The Home I will Likely Never Build: the North Side

I know I told you last time that I couldn’t wait to tell you about what is downstairs, but I want to take a brief side trip first. We came in through the garden on the south side of the house (there’s probably a small cemetery tucked behind some trees; that’s where you’ll find me soon enough), and I’ve shown you how a home built of earth embraces the sun.

This is at its very core a home that celebrates craft, and the hands that built it. The first thing you saw on your visit was ironwork made by a human being. The signs of humanity are all around you now, and everywhere, if you look closely, you will see the personal marks of the people who built this home, whether by stacking adobe bricks or programming the elevator. The tiles in the bathrooms reflect the minds of the people who created them.

I hope, of course, that this will inspire the residents of the home to create their own art. This home is inspirational, or at least aspires to be. On the north side of the home is the less glamorous, less cozy space where actual magic happens.

I imagine it is a large space, perhaps physically separated from the main building. The floor is open and the light is from the north, coming in through large windows that can be blacked when necessary.

This might be the first structure built, to provide the space and means for the artisans and craftspeople to build the main home.

It smells like clay in here, like paint, like sawdust. The kiln, in its corner, is perhaps the only tool with a fixed location. One day the wood shop might be deployed, the tools needed for that day rolled out and carefully leveled, while on other days it might be the potters wheel or the bench for the glass blowers.

OK, the kiln, the glass furnace, and the forge for iron work are probably all fixed. But on any particular Tuesday this might be a photo studio, or a robotics lab. I delight in the fantasy that we, the residents of this home, will ultimately decide that we need two studio spaces.

There is also, on this side of the house, a very large vegetable garden. Unlike the sanctuary enclosed within the walls on the south, this garden grows food and is based on two principles: 1) we are obligated to make the most of the waste water from the house, and 2) tomatoes are best when eaten within minutes of harvest. That goes for other vegetables as well, but tomatoes are the poster child of “better fresh-picked”.

Space allowing, a modest orchard seems like a good idea as well.

In a previous episode I flew past the kitchen, which is essentially a studio with tools devoted to the medium of food. I am flying past it once again, because I have nothing to offer in that place except vibes. Kitchen science is real, and while I embrace it, I am not going to extend it, except for the hand-crafted cabinets.

The home — our home — is not just filled with the work of artists and artisans, it is where those people live. Where we live. Writers, painters, architects, musicians, and on and on. This is where we celebrate the accomplishments of our peers while we challenge one another. The studio here is never empty, there’s always something going on in the kitchen, and the garden is well-loved.

That last sentence reveals the depth of this fantasy, but understand: I believe it.

3

The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Common Room

After a peaceful stroll through the garden, and an appreciative look at the sun-facing side of the house, you have now walked inside. I recently discussed the overall philosophy of the architecture, but so far all you really know about this room is that it has floors, a fireplace, and a predictable assortment of furniture.

The trick with structures that live only in your head is that they are always changing. Without getting too specific, however (there will be no floor plan), I would like to share with you the room I have long imagined as the lungs of this home. (We will find the heart later.)

It is a large room, but the acoustics are surprisingly soft. In part this is because there are very few truly flat surfaces. The walls curve gently; their corners are rounded, suggesting they were carved, rather than constructed. The base colors are earth tones, reflecting that the walls are literally constructed from earth, but everywhere are bright splashes of color.

A staircase sweeps up one curved wall, its treads richly-stained hardwood, the bannister held by a lattice of cast iron, perhaps created by the same artist who made the gate that was your first introduction to this place. You can check for the artist’s mark on their work if you want to be sure.

There is a small door that leads to the space under the stairs. It matches the stair treads. Under-stair spaces have always been a little bit magical and mysterious to me (I grew up in a home without one), so I want to turn these spaces into hidey-holes, comfortable enough for a visiting grand-nephew to roll out a sleeping bag. Every under-stairs space should have at least one secret compartment, trap door, or other hidden surprise. Lights that respond to secret gestures, things like that.

