I feel like an army of midgets have been hitting me with baseball bats, but the first stump is gone and all the sidewalk is broken up.

I don’t know how we packed all of that action into two days, but we did. Early Saturday morning I rented an electric jackhammer and went to work on the left-hand stump next to the front door, which has been sitting in a 1-foot deep crater since last weekend. I excavated another foot all the way around the base, then used a combination of jackhammer, sawzall, and axe to hack away at the root structure that I could see. The bush had been planted far enough back that it was hard to swing at the rear of the root ball without hitting the house, but I learned to work lefty quite well by the end of the day. During a break, I broke up the sidewalk on the right side of the house and gathered it all into a pile. By about 3:30 or so the stump was moving slightly when kicked, so I threw a chain on it, put the truck in 4-low and pulled it out with a minimum of fuss.

Our old friends R&K arrived from Easton at 6, and we introduced them and their son to our babysitter. She and the two kids got along like old friends (it’s gratifying to have Finn run up and give our babysitter a hug when she walks in the door). Then, dressed in our going-to-town clothes, we drove to Petit Louis for reservations at 7. Cocktails were poured, laughter ensued, and we all had a fantastic meal in the absence of our children. We were all able to COMPLETE ENTIRE SENTENCES! WITH EACH OTHER! It was incredible. The food was better than we hoped (and remembered) it would be, and the sommelier paired it all with a fantastic bottle of red.

After dinner, we dropped off R., who was fading after having worked overtime that morning, and went out to the Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City for after-dinner drinks. We were surprised to find we were still there—and awake— at 1:30 in the morning.


Sunday morning I had a slight hangover. We adjourned to brunch for tall Bloody Marys and wheelbarrows full of food to soak up all the wine in our systems, then wandered back home to clean up and nap. On the way to the car in the parking lot, my glasses slipped off my head and landed directly in the path of Finn’s shoe, where the right arm came to grief. Sigh. To be fair, they were getting scratchy, and the arms were in desperate need of adjustment, but I wasn’t planning on buying an entirely new pair.

I hit the front yard to begin excavating the second stump and got about halfway down before pausing to run to the mall to have new glasses made. By the time I made it back the sun was low in the sky, so I aimed the jackhammer at the other sidewalk and worked my way down to the driveway. By the time I’d finished I had blisters at the tops of both palms and I could barely lift the hammer up onto the Scout.

Date posted: April 30, 2012 | Filed under friends, house, photo | Leave a Comment »

Last night I had Finn help me transfer a batch of American Wheat Ale from the primary fermenter into a secondary. She was awesome, and I couldn’t have asked for a better helper. I had her stand on her stool at the sink as I explained each piece of equipment, showed her how I wash and sanitize it, then put it all together and siphoned from the first tank into the second. Then we took a gravity reading and I showed her how to find the numbers (it’s going to be right around 4.1% ABV) before cleaning up all the parts and putting everything away. She was fascinated by the siphon, and I was able to hold her attention span all the way up until the end.


This batch was my first blowout. On the second day of fermentation it was at about 69° and foaming heavily; sometime between midnight and 7AM on the third morning the airlock blew off and I got foam down the sides. I was worried it had gotten infected, because the krauzen never really receded (it mainly dried on the upper portion of the fermenter) but a taste test last night proved my fears wrong. It starts out smooth and flavorful, like a heavier domestic but finishes brittle and sharp to my taste. I’m hoping a few weeks’ conditioning in the fermenter will smooth it out before I keg it.

* * *

About a year ago I set up an eBay search for 6×9″ speaker covers for the Scout, and I’ve gotten notifications in my inbox since then. The backstory is that the speakers I got for Christmas didn’t come with covers, so they’ve been installed without any protection for a year. Having shoved three loads of very sharp and brittle brush into the back of the truck this last week, I decided I couldn’t put off purchasing something any longer, so I pulled the trigger on a pair of Alpine covers for $12 with free shipping (about $12 cheaper than the average listing). Here’s to hoping they’ll fit.

