Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Porch Update

As Brynna would say, "We hafve wails? They gween?" Yes, B, we now have rails, and they are green.

I know we now have a epic battle of color raging across the facade right now. Pink will lose, it is just a matter of time. It may well at this point require until the spring, however, because it is difficult to wage war with frozen paint.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Airline Security

I won't be trite and say "The T'r'rists have Won!", but I have to wonder if Osama isn't laughing his ass off in a cave somewhere. Is this really what we have been reduced to? In the days following 9/11, there were many reactions floating in the national mood, and one of the strongest I remember was: we will not submit, we will not be afraid. We've had a string of near misses with terrorists since, and the result is that we've reduced ourselves to plaintively bleating at the government: Help Us, Protect Us, Save Us - no matter the cost! A decade later, we have citizens paying their government in taxes and dignity to buy machines that take naked pictures of every person who buys a plane ticket or, for the more recalcitrant or suspect, government agents groping the public.

And what do we, the traveling public, get in return? Some assurance that another underwear bomber might be caught, or that the risk of being caught will force a terrorist to try a different attack. It's unlikely we'll have another suicide hijacking a la 9-11. That was, however, largely the result of hardening cockpits and an awareness among travelers that they may need to fight back. So terrorists move to planting ineffective explosives in shoes, so we start walking through security barefoot. They concoct a complicated plan to mix explosives in shampoo bottles, so we ban anything larger than 3 oz containers. They put explosives in their underwear, so we get virtual strip searches and enhanced pat-downs. Hoop upon hoop, layer upon layer, cat chasing mouse.

It is, however, just a matter of time before a way is found around this latest countermeasure. How long will it be until we have a terrorist attack (either successful, another dud, or thwarted early) with a bomb tucked in a terrorist's rectum? And what shall we do then? Full-body X-Rays for travelers? With cavity searches for those who refuse? Meanwhile, our ports, borders, and important public places are still ripe targets. Maybe an airline attack is too hard, so terrorists will switch tactics and truck-bomb a mall. What will we, as a society, then do?

As an engineer, I deal with risk assessment every day. Risk is not just "how bad can things go wrong?", it is also a matter of probability. The product of the two is risk. Low risks can be events with severe consequences, but with such low probability that the risk can be considered remote. And high risk is not always the end of the game. It may be that the risk is inherent to the system, and cannot be mitigated short of utterly extraordinary measures. In the jargon of risk management, you'd say the risk is "As Low As is Reasonably Practicable." At that point, it becomes a calculus to determine whether the potential benefits outweigh those residual risks. For medical devices, this calculus largely falls to the FDA, doctors, and patients. An artificial heart is an enormously risky device: it or the surgery will almost certainly kill you. On the other hand, if you are dying for a heart transplant that may be minutes or months away, it may not look so bad.

In terms of security, one can perform similar analyses. What are the potential threats, what are the possible outcomes of a security breach, what's the probability of that harm coming to pass, and what would it cost to mitigate that risk? There isn't a single answer to these questions: some people or institutions are more or less risk tolerant, some have more or less to lose, and some have more or fewer means to beef up security. At some point, however, everyone will have a limit where the additional costs cannot be borne, the residual risk is too small, and the additional costs outweigh the potential benefits. You draw a line, accept you can't or won't do more, and live with it.

So here's my take on the present subject or airline security. On the potential benefit side we have the reduced likelihood of a terrorist attack on an airplane and all the accompanying potential losses: loss of life, property damage, damage to the American psyche, and potential further cost as we roll out the latest countermeasure. That all seems like a very high toll - and it is. But it was a highly improbable event in the first place. So I count the risk as actually being pretty low, not only for myself as an individual, but also for my family and for the nation as a whole. On the cost side we have the direct costs for the scanners and personnel (a couple billion dollars at least), more lost time getting through security (billions and billions more), increased radiation exposure for travelers, increased road deaths as people throw up their hands and decide to drive, psychological damage at being either seen virtually nude or groped, and the enormous cost to the dignity and liberty of travelers. The potential for abuse or misconduct is high. And, lastly, it is not even clear, and certainly not demonstrable, that these new procedures are actually improving security, or that our resources would not be better spent, say, more thoroughly checking luggage or increasing human intelligence.

I tally this up and come to this conclusion: the costs of this latest security procedure are too high, and do not outweigh the potential (or hoped-for) benefits. For me, the line of diminishing returns was crossed some time ago. I can give some deference to the government being more conservative in their calculus: they have a duty to protect us, and their asses are on the line when something goes wrong. But even in that light, things have gone too far. Eventually, I think others will reach their own stopping point, but I fear what the traveling experience will be like by the time that happens.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Desperate Times...

I'm at work for 25 hour shift today/tonight, and I really wanted to get in a workout on the ancient spinning bike in the hospital gym.

