27 August 2008

My Latest Painting

We needed a new piece of art for the kitchen to go with the new paint job the Mrs. has been working so hard at, and I've been feeling the itch to abuse some canvas with some pigment.
But the eternal quandary: what to paint? Thankfully the sunflowers in our garden have become a focal point as well as matching nicely the motif in the kitchen.
So I studied the sunflowers, I figured out the techniques I would use to get the textures I want, and I started looking at what colors I needed to use. I think I put more effort into this painting that I have any other of my cave drawings. Save maybe the Snail King. I put a lot of time in that.
Point is, I'm fairly proud of this sunflower painting. I took a photo of it and added it to the paintings gallery. You might have noticed it, sitting to the right of these words, below the photo portfolio.
I'm happy with how it turned out. Happy enough to point it out to you. Both of you. My readers.
I'm thinking of calling it "With Apologies to Van Gogh".

Gardening Side Note

Exciting news from the garden!
I've been trying to compost - not out of some benighted hippy need to save the planet, but because it makes sense to use all our vegetable toss-aways as free fertilizer - and I say "trying" because the dogs think the compost pile is actually a doggy salad bar. Rgh.
I went to all the trouble this Spring to buy 1x that I sawed into stakes, nail black mesh to it, and drive the stakes into the ground. It was a really cool triangular ... thing ... for holding the rotting vegetable matter. But Jake and Zoe are smarter than they let on; at least where their stomachs are concerned.
So I've bought a 23 gallon plastic trash can with lid for the compost. I was so excited after getting home from dinner with my sister (Brother's interview mojo pizza - you heard it here) and her family (after which I went to Lowe's and bought the trash can) that I drilled a series of holes in the thing and went out in deepest twilight and forked and shoveled the compost into the can. No more puppy smorgasboard, much more free fertilizer.
Oh, and I bought this neat little bird ard ornament thing for like $5.
Now if we could only get a good long rainstorm! In fact, I'm tagging this with the Thunderstorm tag, in case it works like some sort of 21st century cybertronic intertubes webnets rain dance.

Morning Rush

Coffee in a cup
cars on the road


Quick, Left turn!

coffee, coffee, everywhere
I'd not a drop yet drunk.

No morning rush for me
just coffee
all over my upholstery.

I'm Older Than the Lego Guy


He's 30 as of 8/25/08. I'll be 32 on 9/16/08. I had no idea that I was almost 2 whole years older than the most stalwart of my childhood companions.
Ok, fine, one of my most stalwart adult companions, too. I'll admit to having made some models to a smaller scale as of late, but the best are those that incorporate my little yellow plastic buddies. I didn't spend all those hours figuring out all the tricks to build the best "airtight" cabin for my pilots to turn my back on them now!
There is a three day weekend coming up.

Happy Belated Birthday Lego guy. May your next 30 years be dog free, and may you always come back from your missions with all the parts you left.

25 August 2008

Garden Ramble: Say Hello to Phase III

There's life in the old beans yet; at least another dinner's worth, I wager. I've planted carrots, radishes, peas, lettuce, and spinach for a fall crop, hopefully not too soon. The weather has cooperated nicely, mind you. Summer sun, but not the heat of Global Warming fears. Nay, our backyard is, dare I say, lush?
Well, lush-ish (try not to spit if you're reading aloud). My flowerbed of woes has become a focal point of pride as zinnias, dianthuses, sunflowers, and the butterfly bush all conspire to weave a tapestry of color, a joy for the eye to behold.
Still no broccoli, though a pair of aromatically delicious cucumbers have found their way from vine to plate. Peppers are growing, having survived the squash onslaught. Squash round 2 has not fared so well - my one attempt at transplant so far has met with failure. Just as well, I have more plants that I could still move into the ground!
The word is "petunias": We picked up a pair of flats of nice looking petunias for about $20, and I have been steadily rotating them in to the planters on our porch. Soon the remainder will be the focal point of the "new" garden where there had been hedge and ivy before. Certainly lots of previously happy vermin (including the notorious litter bug) will be less than thrilled with this botanical revival of our sidewalk-facing dirtspace. I may acquire some perennial mums to punctuate the space.
Herbally I am pleased with the sophomore efforts of the peppermint and sage plants, as well as the now-gone cilantro, the latter having seeded itself into an annual return. I am confident in my hopes that my new perennials will avoid any canine indiscretions this winter.
My houseplants turned outdoor plants have another month or so before the nights grow too cold for their tropical leaves, but snake plant, poinsettia, and rubber tree plant have all grown phenomenally this summer! So much so that the snake plant is due for a transplant (and perhaps some segmentation into different pots). My present snake plant grew from a cutting my father took from my snake plant that we brought with us when I moved from A to B to C back in 2003.
I'm still thinking ahead to my 2009 garden, and in true Murray fashion I'm aiming at expansion; the vegetables just plain need more room, and I need to be able to move between them (time to move to beds). There's a new flower/bird bath garden I'm planning for this year yet (though planted with bulbs not planning to flower until Spring '09), and if that &^%$@$%^ bare patch in the grass that I"ve had cordoned off all summer doesn't sprout grass by next May, it's becoming my next flower patch.
Oh, and we love the sunflowers so much we're thinking of simply planting them all along our shared fence. Nothing like a $5 quasi-privacy fence.

