Picking and choosing

In: Hokum

25 Jun 2012

I’m not a Twitter guy, and that’s no knock on Twitter. It’s just that people in my age peer group aren’t Twitter people either, meaning I’d largely be posting into the ether for no apparent reason.

I’m also not a Tumblr guy. I (obviously) already have a blog and Tumblr violates one of my basic tenets: When you go to its home page, it doesn’t say what it is or what it does. That sort of thing leaves me cold — I first saw this behavior with Delicious, back in the insufferable days when its actual url was del.icio.us, and I’ve hated this sort of ‘design’ ever since.

Pinterest is something I might find useful, if I allowed myself to get sucked in. I haven’t allowed myself to get sucked in.

I really don’t want to tell everyone where I am at any given time, so I don’t use Foursquare. Groupon failed my signal-to-noise-ratio test, so I cut off its emails.

My point is that (with the exception of Tumblr) I think all of these packages/services are perfectly fine — but I don’t use them. It’s generally not because I have anything against them. I’ve just made the choice to not incorporate these services into my life.

This does not make me an old fart. It makes me someone who has evaluated the technology that is available and uses the services that best fit his lifestyle. I’d argue that if everyone did this, there’d probably be a lot less stress in the world and real communication would not suffer.

Previously: Busted | Hokum home


In: Hokum

21 Jun 2012

I have no recollection of this at all — but, as the British would say, it appears to be a fair cop. I must have been headed home after a late day, and I must have chosen this route down South Capitol because of bad traffic. I might drive this way once every three months. Enjoy the video and watch for the gray hatchback at the end — the District was kind enough to send me stills showing that this was unmistakably my car, as well as a link to the lovely video. I’m now $150 ($150!) poorer:

Previously: Harps old and new | Hokum home

Harps old and new

In: Hokum

21 Jun 2012

Harmonicas are getting crazy-expensive. The typical ones used by musicians like me now run about $35 a pop, or $420 for a whole set of keys, which is a lot for instruments that break and go out of tune all of the time. That’s more than double the price I was paying just a couple of years ago, and every time I put a Hohner Special 20 in my hand — my preferred harmonica for the last 20 years — I’m wondering what it is that makes this thing so expensive.

So recently, I’ve tried a model from Seydel. With stainless steel reeds, it is supposed to last much longer than other harps and hopefully will save me money in the long term. In addition, because my local outlet was out of a Special 20 in the key I wanted, I recently tried a Hohner Marine Band for the first time in many many years.

For the uninitiated, a Marine Band is basically the classic 10-hole harmonica, used by pretty much all of the old greats. I rejected it long ago because they were harder to play than the Special 20 — with their cheap pear wood combs and nail construction (instead of screws), the Marine Bands have a tendency to leak air. And when the combs get a little wet, they swell outside of the harmonica and do an excellent job of chewing up your lips and ripping out mustache hairs.

The leakiness issue was a big problem for me, back when I blew on my harmonicas as hard as I could. I dropped that method a long time ago, as I learned to control my embrouchure — but not before I switched to the Special 20s. So, trying the Marine Band again, with my better breath control, was almost like trying it for the first time.

The Marine Band I bought was in Bb and has a beautiful, thick tone. The open-sided covers really do seem to make a difference on this front — something I noticed when using some no-longer-available Hering harmonicas a few years ago. I immediately loved it. The Bb harp will get less use than some keys, so hopefully I’ll get some good use out of this before the combs swell up and I experience the usual Marine Band problems.

The Seydel was extremely well-built, with a sealed maple comb, and I am very happy with the tone. It’s not quite as thick as the Marine Band’s tone but it’s certainly on a par, at least, with the Special 20. The reeds do seem a little stiff, and the holes are farther apart from each other than in Special 20s, meaning I have to adjust my playing a little bit. Only time will tell if its durability claims are true.

Previously: The emergence | Hokum home

The emergence

In: Hokum

6 Jun 2012

I arrived at Tuesday night’s Nationals game early. Rather than burn some time walking around the inside of the park or hanging out at The Bullpen, I took a walk along the Anacostia riverfront east of the stadium.

About 25,000 people went to the game but I didn’t see a dozen folks along this scenic walk over a carefully and beautifully constructed pathway. I then doubled back along M Street SE, winding my way back to First Street and heading back south toward the stadium. Here is what I saw:

Gone, finally, is the eyesore of a cement plant that was across the street from the park for so long. And here and there, construction has finally bloomed. Restaurants are starting to appear, with some looking likely to open within a few months. Soon — finally — it will be possible to spend a whole evening in the area, instead of sprinting in for a baseball game and then sprinting away.

The Washington Post documented this emergence back in March. It’s taken many years longer than initially expected and promised, but finally it is happening.

There is a similar emergence on the field. On this night, the first-place Nationals won a thrilling 12-inning game against the Mets, who were kind enough to boot three double play balls in one inning. Bryce Harper, the kid who I thought was called up too soon, hit the game-winner and arguably has become the Nats’ biggest offensive threat. The Nats are in one of the most brutal stretches of a schedule that I have ever seen any team have to endure — they’re currently playing the entire National League and American League east divisions, neither of which has a team with a record below .500 — and so far they appear to be surviving. After that, perhaps they can beat up on some weaker folks and we’ll see how good they really are.

This is when we find out whether Washington can become a baseball town. This team and this neighborhood are emerging together. If the people come along for this ride, then perhaps we’ll talk about the Nats in the same way we now talk about the Caps and (for some reason) the hapless-for-a-generation Redskins. And we’ll talk about the neighborhood in the same way we talk about Chinatown — another area uplifted first by sport, and then by people. Here’s hoping to that outcome.

Previously: The Weber kettle | Hokum home

I’m a grill guy. I own two smokers, three charcoal grills, two outdoor boilers and a Medium Green Egg — and I have nothing against gas cookers but I just don’t need any more gear. But if someone asked me what single grill they should own for a variety of casual summer cooking, my answer would be easy: A Weber kettle.

The Weber kettleYour basic Weber kettle is a model of simple, effective and durable engineering and construction. It grills, it smokes, it even bakes with a little encouragement. The basic kettle will last for years — even decades — and all of the more vulnerable parts are easily and cheaply replaced or repaired as needed.

I own an 18-inch kettle and a 14-inch portable Smokey Joe grill. If I was buying one new grill today, I’d actually opt for the slightly larger 22-inch grill, which increases your smoking and grilling options.

Webers aren’t terribly expensive unless you tack on options — your basic 22-inch kettle is about $100. They also are far superior to any of the many cheaper clones out there that I’ve seen. The steel is enameled, not painted, and it’s generally thicker than competing charcoal grills. The vents are easy to use and have minimal leaks. The lid fights tightly. This construction gives you greater control over temperatures and ensures durability.

The larger kettle is big enough to let you set up hot and warm zones on your grill. You can smoke ribs and chicken fairly easy, and if you’re willing to put up with paying a lot of attention over a very long time, you can even cook briskets or pork butts.

The Weber is a terrific steak cooker. Leave the lid on while cooking and it works just like a high-temperature convection oven — perfect for steak. It took me a long time to replicate my Weber results on my Egg, and the Egg — which cost six times as much — is just a brilliant cooker.

So if you only one one grill, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, go for the Weber. OTOH, these days, $300 will get you a very well-made kamado cooker from Lowe’s.

Previously: Catching up | Hokum home


About this blog

Hokum is written by Randy Lilleston, a Washington-area journalist. This blog contains a variety of insignificant thoughts. I started it in March 2006, but a stupid unfortunate event in November 2007 led to the accidental deletion of all posts before August 2006. Enjoy.

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