Saturday, January 27, 2007

Life is Beautiful

[place marker for some profound statements - check back later]

I spent the entire day at the In-Laws, patching, sanding and painting. Thank God I wasn't hung over.

They've moved to North Carolina, but their house in Camp Springs isn't selling. I don't get it. I mean, its a lovely split level, straight from the 50's, and they only want half a million for it.

It is surprising though, how you can find beauty in the most inglorious places. While waiting between coats, I shot some photographs.

And then, of course, I had to take a photo of the most glorious part of their home. Built to their specifications by moi. I do have my moments.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tough Love

From the Bible, Proverbs 13-24 (King James Version):

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son."

There is a debate raging in America over spanking. NO, not that kind of spanking! I'm talking corporal punishment. There are many who still believe in the old proverb "spare the rod, spoil the child". The belief is rooted in the religious ethic of the nation's Puritan founders. In fact, one study by the Kinsey Institute suggests that 76% of Americans use spanking regularly.

When I was a kid, I got spanked. I mean, the pants came down, and the bare behind took a good whacking. It was embarrassing. I mean, right in front of my friends? C'mon guys! Now that's a good way to throw a wet blanket over an 18th birthday party.

Here at the Academy, we do not believe in corporal punishment of any kind. We won't spank the students, because we think that corporal punishment is ethically wrong. Besides, there are many effective alternatives to spanking. Time outs, non-corporal punishments, denying things that are valued. They are all equally effective, if used properly.

Still, there are times when a little something more is necessary. I have found a very effective technique that I use in such cases. I simply take the student for a ride in the car and have a stern talk. They generally calm down and stop misbehaving after our time in the car together.

No students were harmed in the making of this blog entry. Stunts performed by Joshua.

Stand for your rights

Ok, I'm taking a lot of flak about the whole urinal thing. I can't say it wasn't expected. Urinals get a bad rap, and people who promote urinals get a bad rap.

I realize that by elaborating on this topic, I run the risk of being labeled "obsessed". Look. I am not obsessed. Ok, so maybe my license plates went over the top, but its a subect I feel passionate about. Its time this piece of porcelain got the recognition it so richly deserves. And its time for residential bathrooms to recognize that men have special needs too.

The Headmistress is a big urinal fan, but it didn't start out that way. It took me a long time to win her over. She too had a negative image cultivated over years of abandoning long lines at the ladies room to duck into the mens room. Look, if you go into a mens room at a bar, or a football stadium, or a rock concert, you've gotta expect things to be kind of a mess. Men in those situations are expected to make a mess. To not make a mess could invite ridicule. So forget everything you've ever seen in the vicinity of public urinals. They are disgusting, because they are abused. Hey, I've been in one or two women's rooms, and the porcelain in there isn't exactly something to be proud of either, okay?

Once I'd convinced the Headmistress, and installed the thing, she grew to love it. I mean, you know, in that "male bathroom fixture" kind of way. Anyway, we never received a single negative comment on the urinal - in fact, quite the opposite. People were fascinated with it. Guys would come over just to use the bathroom. And they never once wrote anything on the walls. Well, anything bad that is.

Look, here is the bottom line about urinals. You gotta flush 'em. Those ones in the public mens rooms? Rarely flushed. Combine that with the fact that most men who use them are drunk and piss all over their shoes, and you can start to understand why this porcelain bowl is so misunderstood.

Why don't men flush them? Three reasons, really.

First you have your basic grunting, macho, male "GUY". Someone who has covered each of his two hundred and fifty pounds with some kind of cheap cologne. He seeks to establish himself as the "alpha" male, and is simply leaving his scent to mark his territory. He scares me.

Next you have your "talker". This guy wants to carry on a conversation while standing at the urinal. He is so gabby, in fact, that he forgets to flush, and usually forgets to wash. He is talking all the way out the door. When he leaves, suspicious glances are exchanged. The worst of these types is the one who strikes the conversation up with a total stranger. See, stoicism is the character trait most admired in men's rooms. By talking, you break one of the ten "Golden Rules of Urinal Etiquette":

1 - Select a stall that has a vacancy to the right and to the left.
2 - In the absence of that, try to get the one nearest to a wall.
3 - Keep the eyes straight ahead - don't look right, dont look left.
4 - Resist the urge to look down.
5 - Step right up - don't stand back. While you may be proud of yourself, the rest of us would rather not see the equipment.
6 - If you're having trouble getting things started, give us a courtesy flush - the noise helps to ease the tension that everyone feels about your situation. Its the polite thing to do.
7 - No whistling. It arouses suspicion.
8 - Positively NO smiling. Enough said.
9 - Zip up BEFORE you back away.

Finally, you have your obsessive-compulsive type. Ok, you know who you are. You're the one who walks into a bathroom by pushing the door open with your elbow, or your shoulder, or your rear-end, saving your hands from coming into contact with some sort of flesh-eating bacteria. You perform the necessaries and walk straight out, bypassing sink, soap and towel dispenser. You are very likely an otherwise civilized individual. You simply do not want your hands to come into contact with any bathroom surfaces, including the flush handle, the faucet handle, or the soap and paper towel dispenser handles. Some of you even place your hand into your coat pocket before grabbing the door handle to exit. You are the very same individual who reasons that since you didn’t actually touch anything, there is no need to wash your hands. Excuse me? To have truly not touched anything would have required a deft maneuver on your part to get your equipment out of the garage, followed by a hands-free operation, followed by yet another deft maneuver to get the thing safely back into the garage. Let’s face it, since no man has ever squandered an opportunity to touch himself, you are obviously lying. To you I say: I’d sooner lick the handles of a dozen flush valves than touch anything in your garage, so lest we find it necessary to shake hands, please flush the urinal. And wash your hands. With Soap.

So there you have it. Embrace the urinal. It is your friend. When treated properly, this piece of porcelain will change your life.

A very astute blogger in Texas pointed out that today's Style section in the New York Times contains an interesting article about urinals in the home. Check out the slide show (under the photo, click "more photos"). Sure, Clark Sorensen’s got issues, but you get the idea.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Carry on my wayward son...

I can't carry a car.
I can't carry a cow.
But I can carry when adding,
I know exactly how!

