Right here, right now…

Due to there being a lot of other stuff in the queue, I’m a little late off the blocks on this one. Still, I just want to take at least one post and say without reservation that the James Webb Space Telescope is absolutely amazing. I haven’t even asked how much we spent on it, but regardless of how many billions of dollars it cost, Webb would have been a bargain at twice the price.

Webb has enabled us to peer back through the evolution of the universe, now seeing so deeply into the past to find a point only 300 million years after the beginning. In a 14-billion-year-old universe, it’s a fraction that’s incredibly hard to imagine – almost impossible to fathom set against a human lifetime that may range to 80 years if one happens to be both lucky and healthy.

We’re just now at the very beginning of Webb’s discoveries. It’s this I think of any time someone declares we’re living in “the worst timeline.” The oldest evidence for man’s creation of primitive stone tools is about 2.6 million years old. Human’s first constructive use of fire happened, maybe, 2.3 million years ago. We didn’t get around to inventing shoes until 45,000 years ago. It took 20,000 years after that to domesticate the dog. Fixed settlements, towns, arrived about 11,000 years ago. Wine came 7,500 years after that – and then we were off to the races with the pace of technical and scientific invention cracking along ever faster. 

It took 6,400 years to go from the invention of the wheel to the first modern car. It took 66 years to go from the first flight at Kitty Hawk to landing men safely on the Moon. The pace of discovery and invention isn’t linear. It only seems gradual right up until the moment when it doesn’t. 

Webb has opened up a new era for exploration and discovery. It’s impossible to know what still lays unseen over the horizon, but I’m so very glad to be here for it… rather than waiting for the guy living in the next cave over to figure out how to cook a mammoth steak without burning his face off. There’s really nowhere I’d rather be than right here, right now.

The Bathroom Report: Day 54

It’s been a busy week even by comparison to the last few busy weeks. 

Because a lot of the ceiling had to come down to accommodate new infrastructure, a metric shit ton of insulation had come down too. The week started with blowing new insulation back into the attic. After that, the designer stopped by to pick paint and look at my unexpectedly mismatched vanity top. The consensus there was to stand pat until the paint is on the walls and fixtures are in before making a final decision. I think we’re all being overly optimistic by hoping that the paint will pull everything together, but I’ve never had a particular eye for color so I’m satisfied to just let the process work through to its logical conclusion.

If it turns out we do need to bring in a substitution, it won’t be the end of the world. Remove two fixtures, replace the existing top with a darker stone, reattach the fixtures, and get on with life. Easy to say, of course, before I have to cut another check for it. In the worst case, I’ll keep the current top stashed in the basement until the time comes to renovate the guest bathroom. That’ll have to be done eventually anyway since it seems some people are fussy about having at least one bathtub in in house. The current number of tubs here is zero and it suits me fine. Maybe it’ll be odd to have dual sinks in a guest bath, but bugger it. I’ve already paid for the damned thing.

The painter has been here for the last two days throwing his own proprietary variant of Lowes’ “Realest Greige” onto the bathroom walls giving the closet a nice coat of contractor standard white. One wall in the bedroom needed repainted due to several spots that had to be cut and patched. Doing one out of four walls wasn’t ideal, but the bedroom is probably the next room on my project list. It needs new carpet and could stand a full paintjob – both of which I was putting off until after the dust and dirt of ripping out and replacing the adjoining bathroom was behind me. 

Final hook ups for plumbing and electrical are scheduled for Monday. I’ll be glad to have the giant box o’ toilet finally out of the laundry room. It’s been there for over two months now. 

Even after all this, there are some punch list items left to do. The mirrors need to be hung. The towel bar and toilet paper holder need to be mounted. A final bead of caulk needs to be run around the top of the shower tile now that the ceiling is painted. With the paint done I can reinstall the blinds and recycle a valance to hide those mechanicals at least temporarily. I’ve also got a small set of shelves I’ll be pressing into service as storage until I stumble across a more permeant storage piece. The shower glass, of course, remains on backorder. But other than that, this project is done.

So, you see, “done” is a matter of degree. 

