Step Away From the Keyboard

Admiring the Acoustics

As a gear nerd, I’ve always been fascinated by disassembling finished products and looking at the guts of a thing. That’s why so many “how it’s made” type TV shows and specials are popular — watching a bunch of random components get assembled into something useful is amazing. Many complex items are assembled entirely by machine, or need little more than some simple handling by a person to make a finished product. Some things, though, need the human touch and could never be fully crafted by a robot.
Before I even explain how amazing the place is, I want you to clear off some space in your schedule for a midweek trip south to Nazareth, PA. The C.F. Martin & Co. guitar factory tour is a must-see destination right around the corner for just about everyone. Even non-musicians will appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that goes into the creation of every fine guitar that passes through their doors.
Before it’s time to take a walk through the production floors of the factory, swing into the museum for a bit of company history. You’ll see the evolution of the company (dating to the earliest days when the founder produced 20 or so handmade instruments per year), as well as some one-of-a-kind limited editions featuring some of the most stunning inlay work you’re likely to ever see.
The factory tour itself takes visitors through the entire building with workers busy at their shifts. I nearly twisted my head off trying to take it all in — everywhere you look are guitars or pieces in various stages of assembly. On one rack might be a few dozen necks, on another might be several partially assembled bodies, another might hold a single, crazy custom job. Rarely will you see two identical looking pieces next to each other.
Some of the jobs are automated, particularly where safety is involved. Certain pieces are cut by machine, much of the lacquer and varnish is applied by robot, and the final buffing is done by a custom-designed robot that picks each guitar up with suction cups and turns it against a giant buffing wheel. Most of the intricate work, however, is done by human hands with woodworking tools. The x-braces inside every single guitar are delicately hand-scalloped by workers. Most of the custom inlays are cut from pearl or abalone by hand with a tiny little hacksaw — I saw tiny maple leaves no larger than a pinkie nail. Each piece of inlay work, naturally, has to be duplicated as a cut-out in the wood of the guitar neck or body so the inlay can be set and glued in place. It’s insane.
It’s amazing to see an army of people and just how much goes into putting together a single guitar, and the attention to detail makes it clear why these are considered some of the best acoustic guitars in the world. On the way out, past the people who play each guitar to ensure quality, I asked the guide what happens to guitars that don’t pass quality control (hey, I’d take a sub-par Martin any day!). There’s no reconditioning or outlet store. After all that work and hand construction, if a guitar isn’t up to standard, it’s sent to the wood chipper. They won’t ship out anything but the best.

Step Away From the Keyboard


TUCKER HOTTES spends some quality time with critters

 

Think your job is tough? Volunteer for a day at an animal shelter.
There I stood, with a syringe in my gloved hands, surrounded by towels and the sound of clanking bars all around me. I had to keep a tight grip on my captive — one minor lapse in attention, and it’d be a quick escape and difficult chase. The body struggled in my hand until I swooped in with the syringe and pressed the plunger. Soon, the movement ceased. Satisfied with another job well done, I placed the content baby squirrel back into the cage with its three siblings.
Since early spring, my mom has been volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary. I recently had a chance to visit, and got roped into helping with the morning feeding. This particular sanctuary is for non-predatory  wild animals. That means no pets like cats or dogs, and no predators like wolves and foxes. Just about everything else is fair game: deer, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, skunks, chipmunks, chickens, rabbits, goats, the occasional porcupine, and just about anything else that comes through the doors.
Obviously, the spring and early-to-mid summer are the busiest times for the sanctuary, with the majority of their intake coming from abandoned babies from the spring litters. By the end of the summer and early fall, most of the larger animals have already been released to the wild. Squirrels, however, have a second litter in the late summer that accounts for the more than three dozen baby squirrels presently housed at the shelter.
Picture a squirrel, and shrink it down to be slightly larger than your average field mouse. It already looks like a squirrel, with its bushy tail flicking around as it jumps and climbs all over its enclosure, but its little buck teeth aren’t quite developed enough for a completely solid diet. These little things are just as lightning quick and ‘squirrely’ as their adult counterparts, but you’ve still got to wrangle them and make sure each one gets its allocated portion of formula, measured out by a needle-free syringe.
The whole place has a very hospital-like vibe — each animal has its own chart for keeping track of feeding schedules and illness or injuries. All the feeding equipment is cleaned and sterilized between uses, and none of the materials (bowls, syringes, etc…) are shared between species or even group cages to prevent cross-species and inter-species disease transfer. I felt like I was on a medical show.
It was incredibly time consuming and exhausting work, and I couldn’t help but think about my mom and the other volunteers going in and giving their time and energy to do this seven days a week. It’s hard not to fall in love with the tiny, helpless animals — there’s nothing quite like a baby squirrel reaching up and holding a syringe with its little front feet. People like that do amazing work every day, so make sure you thank a volunteer today. More importantly, reach out to your local animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries to find out if they need anything. Sometimes, the most helpful donations can be as simple as a few rolls of paper towels. Trust me, they’re essential — I used plenty cleaning squirrel poop and urine off me.