The poem above was on the boys' math papers today. We've been working on long addition, carrying numbers to the next column. The exercise following the poem said to "Write the sums, don't forget to carry"

The photo above is a re-enactment, but its exactly what I saw when I went in to check on the boys' progress on that paper.

Teacher: "Joshua, why are you holding the box of colored pencils?"
Joshua (sincerely): "Because the paper says to carry something while I add up the sums."

I had to hold onto the table to keep from falling over!

The Big Sleep

I had only twenty minutes sleep before the phone rang. In that time I had muffed a job and lost eight thousand dollars. Well, why not? In twenty minutes you can sink a battleship, down three of four planes, hold a double execution. You can die, get married, get fired and find a new job, have a tooth pulled, have your tonsils out. In twenty minutes you can even get up in the morning. You can get a glass of water at a night club - maybe.

The dame on the other end spoke of a murder, cold-blooded. She spoke as coldly as a toad's belly; colder than a cafeteria dinner; colder than the ashes of love. It was a voice that could have been used to split firewood. I told her to wait, hung up the phone, and lit a cigarette. It tasted like a plumber's handkerchief.

I went downstairs, walked to the curb and hailed a cab. It was big, big like a truck. It appeared as though the car drove itself, and the cabbie held the wheel just for appearances. The driver looked as if he was half asleep but he passed the fast boys in the convertible sedans as though they were being towed. They turned on all the green lights for him. Some drivers are like that. He never missed one.

We pulled in and I paid the fare. She was waiting, just like she said, back behind the building. She had a nice smile. She looked as if she had slept well. It was a nice face, a face you get to like. From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away. But she had smooth ivory skin, and rather sever eyebrows and large dark eyes that looked like they might warm up at the right time and in the right place. She had a pair of legs - so far as I could determine - that were not painful to look at.

"Hello, Mr. Cranky" she said. She put away her hand mirror and fed herself a cigarette.

I filled a pipe and reached for the packet of paper matches. I lit the pipe carefully. She watched that with approval. Pipe smokers were solid men. She was going to be disappointed in me.

I knew the deceased. A cold fellow in his own right. Had the nickname of Frosty. Some called him Junior. He always wore a hat that was at least two sizes too small and had been perspired in freely by somebody it fitted better than it fitted him. He wore it about where a house wears a wind vane. His nose was sharp and bent a little to one side, as if somebody had given it the elbow one time when it was into something. He had watching and waiting eyes, patient and careful eyes, cool disdainful eyes - the kind of eyes you might pick out of an olive barrel.

Something about this murder smelled. It smelled so bad you could build a garage on it. I didn't care about the fee. I just wanted to nail the cold-blooded sonofabitch that dropped him here on the pavement, like a cold wet snowball.

The above passages were taken, with liberties, from various novels written by Raymond Chandler, who published the following works all in the month of January: "Try The Girl"; "Red Wind"; "Lady in the Lake"; "Guns at Cyrano's"; and "Killer in the Rain".

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stand and Deliver

WARNING - This is a male-only post. So women should stop reading HERE.

If you are still reading, and are uncomfortable with discussion of bodily functions, stop reading HERE.

(Man, what was that dude's problem?) Okay, the rest of you are about to receive information that will change your lives. You will thank me for what I am about to disclose.

As a side-note, with all the women gone, WHAT are we going to do about Hillary? I guess that's a blog entry for another day.

You know, I have always been of the opinion that EVERY home should have at least one urinal in it. Can I get an AMEN? I cannot understand why every woman on the planet doesn't feel the same way on this subject. I mean, they REALLY should like them, but the REALLY don't like them. One would think, as I naively did, that women wouldn't have enough experience with urinals to have formed an opinion about them - good or bad. But that line of thought doesn't account for the phenomenon of women ducking into men's bathrooms. How come they never duck when I'm in there?

Here is the problem: women simply don't realize that the condition of those urinals, which are used by disgusting men, has nothing whatsoever to do with the condition of your urinal, which will be used by you.

It took some time, but I did eventually manage to convince the Headmistress to permit the installation of a urinal in our previous home. It was the best 3 years of my life. Seriously. So this is my story. Pay attention guys.

It may be a bit of "Weird Science", but there is some scientific logic behind my opinion on this. And its all rooted in something called the"Mascu-mephitic Maxim", which states, simply, that all men are disgusting. Except us, of course. And nothing exemplifies this maxim more than a man standing over a standard bowl-and-tank fixture. Whoever thought THAT design up, obviously didn't account for the marriage of gravity and liquid displacement. It is noisy, and it is messy. Which I wouldn't necessarily care about, except for two issues:

1 - I am, on occasion, forced to actually CLEAN the bathroom. C'mon, admit it - you are too.

2 - It might be tempting for a listener to associate the volume of the noise with the size of the noisemaker. Now I'm not saying this is true. But in my case, I'd rather not face the comparison.

Let's forget the noise issue for one minute, because that might just be >>MY<< little issue. But in terms of the other issue, the problem is that the very design of the receptacle, combined with the act itself, is engineered to make a mess. And the REAL problem here is the juxtaposition of: a)the mess; and b)the furniture-like fixture that people, including us, must actually sit on with their bare behinds. You see what I'm saying?

Like incompetence in the federal government, most folks generally don't think about it too much. Otherwise, there'd be a huge backlash. People would be protesting in the streets - "we're not going to TAKE it anymore!" So my intent here is to help you get the information you need to turn this problem around in your household. I hope that this discussion thread will change the world, one porcelain fixture at a time.

In order to make a scientific comparison of porcelain, several very important constants must be established. In other words, we need to focus on a few measurements. No, not that one. These ones:

Travel - 600 millimeters
Pressure - 18 psi
Volume - 600 milliliters

The first figure represents the average distance of travel. Of course, this depends on the height of the man, the height and capacity of the bowl, and the length of.... well, it depends on a number of variables. Still, you're talking an average of approximately two feet of travel before payload reaches destination.

The second figure represents the average pressure under which the payload, of you will, is delivered to the destination. In other words, it affects the velocity. Again, there are any number of variables involved. Generally, urinologists use something called the Baxter-Shockley scale, so-named for an unlucky gentleman who suffered a two-week blockage due to a kidney stone, and his very unlucky girlfriend who was, for some reason, directly in the line of fire when the thing passed. This scale represents an age curve that peaks at around 25 years, and trails off to a dribble at around 40 years. Still, a good median would be 18psi.

