September 25, 2012

September 25, 2012

American Science & Surplus

When you grow up in a place with a specific attraction, I think you become inured to its charms. I'm glad I didn't grow up in DC, for I don't think I'd fully appreciate its gazillion free museums. I imagine the people of Ohio are let down by every non-Cedar Point amusement park, and the citizens of Minneapolis find most shopping malls a complete letdown.

Not until I started dating a scientist (a self-styled one, anyway) did I realize that few people have been in American Science & Surplus. It's a store full of, well, a little bit of everything. Though its main bailiwick is scientific and military supplies, you never know what'll turn up. And the humorous signs accompanying each item are sorta the best part.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Just know that a young Heather spent many an hour perusing these aisles and ogling test tubes in various sizes.

Does your hometown (or current town) have a similarly unique experience that you've become used to?

September 24, 2012

September 24, 2012

Binged It

Have you seen the ads imploring you to compare Bing and Google? Microsoft’s “Bing It On” website lets you type in a search and see the results you’d get from Bing vs. those from Google. Which is all well and good, and might even be a fantastic marketing scheme, if the Bing results were better than the Google ones.

But all you need to do is type in something remotely mathematic, and Bing stumbles. Try it. Go to and type “1+2” in the search box. Or “1 meter in feet.” It’s like asking me and Paula Deen to make you fried chicken. One person is going to give you fried chicken, and one person is going to give you a tube of Pringles.

Microsoft, you gotta stop trying to make Bing happen. It’s not going to happen.

The ads, of course, tell you that something like 4 out of 5 people chose Bing. I must conclude that the 4 were illiterate, or thought they were picking the one that was WORSE. Because c’mon.

It’s too bad, because I really love that ad for IE 9. No chance in Mordor, I’m going to use it as a broswer, but the commercial is so upbeat and colorful that by the time the li’l Cut the Rope guy swings around the screen, I’m all “Microsoft, WOOOOOOO.”


September 18, 2012

September 18, 2012

Run Rabbit Run

Not that this morning’s commute was particularly adventurous or anything, but I’ve realized that the everyday abnormalities I encounter really are something.

There’s the not-so-homeless lady. Always well dressed, shod, and coiffed. She lays out a towel on a stone ledge near 23rd & F, sits there all day, and greets almost everyone that walks past. She’s often drinking a coffee from the nearby Dunkin Donuts. She has a cup out for money, but never really solicits it. She’s so well-behaved that I’m pretty sure this is some sort of sociological experiment. My co-worker once saw her getting into a vehicle at the end of the day, which we half-joke was her driver. But seriously, when she’s gone for a week or two, I’m pretty sure she’s typing up her notes at the beach house in Boca.

There are the omnipresent campaigners at the train station entrance, who want me to a) read something, b) sign something, c) donate to something, or d) all three. It’s often for environmental causes, though this morning it was firefighters and a burn charity of some sort. My favorites are the students in spring who want me to fund a spring break in Mexico where they claim they will build houses for the poor. I can smell the tequila already, you guys. No dice.

My fellow bus and train passengers have settled down of late, now that the majority of tourists have gone back to their schools, jobs, and homes. Things are still crowded, but I fell much more comfortable standing cheek-to-jowl with someone that understands the physics of Metro riding (doors open for approximately 15 seconds, walk briskly to the escalators, prepare farecard for scanning four paces before reaching the faregate, etc.) than with a tourist who isn’t sure what line he is on despite a literal barrage of audio and visual reminders.

Someone recently compared DC commuting to a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. It’s true, except that one route ends in death and the rest end in maniacal laughter. Especially when things go pear-shaped. Do you risk taking the train in the opposite direction to a different transfer point if it might make you late for your bus? What if the escalator at Rosslyn is broken—are you prepared to climb 150 stairs? Are you? ARE YOU?

There’s nothing quite like that sprint from train to bus between 4:37 and 4:40 pm, lemme tell ya.

September 17, 2012

September 17, 2012


I recently learned of a web service called Timehop that lets you see what you were up to a year ago. You sign up, connect your social media accounts, and get a daily email of your tweets and Facebook posts (statuses and pictures) from this date last year. Timehop’s taught me that I’ve had a really interesting year. And I bet you have, too.