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES

suggests a few apps every college student needs

 

College students: you need these apps

It’s been a little while since I’ve had the pleasure of being a full-time college student. (Our College Extra section this week is bringing me back). I wasn’t in school during the Stone Ages, but I do come from a time before smartphones — our highest tech communication was text messaging and leaving instant messenger away messages to let people know what we were up to (away messages were like Twitter for us). We made the best of what we had, but most communications and Internet-type-stuff was still very much tied to a computer or laptop. There are lots of reasons I wish I could go back in time, but if I was going to do it over again, I’d want to bring a smartphone and/or tablet, and I’d damn well make sure I had some or all of the following apps that would have made college life even better. You should already have some of these apps, but if not, get on it.

Calendar and Scheduling
There’s never enough time in the day to balance all school and social obligations, but you can do your best with a well-kept calendar. Naming a specific app is a little tougher than other types of app, because aside from iPhone/Android differences, you’ll want your calendar to sync somewhere. Are you using iCal? Google Calendar? Microsoft Outlook? Make sure you pick a calendar app (or use a built-in one) that will connect and sync to your online or computer-based calendar, and you’ll never miss an appointment. Just make sure that syncing is working properly before you rely on it as a reminder of next week’s meeting with the professor who already thinks you’re a slacker…

Banking
I remember it (not-so) fondly: swiping the debit card only to find out your balance is $5 shy of the purchase you’re trying to make. Avoid the embarrassment by checking out your bank’s mobile banking app — deposit emergency checks, keep up to date with balances, and even set alerts if you’re running low on cash and need to make one of those “pretty please” calls back home.

Evernote
For keeping track of notes, lists, and basically any other bit of important information in your life, Evernote is the top of the game. It works on most smartphones and has apps for your computer or web access when you’re on the go. Save text notes, photos, links, voice notes, videos — anything you can think of to keep your memory in check.

Dropbox
One of the easiest ways to share files between friends and occasionally the lab partner you try to avoid is by setting up a Dropbox account. Pass documents, resources for class, or share any type of file in your own, securable online storage and access it from anywhere, including your phone. Don’t lose your flash drive with two weeks’ worth of a project sitting on it, just keep it all in Dropbox and feel safe.

Find My Car (Android)/MyCar Locator (iOS)
Let’s face it — you’re probably going to have mornings when you wake up a little… foggy. Sometimes it’ll be in a strange place. Sometimes it’ll be hard to piece together the events of the evening. But most importantly, where the hell is your car? Pull out one of these apps and tag your current location. Then, when you can’t remember where your vehicle is residing, see it on a map with the click of a button.
Of course, if you got towed, you may find an empty spot when you return, but unfortunately there’s no app for that.

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES is singing Tom Petty songs

 

PDA for GTA
The waiting is, indeed, the hardest part. If you’re a fan of video games in even a remote sense, you’re likely already holding a copy of one of the most anticipated releases of the year, if not longer: Grand Theft Auto V. Even more so than other genres, the GTA series and its open-world gameplay has continued to build hype with every new release. This week, PS3 and Xbox 360 gamers alike are getting their hands on the latest — and last — GTA experience of this console generation.
I pen this week’s wistful column while pining for an as-of-presstime-unreleased copy. Unfortunately, I don’t carry the sort of clout to get review copies, and let’s be honest — you’re buying this game regardless of some punk’s hurriedly written review. Still, I find myself running to other punks’ hurriedly written reviews just to kill time before I can get my greedy hands on the release.
We’re told, by both the publisher Rockstar and those who’ve had a chance to play through the game, that this is the biggest Grand Theft Auto game to date — encompassing as much virtual landmass as Rockstar’s last few open-world successes combined (those would be the excellent ‘GTA in the old-west’ Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV, and last generation’s GTA: San Andreas). The fictionalized Los Angeles and greater-LA area of the game boast everything from giant mountains to scuba-dive-able coastal reefs. There are already massive databases of secret areas and fun things to discover being assembled online — and yet my controller sits, cold, by the silent Xbox.
Earlier in the week, someone leaked an image of the in-game map to the Internet, which immediately set off a firestorm of commentary and the usual nerd-rage about the size being over-hyped, etc. Later, the first honest-to-god reviews started trickling out, and someone posted a video of them driving at top speed in a sports car across the map. It took a real-world six minutes. As far as I’m concerned, that’s impressive without adding in helicopters, fighter planes, parachutes, and blimps to experience all that distance in other ways. But, still, minor vicarious thrills through lucky big-game-site reviewers are but a minor substitute for actually experiencing the thrills of causing mayhem in a little online world.
One of the main new additions to the GTA format, which is already receiving high praise for the additions to storytelling and gameplay options, is the split narrative between three main characters instead of the traditional single protagonist. Word on the street has it this allows for a much more multidimensional story and game experience, and even lets you replay missions from another perspective to see how different characters react to the various in-game personas players can don. If only I could see what that’s like.
And so here I am, like a little kid waiting anxiously on Christmas Eve, and then raggedly deteriorating into an even more incoherent mess as the time draws nearer. I listen for the distant rumble of the delivery truck, ready to run straight into the middle of the road and grab the box from the startled carrier. I’ve turned my console on and off a half dozen times just to make sure there are no pesky OS updates waiting to interrupt me once I do get my copy. And by the time you read this, you might want to send someone over to my house to make sure there’s not a bloated, festering corpse sitting in front of the TV from not moving, eating, or sleeping once the game does show up.

