Category Archives: Uncategorized

Getting a jump on the holiday weekend with technoinsanity

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For years now I’ve reserved a little bit of time around Labor Day weekend to do something that will completely screw up my websites, but since this year we’ll be traveling on that weekend for perhaps the first time ever, I thought I’d better just get the technical explosion out of the way now. So I did.

My sites have been hosted on a Movable Type template for years. It was easy and free and it worked, and I knew how to use it; when I started, serious blogs were kinda evenly split between MT and WordPress. But over time Movable Type atrophied, more customizable templates never appeared, and WordPress really took over. But, what the hell, trying to move everything over seemed daunting, and I just stayed with MT.

Similarly, I’ve had a webhost for quite a few years that has been just fine, but now they’re not. Lots of downtime, my cPanel keeps getting moved around to different servers without notice (meaning I can’t find it), I’ve gotten locked out of my own account for reasons they can never quite explain, and I’m just done. So while I work on moving things over to a new host, I thought I’d do the WordPress migration too.

It actually went mostly seamlessly. This should allow people to comment more easily (commenting features were never updated on MT), and give me some more flexibility. One thing that is weird — if you use the Archives drop-down, it still delivers the old-style pages from MT. If you search for the same pages, they come up in the new WP format. Working on it. All solutions welcome.

Update: Hey, fixed it. Had to hide my old MT archive pages from WordPress. Somehow it found them, but as soon as I hid them, it generated its own archives.

Does this mean I’ll be reviving my blogging on this site? We’ll see. There are only so many hours in the day, and Hoxsie takes up a lot of my blogging energy. Sometimes I still have some non-historic things to say, and I’ll try to get to that a bit more.

Home where I’ve never lived

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Third Lake Vacation June 2015 DSC_3051Odd but true that it’s possible for a place one has never lived, doesn’t have a family connection to, and has rarely spent more than a few days a year, to feel just like home. For me, that’s the Fulton Chain of the Adirondacks, the stretch of lovely waters from Old Forge to Raquette Lake.

Boats we have paddled there: a brick of an Old Town with gunwales broken from having been run over by a car, propelled by moose-killer paddles; a Sawyer X-17, a nice wilderness tripper that’s perfect for Adirondack lakes; a smaller Sawyer solo; and a Dagger tandem kayak that has just about outstayed its welcome but does carry two nicely. Lakes we’ve been on: Old Forge Pond; First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth; Limekiln; Big Moose; Stillwater; Raquette. Places we’ve camped: Alger Island, Tioga Point, Eighth, Raquette, Limekiln, Stillwater, and others I’ve forgotten, mostly in tents until recent years when a desire to sleep dry has pushed us more toward cabins. This year, we took the big plunge and actually rented a private camp for a week, with its own lakefront access, beautifully situated on Third. Despite a week of rain, I got out in the boat every day, got threatened by a beaver, got to float for 20 minutes with a loon, and even went for a hike that gave my boots a wetland scent that may never come out.

My family connections are further east and north, though a great great something or other was a guide on the Fulton Chain in the late 19th century. I never went there growing up, and discovered the area when we lived in Syracuse, but now it feels more like home than anywhere I’ve never lived. The skies, the waters, the hills, the flora and fauna, it all seems like home when I’m there.

Others recharge their batteries by going places they’ve never been before. Me, I need to go home.