The last figure represents the average amount of payload at the time of delivery. If you're like me, and you refer to your visits as "tinkles", this amount will generally be lower. If, however, you sometimes precede such visits with exclamations like "Woah! I've got to piss like a race horse!", then this amount would tend to be much higher. Given the large variance, 600 milliliters represents a decent average.

Volume and pressure determine duration, but that figure is not relevent to this discussion. There have been times when a couple of seconds gets the job done, and there have been times when I have been able to read entire sports pages, in those facilities that have the courtesy to provide them.

So, we can derive a washroom equation something like S=tpv2. This equation is key to understanding the benefits of the urinal. When it comes to the "S", smaller is better. "S" equals Splashage. We'll be using the "S" factor to shock, disgust, gross-out, and otherwise frighten the begeezus out of the wives, so we get the porcelain we want.

Now I know what you're thinking. And you are exactly correct that this equation represents an ingenious method for demonstrating what happens when a liquid payload is introduced to a liquid destination from a distance of approximately two feet, under moderate pressure. Certainly you are all familiar with the automotive "leak-down test" - where mechanics use antifreeze and a black light to test for engine block leaks. Without question, this is the best way to conduct our experiment to maximum effect. It has the added benefit of making the whole procedure appear more scientific.

Materials Needed:

Standard water bucket - 3 gallon, galvanized, glass or plastic
2 gallons, plus 1 quart of antifreeze
Clean white newsprint
Black Light
Painter's tape
Pressurized garden sprayer
Latex gloves (like the kind the doctor sticks up your butt)
Roll of "Caution" tape - optional (like the stuff cops use to cordon your yard each July 4 when you set the neighborhood on fire with your impressive fireworks display)
Two pair of safety glasses

To prepare for the experiment, line an area of six square feet (6' x 6') with the clean newsprint, using the painter's tape to secure it to the floor. If desired, use the "Caution" tape to cordon off the area (note - this automatically creates a sense that something BAD is happening, which is what you want)

We'll call this area "splash field".

Next, place the bucket in the middle of the splash field, and fill it with the 2 gallons of antifreeze. Next, fill the empty garden sprayer with the quart of antifreeze, and pressurize the tank to 18psi. Put one pair of the safety glasses on and call the wife in.

Now - this is very important - you MUST be dramatic. As dramatically as possible, pull the latex gloves on (a good snap is very impressive), and present your wife with the other pair of safety glasses. The effect of this step cannot be overstated. It must appear that you are handling a toxic substance.

Once again, in dramatic fashion, clear the area of children, pets, and curious onlookers. Stand over the bucket with the sprayer. Adjust the nozzle for steady stream, and hold it at a distance of least 24 inches over the surface of the water. Spray the contents into the bucket. Warning - dramatics in the spraying phase of the experiment, while generally humorous, are not recommended if the intention is to win the wife over.

If, while conducting the actual experiment, the pressure on your sprayer dips below say, 16 psi, stop and charge it back up before continuing. However, be forewarned that stopping to pump up the sprayer detracts from the overall drama, and, quite frankly, might leave your wife with a subconscious feeling that you are, somehow, inadequate.

When the tank is empty, turn off the lights, turn on the black light, and observe the splash pattern. If the experiment was conducted properly, you should see a random pattern in a 2-foot perimeter from the center of the bucket. Show the wife. You should have a urinal in your home within two weeks.

Note - this experiment has been known to fail in homes that have "his" and "her" toilets. Don't fall into this trap! Preparation is the key to avoiding this dilemma. Two weeks prior to the experiment, the "his" toilet must develop some sort of problem that requires ordering a part from the Ukraine. In the interim, you will be forced to use the "her" toilet.

When you see how the installation of a urinal changes your life, you will be overcome with an urge to compensate me in some way. I do take PayPal.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Little Pleasure Hole

I've been reminded recently that I am "straightlaced". Oh reaaalllly? Its also been brought to my attention that blogs should be sexy, because we're all sexual beings, after all. Oh reaaalllly? I mean.... oh.. right.

Anyway, I've decided to open up and show my wild side.

Say hello to my pleasure hole. Yup. I've been workin' this thang 'til I'm sweatin' bullets. You know you've been dying to see it, and you KNOW you want it. Think you can handle it? This baby can take a full 54 inches of pure, unadulterated pleasure, in hundreds of different positions. I LOVE to turn this thing on. And you'll want to watch, won't you? I KNOW how you like to watch.

Hey, I'm talking about my plasma television - get your stinkin' mind out of the gutter already! This hole above the fireplace will hide all the component and optical cables as they snake their way behind the wall to the digital receiver. And when its all hooked up, I'm going to sit back in my La-Z-Boy in my stinkin' underwear, with a beer and some chips, and watch some football. Now THAT'S sexy.

A good day is better than a bad day

When I got the phone call this afternoon that ET's biopsy results were negative, I sat down and sobbed like a little girl. I don't think I could have gone through THAT again, not this soon.

Still not sure what the plan is, whether they'll remove the mass or not. But its a very good day. A very, very good day.

So, its onward, and upward....

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Insulated Carrots

Last night I'd taken a couple guests into the garage to show off my new service panel. They were VERY impressed. I related how I'd used VISIO and Excel to map out every circuit in complete detail before I'd started all the wiring. Now THAT is one surefire way to entertain! I do my best.

But even before the last guests had left, I'd made up my mind that I needed to rewire a good portion of the living room lighting circuit. One dimmer switch can only handle 600 watts, and I'd already decided on 16 recessed canisters. With 50-watt bulbs, that's 200 more watts than the switch could handle PRIOR to nipping off several of the heat-sink tangs in order to fit it into the 3-gang switch box. In other words, I had to split the room in two and separate the canister wiring onto two dimmer switches. Since they're currently on a 4-way switch, the project proved more difficult than meets the eye.

The bottom line is, first thing this morning I started ripping the living room a new one. To gain access to the wiring, I had to carefully dismantle the tongue-and-groove mahogany paneling, labeling it so I could put it all back up when I'm done. Sure, its getting painted eventually, but I needed to take it down without damaging it.

