Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I'm not the world's biggest AC/DC fan, but like pretty much everyone else who grew up in the 80s, I've got a soft spot for the durable rockers. Believe it or not, my favorite song of theirs (not counting "Big Balls," because that's more of a four-minute junior high joke than a song) is "Money Talks." I was friends with the music director (or whatever you call it) of a College Station radio station when it switched formats to AOR back in '90-'91. They were shook up the generic pop radio scene in town and garnered a lot of initial success by playing actual rock. Amusingly enough, when "Money Talks" came out, it was conspicuously absent from their playlist--although the video was on heavy MTV rotation and KLOL out of Houston played the dickens out of it. I asked why they weren't playing it, and was told by the music director he'd begged to play it, but the station owners were "afraid" of AC/DC. Apparently, they believed there'd be riots in the streets and devil worship and all manner of hell unleashed if they allowed such a thing over the airwaves. Nevermind that various AC/DC songs were played regularly at Olsen Field during Texas A&M baseball games... In any event, a few months later, about the time the song had peaked in popularity, I heard it enter the station's rotation. That's always amused me, and pretty much proves that money does indeed talk.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Eddie Money.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson SMiLE
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 69: Zindler's Zany Zeal pt. 3

A few weeks ago, KTRK (ABC 13) out of Houston ran a couple of stories I helped them put together (here and here) about the infamous Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, which served as the inspiration for the Broadway musical and subsequent film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In addition to the new segments, KTRK's producers dug up old broadcasts from 1993, the 20th anniversary of the closure. I was a young reporter in Temple at the time, so this is the first I've ever seen the broadcasts. I'm going to share them here and then offer my thoughts, two decades removed.

I just love the footage here of clients waiting to access the Chicken Ranch. These clips were filmed by cameraman Frank Ambrose, who was hiding (but not very well) in the back of an "undercover" van he and Larry Conners had driven to La Grange. Now here's where fiction and truth come together: Herb Hancock, who was an assistant AG under John Hill, approached Marvin Zindler on his own. John Hill had no idea he'd done so, and Hancock worked hard to keep it that way. Hancock, for his part, had been convinced by others that the Chicken Ranch was a nexus of organized crime and corruption in the state. Remember that the internet and Twitter and instantaneous social communication didn't exist back then. Heck, long distance telephone calls were generally avoided because of the extra cost involved, so there was no easy way to do quick, wide-ranging fact-checking or investigation of sources. The facts presented to him were either accepted or rejected depending on the perceived veracity of the source, and in this case Hancock had no reason to believe he was receiving biased information (which he was).

Aside from that, it's great to see Larry Conners get some screen time. He's the overlooked hero (or villain, depending on your point of view) in the great Chicken Ranch investigation. Conners did almost all of the actual investigative leg-work, while Zindler presented the material as only he could, in his distinctive, bombastic way. I love Conners' interview with Sheriff Flournoy. Flournoy answers pretty much every question in a mumbling, monotone growl. I imagine he'd have preferred to have been just about anywhere else at that point in time. And it's true that Colonel Wilson Speir, head of the DPS and Texas Rangers, called Flournoy and had the Chicken Ranch temporarily closed down during politically sensitive times, such as elections. That may be hard for people to believe, but Texas really was a different world from what we're used to today. Zindler teases an interview with madam Edna Milton in the next installment, but that's not available online--mainly because KTRK used a bunch of that footage earlier, in ABC13 Revisits the Chicken Ranch 43 Years Later.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both and for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: Postmodern Jukebox Historical Misappropriation
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Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Weird. I haven't heard Eddie Money's song "Walk on Water" in years, maybe a decade or more. But I was running errands late yesterday and suddenly, bam!, the song was playing in my head, full throttle. It wasn't even raining, the radio wasn't on and I was actually thinking about loquat trees at the time, so I have no clue what triggered it. The human mind (mine at least) is strange.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cyndi Lauper.

Now Playing: David Gilmour About Face
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Monday, May 16, 2016

Office build-along pt. 3

I started my office build-along project a couple of weeks ago, and last week I gave an update on my progress. A week's passed, so that means we're due for another update, right?

For those of you playing along at home, you'll remember my mentioning the first cabinet I purchased for this project was a corner piece from McCoy's that was on clearance. Turns out it wasn't spruce, but birch. Which is another way of saying it's a pain-in-the-ass. That's it below. Deceptively innocent-looking, innit? Well, it was a display model, which means it was filthy. I mean, really, really grimy. So much so that I broke out the acetone to wipe it down after using an air compressor to blow the biggest accumulations of dirt and dust away, and again after I wiped it down. Even after the acetone, it still looked questionable. Part of this is due to UV damage--you can see in the photo where the door that was covered by a price sheet is still bright and clean and the surrounding wood has yellowed. Not good. I sanded and sanded and sanded some more, and only evened the coloration out slightly.

