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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in aj2x's LiveJournal:

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Friday, May 14th, 2010
5:16 pm
I'm not dead yet
Oh, my! How time does go by. Over a year since my last post, and SO much has happened. Lessee, a quick rundown of the "high" points.

I ruptured a disk in my back, putting me in bed for over a month, and with a slow return to normalcy.
My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage zero), and is now recovering from a mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction. Cancer free now! Woohoo!
My Goggomobil is being reassembled by a knowledgible mechanic in Durham NH, so I hope to be able to drive it again this summer.
I replaced my 2000 Ford Focus with a 2009 Corolla, giving the Focus to my niece in SC.

We are very well blessed with wonderful friends at church and work, and with an excellent health insurance plan. Of course it also helps to live in an area with so many wonderful hospitals and care-providers.

I continue to doodle cartoon figures at random times and places, and have not entirely abandoned the idea of a comic strip, but not much has advanced on it either. A tall, thin, goofy sort of weatherman has been added to the cast, along with his little dog, Drizzle.

OK, more later. Not too much later, I hope!

Current Mood: busy
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
10:13 am
Springtime in New England
Here it is, not even noon, and it's already 80 degrees out! The weekend was lovely, with temps in the 70s and mostly clear skies here in the Boston area, so everyone arrived back at work with some (red) color in their skin (except me; I spent the weekend assisting at the Wisdom course at Landmark Education). We New Englanders embrace any warm weather days after a long dark winter. But this is too much, too early! We know we will pay for it (it'll probably snow by Thursday!), but we don't care. The trees have greened up astonishingly fast, greedily absorbing all this sun and photosynthesizing like crazy. Last night I changed the oil and charged the battery in the lawn mower, since the yard (the back yard at least) is beginning to look shaggy.

Edit! It's now early afternoon and we're pushing 90! Nice little breeze and low humidity, though. And the ground is still cool, so it doesn't feel so hot out, like in the dead of summer.

Current Mood: hot

Friday, April 24th, 2009
4:09 pm
A month ago I went to the first New England Webcomic Weekend out in EastHampton MA. It started as a little get-together by several western-Massachusetts webcomic artists who invited several of their favorite fellows. Those folks started talking it up on their comic sites and the whole thing snowballed into quite an impressive first-ever webcomic-only convention. There were perhaps 70 webcomic creators there, and lots of fans. I was not quite the oldest there (I found one guy who was 63!) but most were 30-40 years my junior, and therefore full of energy and enthusiasm. I met several of the artists I follow, and learned about a whole lot more.

I am not an aspiring comic artist. Well, not quite. As I lurch and crawl forward (I hope) in my ability to draw, I've held that I lack the one thing that it seems to me motivates all those artists I watch -- a story to tell. All the comics have some story to convey, whether one-panel gags or epic adventures. Indeed, several comic artists seem to be positively compelled to tell their characters' story, whether they can draw (or, alas, write!) well or not, churning out pages of panels. No such compulsion arose in me.

As I learned when I did the Landmark Forum 20-some years ago, "I wonder what other lies I've been making up about me?" At NEWW I had supper with CD Rudd, who does the "SailorSun.org" comic, and in the course of conversation with him found the beginnings of a story to tell. He encouraged me to flesh it out, and complimented me on my sketches, giving me some hope that, while I'm still not inclined to do a full-fledged webcomic, I might just be able to do something along those lines.

The idea is for a comic based in a small, rather hardscrabble TV station, with a small cast of characters interacting. The initial gags will be based on my experiences just out of college at WFMJ-TV, plus other TV-, workplace-, and relationship-related ideas I can dredge up or invent. As much as I admire some of the quirkier character ideas I've seen (Steve, for example, in SailorSun, exists only in the space just above the comic panel, is never seen but is fully interacted with by other characters), I think mine will be pretty conventional, though it'll be interesting to see how they develop. One already is fleshing out; a twenty-something woman who as "floor director" (making sure the set, props and cameras are in place and the talent knows where to look) dresses in sweats and nondescript clothes and wears her hair in a ponytail, then when she adds the job of "director" (running a program in the control room) upgrades her look to pantsuits and a bun/french roll, and finally is seen off duty at a club with her hair down and sexy skirts and dresses. That should be interesting to draw and write.