Anyway, remember how I said the Headmistress supports everything I do around here? Well, apparently she draws the line on insulation falling into a hot pan of roasted carrots. Who knew?

Dysfunctional Winter

Growing up in New England, we'd get so much snow that we'd often have our driveway plowed by a front-end loader. The resulting mountains of snow became our playground for the rest of the winter. We'd dig out forts and spend hours in there amassing stockpiles of snowballs that we'd unleash on passing motorists. Our secret weapon? We'd pack each snowball around a chewy nougat center of horse manure. A pile of frozen tootsie poops, if you will.

Or, sometimes we'd just hide in the fort to make out with girls. Yeah, chicks really dug the manure trick.

These days though, large portions of New England might go through the entire month of January without any snowfall. I'm thinking Old Man Winter could use some of the "enhancement drugs" whose advertisements dominate my email inbox, under subject lines like "Separate Yourself From Other Men". (When what they really mean is "function like a normal man". Hey, thanks for the considerate email reminder.)

Anyway, the weather around here lately is like a dream come true - like Spring without the hassle of fertilizing, planting, mowing and cleaning. Sign me up for that! Still, a part of me feels empty when we begin downsizing the activities of Winter. Like tabletop snowmen. Hey, you take what you can get, and make the best of it.

Now THERE is a dude who could use some "enhancement". I feel your pain, Frosty.

Don't mess with the Ponz...

Charles Ponzi was a very creative businessman. His approach to business earned him millions, and allowed him to live like a king for years. Unfortunately, his creativity and success also earned him time in jail, and a penniless death in a charity hospital. His business model resembled a pyramid, where dividends are paid to early investors with the funds received from later investors. Hm. Sounds a LOT like our Social Security System.

I remember those pyramid investment schemes. By the 1970's, the collapse of Ponzi's pyramid was long forgotten, and people were once again investing in them like crazy. Although I knew many who were doing the investing, I never knew anyone who actually received any money. The schemes faded as quickly as they'd appeared, and someone walked off with a LOT of money. But even as recently as 2001 I was getting invitations to invest in one of these schemes - from my super-smart sister Barbara, of all people. She'd been talked into the scheme by her low-life, blood-sucking, good-for-nothing husband. And really, I'm being overly kind. This guy hadn't worked in years, and had his own little pyramid scheme going - luring financially independent women to marry him, care for his kids and pay his bills for a few years. Then pay him alimony.

But enough people are aware of the pitfalls of pyramid investing to avoid it like the plague. To fix this image problem, these schemes have gone upscale, and today its called "Network Marketing". Sounds like a term you might hear in a board room - like "Channel Sales" or "Integrated Vertical Marketing". Sounds like something you might associate with an Ivy-League MBA.

Nah... its just Tupperware.

Recently, my Doctor tried to turn me onto "Network Marketing". She actually wrote me a reminder, on her prescription pad, to go purchase a book called "Multiple Streams of Income". Its one of those "earn money at home part-time" deals. But from my doctor? Sensing my obvious lack of any marketable skills, she must have figured that this was her best shot at getting me into a position to pay my doctor's bills.

There are many "network Marketing" models out there. Avon, Amway, Mary Kay, Arbonne, PartyLite, Pampered Chef, to name a few. The whole thing is based on selling a product to friends and neighbors, then recruiting them into your "organization" to sell for you. You might be recruited as a salesperson (hound your friends to buy the product), or a party host (hound your friends to sell the product), or a marketer (just hound your friends). I really think that most people who do this actually believe they are providing a good product or service, and they have convinced themselves that their friends will all benefit from their efforts. Really. I think they rationalize that their friends actually need this product, and that they're going to buy it somewhere (candles, dish detergent, hand soap, perfume), so why not keep all that money circulating among friends? The problem is that most of these products are purchased using the "just in time" model. I don't know anyone who stockpiles perfume, or buys dish detergent from a catalog. So in order to sell it to your friends, you've gotta be at the right place, at the right time.

We used to have a neighbor who sold Avon. Sitting across the street and observing the way we spend money, she certainly knew that she'd found the right place. Finding the right time, however, was a little more difficult to figure out. So she decided the best way to get our money was to show up at our door EVERY DAY with a catalog. She was determined to be on the scene the next time we developed an urgent need for Derek Jeter's personal line of Eau de Toilette sprays. "Oh, thank goodness you're here! Quick, we have an urgent hygiene situation. Do you take third-party, out-of-state checks?"

Another network marketing model involves sex toys. Ok, now we're getting somewhere. Here is a product that could get interesting. It is, after all, tied to an activity typically associated with an urgent need. But being there at the right time? That might prove to be a bit awkward, especially with neighbors. "Oh, thank goodness you're here! As you can see, I certainly have an urgent need. Wait! WAIT! Come BACK!"

Recently, several of these networks have attempted to recruit my adult daughter to sell for them. She is unemployed - are you seeing a pattern here? Obviously, the only reliable way to avoid these recruiters is to have a real job. Lacking that, my daughter has been solicited to sell everything from perfume to cosmetics to candles. For just a small investment of time and/or money, she could be on a career path to financial independence. Visually, she is standing at a life intersection. Do I get my degree, or do I go sell cosmetics at little cocktail parties? Obviously, there's only one answer to that question, and I intend to make her go to college instead.

People should beware whenever they see promises of making $10,000 per month in your spare time. This breaks the golden rule of network marketing - to be successful, you must sell "part time", not "spare time". And what they mean by "part time" is that if you really, REALLY want to make $10,000 dollars per month, you will, in fact, have a little time to eat and go to the bathroom.

I don't know. To me, the whole thing seems designed to divest a person of all their friends. Unless, of course, you were indeed providing a product, or a service, that truly - and I mean TRULY - benefited your friends. For example, I'd consider a friend to be a real valuable pal if they'd show up at the right place, at the exactly the right time, with a cold amber ale and a hot dog with relish and whole-grain dijon style mustard on a perfectly toasted bun. mmm... SOLD!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Laurel? Hardly.

Ok, so I've been lying all along. And I really need to come clean and set the record straight.

