Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   chilling with Slate Hill Phil
Wednesday, August 10 2005

setting: 5 miles south of Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia

Today I would be returning to Charlottesville to see my old childhood friend Nathan. Leaving my childhood home always requires a scan of the many things I've left there [REDACTED] to see what I should take away with me. I managed to load the car fairly heavily with stuff, including old oak planks from the demolished barn, several interesting books, and a beautiful pink piece of chert to add to my household rock collection.
My mother's honey house attic remains crammed with old electronic equipment, mostly collected from UVA's dumpsters during the mid to late 1990s. As electronics has progressed under the relentless pressure of Moore's Law, it's become increasingly application-specific, microscopic, and less hackable. This trend has gradually weaned me of fetishistic interest in circuit boards; modern ones aren't much more useful than pages torn from a magazine. But I retain my interest in old circuit boards with discrete parts or general-purpose integrated circuits. And I love electromechanical equipment such as relays and old telephone ringers (such as the one I modified into a door chime several weeks ago). My solar project is going to require a simple decision-making apparatus that can look at temperatures in several locations and decide which valves to open or close, so it was a delight to find thermostatic mercury switches and heavy-duty relays. I'm pleased with my former self that he, in 1998, had the foresight to collect timeless electromechanical equipment in addition to the digital electronics that really interested him. But where is he now?

I arrived in Charlottesville in the mid-afternoon and went for a walk on the Downtown Mall. It's been enough years since I lived here that I can be reasonably anonymous, a luxury that brought me back into "I'm an alien worm piloting spaceship Gus" mode. Before long, though, the spell was broken when I ran into Charlottesville's most persistent member: Phil Ginini. He was kind of bored and looking to do something, so I immediately adopted the mindset that if I stuck around Phil long enough something interesting was bound to happen. In the past this mindset has served me well, leading to my introduction to the nascent world of Big Fun and ultimately putting me on the path to where I am now.
Phil wanted to go somewhere and get a beer, but it turns out that he isn't allowed into any bars on the Downtown Mall. Each of them has had some occasion to kick him out and tell him he is no longer welcome. Occasionally one will change ownership and then he can go there, but it's only a matter of time before something happens and the new management develops its own Phil exclusion principle.
As one ranges from the Downtown Mall, though, Phil's frequency in the bars starts to fall off and there are a few places that welcome his business. One such place is Mono Loco, but they weren't yet open. [REDACTED]
Eventually we found our way into South Street Brewery, a brewpub that must postdate my Charlottesville period. I spent most of my time at the bar hand drawing a promotional flyer for Phil's upcoming performance at La Taza in the gentrified heart of Belmont. When he's playing bluegrass, Phil calls himself "Slate Hill Phil." Other members of his band include a few accomplished musicians as well as Christian Breeden's girlfriend, who plays bass. (She's the one with the cellphone pressed to her head wondering where her boyfriend had gone at that party Jessica and I crashed the other day.) Supposedly she's a lousy musician but she's so fucking hot that it totally makes up for her musical challenges.
One of the guys from the C-ville tabloid had given Phil a coupon for a free beer at South Street Brewery, though he continued drinking after his freebie and I'm not sure if he ever paid for the others. I know that when I got the bill for my beer (and an order of fish & chips), it was too little to have included what Phil had drunk. But by then Phil was out on the sidewalk talking on a cellphone, about to leave. He pulls stunts like this all the time and then wonders why restaurants have policies banning him.
By this point my buddy Nathan had arrived, and there was a radical change of scene. Nathan drove me to his place of employ and took me inside the sacred citadel, a refrigerated server room stacked high with IBM equipment and fiber optics and blinking lights everywhere. In there was one of Nathan's co-workers, a thick slab of fun-loving experimention wrapped in self-taught nerdiness. [REDACTED] Both were waiting for massive file copies to complete. These were all of the drag & drop variety, familiar to anyone who uses Windows. The servers were all running Windows Server 2003.
Later back at Nathan's house, he showed me the progress that has been made on the massive upstairs rennovation project. What had been an unfinished attic now has a huge shed dormer and something like 1000 additional square feet of space. When I'd seen it last Nathan and his wife Janine were wondering about drywall contractors. Now the drywall is in (and painted), the beech flooring has been laid, and the plumbing and electricity are all in place.
Nathan had done all the plumbing himself using PEX plastic hoses with crimped fittings. I expressed skepticism, but he insisted the materials could be trusted. There had been an unseen pinhole in one of the pipes which, once the water was turned on, had blasted a hole through the drywall in a matter of seconds. But that had been the only glitch, and, unlike copper, it could be fixed without completely draining the offending pipe.
Janine came home and we sat around drinking beer, mostly from huge jugs of Keegan Ales that I'd brought. They had a DVD of recent episodes of Real Time with Bill Mahr (an HBO program) which we watched for an hour or so. But it was a week night, so we didn't stay up late. [REDACTED]

At the bar in South Street Brewery, Slate Hill Phil makes some last-minute edits to the flyer I'd made. Yes, anachronistic as it is, you can still smoke in Charlottesville restaurants.

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