Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shoe Rack

One more bit of handywork, which I can now divulge since it's after Christmas...

This one was actually a request / Christmas present for my folks: a shoe rack in the style of one that I made for us some years ago. They had recently had a lot of work done on the first floor of their house, and wanted a place in the entryway for storing their shoes.

It has two shelves on a slight incline (for dirt and melted snow to flow down, ya see?). There's a crossbar at the back and a dowel across the front. These are used as cross-bracing to keep the rack square. But the rear cross brace can also be used to prop up the heel or toe of the shoes. The dowel in front is there to provide a sort of scupper for dirt and water to drip down.

The cross braces are oak; the rest of the construction is 1/2" finish plywood. The vertical sides had slots cut in them for all the horizontals to fit in. There was a great deal of router-work involved in this one: the slots, the round-overs, etc. The plywood, which is almost white when you look at it, got some stain to bring it closer to the color of the oak. After glue-up, everything got a few coats of varnish. The top face of the shelves, which will see the most abuse, got a few more.

Looks right at home.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let's Go To The Hop!

Alex's office puts on a big themed party each year for the holidays, and this year, it was a sock hop!

I borrowed a poodle skirt...

And Alex bought a tighter pair of jeans...

And off we went!

The music was fun, and it was lovely to spend some grownup time together and practice our swing dancing.

Here we are in the cupola:

And there were root beer floats for dessert!

The iPhone self-portrait on the landing (Alex quite accomplished at this genre):

Sunday, December 18, 2011


How times have changed. When this house was built about 100 years ago, a way of showing how monied and high class you were was to use brick in the construction. Nowadays granite and other natural stone is the big deal. So when I look at the foundation of the house and see large, local granite blocks right up to grade, then courses of bricks from grade up to the sill plate, I just shake my head and wonder.

One result of this is that the bricks of the foundation are exposed to the elements, and over time the mortar wears out and needs repair. When we were looking to buy this house, the home inspector noted this and mentioned that the bricks would need "repointing"pretty soon. Two years later and I've finally gotten around to it.

Repointing involves grinding or chiseling out the old mortar to get down to intact mortar, then scraping in new mortar. It's something that theoretically a DIYer can do, but I'd been meaning to have a professional take care of. The cost probably wouldn't be that much more, and certainly the frustration factor is a lot lower. A carpenter we've used for things in the past mentioned a mason he's worked with in times past, and being a slow time of year for masonry, he was able to come out and do it that same day. I was impressed that he was able to do anything at this time of year; I would have thought it was too cold for mortar to set up properly. But apparently, as long as it is not completely freezing, the mortar can be mixed in such a way that it works just fine. Being on the foundation, instead of a standalone structure out in the open, ensures that it'll stay reasonably warm, too.

So, apparently, this is what repointing looks like. From strolling around, it looks like about 2/3 of the mortar on each of the three exposed walls was touched up (the fourth wall is covered with the porch). Tick off another home maintenance item. This ought to take care of things for the next few decades.


We still marvel that our house, here in snowy New Hampshire, does not have anything in the way of a mudroom. Granted that folks 100 years ago, when the house was built, didn't have as much outdoorsy gear as today - where did they put it all when they came in through the front door? We do have a small entryway at the front door, where we have placed a hooks, a shoe rack and, until recently, some plastic bins for hats and gloves. I say "until recently" because the bins ran into a rather destructive accident a few months back. With winter coming we realized that we would need some more substantial place for our warm things.

Some woodworking was in order! And it would need to be done quickly, for while I use the basement and garage for storing my tools, I actually do most of my woodworking out in the driveway. Operating a table saw in freezing temperatures is no fun time, and doing so with numb fingers is downright dangerous. It's also tough to do such work in the dark, and I'm at home for precious few daylit hours these days. Thankfully, we had a fairly mild November, and Hilary's weekend schedule permitted some extended work during the day. After the carpentry itself was finished, I was able to move the work down to the basement for applying finish in the warmth next to the furnace and during the very early or very late hours.

A couple of weeks later, here's what we've got:

It stands about five feet high, and squeezes between the front door and a door to the living room. Each of the ten cubbies is sized to accept a small fabric bin that can be gotten cheap from Target.

The construction is mostly 1/2" finish plywood. To strengthen the construction, there are abundant dado and rabbet joints. These were made largely with my router, and getting the cuts for the shelves to line up on the left, right, and center uprights was tricky. Because plywood endgrain looks terrible, I applied some stained maple trim in a tongue-and-groove construction.

The outside corners are chamfered to mitigate the inevitable running-child-bonks-head accidents.

The lowest bins are at a convenient height for B's things, so that she can get into the habit of putting away and retrieving herself. I am working on putting together a set of pegs to hang off the left side, so that B can hang up her coat herself. Unfortunately, while cutting an angled hole in a piece of scrap oak for a dowel, my 3/4" auger bit snapped! I'll get to that later, after the Christmas craziness has passed.

