Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Our house was painted last June. But already there is some peeling on the front of the house. I guess that’s the hazard of having wood siding and temperatures that range from the 90s to below zero.

I peeled off the loose paint and repainted Thursday, with a second coat on Friday. I also decided to do a little restoration of the mail-slot. It was covered with at least four layers of paint (from the outermost layer in: blue, grey, red, and white) and its texture was no longer visible. Worse, after the mail was delivered, it sometimes stuck in the open position.

I took the covering off the outer wall, which was not easy since the bolts were almost fused to the nuts. Using a method I learned when fixing an apartment in 1989, I put the covering into boiling water, which caused the paint to soften and come off more easily. It took two rounds of boiling and scraping to get all the paint off. After that, I used steel wool to remove smudges and a bit of polish to brighten it up.

 Now, the slot, which I suspect has been on the house since it first went up in 1942, looks as it should. Not brand new, but not dirty either. The letter M (which either stands for the old owner’s name or for “Mail”) is clearly visible. And when the carrier drops the mail down the chute, the slot closes with a resounding klang, which always gets Mason’s attention.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010


Danny was working over the weekend, which meant he did not work Friday evening. After we caught up with some old programs on the DVR, I went upstairs to lie down and watch the news, Mason trailing behind me. Of course, I immediately dozed off and shortly thereafter, Danny snapped this photo:


Despite the extra sleep, I was still groggy over much of the weekend due to the time change. I hate Daylight Saving Time. One of the reasons I hope to retire in Puerto Rico is that they are on Atlantic Standard Time year round.

Indeed, as the days started growing longer, I began to enjoy the mornings more. From waking refreshed instead of groggy, to having the sunlight stream in the glass block windows as I showered. That is all over for now.

The old chestnut is that DST saves energy in the evenings. At one time, when electricity was so exorbitantly expensive that 90% of rural homes were not electrified, this was an important factor. However, with the relative reduction in energy costs (correcting for inflation, just a fraction of what they once were), energy efficient light bulbs, and street lights that operate automatically, this is no longer a factor. So, that old chestnut can be put to rest.

DST also results in inconvenience for farmers, who have one hour less in the morning to get their goods to market. Why worry about a few farmers? Because agriculture is America’s largest industry.

Daylight Saving Time runs under the justification that it will promote more evening activities such as shopping and sports. The theory goes that if it’s light outside longer, you’ll be more likely to go out for dinner, go to the mall, or go see the Indians at Progressive Field. So, the reasons we still have DST all come down to money.

I find it hard to believe that die-hard Indians fans will base their decision to see their favorite team lose based on the timing of the sunset. It may extend a restaurant’s dinner traffic, but even without DST, the sun would set at 8pm in the summer, and that’s late enough for anyone to eat. As for retail, fewer and fewer people shop at malls and “lifestyle centers” anyway, regardless of their time zone.

There was a time I used to ridicule Indiana about their refusal to adopt DST. But now I realize they were absolutely right.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Getting Stoked on Stokie

Recently, I stumbled on a website that has many of the early recordings of Leopold Stokowski. Many of his stereo recordings have been issued on CD, but finding his classic recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra is a challenge – he was music director there from 1912-1940, although only part-time after 1936. Despite his popularity with audiences, Old Stokie came in for a lot of criticism from cognoscenti in his day, particularly from adherents of the literalist school. George Szell, who could be called part of that school (but not with total accuracy) admired Stokowski with some reservations, and was astonished how, in the 1960s, the old man was able to get the Cleveland Orchestra to sound like the Philadelphia Orchestra of the 1930s after only ten minutes of rehearsal. Nevertheless, it’s true that a lot of Stokowski’s interpretations can be considered suspect. His rendition of the first movement from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is totally out of whack. But his performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Dvorak’s New World Symphony are in a class of their own. And he was championing Scriabin and Schoenberg long before anyone else.

A lot of Stokowski’s legend came from the unique sonority he got out of the various orchestras he conducted. It became known as the Stokowski sound. He was also highly interested in improvements in recording technology. He made some of the first electrical recordings (that is, recordings made with a microphone instead of a recording horn) in 1925. He adopted unusual seating arrangements of the orchestra to make it sound better on records. In 1932, he made the first experimental studio recordings. 1932! I was able to hear those recordings, and even though they are not high-fidelity recordings by today’s standards, the almost obscenely lush sound of his orchestra came through.

