Why Was I Not Informed Earlier

A certain typographically exuberant poet wrote these lines about an Irish bar that I was recently taken to by a co-worker.

I was sitting in mcsorley’s. outside it was New York and beautifully snowing.

Inside snug and evil. the slobbering walls filthily push witless creases of
screaming warmth chuck pillows are noise funnily swallows swallowing revolvingly
pompous a the swallowed mottle with smooth or a but of rapidly goes gobs the
and of flecks of and a chatter sobbings intersect with which distinct disks of
graceful oath, upsoarings the break on ceiling-flatness

The bar, McSorley’s (15 E. Seventh St) turned out to be one of the most famous and unique bars in New York. And it’s not like New York is short on old or famous establishments frequented by poets. In fact, even though McSorley’s Old Ale House started operating in 1854 (or 1862 by some accounts) , Bridge Cafe at 279 Water has it beat hands down by going back to 1794. There are also Pete’s Tavern (1864), Landmark Tavern (1868) , PJ Clarke’s (1870s) and a few others in the Century Club.

What makes McSorley’s stand out is that it operated continuously through the Prohibition, keeping renovations and changes in customs to the absolute minimum.

The traditions and customs are especially strong in this Irish bar that can proudly tell anybody, even the 124 year old Zabani Khakimova of Chechnya: “we were here before you were born.” Another McSorley’s old slogan, ” No wine, no whiskey, no women” is only partially true. In 1970 New York State passed “McSorley’s Law” that disallowed discrimination in public establishments. I’ve heard that it’s still possible to have a gender specific private club still, but it has to have less than a certain number of members to be considered such.

These days, a man or a woman, when you walk into one of the two rooms at McSorley’s and sit down at a WWII vintage table continuously soaked with beer, you’ll find that you only have three choices of alcoholic beverages. A dark, a light or a “one and one”. The dark ale or the light ale always come in two little 8oz mugs. You can have one mug of light and one mug in the same round.

The food is only slightly more varied, but just as old fashioned. The daily specials might include liverwurst sandwiches, burger and fries, shepherd pie and “cheese and crackers”: a package of saltines in cellophane, some cheese and cut onions.

“Begood or Begone” is yet another slogan of this institution. Don’t drink too little, don’t be troublesome when drunk. “distinct disks of graceful oath” are Ok.

The waiters are both gruff and friendly at the same time. If you don’t want to begood, they won’t begood either and there’s no doubt that they’ll make you begone quick.

Here’s E.E. Cummings’ biographer’s description of the place:

“It has two rooms, each with its individual admonitory sign, “Be Good or Be Gone.” The walls are crowded with photographs and lithographs in which a vanished city dwells, and dead, buxom ladies and derbied men. The room in front has the bar, but the room in back boasts a famous lady of smooth and beautiful nudeness. . .”

The place is truly “snug and evil”. It smells funky, the ceiling is ancient and low, the floor is covered in sawdust, the glasses are clinking and the ale is flowing. Cummings got it so right, it’s ridiculous.

With the exception of smoking prohibition and admission of women, McSorley’s did not change too much. In E.E. Cummings’ time one of the two kitchens was already converted into a bathroom with Art Deco/Sanitary Style urinals (these days there’s a women’s bathroom too). But the walls and the bar are still crowded with patron-donated artifacts, prints, paintings and photographs. Unlike the crap-o-la encrusted restaurants, the artifacts and images are authentic and full of meaning.

There’s an old gas lamp converted to electricity over the bar. A group of regulars being shipped out to WWI placed wishbones on the lamp with the intention to remove them when they come back. Those that were not removed continue hanging over there collecting gobs and gobs of dust.

Any attempt to touch the almost century-old wishbones will surely get you a lifetime ban and probably a good beating.

There are a few other interesting artifacts, like a pair of handcuffs that either belonged to one of the owners who was a retired NYPD detective, or to Harry Houdini. The helmets over the bar range from 1911 firefighter’s to the 9/11.

“I was sitting in the din thinking drinking the ale, which never lets you grow old … Darkness it was so near to me,i ask of shadow won’t you have a drink?”

My only regret is that it was not snowing outside this time. Also, the cat that is said to live at the bar did not make an appearance.

Crass Commercialism:

They sell McSorley’s-style mugs over here

My Life At Penetrode or Is It Good For The Company?

Every morning the metal handle of the hallway door at work gives me a good ‘ol dose of static shock. This has been happening for the last four years. And only now I realize how “Office Space” this is.

There must be hundreds of other people on my floor who get that same static shock every morning. I wonder how wide spread is it. Do you get a daily dose of static shock from a door handle where you work?

Maybe it’s some form of thought control. Or maybe they generate electricity that way. Who knows..

I am so ordering my red Swingline

I am thinking about starting a protest website GAA – “Geeks Against Annoyances”. The top 4 things on the agenda will be:
1) Wall warts
2) Cheap Ass Go Off Every 10 Minutes Car Alarms
3) Fluorescent Lamps Of Death
4) Door handles that shock you at work.

The Sonic Quality of My Fridge

I recently learned that there is such a thing as “hospital grade” electric outlets and plugs. Apparently they are slightly more robust and have stronger, springier contacts that keep power cords from unplugging. Here’s an example of a Hubbel brand 20 amp outlet (that’s why it has a T-shaped slot) and surge protection (that’s what the light is for, I guess).

The prices range from 8 to 70 bucks per outlet. Of course audiophiles could not pass by such highly priced electrical components.

