Saturday, November 30, 2013

Princess Leia

I had mentioned my dislike of the inescapable Disney Juggernaut, and our desire to introduce her to The Canon of nerd fiction. Part of the motivation for that, now six weeks past, was to steer her towards what, in our minds, was an acceptable Halloween costume. To hell with a pretty pink princess fairy fluff - we've done that. No, this year she would be a badass princess: Princess Leia!

In hindsight - heck, even in the moment - the easiest and cheapest way to achieve this would be to purchase a costume. There are ways of doing this. We were this close to ordering one, and actually stood in a Target and were this close to buying one. But we just couldn't bring ourselves to purchasing another mass-produced, cheap labor-made, and never-given-a-second-thought costume. Nope, I decided we'd make one.

Thanks to my dear mother, I'm savvy with a sewing machine. I could perhaps have cobbled something together on my own, but was aided enormously by the efforts of these folks, who are better with sewing than I, and produced step-by-step instructions on how she produced her own Leia costume. (Episode IV only - I'm not dressing my daughter up for Jabba's Palace.) A trip to Jo-Ann and we're off to the races:

I laid out a 1:1 pattern on taped-together pieces of newsprint. Cleared off, our kitchen table provides enough space for the job.

The dress pattern is roughly in the shape of a number 7. This gets applied to a piece of fabric that has been folded once (along what will be the top of the shoulder and arms), then twice (down the vertical centerline). This results in a tunic-like piece of fabric that gets sewn along the underside of the arms and down the sides. This then gets done a second time, and the two sewn one inside the other.

The second cutout was fit into a cutout from the first.

The seams get ironed as we go along.

Fun times down in the basement with the sewing machine.

Partly done after a marathon session one night. Missing are the bottom hems and collar.

Meanwhile, Hilary used half a skein of dark brown yard to create the cinnamon buns

The mostly-finished costume received a trial run about a week before Halloween. So far, so good.

On the night of, Hilary whipped together a blaster from some cardboard tubing and black gaff tape.

Somebody has to save our skins!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Canon

No, not cannon, and not Canon, but canon: That abstruse name we give to the ill-defined body of cultural milestones that seem important to us through the ages.

The Disney juggernaut is inescapable. Plus, after years of reading books to B, we've gotten really tired of some of the insipid stuff that's out there.

However, B is right on the cusp of being able to tackle some really cool stuff. There's plenty, of course, that she isn't ready for. But as a counterweight to more conventional stories, we have decided to slowly introduce B to some of the works that were so formative in our own younger years: the Nerd Canon.

We started with The Hobbit. Poorly executed movies aside, the book itself stands up just fine as a fun and well-structured story. Page by page, chapter by chapter, B and I worked our way through the large, illustrated, hard-bound copy I leafed through decades ago. It took a few months, and like a good radio serial, required some time reviewing the previous night's events before moving on. Sometimes B could manage a few pages, other nights she'd barely last a paragraph. It wasn't the prose - it's just tough for her to stay away while just listening, even if there are occasional pictures.

Not to be outdone, Hilary got a start on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We didn't see it through to the end - the death and resurrection of Aslan seemed a bit much for B right now. Plus, although Hilary and I are learned enough to understand the Christian allegory, neither of us are terribly interested in delving into it with our five-year old.

But that's OK, because now we've moved on the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. What's that? You say it's The Sourcerer's Stone. Codswallop! (B's new favorite word). We can't get much past the second book until B gets much older. By that point we hope she'll be hooked enough to continue reading on her own.

Halloween came and went. B had some vague notion of being a princess (damn you, Disney!). Hilary suggested a much more badass role model: Princess Leia. "Who's that?" asked Brynna. So then we introduced B to the Star Wars movies. We started with Episode IV, which is historically correct and introduces us to Leia. We continued on, following this suggested ordering: IV, V, II, III, VI. There is no Episode I.

We could go on, but here's where it seems appropriate to poll the audience: what do you think should be next?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Oh TI-83! You graphing calculator of yore. So expensive, so limited compared to today's options. Yet you still hold a special place in my heart! I actually still use my calculator for stuff almost on a daily basis, though rarely taking advantage of its full capabilities. For simple stuff I usually already have some sort of computer program open that can do it. I could also solve it using Google. For more complicated stuff I'll use Excel or Matlab. And yet...there is something about whipping out that hunky chunky plastic and punching the keys that still satisfies.

So when my TI-83, which I bough entering freshman year of college, starting showing weird artifacts on the screen, a little part of me died. I could not in any way justify spending $80-90 to replace it new. Trolling Craigslist and eBay is a pain in the butt. Could it be repaired? Yes, as it turns out, and the Internet provides.