“Secrets” are a feature in this home, even if everyone knows them. (Or do they? The possibility that there might be more secrets is pretty intoxicating. I will encourage the people who make this home to put in secrets not even I know about.) The secrets are the source of legends, stories that are passed through generations, gaining momentum with each retelling.

You have already met the fireplace and the cozy furniture that circles it. Behind the sofa there is a large table, magnificent and wood. It feels like it was made exactly for this place (it was – the craftsperson left their mark), and affords plenty of space for a great feast or a Warhammer game, or whatever tabletop games the kids are playing now.

Perhaps beneath the table the tile of the sun-warmed section of the floor has given way to wood as well, durable hardwoods that will last for a century (with a little care), but already the floorboards creak a little under your tread. Pure artifice, but the kind I enjoy; a reminder of the rustic foundations of Southwestern architecture.

And in every Southwestern home, you must look at the ceiling. Exposed beams, as round as they were when they were trees, cross the ceiling, supporting a lattice of wooden slats above. This is the most simple and iconic ceiling style, in other rooms you will discover the many, many variations on this simple theme that are possible. Here, the dark wood of the ceiling gives the room a cozier feel, more intimate despite the room’s size.

Over the table is a chandelier – perhaps also wrought iron, perhaps not (we will save the inevitable deer antler chandelier for another space). It creates a brighter pool of light even when the subtler lighting for the rest of the room is dimmed.

There is music here, as well. There is a sound system that does what all good sound systems do, but without being gaudy about it. Speakers are discrete but effective, and can get plenty loud when the need arises. The vinyl collection will probably live in a different room, closer to the heart.

Sound, but… huh. No television. There will be places for watching TV in this house, but this is not one of them. And when you really start looking hard, you will also see there is no plastic. That tells you two things: this room is built to last, and this room is a fantasy. But ultimately the goal is to employ no material that won’t still be viable 100 years from now (solar panels grudgingly excepted).

Of course with a big banquet table there must be a kitchen nearby! On the far side of the room from the curved glass wall is a curved adobe wall with a bar that communicates with the kitchen just beyond. The “main kitchen,” we will call it. (You have already seen the outdoor kitchen.)

While I will leave the details of the kitchen to the architects, from the common room you can get some of its vibe: Windows letting in northern light, stone countertops, and hand-carved doors on cabinets specifically crafted to follow the easy contours of the walls. Modern appliances, island, breakfast nook, and all that. A bright and comfortable place that still feels hand-crafted.

The curved south face of the house is also one of the walls for the “hallways” that extend to either side of the common room. On pleasant summer nights there is no wall at all, and the bedrooms open directly into the garden. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Perhaps later we will explore a bedroom or two, but “nice chambers, fireplaces maybe, quiet as only foot-plus-thick walls can grant, beautiful and varied ceilings, breezes” sums them up pretty well. For bathrooms, “hand-made tile, good light, elegant fixtures built to last, easy to clean” is the bullet list. The water reclamation system is actually more interesting than the water closets.

But around behind the stairs going up, you find two things: elevator doors, and stairs going down. I am very excited to tell you about both of those things.

3

Sunday is Pill Day

I may have mentioned before that I have cancer. Barring a medical breakthrough, I will always have cancer. There is no remission in my future, just control.

This means I have a lot of different pills to take, at particular times of day. So I have one of these:

It’s a weekly pill planner. During chemotherapy, I had the primary medicines to fight the cancer (roughly four of them), the medicines to fight the side effects of the primary medicines (variable from 4 to 8, depending on how I was responding to the medicines), and the medicines to fight the side effects of the medicines that were to fight the side effects of the primary medicines.

And also the pills I was already taking for other stuff.

Not all of the medicines listed above are in pill form, but you can see that things were pretty complicated. Now that chemo is over, the pill regimen is more routine, but it is still an important part of every Sunday afternoon that the Official Sweetie and I sit down with a paper bag filled with pill bottles, open up all the little doors in the pill planner, and fill it up.

