Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Getting mobile

The car is dug out and running. Even though the hood was frozen, I was able to yank it open and reconnect the positive battery terminal.
I tried, without success, to duct tape a shim over the open-door sensor button, but the metal was too cold and the duct tape won't hold. So the 10mm wrench will remain a required accessory, at least until I can get to the Subuaru shop tomorrow.
A friend called to say he heard our exact snowfall amount here is 16 inches.
No big surprise there.
Now we're off to play newspaper.

The Blizzard of '07

Working up the energy to go dig out the Subaru after about 30 hours of snow that met the NOAA criteria for a blizzard.
There was lots of drifting, so it's hard to tell exactly how much snow we got, but I'd guess it to be around 14 inches.
There's about a two-foot drift in front of the Subaru that needs to be shoveled away.
I had planned to drive Maria to work, then head for the Subaru dealership in Lafayette to get the open-door sensor button fixed. But the Subaru service department reports none of their technicians made it to work today because of the blizzard. So we'll have to keep pulling a battery cable whenever we park, for another day at least.
The del Sol is surrounded by three-foot drifts and isn't going anywhere until the snow melts.
The good news is that the plumber called last night and said he'll be here sometime tomorrow (Thursday) morning.
Is it spring yet?
Note to Tot in Winnipeg: Yes, I realize this looks a lot like your spring.

Deja Vu

I found this on Blonde Sagacity and felt it needed the widest possible audience:

Abraham Lincoln "repeatedly asserted that his aim was to prevent the spread of slavery, not eliminate it in the South." When asked if he was going to outlaw slavery in the South he would reply, "I believe I have no lawful right to do so."

Then, two years into the war he issued his "Emancipation Proclamation."

The North claimed Lincoln had "lied" and "misled the country into war" and that a "bloody and unnecessary war was being fought to bring the blessings of democracy to a people who had little experience with it."

Lincoln was also criticized for suspending habeas corpus — and not asking Congressional permission to do so until long afterwards.

Throughout the conflict, embittered Democrats claimed the war was an utter failure and demanded the administration bring the soldiers home.

The active duty commander, Gen. George McClellan (backed by the "Peace Democrats"), chastised Lincoln for predicting a shorter war with far less casualties...and for not sending enough troops.

(From: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -Doris Kearns Goodwin)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My 2¢ worth

I've been reading the forum comments on The Shins' Wincing the Night Away and I find it interesting that not much is being said about the production side of the album.
James Mercer and producer Joe Chiccarelli have created some really spectacular aural landscapes that make the album - for me, at least - a treat for the ears. I want to say up front that I probably never would have bought Wincing the Night Away were it not for the fact that my son was one of the engineers on the project.
After seeing people natter away about how The Shins' first two albums were better, I went to iTunes and bought Chutes Too Narrow.
Now I think I see what the problem is. If I'd formed my impressions of what The Shins are supposed to sound like based on Chutes Too Narrow, I might have listened to Wincing the Night Away with a mind too narrow. Where "Chutes" was all about the songs, presented against a plain white background, "Wincing" puts the music in color and three-dimensional space.
For my money, Wincing the Night Away is the best-made album I've heard in years.

System failures

Broken lines, broken strings,
Broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads,
People sleeping in broken beds.
Ain't no use jiving
Ain't no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken.

Bridge: Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Broken cutters, broken saws,
Broken buckles, broken laws,
Broken bodies, broken bones,
Broken voices on broken phones.
Take a deep breath, feel like you're chokin',
Everything is broken.

Bridge: Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules.
Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken.
— Bob Dylan