But where to put my iPhone, so I could watch my TV show while pedaling?

So I built myself a tower:

Worked pretty well. And I only had to dismount twice to answer pages...one right at the beginning, and one right at the end.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the Week

Driving along in the car on the way to daycare:

B: "I want chai! I want your chai!"
Me: "First of all, I didn't hear you ask nicely. And, I can't help you with my chai, because I'm driving."

[pause, and a change of subject to other matters]

Several minutes later...

B: "Please I have some your chai when you done driving?"

Well, for a sentence like that, sure!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Escape Artist

Brynna has a new trick: the ability to climb out of her crib. She hasn't yet surprised us by 1) pouncing on us in bed at 3 am or 2) producing a loud thump, followed by much screaming, from a botched attempt. Nevertheless, fearless climber that she is, she has managed it a few times. We have proof:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Porch Progress

Work on the porch progresses. It is perhaps a bit slower than I anticipated from the outset, but it is shaping up like a quality piece of work. Behold the state of things as of the end of this week:

We have the understructure completed as far as I can see. It is quite solidly build and should provide an excellent base for the decking that will be installed next week.

Earlier this week, things were a bit more chaotic, but gradually improved. When we left for our weekend getaway, we still had a porch to walk up to, but it had no railings, and the load-bearing posts were stripped down to bare wood and primed. That was a late development: they spent the few days before priming wrapped in tar paper because it was cold and raining - not good conditions for painting.

The decking was torn up early this week. We came home one day and half the porch was gone! The next day there wasn't anything left, and we have been coming in and out of the back door ever since.

Behold the interesting patch job that someone did some years back to try and reinforce the north end. It's not a bad job, actually, but was only a stop-gap measure. This happens to be in the neighborhood of where the clothes dryer vents out, so the gradual rotting out could have been anticipated. Why they didn't move the dryer vent at the same time of this reinforcement is a mystery to me. I will admit I haven't fixed it yet myself, but it is high on my to-do list.

Sometime in the past the house was owned by a smoker that really thought nothing of dropping the butts through the cracks at the front door. As if lead paint chips weren't enough to worry about.

The end of tearing things apart, and the start of rebuilding. The posts, incidentally, are free-hanging: suspended from above with a gap beneath them. We have temporary struts holding up the roof, which we have thankfully avoided hitting with our cars thus far.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No, wait, THIS is the quote of the week

As I lifted Brynna out of her crib this morning:

B: You got milk in your breasts?

Me: Yup.

B: For ME?

Me: Yup.

B: I drink it sometimes?

Me: Yup.

And then we nursed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quote of the Week

Brynna and I went for a quick grocery run last night. She held onto the list and helped me find all the items, including a case of Long Trail Ale for Alex.

As the bagger loaded up the cart, Brynna grinned at him, pointed at the case, and in her best outdoor voice, said "That is beer! For Dada!"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trip Report: Mount Jefferson

As most of you know, Alex and I love hiking. We've actually been hiking together since the night we met, during our first year at Dartmouth.

So we were really hoping to be able to hike together this weekend, preferably up above treeline in the Presidentials. After some investigation, we settled on Mount Jefferson, which fulfilled some important criteria: a yet-to-be-checked-off entry on Alex's 4000-footer list, highly unsuitable for a toddler so would take advantage of our adults-only status, and accessible via a short enough trail to get us home at a reasonable hour.

The Sunday "High Summits" forecast was promising, billing the peaks as in the clear through most of the day.

So we suited up and headed for Crawford Notch. It was a chilly, late-fall, gray day—though we did spy the top of Mount Washington through the clouds a couple of times on our drive.

As mentioned above, our time constraints necessitated the shortest approach: the Caps Ridge Trail, reached from a back road that took us from Crawford Notch up to Jefferson Notch.

Now, you might think that starting out at 3009 feet, from "the highest elevation reached by a public highway in New Hampshire," is cheating. But we thought that the trail's gain of 2700 feet in 2.4 miles would pretty much make up for that.

It was looking a lot more like wintertime up there. And still cloudy.

Here's Alex at the trailhead:

Some beautiful hoarfrost crystals en route:

Up, up, up towards treeline, where the rock scrambling started:

Then up above treeline, but still in the clouds:

Hey! The Observatory people were right! The summits were in the clear!
This is Alex half a mile below the summit of Jefferson, looking out toward Mount Washington in the distance.

Then at the summit, braced against the wind:

Me at the summit! More Mt. Washington in the background.

We were on top of Jefferson for only seconds, just long enough to take the above photos, because boy was the wind flying in from the north. Then we hunkered down about fifteen feet below and had a quick bite to eat while we tried to identify the other mountains peeking through the clouds. That's Franconia Ridge over on the right, with what we think is the Moosilauke massif in the middle. Not sure about the peaks on the left.