Random Thoughts

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  • Yes, it’s been a while. Hoxsie is still going strong, but there are only so many hours in the day, and at least one of those hours is spent binge-watching “Gilmore girls,” which somehow I missed completely when it was on the air. Currently kicking myself over that, but the good news is that now I get to experience its brilliance for the first time.
  • “The Basic Eight,” Daniel Handler. Again, how did I miss this? I always love his books, but wow . . . this is an inventive novel. Just so different, interesting, intense, real, and well-written. He always creates worlds I want to live in, and books I wish wouldn’t end.
  • An old picture of what was likely a roasted chestnut vendor on South Pearl Street in Albany led to thoughts of the old days when that beaver-mad town, founded on the wealth of pelts, was chock full of vendors of beaver-on-a-stick, beaver jerky, castor canadensis oil . . . And then I realized there was just no way to make that thought funny or interesting, but I still couldn’t get the idea of streetcart beaver-meat vendors out of my head.
  • I once had the brilliant idea that music could be saved if we enforced a three-album-and-an-EP rule. Once a band was signed, that’s what they got to do: three albums and an EP. After that, they’d have to break up. Why? Let’s face it, most bands barely have three albums of good material in them. Having a set limit would forced them to weed out the crap and put their best foot forward, and they’d focus on creativity if they knew they were only going to have a limited oeuvre. I never worked out how to deal with really good bands that had way more good songs than that — The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Squeeze, Elvis Costello — so there were still some kinks to iron out in my new world order, which would result, somewhat ironically, in less New Order.
  • There is a reason I don’t often sharpen my box saw (and that’s not a euphemism). The teeth are tiny, the angles precise, and the work quite boring.
  • Work on a dining room table is proceeding apace. Much old pine, recovered from a rehab at 9 First Street in Troy, is being planed. There’s simply no other way to come by 3″ thick old growth, tight-grained pine. You know what doesn’t like to come out of Civil-War-era pine? Civil-War-era nails, that’s what. I like to assume they came from Henry Burden’s nail factory, and that whoever made them may have been buried in the Nail Factory Cemetery, because that’s how my mind works.
  • I’m re-reading “The Great Shark Hunt” for the first time in many years. If I had stayed in journalism, I could only have been constantly disappointed that I wasn’t the next Hunter S. Thompson — unless of course I had become the next one, in which case I’d probably have been disappointed in myself.
  • Bonded with younger daughter over our love of “Quadrophenia.” I can’t understand how people can even listen to “Tommy” when this incredible dark, beautiful  masterpiece exists. The Who really stand out because each member was simply incredible, innovative, and unique, and that album is just phenomenal. There was a time when the story maybe meant a little too much to me, but I remember overnight bus rides to Schenectady with a tape of Quadrophenia blasting into my ears (on what was called a “Walkman,” kids) as the sun came up over the Thruway, and that album resonated deeply with me.
  • THIS: 23-member Mucca Pazza, playing an insane Tiny Desk Concert. If you don’t enjoy this, you’re dead inside:

Not a Christmas Letter

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If we were the kind of people who do Christmas letters, this would be a doozy. Nothing against Christmas letters, it just requires a level of effort and an assumption that anyone we aren’t in regular touch with cares what we’re up to. Happy to get them, unlikely ever to reciprocate.

But this one would, as noted, be a doozy. Uprooting after 23 years in the same house (and the desperate dash to get it into saleable condition). Finding a house (starting with the challenge of finding a town in which to look for a house). One daughter graduating high school and going off to college, with proms and banquets and going to national competition. The other daughter entering her senior year of college and, oh yeah, getting hired for a post-graduation job before that senior year even started. And both of them doing amazingly well in school, while at the same time adopting bizarre new interests, which of course is what college is all about. Wife taking a huge leap of faith and letting me buy a house she had never even seen, giving up her job and joining me in the most adorable little town we could afford. Giving up the big blue truck that had carted us around for 13 years, sending it to live on the farm where it could play with all the other trucks. Somewhere in there, there was learning a great new job, and there was also meeting new people, biking new roads and paths, paddling new waterways. There was the suddenly easier access to a city of reasonable size, with all the art and culture and transit to figure out.

Logistically, being far from family is what we call sub-optimal. Eastern Massachusetts is several highly congested states away from here, and upstate New York isn’t ever a quick ride. It feels weird that visiting the place I lived for about forty years requires lodging arrangements. And those logistics led to rearranging Christmas for the first time in many years, so we’ll have Christmas with three of us in our new home and then go up north to celebrate with the rest of the families over the weekend. We managed to get through this year without a loss, but none of us is getting any younger and so the chances to get together cannot be lost.

On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to do all kinds of new things. Because we live about five feet from most things that happen in our new town, we’ve been out to open mic nights, we’ve made clay birds, we’ve attended every festival and parade. On Christmas Day, it’s likely we’re going to drive about an hour away to watch a re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. Because why would you not.

So all of that would be in our letter, if we did that sort of thing. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Been a while since we did a Top 10

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Yes, it’s been a while since we did a Top 10. It’s not an ordered list, it’s just 10 things that are going on, right here, right now, that take the place of actual writing. And so:

  1. Linda Ronstadt. Do the youngsters understand how huge she was? Do they understand this is what singing is? What a set of pipes. Not only was she probably the biggest female recording artist, she deserved to be. This was the sound of the ’70s. There were some weak song choices, and that muffled Southern California production sound on her albums, but just listen to this. Hey, kids, no autotune!
  2. Walkability. I’m becoming a wild bore about living in a walkable community, but seriously, what an improvement in lifestyle. (It’s a good thing, too, given the death of the Laden Jar.) Walking to dinner, and to a different place for dessert. Saturday there was walking to the Farmer’s Market (where I’m becoming known as the guy with the Adirondack pack basket on his back), the jewelry store, the running store, the cafe for coffee. We did actually have to get into a car and drive to a framing shop, so I can’t say life is perfect, but considering how often we get things framed, that’s a price we can pay.

