Aug 23

Ever wonder about the standardization of screw threading?

“Can I help you with anything?”

I’d been standing in this aisle at the local hardware store for five or six minutes, waiting for someone to come by. It was 10 a.m. There was one other customer in the place. This was, I should point out, one of the two local hardware stores. One seems to have two to four people working at all time, I’ve been in there a few times and haven’t seen the same face twice. I’ve also never been there when anything was going on, which probably means nothing. Also, at that store, if you need a specific thing they have, you’re in luck. But it seems to be a small list of on-the-floor inventory.

I thought about going to the Tractor Supply. I’ve been there once. They had neither tractors, nor the supplies I needed. And that’s the sort of memory that’s hard to overcome.

So I went to the other local place. They’re all fairly equidistant, but I’ve also been to this one and I figured, for today’s obscure search, this would be the best bet.

Which led me to standing there, waiting for this guy to wander over.

I am looking for screws to mount a TV to a wall.

The guy recoiled a bit. It was physical, visceral, and you could tell. But then his customer service brain kicked in and he was happy to try to help. I had a picture of the installation manual, which showed some screws. But what I saw look like the things that go into the wall. I needed the screws that go into the wall mount. The guy said he gets this all the time. People come in, the instructions no help. These things all require precise hardware, it’s never spelled out well, and apparently never included in the box, no matter the brand you buy.

I needed these screws because, in my home office, there’s a great little mount already on the wall. And that mount is in a perfect line of sight of my Zoom angle. (Oh, the modern first world problems.) I’m going to hang a TV there and stream live webcams over my shoulder and see if I can distract anyone in a meeting using various aquarium shots and such.

So the guy helps me find the right screws. I was standing in the right place, he said. Hovering over the correct box. Inside the box are 15 little compartments, of course, of varying sizes, both diameter and length.

“These,” he said, “would be my best bet.” He said that in that way that lets you know, hey, he’s guessing too. Based on the oddly phrased material in the manual he meant.

Hey, we’re all guessing pal.

I picked four screws, noted the price and took them to the cashier. She charged me $.42 per screw, which was fair since they were listed at $.42 cents per screw on the box. On the way to the car I realized the screws I’d picked up didn’t have a flat or Phillips head, but rather a hex head. So I had to think about where all of my tools are, and which one might just maybe have a chance of fitting these little guys.

I took them to the house, wrapped up in the receipt because, it was a best bet, and also because she did not offer me anything with which to carry my four dainty little screws.

I took the screws upstairs and realized a problem: the screws are so small they slip right through the holes on the mounting arms.

Can you take back $1.68 in merchandise?

Can’t worry about that now. I had a meeting to prepare for. A Zoom meeting. There would be no TV monitor over my shoulder, just a mount.

It was a fine meeting though. A new colleague was helping me flesh out a few details of one of the classes I’ll be teaching this term. Classes start next week, this person just returned from a European vacation and she spent an hour chatting away with me. She was very generous with her time, insight and resources. It occurs to me that I need to invest in local coffee house gift cards as a thank you.

And the rest of the day was spent working on that class. In the afternoon, a whole bunch of material came my way for the other two classes I’ll be teaching. Between now and December, I’ll be fine tuning everything.

That’s an exaggeration. I hope to be caught up by Thanksgiving.

While I was having a bowl of soup as a late lunch and digesting some of the information from that meeting it occurred to me: use washers.

So I went into the garage, pulled down the Box Of Random Bits of Assembly Supplies You Must Never Throw Out and, for the first time, understood the genius of those shop workers with jugs of specific types of hardware and sizes. I don’t have a need for that, mind you, but I get it.

And I also got four washers. By some happy accident I found four the same size. (So what tool or furniture is missing four washers around here?) Happily, they all fit today’s need. And so did one of detachable screwdriver tools on the hex head screws. Four screws applied to the wall mount arms, arms and TV stress tested for weight, though the TV is light. And then I put it on the wall.

