this on the slopes of Winter Park: "Bubba, don't go into the woods!" Texans hate the Okies and from what I hear, Michigan and Ohio aren't too fond of each other. I think that takes care of offending everyone with my closed-minded belittling beligerance.

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Raising a little Strat

This guy's been an adventure.

Every guitarist at some point comes in contact with the classic Fender Stratocaster. It's as iconic as a guitar gets; even more so than its peers the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Telecaster. Think Bruce Springsteen and you're thinking Fender Telecaster. Think Les Paul and you're thinking... Les Paul. Um, try thinking Jimmy Page and that new kid on the block, Slash, and you're thinking Les Paul. Think Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Bonnie Raitt (oh, heck, look for yourself at : ) and you're thinking the Fender Stratocaster.

Does the brand carry a lot of weight? Ask a non musician what a Fender is, and not only will they know, they'll probably have an image Jimi Hendrix playing a flipped-over upside-down Strat .

The Strat is cost efficient, designed for quick assembly and repair, and is flexible in operation. It's base platform is an ash body, a bolt on 25.5" scale maple neck, three single-coil pickups, a five way switch, a volume knob and two tone controls. They've been around for put-near fifty years and the only real change has been the shape of the tuning peg-head which, in the late 60s through the 70s, was wicked-big like a bobble head doll.

You want a Strat? What kind? How will you make it yours? Made in Mexico? Japan? America? Custom Shop?

Strats are like PCs. They all work pretty much the same and there are a million manufacturers, makes, and models. And then the modding sets in faster and with more lingo than a twenty-year old boy with cash, bad taste, no girlfriend, and a 94 Honda Civic. To quote from Jeff Beck's (another Strat Player) Guitar Shop,

"Killer Strat cat... just feel those frets... It's got scaled down Strat style body with the feel of a Les Paul... deep cutaways, no pick guard, and a couple of humbuckers. Full shred! Stiff neck, graph nut, and an ebony fingerboard. Balls deluxe!"

As for this particular guitar...

I've had it for almost three years, but it's been pretty-much unplayable until now. It started life as a Kramer Focus 211S "FatBoy," Kramer's Fat Strat for the beginner, complete with tremelo and humbucker pickup in the bridge for the king's ransom of $75 + shipping over at musicYo. Today they're $99. Like Bimbleman's Beer, "If you need a guitar real bad, we've got a real bad guitar."

If you're starting out at guitar or want a beater to take on the road, it's a heck of a price. The quality control is hit and miss. On this one I missed, but did get a beautiful Lake Placid Blue metallic paint job. I'd actually had the same Kramer Focus model previously, in silver, but sold it to a friend whose son was getting the itch to learn guitar. That one was a hit- it played well, sounded good (as far as I could tell), and was even less expensive. Bottom line, a Kramer Focus is a real guitar when compared to the toys you'll find at Target, Radio Shack (??!?), and Sam's Club, but it's no real Fender. It does have real connectors, knobs, and switches and, occasionally, you'll get one that is or can be set up well.

Not this one.

Cheryl bought it for Christmas based on my specifications in my letter to Santa. If you don't know about me and my Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, let me explain that I am afflicted with a virulent yet pragmatic strain of the disease, and am up to about ten guitars at the moment. Being cheap (which you do know about me- it's always the cost, the cost!), I just can't bring myself to walk into the local guitar shop and pull a pre-relic'd Strat* off the wall, plunk down $1500 and be happy. No, I have a predilection for bargains, and bargains appear to be contract manufactured in Korea. Some are just killer, and shame the American brand names for qaulity and value. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who's ridden in a Hyundai or a Kia, or pedaled a Giant bicycle. Anyway, I asked for this because at the time I was struggling along with just one electric guitar, a (shock!) Kramer Striker, which is your favorite 80s hair-band's lead guitarist's guitar. Watch the vintage videos on YouTube, and you'll see the rad hockey-stick peg head. When I thought about getting another Strat style guitar, I remembered the silver Kramer, saw they had one with a humbucker in the bridge (makes for a more hard rock sound), Lake Placid Blue, and what the heck. Santa, would you please?

