Xyla Foxlin is a creator with a YouTube channel that I’ve followed for a while, and she just posted something that resonated with me—a list of the top 10 things she’s learned as an engineer, maker, creator, and human being.

The ones that really hit for me:

1. The longer you make stuff the easier it gets — mostly because you collect knowledge and tools.
I’ve been working with tools for most of my life, to the point where it’s just second nature, and it’s only been in the past ten years or so that I can afford high-dollar specialty equipment for jobs I do constantly. But there isn’t much I wouldn’t tackle—within reason.

3. Trust in yourself to figure it out. Developing the confidence to problem-solve as you take things on is invaluable.
For me, that confidence bore itself out when I took on the Travelall project, specifically the cowl vent replacement, because I had no backup plan. But believing in myself was key to going as far as I did and being able to bring it to completion. And that problem-solving is the most gratifying part of the whole process.

5. Everything is fixable.
I’m still working on this one, but my additional wisdom is: when you know something is broken or came out wrong, step back. Take an hour or a day, and have a think about it. Often I find that my first solution for fixing things isn’t the best one, and I need time and distance to come up with a better plan.

6. Build a community of friends who have knowledge and tools.
I’d say the corollary here is to then develop into the person who has the knowledge and tools. I’ve got truck friends who I would drop everything for to help, because they’ve been my mentors for more than just dumb truck stuff. One of the sayings around the antique car world is that we have to get young kids interested in our hobby to keep it from dying out; truer words have never been spoken.

7. Invest in personal protection gear that is comfortable and safe.
I did this with safety glasses and I now need to upgrade my dust mask situation.

10. Skill takes practice. Don’t compare yourself to the people you see online; just get out there and do it, and learn from your mistakes.

Date posted: January 30, 2024 | Filed under life, list | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I spent more money in one day than I have since I bought this house, and while part of me is thrilled, the other part is a little queasy. In the morning over coffee, I locked in plane tickets for a trip to Portugal in the early summer, right after Finn gets out of school. We’ve got friends who own an AirBnB in the city of Porto, and we locked in a date with them last week. I’ve got a line on a house sitter for Hazel, and I’m making those inquiries this week to reserve his time. Normally, I’m lousy at planning things like this out far in advance, but I’m trying to learn from past mistakes this year, and when these opportunities arise, you have to jump on them.

In the afternoon, after careful consideration and an assist from Dr. Gebler in the negotiation phase, we bought a new car to replace the Accord. This is a 2024 Honda CR-V EX in Canyon River Blue, optioned out with the same features the 2006 has (electric everything, moonroof, cruise, etc.) plus heated front seats, an electric driver’s seat, dual climate controls, lane-keeping assist, and a backup camera. We did a quick test drive to make sure the windshield didn’t make Jen sick, then pulled the trigger and got it for $50 over dealer invoice. The salesman couldn’t have been nicer, and frankly the process was much smoother than I was expecting. The only hiccup was waiting for the detailing crew to get it ready for me. After everyone else left for home (it was a complicated commute involving two cars and late homework). I drove it home solo while talking to Mom with the hands-free phone hookup and felt like I was on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. And for an automatic, it’s really nice to drive.

Future plans for it include aftermarket remote start, a set of Honda rails and roof racks, trailer hitch, and rubber floor mats throughout. And I’m not a fan of the stock wheels; I’ll have to keep an eye out for a set of these at the pick and pull yards around town.

Meanwhile, the ’06 is in the driveway patiently waiting for new tires and a clutch rebuild, which will come first on the list once money issues get sorted out.

Date posted: January 30, 2024 | Filed under cars, general, honda, travel | Leave a Comment »

Over the last two months we’ve had a series of rental cars while we waited for the insurance check, and now that my work schedule has freed up, we used the time to do some test-driving Saturday afternoon. I’ll compare and contrast the rentals with the two candidates here, as it’s been helpful to put them all in context with each other, even though some of them are not apples-to-apples. From the top:

Chevy Trailblazer RS
This was the first rental we were given after the Accord was slain; the guy up in Syracuse offered me a Mustang convertible first, but we were hauling too much stuff home and I’d never have been able to fit it all inside. The Trailblazer  was the sport model and was pretty well loaded, so it set a high bar for the cars that followed. It’s classified as a compact SUV in the same family as the CR-V and RAV4, but it felt cramped inside, and the visibility behind the B pillars was abysmal. We found it pleasant to drive, with lots of pickup, and it got excellent gas mileage. The infotainment connectivity was also top-notch—Chevy’s implementation of CarPlay was very intuitive and easy to learn. I’m not in the market for a domestic, but Chevy made a good effort here.

