My neighbor, the one with the drone I borrowed to take to Paraguay, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. We’d just taken it up for a spin to sort out a camera issue; he’d flown it over the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt to shoot some pictures but when we looked at the footage afterwards, it was pictures of him–he’d mistakenly set it for Burst mode, so it took five pictures and stopped, instead of Interval mode where it would shoot continuously every couple of seconds. I walked him through getting the GoPro app sorted out on his phone and showed him how the various modes work, and it immediately clicked for him. While we were working, he mentioned that he’s been thinking about getting a new drone and selling his, and I immediately told him I’d buy it.

So it’s a DJI Phantom 2. It was upgraded by the original owner with a camera gimbal to fit a GoPro Hero 3, a long-range transmitter-receiver, and a 7″ monitor that I can’t find a manual for anywhere. The camera sends real-time video back to the monitor to make flying easier. It comes with an extra set of propellers and the two new batteries I bought for the Paraguay trip, the three original batteries, assorted parts, and a pelican-style travel case. It’s in great shape, and for the price I couldn’t pass it up (he got it for a steal and sold it to me for what he paid, which is hundreds less than the going rate).

The only way I can justify this purchase is because I spent every waking hour on the ground in Paraguay running around shooting, preparing to shoot, or organizing gear for the next shoot, and thus didn’t eat much. Besides the complimentary hotel breakfast (which was lovely to look at but not much in the way of carbs or protein) I was subsisting on bottled water, Clif Bars I’d brought with me (having learned from previous shooting trips) until dinner. I paid for my meals out of pocket, which was just easier, but when I got home the per diem that came back to me was easily four times what I’d spent–and about $50 more than what I paid for this drone.

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What are the plans for it? Fly it, first. Learn how to keep it in the air, aim it at what I want to see, and make the movements fluid. I took it out with Finn earlier in the year and ironed some of the issues out, even though it was a windy day.

Eventually, I’ll have to see if upgrading the gimbal to a Hero4-compatible unit makes sense; the Hero4 adds a lot of extras in terms of camera angle, improved ISO and a higher frame rate. But that will only happen if I can get some paying jobs that call for a drone.

* * *

Meanwhile, I went through my old hardware box and pulled out ten old hard IDE drives that have been decommissioned for years to prepare them for disposal. First I put a rare-earth magnet over each drive platter for a couple of days to scramble the electrons. Then I broke a couple of cheap Home Depot drill bits going through each drive to render them unusable. They will get dropped off at the dump with a bunch of other large metal items I can’t put out by the curb, and hopefully be recycled into compact cars.

* * *

We had another contractor come out and look at the bathroom Thursday evening, which puts our grand total at four. One has responded with a price three times our budget, another went completely dark, we’re waiting for the third to respond, and the fourth will get back to us within the week (we hope). The last two guys are single-person operations so it may be a couple of weeks/months before they can get started, but it would be nice to get someone interested in the job for a reasonable price to sign a contract and get this thing moving.

Date posted: April 28, 2017 | Filed under house, photography | Leave a Comment »

Learning about airplanes

Last Friday I took a day off work to take my folks down to the Udvar-Hazy museum outside of Dulles airport. They’ve been in town for a couple of days while my Dad gets some more testing done at Hopkins, and there are several days in between each of the appointments. We decided to have Finn join us, so she got an extra day of spring break tacked on.

My Dad hasn’t seen the museum yet, and in his mind he thought we would be walking around outside in a big field. When we pulled up to the building, he said, “That’s a big airport.” I don’t think he was prepared for the size and scope of it.

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Since the last time we were down there (about 10 years ago), it’s gotten updated and they’ve added to the collection. The restoration hangar in back is now open, so we got to see the Apollo 11 Command Module sitting down on the floor, the fuselage of the Flak Bait, and the Sikorsky JRS-1, the only remaining plane that was present at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

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The space hall has been expanded upon, and they’ve dramatically increased the exhibits on either end of the main hall with commercial aviation, rotary wing aircraft, and additions to the warbird collection. We walked for about 4 hours, taking a break in the middle for lunch, after which Finn and I tried out the simulators. She was nervous at first, so we tried the one on hydraulic jacks, and it turned out that she loved it. Then we tried a dogfight simulator that spun 360˚ horizontally to simulate rolls and flips; I think Finn had fun but she was squealing too loudly to know for sure.