For a while things were complicated enough that it really did take two people to work out the rules for each day and get the right meds teed up. Now, it’s not so complicated that a single person could do it.

Except for the part when all the little doors are closed, the pills ready for another week, and Official Sweetie and I exchange a high-five and a kiss, and say, “another week.” Another week survived, is what we mean. It’s a moment of thankfulness, a moment of celebration. Another week of life. It’s like having 52 birthdays a year.

Here’s to another week, my friends.

6

The Home I Will Likely Never Build: Stepping Inside

I have had a dwelling living in my head for my entire adult life. The place I want to build, the place I want to live. I has magic in it.

I have described the garden, and the first impression of the home you get looking from the garden. But so far I have ignored the most important part of any home: the people.

Fundamentally, a house provides shelter, comfort, and security for its occupants. But we all know that a real home does much more. A home also brings people together, it inspires, it creates joy. Much of those influences come from the people, rather than the structure, but still it’s worth asking, “how can a structure encourage that community?”

I have seem “dream houses” that are filled with architecture that looks, honestly, pretty cool. Angles and light, and big open spaces that will be drafty and acoustically awful. The “wow” you feel wears off for the living in it. (Note: I have never lived in one of these places.)

Some of these places seem more a celebration of the architect than a great place to live. The Home I Will Likely Never Build shall never forget that it is in service to its occupants and guests.

There are people here. Importantly, there are children here. Modern architecture seems to forget them, but no one loves a secret passage more than a ten-year-old. The children that ride the magic elevator up and down will grow to be the kids that enhance the elevator.

There is laughter here, and cocktails, good food, and honest joy. There are fires to gather around, and perhaps even singing. Somebody’s got to play that banjo in the corner. A structure cannot force people to be contemplative or communal or even nice. But it sure as heck can give extra juice to people who are already inclined that way.

It is autumn as you step into the house from the garden. The glass walls are closed, and the setting sun is throwing its last ruddy rays into the room you find yourself in.

From the outside, you saw how the house worked with the sun. Now, you feel the weight of the place. You feel the earth. The walls are thick, even the interior walls. Sound does not pass through these walls. They hold heat the way our planet does.

(Originally, I imagined this house being made with straw bales. But glorious mud has been here forever, doing what mud does. This is an adobe house, with steel structural reinforcements — unless a qualified architect changes my mind again.)

You take off your boots, and the tile is warm under your feet, exactly as you expected. You are a little nervous now, walking into a home that is obviously lived in. You are in a large open space. In front of you a cushy couch faces a fireplace where piñon has largely gone to coals, delivering a steady warmth to the room. There are childrens’ boots on the hearth, gently steaming.

The tile is not uniform. A few of them are sculpted, or embossed, with images or motifs or geometrical patterns, or something else. I don’t know exactly what makes those tiles special; that’s up to the artist entrusted to make them. I will demand that whatever the artist creates, it won’t annoy bare feet, and it will still work after 100 years of barefoot traffic. We will appeal to science to find the best material for the job.

On this day, perhaps there are people playing scrabble on the low table between the couch and the fire. Perhaps someone is reading in a side chair, and you tiptoe quietly past, or better yet grab a book of your own. Like the seasons, like the weather, life is ever-changing; you and the house adapt.

There are rugs on the floor. They are nice rugs, but not so nice you’d feel bad getting mud on them. Still, you shed your boots and leave them in the heap by the door.

Stocking feet, platforms, Birkenstocks, or stilettos, walk on what makes you feel good. The floors here will not judge.

There is laughter upstairs, and we will get there eventually. But first you have to really see the room you are in. This episode was more about the philosophy of the home than the execution. Next time, I will try to pin down the whirling ideas in my head and describe a room.

3

The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Sun Side

I have been building a house in my head for decades, now. It’s a place that doesn’t forget what has worked for centuries, but isn’t afraid of technology. It is a place where you can feel the hands of the people who built it; the ghosts in this place are the echoes of the wood carvers, tile makers, welders, and artists who made this place special. You can almost hear them cursing.

