“Okay Google, why do you ask such ridiculous questions?”

We’ve talked about the Google Maps app before, including the difference between Stella (The smart one), and her dumb sister Gladys (who just gives bad directions, doesn’t seem to know where to go, and might actually send you flying into a ditch if you’re not careful). This morning, I thought I had Stella with me, but then I think we picked up Gladys along the route. You see, here’s what happened…

My commute has been stupid for the past week or two, because either the roads are wet (because it rains ten times a day), or the sun is rising right out of the asphalt in the middle of the road. This morning, it was all of those things, plus there was an accident on Rt.32 “in Columbia” which is not really specific or helpful. Stella assured me that her estimate of 1 hour and 15 minutes was my best route. I trust Stella, so on I went. Then about ten minutes into the journey, Gladys hit Stella over the head, gagged her, and stuffed her in the trunk.

Dumb Question #1: “We’ve found a faster route that saves 27 minutes. Would you like to accept?”

What do you think? Do I want to cut my commute almost in half? No! Stella made a promise. She committed herself to getting me to work via the best route. She told me so herself, so dang it, you’d better be right about this. Of course I want to accept!!!

Then, on my way home tonight–and this has happened before–I drive about 10 miles up Rt. 32, and one of the suggested routes it to get off at Great Star, get back onto Rt. 32 in the opposite direction, go back to the agency, and start over. Dumb Question #2: It’s 19 minutes longer if you go that way. What do you think? You wanna?

Hmmm… I dunno…. sounds awfully tempting.

One last thing. We have one of those stupid Google Minis. Now, I get it. If I had the Ring Doorbell, and a WiFi-enabled deadbolt, and the Nest thermostat, and a Nest smoke detector, and all that other cool and expensive stuff… we could do stuff with the Mini. We typically ask it dumb questions while we’re watching TV, like “Okay Google, how old is Alex Trebek?” Sometimes, it tells us.

But at other times, it just ain’t our day. My granddaughter asked it a question about the Power Rangers (Yes, they’re back on Netflix), and the response was, “I’m sorry I can’t help you. Something’s not right.” My granddaughter said, “Well fix it.” Google responded with, “What would you like me to fix?” And my granddaughter’s reply was, “Your actions.”

I’ll just leave it at that.


Why is this called a “Patrick Desk”?

This name has been bothering me. Patrick Desk. Why would anyone call this piece of furniture a Patrick Desk? Who the hell is Patrick? I might have the answer. All research on this slant-front desk calls it just that. . . a slant-front desk, or a Governor Winthrop desk. Was Governor Winthrop’s first name Patrick? No it was not. It was John.

So, digging deeper, it was my daughter who stumbled onto a Gov John Winthropstory from the mid 17th century about Goody Garlick. Wife of Joshua Garlick, Goody was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty gossip who got through her day talking about people behind their back. Garlick worked in the Gardiner family home in Massachusetts, and when the lady of the house became ill, she began screaming as if possessed. When they asked the woman what was wrong, she complained of being pricked with pins from the double-tongued woman, Goody Garlick. Was she a witch?

It was Governor John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer, who heard Garlick’s case. He reviewed the evidence against her, and declared it insufficient. It was during proceedings such as Garlick’s where Winthrop would travel to the accused’s place of residence to hold inquiries–in front of her peers, and it is here where the origin of the Patrick Desk has its roots. The initial version of the desk consisted of the slant-front top which could be placed on top of folding, collapsible legs, easily transported to remote locations. Though relatively portable, the desk was still heavy.

Winthrop cinched the desk onto the back of his favorite draught horse, “Patrick,” a sturdy mount, capable of carrying such a load, as well as a rider. When a case such as Garlick’s arose, Winthrop could be heard saying, “Time to get ol’ Patrick ready.” Many believed Patrick to be the desk that he used to sign official court records, or stays of execution for those accused of witchcraft. And that is one explanation of how a mahogany, serpentine-drawered, ball-and-claw foot, fold down, slant-front desk could come to be called a “Patrick Desk.”

