Saturday, January 10 2004
Gretchen's birthday is coming soon, as are the birthdays of her two close friends M@ry Purdy and Katie. So they always make a ritual of getting together for a night at this time of year and having a mutual and highly-exclusive celebration. This year's celebration began at lunchtime today at our house, with me joining them for a several-course meal that Gretchen had prepared.
Immediately after lunch, I drove through the zero-degree (Fahrenheit) conditions up to Saugerties to do some work on Katie's mother's (Barbara's) computer. Barbara, you see, had won my services in a Catskill Animal Sanctuary raffle.
Barbara's computer was an older Pentium-type machine, and the main task was to put in a new hard drive that a friend had bought for her. The existing hard drive was only one gigabyte in size, and it needed more room. But then it turned out that this "new" hard drive was an old 7 gigabyte drive evidently removed from a teenager's computer. It booted up into Windows ME and displayed a blurry JPEG of a garage band as a desktop background. I didn't know what to say - I didn't want to be the one to say that perhaps her friend had ripped her off.
While in Saugerties, I stopped at the hardware store and bought a two-inch hole saw. Then I wandered around to various antique stores to see what kind of small metal items were available. Everything I saw was crap. It wasn't worth walking around in the cold. It was the kind of cold that actually made the tissues of my face hurt.
Later I visited a house in the same prefab hippie development where I'd done some cowboy electrician work this summer. One of the neighbors had been given my name as a competent electrician, so I went to see what the job would be like. The trickiest part involved stringing wires through the aluminum framework of a greenhouse, but I like a little challenge now and then, so I agreed to the job.
Up until a few days ago, there was no sign of ice formation on the surface of Ashokan Reservoir, although there was a spectacular ghostly accumulation of ice on the trees along the shoreline, the frozen droplets of thousands of breaking waves. But today as I passed the Reservoir I saw that ice covered over half of the reservoir's surface. It had formed at some point when the water was very calm, because it was all as smooth as glass. Where the ice hadn't yet formed, the water was still rippling with waves.
While the birthday girls had still been around, I'd brought Maxwell the new cat down from upstairs in hopes of encouraging his integration into the family. Eleanor was fascinated, as usual, shoving her nose into his fur repeatedly. Clarence the kitten was less enthusiastic, and most of his reactions involved an arched back and a hiss. Mavis didn't seem to care one way or the other. She only has two reactions to other animals: irritation or indifference. Sally's reaction to Maxwell had been the most interesting. She followed him around the house like a shadow, seeming to do everything he was doing in a calm reasonable manner one doesn't normally expect of dogs. For his part, Maxwell didn't seem the least bit frightened of the dogs. His problem seemed to be with his freaky new surroundings. They made him so nervous that I could feel him trembling (no, that wasn't purring) as he sat in my lap. Eventually his exploration of his new world led him into the basement, where he vanished.
From then on, every time I went downstairs, I launched a thorough search to find his latest hidey hole. It was always a different place; it seemed he didn't like sticking around in a place where he'd been discovered. Finally he ended up in an inaccessible nook at the base of the chimney in the boiler room. The only way to see him there was to lie down beside the boiler and shine a flashlight between the bricks that it sits upon. I set up food, water, and cat litter nearby, since the only way to get him out of there would have been to squirt him with a water gun.
A considerable chunk of my time today was consumed trying to set up a wireless hub in the laboratory. This equipment had all been mothballed since the move from Brooklyn, but now that I have a tiny laptop computer, I wanted to be able to surf the web anywhere in the house wirelessly. The network here is completely different from the one that had existed in Brooklyn, because now instead of going through a broadband router, all the internet protocols pass through a desktop computer (my main computer, whose name is Woodchuck) which acts as a proxy server.
Admittedly, some of my networking trouble today was all my fault, since the hub (which had been atop a pole on a brownstone in Brooklyn) was now just a shielded circuit board with antennæ I'd also lost its installation CD. For awhile I couldn't even determine who had manufactured it.
Then I was beset with a series of problems all related to the fact that the revision 1.8 of configuration program was totally incompatible with the 1.7 version of the device. I had great deal of difficulty figuring this out because of the design of the 1.8 configuration program. It featured an ugly, artless joke of a "skin," with poorly-labeled buttons (that didn't seem to do anything) mixed in with things that may or may not have been decorations. Surely you've fallen prey to such interfaces yourself. They're everywhere, willfully violating interface conventions and obfuscating the meanings and effects of interface elements. It was bad enough when hip art designers were making these things, but now skinned interfaces are coming from fry cooks, exterminators, and other design neophytes. It's only a matter of time before Microsoft Word resembles an Art Decco radio, with fonts selected by a tuner knob and margin positions altered by futzing with the position of an antenna.
Once I finally had the wireless stuff working, I could sit on the couch in the teevee room watching the boob tube, checking my email and reading various websites. Or I could go down to the living room and surf the web next to a raging fire. I went out into the bitter cold to see how far the signal reached into the yard, and it actually seemed stronger out there than it had in the living room.
While I was experiencing such luxuries, I made a troubling discovery about the life of the Vaio's battery. It wasn't very good. It could only supply power for about twenty minutes. A little web research led me to a page that explained a basic problem with lithium-ion batteries: their life is only about two or three years. Since this laptop is probably four years old, I should consider myself lucky to be getting twenty minutes of work out of the existing battery pack. I managed to track down a replacement on the web, but its price was more than $100. I decided to run a few experiments on the battery to see if I could revive some of its past glory. I put it outside the window in the zero degree night to see if a deep freeze would help. This is typical of the sort of alchemy I resort to when I have no science to guide me. It was the most invasive thing I could do without actually opening it up.
Live music seemed to be the best thing to watch on teevee while simultaneously distracted by the web. At any given time, there always seems to be a commercial-free live concert happening somewhere on DirectTV, particularly after midnight. The one I watched tonight featured Rodney Crowell and his band. The song they were playing when I tuned in was a fast rockabilly-boogie-woogie thing, a little bit country and a little bit 50s-style rock and roll. Such music isn't normally my thing, but there was something unusual in this music that kept me watching its performance. It might have been Crowell's voice, or it might have been the unusual syncopation in the instrumentals. Crowell's slower, more singer-songwriterly songs, while less explicitly country or rockabilly, were also decidedly less interesting. His lyrics were often good, though at times he wandered out of the parade ground of metaphor and into the minefield of left-wing preachiness. (It's difficult to mention Ken Starr by name without doing damage to a song.) Periodically the concert was interspersed with cuts from an interview of Rodney Crowell, and in these I learned that he'd been married to the daughter of June and Johnny Cash, and had remained close to the Cashes even after the divorce.
Something in one of Crowell's songs led me to email myself a paragraph. This is the edited version:
Just think how you'd be if you had no responsibilities. Just think how you'd be if you didn't care if what you did today was going to leave you dead or alive. Oh my God, what a crazy life you'd live! And you'd probably get away with it unscathed for years! Hell, I almost lived like that at various times in my life. I remember at some point back in 1990 thinking my life was a big crazy waste in the making anyway, and that I'd already squandered all my chances for conventional success, so why not sign up to be canon fodder and see what happens? I could write about the misery in my diary! Yeah, I'm serious. I remember standing out there at that market near the intersection where Lorraine Street meets College Street (on the west end of Oberlin). I was thinking Oberlin was a big waste of my life and that I should take any ticket available to its next chapter. What I didn't know then! I still had two Oberlin girlfriends in my future, followed by a period of artistic monasticism, followed by Big Fun, followed by life in the dotcom world. Oh the years, oh the fossil-rich strata they leave in history!
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