At least for the moment, we should be able to lighten the load on our overworked horse coat rack:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Quite...

Every year, I do the Christmas cards at the last minute and then have to pay rush shipping. This year I was determined to get it done early (ish). Despite Art and Kate's valiant efforts as paparazzi in Rochester last weekend, Brynna did not cooperate, opting for fake-smile or sticking-out-of-tongue in virtually every photo.

We finally lucked out with a couple of nice shots at home this evening, but the B-roll is much funnier.

These are the photos that will NOT be making it onto the Christmas card this year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Learning Language

I picked this up to read to Brynna the other day:

And she said to me, "like going to a fair? Or like fair to people?"

It's so cool watching her figure this stuff out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cousins, Then and Now

My wedding, 2005:

And Martha's, 2011:

Who's next? Abby, watching you drink a beer last weekend was quite enough for me for now...

Monday, November 14, 2011

She spells!

Not bad for a 3 year old, eh?

Though I must say it's even easier to read when she TYPES her name, which she now does whenever there's a keyboard or iPhone to hand. Ah, these techno-kids.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Repairs

Keeping in line with DIY repairs, I have this lovely bit of dental work to display:

OK, so it's not really dental work, but I prefer to think of it as wiring the Jetta's bumper shut. The front bumper and grille assembly is a stackup of several pieces, nearly all of them plastic. As far as I can tell, they all snap together with so many spring-hook features molded in. The lowermost, black ABS piece is essentially a skirt that reduces wind resistance, and elegantly curves under the grille and the forward section of the engine compartment. This means that dragging it backwards over anything (curbs, the concrete blocks at the end of parking spaces, snow berms left by the plow guy) has a tendency to break it.

After a number of years of abuse, after one of last winter's numerous storms, the passenger-side of the skirt broke away. After some time with it dragging on the pavement and looking sad, I decided it needed fixing, lest it catch on something and tear more of my car off. Last spring, I was able to reattach it to the bumper segment above. Where they meet is a sort of flange that the now-missing spring fingers originated. I was able to drill some holes and thru-bolt it back together. It was tricky work that mostly had to be done blindly by touch, but It was fairly clean from the outside.

About two weeks ago, I pulled just a little too far into a parking spot and caught the skirt on a concrete block. Pulling back ripped away my careful thru-bolt job. After some more time with the bumper segment flapping in the breeze, I decided to make a serious fix. Again with my drill I this time installed some bolts with nuts as studs, then used wire to cinch it all back together.

Ain't it pretty? But for a 10-year old car with 94,000 miles on it, I am unlikely to replace the front bumper assembly just for looks.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(not so) Quick Fix

Well, it was a difficult case, but I think he'll pull through. He may even be able to play the piano again.

I received a replacement iPhone 4 screen assembly in the mail today (thanks to iFixYouri, which was the least expensive not-so-shady place I found for this part). After B went to bed, I spread my tools out on the dining room table and set to work.

Those who are interested can follow the directions I used here from They really do such quality work! They rate this job as a 1-hour, Difficult repair. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. But I'm comfortable with doing delicate work. I deal with small electronics and fine mechanical assemblies on a near-daily basis for my job (though Apple takes it to one hell of an extreme). In true Yankee and Maker fashion I prefer to make-do and repair rather than replace. So let's have a go! It ended up being more like three hours due to my meticulous nature and some complications.

The most useful tool I used for this job was my non-magnetic, fine pinch tweezers. I cannot imagine doing this job without them: there were a few dozen tiny fasteners that needed to be carefully lifted out. From this and other repairs, I have developed a system for keeping them straight:

Yes, those labels I've written go up to about 27, as in Step #27. It takes a while to get down to the screen. In a thoroughly warranty-voiding operation, you approach it from the backside, remove the battery, the speaker assembly, the logic board (what a piece of work that is!), undo about a dozen tiny, high density connectors, before you can finally remove the screws that hold the screen to the stainless steel bezel.

However, once the screws are removed, the screen assembly does not simply fall off. In the vicinity of the Home button, below the edge of the screen itself, is a sizeable piece of double-sticky tape that helps to hold the front glass to the bottom section of the case. Since this is where the screen broke, it meant that my first attempts to remove the screen only caused more cracking and shattered glass. I did eventually get it off, but the double-sticky tape was left with a scree of glass shards that took a long while to remove.

Once the tape was more or less cleared of debris, the re-assembly with the new screen went pretty smoothly - just reverse the directions that got me there. I had no leftover parts, and I didn't have to force anything into place, so all seemed well.

Still, this is major surgery for a phone, so there was some apprehension when I turned the power back on. The screen lit up with that familiar Apple logo! It responded to my touch (ok, that's just a little too dirty)! As far as I can tell, everything works as well as it always had done. Cell reception is good, WiFi is strong, and no magic smoke was lost in the process.