p.s. One of these days I'll update my garden photos.

L'amour Internationale

The drive down US 15 to Manassas is gorgeous, as picturesque as the weather on Saturday as I drove to my gig. A gig, you say?! I do. A friend of mine had asked me to shoot her cousin's bridal shower. Helping out a friend while making a few dollars and having a destination for a country drive on a Summer Saturday? How could I say no?
I loaded up the car with my gear and made my way down. Of course I was way early. I'm either incredibly early or fashionably late; if you're paying me to be there I always err on the side of "hey, you're early". I drove around the neighborhood a little. In a word, 'picturesque'.
The location for the shower / shoot was the bride's parent's house, and while I was limited in how much room I had to move around, I had a good vantage point and was able to take some really cool natural light shots with the sunlight that streamed in through the windows.
My employers for the afternoon were friendly and very comfortable with me there shooting, which is always a plus. There was, to coin a phrase, a lot of love in the room, and I found myself smiling along with the party.
I did remind myself a time or two to keep my mouth shut (which, being a know-it-all, was a personal triumph). This was not a gig where my input was to be sought (save for some posed shots). This was a time for me to melt into the scenery, nothing more than the momentary glow of the flash, or click of the shutter. Arguably my favorite kind of shooting.
At the end of the afternoon I had made hundreds of exposures, but a good number of those were the chaff of shots taken right before and after the moment I captured, or the occasional over exposure, and of course the usual round of warm-up shots that were unnecessary and redundant when examining the body of work for the day.
I picked out 58 of the most indicative shots of the day and tossed them up into my Picasa Gallery:

These are straight from the camera.
- -
This was my last gig as a solo act - moving forward I'll be scheduling / working / planning things out with my business partner, Robyn. We're still hashing out the details, but as she and I have a love for this, I can see great things ahead.
Oh, and why "International Love"? While the bride-to-be is an All-American girl, her betrothed is from Morocco. How cool is that?

