Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best music video ever

No, not this one:

That's Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, of course. I thought I would let you watch it as a simple refresher, before you see the REAL treat, which is this:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My chance to be just like Norm. No, not NORM!, the other Norm.

Okay, okay, I hear you...you're thinking, "geez, WTF... Mike's at home with the flu, the LEAST he could do is post to his blog once in a while." Yeah, well, you're right. But the trouble is I don't have a laptop, and I didn't manage to drag my sorry butt out of bed for at least three days straight. It got to a point where I was starting to form some sort of crust on my thighs, so I decided it was finally time to get up and face the world. And here I am. Three days off work with something that did NOT amount to swine flu, but managed to leave behind a nasty case of bronchitis that makes me sound like a fully grown harp seal stuck in the carburetor of a Civic (wait, do Civics have carburetors? Nah, probably not...there goes my whole metaphor).

Okay, so that's where I've been. If I WASN'T hacking up phlegm balls the size of a small squid I would perhaps be much further along with my latest renovation-related project. I've decided it's time to finally face the music (that pun will hurt in a moment...) and build us an entertainment unit for the family room (see, told ya). You see, When we built the addition, we at least planned ahead and managed to mount the TV on the wall. What we did NOT do, however, was anything else even remotely related to making our stereo system NOT look like it was set up by a couple of Alpha Chi brothers attempting to decorate their off-campus man cave. Here it is currently, in all it's glory, my favorite part being, as my buddy calls it, the "off" center speaker:

Okay, so maybe it's not THAT bad, but my wife and I are card-carrying adults now, and it's about time we had something that doesn't make us look like we've been furnishing our home via the As-Is section of IKEA (which, BTW, is exactly where we got that base cabinet). So, here's my master plan:

Okay, sure, you say, that looks pretty standard. What's the big deal? Why not buy yourself an entertainment unit and get it done with, right? Phphhhh. Please. I refuse to stoop so low as to go out and buy myself something that appears gorgeous, is likely shoddy in makemanship, costs about ten times what it's worth, and probably doesn't fit that whompin' huge CD player when in fact I can custom build something that perfectly fits our needs, comes with the same shoddy makemanship, and costs a tenth as much. Add to this the fact that my wife has already approved me spending oodles of hours down in the workshop to make this beast when I could be spending quality time yelling at my children, and there's obviously no question I should build my own.

But wait, there's more.

If you've ever watched Yankee Workshop, you know that Norm, the carpenter, is famous for a few things: 1)First, a little shop safety. Always wear "these" safety glasses 2)having thirty-eight different routers so he doesn't have to spend time changing router bits, and 3)somehow managing to get his hands on some slab of lumber that was scavenged from a Revolutionary War cannon stand that's been buried in a salt mine for 250 years and turning it, magically, into a beautiful and finely crafted duck-shaped wind chime. I mean, really, how many of you have watched those shows on HGTV only to scoff when the home builder proclaims that the floorboards have been reclaimed from a 200-year-old barn, or that the ceiling's false beams were saved from a vintage ice factory being demolished in Cheboygan, thinking "yeah, but they don't sell that stuff at Home Depot."

Well, thanks to my buddy Jeff (a far more experienced woodworker than I) I can finally say I can be just like Norm, sort of. Jeff discovered a 100+ year-old barn being torn down in his neighborhood, and he had the foresight to deal with the crew and buy himself a number of chestnut ceiling beams and sycamore floorboards. And then he had the foresight to offer to sell me some of those sycamore boards for use with this little project of mine And I had the foresight to say yes. So give me a several months, and if all goes well I will be able to stand there as visitors admire my handywork while I casually explain, "oh, this old thing? Yes, it's made from the salvaged boards of a centuries-old barn." and then move on to explain how I selected the sycamore because it brings out just the right tonal harmonies when I stream Depeche Mode on my iPod. Or something like that. I'll have to work on the story.