As for the stain... well, there's a reason why I didn't share pictures of the birch. See, the birch has grain in the wood, clearly visible grain, but apparently not the type that likes to differentiate itself via Minwax wood stain. Both applications of Special Walnut and Dark Walnut resulted in vaguely blotchy patterns. Worse, in a handful of places the stain puddled of something even after I wiped it away, resulting in what looked like splattered water droplets on the wood that (naturally) wouldn't sand away. Ditto for the cabinet frame. The door doesn't look so bad in the photo below, but trust me, it's awful.

Cutting my losses with that mess, I moved on to the application of polyurethane. At the old house, I used sanding sealer to finish my book cases, and was very happy with that finish. I've studied up on woodworking since then, and learned that polyurethane is a more durable topcoat than sanding sealer. Sadly, the two are not compatible, so I couldn't layer polyurethane atop a nice, thick layer of sealer. The big difference, as I understand it, is that sealer has an additive that causes it to puff up (relatively speaking) evening out the surface and filling the wood grain so that it may be easily sanded to a slick, smooth gloss. Polyurethane doesn't puff up, but is still easily sanded--so multiple coats are needed to achieve the same degree of smoothness.

Another problem with polyurethane is that it is bubble prone. If said air bubbles persist when it dries, that a rotten little disfigurement to the finish. So the best way to prevent this is to brush on a thin coat and brush slowly. Then brush over it again to remove lingering bubbles. Then blow on those nasty little ones that persist, hoping that is good enough. Once the polyurethane dried--at least four hours according to the can, but a couple of days in my case--lightly sand away the imperfections and irregularities. I used 400 grit sandpaper. And by sand lightly, that's exactly what it sounds like. The polyurethane is indeed soft under sanding and can be stripped away with any degree of aggression. I took a little strip in my hand, ran my fingers over the wood to find rough patches, then brushed the sandpaper over a couple of times. That was usually enough to leave a coat of dust and a smooth surface underneath.

Once I'd sanded everything, I got a damp towel and wiped everything down. I can assure you, despite sanding lightly, there was a lot of dust. This isn't something you want to breathe in, either, but fortunately it's a clingy kind of dust that doesn't seem prone to going airborne. Once I got everything cleaned up nice and pretty, I applied a second coat of polyurethane. I have to admit I cheated a little on the cabinet doors--the inside, which won't be exposed to as much wear and tear, only got one coating.

I found the second coat much more forgiving to work with--or not, as the case may be. In many cases, the first coat had rendered the surface pretty smooth to begin with, and the second coat took the cue. In those cases I dispensed with the sanding, although there were rough patches and bubbles here and there to work into submission. The birch door was an exception. It didn't want to get smooth, and after sanding, no matter how much I wiped, I couldn't get the dust cleaned up. Instead of merely blotchy, it was streaky and blotchy. I briefly thought of breaking out the acetone again, but a quick check of the interwebz informed me that the acetone would strip the polyurethane away entirely. Yikes! In the end, I got it cleaned enough to apply a second coat of polyurethane and then followed that up by lightly sanding with 600 grit paper.

The end result, above, is a bunch of pretty cabinetry that's missing doors. But it stacks nicely, doesn't it?

Another lesson learned from the book case build a decade ago is that it's best to remove all the hinges from the doors before staining. Yeah, that worked out about as badly as it sounds. But the downside of this hard-won wisdom is that once all the stain and polyurethane has dried, the hinge hardware must be replaced. Turns out this is a terribly tedious affair. But, once all is said and done, it does foster the illusion that I actually know what I'm doing. Whoda thunk it?

Now Playing: Sting The Soul Cages
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Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I heard Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything" the other day, and thought immediately that I'd go with it for today's video installment. But then I got to thinking, and was pretty sure I'd already run it in the past. So I did a search, and turned up nothing on my blog. Not only that, but I turned up exactly zero Cyndi Lauper videos out of something like a decade of doing this. For real? I have a hard time believing that. Lauper's one of those singers I like much more now, in my dotage, than I did in their heyday. I really love her cover of "I Drove All Night" and coulda sworn I ran that one as well, but I can't find it ("She Bop" either). "Money Changes Everything" is probably my second favorite of hers--it's got a little more angst and grit than most of the other work off her first album, but is still kinda catchy. Anyway, enjoy Cyndi in her flying garbage can!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Steve Winwood.

Now Playing: Jefferson Airplane The Worst of Jefferson Airplane
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Office build-along pt. 2

I started my office build-along project a couple of weeks ago, and I'm afraid I've fallen silent since. That doesn't mean I haven't been working on it, but I've got a bunch of irons in the fire and documenting and writing everything up takes a bit of time. I'll try to do better in the future. Promise.

