Monday, January 26, 2009

Chew Toys

The New Hampshire branch of the family is carrying on, buoyed by a visit from Alex over the weekend.

Brynna's main purpose in life continues to be grabbing things and shoving them in her mouth. Our apartment is going to require childproofing in short order, as she is becoming more mobile by the day. She has moved on from the corkscrew maneuver to a sort of backwards commando scootch. We think she's trying to go forward, but it isn't working out for her yet. She can move remarkably quickly this way, however. I was working at my desk the other day and turned around to find that she had rolled off the mattress (which is on the floor) and struck out across the hardwood, where she was grasping the lamp cord in both little fists, mouth poised to dive in on her prey. Bad Mommy! (No teeth yet, thank goodness, but on principle I don't think she should be chewing on electrical cords.)

Today, Dad and I were both sitting in the living room, and Brynna was gymini-ing away on the floor, when Dad looked up to see Brynna in mid-chomp on Jasper's lobster chew toy (which has never been attacked so aggressively). I quickly supplied some nice breastmilk antibodies and attempted to explain to Brynna that the jungle animals were for her, and the crustaceans were for Jasper. We'll see if that sinks in.

(We pay attention to her! A lot! Really! She just moves REALLY FAST now and it is unexpected!)

Pretty soon we will have no more excuses, as Brynna is going to be crawling any day. In between chomping on inappropriate items, she pushes up onto her hands and knees and rocks back and forth vigorously. Today came the new modification, the combination knee-lift-and-nose-dive.

I am also trying to provide some more appropriate outlets for our little Jaws. The other night, she was sitting in the kitchen as I was cooking dinner, and as I was explaining to her that broccoli was green and looks like a little tree, I realized that there was no reason that the broccoli itself couldn't be a perfectly good chew toy. It was too thick to snap into dangerously tiny pieces, and she has no teeth to strip off such pieces, either. Brynna was a fan:

Since Christmastime, when Brynna had her first taste of pears, she's been having little bits of mashed up pear on occasion, maybe once a week. Or once every other week. (Breastfeeding is so convenient...solid foods aren't!) She's also had very liquidy applesauce, made with love by Aunt Katherine from local Minnesota apples.

Yesterday was a big step, though: Brynna's first go at rice cereal. This is the traditional first food for babies, mainly because it comes enriched with iron, which is something that babies start to need an extra source of around 6 months of age. It can also be mixed with breastmilk, which makes it very appetizing. Brynna agreed—she absolutely loved it!

She likes to take the spoon herself and stick it in her mouth, mainly so she can gum it with her nonexistent molars. It gets the job done, though!

Here she is afterward, with cereal all over her face...and bib...and hands...

We're not going to rush things with the food. She's thriving on breastmilk, and in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months. (Brynna, however, at just shy of this age, has been showing all the signs of being ready for solid foods for several weeks now: she sits independently, she turns her head away from breast or bottle to show that she is done, she looks very interested when we are eating, she's started to want to nurse more often, and so on.) The vast majority of her calories will continue to come from my milk for several more months. We're just playing around, providing a little iron, and taking cute pictures.

Brynna and Jasper have clearly worked out a deal about the food, as she has already started tossing her spoons down to him.

Perhaps that's why he just vomited all over the rug. Arrgh! Twice!

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Cold Week

This is a plot of temperatures in Rochester this past week. See what happens Monday evening? Yup, that's the temperature dropping below zero. We didn't see zero again until later this afternoon. Notice also how the temperature bottoms out each day around 8 a.m. or so. That's me walking into work. Could be worse, I could be surfin' Lake Superior.

Minnesota in January - hardly anything like it!

More on the Box

My outlook on designing and prototyping boxes has improved somewhat as I have progressed in cutting edge technology - literally. I started off with cutting out the flat pattern with knives and scissors. But it's corrugated cardboard, so that is very time consuming and imprecise. Then I moved to a bandsaw, which was faster and much easier on the hands, but left the underside a little frayed.

Yes, my outlook on making boxes has improved a fair bit since yesterday, when I started cutting them out with a laser!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Box

I have now reached a new pinnacle in my engineering career. I have gone way past thinking outside the box, I am now designing the box itself.

Yes, a packaging company we have been working with on a project delivered their latest prototype earlier this week, and it is clear from the design that they have completely missed the point of what we're asking them for. So, today, I took a stab at designing a return shipping box myself. What is it the box is shipping? A vial I am also designing that will contain a small stool sample suspended in liquid.

Yes, that's what I said. The fewer questions asked, the better.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Busy Little B

Brynna, Dad, Jasper and I are getting settled in here in New Hampshire. I've had a week of public health classes up at Dartmouth—unfortunately the registration process broke down for us "special students" and we never got the first week's worth of homework assignments. Now it's a scramble to catch up!

