Friday, December 23, 2011

Conversation with my son

I was sitting at the dining room table after dinner last night, watching Hawaii Five-O on Netflix and doodling in the margin of today's newspaper. Just 3-D geometric shapes, nothing fancy. My 9 year old son came over and wondered what I was doing,

Sam: "Did you draw these?"
Me: "Yep."
Sam: "Wow, I thought these were printed and not drawn. You are really talented."
Me: "Thanks, Sam! You know, I did take art classes for 6 years."
Sam: "I thought your parents didn't let you go to art school."
Me: uh-oh, little jugs have big ears "This was in high school. High school and junior high actually. I also took about a year's worth of art classes in college. Painting and drawing."
Sam: "I didn't know that you took those classes. I want to be an artist someday."

Somebody earned his Christmas presents this year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I am bad at taking vacations

My employer has a use it or lose it policy when it comes to vacations and I had 4.5 days to use, so I'm using it this week. In theory, that is. In practice, I worked yesterday until about 4:30 pm. I wasn't working the entire time as I was letting some tests run in the background and installing some long-delayed software upgrades, but I was not exactly on vacation, either.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baby, it's cold inside

As I write this, 11 pm on a Sunday night in December, it is 46 degrees in my home office. It should be no surprise that I am not writing this in my office, because working inside of a walk-in refrigerator is not exactly conducive to writing or any kind of work. Same with most forms of recreation, too, since it is a home office after all. But this is what I have to work with - an unheated, semi-insulated attic space that, due to the strange configuration of my house, isn't itself above any heated space from which it could draw some sort of residual heat. It is just cold. Very, very cold.

I heat the space using a portable oil-filled heater but it just cannot pump out the BTUs to heat the space beyond around 25 degrees above the outside temperature. Given I live in an area that gets down to 0 Fahrenheit regularly and has gone as low as -20 a few winters, this is more than a minor inconvenience. I have tried various portable heaters, from ceramic to forced air (just not powerful enough) to a parabolic heat discs (okay if you are in the heated zone, expensive to operate and dangerous with kids). An oil-filled heater has so far been the best combination of cost, heat and safety, but it still cannot do the job.

That affects, of course, how I do my job. I work from home but I am not required to work there or have a home office. It is strongly encouraged to have a dedicated space, however, even though we are allowed to work from libraries, coffee shops, or any place with a decent connection. But I work from home precisely so I don't have to commute anywhere. I've done my time, with 4 years doing a 5 hour round trip 4-5 days a week, and 4 more years with a 2.5 hour trip 5 days a week. Telecommuting is a perk of my current job and I want to make the most of it. The local library isn't open every week day and I don't want to be one of those guys parked in front of the library with a laptop for hours. There are lots of choices 30 minutes from here, but what's the point of working from "home" if there's still a commute, no matter how short?

During the work day in winter, I'm often wearing 4 layers - long underwear, regular street clothes, sweater or chamois shirt, and a hoodie, topped with a lap blanket, but I'm often still cold. There are, of course, other areas in the house where I could work and I often do, but I chose my space because it was in the back, away from the rest of the house and its associated noise. I could work downstairs in an old parlor off of the living and dining rooms, but my work day would then end at 3 pm, when the kids got home. By being far removed I can minimize distractions for the couple of hours until the end of the workday, but that would be impossible downstairs. Like many others, I also need a space to which I can simply retreat and be alone. Some men have a shop, some a "man cave" (ugh, I hate that insipid term. Show some dignity and call it a den), some have a home office like me.

Several years ago I got a quote for extending our existing steam system (it's an old house) which was basically "no you can't" that so I'd need a whole separate heating system installed at ridiculous expense. It wasn't even a replacement to the existing oil-burning boiler, just a second electric boiler and a second set of pipes running through my house, and the quote didn't include all the finish work involved to repair walls after the pipes were run through them. That is also the reason why I have resisted trying natural gas heaters or wood stoves. What if that too failed to heat the space, and now I was left with a hole in a wall or the roof that now needed repairing? Although, one of those triangular/conical center of the room fireplaces from the 1970s might be funky enough to try, especially if it was still painted in the delightful color schemes of the period. Avocado green or harvest gold, with sepia detailing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cactus

Our Christmas cactus is in full bloom for the holidays

My 9 year old son collected house plants for a while but rarely watered them, so most of them were dead when he finally turned them over to me this September. I didn't think that this Christmas cactus would make it, let alone bloom this year. It was very withered and hadn't been watered consistently for months.

That's all that I did with it and these other rescue plants. Repot, water every two weeks (every week for the croton) with plant food and place in a sunny location. There's another shelf below this with more cacti and jades.

This next set of plants is the result of two years worth of careful watering. They were all part of a single plant that had been in my wife's family for decades but was starved for sun, water and attention. The core and roots were rotten and all that was marginally alive where the bits on the ends. After a bit of research one afternoon, I decided to chop off the salvageable pieces and see if any of them would grow. To my surprise, they have and now I've run out of room! The leftmost plant in the first photo was the largest surviving piece of the original plant. It seems to have been permanently stunted and has grown a few new leaves over two years, but not much. Subtract those leaves and it looks much like it did when I performed the surgery on it. The last photo is all that's left of the original plant. Only in the past few weeks has it been moved to a sunnier location, so what green that was left has been dormant the entire time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The nightmarish SOPA hearings

The nightmarish SOPA hearings

FTA: "If I had a dime for every time someone in the hearing used the phrase “I’m not a nerd” or “I’m no tech expert, but they tell me . . .,” I’d have a large number of dimes and still feel intensely worried about the future of the uncensored Internet."

Sad but true: "It’s been a truism for some time that you can tell innovation in an industry has ceased when the industry starts to develop a robust lobbying and litigating presence instead."

I've been saying something similar for a helluva long time now: "There ought to be a law, I think, that in order to regulate something you have to have some understanding of it."

via @ggreenwald

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Power outage

Two feet of snow for Halloween, no problem. But a dusting of ice and snow brings a line down today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Illegal dump site

The normal forest underbrush was crushed with the heavy snowfall on Halloween and we haven't had any snow since, so there are some clearer views than usual into the woods on either side of our road. I found two illegally dumped piles of tires today while walking my dog at lunch. This is the larger one and has been there for some time, judging from the amount of pine needles and moss on the bottom tires. The other pile was more recent and was near where I found a pile of car batteries a few years ago.
This is an unfortunate fact of life when living on a dirt road in rural New Hampshire. Besides a steady stream of alcohol containers of all kinds, lottery tickets, fast food and other household garbage, I've found a mattress, a folding chair, a vacuum, a pile of computer equipment (CRT, desktops, printers, smashed scanner) and other miscellaneous junk. Why do people feel they can do this on my road? There are scrap metal dealers and tire recyclers nearby, and the fees at the local dump aren't *that* much.