June 2005

Miscellaneous tips


  • When packing to move, you obviously want to pack your fragile stuff appropriately, and mark your boxes as such. A few other tips:
  • Pack like things with like. Yes, you will inevitably have a few boxes of random stuff, but it pays off if you can minimize this.
  • Mark your boxes extensively. We actually marked 5 sides of every box (leaving the bottom blank) so that we could identify boxes pretty much no matter what. With the more miscellaneous boxes, we also put a pretty complete list of contents on the top.
  • Mark your boxes by priority. Some things need to get unpacked quickly; some don’t. We used some weird tape to mark all our high-priority boxes.
  • Have an “immediate deployment” box. This is the first box you’ll unpack. It should probably include a tape measure, flashlight, paper towels, cleaning fluid, disposable tableware, and basic toiletries.
  • Kinko’s is a great place to get free boxes. Big-box booksellers may also have a recycling dumpster with nothing but clean, flattened boxes. I think Gwen and I bought exactly two boxes for this last move (for framed art), although we did splurge on 20 pounds of clean newsprint. Note that the boxes you get from these sources are relatively small; if you’re hiring movers, that will increase your total box count, and they usually charge by the box. Still, it’s probably cheaper than paying money for bigger boxes.


I used to have the beloved Radio Shack six-in-one. Eventually it died, and I tried replacing it with its successor, the eight-in-one. For whatever reason, the newer model lacks the codes for my receiver. (I learned that I could fix this if I bought a special cable and had a Windows computer with which I could run a special app to re-program the remote. Oy.) After looking around, I broke down and bought a Harmony 659. This is an expensive remote–I got it on markdown from Amazon, but it’s still pretty expensive.

It was worth it. You actually set up how the remote works on a website by stepping through a little interview process; the site creates a setup file that you download and then transfer to the remote via USB. Apart from one minor hitch (the TV didn’t turn on when it should–the remote asked me if it was on, and when I responded No, it tried again, successfully, and asked me if that worked–brilliant), everything Just Worked. Now, with my old six-in-one, I was able to make things More Or Less Work the way I wanted, but only with considerable nerding around. When you add up the time investment involved in that, this remote was a good deal.

If you get one of these, though, don’t bother installing the software off the included CD, because it will quite possibly be out of date, and you’ll need to download a newer version anyhow. Jump straight to the download.

Juana Molina

A friend recently turned me on to Juana Molina, a contemporary singer from Argentina. She just had a solo show at the Parish (formerly Mercury Lounge, and completely unchanged apart from the name). Now that we are supposed to have more free time, Gwen and I have resolved to go out for more live music, so we caught the show.

It was a solo show, with her laying down vocal, keyboard, and guitar loops live, and then playing and singing over them (I saw Warren Zevon use the same format a long time ago). Her style is very distinctive. She has a breathy voice that I think of as characteristic of Brazil’s female singers, and the sounds she makes with her instruments remind me a little of Robert Fripp. Very nice. Funny repartee with the crowd and the sound guy. She asked “how many of you speak Spanish?” Something like 10-15% of the audience raised their hand. She then explained that when she was growing up, she was listening to music in English, which she did not understand at the time–she liked the music anyhow. And that for the rest of us, listening to her singing in Spanish was a parallel experience.

Batman Begins

Saw Batman Begins a few days ago. Although previous movies in the Batman franchise have certainly had their good points (anything with Tim Burton visuals can’t be all bad), this is the first of the lot that I’d say is actually good. This was also the least cartoonish of the lot, by a longshot–very gritty, with an attempt to make the subject seem real.

Lots of action, very energetic and chaotic fight scenes. Very loud. I suspect a sound engineer spent a solid week coming up with the sound of the tank-like batmobile’s engines, which sound more like a lion’s roar than a mechanism. The movie’s also noteworthy in that both Christian Bale and Gary Oldman play good guys for a change.

The Maelstrom

Moved the 14th. Closed on the sale of the house the 15th.

We effectively had nine days to pack: we had long since scheduled a trip to Chicago that conveniently fell during our contract period. Nine days is not a lot of time, but we managed to do a pretty good job weeding out junk, keeping things categorized, labeling boxes, etc. Where I didn’t do such a good job was in estimating the size of our load for the movers–I was low by about half on the box count, and missed a few pieces of furniture. Oops. Moving day was about as much fun as it ever can be, and very hot.

