I Like Twitter

January 31, 2010

Me: Oh, hi – you’re an onion bagel w/ chive cream cheese, red onion, tomato, and lox? Well I’m a hungry New York Jew: GET IN MY TUMMY!!!

megmagdah: Where did you get it? Also, I think I’m going to try to make bagels this year.

Me: amazingly, stop & shop on New Park has really first rate bagels. as for making your own, that is a heady endeavor. report back.

megmagdah: I live for heady endeavors.

Me: it occurs to me that “Heady Endeavors” sounds like the name of a drag queen.

megmagdah: Which is kind of perfect for me to identify as my raison d’etre.

Me: I wish there were a way to retweet whole exchanges like this one.

megmagdah: From wholesome breakfast to drag queens in three steps.

Me: God bless the inerwebs.


Austin Organs

January 28, 2010

Stops, Austin Organs

There was a time when Hartford was an industrial powerhouse, when the rows and rows of stolid brick buildings meant progress and production, not just empty, untaxable property. It’s a shame, really, that so little manufacturing remains in the city, even as we are surrounded by its vestiges, like the big belt-drive gears that line the high ceilings of the office building where I work, which was once, I’m told, a bicycle factory.

The other day, I was lucky enough to get a tour of a living, breathing, old-time factory, Austin Organs on Woodland Street, one of the oldest continuously operating organ manufacturers in the United States. My friend Brett works there and graciously invited me to a lunchtime walk around the sprawling, four-story factory. It was really really neat. I could try to describe it, but it’s better to just rely on pictures to convey the delightful mystery of the place. It is full of carefully crafted stuff, and has many complicated machines with very specific purposes. You should click on the pictures to see them bigger.

Brett welcomes me to the factory:
Brett welcomes me to Austin Organs

Here is the console for an organ that lives in Honolulu. Austin Organs is repairing lots of pieces of the organ, but they made the console entirely from scratch.
Brand new console bound for Honolulu, Austin Organs

I didn’t know that consoles use electricity to operate the actual pipes and air and all of that remotely – in other words, that the consoles themselves don’t make any noise. But that is how it works, and the newest ones, like this one headed to Hawaii, are totally electronic and control the actual organ through an ethernet connection. Below, the back of the console pictured above:
Console circuitry, Austin Organs

Here’s a close-up of the circuits:
Console circuitry, Austin Organs

Here are some other details of the Honolulu-bound console:
Console destined for Honolulu, Austin Organs

Stops, Austin Organs

Stops, Austin Organs

Swell to choir, Austin Organs

A lot of what Austin Organs does is repair, and they collect unused parts whenever they can, so there are lots of other organs lying around:

Under the hood, Austin Organs

Infallible, Austin Organs

General Cancellor, Austin Organs

Great, Swell, Austin Organs

There were also many many impossibly complicated machines, machines designed to do a series of very specific operations that occur only in an organ factory:
10 saws, 7 drills, Austin Organs

A machine with a very specific purpose, Austin Organs

Machine to wind wire for electromagnets, Austin Organs

Complex Machine, Austin Organs

Complex Machine, Austin Organs

Meteor, Austin Organs

Press for making plywood, Austin Organs

(OK, I know a drill press isn’t so complicated, but this one was awfully cool-looking.)
Drill Press, Austin Organs

Drill Press, Austin Organs

There were lots of interesting tools:
Tools, Austin Organs

Tools, Pipe Shop, Austin Organs

Mandrels, Austin Organs

Tools, Austin Organs

Lastly, sundry other neat things I saw at the organ factory:
Cabinet Shop, Austin Organs

A room for assembling organs, Austin Organs

Austin Organs

Pipes, Austin Organs

Do not talk to machines, Austin Organs

Clock, Austin Organs

Austin Organs

Window, Austin Organs

Reed Room, Austin Organs

Flag, Austin Organs

Concerning Journalism

January 24, 2010

Every time there is a massive humanitarian disaster, the question arises of how much journalists should intervene to help the people whose suffering they are covering. You remember a while back, when Sanjay Gupta was in the midst of reporting in Iraq and just broke out and did brain surgery on some kid? Yeah, well, he just can’t help himself: he did more brain surgery on a Haitian kid last week. Even Anderson Cooper, who is not a doctor, is getting in on this helping kids action. Naturally, some high-fallutin’ defenders of “journalistic ethics” (those are scare quotes, by the way) always have to come around and ask whether all of this is appropriate. Basically, they take the position that journalists should just record events, that the only way they can strike blows for justice is by informing those who might take action. You know what I say to that?

Gun / Camcorder


You might think that dealing a combat defeat to the deity in charge of the Southeast wind would entitle you to significant wind-based concessions (favorable sailing for life, for example, or a standing guarantee of a light breeze to tousle your perfect hair at exactly the right moment). But if you were an American Indian tribe from Puget Sound, the most complete expression of defeat you could imagine would apparently be FOUR DAYS OF GOOD WEATHER:

(This is a caption accompanying a mask at the American Museum of Natural History. You can click on it for a larger, more legible view.)