Step Away from the Keyboard


Grillmaster TUCKER HOTTES is still hosting cookouts. Look for your evite soon.

 

The joys of lump charcoal
Unless you’re new ’round these parts, it’s fairly well known that I’m a grilling enthusiast. I’ve also spilled lots of ink going on and on about the relative merits of charcoal, and how it’s superior even though I occasionally enjoy the convenience of gas. These shouldn’t be new revelations to most of you — but I do have a terrible confession to make: until recently, I’d never had the privilege of cooking with the ultimate king of the grill, lump charcoal. Blasphemy!
So, in case you’re not down with the grilling lingo and various methods of lighting blocks of carbon on fire for the purposes of grilling meat and vegetables, a quick primer is in order. The vast, vast majority of charcoal grilling you’ve ever seen or done in your life happens over compressed charcoal “briquettes.” Depending on the brand and type, there may even be very little actual “charcoal” inside a briquette — they can be made from sawdust and chemicals. Some of them are pre-soaked with even more chemicals either before leaving the factory (brands like Kingsford’s Match Light) or after (by dousing with lighter fluid) to help get them prepped for cooking. If you’re doing either of those things, stop right now and get yourself a chimney starter — that’s a subject for another column, but do yourself a favor and eliminate as many chemicals from your grilling as possible.
Lump charcoal, on the other hand, is actual, charred hard woods (like oak or hickory). Scraps of lumber are heated in an oven so they char and have that flaky, make-your-hands-black texture without actually burning and consuming too much of the wood itself. The result is a carbonized lump of wood not unlike what you’d find at the remnants of a good camp fire.
Because there are no additives in (most) lump charcoals, they can be more expensive. There are even specialty boutique lump charcoals, like those made from old, charred oak whiskey barrels. However, even basic, store-brand lump charcoal produces a much smokier, more natural smell and flavor than the industrially produced briquettes. It also has a tendency to burn hotter than most briquettes, so if you’ve been disappointed with the sear on your steaks from your regular briquettes, lump coal might be your answer.
Why it took me this long to experience the joy of lump charcoal, I have no idea. I didn’t cook anything elaborate — just some steaks and corn — but it was like switching from gas to briquettes by comparison. It was a whole new level. I’ll never be able to go back. It was most noticeable with the corn, which took on a delightfully smoky flavor that I’ve not achieved even by throwing soaked hickory chips on a briquette or gas fire.
In short, for all my big talk about charcoal grilling, I will fully admit I’ve been doing it wrong. Feel free to recall any of my tips, tricks, or recipes, but for the love of god, please do it with a big ol’ bag of lump charcoal!

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES plays catch up on a few favs

 

Saving up for a rainy day
This may win the ‘Understatement of the Year’ award, but getting sick sucks. I had the distinct misfortune to pick up a stomach bug from a visiting friend who was kind enough to gift it to me on his last day of illness. Turns out, the thing is resilient and quick enough to hop into my gut and give me a miserable couple days.
The only saving grace to this particular illness is, apparently, the short duration. It’s also not completely incapacitating (except for the various assorted trips to the bathroom), so it’s not really a bed-ridden kind of affair. As such, that means plenty of time reacquainting myself with the tablet (and falling back out of love with Candy Crush all over again). It also meant I finally had a chance to catch up on one of my favorite new(ish) T.V. series: Hell on Wheels.
For the unaware, the show follows Cullen Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) as a former soldier in the Confederate army heading west to work on the railroad. The post-Civil War setting and the nature of the railroad business of the day makes way for an amazing ensemble cast of characters, including free slave Elam Ferguson (Grammy-winning rapper Common), shady railroad man Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) and everyone from Irish immigrants, a motley tent full of prostitutes, and other assorted actors who cover themselves in awesomely period-accurate grit and grime.
I loved the first season when it debuted on AMC, but last summer I crammed way too much into my overall schedule and was forced to bail after the first couple of episodes. This summer, we’re just shy of halfway through the third season, and by the magic of Netflix and On Demand, I’ll be able to finish it out. Through some kind of minor miracle, I managed to completely avoid spoilers and was able to experience some of the shocks the show had in store with no preconceived notions.
I may be feeling like crap, but there’s a little silver lining in being able to take complete ‘me time’ — other obligations, too much for a weak stomach and exhausted body, take a backseat for awesome things like Hell on Wheels and messing around online. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been nice to feel like rundown garbage, but at least I can do my best to make the most of it.
The moral of the story? Always make sure you have a nice backlog of stuff to watch in case of a rainy day (or two days of a stomach bug). If you can’t keep food down and can only stay out of the restroom for about an hour at a time, power-watching and catching up on a T.V. show is a great way to keep your mind off things. Of course, you might want a bucket nearby just in case. And see if you can get someone to fetch some Ginger Ale and pretzels — that was my mom’s go-to remedy 20 years ago when I was a kid, and it seems to do the trick even now. Here’s to feeling better soon!