As I write this, over my shoulder there is a shot from a wildlife cam from somewhere in Europe. There’s a babbling stream in the foreground, and a giant old oak in the center background. Unseen birds are happily chirping away. This flat screen mounted to the wall, streaming a scene from halfway around the world, sits over my 1948 Silvertone radio. I like the technological juxtaposition.

(I think there’s some of this paint in the basement. I wonder if I should try to camouflage the power cord.)

I bought that radio from a retired teacher in 2017. Restoring these had become his retirement hobby.

He showed me this one, which I’d gone over to ask about, and I asked him about his process. He gave me a tour of the ones he was tinkering on in his garage, and the finished radios that held pride of place in his home. I got him to drop his price a bit on the Silvertone he’d advertised, and he helped me load it up in the car. It still powers up, you can hear the tubes hum to life. And, in the old house, you could hear the local AM station. I caught part of a football game.

I seldom turn it on, because I don’t want to wear it out. Part of the ABCs of me.

My plan was to put a Bluetooth speaker, or an under-the-cabinet streaming radio of some sort in there and just play big band music. And one day I’ll do that!

The gentleman I bought it contacted me a few weeks later, and I gave him and his wife a little mini-tour of our new building on campus. On their way out he said he was thinking of selling one of his really, really nice radios. One of the few sorts I’d really want, an early floor radio with station presets, rich with wood and history. I could put some of my old station call letters on the buttons, maybe the buttons work and you could watch the needle slide across the dial. How neat this would be! We’d talked about them for some time in his home, and I knew better than to ask. But when he visited campus he said he was maybe thinking about selling one, one day. He seemed hesitant and nervous about it, like maybe his wife had talked him into saying that. Like maybe he wasn’t really sold on the idea of selling, but he brought it up.

I said to him, with solemnity and a sincere appreciation for the work he does on those radios, If you do, I hope you’ll consider giving me a chance to make you an offer.

I kept checking my Facebook messages for the next six years, but he never wrote me. But that’s OK. He was a nice guy, and his wife was charming and I hope they’re doing well. Which … let me check one more time … nada.

Ah well, new town, new marketplace, new opportunities.

When we moved here, when I started putting my office together, the first thing I did was turn on that Silvertone. The tubes hummed up and then I scrolled the dial. You can get a good handful of AM stations out here.

I wonder about the family that bought that radio from Sears and Roebuck in 1948. What did they listen to on it? Did they marvel at stations they could tune in to from different states? When did this stop being a central focus in their home, and then just another piece of furniture? Were there kids in that house? If they are still with us they’d be in their late 70s by now. Do you think those kids, now old, have grandchildren that some them the wonders of the Internet? Think they’ve ever shown them scenes from the woods in Poland?

You know, that old man, that old woman, they are Boomers, and children of the rocket age, young adults of the space age. Maybe they caught that bug, and never let it go. Maybe their grandchildren showed them how to find the NASA streams.

So many technologies. So surprising how we can get accustomed to them all so quickly. So many wonders. So many screws.

Jun 23

On the road, finally, happily

Moving is a terrible thing. Packing is a tedious, physical chore. And if that’s not physical enough, there’s the move part. This is why people don’t do it frequently, if they can help it. But thank goodness, thank the universe and thank Providence for movers. At 8:30 this morning, precisely when they said, the movers arrived.

The owner of the company is the former student of one of our colleagues. And that professor has hired this company twice for moves, and is about to hire him a third time. A good endorsement.

Four guys come in. Two of them former D-1 football players. All of them strong and young and confident. All of them, “Sir” and “Ma’am” and “May I put my water in your refrigerator?” and “May I use your restroom?” These guys were great.

They were taking our things out of our hands because, as they said over and over, this was their job. And that’s true, but you’d feel like a total heel if you didn’t help.

One of the guys loaded his pickup with the last bit of junk and trash for the nearby dumpster run and followed me there to help us get it out of the way. These guys were great, and they worked hard.