16 August 2008

A Beautiful Day for an Oil Change

It's 66 degrees and sunny - my computer and my eyes agree. A perfect Saturday morning. I'm here at my "Dealership for Life" for another free oil change, my mind just spinning up on this day off. You've chosen to read the verbal output of this. Lucky you.
If Jiffy Lube commercials were to be believed, there's nothing people hate more than having to make appointments to get their oil changed. I don't so much mind it. Sure, I had to get myself in gear on a Saturday that will find me home for the remainder, but at least the dealership is on our end of town ... more or less. It's not sitting in a wood-paneled room what smells of old smoke and past-its-prime lubricants, either. The waiting area here is spacious, with leather couches, an HDTV mounted on the wall, and hey, what do you know, free wireless internet - though I seem to be the only person ever taking advantage of it when I'm here for my appointments. There are refreshments, too. The coffee leaves plenty to be desired, but this is a car dealership, not Starbucks. Though, Hamilton, you could consider an upgrade to the coffee system. Just sayin'.
Beyond the free mediocre brew-up and comfy seating, the best fun has to be the people watching. A young mother with her toddler daughter who tears off into the showroom, squealing with joy (the child, mind you - I know it's hard to infer which any more), mother apologizing "she always does that". I bet she does.
The employees, the sales force &c. Serious looks on their faces - the masks of concentration that show them planning their next move in the chess match that is automotive sales. Their true faces suddenly replaced with pearly smiles of genuine joy when they make eye contact. Remember, you've already bought one car here, and they're hoping with all the hope their mortgage (or drug habit, but I'm not judging) can muster that you'll be back to buy your next car from them.
The looks on the faces of the people who whether by necessity or by choice are here to buy a car. Are we making the right choice? Can we afford this? Cousin Jack said this place was good, and we trust Jack's opinion. But still ... are we going to get a good deal? After all, Jack said to ask for Steve, but Steve doesn't work Saturdays, so we're dealing with Roger. Will Roger give us as good a deal?
Getting back to my original point, the oil changes. The appointments are fine by me, because the most important thing is that they are free. This is the best part. Oh, I know what the gimmick is: come in for the free oil change and tire rotation, but we're going to sit down and tell you that your car needs this service to prolong the life of the engine, and isn't $300 a reasonable price for the peace of mind going down the road?
Actually, it's about $300 too much. We've all been driving for a long time, and I have yet to have one person not paid to do so tell me that the $150 engine flush and $200 waternator reboot were worth it.
But. This momentary confrontation is also a worthy price to pay for what otherwise would have cost me $40 at the local lube emporium, because at the end of it all I drive out of here with a washed car with fresh oil, topped up fluids (including the air in my tires - I really should buy a pressure gauge, or dig out the one I know I own somewhere), only out the time and gasoline that I spent in getting and being here. And honestly, on a Saturday morning, it's either sit here and drink their coffee and use their internet, or sit at home and drink my own coffee and use my own internet. The major differences being that I'm better clad and someone is working on my car.
I'm going to keep rambling, as my brain is still spinning and I'm frankly, well, bored. Car sales people are interesting to watch when they are standing outside the front of the dealership. Like sharks swimming the briny deep, noses open for the tiniest drop of blood in the water - the smallest amount of oil leaking that indicates someone is done with the piece of junk they drove on to the lot.
How do they determine who will pounce on the next customer? Rotation based on seniority, feats of strength, or whomever isn't currently daydreaming? It's likely not terribly interesting, but I bet I could make it interesting. Have we ever seen a television program take place in a car dealership? Taxi companies, the occasional garage, dry cleaners, bars, hospitals, homes - these have all been done, but a car dealership? We had Larry Dallas, but we never spent any time with him on the lot in sunny Southern California.
They say the sitcom is dying (and largely I'm glad for this), but a car dealership seems ripe with possibility. I'll leave the details up to you, dear reader. I've lost my train of thought on this issue.
In fact, it appears that my entire train of thought has been lost, so I'll grant you mercy and stop writing.

11 August 2008

Evolutionary Observations

Infuriating when you are a parent that just wants to be able to see the floor, invigorating when you take a stand because (you hope) you know that what you're about to try will either be something wonderful and new, or at least cool. It's a behavior of which everyone has experienced both sides.
I was enjoying a perfect evening on the shores of the Conococheague yesterday with my wife, a good friend, and his family. My friend's nephew was insistent that he be allowed to clean and cook the fish he'd recently caught in the creek. His mother did not want him to do this, but he insisted, defiantly proud of his accomplishment.
You would think that defiance would have been genetically selected against in social species like homo sapiens. Defiant individuals would seem to work against the greater good of the group. When told not to eat something that looked poisonous, how many people fell over purple-faced at their sudden lack of oxygen? Of course, following the logic on this, there are species where defiance normally means death. In your herding and schooling species, standing proudly alone usually means you quickly become fondly remembered by carnivores as "that one meal what was so easy for us to catch", and an object lesson for young ibex just learning to leap.
We as a species could have gone down that path, if not for the defiant streak in our psychology. Our simian ancestors likely had individuals who died knowing a few moments too late that their mother was right, that you couldn't take down a lion by holding its jaws open. But one defiant Savannah dwelling thumb-wielder knew that a pointy stick (or a large heavy blunt stick) was the perfect weapon, even though everyone pointed him to the legend of The Guy Who Stood Up To The Lion And Got Eaten For His Trouble. After that moment it was a few short steps to fire, wheels, steam engines, and the Internet. Of course, each of these had their own individualists.
The successfully defiant were thus selected for by the processes of evolution, the end result of that purple hair, mohawks, and music that is invariably termed "noise". It also means that a few guys in a garage can take what they know to be a good idea and use it to change the world (HP, Apple, Google, to name three).
So whether it's foul-tasting creek fish (you eat something that's been marinating in the Conococheague it's entire life), purple hair, or a multi-billion dollar technology corporation, defiance has done well as one of the tools humanity wields in the ongoing evolutionary struggle.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't clean your room, for the love of God. Is it too much to ask to just be able to see the floor? Is there a floor in here or is it just junk all the way to China?