Step Away from the Keyboard


 TUCKER HOTTES has the ‘end-of-summer blues’

 

Forget spring cleaning. Let’s talk fall organization.
Getting stuck in school traffic for the first time all summer reminded me, depressingly, that we’re almost done with the warm(ish), carefree, long days. Don’t get me wrong — I love fall and winter, but for the most part, I feel myself slipping into the end-of-summer blues. Time spent outdoors is going to start dwindling and I know it’s time to start my post-summer cleaning routine.
Now, we’re not talking spring cleaning where I scrub the windows and all that jazz (ha, like that really happens…). It’s time for me to start re-sorting and re-storing all my gear. Even if I do take a fall camping trip, or put on extra layers to stand in the river and fish, the scattered nature of my equipment must come to an end. Over the course of the summer, my generally meticulous storage of camping stuff, fishing stuff, tailgating stuff, and miscellaneous all-purpose outdoors stuff goes by the wayside as things start spreading all over the house.
I like to pack most of my “quick grab” camping gear into a single plastic tub that I can easily locate and toss in the back of the car for a trip. But after a few trips, it starts to look like the returns cart at an outdoors retailer. Right now, I’ve even got my spare tongs in the dishwasher because I was too lazy to wash my regular ones and grabbed the extras out of the camping box that’s sitting not-where-it-should-be. My million pound foldable canopy is resting in a spot next to the front door, not quite in the way but annoying enough to look at. The tent is still in my car.
Some of this comes down to basic laziness — who wants to completely unload and carefully put stuff away right after a trip? Another component is the old “I’ll put it away next time” fallacy, where I convince myself I’ll be going back out soon enough to make hauling stuff around inside the house seem like a waste of time. Often enough, I do turn right back around and use stuff within a reasonable time, but as we start to lose sunlight, so do I lose opportunity for adventures.
So, it’s time to bite the bullet and get on this year’s storage task. The ‘camping box’ is going to be one of the first things to get completely packed and un-packed, since last time I went camping we found three separate boxes of garbage bags along with two unopened boxes of plastic cutlery. It’s always nice to have extras, but next time I’ll save the five bucks and skip the trash bags and silverware. I’m also looking to build a small pseudo closet to store my fishing gear in the foyer. No more walking around the house carrying wet boots and waders — right into their spot they’ll go. If nothing else, I aim to be diligent in my storage this year in an attempt to convince myself to be more organized next season.

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A summer of sci-fi

 
I enjoy books all year around, but I seem to chew through more during the summer than any other time of year. Maybe it’s being able to sit outside; maybe it’s the abundance of natural light streaming through the windows; or maybe I just need to start reading more during the rest of the year. Regardless, with the summer coming to a close, I thought I’d make some quick recommendations on a couple awesome sci-fi novels I’ve read over the past few months.
 
First up, I finished the final book in The Expanse trilogy by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for the writing duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). This is a heavy duty, sci-fi series set in the future among humankind that have expanded throughout the solar system. People travel between planets, and live on large asteroids, but haven’t expanded beyond the limits of the outer planets. Earth and Mars are the major superpowers — analogous to large nations in today’s world – and the outer planets and asteroids are on the verge of forming their own alliance.
 
The series starts with Leviathan Wakes and introduces us to James Holden and some of his crewmates thrust almost immediately into action. There’s a hint of something dangerous and alien, and it appears someone is willing to kill for the secrets. Elsewhere in the solar system, Detective Joe Miller embarks on a routine missing persons case that quickly becomes anything but normal. The series continues through Caliban’s War and this summer’s conclusion of the trilogy in Abbadon’s Gate. Recently, the publisher announced plans to order another three books set in The Expanse, and I can’t wait.
 
My second recommendation is another trilogy — the Wool series by Hugh Howey. This one began its life as a series of short novels self-published on Amazon, and later expanded to a full set of three novel-length collections. The first is Wool, which collects the first five short novels. It’s followed by Shift, which is a prequel of sorts, and concludes in Dust. This series is a little closer to home than The Expanse — the world in Wool is merely post-apocalyptic Earth. Something has happened (what, exactly, comes to light as the series progresses) and it’s no longer safe for people to go outside in the toxic air.
 