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Saturday I took the family out with me on errands to get everyone out of the house, so we hit the Lowe’s, the Target, and then the runner’s store so that I could get fitted for specialized running shoes. This took about 45 minutes, as they made me run in place, checked my arches, and then showed me some sneakers. I wound up leaving with fancy insoles and a pair of Adidas running shoes, which I intended to start breaking in this week.

We came home and took advantage of the weather to get out into the backyard and clean up the leaves; Jen cleared out the driveway while we were gone and I cleaned up the woodpile area after getting home. Sunday was more of the same; we got outside and worked in the warm weather. I’ve been throwing stuff in the garage since the weather got cold, and so I haven’t been able to access anything behind the Scout for four months. A couple of hours of organization later, everything was in its right place and made more sense.

Moving some car parts around, I was carrying one of the spare Scout windshields across the open area when my right foot came down on a piece of wood the wrong way. Because I was carrying about 100 lbs. of metal and glass, the effect was magnified, and I felt a searing pain on the outside of my foot below the ankle. At first I thought it was a sprain but a spot on my foot swelled up to the size of a golf ball, so we drove out to the urgent care to have it X-rayed. They diagnosed it as a fracture and sent me home with a giant ski boot, which I am wearing until I see the orthopedist on Friday.

Date posted: April 13, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

I can be a pretty patient guy. Having an eight year old daughter has taught me that I must wait for many things, and find a way to keep my cool while they get done on her time. Simple things like taking a shower must be broken down into their component actions so that they actually get done. Get your jammies and towel. Bring them into the bathroom. Use the toilet. Get yourself undressed. Turn the water on. Turn the shower valve on. Get in the tub. Pull the shower curtain closed. Rinse your body. Get shampoo on your head and start AAAAAAHHHHH GOD WOULD YOU JUST DO AS YOU’RE TOLD?!? I can give her a single instruction and within milliseconds she’s broken contact and is examining the spout on the soap dispenser. It’s like giving instructions to the guy in Memento. I should tattoo instructions for unloading the dishwasher on her arm.

After waiting the better part of five years for some progress on our master bathroom, refinancing the house, and hoarding a kitty full of money for the project, we called a guy who came recommended to look at it before the Christmas break. He took some measurements and disappeared, and resurfaced after New Years to re-measure everything because he’d lost his clipboard. I finally got an email back from him this evening with a price that’s roughly double what we’d budgeted.

That was sobering.

Now, we’ve made some minor modifications in the plan since we first laid it out. We’re re-organizing the back half so that what was a 4′ wide closet will now be a 7′ wide walk-in, which will delete two more windows on the back corner of the house. We’re going to add insulation under the floor, which was raised on plywood, leaving a cavity of dead air beneath. Deleting windows will save money, but insulating the floor will cost money.

Tired of waiting for Guy #1, we got a recommendation for another guy, who came out to measure last Saturday. I got a good vibe from him, and he seems interested in the job. I’m going to look through Angie’s List to see if I can find a third contractor to give us a price, and then we’ll see how they all stack up against each other.

Date posted: January 31, 2017 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

Friendsgiving!

For various reasons, we took a break from our traditional Thanksgiving meal last year. This year, we offset it for a week to coincide with a visit from my folks, which left us open on the big day itself. Graciously, our friends invited us to their family celebration, which we thankfully accepted.

We’ve known the extended family for years now, so there was a lot of catching up to do, but we could not have felt more welcome and comfortable the minute we walked in the door. As always, the meal was delicious, and we left feeling stuffed with food and love and thankfulness. I would have taken more pictures but I was having too much fun talking and eating and drinking.

* * *

The water filter is installed and flowing, after a couple days of engineering challenges. The broken unit is on its way back to Amazon (looking carefully, it appeared that it had been returned once before, thanks) and the new one arrived on Friday afternoon. I spent the rest of that evening getting it set up and then held my breath while cutting the old filter assembly out of the piping. Then the new unit went in without much fuss, and I carefully filled it with water before restoring service to the rest of the house.