And so have we! I told you about the packing. Things hurt on me, and part of that is a direct result of this. Moving is a terrible thing.

But the worst, perhaps, was the last little bit. Truck is full. Movers are thanked individually and collectively and sincerely. Ibuprofen was offered. Tips were delivered. And then they left with our stuff to … wherever. The plan is we’ll see it again on Thursday.

Now, we have to finish cleaning, and then load the cars. And then take a shower. And then, somehow, keep loading the last of the things into the cars. Where do these things keep coming from? Will there be room in the car for me? Can I take another shower now, because this is ridiculous?

And so we got on the road, a bit later than we wanted, but just fine in the scheme of things. And we pointed east.

We’re going to New Jersey, which is a good thing. More on that later. You might think, as I did at first, that moving to New Jersey would mean I wouldn’t see views like this …

Or important farm equipment like this …

That’s a stereotype, and stereotypes aren’t always accurate. We’re going to South Jersey. We’re going to be in a beautiful, bucolic, pastoral, verdant region. We will be surrounded by farmland, with the Delaware River a short distance away, the beach a bit farther away, and plenty of wonderful new places to explore and learn about. It’s quiet and small and really quite something.

But I’m getting well ahead of myself. Tonight we are in Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. It seemed a good idea, I dunno, a few weeks ago before we realized just how much work we’d put in ourselves over the last five days, to break this trip up. So it’s a hotel tonight, and on the road again in the morning. Driving in packed cars that, in any other context, you might think of as troubling, with limited visibility that is possibly flirting with the legal limits in some of the jurisdictions we’re driving through.

The thing I learned this evening — while loading up my car, full of a “You want it to go, I’ll get it in here” bravado that was mostly sincere — is that there’s something sad about some of those last few things that you put into the car when you’re moving your entire life.

Oh, some things you need. And I stupidly put my suitcase in the middle of the back seat, so everything is on top of it. Some things are important or are sentimental, and they go in their places. Some things are practical. We needed the vacuum and cleaning supplies for the last run through of the house for the buyers (a nice young family of four, first time home owners). And then there’s whatever else you keep running across in your last half dozen walk throughs of every room. And some of that stuff, dear reader, is just pitiful.

But now, underway, in a hotel, with pizza topped with plans and dreams and contingencies, we are past the hardest, most hectic part of the move. We packed it all. It all got loaded. Everything is in motion. It is almost difficult to believe it all came together, considering where we were on Friday. The few hours of driving this evening was a welcome break. A full day’s worth of driving tomorrow … seems like a long day. After that, there’s just the new house, being reunited with our things, and getting settled.


(He said, perhaps naively.)

Jun 23

We’re moving

Here’s the thing. This has been in the works for a while — and we’ll get into that later this week, I’m sure. Talks have been going on even longer. None of this is a surprise. And, happily, our new employer is paying for our packers.

Oh, they talked a good game on the phone. Walked them through the house verbally, they estimated the boxes. The guy that was going to be leading the actual work wanted to do a visual check via Facetime. That turned into a drop in visit on Wednesday or so. He looked at everything, thought the people on the phone in the office were about right. Said he’d be here with his crew on Friday to whip all of our things into boxes in a few hours.

So, you see, while none of this is a surprise, we’ve spent a few months just hanging out, thinking, Maybe we should be doing something?

Nahhh, we’ve got packers.

And they were scheduled to come at about 4 p.m. on Friday.

I bet you can tell where this is going.

On Friday at the end of the day I loaded my car with the last of my things from my on-campus office. Said goodbye to … well, no one, really, but I got a nice Slack message … and drove to the house. My lovely bride’s car was the only one in the drive.

These guys are fast!

I pulled in the garage, slid out the boxes from my office and stacked them in the fledgling pile of stuff we’ve actually put in the garage and walked inside, expecting a forest of boxes. Columns of cardboard, a feat of fort-making.