All in all, I call it a victory.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little Dancer

Brynna has recently become ballet-obsessed. After many many readings of Angelina Ballerina, and viewings of the associated TV show, I signed her up for dance class at a local studio. The place I picked was recommended by one of my attendings as the "mellow" option in town.

Last night was her first class. It's 15 minutes of tap followed by 15 minutes of ballet, and watching eight two and three year olds try to figure out the various dance steps was just about the cutest thing I've ever seen. There are a couple of teachers to ride herd on the toddler crowd, and they teach to music with a voice-over of instruction about the steps. It's quite cool, actually.

B jumped right in and had a grand old time. She's been dancing pretty much nonstop ever since. And her tap shoes will arrive this weekend...uh oh!

I have some video that I took at the lesson, but can't post it because it has other kiddos in it too. I can send the link if you shoot me an email.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Physics Lesson

Behold, an abject lesson in both Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation as well as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics`! We'll throw in Murphy's Law for good measure.

And what is this lesson? Don't think that your bare, numb fingers can properly hold onto an iPhone after a three-mile run in freezing temperatures. And when you are attempting not to fumble said phone, it would be a good idea to not do so while standing on concrete. And, really, the extra two seconds it would take you to come to a full stop before marking your time won't kill any personal records, either.

Ah well. Apple has sold over ten million iPhone 4's. The latest model has just come out, which makes my year-old phone so passe. This means lots and lots of relatively inexpensive replacement OEM parts. Have screwdriver, will travel. Will void warrantees for continued mobility. In the meantime, while waiting for my replacement screen to arrive, I am just trying to avoid slicing my finger on the sharp edges. "Slide to unlock" shouldn't mean drawing blood.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Turbo Pascal

Back in high school, the late 90s, I took the AP Computer Science course. It was taught in a long-since-defunct language called Pascal. It was old then, but for its time, Pascal was hot shit: a much more powerful and flexible language than BASIC (which I picked up one summer punching on my parents' Commodore64), but a step below more modern, object-oriented languages such as C++ and Java, which were hitting their stride then, but can be a bit more abstruse for teaching basic programming concepts.

We coded Pascal using the an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and compiler from Borland called Turbo Pascal. Version 3, the first version that became widespread, released 25 years ago. At the time, software wasn't "downloaded," and most of it wasn't "installed": it was run from these funky things called "floppies". Not them new-fangled 3-1/2" ones, mind you, that aren't even floppy, I mean the flimsy 5-1/4" ones. These floppies had a maximum capacity of 100-300 kB. One thing that made Turbo Pascal awesome was that it came on a single disk, because the entire programming language, compiler, and IDE fit into a paltry 39,731 bytes. That may have been sizable for its time, but 39 kB is minuscule today - you can't even create a Word document of a single sentence in that much space.

What else is Turbo Pascal 3 smaller than? John Hague of the blog Programming in the 21st Century puts it in perspective. Excerpted here:

  • The home page (219,583 bytes).
  • The image of the white iPhone 4S at (190,157 bytes).
  • The touch command under OS X Lion (44,016 bytes).
  • The Wikipedia page for C++ (214,251 bytes).
In truth, I actually took APCompSci twice in high school. I wasn't terribly satisfied with the 3 (out of 5) that I got on the final that first year. By the time I was a senior the AP curriculum had shifted to C++, a thoroughly modern language that drives huge amounts of software past, present, and future, and I had an open slot in my schedule. That year I got a 5. Thanks, Mr. Sutera!

Monday, October 31, 2011


We started celebrating Halloween on Friday, when one of my attendings hosted a pumpkin carving party. Since it was indoors, Brynna got to try out her originally planned Halloween outfit: ballerina!

Well, Jedi ballerina. 'Cause who can pass up a lightsaber?

Alex carved this AWESOME pumpkin:

With all the cold and the snow, though, tonight's actual outfit ended up being a little more layered.

 And, heck, why not add some alligator boots and some fairy wings?

Happy Halloween to all!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snow in October

You may have heard the reports: we had snow last night. Not just a little, we had what would have been significant even in February, but is downright ridiculous in October. I haven't seen official numbers, but I would estimate about 12" of heavy, wet snow.

The weather has been cold for days. We have waited in vain for the numerous green tomatoes and peppers in the garden to ripen up. But considering that it has been about as cold outside as it is inside our fridge, we didn't get far with that. Saturday morning was the final (outdoor) Farmer's Market for the season: stock up on potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, and onions.

Knowing weather was on the way, Hilary and I decided to make a mad dash to clean up the back yard and put the garden to bed. The leaves are only half down, but Hilary raked the yard. I pulled up all the remaining shreds of plant life in the garden, emptied half the compost bin into the beds, turned the soil, planted some garlic, and covered it over with the rakings. Take down the swings. Add some guy lines to keep a section of godawful fence from collapsing this winter. Spread some grass seed. Move the porch table and chairs into the garage. Clean up the random trash from the backyard.