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Feeling triumphant, I got some leftover pumpkin pie and brought Jen down to inspect. It was then that she noticed a slow leak coming from the threaded fitting in the housing itself, and my stomach fell. All of the other connections are brazed copper, which means it might need to be cut apart to fix the threaded fitting, unless there’s another solution I’m not aware of. I’m out of time to work on it myself, so I have a second plumber’s number to call tomorrow morning who should be able to help us out.

Even so, running the numbers last night, we’re $550 ahead of the quote we got from the first plumber. Hopefully the repair won’t exceed that amount.

Santa

We took Finley to see the Festival of Trees at the state fairgrounds Saturday morning, and she got to talk to the Big Man. The Festival is a huge assortment of custom decorated trees, gingerbread houses, and vendors set up in the main hall of the fairgrounds, and they have events, a stage, games, pony rides, and other attractions for kids to play. On any given day it’s absolutely mobbed with people, but because Finn had her unscheduled trip to the hospital a couple of years ago, we get in early with other former and current patients. This meant there were only three kids in the line to see Santa in front of us and not three hundred.

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The afternoon was consumed with shopping and errands. In the evening we threw some wood in the fireplace and started burning some of the new wood, which is a lot more combustible than it should be for only seasoning six months. After eating some leftovers, we busted out the marshmallows and roasted until bedtime.

I had a total of five days off, but I don’t know where it all went. It sure did go by fast…

Date posted: November 27, 2016 | Filed under finn, friends, house | Leave a Comment »

Waaay back in the first half of the last decade, we were having problems with our water quality. The County was doing work on the water piping in our neighborhood, which had an immediate effect on our water. Everything was orange and there was visible sediment at the bottom of our glasses. We tried a sink-mounted filter I found at BJ’s but that was a plastic piece of crap. Finally we broke down and had some plumbers add a cartridge filter to our water supply line.

Over the years the sediment in our water dissipated and things cleared up, but a few weeks ago we noticed orange in our water again. On Sunday I changed the cartridge in the filter and when I opened the valve to turn the water back on, it started leaking–badly. The mechanism is mainly plastic, so I’ve been babying it over the years. Unfortunately, when it was put in, there was no bypass put in to the piping, so the only way to shut the water off to the house was to use the valve built into the housing–made of plastic.

I stuck a bucket under it and called our plumber, who came out and quoted us a pretty fair price. After thinking it over that evening, I decided I could do it myself for half the price. I did some research, ordered a heavy-duty filter from Amazon, and stocked up on supplies from Lowe’s. It’s been a long time since I’ve sweated pipes, but it’s a skill you don’t forget. By midnight last night I had about half of the piping cut and roughed out, and by the time the unit itself appeared this afternoon the rest was ready to go. Unfortunately someone had dropped the box at some point and broken the release tab off, so it’s got to be replaced with a new one on Friday.

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The drip on the filter has dwindled, so the threat of the basement flooding while we wait for the new unit has subsided. The piping is ready; we just need the new unit.

Date posted: November 23, 2016 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

Saturday morning broke warm and sunny, and we all got up eager to get outside. At least, I did. After prodding the neighbor to come and split wood (he was working) I lit a fire and got busy splitting the last of the small stuff, and actually split a 30″ round by hand. I’m definitely at the point where I can’t do anything else without hydraulic assistance so I’m at his mercy in terms of scheduling.  I cleaned up the area, adjusted the tarps on the cribs, collected a wheelbarrow full of dry chips for kindling, and a bunch of other small yard tasks before the sky turned dark. In the space of about five minutes it went from sunny and 70˚ to gray and 50˚, and the wind howled in like the aftershock of a nuclear blast. I came inside and changed the cartridge on our water filter, which has needed doing for a while now, only to find that the outgoing valve (the one that keeps water on the house side from pouring back down onto the floor) is leaking uncontrollably, because it is made of plastic and is shit. The plumbers will be here Monday morning to look that situation over, and meanwhile we have a 5-gallon bucket keeping the floor dry.

That was OK though because Mama and I had a reservation at Parts & Labor, a butcher/restaurant in Remington, and it was time to get ready. After setting the babysitter up with the technology we drove into the city and found a spot across the street. Remington has changed dramatically since the last time we were up there; there’s a huge condo/workspace around the corner from the Paper Moon diner that looks like it landed from Mars.