And there’s my lovely bride, packing a box.

Where, I asked, are the packers?

She gave me the smile that isn’t a smile, but is a smile, but really isn’t. The packers hadn’t turned up.

And so I joined her. She’d already made a frantic dash out to pick up a few boxes from stores and then hit the U-Haul and bought every packing supply they had in stock, and we got to work.

There was some back and forth with the no-show packers. They weren’t coming until so and so. And then they didn’t come. And then they didn’t come on Saturday. After which, we started demanding our money back. And some of it has been refunded. The next call, because we have time for this nonsense right now, is going to go like this: All of my money back, right now. Otherwise, you’re going to have two media professionals who have an embarrassing, embarrassing, array of media contacts and two months with nothing better to do than talk about you.

(Update: They fully refunded the charge.)

So we packed all night Friday. We packed all day Saturday, until about 8 p.m., when there was a small going away party held in our honor with The Yankee’s triathlon team. We packed all day Sunday. At one point yesterday I was packing some particular box and got sidetracked to help with another packing chore, but was then sidetracked by still two more packing tasks. It was ridiculous. We have packed all day today. (I spent most of that time doing some real work in the garage.) We’ll be packing still tomorrow.

At times, it looks like we’ve made a dent and the spirits are high. Progress! At times you can stand in the same spot and see not the momentum, but all of the things still to do, and you can see how this will never be over. Despair.

At every moment there is something to trip on. Sometimes there is something to trip on, and then you land in something else to stumble over.

Fortunately, we’ve been alternating the emotions between us, so someone is always on an upswing and lifting the other along.

These rotten packers.

The movers, a different company, show up tomorrow morning.

Music is doing us a lot of good right now. There’s been a curious sort of traffic pattern throughout the house. For a while, for some reason, The Yankee will work on something upstairs and I will work on something downstairs. And then she moves downstairs and I drift upstairs. I can’t say it is effortless, because everything is a huge effort right now, but it’s an easy flow. And there’s always some song or another as we pack. And usually two. So here’s some more Indigo Girls from their recent show at The Ryman.

Now, sure, you think, The Ryman. The Mother Church of Country Music, and here’s an Americana band, a folk band, a rock band. And all of that is true. But this song features, from left to right, a fiddle, a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, a resonator and a banjo.

Also there are two Loretta Lynn references in “Second Time Around.” This more country than anything Nashville churns out these days.

I love that lyric about compromise.

Here’s what I find about compromise
Don’t do it if it hurts inside
Cause either way you’re screwed
And eventually you’ll find
That you may as well feel good
You may as well have some pride

This is one of those songs where I find myself thinking about the narrator versus the performer, because Amy Ray has an earlier line about how she doesn’t want to sing again, it has a catchy little meter, but is probably the farthest line possible from the performer. Throughout her career she has talked over and over and over about how she has to do these things, sing and play, like it’s in her and she has to get it out, because from the first time she ever played cover songs with Emily Saliers, when they were kids, that this was what she wanted to do, make these noises with her friend. And here we are 40 years later and there’s no way that woman won’t sing her soul out because it feels right. So it must, then, be the narrator. And anyway, that line about compromise is a good concept and maybe one that should be applied a little bit more.

Point is, there’s a lot of time for your mind to wander while you’re trying to find the right angle to get all of these things to go in boxes. And why do I have this many things anyway?

The good news is that late last evening I got to the place where I am ready to shove it all into boxes, or study the insurance policy about fire. It was easy to get into that last bit of gallows humor when the tornado warnings fired up yesterday. This could solve a few problems at once!

Tomorrow, the movers.

If you ain’t go nothin’ good to say
Don’t say nothin’ at all

Mar 23

Marked safe from the weather

The wind has been whipping through. The storms that have bruised and battered and, I fear, destroyed and killed through the Midwest and the South are coming through here as well. This is weather that we’ve been watching for for a week. In some ways, that makes it worse. But at least it isn’t the stuff that pops up, unannounced, in the middle of the night. We don’t get that hear, but it is something I am accustomed to. Certain times of the year, you pay close attention to the barometer and the low pressure fronts.