Or is it? When I informed my uncle—owner of the Wagon Wheel Antique Shop in Ellicott City—of my quest for the truth, he knew exactly the origins. When I picked this up, he referred to it as the Patrick Desk. The key in the desk top’s lock said, “Patrick Desk.” I mentioned that I was working on the Patrick Desk, and he said, “That’s great.” So I said, “You know, I can’t find any indications of why this thing would be called a Patrick Desk.”

“That’s easy,” he said. “I bought it from the Patrick family.”

Really Uncle Ed? Seriously folks. . . All the rest of this article is total BS, but thanks for hanging with me until the big reveal.

I Didn’t Need That

Cars these days come with a lot of useful stuff. I love satellite radio, power windows, power seats, the automatic trunk release, windshield wipers, and brakes. But there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t need, or stuff that makes me wonder if the engineers who designed my car actually drive the same kind of car. I also wonder if you would like to know what these things are, because I’m sure by now, you’re wondering if I’m going to tell you. Good news. . . I am!

I miss the little knob on the “day/night” mirror that lets me shift the mirror up, and then—this is key—shift it back to its original location. Instead, I have an auto-dimming mirror which does virtually nothing to dim anything automatically. To be fair, I drive a Kia, and I doubt many of the folks in South Korea have to deal with Chevy Suburbans and jacked up Dodge Rams following too closely and beaming their headlights directly into their rear-view mirrors, so why would they design something to avoid that? Oh, and I think it was in a previous post when I wrote that little phrase when I realized, all mirrors are rear view, aren’t they? Front-view mirrors are simply called windshields.

I also miss the tilt-wheel steering column. Instead, I have a tilt-telescoping column, which sounds all fancy and stuff, but it doesn’t really tilt. Oh, maybe one degree or so. It basically gets higher or lower, but doesn’t tilt all that much. If it did, it would be easier on my hands/wrists/arms while I’m driving for what seems like forever on Route 32. I guess it is rather convenient, though, to have a steering column that pushes in so the short guy at Jiffy Lube can reach the pedals for the 30 seconds it takes him to drive it over the pit.

Kia also thought it would be cool to have a “refrigerated” glove compartment. The salesman made a point of highlighting this to me when I bought the car. There’s a little twist knob thing inside the glove box that opens a portal to the cold air from the air conditioner and shoots it into the glove box to keep candy bars from melting. There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, this is a stupid feature. It doesn’t make it refrigerated, it just makes it cold. A second thing, there’s no room for candy bars or anything else that I want to keep cold, because the glove box is already full of a 2,496-page owner’s manual in a tri-fold, faux-leather presentation case, and 412 McDonald’s napkins. The third thing is, who the hell puts candy bars in their glove box? Are you storing them for the winter? Isn’t winter cold enough to keep the candy bars from melting? Why can’t you just eat one stinking candy bar? Just. Eat. The candy bar.

So what could they have engineered into my little car to make me happy? Insulated cup holders. An in-dash Keurig. Massaging seats. Hovercraft mode. Polarizing windshield. Heated glass to melt the ice in the winter. An electronic message board to communicate with other drivers. An “I just wish you’d go” signal. Self-cleaning wheels. An EZ-Pass that would pay for my coffee at Chick-Fil-A. Electrostatic glass so I don’t need a sunscreen in the summer. Front-mounted worm hole generator to alleviate traffic congestion. Drone view to find a good parking space. And maybe. . . just maybe. . . a bright, rear-facing light to flash at the Chevy Suburban in my rear-view mirror.

The Mahogany “Patrick” Desk Restoration

In honor of Hurricane Florence, which is due to hit the east coast in a few hours, I thought I’d start to work on the Mahogany desk that was rescued from my uncle’s shop, The Wagon Wheel, in Ellicott City. This was a victim of the May 2018 flood, and it decided that it wanted to separate all of its pieces at once. The drawers basically disintegrated when I brought it home and cleaned it. Even all of the separate pieces they glued up to make wider boards for the drawer sides all just came apart. I thought I should start this before the next rains come, because frankly, I’m afraid for Ellicott City.


