Monday, January 29, 2007

Yeah, But It's A Dry Cold

This latest cold snap has forced me to become more aware of my piping than ever before.

They say a man never truly gets to know his house until he's had to buy two hundred feet of 3/4" foam pipe insulation. Well, whoever "they" are, they're overdue for their meds. But they're right, especially when you have an old house whose plumbing and electrical systems were thoughtfully installed several dozen years after the place was constructed.

When it's so cold they've had to call off the 108th Annual Write-Your-Name-In-The-Snow Competition, you wake up in the morning wanting to know two things: 1) Did my pipes freeze overnight? and 2) Why the hell didn't I spring for heated toilet seats?

I'll leave the second question unanswered for the time being and concentrate on what I've been doing to not have to ask the first. Mostly, it's involved a lot of hoping that it won't get too much colder. I mean, there's only so much I can do with a 127-year-old plank-built house.

One thing I have in my favor is that I don't have a lot of pipes running through interior walls. The piping for the entire first floor runs through the basement and comes up through ingeniously placed holes in the floor. The risers to the 2nd floor are in one of two pipe chases, or in two or three cases, ingeniously placed holes in both the first and second floors. So I figure as long as I keep the temperature within the house reasonable, and the basement above about 31.9 degrees, I should be able to not worry about it so much and concentrate instead on installing heated toilet seats.

The pipe insulation angle is supposedly very important in a house like mine, which is heated with hot water baseboard. I'm not 100% positive about this, though. I have this possibly incredibly underinformed idea that the exposed copper hot water pipes in my basement actually serve to heat the surrounding air just enough to keep the cold water pipes from freezing, and that insulating them may bring the basement temperature low enough to cause one supremely ruined day. Informal poll: do any of you insulate or heat exposed piping in your basement? The hot or cold pipes or both? Foam noodles? Sticky insulation tape? Standing there blowing on it?

The surrounding air temperature issue worried me as well. Last Wednesday when we hit 3 below, I spent the day wearing a hat and scarf, sitting next to an electric space heater like a charter member of the Ladies Auxilliary. This led to the great Draft Hunt of 2007, where I became friends with my new favorite substance: rope caulk weatherstripping. Just say it three times fast and you'll think as much of it as I do. I ran around the house feeling around for places where the cold air was coming in, and lemmetellya, that stuff sealed up around window and door frames and cold molding joints like magic. Beats the regular foam weatherstrip silly. And, need I point out again: fun to say. Rope caulk weatherstripping!

I got some window frame shrink-wrap for the window in the cold downstairs bathroom, and covered up some small leftover dings in the kitchen wall and ceiling that were sucking up my hard-earned warm air. So between that and plastic sheeting, foil tape, regular weatherstripping, and my trusty caulk gun, this last week I've been able to get to the point where I'm no longer wanting to stand around a trash fire in a 55-gallon drum in my living room. As much fun as that sounds, I'm not quite sure that'll come off as such a great decision come this May.

Which sure seems like a long way from now, doesn't it?

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Final Frontier

I did some pointless research and have come up with this meaningless statistic: for 53 out of the 168 upcoming hours of this week, there will be an episode of the Star Trek franchise running somewhere on my basic cable tier.

Before I start in earnest: I know about the kind of people who have that whole pathological attraction to the whole Trek universe. People who speak Klingon, or have argued about what happens during a warp core breach. Well, they are what they are. They make you feel a little bit better about yourself by not being like them. And like most normal people, I've never read a technical manual for the USS Enterprise, nor did I meet my spouse at a Trek convention.

This post isn't about bashing Trekkies, though. I've just watched too much TV.

All Trek episodes make valid thematic points: technology in service to mankind, respect for all sentient beings, firing only in self-defense. That's nice and everything, but as I'm sure the people who worked on them would tell you, they're just TV shows. Sets, scripts, actors...frequently of less-than-award-winning quality.

I mean, really: there's always some junk-science-driven plot device--a "temporal anomaly", or weird energy surge that screws up the Holodeck--that turns into another great excuse to put the cast into period costumes and solve some sort of geekgasm-inducing technical problem. Along the way there are zillions of species with ugly foreheads that speak perfect English, an uncanny amount of references to late 20th-century Earth, and lot of wild guesses that turn out to be correct, just in time to save the ship from being eaten by interphasic space leeches.

And so, so much overacting. These are performances that stand the test of time. Watch and see: forty years from now they'll be teaching classes in overacting at UCLA solely with Trek clips. The serial offenders were the comic relief characters like Quark (ugh) and Neelix (ugggggghhhhh); even worse was when they played Data for laughs. I always prayed for an anvil to fall out of the sky onto Brent Spiner's head right after watching TNG episodes like that. Or--heaven forgive me--the movie that came out about 3 years ago.