It started about a week ago when the mercury dropped to the single digits and stayed there for days. The water line serving our dishwasher froze. It's happened before, but I hoped we'd dodged the bullet this time because there was no wind hitting the under-insulated wall between the dishwasher and God's own deep freeze. So the dishes started piling up and we broke into our supply of styrofoam picnic plates and plastic knives, forks and spoons.
And we hoped for a thaw.
Then, about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, I lost my internet connectivity. I ran through the usual routine - powercycle computer, DSL modem and wireless router. When that failed, I called tech support to ask if Frontiernet had any reports of a service outage in our tiny town. Nope. So I spent about an hour running various diagnostics that the techie thought might get me back online. At one point, he speculated that the problem was with my modem, since the browser couldn't see it. He finally ran out of ideas and put me on hold, saying he was going to pass me on to another geek who had more experience.
When it comes to experience, mine has been that everytime my DSL service goes down, Frontiernet Tech Support says the problem is with my equipment. And they've been wrong every time. Even the time when my modem died, because after all, that's their equipment too.
Moments after he put me on hold, I heard Maria screaming my name from the kitchen. I hung up the phone, dashed downstaris and found a small lake spreading out from the dishwasher.
This is the worst-case scenario of dishwasher water line freeze and it's only happened once before. The freezing water expands inside a valve and breaks it. It only starts to leak when the ice thaws and Sunday's modest warm-up was enough to trigger the flood.
Maria ran to the basement and shut off the water and I got out our floor scrubber, which has a water pick-up feature.
I left a voicemail for our plumber who called back about 30 minutes later to say he was at a basketball game with his son and would call us when he got home and checked his schedule to see when he could get to us. (It's now about 48 hours later and we still haven't heard from him.)
In the meantime, we located the shutoff valve for the dishwasher, shut it off and opened the main valve, restoring water to our toilets, showers, sinks and laundry facilities.
Monday morning, we were awakened by a call from our local Frontiernet repairman, a genuinely nice guy who lives next door to Maria's parents up on the north end of town. He showed up about 20 minutes later, did some voodoo and got me back online. The problem, he said, is a local piece of equipment the corporation is slow in funding. Once it gets installed, he said, these dropouts should stop. And, no, the people at tech support don't have any idea of the local problem and are useless when it happens.
Ok, that's two steps backward, one step forward.
Then Maria got home from work last night and reported the dashboard light on the Subaru that tells you when a door is open, wouldn't turn off. She said she'd checked all of the doors and confirmed they were properly closed. I went out and did the same. Of course the light stayed on. Apparently one of the door sensors had malfunctioned, making the car think a door was still open. Ordinarily, I wouldn't care what the car thought, but the circuit was set up to keep the light on even with the engine off and the key out of the ignition.
That's another step backwards.
With a major snowstorm about to start (We're under a blizzard warning as I write this the next day and the snow is blowing and piling up at an alarming rate.) I wasn't keen to let that dashboard light wipe out the battery overnight. So I rummaged through my tools in the garage and found a 10mm box-end wrench with which I disconnected the positive terminal of the battery.
When I got back inside the house, Maria showed me a rubber piece that she found on the floor by the front passenger seat. I'm 99 percent sure it's a tiny boot that fits over the door sensor button. With the boot gone, the closed door doesn't depress the sensor button far enough to assure the motherboard that the door is completely shut.
We awoke this morning to a call from one of Maria's reporters saying she doubted if she (the reporter) could get to work because a snow emergency had been declared in the county where she lives. Maria told her to stay put. The Indianapolis TV stations were all in Chicken Little Mode and it quickly became obvious that Maria wasn't going to drive the 18 miles to work today.
She saw this coming, which is why she went to Wal-Mart on her way home last night and bought some batting for a quilt she's making for the niece who was born on Saturday.
So we're hunkered down in the warm semi-security (until something else breaks) of our house while Maria quilts and runs her newspaper by phone and internet, directing the handful of people who were able to get to the office.
As a footnote, my Honda del Sol hasn't moved since the first snowfall about a week ago. It has big fat tires that are great on dry pavement, but turn into skis on snow and ice. The car is just plain scary on slick pavement and I let it sit when there's snow on the roads.
The best car I ever had for snow was the first car I owned - a Fontana gray 1965 VW beetle. With its rear engine over the drive wheels and skinny tires that concentrated the weight into small but effective contact patches, it was pretty much unstoppable in snow. Unfortunately, it was frequently unstartable because it was prone to gathering moisture in the distributor. But I'd trade my del Sol for the old bug on days like this.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shins on a roll

The new Shins album, "Wincing the Night Away," is the #4 album in iTunes downloads.
My son Sean was an engineer on the project.
Damn! That's sooooo cool.

Would you go into space with Lisa Nowak?

STS121-S-002 (5 April 2006) --- These seven astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-121 crew portrait. From the left are astronauts Stephanie D. Wilson, Michael E. Fossum, both mission specialists; Steven W. Lindsey, commander; Piers J. Sellers, mission specialist; Mark E. Kelly, pilot; European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany; and Lisa M. Nowak, both mission specialists. The crewmembers are attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suit.

Image Credit: NASA/JSC

NASA Photo and Orange County Sheriff's Dept. Photo
Tuesday , February 06, 2007
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — A NASA astronaut was ordered released on bail Tuesday on charges she attempted to kidnap a romantic rival for a space shuttle pilot's affections, but was told to wear a tracking device and not to contact her alleged victim.

Orange County Judge Mike Murphy said Lisa Marie Nowak, 43, will be released on $15,500 bond. She said "yes" when Murphy asked her if she understood not to contact the other woman.