Yesterday I started in the family medicine clinic, where I will work a couple of days a week. It was great to be seeing patients again, and I especially enjoyed the Teen Clinic, which does confidential birth control counseling and STD testing for teenagers.

Brynna has been quite busy too.

Here she is exploring a new sleeping arrangement, with Jasper keeping an eye out for trouble:

(This was the weekend we arrived. It was the quietest place in the apartment for a nap while much unpacking and organizing occurred.)

She has been exploring Concord on foot with M:

She has also figured out that she can move forward on her belly if she rolls back and forth from side to side. We call this her corkscrew maneuver. She is pushing up very high on her arms and occasionally tries to get her knees under her, so I don't think it will be too long before she gets up on all fours and then starts crawling.

Unless she decides to skip that part! Brynna is also a very accomplished stander:

She will lean up against something like this for many minutes, playing with whatever is on top. We keep our hands near her since she can topple over if she leans too far to one side, but she's very stable standing straight up.

As you can see, Brynna is also putting some energy into growing some hair. Strawberry blonde so far, but maybe it will turn red later on?

And she is doing a lot of yoga:

The other day she triumphantly crammed all five of the toes on her right foot into her mouth. At once.

So, that's the news from the New Hampshire branch of the moose family. We miss Alex like crazy and can't wait to see him for a visit in ten days!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Geek of the Week

I received a dubious distinction at work a few days ago: the Geek of the Week certificate. It is an occasional award for the "unquestionable Devotion to Technology and its avoidable Excess." As we would say: every geek has their week, but not every week has a geek.

The award (citation?) arose from this quotation: "Everything was just fine until it sucked the linoleum off the floor." This obviously deserves some explanation.

The place I work does some cutting edge medical research, to say the least. One area we do that in is neurosurgery. To that end, we have a rather specialized neurosurgical suite that has next to it an MRI scanner. In this suite it is possible to perform an MRI scan on someone's head in the middle of a surgery. The skull can even be open during this. This is accomplished by having the surgical table aligned axially with the bore of the MRI magnet. The patient gets moved off the surgical table to a sort of gurney that docks to the MRI scanner. The patient is transferred using a specialized tray of sorts that can be shifted easily from surgical table to gurney to inside the magnet. The transfer from surgical room to MRI scanner is a short roll of about 12 feet. I mean "roll" quite literally, because the gurney moves between the two locations, docking rigidly at either end.

My role in all of this came with the docking of the gurney to the MRI scanner. It was difficult for the person at the foot of the gurney to guide the table (covered in drapes and anesthesia equipement, along with the patient) and line things up right properly, or to know when to decelerate to avoid crashing into the MRI scanner. The concern wasn't necessarily that something would get broken, it's just that a patient in the midst of brain surgery, whose head is clamped to a table and cut open, should be spared any possible jolt. So, the solution I eventually came up with is this:

The Y-shaped track is laid on the floor in front of the MRI scanner. The thing with the white rollers is bolted to the underside of the gurney. As the table to brought close to the scanner, the track and rollers make sure that the gurney is aligned properly with the MRI scanner.

Meanwhile there were also stripes painted to the floor: green, yellow, and red. The flags at green indicated that the front roller was about to engage the track; the yellow flags indicated when the rear roller engaged the track; red indicated that the front of the gurney was touching the dock of the scanner. By watching these flags and the wheels at the foot of the gurney, the driver would better be able to know where he was and how best to control things.

What does this have to do with linoleum? The Y-shaped track that guides the gurney isn't there all the time. It is only needed when the MRI scanner is used in conjunction with an operation next door. Most of the time the scanner is just a scanner, and the red track would just be a trip hazard (that's why it's red, so that you're more likely to see it). So, we needed a way to temporarily anchor the track to the floor. We first considered various anchors (like threaded holes) potted into the concrete subfloor, but opted not to for this reason: in order to function, and MRI scanner must be isolated from any possible radio frequency interference. The way that this is accomplished is to sheath the room in copper - a room-sized Faraday cage.

The people that install, maintain, and baby-sit these very expensive scanners were necessarily wary about us punching holes in the floor, so we gave that up. Instead, we opted for some custom-made suction cups. The suction cups are similar to the ones that a mechanic would use to lift a windshield into place. The suction is applied by flipping a cam lever, similar to how a quick-release works on a bicycle wheel. They work really well, are easy to engage and disengage, and hold better than a molded cup that you squeeze against a surface.