But the absolute biggest problem is that Star Trek takes the very real concepts that physical scientists and cosmologists have been working to discover for several thousand years and completely urinates all over them. There are multiple generations of human beings who now absolutely know to the core of their souls that faster-than-light space travel is just a matter of time from being a reality. That there's a whole bunch of space-mobile, technologically-advanced aliens that look like bit-part actors with latex ridges on their foreheads. That we are just a few years away from transporters, replicators, force fields, phasers, artificial gravity, and being able to remodulate the shields to the spectrum frequency of the warp engines and re-route power to the tractor beam.

Sorry, Charlie. It's fiction. Space is big, cold, and pretty much empty. Chances are good that not only will we never be able to get out of our own solar system in a generation's worth of travel time, but also that nobody from out of the cosmos is going to show up with technology that completely violates everything we've known to be true about physics.

This is true of all of science fiction, but for some reason the way Trek has ingrained itself into human consciousness and its absolute ubiquity make it more singularly responsible for its ability to suck humanity squarely out of the realm of reality.

We'll just have to be happy where we are for a while.

There's some breaking news I get as I finish up this post: EGL on Eagle Street is gone. For good. And Gideon's is closed indefinitely, but may reopen. It doesn't seem to be from a lack of business so much as owner Bill Gideon's overall financial picture. But I, and so many of our friends who loved the place, are just crushed at this news. It couldn't even make it until the movie theater opened. Anybody want to form a real estate investment trust and buy the building from whoever owns it and let Vaal run a restaurant? Anybody have any suggestions about where we should have the February Drinking Liberally meeting?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two Topics For Your Perusal

  • CHB points out today's Globe article about newly-elected Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Andy Nuciforo hunting down a new office by the right hand of His Excellency The Governor: Insurance Commissioner. Frank Phillips credits a half-dozen "former Senate and political colleagues on Beacon Hill" on background (of course) saying they've been approached for advice by Our Former State Senator in bolting from the "sinecure" job (their words, not mine) that he's had to slog through for all of two weeks now.

    But the next sound you hear will be a distinct scoffing noise: "A senior adviser [isn't it advisor?] to the governor said the former state senator probably would not get the position, although he may be granted an interview," says another anonymously sourced Deep Throat Wannabe with a view of Louisburg Square. Yow! Burned!

    I was gambling that the next time we would hear from Registrar Nuciforo would be shortly after John Olver somehow fails in his attempt to beat Silvio Conte's record for generations come and gone while still Congressman. The Jane Swift Strategy, if you will. I lost that bet, but my next one is this: we're looking at a non-story. Trial balloon, leaked to the press for some kind of reaction, and shot down in flames with a 50-caliber anonymous quote.

  • Transcript editor Glenn Drohan has popped up with some regularity on the blogosphere of late. He showed up at Drinking Liberally last week (hey, the man knows a movement when he sees it, even if it was a smallish group this time), and today he spoke at the North Adams Rotary Club meeting. He covered a variety of topics, but most relevant to this forum is this: he's aware that the Transcript web site ain't exactly winning awards for its interactive content. You got "mailto" links--so 1995--and no discussion boards for readers to provide feedback.

    Here is where we, the intrepid providers of local interest blather, have a chance to provide what today's great corporate minds call "synergy" (or "leverage". or maybe "dynamic customer-facing revenue paradigm", or something like that). I can see a highly visible little hotspot on the Transcript's headline and item pages (especially on Opinion and Local pieces) linking to a portal page with a list of the active Berkshire blogs--featuring an RSS feed displaying headlines from the last 10 or so days. Maybe even sell ad space on this page, too. Anyway, we can funnel the howmanyever thousand readers directly into the blogosphere and really kick the participation level up a notch. Greg, Wes, Andy, Margie, Jack, Eric? Howard? John Mitchell? What do we think?

    Also, an aside shared by Glenn: not enough people are writing letters to the editor. Apparently, this is the feature that the average newspaper reader turns to immediately after the obituaries. Lots of people read them, but it seems nobody's writing them any more. Well, almost nobody. Certainly fewer than before, and not counting sitting City Councilors. So write a letter to the editor, if you gots the notion.

    Bonus third topic: Wes Flinn passed around an internet meme and basically called me out on it. Well, if he can do it, so can I. Similar responses invited.

    1. Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and its sequels The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe, and Everything by the late Douglas Adams.

    2. Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music: Surrender, by Cheap Trick. The first song I ever played in a band with other musicians. I've never been the same.

    3. Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue: History of the World, Part I.

    4. Name a performer for whom you suspend of all disbelief: Christoper Walken. Can there be any doubt this guy ACTUALLY IS a Bond villain, Captain Koontz, or just plain needs more cowbell?

    5. Name a work of art you'd like to live with: M.C. Escher's Relativity.

    6. Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life: I'm not going to explain this, but both Tara and I agree that it's a combination of two: South Park and Gilmore Girls. Really.

    7. Name a punchline that always makes you laugh: From #3 above:
         "Do you know the penalty for a slave that strikes a Roman citizen? You had your hand up first."
         "Death by torture!"
         "They shove a living snake up your ass!"
         "Ah, no... but that's very creative."

  • Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Votus Interruptus

    Margie Ware's latest blog post and the related AP story in the Boston Globe drop the sledgehammer news that Dan Bosley--and his 20 years tenure in the State Legislature--are staying right where they are. The post of economic development advisor, if it is in fact being filled, is not being filled by Berkshire County's senior legislative delegate to the State House.

    The Globe/AP story quotes a statement from Governor Patrick: "After further discussion with Rep. Dan Bosley, he and I have agreed that the most effective role he can play in fostering economic growth and advancing our agenda for business development in Massachusetts is in the Legislature." It also curiously enough decided to mention Dan's opposition to and Deval's promotion of slot machines within the Commonwealth, without ever really coming out and saying this was the base reason behind the split-up.

    This is good news, in a way. The 1st Berkshire district keeps a proven senior legislator and committee chairman in the State House, and we aren't going to have to go through what was looking to be a divisive intradistrict election cycle.

    On the other hand, on the surface this looked like a great move for Dan--getting a nice raise and moving away from the alternate year election kerfuffles and General Court politics while putting his experience to use in a statewide, high-profile executive position with a hotline to Deval's desk. It can't be that this decision was taken lightly by either party, and maybe someday we will know the whole story.

    It's a bit disappointing for those of us who like a bit of action in our local political scenery. All I know is that I came back from a soul-ripping visit to my dentist in Dalton to an email from Margie cancelling an upcoming campaign meeting, and reading her blog post confirming the news and saying that she's not coming to Drinking Liberally tonight (7pm at EGL, still formerly Gideon's Nightery, on Eagle St. in North Adams).

    It's probably for the best as far as the legislative interests of the district is concerned, but my heart goes out to Marge, Gailanne Cariddi, Dick Alcombright, Joe Solomon, Ed MacDonald, and anybody else who had to go through the gut and wallet wrenching decisions to run or not run for the open seat. It couldn't have been easy.

    At least we have the City Council race to gear up for this summer, eh?

    UPDATE: Well, maybe we didn't have to wait that long for answers to some of these questions, and they come from an intriguing source indeed. Mayor John Barrett III was quoted in a late followup piece on "The original offer was not the same as the final offer, and it would not have given him the opportunity to impact economic development policy. It was better for him to remain in the Legislature. As he said to me, he didn’t need the job just to fatten his pension."

    In fact, the whole thing sounds just as called in a comment by winmurcran around 7:00 this evening, who could have run with this story pretty much as written three and a half hours before the Globe ran it. Not sure if he'd have gotten the JBIII quote, though. Dude, if you don't send me an email telling me where you get some of the background stuff you've come up with over the last few months, I'm going to edit your comments to say "in bed" after each sentence like a fortune cookie, like "sounds to me like bosley made the right choice to avoid being a staffer without much executive authority in bed. he'll be more helpful to the berkshires and the governor from the house in bed."

    Friday, January 05, 2007

    Anyone Catch This In Yesterday's Globe?

    Geographically challenged Boston Globe reporter Matt Viser includes this unintentionally comedic aside in a story filed for yesterday's paper, titled "Patrick may overturn Romney picks":

    In 2006...the Patrick-Murray ticket won 53 of the 60 communities in Worcester County. The two Democrats won the city of Worcester by 19,100 votes, and even carried Sturbridge, the hometown of Reed Hillman, the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey.

    Several people from the area were appointed to positions in the Patrick administration. Patrick's chief economic development adviser, Representative Daniel E. Bosley, is from North Adams.

    According to Google maps, if you start at the Post Office on Ashland St here in beautiful 01247 and go out Rte 2 to I-190 down to Worcester, it's 111 miles. One hundred eleven miles is the distance from, say, Twin Donut in Allston to Brattleboro, Vermont. Or from City Hall Plaza in Boston to New London, CT. Noice woik, Magellan.

    Hopefully, Boz will straighten them out before his next trip back home here to the Worcester County area. Does this mean Marlborough is a local call now? Are we now a 10-minute drive to the Centrum? Where did they put Springfield, now, down by New Haven, Connecticut?

    When I lived back east, I used to maintain that we could draw two lines starting in Deerfield, MA, on I-91: one running northwest to Williamstown and one running southwest to Bash Bish Falls. Of the resulting three triangles created by those lines, I-91, and the Massachusetts border, you could cede the northernmost one to Vermont, the central one to New York, and the southern one to Connecticut. Very few Mass residents east of I-91 would notice any of it, and frankly I always thought it'd make a better fit.

    Although now that I live here--well, I pretty much feel the same way.

    I have friends back in Essex and Middlesex Counties who couldn't find North Adams on a map with a sextant, compass, and Mayor John Barrett III standing next to them. But they're not the newspaper with the largest circulation in New England, are they? I call for an IMMEDIATE correction. And a free subscription. Their funny pages are pretty good, and they have some of the best sportswriters in the country covering my teams. However, until they actually send their reporters out to see the Commonwealth that they cover--or at least have them look at a map--then I guess I'm stuck with the not-unpleasant local ham-and-egg operations. They're a bit light on the Boston sports, but hell, I guess that's why Al Gore invented the Internets.