I found this video in a few minutes. This fellow had similar flaky issues with the screen. He was able to trace it back to flex-cable that bridges between the logic board and the display board. This thin ribbon of metal-on-plastic, adhered on either end with z-conductive tape, had one trace that had become open-circuit. The solution? Bridge it with fine wire:

I covered it over with Kapton tape to keep the wire from rattling around. Put the case back together, pop in the batteries, and we are back in business!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Clean Teeth

Here's B at a recent visit to the dentist. They give them the shades so that the lights don't blast them so much.

Cool Cat.

But of course B has alway been stylin' in sunglasses.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Trip Report: Mount Willard, October 26

Mount Willard is one of the best "bang for the buck" mountains in New Hampshire—pretty easy hike, big view from the top—so it's been on our list to do with Brynna for awhile. In fact, we tried to do it with her in the backpack when she was about six months old (revisit the adorable pictures here) but stopped partway because she got too chilly.

We were in North Conway for a half marathon a couple of weeks ago but went up early so we could spend Saturday hiking. After a fortifying breakfast at the Nereledge Inn (our favorite B&B), we hopped into the car and headed for the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch. As we wound our way there, it started to snow and Brynna started to get skeptical. At the trailhead, we talked up the delight of walking in the snow and convinced B to give it a try. Then we bundled up and headed out. 

Here's B with my dad at the trailhead:

A stop at Centennial Pool on the way up. Dad tried to convince B to take a dip, but she wasn't having any of it.

This is B showing Alex her "secret snow land," a little trail offshoot looking into the snow-dusted woods. She was very excited about this and told everyone we encountered on the trail how to find it.

Heading up and up with Dada:

Running with M toward the summit:

Checking out the (mostly cloud-obscured) view from the ledges, while M makes sure she doesn't fall off:

Re-bundled at the summit. This hike was a great opportunity to discuss layering!

We have a picture of Dad and me on Mount Willard from 1999. Here's the cloudier 2013 version:

I think we should have a caption contest for this one:

Primal scream at the summit!

And a regular smile:

One of the problems with big bulky mittens is that you can't pick up trail mix with them on. Good thing Alex is willing to feed her like a little bird.

Once we returned to the Highland Center, we showed B where we'd been.

And then she got to check out the awesome new playground at the Highland Center, complete with swing bridge:

So, another successful experience in the mountains for B. It's so exciting to watch a little hiker emerge!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Trip Report: Mount Major, September 1st

Yes, we've been to Mount Major before, too. Just like when B was very little, we're still trying to pick fairly short hikes with big payoffs, and we prefer not to drive too far, so we're returning to some of the hikes that we've carried her up in the past! Here's the old trip report and the obligatory flash-back photo:

We had a much warmer go of it this time—late summer weather instead of midwinter! The trail starts off as a long, rocky path. Yup, definitely in New England.

Giant rocks make very handy rest stops. Alex's super-gorp is delicious!

Jasper waits patiently while we snack.

Eventually, the ledges start—B's favorite part!

Then the views open up.

Quite early on, we had the luck of running into another family hiking with young kids—one slightly older and one a bit younger than B. It made the climbing much more fun for everyone! Here's B playing with her new friends at the summit.

And monkeying around in a tree on the way down:

B decided that ice cream could take the place of our regular post-hike treat of peach Snapple and potato chips, so we stopped in Alton Bay for what turned out to be giant cones!

The ice cream place even had doggie ice cream, so we got Jasper a frozen goody as well. He and B applied themselves with equal vigor to the task:

This hike was well within B's capability, but having our impromptu hiking companions (we came all the way down with them as well) certainly made the whole experience much more fun for her, and therefore for us as well. I hope we'll be able to hike again with them in the future!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fencing, Round Three

The summer is getting on, and before the snow starts flying I have more fence work to do. This time it's the long stretch between me and my neighbor. Like all the rest, it is in sad shape. Observe this lovely lean it has developed:

And yes, that's a broken-down triangle tower that is being used to help brace it. My neighbor provided some impetus to not let this job lapse into next year by pointing out that the fence is unlikely to withstand a broadside from a snowblower. Fair point.

In some ways this section is more straightforward than others I have done. This section has no gate, and the starting and ending points are not constrained by large immobile objects like the foundation of my house. Nope, it is just one eight-foot long section after another. Unfortunately, it's a whole bunch of sections, about 80 feet all told, which means a whole bunch of posts and trim work. Half of the fence is nice, manageable 4' tall spaced picket. The back sections, however, are 6' tall privacy, which are really heavy and unwieldy. All in all, a large (and expensive) job. The joy of home ownership!