When it arrived, it was beautiful, with a maple neck and fingerboard (for some aesthetic reason I really wanted a maple fingerboard), white pick-guard, white pickups and baby, the action was awful. Fret buzz all over the place. Oh, and the humbucker sounded thin and weak. I'm not shy about ruining things in an attempt to improve them, so I grabbed my allen wrenches and feeler gauges and set about adjusting the truss rod, which is a long metal bolt inside the neck of a guitar that keeps things straight as the seasonal changes in humidity tries to move and warp a guitar neck throughout the year. Nope. Yuck. Action to high, buzz too low, just not very good.

Fast forward two years. It didn't get played much. In restringing it, the nut snapped off at the 6th string. It's action was still horrific, and the truss rod was bound up anyway. My friend Birger down in FL was (is) crafting me yet another guitar, to be the custom crown jewel of my collection, named simply "Four," as it is his fourth guitar project. Much more on Four and Birger in another post. Here's a teaser:

I asked Birger his advice and he said "ship it on down to me." So it went down to Florida for an expert to hem and haw and possibly saw. Birger noted the neck was exceedingly warped, the truss rod was useless, and it needed a fret leveling. To un-warp it,** he stressed the middle with a clamp and kept it in a moist area. Imagine Sport-Goofy standing on skis between two tables, toes and tails on each table. Bendy, Bendy. He got it straight-ish!

I visited Birger back in May 08 to do some assembly work on Four, and in preparation I planned on making the strat into something special. I started with these tuners from Planet Waves. They're self trimming: you stick the string through a hole, clamp it down, and as you turn the tuner, it shears the string off, clipping it just the right length. No more pliers or pokes near the pegs! A better mouse trap to be sure.

I then did some research on a single-coil pickup set and settled on GFS Boston Blues, partly because of their balls, but mostly because of their syrup.*** Don't the blue wires look cool? It's too bad you can't see them on the guitar. S'allright. They sound fab. Mind you, they cost as much as the original guitar. But then, so did the tuners. When I get an hour to play with Sonic and a mic, I'll record an MP3 for y'all. Then you can laugh at my skills. I tossed in a surf-green pick guard because I needed a replacement, and thought it would go well. It did. That's not an off kilter white balance, that's a surf-green pick guard on a lake placid blue Strat body. I love my reflection in the knobs.

With Birger's patience, pedagogy, and skill, I did a fret leveling and dressing, fashioned a replacement nut from a blank, and wired everything into the new pick guard and brought her home. And the neck and action were still crap. It sounded good though!

So she sat on hold for another three months while I plotted my next move. I was so impressed by Birger's woodworking skills, can-be-done attitude, and patience that I contemplated making my own replacement neck from scratch. All the tools I'd need are at the local high school's adult ed class.
Did I do it? No, not yet. That's out there. But for $119 and free shipping, I snagged from our friends at eBay a new, un-used Fender-licensed Mighty Mite maple/ebony neck with a 9.5" radius. Very traditional, except the ebony which, when I played it on Four, was an instant favorite. It's hard stuff, yet pretty. So my luthier skills were honed on screwing in without screwing up. It took only two trips to Lowes and the local guitar shop for bits and pieces. Screwing on a neck is not so easy as it sounds, especially when the standard sized neck was too thin for my standard neck pocket. Shims to the rescue!

Notice the shim sticking out of the side of the pocket on the second picture. It's actually more of a wedge than a shim. I'll carefully exacto that baby into oblivion at some point. Honest, I will. When I'm done painting the house. It doesn't get in the way, and it's the only piece of shoddy on the guitar at this point.

Notes on putting that neck in: Make sure it's straight! Clamp it in place and use the bolts to poke through the body and mark a center hole for drilling into the neck. And please pre-drill the neck holes or you're likely to split the wood. Maple's hard, but that means, like a gem, it'll split real nice. I also waxed the wood screws before putting them in should, heaven forbid, I need to take them out again. I hope not. I'm almost done with this guitar, ready to begin a life of playing when I get the blues.

I'm proud of how it looks and plays. It's as good as a $500 Made in Mexico Strat, and cost only a little more! Raising Strats is hard work!
Plucking and a grinning,

* Seriously! Like pre-faded jeans with holes in them, you can pay extra for a strat that has been professionally abused. The ultimate in pre-ruined guitars is this $25,000 gem, which you'd have to be a real fan to buy.

