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Lip Service

So I continue to play in a concert band.  We’re busily rehearsing for a holiday concert on Sunday, 12/20, and the trumpets just have a ton of playing to do.  Stamina could definitely be an issue, so I’ve been practicing at home a little bit longer, and working to extend my comfortable range a bit higher.  The basement spiders should be hibernating now, so I don’t think I’m disturbing their ecosystem.

Another amusing director quote: Anita, the associate director, was rehearsing a piece we’re playing called Three Klezmer Miniatures.  In places there are intricate rhythms that need to be traded back and forth between sections, and the other night we started out a little out of sync.  She stopped the band and said, “If anyone were dancing to you guys, they’d be hurting themselves.”

To get you in the mood, here’s the piece we’ll be starting our concert with (again, not our band):

Just Checking

Ducking in here to see if any pipes have burst during this cold wave.  Since the door was frozen shut, I’m thinking the property manager has neglected it (as have I).

I just looked up my last post.  I’d completely forgotten what I wrote about last.  In retrospect, it looks like my Macbook battery died and never recovered.  Well, it’s still sick, but I’ve been mostly plugged in, so it’s on life support.  Federal death panels may soon intervene, as I’m traveling again Friday.

We had a nice, relaxing time in South Carolina, aided greatly by the Buckeyes’  continued dominance over Michigan.  It’s been so long since they’ve beaten us that I wonder if we should invite counselors to the oyster roast in mufti, to cosset us in the event that we ever lose to them again.

The weather was cool, but mostly sunny.  On Friday, we embarked on a cruise out to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began when the Union garrison there was forced to surrender it.  It seems the fort’s significance was more symbolic than strategic, though it did help guard the mouth of Charleston harbor.  It seems to have spent most of its existence as rubble.  What you see in the pics below is brickwork in interesting patterns, mostly the result of a rebuild after the Civil War (click to enlarge):

On Saturday, the game was watched, some fish were caught in my brother’s pond, and oysters were finally roasted.  Another pleasant November weekend in the Low Country.

Just Because I Can

I just have to do this.  I’m using the internet for the first time in flight -Delta is offering wifi service on some of its planes, and has a free promotion going.  I’m impressed with  the speed/bandwidth - I really wasn’t expecting much more than dial-up speed.

I’m on my way from Seattle to Atlanta, and then on to Charleston for our annual oyster roast and Ohio State-Michigan gamewatch at my brother’s place, so this is pretty much the All-Buckeye Blog for the rest of the weekend.  The weather in Charleston looks to be high 60s/low 70s, maybe a little rain on Saturday.  Sounds good compared to the conditions we were walking around in last night - high winds and chilly rain driving horizontally at us.

While paging through some photos of my OSU marching band reunion game on the band’s website, I came across this one of me as my row enters the stadium.  I’m the one with sunglasses and the fanny pack laden with my camera.  I’m chagrined to be leaning forward a little too much (click to enlarge):

I’ve got my horn along on this trip, and my youngest brother and I just might find ourselves playing fight songs in our middle brother’s back forty.

OK, my dang Macbook battery is dying after only an hour.  It’s the only thing I dislike about this thing.  Better post this.  More from the Low Country.

Affluence Gives Way To Effluents

“I think we’re on the cusp of a plumbing disaster.”

The voice on the phone wasn’t FEMA (they wouldn’t have been in on the front end); nor was it the Corps of Engineers warning about imminent flooding in the Green River valley;  it was my son and anchor tenant, calling last Sunday morning from my new rental house

Turned out that sewage had backed up into the downstairs shower and was recalcitrant about leaving.  I went right over, and we used a plunger and discussed various middling measures involving Drano and a rented snake, but I knew that the real solution was going to involve more sweeping action.

That this was happening on the very day that our last tenant was moving in was particularly inauspicious; that it was happening on a Sunday seemed downright mean. Amid a small army of people moving enough stuff in that I wondered if our new tenant was downsizing from something the size of the Biltmore estate, I was dialing around unsuccessfully trying to find a plumber who worked on Sunday.  This was also the day I’d selected to bring everyone’s leases over to be signed.  My mention of a “plumbing surcharge” did not immediately elicit chuckles.