Like a fool I decided to do the installation myself, as I did with the others. The reasoning for this is simple: the fencing system I am using - with metal channels supporting wood panels - is uncommon enough that no one around here works with it regularly, and I would rather not have this job be their proving ground. Plus the cost of installation (I could not actually ever get a firm quote - based on the unfamiliarity) was frightful.

If the job were left to just evenings after work and the occasional Saturday, it probably would never get finished. So I decided to make a concerted attack on it and see how far I could get. Last weekend I picked up most of the materials from my supplier. This week I took Friday off and got to work. As Brynna was heading off to school I was pulling out some rotting posts.

The locations of the new posts did not line up with the old posts, meaning that each hole was started from scratch. My progress was hampered several times when, 6-12" down, I would thump into roots.

Goodness only knows where they came from. They aren't close to any substantial plant. I suppose it is possible they belong to the old maple tree, tens of feet away. As I dug holes closer to the stump, the roots became more frequent and thicker.

By the end of my first work day, Friday, I had put in almost ten hours and managed to set just four posts - less than halfway. I was beat from post-hole digging, hauling dirt, and mixing and schlepping concrete. Still, it was a start.

Saturday morning my neighbor picked me up with his pickup and trailer, and we went to pick up the materials I hadn't picked up already. These were the 6' fence panels, four of them, which I could not readily load onto the top of Hilary's station wagon last weekend. I next hung the 4' tall panels. The first one cornered to the first set of fence I installed last summer.

Late in the day, after sinking another post, I installed a "sloped" panel to transition from the 4' fence to the 6'. The first post of the 6' section I doubled up the post to create a box beam. This is not, according to the manufacturer's installation guidelines, strictly necessary. But I'm an engineer and wanted some additional rigidity.

By this point it was about 4:30. I had designs on going further and sinking another post before calling it quits, but figured that my efforts would be better spent making dinner. Here's the extent of my progress at the end of the second day:

Nice to see that I can hew to a straight line!

Day three, Sunday, I woke up pretty sore, but still determined to keep at it. My progress slowed right down when my post hole digger thumped into a tight clump of tree roots the size of my forearm. It took until lunchtime to clear that and dig the first hole of the day.

I managed a second post in the afternoon before packing it in. I could perhaps have soldiered on, but I was beat. The next hole would have brought my closer to the tree stump, meaning a high likelihood of encountering more tenacious roots to saw through. Plus, I was out of concrete. The 6' panels are too heavy to maneuver into place single-handed, so I called it quits for the day. Instead, I did something nice and relaxing, like washing and hanging the laundry. Then I went grocery shopping, followed by a swing past the hardware store for a few more bags of concrete (80 lbs each) and gravel (50 lbs each).

So three full days of work, and about 3/4 of the fence installed. Not bad, I suppose, but I'd hoped for more. Of course, once the fence itself is installed, there will come a long period of trim work to cover over the metal posts. It'll look great when it's finished, but there's a lot of work still to come.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Trip Report: Belknap Mountain Hike, September 29

Today, a crew of four—B, my dad, Jasper, and I—set off to climb Belknap Mountain. This same quartet climbed Belknap just about exactly four years ago, and that trip report (showing a much tinier B!) can be found here. Today, of course, she did it under her own power—just under 2 miles roundtrip.

Four years ago:

And near the start of our hike today:

I need to get better at these hold-the-camera-out-and-point-it-back-at-myself shots. Alex usually is in charge of those (he was stuck at home replacing our fence).

B is fascinated by cairns.

So she built this little one on a rest break!

Jasper always likes to be right in the middle...even if that puts him right in the way. We went up the Green Trail today. There's no map at the trailhead, and no reason to choose Green vs Blue vs Red vs White, but we always pick Dartmouth when we can.

Here's B atop the fire tower, with Lake Winnepesaukee in the background. Great views out across New Hampshire and into Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont! I brought my Scudder's White Mountain Guide and got a good sense of what was what.

We came back down the Red Trail. In fact, B virtually flew down—Dad and I were rushing to keep up with her and Jasper was getting quite a bit of exercise going back and forth between all of us! She even passed some much bigger kids. Right toward the end, she found this big stump (lightning strike, maybe?) to climb on.

Then she ran on ahead again, and by the time Dad and I came down the hill into the parking lot, she was leaning casually up against the car, looking like she'd been waiting for hours.

We had a lovely walk on a beautiful fall day. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have Alex with us!