Parts & Labor is a lovely restaurant with killer cocktails and a very courteous staff. Our meals were delicious (Jen won this time with the lambchetta) and we enjoyed every minute of our stay. Strangely, we were done in an hour and a half–usually we shut restaurants down when we’ve got a sitter–so we moseyed up to Golden West and joined the hipsters at the bar for more cocktails. There we enjoyed a couple hours of uninterrupted conversation before the CR-V turned into a pumpkin.

I’ll say that even though I was a little rocky this morning I’m gaining an appreciation for both a well-mixed Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I don’t drink bourbon or rye as a rule (brown alcohol and I don’t mix) but these two were delicious. Jen and I discussed laying in some good bourbon, bitters, and vermouth and trying to perfect our own recipe over the winter.

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Sunday was 40˚ and windy, with gusts of 20mph or more (definitely more) and my neighbor was working again, so there was no splitting for us at all. I went down to pick up the CSA, then came back to clean the yard for winter. This included re-fastening the plastic on the far side of the greenhouse, which had come completely loose, and organizing the contents so that the rest of the chairs and hoses would fit inside. Other than that, it was a relaxed Sunday.

Date posted: November 20, 2016 | Filed under family, house, life | Leave a Comment »

I lured my neighbor (and his splitter) over on Sunday with a warm fire and the promise of cold beer. I started alone by going through the remainder of the smaller logs by hand until about 1 and then he wandered over with his truck; we backed it up to the woodpile and filled the bed. After we dumped that in his driveway we hooked up the splitter and got to work on some of the larger rounds.

Even though the splitter is a pro-grade unit it strained to get through the first 36″ diameter round we put in it–because some of the wood is so gnarled inside. Once we split them in half we got a rhythm going, and it took about 1/2 hour to get through each one. Meanwhile Jen stacked the fourth cradle full and covered it.

Finley, who had been working on a project of her own this whole time, asked us to take a break and relax in the room she’d set up for us under the holly tree. We walked over and found two of the Adirondack chairs set up facing the road, with some shelves, a coathook, a bed (her wagon), a bathroom (a flowerpot) and two fresh beers. We rested in the shade for about ten minutes and she talked us through all of her home improvements, obviously hoping we’d appreciate them–which we did. She can be such a thoughtful child sometimes–I hope she doesn’t lose that.

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By 4:30 we’d made our way through five of the rounds and had a sizable pile stacked, but the sun was setting and we needed to clean up. We filled his truck again, then hitched the splitter up and drove it back to his house. Our yard is somewhat empty again with the split wood gone, but there are still 10-12 large rounds and miscellaneous medium logs left. Fortunately, this wood (and its bark) burns readily, there’s plenty of beer (I kegged the IPA we brewed way back in April, tired of waiting) and the weekend appears to be mostly free.

Today is Tuesday and my back and legs are still stiff, but four weekends of honest work feel righteous.

* * *

The entire Second Grade has been working on an epic project involving presidents for the past couple of weeks, and overall I’d say I’m impressed with how much detail they’re asking for and by how much time and effort Finley put into her report. Jen sat with her and provided guidance on research, drafts, writing, quality and production, and suggested I take over the visual half. Finn and I talked it over and we came up with a timeline poster, and began work on Thursday organizing and cataloging the information.

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Saturday we cleared off the dining room table and got to work with a rough draft, then a visualization, and finally the poster itself. By Saturday evening we were both tired but we had the poster mapped out and the pieces in place; Jen did a QC check and we used that feedback to tighten things up on Sunday morning. When I told Finn she’d built her first infographic (she’s been hearing us talk about infographics for two semesters now) her face broke out in a wide smile and she hugged me while sighing with relief.

Date posted: November 15, 2016 | Filed under finn, house | Leave a Comment »

Today I got up, made coffee and breakfast, put on my work clothes, and went out to split some more wood. This involved badgering my neighbor via text enough times that he dragged his splitter over and we set up a (dis)assembly line. In about 4 hours we went through a good number of rounds and made a pile of split, stackable wood that we estimate is about 3 cords. According to this calculator I’ve already got 1.5 cords in my cradle.

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The weather was perfect for being outdoors. After lunch we picked up two six-packs of tasty session IPA, one from Burley Oak and one from Firestone Walker, and both were delicious. By about 4:30 we were done, so he hitched up the splitter and took it home while I gathered the chips for kindling and straightened the pile. Then I sat with Finley and showed her how to fix the wheel on her new wagon: drill the axle, add a washer, and secure it with a cotter pin. It got dark before she could really play with it too much, but I’m happy to see it getting love again.