I suspect I’ll jump the gun and start moving back into the bedroom over the weekend. The temptation to sleep in my own bed after two months across the hall is just too strong to be foiled by whatever additional dirt and grime the electricians and plumbers might kick up next week. How that goes will depend entirely on giving everything a good cleaning. Even with everything swaddled in plastic, tarps, and drop cloths, construction dust seems to be inescapable. Once I get it to a serviceable level of clean, I’m inclined to go ahead and hire someone to really give the whole place a going over from top to bottom. I’ve done a reasonable job to keep the mess from spreading to the rest of the house, but really getting things back up to standard is going to take a level of effort.

That’s it. That’s the update. The end is tantalizingly close and still feels incredibly far away. 

The Bathroom Report: Day 40

Seeing it fully tiled for the first time, I can honestly say that while the shower is still abnormally large, it no longer feels absurdly so. I think when, eventually, the glass gets installed, it will feel like a properly enclosed space. Given the lead time quoted by the glass company, though, it could be a while before I get to make a final determination on that. I was skeptical about both the design and the tile choices originally, but seeing them all hanging together versus laid out on just a sample palette, I’m well pleased with where it’s heading.

The crew here started in on the floor yesterday. Once they get to the point of laying that tile, it should be a straight forwarded running bond pattern covering a simple rectangle. With no oddball angles to contend with, I’m cautiously optimistic that it’ll go quickly. Of course, before they could start on the tile, the heating element needed to be fitted…. and that, of course, is where we encountered this week’s catch.

The heating cable that arrived weeks ago when the materials were delivered turned out to be about half the length they actually needed for the job. Most of what they did yesterday has to come out so that can be corrected. With that, instead of getting the floor most of the way done, they’ve shifted gears to work on grouting the shower tile while waiting for the right cable to show up. That’s fine. It’s still necessary progress. God knows there’s enough grout work that needs doing.

I’m not sure if you’d call it a design feature, but one small thing I insisted on is leaving a 24”x24” corner section of the floor unheated. Since moving in to this house, the master bathroom was almost exclusively a place to keep the litter box. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll move the box back into the bathroom or leave it where it’s been during construction, but in the event it does someday move back into its old space, having a bit of the floor that wouldn’t act like a hot plate under it felt like just good sense. No matter how good a room looks, heated cat pee feels like something best avoided.

I’m not yet willing to call the beginning of the end, but it seems to me that we’re well past the end of the beginning. Once the floor is in and the grout is done, I have to believe we’re in the home stretch. Then it’s moving in the vanity, painting, making the final plumbing connections, and fixtures and finishing touches. It’s still a lot… but a lot less than it was a while ago. 

The Bathroom Report: Day 33

It’s the end of another week here at the endless bathroom project. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way. I assume it’s because we’re now counting days past the originally scheduled finish date and the end still isn’t in sight. 

The end may not be in sight, but there has been some solid progress made this week. The DITRA membrane is on the floor and the shower is (partially) tiled. The tile work has been slow going. I’m told that fitting the pebble floor and some of the angled bits of the first course of wall tile needed to accommodate the long slope of the shower pan took a bit of doing, but it’s in and the first coat of darkener is on it. The crew is plugging away at it, though, so it’s daily visible progress if nothing else. Plus, given the vague memory of my one long ago experience in installing a tile kitchen backsplash, that was considerably less involved than what they’re working on, I’m perfectly happy to let them contend with it.

I’ve mostly given up on projecting when I think this will be finished. I know getting the tile done is the longest pole of this particular tent. The rest – dropping in the vanity and the plumbing and lighting fixtures – should go (theoretically) quickly. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself. It should help to stave off the madness.

Home is a funny place…

I grew up in what many people would describe as “the sticks.” The town where I grew up was so small it didn’t warrant having its own stoplight. You had to drive to the next town down the crick if you wanted to see one of those in action. Most of the towns in the area were so small that for all practical purposes that if a particular service was available in the county, it was considered fairly local.

Once upon a time, the region was a powerhouse of both light and heavy industry. Generations of a family’s men made their living by “going down the mines.” By the time I was a kid, most of that world was dead or dying, though I’m old enough to remember the last of the coal trains rumbling through the center of town to be used out there in the wider world beyond the ridges and valleys of home. Some bits of that life have clung on grimly, but it’s a world gone now for 30 years.

