Monday, May 31, 2010

Trip to Dartmouth

On Sunday, Hilary helped out a hiker/resident friend by staging a car in Waitsfield, VT, then shuttling her down to meet her husband in Killington, VT, so that they could spend the next week hiking the northern half of the Long Trail. Brynna and I went along for the ride for only the first portion, then spend a good chunk of the day in Hanover. Clearly we are trying to indoctrinate our child by giving her such good memories of playing on the Green.

Dare to dream!

But that can't entertain a child for hours on end, so I rolled her across the river into neighboring Norwich, so that we could spend some time at the Montshire Children's Museum. Knowing that I might have such a walk ahead of us, I opted to bring the jogging stroller rather than some other pedestrian conveyance. All well and good, except that the Chariot has pneumatic wheels, just like a bicycle. And, just like a bicycle, such wheels are prone to damage.

Yup, a 3/4" nail went right through and had me walking flat before we got there. And yes, I just so happened to have a Gerber tool on me to pull the nail out. Ah well, I just pushed on ahead. And in fact, because Hilary got a bit delayed picking us up and Brynna blew through her usual naptime, I ended up wheeling the sleeping child back across to Hanover on that same flat tire.

It wasn't until Sunday night, when I sat down to repair the tube, that I found out that there were no less than six punctures clustered around the original entrance wound. Good grief!


There is a great deal of haze in the air this Memorial Day. No, I'm not talking about the haze between real and affected patriotism on this holiday (I did hang the flag off our porch, though). Nor am I talking about the very real haze of oh-so-many barbecues going on today. Nope, I'm talking about real, genuine, atmospheric haze. Look off into the distance, and you'll see if as a white veil between you and the horizon. It lends a strange odor to the air that reminds me of campfires and my mother's old iron (no connection, I promise). Observe:

This is just the view down the street. I haven't tweaked the image of adjusted the exposure settings - it really is that hazy out there right now. Turn out there are some wildfires going on in Quebec right now, and we're currently downwind. Beats the heck out of southern california, where this kind of thing happens a couple times a year, I gather. Makes me wonder about hopping on the bike to pick up Brynna later today.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Terrific Post-Call Day

Pretty soon I won't be an intern anymore...I'll be a senior resident, and the big excitement about that is that I won't have to take nearly as much overnight call. The only thing I will miss about that is the occasional lovely post-call afternoon.

Last week, my overnight call ruined the next several days...I got no sleep on call, and when I left the hospital after 30 hours, I took Brynna to the doctor and then we had another event that evening, so I didn't even get to take an afternoon nap. It took me almost a week to get caught up on sleep. That is the downside of being on call.

But made up for last week. I went in yesterday at 7 AM as usual, had a moderately busy day, which makes the time go quickly, and then had a very quiet night with no admissions at all. I went to bed around eleven, and slept decently well until quarter of seven. I left the hospital at one this afternoon, ready to enjoy the beautiful day!

After lunch, I hopped on my bike and went to the Y for a swim and weight workout. Then I had a successful visit to the local baby store for a swim diaper and additional baby spoons. It only got better after that...the local bookstore had the new Star Wars book in stock, and even at a discount! And the bakery next door (seriously, a bookstore connected to a bakery...does it get any better than that?) had fresh French bread and a molasses cookie just out of the oven.

I took some time at home with new book, cookie, and chai before hooking up the bike trailer and setting off to pick up Brynna at daycare. I had a lovely visit with Miss A while Brynna tucked in all of her daycare animals for the weekend, and then we toodled on home together. Brynna and I built towers on the porch, Alex made fresh pasta for dinner, Brynna went easily down to bed...and I've just spent almost two hours on the phone with best-friend-since-I-was-six Lucy, which was the crowning glory on today.

And I don't work again until Monday! A whole two and a half days off!

But I'm on call again then.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ah, static electricity

Who needs a Van de Graaff generator when you have the slide at the local park?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

TwinklePIC, part I

My personal project "To Do" list is approximately 427 meters long. Although I sometimes have bursts of productivity, the list seems to grow faster than I'm able to scratch things off. Sometimes, though, projects that seemed buried by the passage of time do eventually get done. I'm in the midst of such a one right now that is at least through its first working prototype. I call it: TwinklePIC.

When I say buried by the passage of time, I really do mean it. The inspiration for this piece came from an article in Make: magazine that I read when I visited Hilary in Scottsdale, when she was six months pregnant with Brynna! The original article described making a Cosmic Night Light brick from LEDs and cleverly layered cast epoxy. The LEDs were arranged in the form of a constellation - Leo in this case. The front-most layer of epoxy was clear, but with glitter and such mixed in. Then came the layers that held the LEDs in place in the constellation, culminating in a black layer to hide the electronic guts of the thing. The LEDs were wired in parallel to a coin cell battery through an ordinary switch. A feature of the project was that it wouldn't require soldering - the components were instead connected with just wrapped wire.