The story opens and follows the lives of people living in a massive silo extending more than 100 stories underground. We get a real sense for the world these people live in, and experience through their eyes that something just isn’t quite right around the place. Talk of the outside is taboo, and the price for breaking taboo is to be sent outside to ‘clean’ — a death sentence that does little more than renew the view of the barren wasteland outside the silo.
 
Both series are engrossing and fast-paced. The authors do a fantastic job of building a living and breathing world, and the characters have depth that really makes them feel real. Too often, we’re exposed to cookie cutter situations and cardboard characters, but even The Expanse with its high flying sci-fi action manages to avoid tired tropes (and, in particular, pokes fun at some of the sci-fi clichés). Wool avoids many of the tired apocalypse scenarios and gives refreshingly well-paced resolutions to its own mysteries and suspenseful moments. If you’re looking to lose yourself in two awesome sci-fi series and read six books faster than you could possibly imagine, take a look at The Expanse and Wool.
 
-Tucker Hottes
 

Step Away from the Keyboard


a few thoughts on fishing the lackawanna with TUCKER HOTTES

 

Anglers should work together to help clean up the river
Last spring, I posted a quick pair of videos to YouTube of a friend of mine landing a brown trout on the Lackawanna River, not far from my house. Combined, to date, they’ve received shy of 300 views — certainly nothing spectacular, but it’s less than a minute’s worth of footage of a fish. No big deal. I barely even remembered posting them. Until this week, that is, when I received a message on YouTube from a concerned angler worrying about river pollution and overfishing. He was concerned that my not-so-popular videos would draw people to the Lackawanna and contribute to the problems he was seeing, and requested that I remove the name of the river from them.
Here’s the thing, and all due respect to the concerned angler: my videos are not even on the radar for things that threaten the river. First of all, there’s publicity. There’s a myriad of publications about fishing on all stretches of the Lackawanna. The reclassification of sections (particularly near Scranton) as Class A trout water was also not a secret. I frequently write here about fishing on the river. A friend of mine from New York City moved to Scranton, went to the library, and brought home a stack of books with detailed information about where to fish on the Lackawanna. The fourth Google result for “fishing Lackawanna River” is a PDF guide to fishing the river from the Lackawanna River Corridor Association. Trout Unlimited, the largest trout conservation organization, encourages anglers of all levels to visit the river, learn about the river, and participate in cleanups.
If people are concerned with overfishing or pollution, they should contact local wildlife officers who should be enforcing the regulations on the books. People should be concerned with the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing and drilling occurring just to the north of Lackawanna County. People should keep an eye on the fight to stop American Rock Salt from being given a blank check to pollute the river (Salt Stockpile Stirs Lackawanna River Fears, Scranton Times-Tribune, May 10). The DEP regularly fines sewer authorities when they exceed waste-water dumping requirements, yet it still happens (that would explain the condoms and diapers I saw floating down the river recently) and they get little more than a slap on the wrist.
As anglers, we can see lots of issues on the river — but raising awareness through education and participating in conservation organizations will certainly do more to help than telling people “I was there first” (as this particular individual did). I don’t think that my two videos are contributing to problems with a river that’s actually considered to be on an upswing. For the record, both of those videos were shot in the middle of residential areas, not “secret” holes anywhere (behind Giant supermarket in Green Ridge, to be specific).
As anglers we should be working together to fight the real problems, not asking people to change the titles of their videos. In particular, people should attend local Trout Unlimited meetings to let the chapter know about any particular sections of river that are in poor shape. That way, other anglers who might be heading to that area can help clean up when they see pollution or damage. Certainly don’t keep it a secret!

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES explains how he met stella

 