  3. This shouldn’t get a full integer, since I didn’t get to finish it, but Michael Chabon’s latest, “Telegraph Avenue,” was just getting good when I risked running afoul of the Library Police. By the way, have I mentioned the library is a short walk away?
  4. So in its place, “Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla,” which is a pretty solid biography. The technical understanding is outstanding, but I’m sometimes finding some of the chronology less than clear. Very good biography that resists the current wave of Tesla worship while managing to convey the weirdness that he almost completely fell out of consciousness for a while. To that I’d assign way more blame to GE/RCA, who were absolute masters of rewriting history and marginalizing their competition (ask Philo Farnsworth).
  5. Holiday preparations. Christmas shopping has been relatively easy, what with all the walkable stores and farmer’s market and such. But the thought of being among those people who have to make that north-south drive through the metroplex on holiday weekends is just daunting, not to mention expensive. Well, guess I’ll be racking up some Hilton Honors points. Then there’s the issue of what to do in our little house, where it seems like a decorative tree will be placed on the porch with care; within, the meltable gifts will be placed a respectable distance from the gas stove.

  6. The Fleshtones. Doing this.
  7. Unpacking. Yes, there are still things in boxes, particularly in the basement, which is in no wise ready to serve as my project space. Although a vastly nicer basement than my previous accommodations provided, it’s still from 1900, and still very full of packed items that need to be unpacked and then, please, thrown away.
  8. This actually deserves an entire post on its own. Why did no one explain the perfection that is “The Gilmore Girls” to me? I mean, I know everyone said it was unbelievable, but there was something (and it could just have been working and raising kids at the time) that kept me off it. I guess it doesn’t matter, because it’s on Netflix now, and as soon as I’ve burned through all the seasons, I intend to burn through them again. It makes my wordy parts happy.
  9. How do appliances know you’re going to replace them? And then how do they get all sulky/breaky? My Denon receiver, which has served me loyally since, I believe, 1987, has suddenly blown a channel. Listen, I was very quiet about my lust for a receiver I saw down at the local record store (it’s within walking distance, BTdubs) that has a remote control. At the time I bought this thing, the remote option was about $50 more and seemed like a crazy extravagance and something of a moral failing. Now it seems like an absolute necessity because every digital file plays at a completely different level — not that records didn’t, but you had four or five songs at a time where that wasn’t a problem. Apparently the Denon got wind of the plans to move into the slightly later 20th century with my tech and up and popped a resistor somewhere. Gonna see if it’s reparable, but still, I dislike disloyalty. 27 years of my life I’ve given that thing!
  10. Flu shot. Gotta go get mine. First, I don’t like the flu. Second, I don’t want to hear a single person whine about Ebola who hasn’t had a flu shot and contributed to herd immunity. It’s raining out, but I still might walk up to the pharmacy to get it tonight.

Goodbye to the Laden Jar

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Heading to Old Forge

I don’t get too sentimental about objects or possessions. While my innate hatred of waste will keep me using the same dingy colander for 25 years or so (well, it still drains liquid, doesn’t it?), I’m not one to hold onto something useless or that has seen its day. Even so, some things retain associations that are hard to forget, and makes letting them go just a little bit odd.

So, cars. Because of a confluence of events, we ended up buying two new cars within months of each other way back in 2001 and 2002. We don’t do heavy driving, and haven’t had great luck, so it’s fair to say that we didn’t necessarily expect that these two cars would carry our children from early grade school into adulthood. One of them, a peppy little red Mazda Protégé 5, went about 120,000 miles until last fall, when a combination of high mileage, extensive rust, and my new need to commute long, long distances meant I needed something with a little more of a competent body. But even so I was a little sad to see it go. My wife loved it, and I would always associate it with those wonderful summer evenings we used to spend at Red Oaks Swim Club.

Our big blue Nissan Xterra, though, had to make the move to Pennsylvania. I was a little concerned about the distance and the fact that it wanted to make a perpetual right turn, but we got it down here just fine. There was an extended process involved in getting it registered and plated in PA, but after three false starts we finally got the paperwork done and were ready to take it for its inspection. We expected a 13-year-old vehicle with 135,000 miles on it to possibly face some issues passing inspection, but we were hoping to get through another few months using it as the emergency backup. (Have I mentioned that we can walk pretty much everywhere in our town?)