Chevy Malibu
This was a quickie rental, mainly just to get me to and from a work project outside of Dulles, so I wasn’t as picky about exactly what the car was. It did all of the things a sedan normally does, and was pleasant to drive, if unremarkable. It was the mid-level trim level, so it had a lot of the same features as the Trailblazer, but the way they integrated CarPlay into the gauge cluster wasn’t as refined, and the interior ergonomics weren’t as well-considered as the Trailblazer even though there’s more space to work with.

Ford Edge
This is classed as a mid-size SUV, so it’s a bit larger than CR-Vs and RAV4s, and I did feel the size difference behind the wheel. It had plenty of pickup but I heard the engine a little more than in the Trailblazer, which was sort of shocking. The gas mileage was better than I was expecting but not on the same level as a compact. The interior was more roomy but I also found a lot of wasted space that could have been utilized better. CarPlay integration was good, and the iPad-sized dash display spoiled me completely for any car display afterwards. But Jen didn’t have many good words for this car when we sent it back, and I would have to agree.

Nissan Rogue
I asked for a CR-V when I was at Budget, but a language barrier with the staff meant I drove this off the lot. I haven’t been interested in a Nissan in decades, and I have to say this car proves my bias out. It’s perfectly adequate for transportation, but nothing I would seek out to own. The engine is peppy and quick (the car is equipped with Sport mode) but I find the wheels break loose whenever I give it the beans. The interior is a mixture of interesting choices and wasted space. The wheel feels good in my hands, and the controls are all easily reachable, but CarPlay integration is absolute garbage and the interface on the touchscreen is terrible. And the shift knob thing is an annoying mixture of push-it-forward push-it-back-click-the-button-is-it-in-gear and then realizing the infotainment system thinks you’re trying to use the phone and locks you out of gear. Fuck this car.

Honda CR-V EX
The reigning champion in this household, and the one to beat. The 2024 is a mixture of good choices and some questionable ones. We liked the seat position and visibility from all angles, and the wheel is comfortable in my hands. The car feels good on the road and I was able to figure out where the corners were immediately. The seats are comfortable and this model adds electric adjustment for the driver. Actually, this car is optioned almost exactly like our ’06, with some additions: heated seats, dual climate control, and a turbocharged engine. The display is surprisingly small but I’ve read good things about their CarPlay integration, so I’m not worried there. Jen liked how it drove and how it felt. I wasn’t as impressed with some of the usage of interior space, which our ’06 excels at, which is my only complaint. Oh, and I hate the stock wheels this comes with.

Toyota RAV4
We asked for the midlevel model but the salesman put us in the luxury hybrid model, which was annoying. It felt fine, and the visibility was good from all angles, but the example we drove had warps in the windshield that made Jen feel sick. (Interesting, as this hasn’t happened in four successive rental cars). The car drove fine, but we don’t know how the gas engine would feel in real-time driving, and our experience with the salesman doesn’t have us interested in going back. It was fine, I guess. One thing that’s interesting is that the midlevel RAV4 isn’t optioned as well as the CR-V: no heated seats, no moonroof, and a couple of other things we would have to pay extra for, and the MSRP is higher. So, no thanks, Toyota.

Honda Ridgeline
We’re not considering this but figured we’d try one while we were there. The truck is clearly bigger than everything else we’ve driven, but was designed very well inside. It felt good in my hands and I knew where the corners were at all times, but it’s an adjustment to go to a full-full-sized truck. The interior was very well thought out and I liked the driving position as well as the seat; my only beef there was that the view out the back window was like looking through a keyhole. The rear seats fold up onto the back wall to make space on the rear deck. Out back the deck is bigger than I thought it would be, but the real feature is a lockable well under the deck larger than a cooler (but set up like one with a drain plug) and a dual-axis tailgate. If we were in the market for a pickup I would definitely consider this.

So we’re going back for a CR-V sometime this week. I have to get the financing sorted out on Monday, but we’ve got a healthy down-payment ready so I think we can get the monthly payments to a reasonable place. Then I’ll hit up Honda Parts for a roof rack, and keep an eye on the local pick-and-pull for a better-looking set of wheels.