You have by now taken a gentle walk through the garden, and while it is pleasant, and creates a crucial link to the land the house is built from, it is hard to ignore the structure in front of you any longer. You take a few more steps past the whimsical bird bath (that services the bats as well), and appreciate the humor of the artist who created it. But now it is time to turn our gaze to the house itself.

Today is a sunny afternoon, warm for the altitude, and the breeze is fresh.

The home seems to be embracing the garden, its wings like arms wrapping protectively around the quiet ground. The center section of the house is open, no walls facing you at all; the line between outdoors and indoors is not clearly defined. Softening this transition further is a patio and the long eaves shading the home from the summer sun. The eaves are built with math that has informed buildings in the Southwest for hundreds of years. The eaves provide shade in the summer, but let the warming sun into the dwelling in the winter.

You don’t need to know, but might find interesting, that these eaves are covered with photovoltaic cells.

The center of the house is two stories, with an observation deck on the highest roof. Both floors are open right now, allowing you to see common areas above and below. As you approach, you find yourself on a wide flagstone patio with a full barbecue. It is the outdoor kitchen, for days and nights when it is simply too lovely to go inside to cook. There are gas burners, of course, and a griddle, but also a place to light the charcoal when the moment calls for it. A refrigerator? Sure, why not. Don’t want to have to go inside just to get a frosty beverage.

Around the barbecue are tables, with umbrellas for shade. There is music coming from somewhere.

Suddenly, it is winter. Your nose is red from the crisp, cold air. The smell of burning piñon lightly scents the air. You squint in the bright light as the sun reflects off the light snow that coats the slumbering garden. Where moments before the house was open, you now see walls of glass. The sun, lower now, shines through the glass and warms the dark walls and the dark earth-toned tile on the floors where the sun can reach. You are in no hurry, but you can imagine feeling the warmth of those floors through your socks once you go inside and shed your boots.

This home, you realize, is powered and warmed in large part by the sun. While the techno-scientists try to achieve sustained fusion here on Earth (go, techno-scientists!), we’ll just draw from the one that is already up and running, even if it’s only available half the time.

On both floors, the glass walls curve gently, following the arc defined by the garden wall. “That must be preposterously expensive,” you muse. “Why not just have a whole bunch of French doors?” Because it’s my damn house, that’s why. If I can’t afford it anyway, why hold back?

Summer again. The house is open, and you hear laughter from the upper level, and the crack of a break at the pool table. You cross the patio into the shade of the eaves. It’s time to go inside.

5

The Home I will Likely Never Build: the Garden

I’ve had a house in my head for thirty, maybe forty years now. It has evolved over that time, but my recent proximity to mortality has turned my thoughts to the dwelling with a more sharply-honed focus. The heavy walls I dream of are as old as the idea of the home itself. Likewise the secret passage. The sun has always been a friend, combining new tech with old architecture. The analemma in the secret room is new, as are the elevator’s virtual floors.

It’s a house a kid might design, full of fun and surprises, and it’s a house a hippie might design, a place that embraces nature and has a communal focus. Although I can’t let go of wood-burning fireplaces. It’s a house an engineer might design, optimized for efficiency and self-reliance. It is a house that celebrates artisans and craftspeople, honoring humanity and the hands well-applied to make something enduring. You can feel, in this place, the people who made it.

If you will indulge me, I would like to give you a tour of my imaginary home. I have tried to draw pictures, but for now at least I can offer only words. It would fill my life with light is someone reading this were to draw pictures of the words I write.

It starts at the gate. Unassuming pale stucco walls curve away from you on either side, but it is the gate that holds you attention. You notice right away that there are very few straight lines; all is curved and flowing. The opening in the wall is convex on one side, on the other it is a wave. It feels sculpted, rather than engineered. Perhaps you realize that this will be a foundational principle for all that follows. Perhaps you will just smile.