Here, I have charged the phones, prepared the cat carriers, set out bike helmets and brought the weather radio downstairs for the evening — so I wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs to hear the many announcements. But there was only one. We stayed in a tornado watch from the early evening and into the night. Late in the night, just a few moments ago, the bigger line of storms pushed through the region. Two cells that were surely scaring people in Illinois came this way.

We were under a tornado warning, then, but it was north of us. The radar overhead looked fine. The local broadcast meteorologists looked befuddled, as they often do, with severe weather. The cell passed north of town, and north of us, by about 16 or 18 miles. We listened to the wind whip and whirl, hearing the screens on the windows flex, and wondered how it is that siding stays on the side of a house. Surely, when the breeze turns into a considerable 40 or 50 mile per hour gust, wind could get underneath a few lines of siding and start moving it around, but it thankfully never does. And everything on the deck and the porch stayed where it was, too. The power never flickered, it didn’t even rain overmuch. We were quite fortunate, indeed. Hopefully, because this storm was in the forecast for most of the week, people have paid attention and are prepared.

Before all of that, I got in 20 miles on the bike. Just enough to get the heart rate up. The 2,200 feet of simulated elevation gain does it every time. Look! Here I am! On top of a mountain!

This was the Epic KOM climb, and I set a new Strava PR, absurdly improving on my previous best by 10-plus minutes.

When I got to the top of that climb there popped up a graphic for “Bonus Climb.” I don’t know how laid this out, but there was no bonus about that, or any extra climb. The HUD shows you how long the climb is, and this one is 5.9 miles. That last half mile, then, was all about dose energy.. And then they gave this slow, extra hill. It was almost demoralizing.

Anyway, since it is the end of the month, let’s check on the mileage chart. The purple line is what I’ve done.

That horizontal part marks the two weeks A.) we were out of town, and B.) I was fighting off a cold. So a light March — despite five consecutive days of pedaling — but I’m still ahead of all of my humble little projections.

This isn’t a lot of mileage, not really, but it’s a lot to me.

Tomorrow, a rest day, probably.

Jan 23

There’s a lot here for a Friday

Here’s a question — and it is a real and earnest question. I, being from somewhere sensible, don’t have a lot of experience with this. But if it snows on Wednesday, and your car still looks like this on Friday morning, would it be inappropriate if I got out at the red light and scrapped all that stuff off your car?

Here’s another question — again, asked in all earnestness. If the car in front of you, and the car behind you, has the same idiotic problem, which car should I prioritize?

“Two days, y’all,” he said drawing out the y’all, so that you might understand that it is a word of his people, not just something he has appropriated from others, so you realize, This guy is from the South, and he has found your snow care … wanting.

I spent much of my morning working on my calendar. It’s riveting stuff, I tell you, but February is now planned to a fairly granular level. No one ask me for anything, please, lest we upset the applecart.

In the middle of the day I realized that not everyone knows the expressions “song and dance” and “dog and pony show.” I’m not sure if that’s a generational issue, or perhaps I was misheard. Either way, it will surely make me self-conscious. I sometimes tell people to break a leg, in the show business sense, but there’s going to be a day when someone doesn’t know the phrase, and I’ll sound like a callous, violent person.

“He was very helpful. He asked me twice if I had any questions before he left. And then he told me to break bones. But the weirdest part of all was, he said it in a kind of cheery voice.”

I’ve got to work that out of my lexicon.

Late in the day I had the chance to watch people use a state-of-the-art studio and control room as props again. This never fails to amuse. I also met a folklore major, who taught me a bit about folklore. I now feel as if I can enroll in a folklore 101 class, sneak in late on the second day and be ready to learn.