I mentioned before how I made countless errors when building my bookshelves in the office at our old house, and there's one area where I'm learning from those mistakes. The cabinets I'm using to form the base of the bookshelves--like those I used last time--were never designed to go on the floor. They're actually hanging cabinetry, which means the top is the same depth as the bottom. There's no upside-down or rightside-up, as they're identical in either orientation. This wasn't a big deal in my old office, as it was carpeted. I just cut the footprint into the carpet and installed the cabinets/bookcase over the vapor barrier. Trouble came when I replaced that old carpet with laminate flooring. Take a look:

This is the problem: The low clearance of the cabinet doors. Yes, they still open and close fine, but there is zero clearance beyond that. Unlike carpeting, however, laminate and hardwood flooring needs about a quarter inch gap space because it flexes depending on temperature and humidity. If you don't leave that gap, it can buckle--not nice. Normally, the unsightly gap is hidden by molding, but there's no room for a quarter-round or even a shoe base.

Note that I deliberately chose to not get kitchen cabinetry, with its elevated footing, because selection is limited and the sizes available wouldn't fit my available space without a lot of hassle. So, what could I do to solve this problem? Simple--elevate my cabinets' bases.

I bought a 1"x4" board of aromatic cedar from McCoys. Why cedar? Well, I'm partial to the wood because it's easy to work with. Also, I hate insects that try to make a meal of books, and figure the cedar will offer at least a minimal level of deterrence. Not that we have an infestation at our house, mind you, but I've seen a silverfish or two over the past year, and that's one creepy-crawly that's not terribly easy to control outside of turning one's home into a toxic waste dump.

After cutting the board into 1" strips on my table saw inherited from Grandpa Fritz, I used my mitre saw to chop those strips into 30" segments for the horizontal cabinets and 9" segments for the vertical end cabinets. So far, so good.

Next, I decide which is going to be the top and which is the bottom. Doesn't make any difference, really. Then I laid down a thick layer of Titebond II wood glue (Titebond III is better, but costs significantly more).

Next, I align the 1" strip along the glue line, making sure it is flush with the front of the cabinet. I drill a pilot hole through the cedar into the cabinet (I guarantee either the cedar or cabinet would split without the pilot hole--no thanks!) then nail the two together with a 1.5" finishing nail, following up with a nail set to ensure the metal doesn't puncture the vapor barrier on the floor or somesuch. The finishing nails aren't terribly strong, but their main role is just to hold the wood tight as the glue dries. Once the glue sets, there should be little stress on the join, and gravity will also work to keep them compressed.

I repeat this for the front and back of each cabinet, three nails per side, with the 9" cabinets getting two nails per. Finally, I go through with a moist rag and wipe away all the excess glue oozing from the joins. This isn't necessary for the back and inner sides, but on the front any excess glue would block the stain from taking, and would make the cabinets look blotchy and ugly. Can't have that. The end result of all this is a modestly elevated cabinet with more than enough room for a shoe base or quarter round if needed:

Now Playing: Dire Straits Brothers in Arms
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dewberries revisited

So, last year I did the nostalgia thing with the kids and made dewberry pie.

Those of you keeping score at home will remember that while the resulting pies were all gobbled up post-haste, they were not perfect. Too sweet, too runny and in general almost, but not quite, similar to the pies I remembered from my childhood.

This year I resolved to try again, and this time Fairy Girl and Bug wanted to participate in the berry-picking (Monkey Girl had work). Nature, however, was not quite so cooperative. This past winter was so warm that the dewberries flowered three weeks earlier than in 2015, which meant the fruit matured earlier. The week they appeared to be at peak berry corresponded with almost non-stop rain. The long and short of it is that while we finally got to the roadside berry patch two weeks ahead of the time we did last year, the berries were already in decline. A bunch of them had gone past the overripe stage and gotten all shrivelly. Birds had gotten to a bunch of others. Other humans, however, had not, so we came away with six cups of dewberries. Not a massive haul by any measure, but a decent take when you take into account all the mosquitoes we fought for them (remember, it rained a lot the previous week).

The berries we had were enough for two pies. I tried a few things differently this time--I made a (sloppy) lattice over the two pies. This time around I included eggs and a significant amount of tapioca flour to solidify the pie and counter the runniness. I also cut back on the sugar by about 50 percent. The result? Good pies, but farther away from those Platonic-ideal dewberry pies of my youth than last year's attempts. The color of the pie filling, due, no doubt, to the influence of the eggs, was more yellow and hot pink than the deep, rich purple-red. The berries seemed diminished somehow, not as dominant in the cooked pies, even though they made up the bulk of the contents.

Not that it mattered. The pies got eaten quickly. I set them out to cool and came back to find slices missing almost immediately. Clearly, the only thing left to do is try again next year.

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