* * *

Jen had the cable guy out the other day to check on our wiring, because after a few follow-up moves the set-top box wasn’t pulling a signal at all. He futzed around with it for a while and said something about the barrel connector in back; whatever the case it’s functional again, and that room is shaping up nicely.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: April 27, 2012 | Filed under brewing, house, Scout | Leave a Comment »

One of the things I unpacked from my carpenter’s chest was a cache of 620-related photo equipment, including three spare spools I’d forgotten I had. Conventional wisdom has always been that one needs to respool 120 film onto 620 spools, as per the instructions here. I did, in my brief searching this morning, find an alternate method, which includes a pair of sharp cuticle scissors and some sandpaper. Basically, the idea is to remove the raised edge around the spool to make the whole thing fit inside a 620 housing. So, I’m going to order some more 120 film and try both methods out.

Date posted: April 25, 2012 | Filed under photography | Leave a Comment »

As noted earlier, we took advantage of mostly decent weather on Saturday to trim all of the branches off each of the shrubs flanking our front door. I spent about two hours digging out as much of the root structure as possible, but due to hard-packed clay 3″ below surface, I couldn’t get the first one to budge. I took some breaks to haul two loads of brush off to the dump and got a third load into the back of the Scout before calling it a day, but we still have ugly stumps to deal with. The plan is to rent a jackhammer next weekend and try to dig them out with brute force.

Tubing, without water

Sunday was cold, wet, and gray, so we made ourselves a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon, packed ourselves into the car, and drove to IKEA. There we found a shelving unit the perfect size for tucking into the wall between the back door and chimney, and bought eight wicker bins to go inside. The afternoon and evening were spent moving furniture to make way for a new arrangement; there’s a big shelf in the living room filled with toys and some long-hibernating books (stuff I’d forgotten I even had) across from the couch. The library table is now up against a wall with the carpenter’s chest tucked underneath. The den has a big empty wall waiting for some kind of decoration, and the new shelf holds a good portion of Finn’s toys with all the A/V equipment on top.

A conversation with my neighbor confirmed my suspicion that we’ll need a new head unit that will accept multiple inputs and upconvert all of them over one HDMI cable to the TV. I’m also going to have to bite the bullet and replace my speakers, a pair of Baby Advents that I bought before shipping off to college; the foam of the woofers has dried and degraded to dust in places. Either way, I’d like to get some unobtrusive surround speakers with a subwoofer and hide as much as possible instead of staring at two big cabinets on the floor.

Unpacking, I uncovered two dogeared books from my past that made me smile. The first is Building Speaker Enclosures, published by Radio Shack sometime in the middle 80’s. I bought this before college, and sourced all of the speaker components in the days before the internet, which dictated several trips to Canal Street in NYC to visit car audio outlets for 8ohm woofers, crossovers, and other electronic components. (Lugging two 15″ woofers through the subway and home on the Metro North was quite an experience.) Much of my current tool collection was started when I brought the materials down to my apartment and assembled the boxes on the dining room table. The speakers are still sitting in the basement, water-stained and yellowing, waiting for me to buy new birch plywood and cut clean new boxes to transplant the electronics into. Tucked into the pages are the handwritten notes and calculations I used to design and build the boxes, scrawled on the backs of scrap paper and envelopes.

The second book was stored in the carpenter’s chest under all our A/V equipment. It’s a blue sketchbook with a picture of Elvis duct-taped to the cover, and it’s a record of a trip to Graceland my buddy Pat and I took in March of 1992. We made it to Elvis’ house, then continued westward as far as Paris, Texas before swinging north and heading for home, for a total of 3,346 miles. It’s a rambling diary written by two guys stuck in a compact pickup truck for seven days, and as any diary should, my writing makes me cringe. Pat’s writing is funny and direct. The pictures we took are taped in and annotated as best we could, including stops at Manassas, the Waffle House, the St. Louis Arch, a land-locked submarine, and the Flying Tigers Museum. It contains some of the only documentation I have of that pickup and time period. I’m going to put it up on my shelf in a place of honor.

Date posted: April 23, 2012 | Filed under books, house | Leave a Comment »



Wow, there’s sidewalk there.

Date posted: April 21, 2012 | Filed under comparison, house | 1 Comment »


Update: I came home from work and the set-top box was displaying the time. I fired up the TV and voila! We have signal. All is right in the world.

Now, we have to bite the bullet and trade in our base-model box for the digital version so that we can use the HDMI cable I fished through the pipe for full 1080p HD signal.

After the 4th of July, I suspect.