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Auto Show

Hopefully, this weekend featured the last winter storm of the season. But I’m not counting on it. Danny and I had to clean the driveway twice. But Mason enjoyed the snow. Sunday afternoon, we played fetch using snowballs. I remained astonished at Mason’s keen senses, as he was able to locate the snowballs I threw using his sense of smell.

Saturday, Danny and I braved the weather to head to the 2010 Auto show at the IX center, picking up Gerson on the way. With my Civic nearly paid off and with years of life left in it, I’m not in the market for a new car. But I do like to see what’s out there.

I was disappointed that the Honda display did not have the new CR-Z. I doubt a 2-seater would be practical for me, but the idea of a hybrid sports car is intriguing and I wanted to see it. I did check out the Crosstour, which is basically an Accord with a hatchback, and the Insight, which is disappointingly skimpy. I also looked over the Element. This is a practical possibility for my next vehicle. Ideally, I’d get a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle (the Civic GX was also there). But with a dog to transport and high lip in my driveway (the front apron of my Civic scrapes against it), a smaller car is not so practical anymore.

I've wanted a hybrid, but Insight is a non-starter.

Just for fun, I checked out the Acura TL. A very sweet machine, but I would never own a car that needs premium gas.

Honda’s most direct competitor is Toyota. And here I have a confession: I have never liked Toyotas, and I’ve driven several models including the Matrix, the Prius, the Camry, and of course Danny's Yaris. Toyota is in love with its technology (which recently seems not to have been adequately tested), but I can never get comfortable in their cars. The ergonomics are “bass-akwards”, and I demonstrated to Danny and Gerson how the door handle and controls are in counter-intuitive positions. The same is true for Toyota’s Lexus brand, which continues to leave me cold.

GM had a large display, despite the absence of the late Saturn and Pontiac brands. I did not have the chance to check out the new Chevrolet Cruze, which will be built in Ohio. But the vehicles I saw were the same old, same old – with some moderately new packaging. Only the Buick LaCrosse impressed, and it did so in a big way. This is a true luxury vehicle, reigniting memories of the Buicks of old, and the LaCrosse recently beat out the Lexus ES350 in Motor Trend magazine, and was a Consumer’s Digest 2010 buy of the year. But it’s going to take more than one impressive model to save GM.

I can see myself driving about 20 years.

Even more disappointing than GM was Chrysler. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy any Chrysler model, with the possible exception of the Town & Country for families. I’ve only driven one Chrysler in my life, a PT Cruiser which was an underpowered, clumsy bore. (On a side note, I asked a salesperson what was the music on the new Town & Country commercials, and he had no idea.)

As I noticed in 2009, Ford is making a real comeback. There was a time when I swore to never buy a Ford, but now I’m reconsidering. A few years ago, Ford could be counted on to build reliable trucks and nothing more – but now they have a full lineup which impresses at every turn. The entry-level Fiesta is being reintroduced, and it will likely be a strong competitor for the Chevrolet Aveo and the Toyota Yaris. Likewise, the Focus has been spiffed up enough to take on the Civic, and can easily beat the Corolla. The Fusion is easily the best hybrid on the market, far more comfortable than the Prius or Camry, not to mention the Insight. The new Taurus has nothing in common with the old version – it’s now a luxury car that lives up to its bull-like name. If there’s one brand that may steal me from Honda, it’s Ford.

In fact, Ford’s auto lineup (I did not check out the SUVs or trucks) has now become so comprehensive that the Mercury brand, which has only four models, seems to have no purpose. The Milan is merely a rebadged Fusion and the Mariner is a fancy Escape. But if Ford customers want to go more upscale, they are more likely to head to Lincoln.

Danny and Gerson checked out the Smart Fortwo. There is a certain gee-whiz appeal to this vehicle. But it is simply not practical in Cleveland’s climate, and would be impractical for Danny & me in any climate. It is, and will remain, a small niche vehicle: for the single person who never drives more than one friend, doesn’t have to haul more than a few groceries, and never brings a pet (not the mention an infant) for a ride. In a head-to-head collision with a larger vehicle (which means any vehicle on four wheels) it would be clobbered.

Would you trust your loved one's safety to this car?

While at the IX center, we stopped off and had some overpriced food ($9 for a slice of pizza and a soda), had a pushy salesman try to sell us a hot tub, and looked at come classic cars. Disappointingly, the motorcycle display we’d perused at previous shows was nowhere to be seen.