Thursday, September 30, 2010

You've Got Mail!

I trudged into my building last night, exhausted, and almost tripped over a box in the front hallway.

My name was on it! I dragged the box upstairs to my apartment.

Maybe it's my tools for woodworking class!

I'm taking woodworking this semester. I wanted to take something more hands-on than Flash, Dreamweaver, or Final Cut Pro. I look at a computer enough as it is.

Drawing? Ceramics? Ah...woodworking.

I am interested in ceramics as well, actually, but I decided to take woodworking since it's a more unusual offering. There's a ceramics studio in J.C., and I can sign up for their classes anytime. Woodworking is harder to find.

I have a metal combination square on order, but my other tools are here now. I already owned a chisel, safety goggles, a vise, various handsaws, and a small army of tape measures, but I'm starting off fresh, with well-made and lightweight tools.

And I'm now the proud owner of a double-sided Japanese handsaw. I hope to learn to carve out dovetail joints. And by the middle of December, I will reputedly know how to make a table.

We'll see.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Guest Post: Michael Kraiger

Currently, Marie is super-busy and despairs over not having enough time to dedicate to writing her blog and worries that her loyal readers and the random cyber-stalker or two may grow bored with the occasional photo of a giant hot dog on a chair rather than an actual post.

So, here it is, Marie's blog written by one of the supporting cast. I'm the guy who turns up when she mentions baking pie, watercraft in the meadowlands, hiking small mountains or lifting heavy objects.

I'm not sure about this whole blogging thing, so I decided to give a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the gal-on-the-go, Marie.

Mornings are a sacred thing to Marie, so her whole morning routine is shrouded in secrecy. I have sussed out that it involves an individually brewed cup of coffee (she buys the good stuff) and some very important ‘me’ time. House guests take note: When staying with Marie, it's best to pull the covers up over your head and pretend you're sleeping until she leaves for work, or I'll never hear the end of it.

Marie arrives at the office and immediately dives right into the day—Facebook, Sitemeter and whatever yelling at freelancers or "Can you believe it?" about the incredible nonsense work that needs to be done. Once work is underway, there's room for a little office banter, and the topic usually falls into one of two categories: how incredibly stupid the general population is (this based on comments on news stories or random snippets overheard on the elevator) or what incredibly cool things she's done since I last saw her. This is my favorite topic because I rarely have cool things that I've done since I last saw Marie.

Marie doesn't get nearly enough recognition for the work she does. As an editor in chief she's dealing with the home office in Kuwait, freelance creative types in England, Brooklyn, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Arizona and a few scattered about California too. She’s juggling the schedule of a weekly comic strip (4-5 freelancers involved) and a comic book (5-8 freelancers involved) while providing answers to the aforementioned home office, various international magazines, an errant consultant, a couple of lawyers and whatever other weirdness slips in the door. She also knows the production end of things, and frequently corrects the goofs that occur, whether incorrectly drawn uniforms or misspelled word balloons.

And then one o'clock rolls around and I hear... "What am I going to eat today?"

After her panini is consumed with chips and a pickle—once in a great while it's pasta or a salad but mostly panini—it's right back to Facebook...I mean work.

Around three o'clock, I hear the familiar, "I'm sleepy, I think I'm allergic to dill."

That's when I jump in with the offer to fetch some coffee, and Marie says, "Good coffee or the crappy stuff they have in the kitchen?"

Back to work for another couple of hours and we're dealing with the answers to all the problems of the world (in the comic book) and the mental breakdowns of our close personal friends.

Then it's quitting time and Marie is off to who-knows-where, a concert or play in the park, or the class she teaches at SVA or perhaps it's a robot-building class she's taking in Brooklyn, or a reading by an admired travel writer. Sometimes it’s dinner or coffee with a friend, but often enough it's a short jaunt to an out-of-the-way corner of our great metropolis for an examination of something odd.

Two other things you should know about our gal-on-the-go, she reads an awful lot and her calendar is chock-full. I've seen it on her desk and the next few weeks are all scribbled in. So no complaints about this fill-in blog. She's busy.