Your new best friend could be just a click away
I have this mutt, Stella. She’s not a nerd. She’s the opposite; a downright Luddite. Lots of dogs are afraid of vacuums and such. Stella isn’t a huge fan of the vacuum, but she doesn’t flee in terror from it, either. When I’m feeling lazy and fire up the Roomba instead of the upright vacuum, however, she hits the bricks and places as much distance between her and the robot helper as possible. She’s terrified of technology that operates seemingly without human interaction. The Roomba seems like an obvious dog-foe, but it really is the unattended technology thing that gets her: even though it happens every single night, she jumps and gets nervous when a light in the living room turns off automatically from its self-timer. She even warily regards the ceiling fan when she doesn’t see me turn it on. Maybe she paid too close attention to the Terminator as a puppy or something, but it’s clear she does not share my love for all things nerdy.
It’s kind of ironic, though, that she’s so anti-nerd, when she owes her place in my life almost entirely to technology. In the fall of 2010, I was indulging in a little Friday afternoon pet discussion with my co-workers. Sometimes, we enjoy a quick browse through petfinder.com for the hell of it to ogle various pets. This particular spin through the site was fateful, as I came across a rescue organization that had an adorable bunch of puppies ready to be driven from North Carolina to New Jersey (as luck would have it, not terribly far from my mom’s).
I fell in love with the little brown thing, and picked her out of her littermates on the basis of an extra adorable YouTube video. Shortly before the pickup date was arranged, however, the person from the rescue organization I’d been dealing with called me and told me that particular puppy was no longer available. I was disappointed, but agreed to take her sister. I did my best to fall in love with the other YouTube video. But fate wasn’t happy with that outcome, and mere hours before the caravan left North Carolina (it was a literal Dodge Caravan filled with puppies), I got a call with yet another reversal — would I still like the first puppy, since the other adopter backed out? Of course I still wanted the puppy with the cute mannerisms and characteristic commando belly-crawl! Nearly three years later, and she’s still belly-crawling toward me when she wants to be silly.
So my Luddite dog and I got together through the Internet, and much of her upkeep is online as well — I have a standing order of food delivered to the house every couple months, and I find it’s usually cheaper to buy toys and treats from various online retailers. Even most medication is cheaper online, though I tend to get the regular stuff from my vet.
One thing Stella does enjoy when it comes to technology, though, is the T.V. She particularly enjoys shows with dogs and horses, but is also a huge NFL fan. She’ll sit perfectly straight and focus on the TV, eyes following the action. If she sees an animal she particularly likes, she’ll run straight to the TV to sniff. She may have no use for most technology, but I’m pretty damn thankful I took a few minutes to slack off one particular day at work!

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES unleashes his inner musician

 

Let’s make some noise

I have a confession: I’m not a very good guitar player. Now, I’m not the subtly bragging type who says that and then turns around and jams away, fishing for compliments all the while. No, I’m lucky enough to have learned a few chords and a song or two, and can limp along with other, better players — but you won’t be seeing me on stage any time soon. Still, I love playing and have done so (poorly) for about 15 years.
During that time, I’ve gathered a fairly respectable collection of instruments and equipment, most of which are gifts, hand-me-downs, or savvy online auction/classifieds purchases. My arsenal of axes includes a Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster (both non-American — I’m not a high-roller by any means), a Danelectro 12-string, a ’60s-era Swedish-made Levin dreadnought acoustic, an Ibanez bass, and a random banjo I got on the cheap. I also have a 25w Fender practice amp and a monster (for sitting in my house, anyway) 120w, two 12-inch speaker Crate I recently got for a steal. With a couple pedals in the mix, looking at my gear would give the impression that I sort of know what I doing; I promise I’m on the lower end of that spectrum.
But I love gear! I love — no matter how much I might struggle to get through a set of tablature — sitting down with an instrument and making noise. When I’m using one of my electric guitars, I might spend a half an hour just playing with pedals and effects, shaping sound and playing nothing in particular. In another life, I’m a recording engineer behind a giant board messing with stuff in a studio all day.
I’ll never forget a series of interviews with members of Pink Floyd on the Live in Pompeii DVD director’s cut. Band members are asked if they’d become “slaves to the equipment,” which was a common criticism at the time of their decision to use more and more electronics in their music. Rick Wright gives a fairly conservative answer about being afraid of relying on the gear too much, but Roger Waters challenges musicians to step on stage with the same equipment and have at it. It’s a great point: fancy gear doesn’t make the musician, and I’m a fine illustration of that point. The fact that I’m not very good doesn’t diminish my love of playing with all the fun toys, though.
I spent the weekend putting most of my guitars through their paces, and realized they’re in woeful need of new strings and a good cleanup. I’ve got the next weekend already mapped out — I’ll be doing a marathon re-stringing session, and organizing all my various gear, cables, amps, and whatnot.
The itch to get strumming has been growing lately, so it’s about time I started showing my instruments and equipment some proper respect. After all, guitars are meant to be played (even if they’re played poorly).
So if you have a neglected instrument sitting around, make sure you grab it, tune that sucker up and give it a strum. I promise it’ll bring an instant smile to your face!

Step Away from the Keyboard


TUCKER HOTTES has a healthy respect for the power of the river

 