I like a challenge. Most of the veneer had separated from the substrate of the serpentine drawer fronts, so I removed all of the remaining veneer that I could. One front is missing large pieces, so I guess I’ll learn how to do veneer work this Fall! Plus, I have to figure out how to put all this stuff back together. I dumped out the bag of pieces, small and large, and started figuring out which ones go where. So these photos are the first ones being put back where they belong. As you can clearly see in the photo below, I don’t have nearly enough clamps.


Surprisingly, the hardest part of this so far has been getting the hardware off. The handles are brass, but the screws are steel, so they rusted and jammed themselves up real good. I used PB Blaster, which is automotive penetrating spray, and that worked for all but two screws. The drill took care of one of those, but I still need to get the screw out of the handle.

Once I get these fronts sorted, I’ll figure out the best way to reattach the veneer. I’ll make new backs out of poplar, and new drawer bottoms (those were really gone). I contemplated cutting off the dovetails from the drawer fronts so I could add bare wood and re-cut them. But on second thought, I will either hand-cut them, or I’ll custom make a template for the dovetail jig. Either way, the process has started. . . Stay tuned!


Decisions, Decisions. . .

It’s been four years. That’s when I first put the proverbial pen to paper on a book that I have called from the very beginning, SubAqua. The first thing I did at that time back in June of 2014 was to write an extensive outline for where I wanted this story to go. The next file I created was a map of a still unnamed city where all this action would take place. This was also about the time I started hearing about NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know what a NaNoWriMo was, but my writing and critique group did.

I had been writing for a couple of years by this point, and I had a completed manuscript for a middle-grade historical fiction novel called Jacob the Armorer. Let me say this about that—if you think you’re a pretty good writer, go back and read that masterpiece after it’s been in the back of the fridge for a couple of years. My poor critique group friends had to read that thing. But I digress. They were all about this NaNoWriMo thing, and encouraged me to join in. I sort of did, and it was fun.

SubAqua was the manuscript I chose to write for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), with a goal of writing 50,000 words during November, which should result in an SFD (Let’s just call it a “Sloppy” First Draft). I had an extensive outline, and though I didn’t officially register for NaNoWriMo, I believe I finished that month in the neighborhood of 62,000 words. My critiquers have done full reviews and edits, I’ve had beta readers, I’ve revised it myself continuously for four years, and I’ve submitted the work to forty or so agents.

So renaming my novel Undercurrent is a difficult choice to make. This is like renaming one of your kids after a few years. “Well Bobby, you’ve had a good run. But, we’re going to call you Edgar now.” This change has been coming though. I’ve long realized that SubAqua was not the greatest title, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. Sometimes, when you get to the end, you look back at what you’ve created and a title will jump out. I mean, after all, I didn’t know how this book was going to end when I was writing it. I love surprise endings, you know. So it wasn’t until I made that other decision—to stop submitting to agents and self-publish—that the decision became more real.

When I started working on that real concept for a real book cover, that’s when things got weird. I was thinking “Undercurrent.” Hmmm, that could work. But I hated how the title looked on the cover. It’s a long word, and it just looked awkward. But in the end, I think it is “Matura MT Script Capitals” that has given me the appearance I was looking for. I think it’s set. New title is Undercurrent.

Now, if only I can find a good graphic artist who can bring my Undercurrent symbol (a dolphin jumping through an inverted Omega) to life, I’ll be able to get my concept cover together. Incidentally, in engineering, the Omega is used to represent “Ohms” or (electrical) resistance, and since the Undercurrent group represents a kind of resistance, I thought, why not?


On my way to work, I often use a four-way stop at Ten Oaks, which is along the back way (read, not Route 32) to work. I’ve written about this intersection once before in my post, “Coexisting with Civility.” This intersection, as I’ve noted, performs more effectively than a roundabout. People approach and just instinctively know what to do. Your turn, his turn, your turn, her turn, your turn, MY turn. Magical.

Today, this was an intersection of impressive horsepower. A show of might. A display of flagrant, American purchasing power.

To my right, dressed all in black, with tinted windows, 18-inch aluminum wheels and Brembo brakes—powered by the 460HP 5.0-liter V8—the Champion. . . FORRRRRD MUSSS-TANGGG!