The Headmistress is actually my straight man. She graciously allows me to subject her good name to my twisted sense of humor on these pages. So although I love to portray myself as an unwitting victim of her strong-handed rule of me and this house, the opposite couldn't be more true. I am so very fortunate to have such an understanding wife. One who comes home from a difficult week at work knowing that she has a party to put on the following evening, walks into a completely destroyed living room, and simply gives me a hug. One who leaves a perfectly sound house in the morning, then comes home in the evening to a house that has three or four fewer walls in it - and never, ever complains. One who allows me to do anything to this house that my little heart desires - destruction, construction, design, decorating. She funds it. She approves it. She loves it. She encourages it.

How lucky can a guy get?

postscript - I'd better get back to work before the Headmistress catches me goofing off. Don't tell her I said anything nice about her.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Making do...

Well, looks like the Headmaster is sleeping in the Main Hall.

Guess we'll just have to make the best of it.

All Partied Out

When the Headmistress plans a party, the Headmaster tries to help out as best he can. It is the least I can do, after all the Headmistress does schlep off to work everyday, and her efforts do represent the Academy's entire stream of income. So you can just imagine how she felt - how loved, how supported, how positively blessed she felt - when she arrived home from a difficult week at work, and an even more difficult commute from Virginia, to find that I'd gone through all the trouble of starting a living room remodel project. I even skipped making dinner just to make more progress in my demolition. I mean, there are tarps covering everything in sight, there are gaping holes in the ceiling, through which the room is filled with the cold January air, there is drywall and insulation dust all over EVERYTHING, and there are exposed wires everywhere. Gosh, its enough to make a woman positively blush with pride!

And she certainly did blush. She walked in to the living room, gasped, gaped, staggered, stared for a while, and then ran off to the bedroom. I've never quite seen such a deep color of red in a human face. Wow, it certainly is true that 4" Insulated Small-Aperture Air-tite Recessed Light Housings are a girl's best friend.

Think I'll just set here a spell until she's had a chance to digest it all. I've got a feeling the Headmaster is getting lucky tonight!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dumpin' on Virginia

On the 8th of September, 1862, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the confederate Army of Northern Virginia, entered Maryland on a campaign to lure a disorganized Army of the Potomac away from the Capital and defeat them on their own turf. He carried a document titled "Lee's Proclamation to the People of Maryland". In it, he described his army's actions as an attempt to free Maryland from transgressions committed by the U.S. Government, and asked that Maryland consider aiding them in their efforts. In conclusion, he declared:

"This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be; and, while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will."

Needless to say, he went home empty-handed. (Thanks, in large part, to someone in their ranks dropping Special Order 191 for the Union forces to find. Doh!) Of course, it is no surprise that Fredericktown (today's Frederick) gave them the cold shoulder. So there you have it - even though they apparently agreed on point of secession, if not slavery, the two states still couldn't get along even then. And over the ensuing years the Maryland/Virginia rivalry has flourished.

So which is better? Tough to say. Traffic is a wash - the two worst commuter snarls in the area, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, are 495 in Montgomery County, between 270 and Conn. Ave, and 395 in Arlington, near the District line. Virginia comes out ahead on Business Growth, due in large part to aggressive tort reform. According to a study commissioned by the Wilson Bridge project, Marylanders have longer commutes, and generally leave for work earlier than do Virginians. According to the Washington Post, Maryland receives more press coverage than does Virginia. According to an independent study, Marylanders pay less in taxes. Virginia executes minors (strange factoid). After the Marriott Corporation was wooed by Virginia and decided to stay in Montgomery County, Casper Taylor, the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, said "Our team is red hot. Virginia's team is all shot." So clearly Maryland has the advantage in catchy slogans.

Since I've lived just about everywhere around the Beltway (Alexandria, Arlington, Springfield, Falls Church, Cathedral Heights, Rockville, Crystal City, Huntington, Crofton, Bowie, Highland), and I've worked just about everywhere around the Beltway (Annandale, Shirlington, Marlow Heights, Cherry Hill, Glendale, Herndon, Springfield, Washington D.C., Rockville, Gaithersburg, Laurel, Columbia), I have been on both sides of the struggle. When I lived in Virginia, I bashed Maryland. When I lived in Maryland, I bashed Virginia. And when I lived in the District, I never saw the likes of either, and didn't give a crap.

We've all heard the arguments. [Fill_in_the_blank] has too many drugs and too much crime (check out Va's flag). They pay too much in taxes. There is too much traffic. People there drive like idiots. The roads are confusing. Etc. etc.

In the end, it seems to be a draw. But having straddled both sides of this fence, I feel that there is one distinct advantage that has drawn me to Maryland forever: cops here don't give a crap. I mean, come on! You pretty much have to be hanging out a window firing certain types of automatic weapons to get pulled over. Cops in Virginia are so... cop-like. They're all like "This is the city. Fairfax, Virginia. I carry a badge.". Forget to put your blinker on and you are BUSTED.

And the thing I hate most about Northern Virginia? The "Best In Show" mania they all seem to have with their kids. The competition is FREAKING FIERCE. Whenever we get together with our NoVa friends, its all about junior's accomplishments, the TAG programs he's sailing through, the extracurricular programs he is excelling in, and the college scholarships he is lining up.

Junior is 6.

I show up with my two socially-stunted, ragtag-looking kids, and hide in the corner.

Today I took those kids to the dump for school (actually, we conducted school en-route). Now that's living the life in Maryland. But after talking with the gate attendant, I did take one interesting piece of information away. It seems that all household trash from Howard County's Alpha Ridge Landfill is shipped to Virginia's King George County.

Ha! Take that Virginia!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Don't Judgementate Me

Judgementative (juj-men-ta-tiv)
Origin: unknown
Function: adjective
1: marked by the pronouncement of a formal, authoritatative opinion
2: of, relating to, or involving judgement
3: characterized by a tendency to judge harshly

- Judgementatively [E-] adverb

- more at Condemnativical

Today's school session involved some physics experiments. We wanted to use velocity to predict the range of a moving object, when movement is expressed in 3-dimensional terms. Of course, velocity is defined as the rate of change of distance per unit time, but is generally expressed in a single dimension. Often, trajectory will be used in tandem with velocity to predict range, but we wanted to eliminate the parabolic effects of gravity upon the trajectory of a moving object - in other words, eliminate trajectory altogether by testing the velocity of an object on a level plane.