The gate itself is cast iron, decorated with motifs of nature — sun and soil and life, things that you will soon find in the garden. It curves and flows elegantly, and at the bottom is the mark of the artist who created it. Someone local, hopefully, who understands the land and what it means.

The gate is not locked; you lift the latch and step through into the garden.

Perhaps your eye is drawn to the house on the far side, but for once words beat pictures and I will instead bring your focus to the garden that surrounds you.

The path you are on curves and flows over the terrain, and crunches under your feet in a satisfying way. With every step you take, it whispers to you, telling you that you are in a quiet place, a place of contemplation. At least today it does, on this tour it is a sunny afternoon and there is no gathering at the house. Today there is the sun, and a gentle breeze making the trees sigh, and birds and whatnot, and you.

There is nohting exotic about the garden; the plants that grow here are the same as the ones that have grown on this land for millennia. But we aren’t above cheating a little; careful application of water and nutrients increases the density of the plant life, and the animals that depend on it. This is not simply a garden, it is an ecosystem*.

I said it was daytime, and in so doing robbed you of the scents of the night-blooming flowers, the weight of the colder air in your nose, the chime of the nighttime insects. I will have to replace that with the songs of the birds who find haven here, and the hum of the bees visiting the sex-parts of the flowers and taking their payday home. (new feature: beehive)

You have only taken a few steps, but you stop for a moment, to listen, and to breathe, and to shed the world on the other side of the gate. You are in a safe place now, a quiet place, unless you decide to raise a ruckus. No judgement here.

The path rises in front of you, then descends under your relaxed tread. From the top you can take in the whole garden. It is round, and vibrant, dotted with trees that remember when there were no people around here. Sorry about that, guys, but maybe a little extra water will help.

At the center of the round garden is a round patio, a place to sit and eat a sandwich or to read when the sun is not too bright. There is a sculpture here, interesting and whimsical, and functional in a way that will be revealed later.

Pausing here, you feel like you are at the center of the universe. You are surrounded by life, even if much of it is sleeping because I made you come here during daytime. Just wait for tonight. You will be glad you did.

5

A Tale of Two Cars

It is entirely possible that the members of the Muddled Enclave will never buy another automobile again. But still, I have many happy memories of challenging roads, a nimble car, and the top down so God can hear my laughter.

Good times, man. And while the challenges of clutch and throttle and stick go away with an electric, the joy of the turn, the climb, and the air in your face still remain.

For the other 99% of your time behind the wheel, all you need to do is get there. It’s just more pleasant to get there in a convertible.

And so it is that occasionally I look around at the electric convertibles out there that I might imagine owning. Not long ago, that list was empty. Now, the entrants are starting to pile up. After a recent review of upcoming offerings, two stood out.

In Europe this car will be called FreZy Frog. You can read more about it here. I looked at the odd proportions, and then called in a second opinion. “Is this adorkable?” I asked the Official Sweetie. After checking the video, and looking at the rest of the photos, she agreed, but only provisionally. Clearly this is a car for zipping to the store – is there room for grocery bags somewhere?

Funniest part of the description: They say it has four seats.

Honestly, though, I could imagine owning a car like that. They’re selling in China for the equivalent of $15K, a bargain if you ignore currency manipulation and slave labor.

And then there’s this:

For roughly the cost of twenty of the above vehicles, you could have one of these. If you visit Weismann’s Project Thunderball (yes, really) you will see many more angles of this simply gorgeous design. I do have some quibbles — I look at the tail light configuration with squinty eyes — but overall, day-um. And maybe the tail lights echo the instrument panel, where there are far more gauges than an electric would ever need. Battery, speed, and no one cares about the rest. But hey, it’s not a touch screen.

There are other electric convertibles on the way. MG’s horribly-named Cyberster and VW’s electric Cabrio are getting notice. There are other supercars to compete with Weismann – Fiskar and Bently and maybe even Maserati are getting into the game. (Uninformed reading makes me think the Maserati and the Weismann are sharing tech.)