In the meantime, I post here now a screen capture of the webcomics that I now follow. In the original the icons are all links, but this photo is just for illustrative purposes. I might follow up with a link to a fully-functional version.

Current Mood: geeky
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
5:00 pm
End of my 60th year
Today's my birthday -- the calendar says I'm 61 now, though I'm not convinced that there's not been some kind of bookkeeping error. I still retain an awful lot of traits I remember from my teens and 20s, and my "mental age" for myself is perhaps 28. My body, however, likes to remind me of the passage of time. Lately I've had what I think is sciatica -- a painful pinched nerve in my right hip that makes itself felt all the way down to my foot. Physical therapy might well be in my near future.

My sister and my wife both independently got me birthday cards today that are very uplifting and encouraging. This is exactly what I needed! A tough problem at work (excessive unwanted radiation from the camera head of a new HD camera) had resisted all my attempts to fix it, and had gotten me down. So those cards were a real tonic to my spirits. God is watching out for me through those I love!

Current Mood: thankful
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
12:49 pm
Ford Focus muffler marathon
My 2000 Ford Focus now has over 100,000 miles on it. Amazingly, it still has its original muffler and tailpipe! The tailpipe, as I've mentioned before, shows no rust and no soot inside -- it's still clean after all these miles. While the car has had a few mechanical difficulties (early failure of blower motor switch, broken front spring, ignition switch failure, and a couple recalls), only the ignition switch kept me from driving it. Quite reliable and comfortable overall. I'd be inclined to buy another Ford, if I were in the market.

Current Mood: okay
Monday, April 13th, 2009
11:12 am
Oh, it's been a year!...
54 weeks since my last entry here! I've not forgotten LJ, but all sorts of things have happened.

The main one, is that my dad died a year ago tomorrow. It was not a pretty or graceful death (if any can be, outside of fiction) -- he'd been dying, and knew it well, for months. Shortly after Christmas 2007 he'd had to go back to the hospital, and when he returned to my sister's house in January, it was to die. That Christmas was the last time he was able to sit in a chair, or move on his own (painfully, slowly, with a walker). I went to see and care for him for several days in March, and he was mostly unable then to do much for himself, though he managed to keep his spirits up for at least a few hours a day. My sister and brother in law (saints!) said he fell into depression and prayed to die many times, but would put on a good face for visitors. In his last weeks he essentially stopped eating. He held onto life longer than even he wanted to.

I was in Las Vegas when the event occurred, at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. The not-unexpected news came through a borrowed cellphone while talking with a vendor of video-processing equipment. I spent another hour or so at the show and then went back to the hotel and prepared to return home and then down to South Carolina (where my sister lives). The forced gaiety of 'Vegas, which has been less and less interesting to me each time I visit, became all gray and pale that last night there. It is an interesting place, so I sorta hope I haven't lost all desire to revisit someday.

The intervening year without dad has been up and down. We've settled his estate, mostly, though there are still some bits and pieces that we don't know what to do with -- they'll rattle around in drawers and storage boxes for years, I bet. I miss him, though the moments of "oh, he's not around anymore" are fewer and fewer. Yesterday would have been my mom's 88th birthday, and my memories of her have long faded into the background. So it will no doubt be with dad -- life goes on.

Current Mood: contemplative
Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
4:40 pm
End of a personal era
I have retired my briefcase.

It has been my faithful companion for almost 23 years, a gift to me from my coworkers at North American Philips ('Magnavox') when I left that job. The paper with everyone's signature was still in the (otherwise rarely used) pocket in the lid, the ink a little smeary from age (or maybe the beer spilled on it at my going-away party). It was a very nice briefcase, hard-sided and covered with faux leather that still looks good. The handle was the weak spot in its design: for the last several years I have used a succession of nylon tie-wraps to replace one side of the handle's attachment. The original cast metal fitting wore through from constant motion of the handle, and I could see that the other side was wearing similarly, though for some reason, more slowly.