We began by constructing a launch platform, which consisted of three straight sections of PVC pipe, each with a diameter of 5.08 cm, and a length of 1.219 meters. Next, three projectiles were selected randomly from a box containing a wide variety of objects. Each participant was asked to use their knowledge of the properties of 3D velocity to predict the ultimate outcome of the launch. These projectiles were then simultaneously released down the pipe, results were recorded, and then compared with the Headmaster's prediction of outcome. The process was repeated for several hours.

The Headmaster is pleased to report that he did, in fact, kick some student ass.

(how are we ever going to get the the real Homer?)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Homer's Lesser-Known Works

The headmaster took up reading "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer this evening, trying to get some mid-year inspiration. Somehow we must find a way to get the students from "this is a pencil", to "applied elocutio in How Antiochus the Great lost control of Syria".

Shouldn't be too difficult, right?

When the headmaster got to Chapter 34, "Some People Hate Homer", he had something of an epiphany, since he can certainly relate to Homer. He went straight to his collection of beer bottle caps, and rounded up the students for a rousing game of "Beer Cap Challenge"!

It seems that the Headmaster has been collecting unique beer bottle caps for some time, and is rather proud of his collection. This is a game he made up on a night when his bottle cap collection grew considerably.

Each student reaches into a coffee can full of beer bottle caps, and selects one at random, keeping it hidden from others' view. When all students have made their selection, they deliver them to the Headmaster, who mixes them up, looks them over, and then chooses the best beer of the bunch. Whoever selected that cap gets to keep it. After the entire collection of caps has been depleted, the one with the most bottle caps wins.

Now if that doesn't get them in the mood to study Homer Simpson, the Headmaster doesn't know what will.

One of those days

The Headmaster has locked himself in the laboratory this afternoon. One wonders what happens on those days when the simplest of things - say, a journal entry - seem to take hours. When students forget how to write a date properly. When they forget how to spell the word "T-H-E". When, with pencil in hand, they ask the teacher "how do I erase this?"

Sometimes you just need to begin class by saying "Good morning students. This is a pencil...."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Isn't God's Org-Chart Flat?

Church this morning was less than inspiring. I've become a Rick Laribee brat. 'Cuz if he ain't there, I'm having difficulty getting my God on. Apparently others feel the same way, because the 11:00 service was nearly empty. But still, there were some enlightening moments.

I am no expert in church rituals and etiquette, and even less so in the Episcopalian-flavored varieties. But some things about this church have puzzled me. First, when we arrive we usually have to make our way past a virtual brigade of men and women of the cloth. I'm not sure which cloth though. Or perhaps a better way of phrasing that is I'm unsure what their particular cloth means. They look something like Catholic altar boys. Their garb consists of a white robe worn over street clothes, with a black tab-collar shirt underneath. I see this shirt and I automatically want to say "Hello Fadda". But I just don't know - are they Faddas? And what on earth do I call the women? "Muddas"?

See, that's one of the things I actually like about the Catholic Church - I know my place. I understand who is who, I know how to address them, and I know where I fit into the enormous Catholic org-chart: squarely at the bottom, below and to the right of "Administration and Maintenance".

One of the curious things about these particular people at our church is that they all have the blank stare of a Stepford Wife. On lithium. Their demeanor seems designed to discourage any attempt to make eye contact.

This morning they were milling, as a group, around the nave's entry when we walked in. We must have caught them by surprise because I actually succeeded in making eye contact with one of them. I smiled at him, nodded and mouthed the words "good morning" - it just felt best to merely mouth the greeting, since it was likely that any conversation with this person might require an accompanying bow or curtsy, and in the absence of that, you might be forgiven if you'd only mouthed the words. At any rate, my greeting was received as warmly as one might receive an offering of cheeze whiz, when expecting Boursin. Undaunted, I tried another greeting, in the same fashion, with the unfriendly-looking chap standing next to him. He merely stared through me in such an intense manner that I actually turned around to see what he might be looking at, behind my transparent self.

Finding nothing there, I decided to move on.

These people always travel as one - the entire group. Where one goes, the others follow. During service, they generally congregate with the organist in the north transept. It finally dawned on me, during today's service, that these people were the choir. Well, that explains the empty stare - its connected to their handsome voices. Because they've each received the gift of an angelic voice, they feel as though they're guaranteed a place among the ultimate flock. They don't even try anymore. I personally don't sing in church, because I figure that if God had meant for me to sing in church, he'd have given me one of those voices.

Satisfied that I'd solved that little mystery, I settled in to hear today's gospel reading of John 2:1-11, The Wedding at Cana. Jesus and his disciples are mingling at the wedding feast when the bridgegroom runs out of wine for his guests. No wine at a Jewish celebration?! Mary calls upon her son Jesus to rescue the situation. Like any good son, he initially cops an attitude. Eventually though, he transforms several large vessels of water into wine, and saves the party. The servants bring a saucer of wine to an anxious chief steward, who, upon tasting the wine, remarks to the bridgegroom "Wow! Most people serve the good wine first, and then serve the bad wine after the guests have become drunk. But you serve the good wine now."

Ok! Now here is some scripture that I can relate to. The water had obviously been transformed into Layer Cake Shiraz.

The minister's sermon focused on the symbolism of the vessels overflowing with wine, as related to God's abundance. I was still thinking about that nice Layer Cake, but did manage to catch some of what she was saying. In conclusion, she reflected upon her own relationship to this story of a wedding in Cana, in an allegorical sense. She asked (rhetorically, I later figured out) "Who am I in this story?" Before I could answer her, she went on, concluding that she was, symbolically speaking, the character of Mary. (Doh! I'm glad I didn't speak up, 'cuz I'd have been wrong.)

In the seconds that followed, one could sense, by the sitting-up and squaring of the shoulders, that the choir fancied themselves as perhaps the chief steward, the bridegroom, or maybe even better. Thus, with all the plum roles apparently spoken for, the rest of the congregation was left to assume that they were the drunken guests.

Except for me. I'm well below them, further down and to the right of "Administration and Maintenance".