The only problem was that they worked too well. Instead of drawing the track onto the floor, they sucked the floor up - separated it from the concrete beneath. When you took the track away, there would be these two small bulges in the sheet linoleum of the floor. Hence, "Everything was just fine until it sucked the linoleum off the floor." The solution was to cut out that section of linoleum and replace it with a stainless steel plate. This had the added benefit of being a smoother surface to stick to, rather than the textured linoleum, and resulted in a better grip.

So that's my Geek of the Week story.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wireless Fun

As an engineer and a reasonably tech-savvy person, one would think that a task like setting up a wireless router wouldn't be that big a deal. I, at least, would like to think that a wireless router would be well within my capabilities after five years of engineering training, three degrees, and several years' work experience.

History, however, would tend to prove me wrong. It is not that I am incapable of or daunted by the task - it's something quite simple that I could walk anyone else through. It's just that, for whatever reason, this overwise simple task has too often turned out to be anything but.

There was the time, several months into Hilary's first year, I was asked to configure a classmate's Linksys WRT54G (the most ubiquitous wireless access point in the world). Two or three hours later, however, I think we concluded that the router needed to be returned, and the classmate's laptop's network settings had to be re-imaged by the school.

Then there was the time I tried to get my sister's wireless set up, about two years ago. Again, failure.

Or the time about six months ago when my in-laws asked me to set up an Apple Airport Express to extend their existing wireless network (which I had also struggled to set up, and have occasionally had to debug by telephone). I managed it, but it again took two or more hours and several start-to-finish attempts. I'm still not convinced that there isn't still some conflict between the two base stations that causes laptops' connections to drop out periodically.

About the only network I've had total ease and success with was my first: the one I set up back before we even came to Minnesota. That setup was with another Airport Express, back when they first came out. That was a cinch, truly. We brought it with us to MN, plugged it in as soon as the internet service was activated, and were set to go in about 30 seconds. I brought that handy block with me each time I visited Hilary and Arizona - just plug it in and go.

However, that trusty router, all set up just the way I liked it, is no longer here in MN. I overnighted it to Hilary in New Hampshire because it seemed the easiest and quickest way to get wireless set up in the new apartment. Why we didn't think to bring it with us I don't know. Given the history I have just described, I didn't relish the idea of walking Hilary through the setup of a new, out-of-the-box router. So, off in the mail it went. They received it this afternoon and have done just fine.

Anyway, this left me with a problem: either live chained to an ethernet cable for the next 2+ months or go out, buy, and configure a new wireless router for myself. Despite my foreboding about an evening wasted in frustration, it should come as no surprise that I opted for the latter. I simply couldn't abide the hardship of a wired connection.

I am currently cruising craigslist for a used Airport Express, but didn't feel like waiting. Desiring more instant gratification, I bought a different router this evening - another Linksys WRT54G, in fact. If craigslist pans out in the next week, I'll return the linksys. If not, then, well, the WRT54G certainly works and is immanently hackable.

And wouldn't'cha know, at long last, this time I had success setting it up the first time. No problems.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Word of Advice

At the start of a length separation from family, while sitting in an empty house, don't get it in your head that it NOW would be a good time to finally see that old classic movie On The Beach.

Word to the wise!


I did make it back to Rochester some time around 12:30 and, yes, it was by rental car. But, the story is more interesting than that. Allow me to explain.

Renting a car from the airport, especially without a reservation, for a one-way trip is a total ripoff. After retrieving my bag and making my way past ground transportation to the rental desks, I did a little "eeny meeny miney moe" and chose the one with a big E in the logo. A one day compact car rental would be $80, with a $100 transfer fee tacked on because it was a one-way trip. $180 dollars to drive the cheapest compact car 75 miles. For $180 dollars I could fly there (as it turns out, I almost could have - there was one more flight from MSP to RST that left at 10:25 pm, except that RST was by then closed for weather).

So I balk and go to another rental desk that uses red in their corporate letterhead. While waiting at the head of the line, I heard the woman behind the counter explain to a potential customer that their rate (again because of the one-way) would be something like $150. Better, but not great, and the customer thought so, too. The agent then said "If you're going to Rochester, I think there's a taxi service that has reduced rates for that."

This is where I pipe up and say that I, too, need to get to Rochester. So, that reduced the cost by half right away. The fact that our employer has a heft corporate discount with said rental agency dropped it further, to about $45/person. After making brief introductions, my new companion (who would be driving) and I made our way to our chariot: a Toyota Yaris sedan - a wholely unremarkable vehicle with automatic transmission and power nothing. I'm not even sure it had all-weather tires, which considering the inch of frozen muck on the unpaved roads to come was a little dicey.

So we make our way down rt 52 at about 45 mph, doing our best not to spin out, as several cars we passed on the way had done. The snow/freezing rain kept coming down the whole way. As it turns out, this woman was from coming back from visiting her family in Salzburg, Austria. She was a psychiatry researcher who was currently applying to residency programs in the U.S., and had a boyfriend who had already been accepted into a neurosurgery program in Alabama. Even more coincidental, it is likely I'll be working with the boyfriend in the near future, as he is soon to join a project I am doing some engineering work on.

