Monday, July 30, 2007


Here is a list of some of the things the Monkey saw on the short drive between our house and the house of some friends in Alexandria (about 5 miles away as the crow flies):

* A tower crane
* The underside of a stone bridge
* A creek (Rock Creek)
* A river (Potomac)
* Another tower crane
* A tunnel
* Sailboats
* Kayaks
* The presidential helicopter, buzzing down the Potomac at approximately eye-level to the bridge we were crossing, and possibly containing either the President or the Prime Minister of the UK
* A large passenger jet on final approach
* A large passenger jet on take-off
* A dock
* A backhoe
* An ambulance
* A freight train
* A subway train

Sometimes I wonder if he is overstimulated. In a sense, no. It's all real: the various stimuli are really Dinge an sich, not some digital simulacrum of reality. It's hard to argue that he's getting too much reality.

But what would he do in the country? Could he ever build his own log cabin and fulfill the Great American Myth of the Self-sufficient Bootstrap-Hoisting Individualist? Or would rural life hold just as many stimuli, but in the unbuilt environment?

Maybe we'll move to the country when Baby August is born, and do a controlled experiment. Or maybe we should build a Skinner box. That would certainly be cheaper.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Bomb's Away

I took the Monkey to the Air & Space Museum the other day. A big hit. Not quite as big a hit as the large cranes that seem to be popping up all around Petworth, or the occasional unguarded small backhoe ("baby backhoe") or skid loader that the Monkey Daddy is forbearing enough to put the Monkey into for a brief visit. But a big hit nonetheless.

Now the Monkey has been in Skylab.

One thing struck me, as we climbed down a ladder to tour the base of some rockets, cruise missiles, and other large pointy things that go boom. The actual people in charge of launching the rockets are not actual rocket scientists. (A good friend of mine was the leader of a missile launch crew on a naval cruiser, and he confirms that this is true.)

All these missiles have things like "HOIST HERE" and "TOP OFF LOX [liquid oxygen] ." Y'know, things the average forklift operator might forget as he loads a nuclear payload. Don't believe me?

I am a child of one of the last generations to be born during the Cold War. If there is anything profound I drew from the mundane markings on the missiles, it's how simple it would have been to end human life on earth. It's easy! Just hoist here, and don't forget to top off the lox. I mean, LOX.

For all the perils of the modern era, we're better off now than we were when I was born.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Power outage

Friday night, half our power went out. The same thing happened about a month ago. One of the two 120V service lines to our house was down. And judging by the location of the PEPCO crew that showed up on Saturday, the problem was located between two manholes slightly closer to our house.

The crew was laughing and laughing, waiting and smoking cigarettes, and generally speaking not working very hard. By this time, they had shut off all power -- and air conditioning, and bathroom lights, and power tool outlets, and all manner of useful (cum useless) items. Laughing and laughing. Ha ha.

Then it dawned on me: these guys were making time-and-a-half.

And sure enough: power was magically restored at around 5pm, when the guys thought it would be nice to eat dinner.

I don't think labor should be trusted with labor any more than I think capital should be trusted to capitalists. This is probably one reason why I am an economist, a wonk instead of a hack.

A contrasting example came from the construction pit near our house. A giant excavator was digging away. A giant piece of capital, constantly depreciating, with a rental rate of maybe $1000 per day. I happen to know that the operator of said lump of capital is unionized. The guy is also a consummate professional: his bucket was in nearly constant contact with the earth, pushing it this way and that: smoothly, efficiently, safely, and under control.

At one point, his excavator was on a tricky grade with an awkwardly placed pile to move. He planted his bucket on the ground, spun his treads in opposite directions, and effected what can only be described as a 10-ton diesel-powered pirouette.

Labor and capital, working together complementarily, moving mountains.

It tickles!

I finally got around to restoring the phone outlets in the house. Mostly they've been down since the kitchen remodel of 2003; they took another hit in early 2006 when a significant wire was inadvertently severed while we installed new hardwood flooring. And since we're relocating the office to the top floor, it would be nice to have a phone and DSL router in easy reach of the computer.

While the Monkey (and Monkey Mama) napped yesterday I got to work.

Everything was going well, except for the fact that I elected to use hand tools instead of power tools to preserve everyone else's slumber. I even used an old hand drill that belonged to my grandfather. (Power drills work so, so much better.) I fished some wire through the wall and down into the basement, where I set to making connections in earnest.

The thing about low-voltage wiring is that the wires are so slender that my wire stripper can't strip them without cutting them. I found that my teeth worked very well. Until I found that the last wire I stripped was a live 20 volts.

It tickles!


Monday, July 16, 2007

Shade your guesses early

If the Monkey Mama and I were the type who gambled, we would place a wager that Baby August will arrive before the due date of late August.

At this rate, we'll be lucky if the Monkey Mama can hold her contractions in check for a couple more weeks. The midwives won't do a homebirth outside of a "normal" window of 37 to 42 weeks of gestation. If the Monkey Mama were to go into labor today, she would have to go to the hospital, which we would like to avoid.