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The week was a long haul–lots of early mornings in and late nights out of work. We did close on the mortgage, which is great. Finley assisted with another goal in her soccer game today, before going down in a collision with another player. Jen texted me and said it was “like the Simpsons Trampoline,” which had me laughing after I was assured Finn was OK.

Now I’m laying in bed wondering if I will be able to move in the morning.

Date posted: October 29, 2016 | Filed under finn, general, house | Leave a Comment »

I had a bit of an argument via text with the bro, who showed up late last Tuesday to mow the lawn before our appraisal, and then asked for more money because it started to rain while he was working. When I pointed out to him that it didn’t get done the previous weekend, and that we had standing arrangements to mow every week, he started arguing with me. Fuck that. He showed up late on Saturday with his mower, knocked on the door, and left (I know this because Jen was making dinner and told me he was out front; by the time I got to the front of the house he was halfway down the sidewalk). What the fuck? Then he texted me his address and asked me to drop the cash off at his house. Fuck you. So I’m going to dust off the POS mower I bought 13 years ago, clean the varnish out of the carb, and finish out the season myself. We’ll look for someone new to handle brainless labor for us next year.

Speaking of the appraisal, it went exceptionally well, and we’re closing on the refi sometime next week. This is fantastic news for our family, and I’m so relieved we’ve gotten this far.

* * *

On Sunday I walked out to the pile of felled logs in the backyard and started clearing out the small stuff toward the back. We’ve got a small amount of dry wood left from the elm we dropped in 2005 but the rest of the cradle was empty. I started moving the small pieces onto the cradle, and decided to chop the bark off as I went. When I hit a couple of pieces with the ax, they split cleanly. This was surprising. So I got Dad’s orange maul from the garage and started splitting. By 2PM the old cradle was full and I’d barely made a dent in the pile.

I then built an identical cradle with new wood and Finn helped me dig some level ground to place it behind the first, and then we transferred the wood so that the front cradle was empty. Then I split some more wood while Finn stacked. By dinnertime I was pretty beat so we cleaned up the tools and came inside for a delicious dinner of collard greens and cheese grits. Cold beer has rarely tasted so good.

Some of the rounds out there are five feet in diameter, and there are scores of them. I’m going to need at least another cradle or maybe two to fit all this wood, and that’s after splitting it with two of my neighbors. Not a bad problem to have…

* * *

On Saturday, Jen and I sat down and had a chat with Finn about what’s been happening in the latest news cycle, and tried to make a teaching moment about a presidential candidate grabbing women by the pussy. We figure she’s going to hear about it from some kid at school, and we’d rather she talk it through with us instead of get bad information through the second grade grapevine. She handled it pretty well, I think. We’ve had the talk with her before about people saying bad things or trying to touch her where they shouldn’t, so it’s not a foreign concept, but it sucks to have to explain that the possible future president of our country is such a fucking douchebag.

* * *

How awesome is this? in August, a guy from Arkansas played Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World on hammered dulcimer and posted it to Facebook, where it got a lot of hits. In September, Curt Smith and Jamie Wollam from Tears For Fears traveled to his house and did another version with vocals and drumming:

I love stories like this. In light of all the horseshit happening right now, it gives me hope for humanity.

Date posted: October 11, 2016 | Filed under house, music | Leave a Comment »

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The final date has been a long time coming, but I’m going to be packing this weekend for a trip to Mexico City. This one is on a lot shorter notice than the others, and I’m going to be doing a lot of winging it while I’m there, but due to my teaching schedule I’ll have two days in Mexico City on the company’s dime (wish that could have been London, honestly). This month’s schedule looks absolutely bonkers, actually–I teach next Wednesday, fly out Thursday morning, fly back out Tuesday evening, work from home Wednesday, and teach Wednesday evening. There are a lot of logistical issues to work out (gotta book my flight, for example) but this is going to be interesting.


After comparing rates and details with three different lenders, we’ve got a lender lined up to refi the house. Now I’ve got to get the ball rolling before I leave the country…

Date posted: September 2, 2016 | Filed under house, travel, WRI | Leave a Comment »