Those are all fun and cool, but at the end of the day, I can more readily imagine myself bonking around town in a FreZy Frog. I’ll pay an extra 30% for a non-slave-labor version.

5

This is What We’re Left With

Remember when the Internet was big? Remember when you would explore and find fun things — fun people — and tiptoe into their worlds?

The internet, the web, they are smaller now. I’m guessing you have five places you go. I’m guessing that you have no RSS feeds.

Me, I have four places. Two sites I pay for (Defector.com is the pinnacle of journalism), and two I visit. One of the two I visit is this very blog. There are a couple of other places like Wkikpedia that are useful resources, but not destinations.

There was a time when I would think, browsing bleary-eyed late at night, “shit, I’ve got to get out of the wormhole and get some sleep.” That doesn’t happen anymore. In fact, it’s the opposite: I’ve read the articles, checked the scores, rolled my eyes at the idiot congressmen and then… I’m done. Nothing more to see here. Gone is Dr. Pants. Forgotten is Izzy. FaceTwitaGram invited us in but left us on the stoop.

There are nights I stare at my computer, sure at a biological level that there is some entertainment to be provided if I knew where to look. But it’s all dead. The world wide web is now just six places with a bunch of people shouting.

This humble blog is just a shadow of its former glory; we all know that. And even its glory wan’t all that much. It’s a dinosaur, but one I like.

6

Power to the (Drill) Press!

Another afternoon puttering in the garage, putting the shop together, and it felt really good. My drilling-holes-in-steel-plate skills have definitely advanced (this mostly means “let the tool do its job”), and the first major machine is now on wheels!

My handiwork.
The mobile Drill Press – note in the background safety gear close to hand, and duct tape.

One thing about a shop where things don’t have a permanent location is that getting electricity to them can be a hassle and cause dangerous situations. Ideally you don’t want cords across the floor or hanging across a space where someone might want to walk. When your tools can move around, the electricity has to come from above.

This is what I got from my mother-in-law this Christmas:

Power… from the sky!

That’s a 12 AWG cord with a 15-amp breaker that reels back up to the ceiling when not in use. It’s been up there for about ten hours now, and all I can say is that it’s awesome to set up a power tool and drop power down to it.

Overall, a good day today! You can see that there’s still plenty to do (note the pegboard on the workbench with the notches cut out to match the shelf supports above it – not exactly sure how one goes about getting it up there with the spacers). Wheels for the table saw have arrived, so that is coming into the shop soon. That will be a big moment, if I can find the safety key for it.

Drill, table saw, router, a thousand hand tools up on their pegs, and a bluetooth speaker for the tunes — soon I’ll be ready for some real projects.

4

The Best Glue

Recently I was installing a shower curtain rod, but not the normal straight-across kind, but one that turned in the middle to enclose two sides of a space.

The kit was comprehensive, with different methods of anchoring the curtain rod based on what it needed to be secured to. I surveyed all the pieces, then turned to the instructions.

I shit you not, this is absolutely how the written instructions started:

After our experiment, we changed the glue in the non-performing installation scheme to Chinese glue, which is better and stronger than the Japanese glue we used before.

Okay, while I question the wisdom of bringing up past failures to new customers, I do have to appreciate that our Chinese friends weren’t done yet. The instructions follow:

Our factory sells 4000 bathroom poles every day in the world, which is a large amount. My colleagues and I work late every day. We work day and night to bring better products to customers, and we hope every product we sell can help everyone.

This all seems a little defensive. “Hey! We’re doing our best, man!” But this is the instruction sheet, so at any moment there might be instructions. I had to keep reading. But next comes a plea that if there are any problems with installation, that you contact them first and they will make it better. An email address is provided that is a big number and is probably unique to this exact copy of the product.

Another paragraph follows, on the same theme. If there is a problem, we will make it right. Just give us a chance.

It’s funny and I will always laugh about Chinese glue, but what we also see here is a company that is learning that in listings at Amazon and the rest, customer reviews are what separates success and failure. Some dickhead customer doesn’t apply the inferior Japanese glue properly, gets pissy about it, and it can ruin a business. So they upgrade the glue, and improve the instructions, and forge ahead in a wild-west marketplace.