Have fun, be safe out on the river
It’s been something like 20 years since I stepped foot into a kayak. Back in the days of summer camp, I always liked to gravitate toward the activities around the lake — fishing, canoeing, sailing, swimming, etc. Clearly things haven’t changed all that much in the intervening decades, but it turns out any of my time on the water in a small vessel has been in a canoe. I usually go with several people, and maybe a bit of gear, so the canoe has always been the best option.
Over the weekend, I took a trip eastward to camp near the Delaware. It turned out we had an odd number for the river trip, and the outfitter didn’t have any solo scout canoes available, so I opted for a kayak. Granted, I had no illusions that these would be super high quality boats, but I figured it’d be suitable enough.
We got to the meeting point in Matamoras and quickly plowed through the paperwork and happily signed our lives away. After a short wait, we were called to board the bus where a very severe woman referred to everything as “hers” — clearly a tactic to try to get the many, many irresponsible looking people to pay attention. I don’t think it had much effect. We smiled and nodded as she made her warnings and proclamations, then took a quick ride upriver to the outfitter’s base on the New York side of the water.
Looking around as we fitted our foul-smelling personal floatation devices (seriously, it’s like some people sweat toxic body odor and have never heard of washing), it became clear that our little group was the only one off the bus not loading up a raft. We’d chosen a location that was noted to be a little rougher, so it appeared the outfitters are a bit more wary of which gear they’ll let people take out.
Once we got underway, I started orienting myself in the not-so-comfortable molded plastic seat, and realized the foot pegs meant to brace yourself were set at the farthest setting out of reach (somehow, I get the idea the pegs don’t see much use). We quickly reached a small set of rapids within the first five minutes, and I made the boneheaded mistake of plowing right into the side of a rock and immediately losing my balance and flipping the kayak. After a pride-swallowing float to the shore to dump it and adjust the pegs, we were back to it.
Turns out failing spectacularly in the first five minutes was a good thing in the long run. Later, when we hit actual, more difficult rapids, I was much more in tune with the boat (and it was properly adjusted), and I got through tired, wet, and with a huge smile on my face. After the final set, we decided to pull over and swim for a little while since we were near the end of the trip.
It was then that one of my friends and I saw a guy plaintively clinging to a tandem kayak, floating aimlessly in the middle of the river. Both of us have lifeguard training — NEVER attempt to help someone if you’re unsure of the situation. We were able to swim out to him and help guide the boat to the side and dump it. He thanked us, and started trekking up the side of the river to find his companion.
It’s a sobering reminder that our rivers can be dangerous, and are easy to underestimate. A 51-year-old man died the very same day a few miles downriver — a tragedy all too common. Always use common sense, always wear that stinky PFD, and do your best to be safe and get to know your gear.

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at the movies with WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES

 

Robots and monsters and more — oh boy!
I’m a big fan of movies — I grew up wearing out several VCRs and spending lots of time across the street from my house in a dusty old video rental store. The place was dimly lit, and run by an old couple who didn’t seem to be able to stand each other. The place reeked of smoke (the lady chain-smoked like a fiend), and they had an ornery, shabby old parrot who would sit in the corner screaming obscenities. Sometimes, I’d walk our dog over and tie her outside the store — the parrot would get all excited and start shouting “F#@* the cat! Shit! F#@* the cat!” I think I helped keep the place open far longer than it should have been with my rental habits.
Aside from getting my hands on all the new releases I could, I also mined the shelves for all the movies I’d heard about, or seen clips of on TV. We didn’t have any decent movie theaters nearby (the closest multiplex was a solid 40-minute drive), so going to see something on the big screen was a big deal. From an early age, I had a preemptive “that’s one to see in the theater” attitude when approaching films. Through high school and college, once the need for a ride diminished, I started being less choosy about what I’d see in a theater. Unfortunately, in recent years, the pendulum has swung back and it’s harder to get out to the movies — and I’ve returned to the same pre-evaluation.
This weekend, I applied my discrimination and decided to make the trek out to see Pacific Rim. If a movie about giant robots fighting giant interdimensional monsters isn’t worthy of a big-screen experience, I don’t know what is. Naturally, I had to see it on the biggest possible screen, so I headed to the IMAX theater in Dickson City.
Now, I’m going to say this upfront: this is a movie about robots fighting monsters. I did not expect anything grounded in reality or actors delivering Oscar-worthy performances. The trailers I saw didn’t exactly do much to further confidence. But, I was determined to see this spectacle of a thing, and I’m really glad I did.
Pacific Rim makes as much sense as it needs to. Occasionally, the rational parts of my brain would try to kick in: “Wait a minute, why giant robots? Why not just bomb the hell out of them and — “ shut your mouth, giant robots and giant monsters! Look how awesome!
The movie isn’t so much entertainment that you watch or analyze as it is something that happens to you in the theater for two hours. It’s big, it’s loud, it looks great. There’s not really a point where you stop caring that it’s ridiculous and unbelievable — you merely realize you never cared in the first place. There’s an almost unexplainable heart, too. Unlike so many other big, loud, summer action movies (even those others featuring giant robots), Pacific Rim feels like everyone involved was actually giving it their all. They wanted to make a huge movie about giant robots fighting giant interdimensional monsters, and they made the hell out of that movie. If you’ve been waiting for a fun movie to fulfill a “must see it in the theater” slot on your roster, this should be one.