Also, we are still putting our house back together after playing musical chairs with bedroom furniture to accommodate the installation of wall-to-wall carpet in the kids' rooms. (My back hurts a lot; I'm taking naproxen.)

Also, our work schedules expect us to work for a little while longer.

So cross your fingers and hope for the homebirth.

Friday, July 13, 2007

RIP Shadblow, 2002-2007

I think I killed my tree.

I planted it, with lots of friendly help, on the drunken evening of my 30th birthday. The selection of the tree was far from dissipated, however: a good friend recommended the tree drawing on his training and experience as a landscape architect. It was a Shadblow Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadiensis. I bought it from a nursery the day before, and planting it was the climax of the evening. (That, and knocking the stuffing out of a monkey pinata.)

It was always the happiest little tree. Small, star-shaped blooms in the spring. Edible berries in the summer. Bright foliage in the fall. Architectural limbs in the winter. Thanks to its low situation, it always had wet feet and seemed to like it that way. It seemed to thrive ahead of other specimens I knew about: my landscape architect friend's Shadblow seemed slower to grow and slower to bloom, my sister's Shadblow is in relatively hostile New England; my co-worker's Shadblow had disease pressure.

But part of the landscape redesign we did of the backyard required me to relocate the tree to the opposite corner of the yard. Only 25 feet away, but still too far! We got a later start than I would have preferred, but it was still before Memorial Day (almost 5 years to the day since I planted it, in fact). Maybe the root ball I dug out was too small. Its roots were so happy where they were, I think I left a lot of them in their old spot. And maybe the day laborer who dug the hole for its new location did a lazy job of preparing a new home for it, while I wrestled with the rototiller just a few feet away. Or maybe I didn't soak its roots well enough during a week or two after which I though it had turned the corner.

I still hold out a little hope that our tree will survive the transplantation. Maybe this is just not its year. But I know from several years of tending to this tree that it sets its initial growth for the next year depends on the buds it sets in the previous year...and there are no new buds on its dessicated branches. Just brown leaves that are slowly falling off.

The Monkey himself is aware of the problem. He communicated the fact that he wanted to eat some berries off the tree. But looking at the dead tree, he said "No more." I told him how sad I was that the tree might be dead, and how much it meant to me. He gave me hug and a pat on the back.

Big Huge Crane

Around the beginning of July, the construction crew down the block from us spent a Saturday erecting a huge tower crane. The time was ripe: they've been 55 feet deep for a while. Much deeper, and they're at risk of opening up the local Metro station to the great outdoors. Through conversation with the work crew, I found out that unexpected groundwater necessitated a lot of pumping.

Anyway, they're not wasting time anymore. Since that crane went up, there are usually 30 people or more working down in the hole. Form work has already been taken down, revealing concrete foundation slabs running up the side of the hole.

I will try to take more pictures this weekend to give readers a better idea of what's going on.

Contrast the recent photo with one I took in August 2006. Or look at this site for more information on how tower cranes are set up (hat tip: Jack Shafer,

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Local Thai food


What this guy said:

Thai X-ing

Four chairs, one table, A+ decor, and the best Asian food in D.C. Nothing nearby comes close. Staff = 1, so you must call not only for reservations, but indeed hours in advance with an actual order so he can start making your food. I loved the salmon in red curry sauce, the pad thai, the larb, and some amazing chicken dish with the guy's last name on it; the drunken noodles are recommended as well. But I am not not not saying the other dishes are worse. 515 Florida Avenue, NW.

I'll never view the theory of the firm in the same light again. Monitoring doesn't work, and who needs division of labor anyway? The coolest place in DC right now, by far. Here is the menu.

So true.

A skinned knee

The Monkey has a skinned knee: a real classic of the genre. It's a beaut.

He got it from running, then tripping, then falling down directly onto his right knee. A thread of bright red blood welled up in the up-and-down running central scrape, but there were dirty abrasions all around.

Yesterday, he was sitting on a cardboard box, pretending to ride it a like a horsie. The box buckled, sending the Monkey onto his back...but not onto his head. His back and neck muscles were strong enough to keep him from a shrewd knock on the back of the noggin.

Long time readers of the blog might remember that the Monkey often equates falling down with bumping his head. After his fall from the cardboard box, he was a little upset...but I reminded him that he didn't bump his head after all. I told him how he used to fall down and bump his head all the time, but now he his all grown up and only falls down and skins his knee.

Soon he'll be all grown up and barely fall down at all.

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Happy 4th of July!

Here in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC, there are amateur fireworks exhibitions on every street corner that last until 1am. Other people celebrate the spontaneous nature of these displays. I like them for the public safety:

Happy 4th of July from Petworth...when you can be pretty sure that wasn't a gunshot!

On our way to friends' house for Independence grilling, I had to do some combat evasive driving: my preferred route led through a crowd detonating a shockingly, profoundly loud I changed routes. Then in the search for parking in Ledroit Park, I happened down an alley, where a sparkling blaze had just been lit...which made me swerve rather sharply within the confines of the alley, and then swerve back again to punch it out of there.

If I were a returning Iraq War vet, I'm not sure I would like this holiday.

(Oh well, at least Scooter has his independence; see comments from this earlier blog post.)

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