And to my left, wearing the bright red cape, trimmed in flat black, with 20-inch chrome wheels—the shaker scoop over a 392-cubic inch 465HP Dodge V8—The CHAL-LEN-GERRRRRR!

Okay, enough with the wrestling drama. . . There was also some little sporty car, possibly a Honda or something. I don’t know. . . it was silver. What I do know is that, whatever it was, the other two could have eaten it if it had gotten in the way. He did leave his stop sign with vigor, and he had one of those little four-cylinder mufflers that sounds like a fart machine, and THAT is what started the display.

The Challenger noticed that, and then he noticed the Mustang, clearly in an opposing position, and he established himself as his namesake. There was a loud chirp of squealing tires as he wound his first gear out near the red line, and then his tires hooked up, and he left the area promptly, and with authority.

The Mustang, now that his opponents had already cleared the area, gave less of a show. Nonetheless, he couldn’t let that gauntlet slap across his grille with no response. He rolled forward into the clear intersection, and then sent a million decibels through his injectors and out of his exhaust system as he went into hyper-drive.

But there’s one thing that NONE of these drivers had noticed before. They were so busy trying to impress each other that they failed to notice the fourth vehicle in the ring. They were so quick to leave, that they all missed the show, for there I was.

The 2011 Kia Optima, equipped with a stunning 2.4-liter motor with wheels and lights and stuff. I clicked off ECO mode, flipped my shifter into sport mode and jammed down the accelerator, wound out first gear as I tore across the intersection. The sound coming out of my exhaust was about the same as what was coming from the bar when they were making my Pina Colada at Chili’s.

Pure awesome. . .

How to Change Lanes

I’ve been driving for a very long time, but I’m still learning new things. By studying other drivers, I’ve learned the proper way to make a right turn on red, how to text and drive, how to be courteous to other drivers, and how to eat pretty much anything while driving. I’ve studied all the controls in my car and my truck and many of them are the same. Even when I think I know what something does, I can still be amazed to find out it can also do something else.

There’s a skinny little lever on the left side of the steering column that make the lights blink. If I push it down, it makes a little green arrow pointing to the left, blink. If I push the lever up, a green arrow pointing to the right blinks. Once when I was playing around with the lever while parked in front of a shop window, I noticed that in addition to the little green lights on my dash blinking, it also made an amber light on the front of the car blink. I turned the car around to see the reflection of the back of my car in the shop window, and sure enough. . . BAM! A red light on the back of the car blinks too.

This feature on its own turned out to be amazingly useful. For years, I’ve used this lever to communicate my intentions to other drivers. When I wanted to turn left, I’d push the lever down and the lights on the left side would tell them what I was going to do. But, there’s more to it. I just learned today, that the lever has magical powers. Repeatedly during my drive today, I noticed drivers near my car—in fact very near to my car—used the lever to create a space for their car. It’s so simple!

I noticed the driver of the Honda Accord to my right reach for the magic lever and push it downward. Even though there was no space for the Accord in front of me, somehow, the lever created space, and the Accord appeared directly in front of me. I felt the gravitational forces on my face as the Accord slid in front of me. The effect was so strong that it caused a bag to slide off my seat, and my coffee to slosh against the lid. The seat belt anticipated the gravitational disturbance and tightened against my shoulder. And then the red light blinked.

It happened again with a GMC Yukon, and then again with a BMW 530, and again with an F-250 filled with plumbing supplies. Damn! All this time, I’ve been doing it wrong. When I’ve been on the right trying to get into the left lane, I’ve used the lever to make the lights blink. Sadly, nothing seemed to ever happen. They’d just blink, and blink, and blink, and no space would open up that my car would fit into. It seemed that the longer the lights blinked, the more the other cars would close up any space that even came close to the size of my car. But now I know.

Tonight on my way home from work, I tried the new trick. I pushed the lever down, and before the little green arrow even lit up, I cut the wheel to the left, and my car was magically inserted into the left lane. At that moment, I learned that this maneuver also causes headlights to flash, and sometimes horns to sound, which I think signifies a successful lane change. So I tried it again, and again. It worked every time! Many of the drivers waved their hands, cheering me on. It was SO invigorating. I can’t wait for the drive to work in the morning.

Drive safely, my friends.