Step Away from the Keyboard


Heading out to a summer concert? TUCKER HOTTES has a few tailgating tips

 

The art of the tailgate
Well into the swing of the summer concert season, we’ve got a few more shows and festivals hitting the area before things start to cool down. I’ve got a couple shows under my belt already this season, and I’m still looking forward to a few more before concerts start moving indoors to arenas and other such venues. One essential part of my concert-going experience — and one I hope you enjoy, as well — is the lengthy tailgates before the doors to the show open.
It started back in college when most of us took the opportunity to waste as much time and beer as possible — just a substitute for the regular partying we might have been skipping in order to attend a concert. Since then, for many reasons, tailgates have remained an important tradition for me and many of my friends. Sure, we’ll probably bring a few beers or cocktails along, but it’s a far cry from the debauchery of days past. I never really had an issue, but I know many a story of people who never made it inside the venue, or couldn’t remember a single thing about the show. This week, I’m presenting a few tailgating tips, tricks, and ideas I’ve learned through the years — but the most important things to remember are to be safe, have fun and remember to be respectful to others.

The Canopy
For years, we spent summers ogling other tailgaters and the array of canopies, from the duct-tape and PVC rigs, to the ultralight fancy ones, to the steel behemoths that stand while others crumple in the elements. Whether it’s the show with the pouring rain, or the one with the hours of oppressive 95-degree heat, there’s nothing worse than being the group without shelter. Buying a canopy (I got my basic EZ-UP on sale for around $80) was one of the best things I’ve done, and it’s tagged along on camping trips as a bonus. Whatever you do, though, set it up and take it down at home before you get to the venue. You don’t want to be the ones everyone is staring at while you struggle to read directions in the wind and rain.

Drinks
Sure, you’ll want to pack a cooler with some soda, water (and more water, and even more water — stay hydrated and remember the wait at the end of the night!), and some adult beverages. That’s fine, but don’t be flagrant. Grab those plastic cups, stash your empties in the garbage bags you brought (don’t litter), and for the love of everything holy, NO GLASS.

Fancy Tailgates
Every once in a while, if you know you’ll have the time, it’s fun to run some fancy tailgates. For example, one year I made several of my gourmet stuffed burgers ahead of time, and threw them on the grill instead of the frozen hockey pucks we usually bring. I’ve seen everything from full smokers to nearly gourmet meals served. The sky’s the limit, and with a little creativity tailgates can be as nice as a fancy backyard BBQ.
Remember, you’re joining a big, public group when you tailgate, so be respectful and try to make friends with your neighbors. Happy tailgates, I’ll see you out there in the lots!

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WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES: Have tablet, will travel

 

Over the weekend, I took a trek into New York City to visit a good friend of mine for his 30th birthday. Due to the hassles of parking, and the need to accommodate my dog, I usually wind up taking a sort of odd little journey when I’m visiting New York. First, I swing to my mom’s place in North Jersey, where I deposit the dog (and usually tackle some yard work to cover the pet-sitting service).
After the little detour to take care of the canine, I make the next leg of the trip farther south and east to my aunt’s place with its free street parking and conveniently placed New Jersey Transit bus. From there, it’s a matter of sitting through the tedium of a billion local stops until heading through the Lincoln Tunnel and to NYC’s Port Authority terminal to hop whatever local transit will get me where I’m going.
This particular trip was fraught with traffic, and I knew heading to the subway would eat up too much time. Plus, GPS was being particularly flaky for whatever reason, and I was unsure of which train to grab — and it would take even more time to figure it out (it was a surprise party, so I couldn’t exactly call my buddy for directions). So, reluctantly, I grabbed a cab and we crawled our way through midtown traffic. The ride was cheap enough, so I opted for another cab on the way back as a luxury. The difference between traffic and no traffic for a trip that long is a whopping three dollars — sitting at a dead stop sure eats up the meter.
Fortunately, on my pair of bus rides, I had the foresight to throw my tablet in my bag at the last minute. I also knew battery life would be an issue with both the tablet and my phone (whose battery is ailing at the moment). So, into my already crowded bag went my handy travel battery. It’s about the size of a deck of playing cards, but it’ll fully charge up a phone twice, or give a decent bit of juice to both a phone and tablet. It’s been a life saver more than once, and I’ve even walked around with it, my phone, and charging wires dangling all over the place. Pride has no place when you’ve got a dead battery.
Even though I love my e-ink Kindle, and my laptop is my device of choice on longer trips or at home, I’m increasingly finding the tablet my go-to choice for travel. It’s simply more convenient to cart around one piece of equipment that does most things adequately than fret over juggling several expensive electronics. Plus, space was a premium on this trip and my backpack was already straining at the seams.
Even though it can be a pain and add a little extra time to the trip, I occasionally enjoy the time spent on the bus just tuning out the rest of the world, reading, playing a game, etc. I throw on some headphones, fire up some tunes, find something interesting to do on the tablet, and let myself get transported toward adventure. Sometimes, I need to remind myself to look up and check out the skyline.