Finally, one of the three companies that had promised to get back to me called and said he’d be there within the hour.   Upfront, he said the weekend rate was $225 for the first hour,  $185 for each hour thereafter.  I was thinking that we were in for 4 hours at a minimum, and I was indeed regretting that I hadn’t squeezed every last dollar out of the monthly rents.

Our savior arrived as promised.  We located the main cleanout to the side sewer (since we’d only owned the place for a month, I only had a vague idea where it was), and he went to work, lowering an infrared camera into the murk to try to disclose the problem.  As I had suspected, the culprit was roots pushing into the seams between pipe segments in the side sewer.  I helped our guy heave a 300-lb piece of equipment down the narrow stairs, and he started hacking his way  through the side sewer towards the street.

Upstairs, meanwhile, the moving party had finished unloading the several vehicles they’d arrived in, and begun to actually party, procuring beer and pizza.  This, as it turns out, is a circumstance that is inherently incompatible with plumbing that cannot be used.

Happily, our friend finished his task in an hour and a half, and left me with a thrilling VHS tape of a trip down my side sewer and a bill for $350.  I felt fortunate, both for the size of the bill and that the facilities became operational just as the revelers were reaching their various capacities.  It shot the day, but it gave me an opportunity to show that I was going to be a responsive landlord.

Morning in Port Townsend

click to enlarge

Totally Rocks!

Our kid has a cameo in an article about climbing at Index, WA in the October issue of Climbing Magazine.  He gets his abs from his mom.  But not the chest hair, so much:

Teaser Elucidated

So the “other” bit of personal business that I mentioned in my previous post is, we bought a rental house.  I’d been thinking about it ever since house prices started to decline, thinking that we’re due for some heavy inflation, and rising interest rates, and the stock market looked like a particularly hostile environment for any extra cash.

I’d been looking at listings online, but hadn’t really started pounding the pavement going to open houses, etc.  Then this property a couple of blocks from our house came on the market, and everything just sort of fell into place.  The price was a little higher than the range I’d been considering, but it was a good value, and I was feeling that the market was starting to bottom out.

The weird thing is, a friend of ours used to own this place back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and we’ve been there for many social occasions.  It was really weird to walk through the place after some 25+ years.  Our friend was single when he lived there and, while not a wild & crazy wastrel, was still a single man in the 7os.  So, since I just finished The Widows of Eastwick, and was reminded of their ringleader in The Witches of Eastwick, Darryl Van Horne, we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ve purchased the Van Horne mansion.

It’s been an interesting and educational experience.  I’ve never before been through the whole real estate purchase cycle: offer, counter, accept, financing, inspection, contingencies, closing, escrow.  We bought our residence from our landlady in 1975 on a land contract.  Meaning, we didn’t deal with realtors, lenders, appraisers, etc.  We just kept paying our landlady every month, only it was principal & interest, not rent.

One of the highlights was having the Van Horne mansion inspected.  The inspector was a woman recommended by a realtor friend of ours, and turned out to be something of a character.  She was real energetic and talked to herself as much as she talked to us.  A refrain she repeated several times as she moved about the place was “I’m a raindrop.  I’m a raindrop.  Where am I going?” to figure out if we’d have flooding problems.  (It’s only rained a couple of times since we made our offer, so the jury’s still out on how the place handles water).

You expect a cold shower from a real estate inspection, but there weren’t that many deficiencies that our inspector called out.  A few things need to be fixed, but nothing that needs to be done before tenants move in.  We couldn’t really get our seller to fund anything, because he had received several offers higher than ours, so we’ll chip away at these things as we are able.

Also, the financing was a little bit of an adventure, since I’m self-employed.  Well, I’m an employee, but of a corporation that I own.  So, I had to educate the lending underwriters about how I couldn’t really say I earned $xx per month, because I only write myself a paycheck when I collect my receivables.  And that it’s actually safer to lend to me, because a client can fire me and I still have multiple sources of income, where if an employee’s employer fires him, he’s got bupkis.