Folklore is fascinating, as an area of study. I was in their building in October, and admired some of the class offerings on the walls. Some looked worth trying, not that I’d be a folklorist, whatever that actually is outside of the academy.

Looking at classes years and years later, when the pressure is off and it doesn’t matter so much, is an interesting exercise. And, you find, your horizons broaden when you’re not contemplating tuition.

I left the office promptly at 5 p.m. today. First time since Monday. Saw the daylight and some sunshine on the drive back to the house. First time since … I’m not sure when. Maybe Monday, but nothing is jumping out at me. Could it be last Friday?

Anyway, the days are slowly getting longer, which is encouraging. The view in the backyard this evening was even more so. What’s that blue stuff back there?

It is the first sign of spring, if you’re desperate. It’s the first time you’re going to be tricked by the prospect of spring, if you are foolish. There are three stages to this trickery. This is the first stage.

I’ll be foolish. I’ll take it. It isn’t spring, not even close. But that doesn’t matter so much when you see the sun and sky actually, finally, beating up the clouds, even if it is just for the small part of one day.

The next CD in the Re-Listening project is another media update. I had “Throwing Copper’ as a cassette, even though it was released in 1994. (Remember, late adopter.) So in late 1996 or early 1997, I had to get a CD copy because I still wanted to play it a lot, because it was the 90s, and I was young, and Ed Kowalczyk screamed a lot. And the rhythm section on that record is pretty decent.

“Throwing Copper” was the mainstream breakthrough, after two smaller records and an EP. And it was a huge success. Two of the five singles went to number one, and “Lightning Crashes” sat atop the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for ten straight weeks. After it had been on the Billboard 200 album chart for a full year, the record hit number one. It sold eight million copies in the US alone.

It is amusing to me that these guys were all about 24 when this record was released. Picked up straight out of high school, dictionary in hand and angst to share.

Since it was that broadly popular, and since this was a tape-to-CD upgrade for me, and because it is getting late into the evening, here’s just two quick tracks from later in the album. I always enjoyed this bass line, even as the song goes well against the general feel of the rest of the record.

And then Kowalczyk goes full Kowalczyk three-and-a-half minutes in.

This was the hidden track, and the slide guitar is so atypical, and works so well. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this was on as I drove away from campus today, and it still works.

I saw Live three times in concert in the next few years. They put on some great shows. Then the music got more exotic, and then the tensions within the band got weird. I’m trying to make sense of it on Wikipedia now. The singer left, or was uninvited or something. The band continued without him, which seemed weird. He sued them. Then the original band got back together for a time, then fired one member. There was another lawsuit, and now Kowalczyk is the last original member still playing under the name. That’s the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I guess.

Since I premise the Re-Listening project as a quick stroll through the memories that got pinned to some of this music … I remember, and I am being as vague as possible here, a job I had in high school. I worked with a guy who was a college frat boy. He was funny, goofy, nice, and guaranteed to fall into some sort of trouble. You know the sort. There was a young woman who worked there, too. She was nice, attractive and guaranteed to be trouble. You know the sort. They got pregnant. “Lightning Crashes” was their song, which, I mean … really.

But that was 1994. To be young just then brought a certain set of choices, just as any other period. I wonder how long those two lasted.

I got in a quick ride before dinner tonight, tapping out 33 miles on Zwift, racing to finish before the batteries on all the necessary devices died. (The speaker didn’t survive the ride. My phone and iPad just barely did.) Tonight I got in two routes in France. I set three Strava segment PRs, somehow.

This lighthouse spins as you’re riding through the digital countryside of northern France.

I’m in an interesting place for the month. Earlier this week I compiled my highest volume months of bike riding, in terms of miles. It’s still a humble number, but this month was in 9th place overall. After tonight, this month is now my third best month. Tomorrow, it’ll be second. Maybe I can make it my most prolific month before it’s over.

May as well get something out of January.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 48 routes down, 72 to go.