It was a heavy case, so just carrying it each day was a bit of exercise. It was my "portable morass" -- the long-term repository for magazines, articles, letters, drawings and papers of all sorts. All carried back and forth to work each day, along with my lunch and a now-rarely-used Day Runner (still has the 2005 pages).

I've replaced it with a MUCH lighter old model, picked up for $3 at the local Salvation Army store. Just plain molded plastic, a little smaller in interior volume. Considering how lightly used the old one was, this should be more than adequate.
Friday, March 14th, 2008
10:08 am
New old radio
I have a lot of old radios. As an electrical engineer, long-time Ham Radio enthusiast, and history-of-technology buff, it was probably inevitable. Mostly I've confined myself to 1930s-era table models whose works and cabinets are within my abilities to restore. Several old radios have indeed been bought, restored and resold at a profit by me over the years. Many more haven't. Some are just nice to look at, and some hold Possibilities.

This week I saw an ad on the local Craigslist site for an Atwater Kent radio for only $25. The picture was of a handsome 1930-ish console. No model number or other info. I Googled "atwater kent console" and doggone if the first listing wasn't exactly that radio -- a 1930 model 70, with a type L chassis. Now, just about any Atwater Kent is worth more than $25. And while I certainly don't need another big ol' console, such radios often contain tubes that are worth more than that. The L chassis has two type 45 power triode tubes that typically retail for more than $30 each, used. So if the tubes were in this old radio, it would be worth the purchase.

So I trekked down to Plymouth after work -- about an hour's drive -- and met with the seller. He'd gotten the radio in an estate clean-out, and was only interested in getting it out of his truck. Well, the thing is gorgeous! The cabinet is in nearly perfect condition, or as near as you'd expect a 78-year-old piece of wood furniture to be. There are just a few minor scratches which should fade under a little polishing. The radio chassis is complete, though dusty, and the speaker (a separate assembly the size of a football helmet, but heavier) looks like new. The grill cloth is still tight and solid. My wife likes it so much that she's suggested it find a place in the living room!

So far I haven't powered it up, or even tested the tubes. But it looks like it will join my Philco 65 console (a lesser radio, in need of more cabinet work, but only $20 from Craigslist) in my small pantheon of well-received old-radio bargains.

Current Mood: satisfied
Friday, February 22nd, 2008
11:29 am
Best ad line
Last night when I got home my wife was still chuckling over an ad she saw on TV. She said the tag line almost made her fall out of her chair laughing: "The most sophisticated piece of technology you will ever pee on." It's for a home pregnancy test kit. The use of the word "pee" in a TV ad surely gets your attention, since it's not considered polite usage, and of course our uptight broadcast TV values require politeness. Never mind that we pretty much all use the word (and worse) in regular speech, it still has shock value coming from the video box. Sorta reminds me of a 3 or 4 year old who suddenly discovers the hilarious shock value of "poo poo" or "wee wee" (or whatever youngsters are saying nowadays -- I probably don't want to know). Bodily functions are always good for a (nervous) laugh.

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, February 6th, 2008
11:30 am
Today's rant -- headlights
OK, long time since last entry. I acknowledge my complete lack of updates. No excuses.

Lately some things have stirred my ire (as much as this mild-mannered person ever gets stirred up), and today's irritation is People Who Don't Turn On Their Headlights.

Of course I don't mean those who forget to turn them on when leaving brightly-lit parking areas at night -- they usually realize their error pretty quickly and correct it. I'm talking about those who fail to turn on their car's lights when weather conditions make visibility sub-par. For example, this morning's commute was under dark gray skies, with rain and some fog. Most of the cars had their headlights on, as is appropriate, but some didn't. Those cars are nearly invisible against a wet gray road -- indeed, sometimes I only knew a car was there because it was silhouetted by other cars' lights. Now, there usually was enough light to see where I was driving, even when the rain was heavy, so I didn't need my headlights, and I suspect that would be the argument of the drivers of those non-lighted vehicles. But I want to be seen as well as see, so that others can avoid hitting me when pulling out into traffic, or passing, etc. And I want those other folks to be visible too, so that I don't hit them (though some deserve it!).