So part of this process is a little social engineering.  Our son will be our anchor tenant, meaning that he no longer resides in our house.  This was another little angle - he was going to move out and rent somewhere this fall anyway.  Since I was considering a rental investment, why should he be paying rent to someone else?  Plus, we’ll now have an extra bedroom here.  And it gives me an opportunity to collaborate with him on any projects there, which resonates with me on many levels.

It’s a bit of a culture shock for us, since we’ve never really had a mortgage payment in our lives besides our 70s-era payments to our old landlady.  Rental cash flow will cover most of the payment, but it’s still gonna feel weird, opening my Quicken and seeing that lozenge of debt sitting there.

Oddly, as we’ve been over tweaking things, I’ve felt a couple times that I might like that place better than our current residence, that maybe we should move there and rent or sell our current residence.  Hafta see how it plays out.

Mac-ed, Finally

Quickly, for a busy Monday…

I found a solid citizen on Craigslist selling a Macbook, and I bought it last Wednesday. Required a couple more Benjamins than the first guy, but this one had his receipt, a licensed copy of Windows Vista, the Mac OS disks, etc, and two years left on the Applecare warranty.  Needless to say, I’ve spent too many hours over the ensuing days porting programs & data over to the Macbook.

I got rid of the previous guy’s Windows partition and bought VMWare Fusion in order to create a Windows virtual machine and have the entire hard disk available to either operating system, rather than arbitrarily allocating the disk.  The home run was supposed to be this gambit where I could create an image of my entire Windows XP installation from my Dell, copy it back to the Mac and run it under VMWare.  Yes, that would have brought with it all the junk that has accumulated in my old installation, but it also would have obviated the grinding task of re-installing all my Windows programs.

Alas, that wasn’t to be.  Turns out that the XP license on the Dell can only be activated on the Dell.  I actually own an XP license that I bought at retail that’s not being used, but the onscreen activation wouldn’t accept it, and calling Microsoft for help got me nowhere (although it was an interesting update on the state of outsourced software support).

I took a run at iPhoto, since my Photoshop installation file from 2004 died in the sands of a hard disk 2 laptops back, and I’d have to purchase it again.  I think it might be ok, but damned if I can figure out how to do the simplest things that were second nature in Photoshop.  Might have to bite the bullet and buy it.

Momentous as the laptop purchase was, it was by no means the biggest bit of personal business I transacted last Wednesday.  More on that as events progress.

Tell you what, though.  The two-finger scrolling on the Mac trackpad is worth the purchase price in itself.

Macus Interruptus

So I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for the last several days, its screen blank and its portability hampered by having to be tethered to a separate monitor, a monitor that does not fit in my off-to-work backpack.  Time now seems to be short, and if my laptop presents me with a living will, I’ll be duty-bound to unplug the monitor.

I went back to pricing a new Dell, as well as a new Macbook Pro.  The Dell will take about 10 days to get here from whenever I order it; the new Macbook is still hella expensive.  Then I remembered Craigslist, and its intoxicating capability to provide instant gratification, which alacrity seems prudent rather than rash in this case.  And there they were, several Macbooks in the price range of the new Dell.

I made an appointment with one of the sellers, and went to the bank to disgorge a chunk of currency to close the deal.  My wallet sort of looked at me in amazement, having never seen even one Benjamin (I don’t think), let alone a whole football team of them.

I arrived at the house to find an engaging young man who’d just moved here to take a job at Microsoft; they’d given him a laptop, surplusing his Macbook.  I posited that he probably couldn’t bring it on Campus anyway, but he assured me that there was plenty of Apple hardware socketed into the Borg.

He had “wiped” his Macbook when he moved (he said his previous employer had given it to him; I chose to believe him) and reinstalled the operating system, so there was no software to demo except for internet browsing.  But I was once again smitten with the Macbook, even this 2008 model.  I was about to release my Benjamins and scurry into the night with my prize when the kid volunteered to install a program so he could play part of a movie, just to demonstrate the speakers.