The place we’re in now, by a series of fortunate events, is the house in front of the garage apartment where Gwen was living when I met her. And right around the corner from the house I lived in during college. It’s smaller than the old place, and has much less storage space (and what there is is less usable), which poses some problems. Boxes and stuff everywhere. Last night was our first real attempt at getting the highest-priority stuff unpacked. After the constant pressure to keep the old house in showable condition, and the crunch of getting it packed, we’re not in a big hurry to deal with the disarray.

I’ve got a lot of money now (or I will, as soon as my realtor drops off the damn check, which I expect to be physically huge, like one of those Ed McMahon checks). Gwen and I met with a couple of financial advisors yesterday, and we discussed ways for us to avoid eating cat food in our later years. Looks like if we invest the money and have garden-variety luck in the market, we’ll accomplish that. The advisors were nice guys, but they seem to proceed from a different set of assumptions about what aging means than I do: they’re trying to create a plan so that we won’t need to work when we’re old. I said “look, I’m much more afraid of not being able to work than of needing to work.” One point where we were all in accord was in assuming that Social Security wouldn’t exist.

The issue of long-term planning raises a host of knotty questions, most relevant (to me) being medical care. It gets more and more expensive every year, and it gets more expensive as you get older (two trends that seem to run in lock-step with each other, too). With my previous insurance carrier, I plotted the rate of increase in my premiums to them against my projected income, and found that, if I stayed with them, my insurance would eat up 100% of my income by the time I turned 60. That’s obviously an untenable situation, and it makes me wonder if the USA will do anything as a nation to resolve it. Can we make assumptions about what the healthcare landscape will look like in 25 years with any degree of confidence? Hell, there are people talking about eliminating death in our lifetimes.

And the question of long-term investments makes me wonder about the health of the U.S. economy over the long haul.

There’s a lot happening all at once, a lot to think about, a lot to do, and a lot of boxes.


I caught up with the big news a day after everyone else, since I was travelling. When I read it, my jaw sagged open, and I checked the date more than once, on the off chance that it was April 1.

I have mixed feelings about the move. The PowerPC architecture is, IMO, more elegant than the x86 architecture. And I believe that have more than one platform in circulation is good for the industry as a whole. But. There are a couple of big “buts”: Although PPC may be more elegant than x86, Intel seems to be better at actually making their chips run fast. Real-world performance beats out theoretical elegance 10 times out of 10. Also, MotorolaFreescale and IBM both seem to have bigger fish to fry than catering to Apple’s needs. Freescale obviously has had problems pushing the speed limit with their chips. IBM has done better, but apparently would rather make chips for video games than desktops.

Many people have wondered why–if Apple is switching to x86–they aren’t going with AMD. My own take on this is that Intel execs would rape their own mothers if doing so would take market share away from AMD. I would not be surprised if Intel is practically paying Apple to take its chips rather than have Apple turn to AMD. Supply lines, roadmaps, etc, all seem secondary to this.

I also wonder if Apple is going to use Itaniums (Itania?), and give Intel a way to get rid of some of them–they may be technically great, but have sold poorly because they aren’t x86-based. Since Apple is switching to a new platform, there’s no added penalty in switching to Itaniums (other than optimizing another compiler). Then again, Apple has hinted that people will be able to run Windows on their Macintels, which would mean that Itanium isn’t in the picture.

Now my head explodes

My house has been on the market for about 7 months. That’s a long time. Gwen and I had reduced our asking price shortly before Flipside, and we were getting a lot more interest. I had a feeling that we might get an offer while I was at Flipside (and out of cellphone range).

Sure enough, when I got back early Monday afternoon, I learned we had an offer. Within six hours, we had a pending contract. With a 15-day closing period. And a 6-day trip to Chicago scheduled in the middle. Meaning we have 9 days to pack up my house, assuming the deal goes through (which it probably will, but might not). We’ve already lined up a good deal on a temporary rental.

An event like Flipside gives your brain a lot to chew on (see my previous post), and puts you into a different reality, from which you return to the humdrum world only reluctantly. Being forced to shift so quickly back into everyday life has completely stripped my mental gearbox.

Everything is happening at once.

So Gwen and I spent a few hours Tuesday night boxing up books. Normally, Tuesday night would be fire practice. Normally, the Tuesday following Flipside, nobody would go. But because we had heard that Andy (a phenomenal firespinner visiting from Germany) was going to be there, a pretty good number of people turned out. Gwen and I set aside the boxes and went down as well. A little Flipside dessert.