06 August 2008

RFID&T Part 1

Story time again, folks. This is the opening of a short story I'm working on. I wrote one a lot like this a few years back, but wasn't satisfied with the result. Since that ext was lost I started over again. This is a draft of the opening scene:

He snored. Bathed in the cold light of his television, he snored.

The television sang its lullaby of confidence and persuasion to him in thirty second spots:

"Tired of dragging around a wallet full of IDs and credit cards? Looking for real freedom?
"Then make an appointment with your doctor today to get the new Info-TAG implant! The new Info-TAG implant interfaces with receivers conveniently installed nation-wide! Pay for your purchases simply by walking out the door! Pay at the pump for charging up your car's batteries simply by being there. No more lines, no more worrying about losing your wallet!
A montage of people walked through various retail store doors with armloads of purchases. The were all smiling and care free, and conspicuously not standing in lines, or even in proximity to anyone else.
"Let your doctor know if you are allergic to silicon, cat dander, pollen, alcohol (ethyl or methyl), paraffin, asbestos, or fiberglass before receiving your Info-TAG.
"Info-TAG: your pass to true freedom!"

To a casual observer it was a peaceful sleep, but to a more observant person it was the sort of sleep that left you more tired than when you'd closed your eyes. Eyes. His own eyes moved side to side under closed lids, and in his mind's eye eyes, yellow eyes, peered at him from the undergrowth.
He was in a tree, something deep down had told him that a tree was the best place to be, because wolves didn't climb trees. Wolves? He dreamed to himself, where did they come from? Lupine shapes coalesced from the darkness swirling around the rough gray trunk of his safety, fading back into blackness, making growling noises that sounded like speech until he tried to listen to the words. Occasionally at the edge of the dream something - someone? - howled.
He rolled on his couch, arms flailing as if climbing.
He reached for higher branches. None of them had tried to jump for him yet, but he knew the higher he was the safer he'd be.
Arms flailed, legs pumped. He fell to the floor, and the dream was gone.
Reflexively he scratched around the injection site. The nurse had said his neck would itch for a few days, but she hadn't mentioned just how much it would itch. He'd used an entire tube of cortisone before falling asleep on the couch. What had that dream been all about? He thought he remembered dogs or foxes, or was he listening to someone's conversation? No matter, it was already gone.
He yawned and stretched, reaching for his remote to shut off the television. The program that had been on faded out and was replaced by smiling people. The announcer began his pitch:

"Tired of dragging around a wall-"

The room went dark. He yawned again, and scratching at his neck he stumbled from the room, aiming for the general direction of his bed.
The wolves returned while he slept, only now he could see their faces; their almost human faces. Growls and whines and howls sounded more like words, words he swore he could understand if only he could pay attention long enough, but new wolves were appearing and disappearing, distracting him.

He woke up exhausted, bathed and sweat, and wondering what he was going to do about his third cat, Mittens, who looked like she was pregnant again.
This bothered him, because he didn't own any cats.

Garden Ramble: Answers to Yesterday's Boiling Question

I know it was a brief mention yesterday afternoon, but I'm sure the curious among us are dying to know about the corn I grew from popcorn seeds. It was


delicious! A bit tough, and the kernels were definitely small and popcorn sized, but it had a nice robust flavor, and adapting to the chewy texture was surprisingly easy. It was good enough to make me want to grow a few stalks next year. I might just turn up some earth elsewhere in the yard and grow it, though. Seems a pity to waste perfectly good garden space on the stuff, since it grows in almost anything.
The green beans, friends, have earned a reprieve; there are a lot of blossoms on those plants I learned as I picked last night's other vegetable.
Finally, squash and peas are definitely done. One last lonely pea pod was snacked on by Francesca last night, and the dead squash vines were laid to rest on the compost pile.
Phase III for 2008 looms large.