I loved that Xterra. For a long time, not only was it the best driving vehicle I’ve ever owned, and the blue-est vehicle I’ve ever owned, but it was the most suited to our lifestyle. Super-heavy-duty roof racks, extra cargo space up top, a big hitch, running boards, four-wheel drive, lugs for hanging things from the ceiling in the back – it was the best biking/canoeing/camping vehicle ever. Despite not being the largest SUV by far, we could pack enough gear, clothes and kids to camp for a week (during which times we referred to it as “The Laden Jar”). I drove it to every bike path and canoe launch in the region. I spent countless hours waiting outside dance classes in it. As a car, my new Subaru has a lot of superior qualities (heated seats not being the least of those), but it will never be lived in like the Xterra was.

When the service guy called, I was prepared for moderately bad news, and had a number in my head that I was willing to spend to keep that unwieldy beast in my very, very narrow driveway for a few more months. He pretty much doubled that number, and all my sentimental attachment went right out the window. Only a fool would pay that much for an unladen laden jar.

We told the kids that the big blue truck is going to live at the service station, just as you would say a puppy has gone to live on the farm. Except in this case, it’s true. While it wasn’t worth six to eight months of new car payments for us to keep it going, the service station made us an offer. Turns out, it’s about the same color as their building and business color, so they’re going to fix it up, clean it up, toss their logo on the side and use it as a local shuttle car.

So goodbye, old Xterra.

Titular Quandary

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newhouse.pngSo here’s the thing. When I started this occasional series of rants back in 2002 (!), the title was a play on “My So-Called Life” and a statement of life in a near-the-city suburb, not quite urban, not quite suburban. Other than a pleasant neighborhood close to a little lake, it was life in an unwalkable world, a land without sidewalks. We were just blocks from the school, but our kids had to get on buses. Milk, groceries, the post office, they all required getting into a car. Most of our social life took place across the river, or up it, in Albany or Troy.

But that’s changing, and soon. We’re moving to a town that is essentially Bedford Falls, moving from a corner lot colonial with a two-car garage to a downtown rowhouse a block from the main street. We’ll be a short walk from the library, the park, the post office. We’ll be three minutes’ walk from the little historic movie house and a slew of sidewalk cafés. Minutes from the bike path. And not so far from a major city that can’t seem to get enough of its pretzels.

Decidedly, utterly urban. Perhaps even super-urban. My Super-Urban Life?

The Year in Preview

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Once again, I had the best of intentions. I was going to look back at 2013. There was a lot to look back at. But I didn’t get to it. So instead, I’m going to look at what 2014 will bring.

Some of it will be brand new. We’re moving, and not just a little bit. After 23 years in the same house, and a nice round 25 years in the Albany area, we’re moving to Philadelphia. When you have no family connections, no school needs, no history with an area, the process of picking a new neighborhood to live in is wildly daunting. Not clear yet whether we’ll be somewhere in the city itself, which has a lot of attraction, or out in the suburbs where I wouldn’t have to drive to where I work (and car commuting is AWFUL in Philly.) Finding good places for road biking is a challenge, and that weighs heavily on me.

Despite my crazy love for the history of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, I’m also crazy excited to be going somewhere where there’s so much art, a vibrant downtown, and a lot of life. Only real regret is that we’re not going to be in Troy, which has been more and more our home city in recent years, a place where we can’t go without running into people we know. Would have liked to have had that experience.

Also coming up this year, we’re kicking our younger one out the door and on to a successful career as a mad scientist. She got the college of her choice and a massive merit scholarship, so we figure now is as good a time as any to avoid empty nest syndrome by simply blowing up the nest.

Blowing up the nest, however, is time-consuming. Despite having a small house, we have a LOT of stuff. Much of it will not make the move (we try not to talk about it in front of the objects that aren’t going to make it). There’s a lot of sentiment going around as we re-discover things like the Bugs Bunny hand puppet I used to amuse my baby while “watching” her – meaning I would prop my arm and the puppet up while I napped on the floor next to her, periodically wiggling its ears, desperately dozing for as long as she would sit still. It was never very long.

There’s a new job, of course, and that’s largely underway already. It’s a huge amount of work, but nice to be doing work that people actually care about again. My previous employment was my first experience ever with being utterly irrelevant, and I can’t say I cared for it. I’m used to being ignored after I’ve been listened to.

I need to find new bike trails and roads, canoe launches, places to get my car fixed, places to get a haircut. It’s a bit daunting. Some people think we’re crazy for taking this on when we’re past the half-century mark, but serious, what else would we do for the next 50 years? I learned to ski, run and swim, all after I turned 40. Gotta try new things.