Meanwhile, some other company, who is using fucking Andorran glue for crying out loud (Andorran! The fuck do they know about modern polymer chemistry?) is flat-out paying people to give them good reviews. It’s tough for an honest company out there these days.

12

The Big Bed

Every now and then, when it has been an emotionally draining day, we invite the dogs to hop up into the big bed with us, so the whole pack can be together.

While Gilfoyle enjoys being up there, Lady Byng lives to be snuggled with the pack. Last night was a pack night. Tonight, every time I look toward the bedroom, she tears off in maximum excitement, sure that tonight her dream of being on the Big Bed will be realized again. She has cracked the code, knows what to do, and there will be Big Bed nights forevermore.

Except nope, there is nothing she can do to change the outcome tonight. Some outcomes you don’t control, as much as you would like to think you do.

14

Summer Evening on the Patio

It’s a pleasant evening here, still warm but not oppressive, the sun dropping behind the hills to the west. I’m on the patio, enjoying new(ish), deep chair cushions, and a tasty malt beverage.

Nearby, a neighbor has fired up the grill, and has filled the gentle air with the sweet smell of barbecue. Thank you, neighbor!

7

The Influential Life

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas has always had opinions, and she is rarely shy about expressing them. For this reason, she has always been diligent about reviewing the products she buys online. It is important to recognize the good products (and especially the good vendors), while warning folks away from the crap. It is simply a matter of good online-retail citizenship.

Plus, she likes to be creative with her reviews. Tell a little story.

Apparently sometimes being a good retail citizen pays. Some unknown robot at Amazon flagged her reviewing prowess and (I assume) some human subsequently decided that the OSoMR&HBI would be a good person to become a professional giver of opinions.

That is, it turns out, a real job.

It works like this. You select things from a giant pile, they send you the things, and you review them. And keep the things. “Influence” has now become a transitive verb where we used to use “buy”. As in, “I just influenced these jeans and they fit perfectly!”

It’s a good time to be turning half the garage into a workshop. Yesterday my new laser level arrived. Today it was the laser tape measure (that will calculate area and volume and do trig and save up to 50 measurements) and the bike torque wrench. The blocks for calibrating table saw cuts came yesterday; the router table equivalents arrive tomorrow, along with the rounded-edge router bit for my window sill project. The lamps for over the new workbench arrive soon. All for the cost of an opinion. (And income tax on the retail value of the item.)

It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. I didn’t fully understand at first — it didn’t really sink in until the Official Sweetie showed me the new light fixture she was considering for the hallway. Sputnik! I saw the retail price and asked, “are they seriously sending that to us?” I kind of felt like the first time our little protector dog Lady Byng was barking at the intruder at the door until she realized he was BRINGING FOOD! Mind-blowing! The fixture arrived today, the bulbs arrive tomorrow, and I’ll put it up on Saturday. And help write the review.

We are required to either send an item back, use it, or keep it for at least six months before giving it to family and friends, so you guys are safe from being inundated with LED flashlights and solar-powered LED patio string lights and more solar-powered LED patio string lights and LED bulbs and rechargeable LED under-shelf lights and multi-color LED strip lights and LED wall wash light strips and LED flashing red hazard lights (with bottle opener) in your Christmas stockings this year.

If you would like to follow the Official Sweetie and learn of her many, many opinions, you can do so here. Does having more followers benefit us? Probably. Not sure. But probably. If you find any of those reviews helpful, go ahead and say so! Do more “helpful” votes benefit us? Not sure, but again, probably. Don’t perjure yourself. Who really knows what’s happening in the Amazon Artificial Intelligence. (Seriously good opportunity for crossover speculative fiction there…)

If there is something you are curious about — more a general type of product than a specific item, as there are about 45,000 items available for review at any given time and there is no search function, just filters to select for broad categories — let us know! If either of us are remotely qualified to render an opinion, and we can find an example, we’ll give it a shot. It you’re waiting for the verdict on a pneumatic drain clearing tool, we’ve already got you covered!

