One of the first things I did when I was having starting problems was to clean the contacts on the battery and then work my way through each lead to its end. After cleaning the contacts on the starter and then replacing that, I pulled the negative lead off the engine and disassembled it as much as possible to clean the leads there. Because the bare wire at the connector was frayed and green I snipped about 2″ from the end, cleaned the parts, and reconnected the lead, but it was about 1″ too short to reach the battery.

I made it out to Advance for a new negative battery cable last night and put it in with little fuss, then left the battery to charge overnight. This morning it fired right up. I pulled it out and let it idle until it was warm, then shut it down—with the cables connected—and let it sit for a few hours. When I went back out and tried it, it fired right up. Another test a few hours later got the same result. So I guess the negative battery cable just decided to crap out? Strange, but I guess it was probably 40 years old at this point. The new one is a fat 12 gauge wire, so it should be plenty strong for the load. I put it back in the garage with everything connected, and if it starts tomorrow I’m calling it fixed.

With a little time to kill this evening I put some snaps on the new (to me) tan soft top over the window posts. This follows the snaps I put in on the black top to keep things snug on the frame, and should make summer driving with the tan top a little more manageable. That top was manufactured with snaps around the bottom perimeter, but I’ve never put the bars on that go with it. Maybe I’ll give that a try this year.

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

Date posted: April 28, 2021 | Filed under Repairs, Scout | Comments Off on Fired Up

Date posted: April 28, 2021 | Filed under hazel | Leave a Comment »

I have good days and bad days as a father. I spend a lot of time trying to model good behavior to Finley, walking her through problem solving, conflict management, critical thinking, and interpersonal relationships. I’ve given these lessons countless times using countless examples, hoping she’ll pick up on and employ some of the strategies I’ve demonstrated. But being a parent means you can show your child the right way to do things a hundred times and then fuck it all up with one meltdown. Part of parenting is also being aware of the meltdown when it occurs, taking a deep breath, and talking oneself down off the ledge in the middle of the red mist. On some days I’m better at all of this and on others I fail miserably.

Yesterday I took Finn out for a quick dinner and some errands. The plan was to get some food and then pick up a negative battery cable for the Scout, which is still suffering from a starting problem I have not been able to diagnose. We got our food, sat in the car and ate, I turned the key to start the Accord, and was met with a weak crank and then a click. All subsequent attempts were met with the same problem. Pulling and reconnecting the battery leads had no effect. Several months ago I had this same problem and replaced the battery (not a small expense) but apparently now it’s a larger issue.

And the fact that I was stuck in a car that wouldn’t start on my way to get a part for another car that wouldn’t start set me over the edge. My mood went to black; peeling my thumbnail backwards on the hood did not help. I texted Jen to ask for a jumpstart. When she pulled up next to us, I was not able to jump the Accord from the CR-V, so I had to call USAA for a tow to our local garage.

Throughout the situation, as I was modeling terrible behavior in front of Finley, I was aware of it, and the fact that I could not correct this terrible behavior made things even worse. We’ve repeatedly shown her how to stop, take deep breaths, jump up and down, and use other strategies to reset her brain; I did none of these. I don’t know where this anger came from. I don’t know why it felt so easy to lose control like I did. And I don’t know why it was so hard to regain that control once it was gone, but I wasn’t happy with myself afterwards—and I’m still not.

For the last thirty years, I’ve been working hard on my temper and how quickly I lose it, but it’s clear I have a long way to go.

Date posted: April 27, 2021 | Filed under life | Leave a Comment »

I linked to Kevin Kelly’s first list of unsolicited advice, so it’s only fair I link to the new one: 99 additional bits of unsolicited advice. Some gems:

  • Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to.
  • Compliment people behind their back. It’ll come back to you.
  • Don’t aim to have others like you; aim to have them respect you.
  • Ignore what others may be thinking of you, because they aren’t.
  • When you are stuck, sleep on it. Let your subconscious work for you.
  • When making something, always get a few extras — extra material, extra parts, extra space, extra finishes. The extras serve as backups for mistakes, reduce stress, and fill your inventory for the future. They are the cheapest insurance.
Date posted: April 27, 2021 | Filed under life, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »


Hazel has slowly been working on a routine as she’s gotten older, and some of her more annoying habits have been smoothing out over time. She used to launch out of bed like an ICBM with the first beams of light over the horizon and pace by the bedroom door whining and crying and nervously scratching herself. I’d shuffle downstairs with one eye open, let her out, and then collapse on the couch praying that I’d be able to go back to sleep for a few minutes before she banged on the door to come inside—or woke up the neighborhood barking her head off.