05 August 2008

Garden Ramble: Meandering Like a Cucumber Vine

It's been a while since I bored everyoen with a gardening update, so I think it's time.
Flowers, flowers, flowers, flowers, flowers! My perseverance has paid off. Well, that and a little "cheating" (the 25 cent per pot deal I got on the dianthus and the marigolds). Marigolds, zinnias, cosmos (my 6+ foot tall monster cosmo), flowering herbs, dianthus I'd planted from seed, and the alyssum even decided to join the show! The butterfly bush, a replacement for the same plant I bought last year (I'd potted that shrub, thinking I could bring it in come winter) is taking off in ways that I'd never hoped, and my 2nd attempt at sunflowers are also taller than I am, and very, very close to bursting forth. I lost my Joseph's coat back in July, but I planted some marigold seed I'd saved from last year, and with the pot out on the front stairs and a good mix of rain and sun, this pot of marigolds is growing like crazy.
Moving along in the world of potted plants, my rubber tree plant is soaking up the sun and thriving in the heat. I'm going to have to find a (haha) warm corner of the house come this winter for this guy.
The herbs are exploding as well, with my 4 kinds of mint (spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and lemon balm), basil, sage, oregano, and chamomile making a wonderfully bushy border to the brick path. The lemon balm makes a good tea, too. I picked some fresh last night and used it with some honey for a tea for my throat. It definitely tastes like lemons. Pretty freaking cool.
The vegetables are trending towards phase III for the year. Phase II was fairly successful, with beans and squash and peas and a pepper or 2. The squash plants are done, near as I can figure, and I pulled the black beans last night after a second harvest from those plants. I think I still have some more peas in there, though they might be a small snack rather than a full picking.
The corn came out last night; for cheap popcorn from a bag and a half dozen stalks, I got 6 or 7 ears. Not bad for very little work. We're going to try some tonight, but I don't expect it to be terribly tasty, given that it's not sweet corn.
Even though the squash and beans and corn are largely done (still at least one more good picking of green beans in there), the peppers are just coming into their own, now that they aren't competing with the squash and beans. There are a lot of good young peppers on the plants.
The broccoli is healthy looking, if a bit leggy (same problem as the peppers). I was hoping to have florets to harvest by August, but maybe September? I really like broccoli, so this is somewhat frustrating. Next year I'm going to have to start the seed inside much earlier, along with squash and some of the flowers. If I repeat this enough, I might actually do it. Cucumbers are starting to take off with the squash gone, too. Phase III will have to consider the thriving of these plants.
But Rob, what's Phase III? I'm glad you asked. Vegetables Phase III will be more carrots and radishes (planted in the earth again) and lettuce, for a tasty fall salad. Maybe another bean plant or 2 where the corn was, and one more squash plant, for a good fall squash or 2. This will all be planted in the next week, or not at all.
I'm still dutifully adding grass cuttings, kitchen scraps, soil, coffee grounds, &c to the compost pile, which on the bottom seems to be turning into really good fertilizer. Part of me can't wait to spread it over the ground come October/November. With everything I'm learning this year, next year's garden is going to be phenomenal.

04 August 2008

It Truly is a Globe of Diminutive Proportions

So by means I won't go into in print, I recently discovered the handle of a very, very old friend whom I haven't seen in, well, almost 20 years? Wow. And so being the curious sort I am, I dropped said handle into Google, and found his blog.
To be honest, this post is something of an experiment to see if he googles himself (greenie2600, do you?)
If he does, or even if he doesn't, I can only say this: time has borne me out and shown that indeed Apple computers are superior to Commodore computers.
I doubt he remembers that argument that we had, uhm, almost 25 years ago?
Okay, I'm feeling old. I'm going to stop this post and have a lie down before I over-exert myself.

01 August 2008

August 1, 2008; The End of the Road

No luck for you, it's not the end of the road for this web-log, ha! No, friends, only an hour or so after returning from Newark with the Mrs, the replacement Magnavox was delivered! They even tossed the ol' busted one into the box and took it with them. Score.
The new TV has been hooked up to all its waiting wires, and is mounted on the wall, presently bathing the TV room in Dr. Who flavored photons.
I'd wax on more about journey's end and what not, but the Daleks are threatening to blow up reality itself!

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