You’d never know it from listening to people, though. Even now, there’s an inexplicable feeling that tomorrow or maybe the next day an enormous, smoke belching factory will spring up along the banks of the Potomac and all will be well again – that the future can be exactly as it was in the past.

I’ve got an expatriate’s love of my home town (of the region, really), even while knowing I’ll likely never do more than visit occasionally. Maybe I see its charms and its flaws a bit more clearly because I’m looking from the perspective of someone who hasn’t lived there in over two decades.

Home is a funny place. 

One of the favorite local sports is bitching that business don’t want to open, or industry has left, or that six other things are fucked up and use to be better… but then immediately bitching and complaining when someone opens a new business or has the audacity to try something different.

The county is getting its first Starbucks. Already people are out of the woodwork bitching that burned coffee, overpriced, unpatriotic, corporate chain Starbucks would dare to open a shop locally. My favorite bit of local-ism is that “Having a Dunkin would be better.” Some of us are old enough to remember when there use to be one of those, too. It went out of business, so maybe it’s not as popular an option as people seem to think.

A few weeks from now, the furor over Starbucks will dry up. Everyone will be back to bitching that they want more stores or restaurant chains. Bring on a Panera or a Chipotle or an Outback. But take my word for it, as soon as one of them announces they’re coming, that business will be awful, their food will be overpriced slop, and we don’t want them here.

You’d be hard pressed to find an area more desperate for new business and economic development… as long as it changes absolutely nothing.

Doing the work…

I’ve done well for myself. I’ve taken advantage of my educational opportunities all along the path of life. Occasionally I even think that I’ve done better for myself that a simple boy fron down the crick really has any right to expect. Don’t think for a moment that I take any of that for granted. 

I’ve seen a lot of the world and had the opportunity to have some truly remarkable experiences. At heart, though, I ultimately think of myself as a technician – a wrench turner in the data economy. I’ve tried the whole management and supervision thing and we’re all better off for my having given it up.

Mostly, I really just want to be left alone to do the work. That’s where my talents and interests are applied to the most effect.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Hard won experience tells me that I can either spend six hours doing the work or spend those same six hours sitting in meetings talking about the work. If I’m doing the latter, there’s absolutely no progress being made on the former. Putting more simply, I can talk about the damned work or I can do the damned work. I cannot, however, do both simultaniously. Personally, I know which one I’d greatly prefer. 

However, my opinion on the subject is clearly not of any great significance. If it were I wouldn’t regularly be spending 50% or more of my days sitting around jibberjabbering instead of getting the job done.

Specialists…

I’m old enough to remember taking the family dog to a vet who ran his practice out of a converted shed in his back yard. Treatment for most any ailment was a shot of antibiotics and a bland diet – his weapon of choice was boiled hamburger and rice. It was the middle 1980s and the very notion, at least in the mountains of western Maryland, that there should be anything remotely like a “specialty” vet didn’t cross any of our minds. Dogs got their rabies shot every 3rd year, ate table scraps mixed with their dry food, and all lasted for somewhere between 8 and 10 years.

Flash forward 30 years…

My bulldog, being typical of his breed, assembled an impressive roster of medical professionals on his “healthcare team.” Cardiologists, allergists, orthopedic surgeons, and anesthesiologists over the course of treating his many various conditions. My labrador, now into old age herself, has already acquired a opthmologist. In the coming weeks it’s likely we’ll add a radiologist, an oncologist, and a general surgeon to her list.

Veterinary medicine as it exists today – with the ability to diagnose and treat the family dog in a remarkably similar way to how how I’d be treated if I walked through the doors at Hopkins with the same symptoms – is a marvel. It’s also a money making juggernaught, but that’s a separate discussion. The practice I’m taking Maggie to this week in hopes of working up a final diagnosis and beginning outline of a treatment plan includes easily a thousand or more years of combined experience in emergency medicine, cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, radiology, neurology, oncology, and ophthalmology, in addition to maintaining six surgeons on staff. Their posted resumes are suitably impressive (yes, I’ve read them all). I’m cautiously optimistic that all this will translate into identifying what the best options look like for the road ahead.