I thought this would be a great thing to give to my as-yet-unnamed daughter. But one thing happened, then another, and another, and a year and a half goes by.

I could make the plausible defense that I was a little busy in that time, but that would be both obvious and lame. A more dignified way to put it is to say that I was mulling the design over...very, very carefully. The original night light project is indeed pretty cool, but I wondered about the utility of a night light that ran for, perhaps, ten hours on a single battery. Plus, the light is only ever on or off. "Is it not in the nature of a light to only be on or off?" you ask. Well, yes, that's mostly true. But it is the nature of a star, as seen through our shimmering atmosphere, to twinkle. I wanted Brynna to have stars that would twinkle.

Getting LEDs to twinkle by fading in and out is not especially difficult - just wander the aisles of and big box store around Christmastime to see what I mean. This can be accomplished by several electronic techniques, the most common one is called pulse width modulation (PWM). It boils down to turning an LED on and off so fast your eye blurs it all together. Varying the ratio of on time to off time (what is called the duty cycle) changes the apparent brightness. I may have more to say about that in a later post.

So I knew how to make a light fade in and out. But I wanted not one light, but to build a bunch of LEDs into a constellation of some sort. It would be disappointing if they all faded in and out in unison. They'd have to be staggered. Still, if they all faded in and out at the same rate, but were just offset from one another, the effect would still be unrealistic because you'd immediately sense the repeating pattern. They'd all have to fade in and out at different rates: one would fade once per second, another would have once every other second, etc. But even then I wouldn't really be satisfied, because you'd still notice repeating patterns when, for instance, the one-per-second LED and once-every-other-second LED fell into unison. This sort of matching is desirable when pairing up the sopranos and the tenors, or for tuning a guitar, but I wouldn't consider it all that impressive a visual effect. I toyed around with making the different rates prime numbers (fading every 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc. seconds), so that LEDs would only occassionally fall into unison. But you'd then end up with the situation where one LED would always be blinking fast, and others would be cursed to always blink slow. Boring - and again not very true to life.

No, this here twinkling effect would need to have each light fading at its own, independent rate, and that rate would also need to change in time. An LED would start off fading in and out rapidly, but over minutes would slow down, then speed up a little, all while the other LEDs were doing the same. In other words - the fade effect would need to be (or at least appear) random. Now that's twinkling.

I didn't spend the whole of the intervening 18 months mulling this over, but you can see I gave it some thought.

In the next post - an introduction to how I actually got down to it and started making this happen.

Little Monkey

Hilary, Brynna, and I were sad to see M and Dean head back to Connecticut this morning. But we finished off a glorious weekend with a nice walk with Jasper to the park. Brynna continues to wow us with demonstrations of fearless climbing technique.

So pleased with herself, too.

Slides present no challenge any longer:

Brynna can somehow hold on in a static hang. She'll no doubt be swinging from the monkeybars by August! Fittingly, her shirt says "Here Comes Trouble."

Unfortunately, although she is very adaptable, she can't quite adapt to equipment that's meant for children twice her height.

Not that that would stop her from trying.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More on raised beds

I fibbed just a bit in my last post when I said that I had made two raised beds. It's more correct to say that I've only just today finished them. More pics:

The slats are there largely to keep a top layer of weed cloth in place. No sense in letting anything germinate in these nice new, fertile beds before we're ready. Plus it keeps the fill from blowing away (it's a very windy day here today). The slats also establish our square foot grid once we transplant seedlings. They just have the ends tucked under the top plate - they aren't fastened in place.

Our two beds are tucked into the sunniest corner of the yard, between the raspberry beds.

When my folks were in town a few weeks ago, my dad and I put the trellis in. We rented a power auger to dig the post holes down four feet, but it turns out that the dirt a foot or two down becomes very loose. As soon as we'd pull the auger up the hole would half fill back in. My dad ended up getting a post hole digger to lift out the rest. The posts go down about four feet to be below frost line. For aesthetics, we knocked the corners with my table saw. I've got eye hooks in the posts for putting supporting lines across. But as the tallest cane is currently about 6" tall, I figure I've got some time still.

When the raspberries arrived last fall, they were basically a bundle of twigs with some spindly roots packed in ice. I carefully planted each stunted cane, then watched them stand forlorn in the beds all winter. More than one were snapped off by an errant dog or toddler, as recently as a two weeks ago, I feared that there were no signs of life. Then I learned that the plants will send up new canes from the roots, rather than bug from the existing cane. It appears that all of them have survived and are putting up new green.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Raised Beds

We're hoping to have a pretty decent vegetable and herb garden this year. The local farmer's market is great and all, but there are some things that it lacked this past year that we like having. We recently got a whole bunch of seeds from the Seed Saver's Exchange, and Hilary put them into little planters today, so it's high time we had a place to put them when they've sprouted.