About a year ago, I was sick. And I tweeted all about contaminating coworkers at my then Shiny New Job. Now, a year later, I have a communal jar of vitamin C drops and my coworkers find me quirky and delightful. (Or something.)

About a year ago, I experienced an earthquake. And a hurricane. This year, I’m 0-2 in the natural disasters category.

About a year ago, I was complaining about things that annoyed me and posting pictures of my meals. Still keeping that streak alive, baby!

Seriously, though, I urge you to sign up. It’s an interesting way to poke into your recent past. Plus the mascot is a dinosaur (!) with goggles (!!) named Timehop Abe. Plus plus, if you have kids I assume you’ll have all sorts of fun seeing how much they’ve grown in a year. (Not really sure how the parental mind works; just going by what I’ve heard.) Plus plus plus, it’s free.

September 16, 2012

September 11, 2012

September 11, 2012

The Hap-Happiest Season of All

It is, once again, the most wonderful time of the year. Fall TV is coming back!

Since time immemoriam (actually circa 2001), I have taped Entertainment Weekly’s Fall TV Calendar to my bedroom door, with new and returning favorites highlighted in yellow. It's a simple system, but it works. It'll be less good when it's holograms in my spacepod.

My returning favorites have stayed pretty much the same as last year, though some have shuffled to new nights. Glee is on Thursdays…Whitney and Community are on Fridays—the first time in a long time that I’ve had shows on that night. (Long live TGIF!) Good thing I have no social life to speak of. Well, none that I’d let interfere with my TV watching, anyway.

I’ve stopped watching Hawaii: Five-O, simply because 10 pm on Mondays finds me a) sleeping, b) watching Castle, or c) both. I’m glad that Gossip Girl is wrapping up, because I don’t want to be simultaneously 30 years old and watching a show about high schoolers. I do have that tiny shred of dignity left.

New favorites so far include The Mindy Project, Go On, and Revolution. I’ve watched the pilots of all three online already, and I enthusiastically endorse the first two and cautiously endorse the third. So long as Revolution keeps the answers coming, I’ll be happy. But introduce too many questions without rewards, and I will 4-8-15-16-23-42 you to heck, JJ Abrams.

The sked (network shows only; I watch the cable stuff illegally and so have no idea when it actually airs):

Gossip Girl

New Girl
Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23
The Mindy Project

Modern Family

30 Rock
The Office
Parks & Recreation


New show I can’t convince myself to try: Elementary
Old show I tried and wished I’d kept up with: Blue Bloods

How about you?

September 10, 2012

September 10, 2012

Quiet, Please?

Do you prefer to work in silence, or do you like a little background noise?

I’ve found that I like a little noise, whether music or talk. I used to have my personal music library on all day, with the consequence that my office mates were subjected to my renditions of everyone from ABBA to the Black Eyed Peas. Musician though I am, eight hours of me is probably forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

So now I stick to news radio. Our local station, WTOP, has a wonderfully predictable hourly schedule. Traffic and weather on the 8s. Sports at 15 and 45. Money news at 25 and 55. In between, stories of interest to the DC area, which is its own microcosm of mistrust and dysfunction. I love it! Who needs Twitter when you have people speaking directly into your ear? (I kid, I kid.)

My co-workers are almost all Serious People, who keep their lights dimmed and don’t listen to music. Pish posh, I say! Since I’m the only one with a Hello Kitty coffee mug, a Magic 8 ball, and an Easy Button, I guess I should be the one who throws caution to the wind and KEEPS MY LIGHTS ON, eh? Crazy. Cra- to the -zy.

I guess you might be a construction worker who spends all day surrounded by the sounds of jackhammers as filtered by super-duper ear protection. Or a stay-at-home mom who spends all day listening to children vomit. But for those of you in offices, toll booths, and royal palaces wherein a bit of easy listening is allowed, I do hope you take advantage.

If you want to spice up your day as I do, is your gateway to the latest in sequestration.