I’m walking into this week with just enough knowledge based on internet deep diving and journal article reading to hopefully ask reasonably informed questions. I’ll be counting on this bunch to know the line between what science can do and what science should do. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m thankful that the state of the art has grown beyond crate rest along with boiled hamburger and rice, but there’s more than a little bit of me that misses simple, country diagnostics and treatment – and its inherent acceptance that the power of medical science to extend life has, and should have, logical limitations.


Actual work (and why it doesn’t happen)…

There is the occasional rare day when I can sit down and focus on one or two major projects and feel like I’ve mushed the ball forward even if it’s only by a little bit. Today wasn’t that day. The fact is, I don’t remember much of what I worked on today. I try very hard to do a mental dump on my way out the door in an effort to not drag any additional jackassery back across the river with me at the end of the day. Maintaining that massive, immutable, and nearly impenetrable wall between work and “everything else” might just be the most important thing I do on a daily basis. It’s the preserver of my sanity.

I vaguely remember that at one point or another today Outlook tried to trick me into a meeting I didn’t need to go to, and someone wanted me to fix a broken folding table, and there was a very serious discussion about where to store 30 outdoor umbrellas for the winter, and picking 8 people to take a bus ride to DC next week fell squarely on my desk. Those are exactly the kinds of things that end up being the reason actual work ends up being so often late, halfassed, or just completely blown off. You’re just going to have to trust me when I saw it’s almost never intentional.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some of my real work done… but I’m not overly optimistic. Some week’s just go like that. Although past performance is not a guarantee of future results, it’s often a healthy indicator. With this week so far as a guide, the best I’ll likely be able to manage is keeping my head down and trudging on towards the weekend. At least it’s no longer in any way surprising that this is how the “real world” works.

How it starts…

I’ve often wondered how it is that old people lose touch with technology – whether that’s the eternal flashing 12:00 of a generation of VCRs to or the firm instance that GPS will never take the place of a glovebox full of paper maps.

Once upon a time, I could build my own computer. Sure, I bought the components off the shelf and wasn’t making my own chips or anything, but I knew the specs I wanted, knew where to order them, and was able to slap the whole bit together into a functioning PC. I haven’t tried (or really even been tempted) to do that since the late 1990s. It stopped being a cost effective use of time. Easier to buy the whole rig off the shelf and go to work.

This afternoon I finally accepted that maybe it was time to update my iPhone playlists – that I probably haven’t substantively changed since the days when I had a Memphis address. First things first, it almost feels like with the bevy of streaming services available now, the whole idea of having a self-curated playlist may be a little old fashioned. It’s like having a bookshelf full of CDs or 45s. Its existence is a throwback to an earlier time. That’s when the first light of recognition came on – the way I like my media delivered is on the verge of being utterly overcome by the march of progress. I like having my “own” copy of my music – even if it’s just a digital representation. I made it from cassette tapes to CDs to mp3s and Winamp skins, to iTunes, but after four format changes, it seems I’m beginning to resist the onrushing future.

I wonder if this is how it starts to go off the rails for me. Am I going to wake up some morning in 2045 and wonder why I can’t make my 20 year old Mac Mini work. Are printers going to someday be as rare as 8-track players? Is this where tech abandons me to the future as I grow more and more entrenched with only the technologies that I fully understand?

I don’t want to be that guy who thinks of every device as a damned infernal contraption. There’s some way to head that off, right? Some magic bullet that will let us stay attuned to what the kids these days are up to?

I’m not ready to live in a world where the best device I ever bought is one I have already.

A little less moldy…

It’s a little less moldy here at Casa de Jeff tonight. The mold remediation company was here today. They appear to have done all the right things so far. The offending drywall was cut out, fungicide was sprayed, and things are airing out as we speak. A cursory (and completely uneducated) look around doesn’t appear to show any mold intrusion into the wood. This is a good thing and makes me at least a little optimistic that soon the drywall will be back up and I’ll be able to finish shoving stuff around the basement and make it into something approaching usable space… or at least let it be halfway organized storage.

With starting back to work this week, I have to confess that I haven’t made any real progress on sprucing things up here or even putting much more away. That seems like something that’s going to be reduced to a box-at-a-time pace for the foreseeable future. I’d at least like to have everything upstairs finished. The basement can be out of site and out of mind almost indefinitely, but the real living space still needs some work. I should probably knock off the blogging and get back after it.