I looked around a lot for information about building raised beds. They can be as simple as a bunch of 2-by-whatevers butted together, or as complicated much money do you have to blow? As it happens, and a recent run through the neighborhood I passed by a reasonably attractive raised bed that someone was selling. At only 2'x2', and with an asking price of $125, it was out of the question. But, it looked pretty good, so I mulled it over and came up with something similar.

I shied away from pressure-treated lumber. I searched around, and couldn't find a wood finish that I'd feel comfortable putting in a vegetable garden. So, bare wood it shall be. I did manage to score some reasonably-priced cedar, so it should at least age gracefully. This was my first time using cedar in a woodworking project. I can understand the attraction of an aromatic, rot-resistant wood, but I wouldn't say it's that nice to work with. It cuts easily enough, but is both fibrous and has some weird sap in it, which made drilling clean holes difficult. More than one of the corner posts ended up with splitting.

The tricky bit were the corner posts. I got another chance to use my second hand power drill and foot-long 1/2" bit!

I drove reebar into the ground so that the corner posts won't have a chance to move around. It took more than one pass to make sure the frame was square.

After the frame was together I laid down some weed cloth (so grass and weeds couldn't grow up through the new soil) and we filled the bed with a mix of peat moss, composted manure, and vermiculite.

One of the things I like about this design is that it has a top plate.

Unfortunately, with rough lumber and lacking a miter saw, the corner detail is not exactly fine carpentry.

But hey, knocking the corners always helps.

So now we've added two 2' x 9' x 6" beds to our back yard. We're planning to populate them using the square foot gardening method, so we're up to 36 square-foot plots now. It was also reasonably satisfying to make it myself. Considering how much time I spent bent over during the construction, I can't say that my lower back found it all that satisfying, but I'll feed it some red pepper later this summer to make up for it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wheaties Baby

After all, it's the breakfast of champions. And our B certainly is that!

It must also be the lunch and dinner of champions, too. Who knew?

This she must have picked up from M when he was here the last two weeks. He finds it difficult to face the day without his morning infusion. Maybe he got her hooked with the frozen raspberries (booo-ry!) he adds to his. Maybe she just developed a taste for it in the process. In any event, it is definitely her first choice of food these days. She likes to poke at the flakes with a fork or a spoon, and is somewhat successful in eating them that way.

Her preferred method is to slurp down the whole conglomeration after the flakes get a little soft. This works great - except that we often have the bowl suctioned down onto her tray. When she wants to slurp it down, she usually tries to lift the bowl up, gets frustrated, then asks for help. The other night she was a little impatient, and just pulled harder until...

Better eat'cha wheaties.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A few weeks ago, the first time the weather turned fine, we decided to head out for a bike ride one evening. We were thrilled to find that Brynna's bike helmet, purchased just before we left Minnesota, now fits:

Then we packed her into her super-duper bike trailer and took off. The first five or ten minutes were great. Then...we started to hear crying from the "pod."

One thing you have to realize about New Hampshire, see, is that with virtually no taxes of any kind, the roads are dreadful. Brynna was not at all impressed with the bouncing that was going on, despite Alex's best efforts to avoid the frost heaves and the potholes.

We pulled over and readjusted B's books and toys. We located a slightly desiccated Nuk that had been stored in the Chariot and handed it over. Then we set out again, and things were better for a little while...just about as long as it took for us to get to the halfway point of our route, the farthest possible point away from home. Even though the road had smoothed out, Brynna apparently found the downhills quite alarming.

Alex spent the rest of the trip standing on his brakes on the downhills and then, having forsaken all his momentum, working very hard on the uphills. Finally we made it home and unloaded Brynna, turning her loose in the yard to play on her jungle gym.

She wandered off across the grass, then turned back around, made the sign for bicycle, and said, "bye-col."

"Yes," we said. "You went on the bicycle!"

She then looked at us forlornly, pointed to her bottom, and said, "bum."

"What about your bum, sweetie?"


We felt terrible. She spent the next few days saying "bicycle - bum - ow" whenever bikes were mentioned.

So we eased off the biking, alternating riding days so that Brynna didn't have to come along. We decided to restart her off slow, with little rides around town.

So Sunday evening, while I was on call, Alex and Brynna biked the two miles up to the hospital to see me. With extra padding on the seat of the Chariot. It went well, and so on Monday afternoon I decided to see how she would do on the 20 minute ride back from Annie's. It was a big hit! Brynna was very excited to see me show up on the bike, and she sang her little songs all the way home, the same way she usually does in the car. She didn't even get alarmed when we rode across the path next to the interstate!

This morning I took her up to Annie's on the bike—success again. So, it looks like we may have a biker chick on our hands after all.

High five, little B!