She’s sleeping in later these days, which is a blessing, and even if I’m up before she is and slowly pick up my phone to do the morning’s calendar/weather/news check (what time do I need to be put together for my first Zoom call/how cold will the morning walk be/what’s happening in the outside world) she’ll clock that I’m moving but won’t stir until she sees I’m actually getting up. She knows what reading the iPhone means, and she knows what the pre-rise bed stretch means. She can read the signs.

So on Saturday morning, we slept in for as long as my bladder would allow, and then crawled out of bed to walk downtown for coffee and muffins. Along the way we passed several signs for yard sales, which is your author’s crack cocaine. The pickings weren’t quite as good as the signs promised, but a nice lady gave Jen a 1996 Maryland Master Gardener Handbook for free along with a thick binder full of her notes; she had to carry it back home before we continued our walk.


After eating, I got out to the greenhouse and cleaned up the plants, pinching off all of the suckers, pruning spare branches, and keeping things moving upward. They all got watered, and I fixed the wooden foundation of the building so that it’s a bit more stable. Meanwhile Jen pruned a bunch of the day lilies around the entrance back and cleaned up the gardens around the house. it’s all looking really good out there—I’m optimistic for a good haul this summer.

We ran out to drop Finn off at a friend’s house and ran some errands at the local Home Depot, and while I was there I left my Moleskine in the basket of the shopping cart and drove off without it. On a good day this might have been only a small setback, but I left my vaccination card and some other stuff in the back pocket, which made it a bad day. Two calls to Customer Service and a trip to the store netted us nothing, so I’ve pretty much given up hope. At least I have a picture of my card.


Sunday we puttered around the house and got a late start on the day. After dropping Finn off at a friend’s house across town Jen and I took Hazel to Second Chance to look for some spare doors. To recap: Our fridge is stuffed in what was originally the hallway coat closet, and during the summer, our un air-conditioned house tends to get stuffy. Having the fridge in the closet with the door closed is a terrible idea, so we’ve had to crack the door open and let the cats wander in and out and generally deal with how shitty that looks for sixteen years. Jen’s idea was to find another door in the same style, punch out the center panels, and replace them with radiator screen so that the fridge gets enough airflow and the door stays shut.

Second Chance is one of the advantages of living near Baltimore. We found a very close twin to our doors on the shelf—only 1.5″ taller and 1/2″ wider, in the same large-over-small panel design. We also found a replacement door to the master bath, something to replace the thin wooden screen door we found on the side of the road back in 2004. We stumbled on a beautiful, sturdy 12-light door with good hardware and wound up getting both for $60. I found a way to stuff them both in the back of the CR-V with the rear window up, scooped the dog into my lap, and Jen drove us home with our prizes.

The weather, which has been pogoing up and down for the last month, is supposed to get up into the 80’s this week, which means Brood X is going to rise from their slumber. I don’t know that we’ll get the same number of cicadas without the tree cover we had in 2004, but I’m sure it’s going to be loud out there.

Date posted: April 26, 2021 | Filed under greenhouse, hazel, house | Leave a Comment »

So: the Scout was not starting yesterday, after having been on the trickle charger since Tuesday. I tried it first thing this morning  after having been on the charger overnight, and got pretty much the same result—a chattering from the starter but not enough juice to keep it going. I started diagnosing by cleaning the contacts on the starter and all the positive wires, with no change. Then I tested the charge at the ignition wire on the starter to see if that was getting juice from the key, which it was. I pulled the battery and brought it to AutoZone to have them test it, which showed no problems. After a trip to the hardware store to buy some supplies, I rigged up a test jumper and bench-tested my two spare starters. The one that was making intermittent noise tested fine so I put the Scout up on jacks, pulled the tire, and swapped it out for the year-old unit.