      —Michael Kraiger

Saturday, September 25, 2010

It All Evens Out

I scheduled too tightly this weekend, and managed to miss the movie at the 1929 movie palace last night, missed yoga today, and tomorrow I'll probably forget to do about 30 things I should have done today.

But I ran across this giant hot dog on a chair on the street. So I guess it's all okay.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Half-Assed Offer

I nearly bought a house last week, but chickened out after seeing how wrecked the interior was.

The house is a wreck, and I've had my eye on it since the end of 2005. It's a few doors down from my old condo up the block, and every time I've gone into an open house there, I've left flabbergasted by the state of the property. There are holes in the roof, even.

But the price was finally low enough that I wanted it. My friend Dmitry (Jessica's husband) went with me, since he is training to be an architect. And we checked out the house.

The agent gave me a hundred pages of disclosures.

I took them home and read them.

Mold. Collapsing extension. Collapsing roof on extension. Incorrectly installed French doors. Collapsing stair railing. Crooked floors. Leaky windows. And so on.

I chickened out. I put in a back-up offer, lower than the main offer. I couldn't see spending the main offer amount on something that needed gutting.

Then today, I went to look at a brick house. It's a lot bigger, nicer, and pricier. Someone was killed there two years ago. And it still needs a lot of work.

I thought about my old block, and the funny old men and women who have lived there since they were born, and the sense of community, and the brilliant characters that sit on the stoops...

...and I called back the agent.

"If the other offer falls through, I want it."

And now we wait.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Name that Mini-Corporation

My friend Stuart and I are involved in packaging a graphic novel for a third party.

Towards this end, we'll be needing to form a two-person company so that we can do our taxes correctly as well as pay each other and our artists.

And so we must name ourselves. The current frontrunner is Botfriend Books...which is an inside joke based on a typo by someone I last saw in 1982 or 1983. He doesn't even know he might have named our company. Yet.

(Oops, now he knows.)

So...who wants to name our graphic novel production company? Or does "Botfriend Books" work for you? My friend Jessica runs Friendly Robot Studios, so perhaps she'd think we swiped her, and we wouldn't want that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Road to Sharm

After the events of last week, where an Egyptian newspaper used Photoshop to move their leader to the head of this pack, Yasir issued a challenge.

"Make your own reality," he said.

So here. In my reality, a hippo shall lead them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Africa Bus Travel Addendum

One of my blog posts that frequently land strangers here is this one, from 2005:

Blueprint for Independent Africa Travel.

The post is not the most exciting, but the information is useful. Or was useful, until I just now read that the most reputable bus line in East Africa—Scandinavia Express—went bust earlier this year.

But the news isn't all bad. I checked the bus schedules on the website for The Eye, a free monthly magazine in Kampala, and found links that led me to this:

Kampala Coach not only services similar routes to the now-defunct Scandinavia, but it goes a step farther and provides, or plans to provide, transportation from Nairobi to to Ethiopia.

A quick Google search indicated a lot of people talking about this bus. Perhaps it is in the works and not yet active. Perhaps it runs once a week. Perhaps it never existed at all. But the map on the Kampala Coach site means...well, your guess is as good as mine, but mine thinks there might actually be a bus here, maybe on Wednesdays when there are not bandits along the road.

The Marsabit to Moyale leg was one of the last puzzle pieces needed for an almost seamless public transport route from Cape Town to Cairo. And by seamless, I mean regularly scheduled and enclosed, with actual seats. This still leaves tough parts in Sudan. But you need to have some fun, right?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Coloring Lesson

In one of my past identities, I colored comics.

Attached is page one of the first big assignment I ever got. I had this out of its binder to show my class on Tuesday, so I scanned it in.

The year was 1991, and I had no idea what I was doing. My friend Steve Buccellato was a successful colorist, though, and while I did the physical act of coloring this book, he told me exactly what to do.