As the program installed, it asked his username and password.  And here came the glitch.  You know how we all have those one or two passwords that open the vault to almost everything we brush up against on the internet? He had decided NOT  to use one of those passwords when he “wiped” his Macbook.  And there was no way he was going to remember the one he used, struggle as he might.

We’ve all done this, whether it’s because a site’s “strong” password requirements precluded the use of our favorite, or because a pesky server requires a password change every quarter or so.  But I harbored a wee bit of schadenfreude upon seeing a 20-something with all his brain cells similarly come up blank.

So, I returned home empty-handed.  Except for those Benjamins.  I passed on the opportunity to return today, as the kid had found some cd’s and reinstalled the OS.  I’m still looking, but I think I want to have a little clearer idea of who actually owns the machine.

Caloric Caviling

You’re probably in no mood to hear another Seattleite whine about how hot it is here.  So, I won’t whine.  I might describe plaintively, but no whining.   We are having a spate of high, and perhaps unprecedented, temperatures, and I know we sound like weenies when we complain about high 80s/low 90s temps.  I came here from Ohio, and I know what it’s like to be nailed down by heat, plus humidity that makes a sauna seem like a grocery store’s walk-in cooler.

I think what sets us off is that, just as when we get snow in the winter and the city comes to a grinding halt because we have no removal equipment, we have no generally dispersed infrastructure to deal with heat.  Sure, office buildings are air-conditioned, some to a point that you start to shiver if you’re not wearing a 3-piece suit.  That’s because, in our mild climate, the primary task of skyscraper HVAC systems here, even in the dead of winter, is to cool, not to heat.

But that doesn’t mean that our personal living apparatus is so equipped.  We’ve seldom felt the need, for instance, to consider air conditioning for our house.  It stays marvelously cool for most of the day, only heating up in the mid-afternoon when the westering sun hits the overabundance of glass that we have on that side.  And my car (a 1995 Honda) has been without functioning air conditioning for about a decade.  There’s a leak somewhere in the system, and it just doesn’t seem worth $1,500 to find it, repair it and recharge with ozone-eating Freon only to shun its use for 95% of the year.

So, today, I hit the trifecta, or maybe the 4-horse accumulator:

  • My first stop was the dentist.  Air conditioning: check; welcoming environment that entices you to linger: not so much.
  • Next stop: a client in a manufacturing warehouse that becomes an inferno the moment that rosy-fingered dawn caresses its fiberglass roof.  But I’m the controller, and no way would I recommend air conditioning this porous box.  (Somehow, they snuck heating apparatus in there last winter).
  • Next, I hop in my non-airconditioned car and pray that 520 is only mildly afflicted.  It is, but I irrationally fret that, at 4:20, I should be able to cruise-control at 70 all the way home.
  • Finally, I attend a board meeting of a non-profit kayaker-advocacy group.  Because it’s truly non-profit, and not the faux non-profit of hospitals and country clubs, their office is in a non-airconditioned building, afflicted with the same west-facing orientation as our house.  We sweat through sincere but distracted proceedings, and begrudge Robert his meeting-lengthening Rules.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid in northwest Ohio, but we did have a huge attic fan that pulled air in Herculean draughts through all of the house’s orifices and pushed it into the attic, where the Devil could reclaim it if he wasn’t being attended by demon medics for heat exhaustion.  When we remodeled our house here in  Seattle in 1981, I purchased a similar fan and installed it at the head of the stairs, thinking that, if it worked in the sweltering midwest, it would certainly suffice for our moderate climes.  Then, a perspicacious insulating subcontractor pointed out that my attic, with only circular birdblocks for vents instead of the capacious gable vents of my dad’s house, would not be able to handle the exhaust, Devil or no.  So, I removed it, and we’ve relied on benevolent clouds and marine air to temper our summer sun.

I’m looking through my rolodex, and have selected a client for tomorrow’s endeavors that I’m almost sure has air conditioning.  I may have to screw up something around 4:30, so I can stay after dusk to fix it.

I think all that was just this side of the Whining Wall.  Sue me.