** Un-warping is grammatically like un-thawing. Spose I should have used "straighten."
*** These are the terms used to describe their sound in the web page. Regardless, they sound great and look cool/unique.
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Monday, August 25, 2008

In your face! (and my offical Star Wars Rant)

On two distinct occasions in my life, I've laughed so hard it hurt. I mean, your ribs ache, the tears are coming down your face, others are looking at you funny, and you think you just might choke or pass out or lose bodily fluids out of one orifice or another and yet keep on laughing.

The first near-death-from-lauging-experience involved my brother Matt, my business colleage Larry Bauer, chinese food, and Spaceballs. You may have heard of that fateful evening from Cheryl. The punchline is "not when his mouth is full," but that's not what caused me to laugh near til death did us part, and it's definitely not safe for work.

The other occasion came courtesy of Diesel over at Mattress Police, while reading the "Urine Trouble Now!" post, to wit: "...but there's always an ellipsis at the end, if you know what I mean." I choked on my martini. I'm so glad I wasn't yet chewing the olive. I imagine a pimento hurts coming through your nose. Diesel's the funniest, most creative individual I've found in years of reading blogs and websites, and I encourage you to buy his book. It's perfect for, well, the bathroom.

Every couple of weeks, Diesel runs a caption contest in which he photoshops his mug into a screen capture from a current movie or other topical pop-culture event. The world gets a weekend to create the funniest captions they can, and the top ten are put up for a vote. I'm proud to say that I won recently and am therefore displaying the "In your face!" banner award you'll see at right.

My winning entry can be found here.

As you may know, in addition to our wonderful daughter Bridget, we have four boys and a gazillion legos, a combustible mixture that, when thrown in with the Star Wars saga* leads to Yoda on the brain. I asked Sam this afternoon if he was a Jedi. "No." A Padawan? "Padawan, Master. Master Padawan. Master, Master." That's my boy!


*Hey Lucas, will you just let us use our imaginations again? I never wanted to know what the Clone Wars were, let alone what a clone was. When Luke asks old Ben Kenobi "My father fought in the clone wars?" that's all I need to know. I'll dream at night making up the answer and be in awe of the nebulous line. About half-way through Episode 2** I realized not only what a Clone was, but a microsecond (or, if you'll forgive me, about twelve parsecs) later realized that if clones were ever to be involved in some kind of interplanetary confrontation that escalated into a war it would be... a Clone War... and my childhood was ruined. You bastard! When you studied your precious mythologies and came up with your master plan space opera, did anyone mention the constructs of drama to you? Shame on you!

** the second worst movie of all time. The worst, of course, being Star Wars Episode Three. Both being tributes to Yes Men that put the Poniac Aztek to shame.
Lucas: "What do you think of us having the captain arbitrarily wipe Threepio's memory at the end of the movie? It'll clean up one of our gaping loopholes. And since Artoo can't talk per se, no one will realize all that screaming and whistling he's doing is basically him saying --hellooooo, we've been down this path before! Used to caddie for the guy before he went all evil on us. Leia, honey, good thing we're headed to Tatooine, 'cause you're bro and unlce are hanging out down there. I can't believe you don't remember him from the Christmas parties as a kid. He used to wear the Santa outfit yet the beard was real? Did tricks? No? Threepio, you dolt, follow me, I know where I'm going. You've been here before you know. Sheesh. Man I wish I could remember how to fly like I will have been able to do in the recent future past.-- "
Jimmy Smits ***: "Yeah! As long as I can be in the movie! I'm going to need this gig for the residuals at star-con conventions over my retirement years. And some of them Leia wannabes aren't all bad. Want to go out to dinner?"
Lucas: "Groovy. Now let's see about ruining those light-saber battles by zooming in and over-editing them so nobody will be able to tell what the hell is going on!
LucasArts crew: "You bet, boss! Anythign else you want us to ruin while we're in there with the digital effects? We could put more space-Harley Davidsons in the special editions, Put Madden "long time ago, galaxy far far away" on the big-screen in the bar. Come to think of it, we could CGI the Ewoks into something believable. We know how you love to improve (read:ruin) things you just didn't have the technology for back in the day. In fact, I bet we could develop the "Biggs" story line a----"
Lucas: "Go on the space hogs, get a marketing deal started with Madden before he does a Pizza the Hut on us, and nobody, NOBODY! touches the Ewoks. Got that?
LucasArts Crew: "You bet. You're the boss."
Lucas: "And who the f&*% is Biggs?"

