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
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Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
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Like my brownhouse:
   Geek Squad, FireDog, and Nerd Patrol
Sunday, June 24 2007

setting: Wyndmoor, Greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This morning after he'd undertaken a grueling several-hour bike ride, I accompanied John on a series of errands in the land of big box stores to the northwest of Philadelphia. A primary goal was to buy an extremely cheap laptop computer for an employee of a copywriting company John has started. Because of the particulars of a website that this laptop must connect to, it had to be a Windows machine running XP.
Our first stop was Lowes to return an electric pipe cutter that John had bought for the purpose of using and returning, in keeping with his philosophy that Lowes and Home Depot unwittingly function as "tool lending libraries." But the tool in question had proved a worthless contraption, something he was sure to tell the Lowes employee as he returned it.
Next we went to Best Buy, the blue and yellow home of the orange and black Geek Squad where we found a $500 laptop. But all of them, right down to the shittiest model, had Vista installed. It's getting hard to buy a computer with XP on it, though it is (and will probably always be, at least until the end of consumer society) a perfectly acceptable operating system that doesn't demand anywhere near as much computational firepower as Vista. John decided to buy the cheap laptop, but Best Buy made a fateful decision that I could have easily cautioned them to avoid. They made John wait in line. He stood there for about five minutes before he said fuck it and motioned to me that he was leaving.
Then we went to red-themed Circuit City, which has an in-house computer tech commando unit called FireDog which, they were quick to point out, is far superior to Geek Squad. I have to admit that the FireDog "agents" definitely looked squirlier and more socially inept than the guys I'd seen in Geek Squad outfits, so maybe they were right. I didn't think much of the name, though, observing, "FireDog, that sounds like a beer." "FireDog Ale," John agreed. The Circuit City employees (there were now three standing around us) gave a hearty chuckle. "Why not Nerd Patrol?" I asked. The chuckling became a little more nervous, as the fun I was having was now at their expense.
Circuit City's prices weren't as low as we'd seen at Best Buy, but John didn't see this as much of a problem. He seemed to think he could negotiate 50% discount, particularly with open-box items that might not even be represented in the inventory. Our salesman Joe kept going to his superiors to see if he could do something for John, just because John was so damn convincing. And when a proposed deal didn't work out, John would good-naturedly accuse Joe of having lied to him, but John said he understood because, well, I forget.
The FireDog guys were adamant that Windows XP couldn't be installed on a Vista system, claiming that there was something low down in the hard drive's partitions that prevented XP from taking root. "Believe me, we've had our best guy try," said Joe, "and it's impossible." This seemed either absurd or fascist to me. "It's my computer, why can't I install anything I want to on it? It's supposed to be a free country. Our boys are dying over in Iraq for our freedom, and I can't even install my preferred operating system on my computer?"
At some point as I absent-mindedly looked at the other computer products in Circuit City, I happened upon a set of shelf space dedicated to laptop carrying cases that were otherwise like any other normal black laptop cases except that, around the slot where the computer is s-l-i-d in, the designer (if one can use this term to describe the person who did this) had colored the material pink. Sure enough, these were laptop cases designed for women, as if feminizing a product merely means attaching labia. These couldn't have been meant to be bought by actual women; surely they were designed to be bought by clueless men looking for gifts for women in their lives.
In the end we decided to abandon Circuit City too after they claimed it would take them two hours to restore a laptop John had selected to "factory condition." The sale floundered on policy alone; they wouldn't let us leave with it as it was.
One of the errands John had set out to accomplish was obtaining a replacement medicine cabinet to replace his existing one, which looks like an abstract all-black memorial to the World Trade Center. By now he wanted to kick that errand down the road, but since I'd never been to an Ikea before we went anyway.
The Ikea store was enormous windowless rectangle which one can enter from below, since it stands atop pillars above part of its parking lot. Inside, you're disgorged into a warren of smallish rooms, all doing their best to both get you lost and showcase Ikea style in various inviting settings. This style, as we are all now aware, is usually comes as a thin laminate scrim over cheap structural particleboard. At some point I observed, "I've found that the way to make Ikea furniture stay intact is to shoot the seams full of Gorilla Glue before putting it together." "Yeah, but then you can't take it apart," said John. "Hey, when you want to take Ikea furniture apart, you're probably throwing it out anyway. You can always use a baseball bat," I replied.
Part of the way that Ikea traps you in their world is by providing a cafeteria full of cheap "Swedish cuisine," allowing the weary shopper to keep going without being debilitated by a crash in blood glucose levels. The food was all kind of gross in a cheerful sort of way. Though cooked to oblivion, for example, the vegetables had somehow avoided degrading into shades of high school cafeteria pastel. The same was true of the salmon, which had something of a particleboard aftertaste. "Particle board contains formaldahyde," John was quick to remind me, and I hadn't even signed the NDA he and his friend had spoken of last night.
The last stop of the outing was Ah's Garage, a little something to cleanse the pallette, a junk shop in an old Norristown garage. I found nothing I wanted there, but that wasn't the point there. Anything could have been there, even a laptop with Windows XP pre-installed. (They did have an enormous Apple-brand CRT display, as well as a friendly shop Pit Bull with a head nearly as large.)

John has been through something like ten cars since I saw him last. He says that getting, driving, and selling cars the way he does allows him to use them essentially for free, but I can't imagine all the phone calls and wheeling and dealing and stress this involves. John loves that sort of thing, so this is reflected in his style of car ownership. His current car is a sensible late-model BMW. I don't often ride around in such cars, so it was interesting to note the difference between the way other motorists interacted with me in this car and the way they interact with me when I'm in a dented Honda Civic. The chief difference was the behavior of aging blond women who looked to have had a lot of work done. Not that I care, but such women never make eye contact with me when I'm in the Civic, but when I was a passenger in John's Beamer they would smile big toothy smiles, acknowledging me as a member of their species and possibly as a worthy mate as well.
During most of our tooling around, John was playing music from a band called Explosions in the Sky on his stereo. He called it "Crescendo Rock," because the long arrangements gradually build to crescendos. It's full of dynamics, there are never any vocals, and sometimes it sounds like Phillip Glass as done on guitar. Other times it can sound a little new-agey, but the musicians have a way of breaking such spells by turning up the crunch on their guitars. Unlike, say, a jam band, the music always seems to be going somewhere, which is important for me. In Wikipedia, Explosions in the Sky is characterized as "post rock" because rock instruments are used "for non-rock purposes." Especially if you're feeling sadly hopeful, it's great personal soundtrack music when driving around on a bright sunny day, but because I was unfamiliar with some of the noise effects layered into the music, I occasionally feared John was dragging his tail pipe. I was sure to rip his three Explosions in the Sky CDs on my iBook before heading back home to New York State.

Lesson learned from the three or four hour roadtrip home: never take the New Jersey Turnpike northbound on a Sunday afternoon. There are so many better options. If I had that to do over again, I would have taken a straighter route northward through Princeton on 206 to I-287. There was never anything obvious that caused any of the gridlock, which leads me to suspect that what I was experiencing was a systemic problem for that time of day and week. There was one car fire, but that was on the shoulder of the NY Thruway southbound (another bad place to be on a Sunday afternoon), and I was sure to warn truckers of it (using the CB radio) several times as I continued northward. That's pure road altruism, baby, except to the extent that I can self-congratulate now.

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