Greg Graff writes in this Usenet post:
“I was stunned at what a hospital grade electrical connection could do in my system. Much tighter/deeper base (which is saying something for the WATTS), larger/deeper soundstage, fuller midrange, and a sigificant increase in dimensionality. ”

That’s nice, Greg. But some are a bit more skeptical :

“Personally, I use the hospital grade plugs on almost everything, because I used to work at a technician at a medical center and salvaged several dozen plugs off surplus equipment. I strongly recommend them if you don’t pay anything for them. I doubt they’ve improved the sonic quality of my fridge, though…”

I wrote about audiophiles before in my article Brilliant Pebbles, Lost Marbles or The Proud Audiophile.

The Glory Of Bakelite Phones

I bought a nice old black bakelite rotary phone on eBay for a dollar. After cleaning the phone from half a century of crud and splicing in a modular jack I plugged it in. Guess what – it still works!

(image taken from this auction)

Ahh, the forgotten sound of the clickety-clack of the rotary dial. Do you still remember it? And this phone _will_ work in a blackout. I think I’ll buy another couple of phones just to rip out the rotary dialer and play with it. I wonder if the robotic dialer they showed in the first Matrix movie was something that actually existed. Dialer pens on the other hand existed for sure:

(image taken from this auction )

Normal People Don’t Think About This Stuff

If you pay attention to NYC infrastructure like I do, you might have noticed little lights that sit on street lamp poles on certain intersections.

For a long time I tried to guess their purpose. I thought that they had somemething to do with street lamps. Maybe indicating when light bulbs need changing. But they do not appear on all street lamps. And sometimes they would be attached to a telephone or a power pole. Sometimes they would be lit up, and sometimes not. They do not appear on all intersections. A mystery, right?

I’ve searched the net finding nothing. Finally I found a reasonable explanation in Time Out New York magazine. The little lights simply appear on the intersections where a fire alarm telegraph box used to be located.

I knew about fire alarm telegraph boxes from an awesome book Underneath New York. You see, those fire and police alarm pull boxes that were retired a few years back in fact were automatic telegraph boxes. They all shared the same circuit which would be normally closed. When somebody pulled the handle, a clockwork mechanism would rotate a little wheel with a pattern of bumps. The bumps would break the circuit and transmit an id of the pull box in Morse code to a nearby fire station. I guess they did not handle collisions — if two boxes were activated at the same type there would be trouble.

I wonder how much electricity is wasted on those things.

Some links:
Interesting, ADT stands for American District Telegraph. I didn’t know.
Some pretty cool pictures of fire telegraph control rooms.
A site about Fire Alarm Telegraph Systems

The Carpet Gremlins

I subscribe to two weird magazines. One is Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The second one, as I learned right now is defunct. So I subscribe to one weird mag.

In any case, the magazine was called “Listener”. It was a renegade audiophile magazine. This magazine was against Home Theater and solid state electronics in general. They concentrated on vacuum tube (valve if you are British or thermionic if you are really old) technology and analogue sound in general.

You see, there is this group of people who believe that analogue technology is far superior to digital in sound reproduction. They say that solid state devices will never replace the vacuum tube and CDs will never replace LPs. Those who do use CDs prefer to use tube amplifiers.

It may surprise you to know that there are literally hundreds of companies that manufacture only turntables. There is a bunch of Russian and Chinese companies that still manufacture and sell vacuum tubes, Sovtek being the most famous. Lots and lots of companies are making vacuum tube amps. And I am not just talking about DJ equipment and guitar amps. No, they are making honest to god consumer stuff. Somebody even made a motherboard with vacuum tube based sound card or something.

Of course vacuum tube stuff is expensive. There are systems that cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are cheaper ones, going for just mere thousands. And then, on eBay, you can purchase old cheap equipment for hundreds.

But some audiophiles don’t stop at that. No, no, no. Once they get going there is no stopping them. They purchase vibration free platforms not just for turntables, but for ALL of their equipment. They say that vibration muddies up the sound. They buy cables made of exotic materials. They buy special power supplies that “scrub” the electricity. See a hilarious cartoon about this here. Oh, but some even run their equipment entirely from batteries.

There is no stopping this maddnes. Check this out:

This made me laugh hard.


My electric bill last month was $148.95 . It says there that I’ve used up 797 KWH. That’s 26.6 KWH per day. That means that on the average I consume 1.1 KW. That’s 1100 W every hour, 24 hours a day. It’s like having 36 light bulbs on at the same time. All the time.

The only things that work full time are refrigerator (84 W on the average, lets say 200W while it’s hot), TIVO (40W), aquarium pump (30 W) . One AC was on during the night most of the time, another for a couple of hours in the evening.

I have a suspicion that:
a) my KWH meter is connected to something of my neighbor’s.
b) the old 220V AC is eating an enormous amount of electricity
c) all of the power supplies for cell phones, hubs, router, a/v components are leaching a shitload of juice

I really wish there was a portable KWH meter that I could hook up to any device and calculate the _actual_ energy consumption. But looks like there is no such thing.
Ok, this is pretty idiotic.

I really got to do something about this. Maybe I can get a better rate then 15 -16 c per KWH. Maybe I can find the mooching device that eats all my juice. I need to try and check the readings on my meter myself. Here is how. Neat.

Now, this is pretty idiotic. If not, more idiocy can be found on the other end of the spectrum.

Also, I don’t think I have good surge protection for my stuff, and the wiring quality is pretty dodgy. Which reminds me, my renter’s insurance ran out and I really need to renew it. Crap.

Well, at least this post helped me to get my thoughts in order.