So, to all you who fail to turn on your car's lights when it's raining, or gloomy, or foggy:

Thank you for you time and attention.

Current Mood: cranky
Thursday, August 9th, 2007
11:37 am
Heehee -- I got to play with some of my oldest engineering tools today. I'm doing a test layout for a very small printed circuit board whose many traces need to be carefully mapped out to scale. The main elements are rectangular (connectors) but the board is round (a 0.9 inch diameter disk). So I got out my Gramercy M08A drawing set, bought in 1966 as a freshman engineering student at the University of Cincinnati. Two compasses, a caliper, a few extension arms, a mechanical drawing pencil and several pens and nibs, all in a hard plastic carrying case. The foam in the lid is deteriorating now but it still holds everything in place.

This is just about the only stuff I still have from my freshman year in college. There may be some pictures or even a notebook but not much else. And nothing else from that long ago remains as useful.

Current Mood: pleased
Thursday, July 5th, 2007
9:10 am
A Rant
Well, as much of a rant as I usually muster anyway...

The local post office in Westborough has a far-too-lax postmaster. For the 5 years I've worked in that town, at the same office building, the letter carrier has arrived wearing whatever he wants. No hint of a uniform or other professional attire. He (and it's always been a guy that I've seen) arrives in a Post Office truck, carrying a tub of mail which he puts in our reception area or our cubby in the building's mailbox matrix. He collects the mail from the communal mailbox and drives away. All pretty ordinary, except that there is nothing on him to identify him as a postal employee. He could be any schlub off the street, or (for the paranoid) a terrorist, placing bombs and stealing checks and stuff. It is just unprofessional and a lousy reflection on the Postal Service in particular and the US government in general. (And God knows we don't need any more of that!)

I know that it's a poor (and unproductive) practice to complain about something if it's not to someone who can actually do something about it. So I might just copy and refine this rant and mail (!) it to the local Postmaster.
Friday, June 22nd, 2007
8:55 am
Two men who have made an impact on me, in very different ways, passed away in the last week.

Don Herbert, who was a big part of my weekly television viewing as a youngster, died several days ago. He was Mr. Wizard, of the Watch Mr. Wizard science-for-kids TV show in the 1950s. I was a very faithful viewer, and I'm sure his explanations of science principals had a lot to do with my love for learning how things work, and for my career in engineering. He did a great job of explaining how things worked in dramatic and yet graspable fashion, and it may be that my own decent ability to explain things to "civilians" owes much to him and his TV show. As I recall, the program was sponsored by a cereal company, and began with a child coming to his door to see what Mr. Wizard was doing. He'd start off with a flashy little demo or a probing question, and then go through the background and processes to re-create or illustrate it. Then each episode ended with some little gimick that said "Time to go home." It was pretty captivating for me.

The other man was Bob Evans, the founder of the eponymous restaurant chain (590 stores now, in 18 states; not including Massachusetts, alas). Though I didn't discover his restaurants until the late 1970s, I fell in love with them, and particularly a simple, signature dish: biscuits and sausage gravy. Biscuits in my own family were just an alternate form of bread, often from a Pillsbury tube or a box of Bisquick. At Bob Evans' Restaurants they were a whole 'nother thing; slightly crispy outside with a fluffy yet doughy center, sweetly buttery and redolent of good ol' hard wheat flour, and always warm-from-the-oven fresh. And while Bob Evans sausage itself was only OK, their sausage gravy remains the gold standard for me -- creamy, full flavored, just the right amount of meat bits, never greasy or gritty. When I lived in Tennessee, a few years after I first discovered Bob Evans sausage gravy, I was constantly disappointed in the the "authentic Southern" versions I found, which were usually thin in flavor, pasty and altogether lacking in character. That rich Ohio recipe has spoiled me forever.
Monday, June 11th, 2007
9:42 am
Sometimes I actually think I might possibly be getting a hint of the hang of this cartooning thing. I doodle in the margins of papers at work and in the oder of service bulletin at church -- this is my practice ground. Occasionally some come out pretty well.