Date posted: January 28, 2024 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

I’m one of those guys who has a stack of boxes in the basement that were used to package electronics. Phones, laptops, tablets, watches—I’ve got every one of them down there in a stack. When the thing is unboxed, I collect all of the manuals and wrappers and tuck it away neatly to collect dust downstairs. It feels strange to throw them out after spending all that money, and many of them are objets d’art in their own right.

I’ve also got several bags of decommissioned camera gear: mostly old Nikon D series stuff that hasn’t seen daylight in years. It’s all so old now that I can’t get much money for it; the camera bodies (a D90 and D50) are ancient technology  and the glass is mostly entry-level stuff. I don’t know why I’m holding on to it, but I also don’t know what to do with most of it. I donated a lot of my Dad’s ancient gear and I’ve sold what I could on Craigslist, but there’s still a bunch of it kicking around.

With that in mind, after nine years in the Fuji ecosystem I decided it was time to sell off my gear, as I wasn’t really using it anymore. I had been shooting with an X-T10, which is the cheaper version of the pro X-T1 from 2015, and while I enjoyed my time with it we never really, uh, clicked. Looking back I realize I spent way too much time trying to adjust to how Fuji was doing things instead of finding a camera setup that worked the way I liked, and choices like placing a giant ISO dial on the top and other important settings buried in the menu systems never made much sense to me. Their lenses were beautiful (if sometimes too slow) and I have nine years of beautiful photos to show for it, but it’s time to say goodbye while the gear is still worth something.

So I went to the basement and dusted off all of the Fuji boxes I’d carefully kept, repackaged four lenses and the camera body, as well as extra accessories I’d picked up along the way, and packed them neatly into a larger box for a reseller to appraise and exchange for cash. I felt bad leaving the package sitting behind the counter at the FedEx store, after taking that rig with me almost everywhere for nine years, but it also feels good to relieve myself of stuff and work on a little personal growth.

When I got home I set up another quote for two of the Nikon lenses and a flash unit: they offered a little over $100. I think I’ll take them up on it, just to get the shit out of here.

Date posted: January 26, 2024 | Filed under photography | Leave a Comment »

WRI’s big Stories to Watch event went off well, with only a minor audio hiccup that was out of my control.  Looks like we had more registrants but slightly fewer live attendees this year, which is fine, I suppose. This year I was even more heavily involved, to the point where I cut down and edited the four insert videos within the larger presentation. I’m glad I bought this new laptop, because the company equipment I have here would not handle the file sizes I was dealing with.

To shoot the prerecorded elements, we returned to the studio that shot it last year. They commissioned a behind the scenes reel during the production, which was really cool. Usually on these things I’m so focused on what I’m doing I never see it from the other side, so this was fun to watch.

Also, I’m noticing the fact that I’m losing hair at the top and rear of my scalp. Super.

Date posted: January 24, 2024 | Filed under WRI | Leave a Comment »

Another chapter in this-is-why-we-can’t-have-nice-things: Fruit Stripe Gum is being discontinued. I spent many, many hours in the back seat of various large American station wagons on the way to or from my grandparents’ houses, and usually Mom or Dad would hand my sister and I a fresh pack of Fruit Stripe gum for the ride. Because it was what it was, the flavor only lasted until the end of the driveway, but damn that stuff tasted good.

Date posted: January 22, 2024 | Filed under life, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

So I got some stuff done this weekend. The weather has been brutally cold so I’m not that interested in spending time outside, but I did venture out there for some tasks. In rough order:

  • Went out for brunch at a place we’ve never been to: Kimchi fries and bulgogi on my huevos rancheros. I don’t think any of us ate again until dinner.
  • Reorganized the basement shelving (consolidated old brewing equipment, moved similar items together, swept under old shelves, generally straightened up). It’s amazing how soothing I found this.
  • Punted on dinner and ordered Indian food from down the street. This restaurant is on its 17th grand re-opening, so the food was OK—but definitely better than trying to cook something ourselves.
  • Enjoyed both Saturday playoff games, which were entertaining. The girls actually sat on the couch with me for most of Packers/49ers, which was fun!
  • Installed a replacement steam radiator valve, replacing the replacement which did not work for shit (it basically let the radiator get as hot as possible, which made the bedroom uninhabitable). Verdict: the new one is working extremely well. I will have to buy six more of these.
  • Bundled up the dog and myself for a coffee walk Sunday morning. She looks dapper in her Christmas sweater! we did a short walk because I put on one layer too many and was overheating quickly. (Jen got me a proper set of thermal leggings for Christmas, and with those, smartwool socks, and an UnderArmour ColdGear shirt, I was sweating).
  • Bundled up and headed out to the garage to finish welding in a third patch on the spare fender and ground it down to (mostly) smooth metal. It’s going to take some filler to clean up. I bought a surplus flight suit from eBay a while back which is doing an excellent job of keeping warmth in and hot metal shavings out.
  • Learned that spark plug holes in cast iron US engine blocks designed in the 1960’s are tapped metric. I would have bet my house this was not the case.
  • Dug out the garage doors and ran up the Scout. She was happy.
  • Scraped and shoveled the front walk again for the elementary kids tomorrow morning.
  • Posted a new set of designs to Threadless, made some money!
  • Realized I’d never moved any of my font collection over to the new laptop(!?); rectified that situation quickly.
Date posted: January 21, 2024 | Filed under life, list | Leave a Comment »

I’ve had an idea for a T-shirt design bubbling in my head for a while now, and while I was working on video editing (and waiting for files to render) last week, I put it together in Illustrator:  a profile view of a Travelall with the script I’ve already built underneath. This time I built two designs—one for light-colored shirts and one for dark, which is more work but avoids a pet peeve of mine, when printers just reverse out a design in white and the negative spaces aren’t correctly negative. The other big leap I took was to post it up in a couple of Travelall-specific groups on Facebook, the first time I’ve posted there (other than Marketplace) in years. Within 24 hours I sold seven shirts and got two requests for custom truck colors and one for a coffee mug, which was easy to do because of the way I set the file up. Here’s to hoping the orders keep coming in; I think I might do a Scout II next—until the VW group sends me a cease-and-desist.

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

Date posted: January 21, 2024 | Filed under Scout, Travelall | Comments Off on Commerce

I stumbled on a list of movie watches by accident the other day and quickly passed over 95% of the stuff shown there—James Bond’s unobtanium Omegas, weird RDJ/Iron Man novelty watches, unaffordable Rolexes—and stopped at an interesting field watch from, of all places, a Rowan Atkinson TV show, made by MWC:

It’s a pretty standard field watch layout but I like the crown and bezel, and it’s remarkably affordable. However, it’s also super-thick for some strange reason, and 40mm diameter, which is the absolute largest I’d consider for a watch. Looking through their other offerings, there’s a really nice 40’s pattern British field watch with a second hand dial that’s got some more personality at 39mm in diameter:

The website says it’s 1mm thicker than the first watch, which means it would be pretty bulky. I’ll keep an eye out on used prices, but as with lots of other things (jeans, cars, glasses, bathing suits) this is the kind of thing you have to try on in person before you buy. Interestingly, MWC was actually founded as a partnership including Albert Wajs, one half of the company who produced my estate sale diver. Unfortunately their only dealers are in Minnesota, California, and on eBay, so I’d have to take a chance if I really wanted one. I then fell down a horological rabbit hole and found a beautiful 39mm pilot that was for sale in 2012 and apparently hasn’t been made since; that was my sign that it was time to stop.

Date posted: January 20, 2024 | Filed under watches | Leave a Comment »

We had our first real snowfall in something like 700 days, so naturally we had to get out there and get some sledding in. I sanded and waxed the rails on our wooden sled, dug out the car, and we headed over to the local community college to meet up with the Geblers and get some runs in.



Greased Lightning did not disappoint. I had an envious kid ask me if our fast wooden sled steered; I told him to hit an antique store and get one for cheap. 




On my third run or so I ran into a jump someone made, and the sled stopped while I kept on going. Laughing, I picked myself back up and walked back up the hill. Later I realized that landing on the snow had broken the zipper on my jacket and shredded several of the down pockets at the bottom, as well as popped one of the lenses out of my glasses that were in the pocket.

A few runs later, Finn drove our plastic sled directly into a tree and gave herself some mild abrasions on her chin. We returned home to get some hot chocolate and attend to the patient. I went online and found The North Face Renewed, where they repair and re-home used gear. I got a replacement jacket for $100, which is half of what a new Patagonia is going for (and from what I’ve read those don’t hold up very well). I’ve had this jacket for (5? 6?) seasons and it’s been great, so I figure it will be the new work jacket.



Date posted: January 19, 2024 | Filed under family, finn, photo | Leave a Comment »