Nowak stood in a jail uniform, usually with her head facing down during the hearing. She planned to return home to Houston once released.

Nowak is a married mother of three and police believe she was in a love triangle with a fellow astronaut. She faces charges including attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery.

Police said she drove 900 miles, donned a disguise and was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray Monday when she confronted a woman she believed was a competitor for the affections of Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein.

Nowak and Oefelein, 41, were both first-time fliers during separate shuttle missions last year. They trained together but never flew together.

Two other astronauts attended the court hearing. Steve Lindsey, the commander of Nowak's Discovery flight last July, testified that Nowak would obey the conditions of her release.

Chris Ferguson, a pilot on the mission, also attended the hearing. When asked about Nowak's behavior after the hearing, Ferguson responded "perplexed is the word I'm sticking with."

Nowak told police that her relationship with Oefelein was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," according to an arrest affidavit. Police found a love letter to Oefelein in her car.

According to authorities, Nowak believed another woman, Colleen Shipman, was romantically involved with Oefelein. When Nowak found out Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, Nowak decided to confront her early Monday, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers in the car so she wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, authorities said. Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.

Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, she waited for Shipman's plane to land and then boarded the same airport shuttle bus Shipman took to get to her car, police said. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman's car, the affidavit said. Shipman drove to the parking lot booth and police were called.

An officer reported following Nowak and watching her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. Police also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said.

Oefelein and Shipman, who the Houston Chronicle said worked at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston said that, as of Monday, Nowak's status with the astronaut corps remained unchanged. "What will happen beyond that, I will not speculate," he said.

Hartsfield said he couldn't recall the last time an astronaut was arrested and said there were no rules against fraternizing among astronauts.

Police said Nowak told them that she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her about her relationship with Oefelein and didn't want to harm her physically.

"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," said Orlando police Sgt. Barbara Jones. "It's just really a very sad case."

According to NASA's official biography, Nowak is a Naval Academy graduate who has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering. She has a teenage son and younger twin girls.

Oefelein has two children and began his aviation career as a teenager flying floatplanes in Alaska, according to a NASA biography. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University and later earned a master's degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He has been an astronaut since 1998.

Cmdr. William Oefelein

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I'm feeling smug this afternoon.
We went to our nearest Barnes & Noble today, looking for books on photographic lighting. I found two - one for $19.95 and one for $24.95 - that I wanted. Then I used my Treo 700p cell phone to surf to the website (they have a separate site configured for hand-held devices) and was able to buy used copies of both books for a total of $9.73, including shipping and handling.

Just for the record

I don't give a shit about the Superbowl.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shins Album is #1

Marty Crandall, Joe Chiccarelli, James Mercer and Sean Flora

Hey, the new Shins album - Wincing the Night Away - is #1 in four Billboard album categories:
#1 Rock Album
#1 Digital Album
#1 Independent Album
#1 in the "Tastemakers" category

Am I proud that my son Sean was an engineer on the album project? That would be a serious understatement.

Here's the pertinent blog entry pirated from Sean's MySpace account:

The new record by the Shins, Wincing the Night Away, comes out this Tuesday.
I'm super excited, as this is by far the biggest engineering credit for me so far. These guys were great to work with and were about the farthest you can imagine from being Prima Donnae (or pre-madonna?).

I always marvel at the constant interplay and balancing act between composing and studio experimentation. Sometimes you get people recording songs before they've even written the lyric. To me this is nuts. It seems like the posture is: "Oh, I just come up with something at the last minute...whatever comes into my head."... Well, it usually sounds like it... In my opinion, the best writing takes work and focus - even the songs that seem to come out easily require your attention and patience to get them down on the page. There are nuances in the music which have to be informed by what's going on in the vocal line.

Where I'm going is this: James came into the sessions pretty fully prepared as far as having the songs written. In fact he had already recorded at home some of the elements of each song - a vocal and a guitar part, the steel-drum-sounding keyboard part on Red Rabbits... Yet there was also quite a lot of room - meaning openness and willingness on the part of James and the band - for experimenting with forms, sounds, rhythms and other elements...

I have to say, having a lot of room for experimentation can also, for some folks, lead to getting mired in too many options. Producer Joe Chiccarelli [you have got to see his credit list; it's HUGE and varied] really kept things on track, getting the home-recorded tracks to mesh with the live-in-studio parts and all the guest musicians.

This past week, I've been doing some behind-the-scenes work as the Shins get ready for TV appearances and touring... Look for some great remixes coming out soon, including at least one by DangerMouse.