When I allow myself to swing out a bit things work OK. Trying to capture a realistic picture of someone is less successful. I've not got the eye for caricature yet. I do find myself now looking for cartoon styles that I might copy -- simple but expressive styles -- and seeing glimpses of how I might render a person's eyes more-or-less accurately in cartoon style. Interesting.
Thursday, June 7th, 2007
10:45 am
Trader Joe's
I have a couple of favorite items from the "alternative" grocery store, Trader Joe's. One I've used for years, and the other is newly discovered.

Trader Joe's Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette salad dressing is by far the tastiest fat free salad covering I've found. Cheap, too. The balsamic vinegar flavor is quite good, and there don't seem to be any off-flavors. Highly recommended.

My latest discovery makes me roll my eyes in pleasure. Sometimes I have to wipe them if I eat too much. It's Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise. Just delightful! So far I've only used it to help moisten tuna salad sandwiches, but it clearly belongs with lots of fish dishes. Chicken, too, probably. I'll have to experiment boldly with this ever-so-delectable condiment.
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
12:35 pm
The cost of things
I went to Wal-Mart the other day for some brake fluid for the Goggomobil (yeah, it's almost back on its wheels!) and noticed a stack of Haier air conditioners. Little window units, white steel and plastic, 5000 BTUs, $99. I stopped and looked a moment and was flung back nearly 40 years. I was moving into the fraternity house (TKE) at the University of Cincinnati for summer term (I was on the Section 2 co-op program schedule, so I worked Fall and Spring, and went to class Summer and Winter), and in anticipation of the usual hot and humid Ohio River Valley summer, went looking for an air conditioner. Sears had a store about a half mile from the campus, and was the likeliest source of such devices that I knew. And there they were, a stack of 5000 BTU window air conditioners, $100 each. They were off white (maybe almond) and had some fake wood trim, but were otherwise very like the Haier units at Wal-Mart. And the same price! After 40 years, these entry-level air conditioners are still selling for the same $100 price point! The Haier ones may well be better than the Sears units, at least in terms of efficiency and use of materials, perhaps performance too (I remember that our little overworked unit would occasionally completely encrust its coils with ice).

Such is the power of the market and the advance of technology. As a collector and student of early television technology, I am still amazed that the entry-level TV sets of the late 1940s sold for about the same number of dollars as TV sets today, nearly 60 years later. In about 1948 Pilot brought out the first TV set to sell for under $100. It had a 3-inch screen in a "portable" cabinet the size of a suitcase. Black and white of course. Today your $100 might buy a pocket-sized battery-powered LCD color TV of similar screen size, or half-a-dozen little monochrome CRT sets with 5- or 6-inch screens. The $200 price point is even more dramatic.

These examples of course just compare the dollar price, not the value. In 1968 that $100 was worth maybe 6 or 8 times what it is today, and the 1948 value would be 10 or 15 times greater. (These are my "gut feel" numbers, not a scientific measure of inflation. YMMV.) When I cringe a bit at the cost of a HDTV set, I stop and calculate what the then-new television technology cost in real terms back when I was a toddler and it seems much more reasonable.
Monday, June 4th, 2007
9:12 am
A test post, since all my many attempts to post last Friday timed out or were otherwise rejected.
Thursday, May 31st, 2007
8:53 am
The lesson for this weekend (long Memorial Day weekend) was: Clean Your Filters.

Of the few Things That Must Be Done This Weekend that my wife set before me (principal of which was Celebrate Our Anniversary), two involved the laundry/old bathroom area of the house. She's been complaining for a couple weeks now that the clothes dryer part of our new washer-dryer is just getting slower and slower. She's had to reduce the size of the loads and still wait for over an hour for cotton things like jeans to dry. We've been not too satisfied with its performance from the beginning (the Sears repairman has been here twice already), and the contractor's cavalier attitude toward vent pipes seemed like a contributing factor to long drying times.