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Inside my Drawers

Ever since I began to entertain thoughts of being a homeowner, I've always imagined having a library packed with expensive, leather-bound books that I'd never read. The 20' tall bookcases support a sliding ladder for reaching the tallest tomes. You know, to dust them off, or something. An Irish Setter sprawls on an oriental rug in front of the crackling fireplace.

But this is all just backdrop for the REAL centerpiece - the desk. 'Cuz the whole purpose of the room is to showcase the expansive, inlaid mahogany desk where I would sit and calculate my golf handicap and my net worth. The large set of drawers on the right-hand side glide open to reveal my portfolios, a passport and a leather valise with cash. The drawers on the left-hand side would contain some.. obscure important papers - I never really thought that part through. Anyway, this desk would be so solid that special concrete footers would have to be poured under the foundation to support the weight. I'd have to hire an engineering firm just to calculate load distribution and sheer values. In fact, they'd probably have a permanent trailer in the back yard (with a concrete crèche in front of it), to house the engineers.

I was thinking about all this today as I gazed wistfully upon the desk in my bedroom. It is solid mahogany, but there is more of trailer home to this desk than engineering trailer. I got the desk at an auction held by a former employer. It had a busted leg and was missing some hardware, but I got it for a little under $20. I fixed the leg, replaced the hardware, stripped the finish, and coated it with tung oil. For a 20-something, it was a good find. For a 40-something, its beginning to get that aged patina of yard sale material. The tung oil is a distant memory at this point, the hardware is dated, and there's a gouge on the right side where one of the kids ran into it with an axe. (it is fairly alarming that the previous sentence didn't strike me as at all concerning)

Rather than anchoring a room full of expensive leather folios, it barely supports the weight of 7 books arranged haphazardly on its left side. Add in the weight of an artificial poinsettia, two small framed pictures and a candleholder, all illuminated by the glow of a 7-watt accent lamp, and its a miracle that the desk is still standing at all.

A quick inventory of the books finds five that no one in this house has ever read, including one titled "Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Garret A. Hobart, January 10 and 26, 1900." On the inside cover is a small, sepia-infused card imprinted with a picture of someone on a ladder dusting the books at the top of his 20' bookcases, and the words "From the Library of Jim Chandler". When the hell did I do that? I don't even remember where this book came from. I suppose its a good thing I put that card in there though. You know, in case someone ever wants to borrow the book.

Back to the desk. A sharp tug opens the stubborn right-hand drawer (noun, singular form). The following items are revealed inside:

  • A pair of tweezers

  • A single athletic tube sock

  • Some Yu-Gi-Oh cards

  • An eclectic collection of elastic hair bands, most with hair in them

  • A pack of gum, likely from the estate of Garret A. Hobart

I decide not to look in the left-hand drawer.

You know, I suppose I should feel depressed, inadequate, let-down. But really, I don't even care. Now that I find concerning.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Box It Ain't

What with all the talk recently about the superiority of boxed wines, I'm a little hesitant to post a recommendation. But a new wine shop opened up in the Maple Lawn shopping center near Highland. Its called I.M. Wine. LOVE this place! I made this purchase the other day. It breaks the $9.99 rule, but only by 7 bucks. Highly recommended - its One Hundred Percent Pure! I'm going to risk all my credibility and say that its the best wine I've ever tasted. I'm risking it all, baby!

**hollow clinking sound as a single plastic poker chip hits the betting table, followed by an awkward silence**

Recently, our play group was held at Rynn-Mason Preparatory in Columbia. And we all know play group, like Sunday service, is all about the wine. Gloria, Opening Prayer, Creed. Homily. Ok, got it. Uh, what's in the carafe there, Fadda?

Well the Headmistress at Rynn-Mason uncorked a bottle of Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir. Most excellent! Given the duration of curriculum discussions, a bottle of Rodney Strong Cab was then opened. Another winner! Of course, the Academy's endowment won't allow us to hang with that crowd too long.

So it appears that the word "CAKE" on the label is probably an indication of an excellent vintage. For box wine fans, anything by Betty Crocker should do.

And now, let us all face East and bow to the mecca of malolactic fermentation - Sunny Spring Secondary.

Really Plastered

If you have no interest in faux venetian plaster, or anything with the word venetian in front of it, or anything with the word faux in front of the word venetian in front of it, please skip this entry. You have my unending admiration.

For all others, do please read on.

(Thank God we got rid of those losers. Can you imagine?)

So anyway, I guess I lied. The treatment is more difficult than I'd remembered. I think this is due to the fact that time heals old wounds, and I'm a LOT older than I was the last time I tried this.

If you missed the post on applying the plaster, check that out first.

Once you've got all that done, and you've painted it first with a primer and then with an eggshell-finish paint, then you're ready for the glazing. Helpful hint: Where possible, apply the primer and eggshell paint with a roller, not a brush - the end result will be much smoother.

Get the temperature right. Don't let the house be too hot and dry. And make sure there is no draft on the wall where you'll be working. You don't want the glaze drying too fast.

Ok, now you're ready to begin. Having some glaze is a good place to start. I get mine at Lowes. In this case, its American Tradition Translucent Color Glaze, Mocha. Its "Satisfaction Guaranteed!"

You'll need a brush at least 4" wide, a small pail to hold the glaze, and a bunch of cheesecloth. (whatever you do, don't run out of anything in the middle of the job) You'll also need to put a tarp of some sort down on the floor, 'cuz the glaze'll be flying.

Be aware that once you start, you can't stop until you come to a corner. So look at your work area, and strategize the best place to start. Hint: if its a large wall, you may need to take a break at some point - a good place to do that is above a door. This should tell you that large areas are a bitch, so starting with a smaller wall will help you get the hang of things. Now here is the thing about corners - you'll need to tape the opposing wall, so that no glaze gets on it. This is true even if you plan on glazing that wall also, because you don't want to get any glaze on that wall until you are ready to start that wall.

Now here is the part I forgot. You need two people. Don't the best things in life require a partner anyway? Well, it doesn't get any better than faux venetian plaster! Check your Kama Sutra. Can't find a partner? I am really sorry about your situation. You may want to go join the other losers who skipped this post altogether.