Crucially, I disconnected the positive battery cable and put the battery on the trickle charger for the hour that took. After hooking it back up, the truck fired right up. I left everything in place, put the tire back on, dropped it onto the pavement, and cleaned up my tools. Then I went to start it up and move it—and had barely any juice.

So, a slow leak in the electrical system? Maybe a critter climbed up underneath on Wednesday afternoon and started munching on wires? Maybe the bulkhead connectors, which always have looked like they were blasted by Godzilla, finally melted?

The sky had turned gray around noon, and it began drizzling as I tried one last time to jump it from the Accord with no luck. So I used gravity and the gentle slope of the driveway to coast it back into the garage, disconnected the positive battery lead, and put the trickle charger on it one more time. Then I came inside and cracked a beer.

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

Date posted: April 24, 2021 | Filed under Repairs, Scout | Comments Off on Trickle-Down

So the good news: the bumper is on! I shot it with a can of etching primer and then a final coat of heavy implement black, and it looks great! The whole front of the truck looks much better now. The license plate looks great in place. Overall I’m stoked with how this worked out.

The problem is that sometime between Tuesday and today, she developed a starting issue. I got absolutely nothing from the starter at first, so I checked the battery with a multimeter, which was giving me a little more than 12 volts. After looking over all the wiring and finding no breaks, I pulled the Accord in and was able to jump the engine with some difficulty—lots of chattering from the starter and then some slow cranking. I let it run in the driveway for the 15 minutes it took to swap bumpers, shut it down, and was rewarded with chattering again. I was meeting Brian in Annapolis for dinner, and, disappointed I couldn’t take the Scout, I set it up on the trickle charger and left. When I got home, nothing had changed.

Tomorrow I’m going to have Jen help me test the leads on the starter, clean them off, and see if that does anything. If that’s no good, I’ll take the battery back to AutoZone and have them replace it for a new one under warranty. And if that doesn’t work… I’m not entirely sure what to do after that.

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

Date posted: April 23, 2021 | Filed under Bumper, Scout | Comments Off on Bumped

Here’s a time-lapse I set up using a GoPro, stitching together photos of the whole process.

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

Date posted: April 21, 2021 | Filed under Bumper, Scout | Comments Off on Timelapse

I was up early to run a remote naming/identity workshop yesterday, which was a limited success. Normally I try to get everyone involved in the same room and through some moderated exercises I get them to use Post-It notes to explore options and discuss their decisions. This time I had to use a virtual tool to accomplish the same thing, and spent the first ten minutes trying to help people troubleshoot the technology. It went OK, but it’s very hard to both gauge the interest of virtual participants and keep them involved; I can run a room with my hands tied but it’s hard to do blindfolded.

In the evening, I was supposed to meet Brian in Annapolis for some dinner and a chat about a business idea he’s got, so I pulled the top down on the Scout, gassed it up, and headed out of town. I’d made it to Glen Burnie when he called and told me the Bay Bridge was closed westbound due to an accident, so I turned around and met the girls for dinner. I was bummed out because it was an absolutely beautiful day to be driving with the top down, and I was looking forward to catching up. Looks like we might be on for Friday evening, which will hopefully be just as warm and sunny.

Date posted: April 21, 2021 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Put this on the list of stuff I kind of already figured: Vaccines won’t protect millions of patients with weakened immune systems.

It’s unclear how many immunocompromised people don’t respond to coronavirus vaccines. But the list seems at least to include survivors of blood cancers, organ transplant recipients, and anyone who takes the widely used drug Rituxan, or the cancer drugs Gazyva or Imbruvica — all of which kill or block B cells, the immune cells that churn out antibodies…

I’m not parading around French-kissing strangers, but I’m obviously going to keep wearing a mask until I see that my white blood cell count is back up.

Date posted: April 20, 2021 | Filed under cancer | Leave a Comment »