There was a time when I lived in Brooklyn, and what went on outside the four (real) boroughs was of so little consequence to me that I could scarcely be bothered to stay apprised of things like, say, the distinction (which, I am assured, does exist) between concepts like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It would be fair to say that my notion of Hartford, if in fact I had one at that time, was so undeveloped as to be nearly nonexistent: I had memorized the state capitals in fourth grade, so it resided in my consciousness at the same abstract level as Concord, Frankfort, and Denver.

But now, through turns of fate that might justly be described as fitting and ironic (in the sense that I am a city snob who has fully abandoned the metropolis for provinces), I live in the Hartford area, and find myself, perhaps as a coping strategy, adopting the boosterism of a native. So when I read in the New York Times wedding announcements that the bridegroom “graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut [emphasis added], I simply must object: Hartford is a hard-luck town. It needs all the help and good publicity it can get. It was nice of you, New York Times, to take note of the Wadsworth Atheneum as worth the trip, but I know that when New Yorkers hear “Connecticut,” they think of Greenwich, Darien, Westport, and the like (provided they think anything at all). So when you mention Trinity, have the good graces to say that it’s in Hartford. There’s no reason to begrudge the capital city some credit for a 31-year-old reporter for Politico who has just married a medicare spending analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services. Thank you. That is all.

Mid-Winter Thaw

January 18, 2010

I took this yesterday at the reservoir in W. Hartford while on a bike ride with Brendan and Dario.

Pedestrian Zone

January 18, 2010

Although I want to instill in my boys a due reverence for the heroes of the civil rights movement, and the relevance of said movement in our day-to-day lives (because seriously, all this talk of post-racial America is some wishful thinking, but that’s a rant for another post), I didn’t object to Reuben’s daycare provider’s being open today. Max was at a neighbor’s house to play, and the peace, quiet, and lack of child-wrangling responsibility let Anna get some work done and gave me the chance to ride my bike back from the daycare in Cromwell. It was kind of a raw, windy, damp morning (see the omelette-and-lounging picture in the previous post), but a bike ride is always a nice thing. Here’s a picture I took of a putative “pedestrian zone” in Wethersfield. I don’t know if it was the weather, or the fact that it was Wethersfield but (surprise!) there were no pedestrians in sight.

Pedestrian Zone, Wethersfield, Conn.

The Walgreen’s on New Britain Ave. in West Hartford had its finger on the pulse of the populace this MLK day:

Recipe for a day off

Hot Pants!

January 18, 2010

Our downstairs bathroom shares a wall with our garage, and as a result is always cold in the winter, despite the best efforts of the feeble radiator. To counteract this, we keep a space heater in the bathroom, which we turn on when we go in. Of course, one little space heater can’t quickly counteract the effects of a long, cold night, so that toilet seat can be pretty frigid first thing in the morning. Luckily, there is a reward for the suffering: If you train the heater right on your feet, it inevitably works its magic on whatever happens to be around your ankles and calves, so when you are finished with your business, you get a delightfully warm garment. James Brown, tell ’em what I’m talking about:

Little Things

January 18, 2010

It is amazing how effectively a few little unpleasantries can conspire to ruin a morning: today, for example, a holiday, saw me roused at 5:45 by the imprecations of a demanding and hungry two-year-old, who then proceeded to bellow at me from close range in the kitchen because I proposed he have something other than pancakes after a solid five days of nothing but starch for breakfast. Worse still, he then decamped to the bedroom to enlist the lobbying efforts of my darling wife, the very party who had, the preceding day, taken me to task for failing adequately to variegate the diet of our young brood – and she took up the cause! (In fairness, though, she is highly sleep-dependent, and would likely take up the cause of Back To The Future-style hovering skateboards’ being made into our primary national security spending priority if the matter were put to her by a toddler before 6:00 a.m.) And the crowning, incongruous jewel in the morning’s irritation was that somewhere deep in my psyche, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ had ceased slumbering and clawed its way into my consciousness.

And then, like magic, little things came together to make it all better: Through the grace of haphazard measurement and a rather nice non-stick pan my mother-in-law gave us recently, I produced the best batch of scrambled eggs I have had in a long time. (It’s not that scrambled eggs are hard to make – they’re not. But precisely because they’re easy, it’s hard to care if they’re just so, let alone devote effort to making them just so.) The grapefruit I cut up to go with the eggs proved to be firm, sweet, and juicy in the ideal measures. The toast, made from a sort of bread we don’t ordinarily get but picked up this time because the five-year-old in our house had a homework assignment to help with grocery shopping, was delicious. And the whiny two-year-old disappeared into an unseen recess of the house to be replaced by his five-year-old brother, who kept me company and ate the dissident child’s breakfast without complaint.

Don’t Stop Believin’ is still stuck in my head, though. Thanks, guys!