Date posted: April 20, 2012 | Filed under house, photo | 1 Comment »

Update on the TV mount project: Last night, I pulled the pipe, brought it outside, and cut in a new access hole under the mounting bolts. Then, I painted it one last time, let it dry, and brought it back inside. In the coal cellar, I spliced a new outlet into the room circuit, and mounted that box to one of the joists. Then, I ran HDMI, data, power, and coax to the pole from the wall, and coax and data to the punchdown block in the basement to the wall.


Then, it was a simple matter of mounting pole, mounting the tv on the stand, and moving the cable box into the den. I connected the coax wire from the basement to the box, then the coax wire from the box to the TV, crossed my fingers, and turned it all on.


What I got was close to success, but not complete. The set-top box didn’t immediately receive signal from the box in the basement, just said something like “please wait while FIOS TV acquires signal”. Looking through Verizon’s less-than-helpful online tutorials, I unplugged the box for 15 seconds, performing a “reset”, then plugged it back in. I was rewarded with about 5 seconds of clear HBO reception before the box petulantly cut itself out. This morning I spent some time on the phone with FIOS support, who confirmed the problem but tried to pin it on the length of the cable run (which is bullshit; it’s only an extra 10 feet, maximum). When he connected me to repairs, I got sales, and then I was hung up on when Sales tried to connect me back to Repairs. So, first of all, fuck you, Verizon. Secondly, I’m going to shorten the cable runs this evening and test the box again; tracing problems with the cable is always the next step. Then, if there’s still no joy, I’m going to hook it up to the old TV and test reception in the old location.

Date posted: April 20, 2012 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »


Date posted: April 16, 2012 | Filed under house | Leave a Comment »

It’s nice to finally be in the mid-70’s after a lot of ups and downs this past month. Today was a glorious 78° or so, which made working outside that much better. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Friday Jen and I hired a babysitter so that we could go see the movie everybody said was amazing and incredible and fantastic: The Hunger Games. We left, two and a half hours later, underwhelmed. The story was handled pretty well, but the director used puke-inducing shakycam for 4/5 of the movie. He also could not direct action sequences for a can of beans. I never knew where anything was, where anybody was going, or what was happening because the camera was MOVING ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.

Saturday started out with a birthday party for one of Finn’s oldest friends. It started at a branch of the Howard County Public Library, which in its sheer size makes our local branch look like a broom closet. They were holding a Children’s Discovery Fair, which was pretty awesome in its size and scope: dozens and dozens of exhibits, displays, and craft tables. Finn made fast friends with the rock lady, then wowed the fur and bones women with her knowledge of fossils and dinosaurs, and then we made a butterfly from a coffee filter, a clothespin, a pipe cleaner, and some food dye. That’s some MacGuyver shit right there. After meeting up with some of the other partygoers, we took in some more exhibits (including balloons, guessing games, and a stuffed porcupine) and then ran a few errands before arriving at the party.


As can be expected, there was food, there were games, there were kids, and then CUPCAKES. Need I say more?

After getting her home and in bed to wind down, I did some futzing around the house and in notime we were walking down the street to meet some friends for dinner at El Nayar, which sadly hasn’t improved in its quality since the last time we were there. Luckily the company was great and we brought in beer. After dinner we walked up and got ice cream, then sat outside and caught up in the evening breeze.

On the way out

Sunday after service across the street, I busted out the ladders and commenced to painting replacement siding on the east wall of the house, as well as caulking, scraping and priming as many windows as I could reach. After a quick visit from a new friend on the Binder Planet, I got all the siding covered, some repair carpentry installed, and then mowed the back lawn.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: April 15, 2012 | Filed under finn, house, Scout | Leave a Comment »


This is last night’s test-fitting of our flatscreen to the mount I designed. It’s not hooked up yet (there’s a little more drilling and some cable routing left to be done) but it’s looking good.

What you can’t see here is the hole drilled through the bottom of the mount matched up to a hole in the floor so that power and signal cables can be routed down through the tube, under the floor, and over to the wall on the right side.

Next steps are to find a compact power cord I can run up through the tube, splicing a power outlet in the coal cellar below, waiting for delivery of a 35-foot HDMI cable, and installing a data drop in the wall behind the shelf on the right (out of frame). All the A/V equipment will live there so we’re not tripping over big black boxes in front of the couch.

Date posted: April 13, 2012 | Filed under house, photo | Leave a Comment »