So I pulled apart the access panels and disassembled the dryer's exhaust. We ran the vacuum cleaner hose up the vent pipe as far as we could (it goes up, through the roof), which wasn't very far, and found only little bits of lint -- no big clog. I then went up in the attic and disconnected the flexible vent between the attic floor and the roof and looked down the pipe -- all clean, though the attachment point to the dryer had a jagged chunk of metal partly occluding the flow. I couldn't see anything looking up toward the roof vent.

As the last place to look, I got the binoculars and went out to see if I could discern anything about the roof vent. There were two vents on the roof in about the right place, both low black metal things. Ah, right -- one is for the dryer, the other is for the vent fan in the old bathroom. Focussing on each vent's outlet, the difference was obvious -- one was gray and the other black. I got the ladder out, climbed up on the roof and after a moment's fiddling with the anti-vermin screen, removed a plug of compacted lint from the screen of the dryer vent. It was about a quarter-inch thick, and very solid -- like homemade felt. A very effective plug.

We surmised that all that lint got past the built-in lint trap when we were trying out a pair of spiky balls that are supposed to be a non-chemical alternative to clothes softeners. (Like these.) They did make the clothes soft, but made so much noise and generated so much lint that we figured that they'd beat the clothes to dust in short order. They'll go in the yard sale.

The other little chore was the faucet in the old bathroom. It's a new single-handle type I installed on the old sink when the new bathroom was completed. Kay said it made a clunk the other day, and now only a trickle of water came out. I looked up the construction and repair of that type of faucet on the Internet -- where all the sites said that these types almost never fail. Naturally we couldn't find the receipt for the faucet (which we only bought, probably at Lowe's, maybe 4 months ago). I went to Lowe's to see what model looked like ours, and what replacement parts were available. The Peerless/Delta repair parts display was large but not organized by faucet model number. I thumbed through the rather generic How To Fix It booklet attached to the display and noted the exploded diagram's parts.

Back home, I turned off the supply lines under the sink and disassembled the faucet. It came apart easily (no years of accumulated corrosion!) and soon I was looking at the innards. No obvious breakage anywhere. But the little cavity that held the valve parts was full of water and not draining out the spigot. Hmmm. What did that little booklet say about low water flow? "Remove and clean the aerator." So I got a cap-snaffler from the kitchen and unscrewed the aerator to find it completely clogged with bits of crumbling black rubber. That doggone aerator had 7 parts to it, including three layers of screen, all of which had rubber granules in the various passages.

The rubber detritus removed, I reassembled the faucet, and all is working well again. I conjecture that the rubber came from the old original shutoff valves, which have gotten a workout in the last year -- I've changed that faucet three times!

So, the lesson is clear -- clean the filters first! Even if you don't know you have them!

Current Mood: accomplished
Friday, April 13th, 2007
1:01 pm
More on the house down the street
Well, despite cold and rain, the work is proceeding nicely on that house. It's a 2-1/2 story affair, rather square, but with the standard gable roof. My wife and I walked over the other evening for a closer look. It's full of oddities, in our eyes. The left side has only one window, on the top floor, and it looks almost like a door in size and shape. The right side of the house (where the original house's attached garage began) is all framed and sheathed, with an opening for a door at the 2nd floor. The sheathing implies that wall is exterior, yet there's 20-odd feet of pad still to be built upon to the right, and likely rooflines would cut mighty close to (if not through) that framed doorway. What we can see of interior framing looks fairly conventional, but the kitchen looks like it's very long and skinny, stretching across the whole back of the house, with clumsy-looking access. Oh well.
Wednesday, April 4th, 2007
9:40 am
Easter Week
Our church (Presbyterian Church in Sudbury) has services every day during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday (celebrating Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem) to Easter Sunday (celebrating His resurrection from the dead). My wife and I try to attend each day's service (mostly they are evening services) -- the change in daily living patterns is interesting and worthwhile. And our pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill McIvor, is a pretty good preacher, so I find the short daily sermon to be a blessing. God knows I need it!
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