Proxy-coloring seems odd to me now, but with Steve walking me through this issue (he penciled in the codes on the paper, and I mixed the colors and painted them onto the page), I gained the confidence to do the next issue by myself. And the next, and the next, until I'd colored comic books for four years. In 1995, we slowly moved into using this newfangled software called Photoshop, but the transition from old-school to total digital coloring took more than five more years.

Before Photoshop, the colorist painted a guide like this one. We used transparent watercolor dyes, which had the benefit of only showing up on the white areas of the page. Digitally, it's like saving the artwork into an alpha channel or different layer, so you can see it but won't color over it by accident.

The numbers are the CMYK values. Back then, we could only choose from yellow (Y), magenta (R), and cyan (B), and could only chose one of these values: 25 (marked as 2), 50 (marked as 3), 70 (marked as 4), 100 (represented just by the letter). Y2R2, for example, meant Yellow 25 mixed with Magenta 25.

Another person would cut a screen of Rubylith—a colored semi-transparent screen—to match the shape, and would adhere it to the master film.

Now, of course, I outline a polygon with my lasso and hit fill to get the same effect. Times have changed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday Night in JC

I was out walking with Denise on Saturday night, and took this with my little automatic camera.

We then stopped in at the bubble tea shop by the PATH, and noticed some odd items on their menu.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Snacks, 2001

While contemplating both the nutritional value of bedbugs—(solves the problems of bedbug infestation and world hunger at the same time!) and the disturbing thought that 1) they are nutritious because they are filled with blood and 2) that would be people-blood, giving edible bedbugs something in common with Soylent Green—it occurred to me to re-scan some edible bug photos from 2001.

These bugs were in China, in a small city (Luoyang?) that I was in with Yancey and Turbo and a bunch of Intrepid Travel clients. Bugs are supposed to be good for you. Did I eat them? I admit that I did not. Food allergies, you know.

Bugs. It's what for dinner.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my first (and last, I hope) close-up encounter with a Ugandan Nile hippo.

Since then, I've made the acquaintance of a few more.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Added Bonus: You Can Send Stuff

I was in the Hoboken post office yesterday and noticed this sign in the vestibule.

Er, what? The post office is named after Sinatra? Named so by CONGRESS? Seriously, WTF? It's a post office...

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Vital Reminder

I'm looking at some options for a short-term consulting gig I might take down the road (don't ask...YET), and thinking about Afghanistan, which is smack-dab in the middle of the process I'd be involved in.

Would I really go in? I don't know. I was reading up on local info on the Lonely Planet message boards, and there are perfectly safe parts and absolutely unsafe parts. Khyber Pass, where I was in 1998, sounds unsafe and is out.

But here is the most useful link I stumbled over this morning.

Always cover your butt.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Day On Governors Island

After our kayaking adventure on Saturday, Roberta dropped me off at home. I rushed into the shower and then to the World Trade Center PATH. Grateful for the shade of the skyscrapers of Wall Street, I raced across Manhattan to the Governors Island ferry.

Governors Island—which is a half-mile off of the southeastern tip of Manhattan—was a US Coast Guard property for thirty years of my life. Now it's property of the Department of the Interior and the State of New York. And they like us all right, so it's a 172-acre park that we can all go to for free on ferries from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I was searching for my friend Jessica and her family, because they were having a birthday picnic for her six-year-old daughter. I don't usually attend children's birthday celebrations, but the family lives in Seattle and was visiting, and I only see them once a year.

It took me half an hour to find them, even with the aid of text messages such as "We're near the jazz." Once I did locate the group, Jessica and I ditched them and went to look at artwork that was on display. One piece was by a friend's mother, so naturally I had to pose with the sculpture and a can of Cafe Bustelo.

At another installment, we were invited to visit the notary.


Jessica was notarized as beginning the citizenship process to the place she loves best, which, as it turns out, is her studio, Friendly Robot Studios. I witnessed.

In the process of the assimilation, she was required to write a song about her studio. To the tune of Yankee Doodle. She did. We sang it. I quietly hit "Record" on my camera.

When it was over, we thought we'd sung okay for two people not known for their spectacular singing voices. But the notary told us we were flat.

You can judge for yourself.