*** What did Jimmy have on Lucas to get in this movie in the first place? Obiously not as much as Samuel L. Jackson, who at least got a speaking, action part.

Kids now say "Padawan, Master"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Junkpile 001

The other day, Cheryl showed me some plastic toy or another that she was throwing out. Yes. It's good to clear the house and mind of clutter and junk. And believe me, when you have five kids, you end up with a lot of crap.

So often we're asked what we're doing to be more green. Puh-lease. I personally can't understand environmentalism as the religion, political philosophy, and business process. Yes, it's a safe and easy religion/political stance/business plan; who wouldn't like a clean, happy world full of cute puppies... being against environmentalism is akin to being against Anne Hathaway's eyes. But as a set of guiding principles in life, well, it's about as close to the real thing as a wine cooler. Maybe now, at least, I'll have a response to the pervasive question...

And so, if the holy commandment, fundamental law structure, and business plan of being a greenies is to reduce, reuse, recycle, then I'm proud to announce my contribution. To do my part, I'll take number one head on: I'm going to reduce. I'm going to start throwing shit out.

But throwing things away can be so hard!

I think the fundamental reason so many of us hold on to so much crap is that there's a sentimental memory associated with the particular piece of junk we hold, hovering over the trash bin, and that memory keeps us from letting go. I've got notebooks from my first real job with notes from all the prospecting phone calls I'd made. If you want to know what was happening with a lead for scientific data analysis software at GE Aerospace in the spring of 1992, well, I'm the man with the information. This could be vital data for national security, couldn't it? These notebooks will be a priceless source of information as I write my memoirs, right? Just keep'em in the box and we'll look at them the next time we move. I've got the paystubs too. Oh, and the complete year's subscription to Stereophile from 1993. That's literature.

Here are some common excuses we all use for holding onto stuff:

  • Nostalgia- I remember when I you bought me this broken electric razor. We were first dating and you...
  • It's worth something- today, tomorrow, someday. I'm going to sell it on eBay. Really! Just put it in the eBay box! I'm going to bring it to the Antiques Roadshow when they come up to Augusta, Maine. I'm sure they'll find Aunt Martha's yard-sale clock to be the missing piece from the Anastasia collection.
  • I'm going to use/wear/need it again. Look. If you haven't worn it in a year, dump it. Other than tools and capital equipment (stereos, baby!), get rid of it.
  • It's not taking up space. That's a laugh!
  • My mother/father/cousin/child made it. Yes, but it's probably ugly and tacky.

And hence, the junkpile.

If there's a sentimental memory associated with the trinket, I'll write its eulogy here so I can come back some time and spend time with it. And if it's really special, I'll snap a photo before it hits the trash can. All my crap memorialized and stored forever in Google's free hard drive space on the net. Thanks Google!

What's the first contribution to the junkpile? What will we find years from now when we dig down to the bottom of the virtual heap?

Two nuts and four washers that I bought from Lowe's just last week to help hang a sink in Bridget's bathroom.

Wow- throwing out perfectly good and new things that I paid hard cash for! Why? Risk Mitigation. I needed four nuts for the job, so I bought six just to be safe. You see, I'm trying to lower my trips-to-Lowe's-or-Home-Depot-in-order-to-complete-a-job ratio to the low 1.9s, so on penny (nickel? dime?) items I simply overstock. On higher ticket items, like $3-$5 valves and connectors and gadgets, if there's any question about which one I need, I get one of each. I know one of them will work, and I know that I'll be back again for this job or the next, so I (sometimes remember to) return the items I don't use. Yes, it costs more. Yes, I have a lot of connectors and valves and gadgets and glue and Teflon tape (if I could find it. Ah well, at 69 cents, I'll pick up a roll next time I'm there.) and saw blades and clamps and paint brushes and rollers and you name it. But for this particular case, with the loose-change nuts and washers, I could put them with the rest of my collection under the "I'm going to use/wear/need it again" heading or, I can practice my hoops shot and rim them off the trash can.

Slam dunk, I threw something away today. Hooray!



So the kids decided to put food coloring in the milk again.

Which leads to cream of rice that looks like this:

This has really got to stop.
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