Here's Alex as we headed off the summit:

And me, just above the cloud deck:

There was so much slippery scrambling that the hike out took just as long as the climb up. Including some terribly graceful sliding on our rear ends. But we eventually arrived—safe and sound, sore and content—back at the car. All in all, a complete success.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend Escape

Drumroll, please...

This weekend, Alex and I went away together. Just the two of us! For the first time since Brynna was born!

My wonderful parents not only gave us this weekend as an anniversary present, they also came up and took care of Brynna while we were away.

We went to The Farm By The River in North Conway. Close to the mountains, with a fireplace in the room, and horses! It was very quiet (this is what happens when you schedule your mini-break for in between fall foliage and the first big snowfall), and we had a lovely relaxing time.

On Saturday, we went for a carriage ride. Here's a photo looking back at the Farm, with Cathedral Ledge in the background.

And here we are with Barney the carriage horse:

Then we headed out for a short walk to Diana's Bath:

Then into North Conway, with a stop at International Mountain Equipment for some maps. And the purchase of an amazing chocolate mint mountain cupcake at the White Mountain Cupcakery.

Followed by a spectacular wood-fired pizza at Flatbread. And then caffeine at a coffee house down the street.

So, that was Saturday, our lounging day. Today was hiking day...but that is another post. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quote of the Week

Saturday morning, we went downtown to the farmers' market, coffee shop, and bagel place. As we were sitting in front of the coffee shop, Brynna kept leaning across the table to grab bits of our breakfast.

Alex: B, sit down on your bum and we'll hand you some food.

Brynna: no, I have poopy diaper. I want sit on my knees.

How can you argue with that logic?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Last weekend we teamed up with our neighbors down the street for a toddler trip to the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Here's Brynna checking out the penguins:

Playing in the touch tank:

Posing with Deen:

Brynna's favorite things were the penguins and the big turtles in the ocean tank. A lovely time was had by all, we will definitely be back!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Porch Rebuilding, continued

Here's to spending lots of money stimulating the local building industry! It is money well spent. You may recall from two weeks ago my adventures in getting replicas of our porch railing balusters custom turned. The results are quite nice:

If anyone is in need of some wood turning 'round these parts, I can wholeheartedly recommend this guy. Quick turnaround and obviously skilled. He also has plenty of knowledge on proper construction of things like railings that should ensure these last for another 100 years of New Hampshire weather.

Today my carpenter started tearing things apart. Good riddance to the old railings - may they meet a quick end in a properly maintained and scrubbed incinerator. He also started stripping the paint on the posts, which will be restored in place. He is using a chemical stripper that sets up overnight and gradually turns the paint to goo:

We are aiming to restore the dark green color that existed before someone thought it a good idea to slather purple overtop. Makes for an interesting pattern at least.

The cheap lattice covering the underside also disappeared today. It allows one a nice closeup look at the brilliance of venting the clothes drier directly under the porch:

Notice also how all the joists have had sisters bolted to them to support their crumbling strength. And what is that? 4x4s of pressure-treated sitting on cinderblocks!

We are deeply looking forward to this project being finished. The process is not painful at all so far (much less than, say, a kitchen renovation), we're just hoping to have a chance to enjoy it for a brief time before it is covered in snow.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween, Little Firefighter!

Brynna had a marvelous time last night. She's been looking forward to Halloween all week, since she made some special cupcakes with Deen last weekend:

Yesterday afternoon we went to Family Swim at the Y and then zoomed back home to get ready for the Main Event. B spent the whole afternoon asking "where Trick or Treat?" After a brief pause for all of us to eat some real food, we suited up. Here we are getting ready to go outside:

The evening got off to a great start when B's friend C arrived on our doorstep as we were heading out. Already a Halloween veteran, C explained what to say when arriving at the target doorstep, and what the bag was for. Here we are doing some planning:

And then it was off down the street:

B was totally unconcerned by the dozens of oddly-dressed children wandering around her street. (We have a quiet street in the city, so a trick-or-treating mecca.) Maybe she isn't old enough to know that the scary costumes are supposed to be scary? The only costume she really paid any attention to was a giant banana.

It was a chilly night, so I kept asking her whether she wanted to go home or keep going. Brynna kept saying, "let's try another house!" Everyone thought her firefighter costume was adorable.

Brynna was a little too shy to say "Trick or Treat," but she always said "thank you" when she was given candy, and eventually warmed up enough to say "Happy Halloween!" as she was heading back down the walk.

When Brynna woke up this morning and I asked her what she wanted to do, she gave me a big grin and said, "Let's eat candy!"

So she's certainly grasped the central concept of the thing.

Jasper, unfortunately, is quite certain that Halloween is the worst night of the year.