So production has started. Nothing to show just yet, but I know that resting comfortably across my workbench right now is the case for the lefthand bookshelf, awaiting the first pieces of newly planed antique sycamore floorboards to be applied to the front face. If only I could breathe well enough to handle being in my workshop long enough to do it. Well, that's what pharmaceuticals are for.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Into The Woods

Okay, this has nothing to do with anything, but I took a few interesting photos over the weekend at Kentuck Knob. For those unaware, Kentuck Knob is the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Ohiopyle that ISN'T Fallingwater. It's actually only a mile or two from Fallingwater. Built as a home for the Hagen family (of Hagen Ice Cream fame), it is now owned by some British guy named Lord Palumbo, who still uses it on occasion but has opened it up to the public for tours. It's a very cool house, and far, far more livable than Fallingwater. Down in the woods behind it is a meadow containing a sculpture garden. That's where I took these.

The Red Army

Last Call

The Wall

This is an actual chunk from the Berlin Wall.

Kentuck Knob

Kentuck Knob

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Back in my day...

This week was parent-teacher conferences. That most wonderful time of year, when the kids get a couple of free days off and the parents rearrange their schedules so they can sit in tiny chairs designed for six-year-olds and find out exactly what they are getting out of their school district's tax dollars.

For us, parent-teacher conferences are actually fairly boring. I mean really, how often can you hear phrases like "pure unadulterated genius", "miles ahead", and "their future fame and fortune will more than cover your retirement" before it starts to get a little repetitive? Really, the highlight of conference night is walking out of the classroom and roaming the hallway, picking out the documented moments of brilliance that are our childrens' artistic masterpieces hanging on the walls amongst more feeble and pathetic attempts at creativity while other, lesser parents run screaming from their own childrens' classrooms and hurl themselves off the top of the gymnasium bleachers in a vain attempt to quell their own anguish over their child's mediocre performance.

Sometimes I can't help but get my geek on, but this year during the conference I felt compelled to ask how involved the students get in computer skills development. I figure that by the time our children reach adulthood the cyborgs will be pretty much running things around here, so I want to make sure that my kids are skilled enough to be useful members of the Great Hacker Resistance of 2030. That, and I'm hoping my older daughter might be able to help my wife occasionally by recovering a lost Word document or two when I'm not home.

I received an interesting response to my question. It turns out that the kids don't spent a whole lot of time in the computer lab these days. Why? Because it's a complete waste of time. More often than not a typical lab session starts with a bevy of computer crashes, "teacher, I can't login" complaints, and accidental mouse clicks inadvertently leading kids to open the Windows System folder and deleting Autoexec.bat. Frankly, it's gotten to a point where it just isn't worth the time and frustration.

Wow. This is quite a testament to how far with computers we have come. Microsoft and other companies have spent billions trying to make computers so friendly and intuitive that they have become too complex to teach how to use.

I remember when I was a youngster and part of the gifted program (otherwise known as the short bus full of snowball targets). We spent many hours learning and understanding computer concepts. Each day we would fire up the trusted Radio Shack TRS-80, wait for the black screen to appear, and start typing. That was it. No logins. No icons. No worrying about accidental downloads of porn. Back then, porn was where it should have been...in that secret box in my dad's workshop that he thought I didn't know about. And as long as he doesn't read my blog, he still thinks I don't know about.

What a life these kids lead. My daughters have never seen a world without the internet. Heck, they've never been without WiFi. They've never not shared the house with at least one iPod. And as a result, they're not the least bit dazzled by these technological wonders. The other day I introduced my kid to an iPhone app that automatically recognizes songs playing on the radio and identifies them for you. She was completely nonplussed, and simply asked me for the iPhone so she could play that game where you make the monkey pee in the toilet by tilting the phone back and forth.

Back in my day, the monkey I had to make pee in the toilet was an actual monkey. And he didn't like it when I tilted him.