September 5, 2012

September 5, 2012

More Maintenance Required

You know that I have bad luck with cars. I don’t understand them. I don’t use them much. I’m limited to keeping them full of gas and washer fluid, and taking them to my local garage (pronounced in the British way, GEHR-aj) for everything else. Those of you who are automotively inclined should appreciate just how lucky you are. I spent my youth learning how to play instruments, and that’s gotten me nowhere.

Anyhoo, I recently inherited my mom’s 2010 Hyundai Accent when she moved to [location redacted] for work, and I thought that my days of nursing an ailing vehicle were over. No more failing transmission and bad brake system for me, because this car is basically NEW and nothing shall go wrong!

In short, I had the effing world on a string.

Or so I thought.

What I’d failed to factor in was a little something called “human error.” Specifically, this human. Me.

One night in early August, I left one of the dome lights on. This is my first vehicle with more than one, you see. All the other dome lights I’d dealt with turned off automatically when you shut the vehicle door. But this car has like 84 different lights, not all of which shut off by themselves. Sigh.

I approached my car about a week later, intending to use it for my two most important and frequent errands: getting food and returning library books. I dooted the little dooter thing to unlock the car.


I dooted it again.

Nothing. Figured the dooter was broken.

I manually unlocked the vehicle and turned the key in the ignition.


My first thought is that someone had stolen my battery. While I don’t live in NE (reference for the DC locals), it’s in the realm of possibility.

But the battery was still there.


Finally realizing that the battery was dead, I had to figure out how to jump start it. Since my apartment’s parking lot isn’t conducive to parking vehicles face-to-face, I laboriously researched battery packs. And researched. And researched some more. Found one that was a) sold nearby and b) not ridiculously priced and got it. And while you’ve read this paragraph in under a minute, its events happened over the course of several agonizing days, because THOSE LIBRARY BOOKS WERE ALMOST DUE, DAMMIT!

So on a night that was threatening rain (always a plus when you are about to unsheathe RAW ELECTRICITY), I popped open my hood and braced myself for what I assumed were the last pre-electrocution moments of my too-short life.

Per the instructions of my car owner’s manual, the battery pack manual, and the internet, connect cable from positive terminal of battery pack to positive terminal of dead battery. Check.

Per the instructions of my car owner’s manual, the battery pack manual, and the internet, connect cable from negative terminal of battery pack to an unpainted part of car frame. Check.

Insert key in ignition, and…nothing.


Decided to try following the method recommended by the other half of the internet.

Remove cable from unpainted metal of car frame and attach to negative terminal of dead battery.


The car alarm started going off like crazy. Well, probably like normally, but since loud noises are one of my phobias (vacuums, blenders, etc.), I began to mentally implode. I removed the cable and the alarm stopped. Put it back on and the alarm came back on.


I packed everything up, went back to my apartment, and hit up Google. Again.

It turns out that since my car was locked and the alarm enabled when the battery died, restoring power with the doors unlocked made my car assume it was being burgled. I’m scared of my vehicle’s sentience, yet disappointed in its stupidity. If this is the beginning of the Rise of the Machines, I think we’re safe for a while yet.

I had a quick stress-relieving cry and went back down, resolved to follow TheBoy’s advice: “Just turn the alarm off with your remote. Duh.” (He didn’t add the duh, but if the situation were reversed I totally would have.)

This time, I was prepared for the KLAXXON-LIKE WAILING of the car alarm and silenced it with my remote. Small victory!

I put the key in the ignition and…success! Now all I needed to do was go on a good long drive to get the battery charged.

For those with good or even average car karma, the story would end here. But! This is me! So it continues!

When poking around under the hood, I noticed that the fluid in the container labeled “Engine Coolant” was below the “L” line. That didn’t seem right. After much (much) Googling and consultation with friend-of-blog W, I determined that while I COULD do this myself, I had to do it right or risk turning my car into a really heavy paperweight.