American Gothic it is not.

In the final five minutes of that work, late in the afternoon, the flakes started to fly. They continued all through the night and into the morning. We awoke to this:

The remaining leaves on the trees were like nets capturing and retaining the snow. The snow weighed down the branches, the branches broke. We lost power intermittently in the night. Come morning, we had some downed branches in our backyard:

A little damage, but nothing I can't fix in the spring. That's nothing compared to what my neighbors woke up to.

Theoretically, the weather will warm up a bit this week and all this snow will melt away. Let's hope so: Halloween is too early for it to be winter.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Not long after we started this blog, now some four years ago, I wondered who was reading it, and where. I could fairly assume that I personally knew every person reading it, but I wanted some way to know. Blogger at the time did not have any way of gathering or presenting this information (still doesn't as far as I know). But there are a number of ways of gathering analytics, as the buzzword-inclined would call it. They all work by inserting a bit of extra code into a certain webpage (in this case, the blog template), that sends off a small capsule of info from each visitor. This information can be cut, dried, spliced, diced, and sorted any number of ways. We use Google Analytics.

People tend to use this information largely for search engine optimization, figuring out what search terms lead people to their website, and how they can best draw in traffic and keep them there for longer. Since we don't sell ads on this blog and don't pay for any search terms, this information is largely irrelevant to us (more specifically, to me; this is definitely a geek's pursuit).

What is interesting information to me are the number of pageviews per day, and where they come from. Here is a snapshot of this kind of data:

As you can see, we have quite a fanclub in Rochester, NY (hello, my adoring audience!).

Then there's some location data that is just plain weird. For instance, my blog receives about one hit a day from this or that foreign country: India, China, Latvia, Brazil, Paraguay. I appreciate your interest, dear readers from afar, but I do have to wonder what brings you here (let me know in the comments).

And who are these people that flatter us with their attention? A lot of Apple users: 50% are on OS X, another 15% on iOS. Roughly half of our visitors use firefox, about a third use safari. A bit less than 10% are Internet Explorer (encouraging, but what are you all thinking?). An equal number are using Chrome.

Other information: what are the most popular blog posts. Generally, people come to the main page:, and don't delve into specific pages with specific addresses. Some, however, are just so oh so special:

A steady trickle of visitors go directly this post about the construction of our raised beds. A friend of ours in Minnesota linked to it from a blog she contributes to. In that one day our blog's daily readership went from dozens to hundreds of hits.

And although I'm not trying to make it big in search engines, I am also interested to know what search terms direct random traffic to my blog. What's the big winner? Alas, none of my carefully worded posts (and the occassional rant) about energy or politics, nor Hilary's experience in med school and doctoring. Nope, the number one search engine destination for our blog is a post debunking a chain email purporting to show a Smart car crushed between two dump trucks. Depending on the search terms, it's the #1 or #2 hit on the subject. Our place in history is secure! Slightly more satisfying: a few people find their way to our blog by searching on "oversized knee walker", and end up reading about this little bit of work I did at my last job. Search engine traffic accounts for only about 10% of all visitors.

So I guess we're not getting famous doing this blogging stuff. In truth, I think we can live with that.

Little foodie

I was on "short call" this evening in the hospital, and arrived home just after 9:00.

B, instead of being fast asleep, was just climbing down from her footboard after turning on the lamp. After restoring soothing darkness, I asked her about her day, and then inquired about what she had eaten for dinner.

"We had beets. And keen-wa" [which is indeed the proper pronunciation of quinoa, a South American grain]

"And pistachios," she continued. "I gave one to M. He's not a fan of pistachios, but I gave him one anyway."

At this rate, she's going to be ordering in fancy French restaurants pretty soon...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


One of the wonderful things about being back in New Hampshire is that we're only an hour from Dartmouth, so it was easy for us to drive up for Homecoming on Friday night. I really wanted to go, despite being on call all weekend, and it was absolutely worth it. We drove up after a quick dinner and didn't leave Hanover until 11 PM! It was awfully fun to wander through Baker with Brynna at 10:30 at night, looking for the new King Arthur cafe. (Which is very tasty, by the way.)

Here's the gathering on the Green. I must say the speeches lasted MUCH longer than I remember!

Brynna tried out a higher vantage point.

And here we go!

Brynna was in awe.

And wanted to join in:

And is down a layer, cause it was HOT!

Use the Force, Brynna!

Hanging out in front of Dartmouth row. With a lightsaber. Awesome!

Yeah, I chopped my hair off. But not with a lightsaber.

"I love it at Dartmouth," Brynna said to me as we were sitting there together. Us too, little B!