Cut the cheesecloth so you have half a dozen or so 3-4' sections, folded over to the size of a large sponge.

If you haven't already worked this one out at some point, you and your partner will have to decide who will assume which position. One will have to be the applicator, and the other will have to be the rubber. As in, rubbing the glaze off, for chrissakes. You'll need to put on some latex gloves before you start.

The applicator begins by slathering the glaze onto the wall. It will look VERY dark.

After the applicator has covered about 3-5 feet, the rubber will have to get involved. By now the glaze that was first applied should be starting to dry. Dry is bad, so you have to work fast at this point. Begin rubbing the glaze off. If it appears that its just wiping right off, stop and let it dry some more. It should wipe off, but still leave a good deal of the mocha color.

Continue wiping until you are satisfied with the look of it. At some point, it may be necessary to discard a soaked piece of cheesecloth and get a new one. When you do this, you'll have to be careful since it will take more glaze off than the previous soaked one. But keep that soaked one handy, 'cuz you may need it to "add" more color as you go. The more you rub, the better it is. I mean, you know, the better it will look. So keep going over it, while minding not to let the leading edge of your work dry out - in other words, you've got to keep going.

Just keep working it, trying to keep up with your partner. You know, the one applying the glaze. If you need to stop, do it above a door where it will be less noticable. And it will be noticable, so try to keep going - if people can sail solo across the Atlantic, you can make it to that damn corner with a partner.

The great thing about this is that it doesn't have to be perfect - in fact, imperfections make it better. The finished product should look something like this (hand inserted for scale).

Sigh... a cigarette would be great right about now.

Go To Your Room!

The Headmaster has observed that no two school days are alike. It isn't entirely clear what the variables are, but some combination of food (or lack thereof), drink (or lack thereof), drugs (or lack thereof) and sleep (or lack thereof) - on the part of the students and the Headmaster - conspires to set the tone for the day.

Some days, ain't nothin' workin'. No one is focusing, and everyone is pissed. Only chemistry can fix that situation, and on those days you'll find the Headmaster checking the inventory of the laboratory's chemical locker. Fortunately, we don't have too many of those days. Usually someone is on the ball, and that's enough to build on. But when one of the students is completely zoned out, what to do?

Back in the "Real World", with 20-30 students, teachers simply can't stop to deal with this situation. If the teacher did stop to call one of them out or put them on the spot, that student invariably emerges from the confrontation as a hero to the rest of the class. Therefore, as the student, you are allowed to let your mind wander to whatever happy place it seeks; you're permitted to check out. Sure, it eventually catches up with you, and you pay the price. But for today, in the here and now, relaaaaax - go ahead and check out.

This real world method - putting the decision in the student's hands - has its advantages and disadvantages. Over the long run, hopefully the student learns to temper his/her distractions. They'll learn how to overcome them and stay focused. This certainly promotes responsibility. Of course, it can also be disastrous. Too much time goes by, too much material is missed, and the parents might not even be aware until its too late. Back in the day, the Headmaster certainly attended his share of remedial math and english classes.

Can you imagine if parents could see how their kids behaved in class? What if, for example, a parent could navigate to the class webcam and see their kid snoozing with his head on the desk? Talk about getting cut down at the knees when you arrive home and walk through the door. Or even better, what if the parents were watching from behind a two-way mirror? Think of the embarrassment of having your mom march into your class and whack you on the back of the head.

That's why, here at the Academy, things aren't quite as simple as the real world. If a student is permitted to check out, chaos rules. Sure, the teacher knows the student is distracted, but so does the parent. And the parent can react immediately. That poses a unique problem for the Headmaster, since he shares both roles. And around here, we do assume roles. We've been role-playing since the very beginning, and we continue to this day. Dad gets them ready for school, then kisses them goodbye and waves as they walk around the corner to the classroom. The next person to enter the classroom is the Headmaster.

"Good morning students."
"Good morning teacher."

Is that weird, or what? Somehow, it helps us shift our paradigm from parent/child to teacher/student. And they will call me "teacher" for the duration of the school day. When classes are over, they'll exit the classroom and head "home". The next person they see is Daddy. And we'll actually talk about their school day.

Sounds great, if not a little strange. But a real problem arises when discipline is required. Usually, the Headmaster can handle it. But sometimes, Dad has to get involved. And the transition isn't always a smooth one. Take yesterday for example. One of the students simply would not focus, and everything seemed to be very funny to him. He began to distract the one student who was paying attention. The poor Headmaster tried to rectify the situation time and again, but alas, he failed. Remember those scenes from "Incredible Hulk" when David Banner would cower behind a bookcase, get transformed, and emerge as a big green monster? Well, its kinda like that, but without the cowering part, and without the bookcase. Its pretty instantaneous.


Is that bad? Well, of course it is, dumbass. Hey, think you've got a better way? That's awesome, 'cuz the Academy is accepting applications for teaching positions. The hours are great, but the pay sucks.

The Headmaster wishes students came with a remote control. Student acting a little sluggish? Just press the fast-forward button. Got a Ritalin candidate on your hands? Slow-Play works great. Are they getting on your nerves? Hit Pause. Having a rough spot in the day? Press the Skip button and see if it gets any better. Having a particularly GOOD day? Hit REC, then play it back during the review session with the Howard County Review Board.

Hey, when all else fails, just hit the Smart button.

postscript - When a student of the Academy is sent back to the dorms, there are no video games for the rest of the day. Ooh, that's gotta hurt.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


On an earlier post, I mentioned that I'd noticed someone from Germany hitting the Academy's blog, having navigated there from a porn television blog. I must clear up three things.

1. I can't tell who is hitting my site. For example, everyone from this area looks virtually the same, except for IP address. And while I love y'all, I don't have your IP addresses on speed-dial.

2. The referring link only shows me where someone is coming from when they hit my site from So, for example, I can see that someone is navigating to my blog from (yes, do go check that blog out), but not from actual porn sites. Really. I've tested this extensively. In fact, its virtually all I've been doing for the past several days.

3. I had to go back and modify that post. It seems that folks in Europe searching for the blog in question were being directed to my post. And while there is an element of humor in the contrast, that was just too cruel. Talk about buzz kill.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more testing to do.

Extra Credit - do you know which 80's album cover featured the picture above?