For there are multiple types of engine coolant, you see, and they aren’t identified by a helpful characteristic like color. Put the wrong type in (or mix two types together) and you’re screwed. While my car’s manual told me to use “high quality” coolant, it made no further distinctions. Plus the whole “hook the negative cable to an unpainted part of car frame” debacle told me not to trust the manual. (As a Baptist, that’s a hard thing to do.)

I walked to three different stores but couldn’t find what I was looking for. Finally went TO THE DEALERSHIP to make sure I’d be getting a compatible coolant. Then dealership guy didn’t want to sell it to me because I could get something similar for much cheaper at Walmart and I was like, Dude, I’ve already been to multiple Walmart-like places and have come here specifically to get what I know will work and also, I CAN AFFORD THE EXTRA TEN DOLLARS BECAUSE I AM AN OVERPAID FEDERAL EMPLOYEE, TRA LA FREAKING LA.

But, of course, even once I convinced dealership guy to let me exchange cash for goods, the saga continued. For you cannot just pour coolant into the coolant reservoir. Oh no. You must mix it. With distilled water. To an exact 50-50 solution.

Good thing I kicked ass in chem class.

After a little Walter White-esque action, I managed to:

a) Properly create an acceptable coolant solution,
b) Successfully put that solution in my car, and
c) Drive my car forever long in order to charge the battery.

I ended up driving to and them from a place called Ladysmith, Virginia. Had my car broken down (due to battery issues, coolant issues, or LOCUSTS or whatnot), I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have made it out alive. It turns out that everything outside Northern Virginia looks like the set of Deliverance. I’m assuming “Ladysmith” is code for something, I mean COME ON.

How long until we can travel via wormhole?

September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012

In My Opinion: The Iron Lady

I can’t speak for you, but I personally didn’t know much about Thatcher-era Britain before watching “The Iron Lady.” Call this a gaping blind spot if you will; it’s just like how all my history books in school stopped around 1950. Though important things have happened in the past few decades, it’s as if they’re too fresh to be considered real “history” just yet. Anyway, “The Iron Lady” was the perfect opportunity for this already-converted Anglophile to learn more about the woman who smacked GB into shape.

The film is told a series of flashbacks. Modern-day Thatcher reminisces about various episodes from her history while contending with the onset of dementia. She discusses the past with her husband who (spoiler alert) is not really there; the conversation serves as a handy vehicle for us the audience. We see Thatcher, nee Roberts, admiring her grocer-cum-local politician father during the War. We see Thatcher lose and then win election to a local seat. We see her run for party leader, then become Prime Minister, then open an almighty can of whoopass on the people of Britannia.

Now, I had/have no dog in that fight. My opinions on Ireland, unions, and other UK economic issues are completely irrelevant to the conversation. (Should we ever become part of the Commonwealth, come back and we’ll talk.) I can’t say whether the Thatcherism and the Conservatives did the country right or wrong. But I’m pretty sure she ruled with an iron fist, and that’s awesome no matter how you slice it.

Take a cabinet meeting in which a minister handed Thatcher, by then PM, a schedule with misspellings and typos. After a verbal smackdown, she dismissed the entire cabinet meeting. Said minister resigned shortly thereafter. If there’d been tea cakes on the table, it would have been like my dream work scenario. (The deposition of Thatcher shortly thereafter by her own party? Less so.)

Even if you’re not gaga for England, you can’t help but admire how they run things over there. Ever watched a meeting of Parliament? The iconic green benches, the wigs, the ginormous ledgers… It’s simultaneously classy and rambunctious, and I love it. We get a couple of scenes of Thatcher shouting and getting shouted at, though none of her in the wig.

The film obliquely addresses the family vs. career issue a few times, mostly through the comments and behavior of Thatcher’s husband and daughter. Maggie doesn’t come off looking very well, I’m afraid. It turns out that running a country requires long hours. Mothers and mothers-to-be who aspire to PMship, take note.

I found the film sad, and not just because Thatcher spent 99% of the film in some shade of blue. Despite all that she had accomplished—whether you agree with her policies or not, she made a LOT of changes—she can’t remember it. While watching a news story about her trip to the doctor, she doesn’t even recognize herself. In that way, age is the great equalizer, I guess.