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Apparently, I’m still a Padres Fan

In sports news today, the San Diego Padres traded away a bunch of players — and who knows, one of those players might one day be as good as Juan Soto — for Juan Soto.

To KEEP the kid, the Pads will have to pay him a lot of money. I think they will.

Do you remember the movie Moneyball? In that story the bean counters show that with advanced statistics they can find players that produce more value than is revealed by the traditional RBI and whatnot. The good guys in that story found new ways to measure the value of a player, and used that knowledge to build a world series team on the cheap.

The team in that story was the Oakland A’s. Since then, the ownership of that team has discovered an even more efficient way to run a team: lose. Pay as little as possible to stay in the league, and soak up the shared revenue from the TV deals. They don’t even pretend to be building for the future. Trying to win would cut into profits.

San Diego is one of a handful of teams that is actually trying to win. At some point in the post season they will go tooth-to-claw with the Dodgers —another team trying to win it all — and the odds on that outcome shifted today.

That’s all fun, but it seems like these mighty players the Padres have accumulated — Tatís, Machado, Soto, and many others — it seems like they enjoy playing baseball. Like if you gave them a day off from playing baseball, they’d spend it playing baseball. Guys like that are fun to watch.

And that’s my team. I seem unable to change that. When I heard they got Soto today, a thrill went right through me. A thrill I thought I was above after all this time, but that excitement for the future is the payoff for fandom. Hope lies dark and insidious inside you, a hallucinogenic vision of the future, and given even a glimmer of light will turn you into a gibbering idiot.

Go Padres!

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Hot Times in the City

The temperature went over one hundred degrees here today, as it does sometimes (more often lately, but we all know that). At about 2pm the guys who messed up our ducts came back and fixed out ducts, and life was good — the best cooling this house has ever known. Until about 4pm. That’s when the AC shut down entirely. Hopefully it’s just a matter of replacing (again) the ridiculously huge fuses on the unit. (Although huge fuses mean huge power and BLOWING huge fuses means maybe it’s time to replace the damn thing.)

It’s warm in here right now. Warm enough that my laptop, already prone to run hotter than one would think necessary, essentially shut itself down to prevent it from burning itself up.

My laptop is a MacBook, and they are not generally considered good gaming machines for two reasons: one, the hottest games don’t run on Macs, and two, because Macs aren’t built to dissipate the heat that comes with the massive processing in a modern computer game.

But today I wasn’t running any graphic-intensive game. I did play NetHack for a while, but that is the opposite of graphics-intensive. And because I was playing on NAO, even that processing was happening in a data center somewhere (or perhaps, a linux box under someone’s desk).

MacBooks, when overheating, use a process to simply block out all other programs part of the time, to reduce the load so the computer can cool down. I reached a point today where the safety program was taking up all the time.

I quit any program that was even using the slightest CPU and the situation did not improve. I shut down the machine, waited a few minutes, and started it back up to the slowest reboot since DOS was on floppies, because the kernel task went straight to maximum protection.

Finally, I went to the freezer and pulled out a cold pack I use on my knee. I put the computer to sleep, and set the thing right onto the cold pack, and when I woke it up the machine was happy. For a little while, at least.

I have now used a second cold pack, which is why I’m able to write this right now.

If you search for “Refrigerated Laptop Cooling Pad” or any of a hundred permutations, you will get lots of hits, but none of them are actually refrigerated. They just have lots of fans. And while I’m sure that helps, I’m a little surprised that there’s no active cooling. The top-tier game machines have liquid cooling built directly into the enclosure. It doesn’t seem a stretch to extend the heat sink of a metal-hulled laptop with a refrigerated system to take the heat away.

I’m filing this episode under Get Poor Quick because this is such a golden opportunity for the right person. Get on that, right person! Make the Chill Spot. I’m tired of my laptop shutting itself down!

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