The trip back, though long, was coming to an unremarkable close until, cresting a hill not one mile from our exit, the car started to fishtail and planed on some unplowed snow towards the right guard rail. The car kept its attitude, however, and there was a foot-thick berm piled up on the guard rail. That and our relatively slow speed by that point meant that we just slowly ricochetted off the side like bumper bowling. The last few miles to my door truly were unremarkable after that.

So, well past midnight, I stumble into the house that had been cold and vacant for two weeks. Though very empty of both possessions and family, it was very good to finally be home.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Back on the Ground

I've made it as far as MSP - over two hours later than scheduled, and over an hour since the final shuttle back home. So here I stand, waiting to pick up my checked bag and contemplating the sad but necessary eventuality of renting a car to drive 70 miles.

Some day, I'll have a home that I can dial into and tell it in advance of my return, so that the furnace will already have heated the place up.

Sent from my iPhone

On the move again

We are on the move again.

Hilary, Mark, Brynna, and Jasper the Wonderdog are on their way to occupy the new apartment in Concord. Hopefully they won't find it sucha mess of boxes that they can't crash when they arrive.

I am drafting this from the cramped seat of a medium-range aircraft set to whisk me back to Minnesota. This plane is actually a replacement for the one that was supposed to leave over an hour ago. These things happen, although they seem to happen all too often in air travel.

But wait, there's more! I noticed earlier, by checking the weather using my iPhone and the free WiFi in BDL, that there was freezing rain and rapidly dropping temperatures awaiting me in MN. Just in the last few minutes the pilot informed us of more bad news: MSP is down to one runway due to icing, and air traffic control is limiting traffic in and out of the airport. We just missed the departure cutoff for being exempt from those extra restrictions. Finally, the computer at the gate is having difficulty generating the passenger list, which must be in place before we can take off. The list made it to MSP, but it can't be printed out here, so it was faxed to BDL. The first attempt transmitted 1 of 9 pages.

Sooooo, we shall see how it all pans out. I have a 9pm (CST) shuttle from the airport back home that I originally had over an hour to catch; now, who knows.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, January 2, 2009

Two Grands

Last week I posted this picture of Brynna and her great-grandfather:

A day or two later, we had this affecting scene:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Trip to Concord

We are soon to reach a splitting point. H, B, Jasper, and Mark will be spending the next couple months living in Concord, NH, where Hilary will spend her time alternately at the local hospital and taking classes in public health at the Dartmouth medical school in Hanover. I, on the other hand, will hold down the fort in Minnesota.

So, on the 30th and 31st, I was up in NH setting up the Concord franchise. Mark had very nicely scouted out a few places weeks ago, and I signed the lease for one of them late on the 30th. I movers weren't expected until the following morning, so I spent the evening camped out in our new, empty, dark, curtainless apartment.

I sometimes envisioned this as the spartan existence of some hot-shot fixer - being jetted from place to place, put up in empty, just-that-afternoon-leased offices, living on pizza and beer while hacking away on a laptop and earning fabulous amounts of money. The reality isn't even as interesting as that description. At least such a person would have an internet connection.

Before our great eastward trek of the last few weeks began, movers came to our home and carted away a load of stuff that Hilary will have with her in Concord. We had, we thought, made arrangements for them to deliver late on the 30th. Turns out they hadn't told the driver this, so at the last minute we learned it would be the 31st instead. So, early the next morning, clipboard and inventory in hand, I supervised the offloading of all that stuff as snow began to come down. They worked quickly and were finished by about 11:30. So, instead of an empty, echoic apartment with no curtains and a padded toilet seat, we have an apartment filled with boxes and all the rest. This is how it shall remain until this weekend, when Hilary and Mark come back up to begin unpacking and settling in.

It is well that they finished the unloading quickly, because the weather was getting a little treacherous for travel. I set out to return to Connecticut around noon, slowly making my way in a long train of other cars over snow-covered roads across southern New Hampshire.

I suppose I should count myself lucky. Though slow going, at least people in NH know how to drive in the snow. I could have been in Washington, for instance, where the first half-inch would have brought the roads to a gridlocked halt.

Turns out the highways were hardly better. This is I-91 near Hartford, CT. The white stripes between wheel tracks are actually 1-2 inch thick snow bands that made lane changes tricky to say the least.

All in all, the trip that I was able to make in a bit less than 3-1/2 hours on the 30th took me more than 5 hours the day after. I returned, tired but pleased to be back, to ring in the New Year with family and friends.