Archive for August, 2013

A Frustrating Afternoon

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Our garage door opener was broken, and I needed to fix it.

A couple of days ago, our Genie garage door opener started acting funny. It wouldn’t close all the way, inexplicably reversing at some point on it’s way down. With a bit of persistence, it could eventually be made to close. Afterwards, it seemed like it was OK.

When the problem recurred a second time, I started investigating. That’s when things went downhill fast. I thought perhaps the “force close” setting was off, so I tried adjusting that. The power started cutting out entirely for the board. I eventually ended up calling Genie customer support and after about an hour on the phone and trying various things and debugging, it was determined that the circuit board had failed.

The unit was out of warranty and the support person told me they could send out a new board, but it was $85 dollars or so. She advised me that with the age of the opener, my money might be better spent on a new more modern opener since the motor was near the end of its life as well. After checking the prices, I ended up following her advice.

Today, I spent the afternoon installing the new garage door opener. It’s one of Genie’s SilentMax models, which is belt driven. I’d have preferred the chain version, but the belt versions were all that was available at the hardware stores. The install wasn’t overly difficult and most of the tedious marking and measuring had already been done to install the previous unit. It only took a couple hours for me to take the old one down and get the new one up in its place. I’ll add that the instructions supplied with the unit were excellent.

I then followed the instructions in the manual for setting up the unit. The process consists of setting the fully closed point, the fully open point and then testing the force close. The force close test makes sure the unit will stop closing and then reverse and open if there is an obstruction in the way of the door. I couldn’t get the closed limit set properly so that the force close test worked. So I kept incrementally adjusting the down limit. The problem was, I could here the motor straining under the load, so I couldn’t keep doing this.

It was while I was struggling with that whole sequence when I heard a loud pop. Shortly after that, the carriage that serves as a means to connect the door to the belt stopped travelling with the belt, and I realized that in less than a day, I’d broken the damn thing.

My hope was I could possibly fix the carriage, but after another call to Genie, I was disabused of that notion. It was broken, no fixing it. The only good is it is under warranty and they sent me a replacement carriage, which won’t be here until later next week.

So after an afternoon’s worth of work, I was back where I’d started. Our garage door opener is broken, and I need to fix it.

Let There Be Light!

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I’m not much of a photographer, but I think these will do.

Stop with the Gloating about Riggs vs King

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ESPN has an interesting story about the famous “Battle of the Sexes” between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. For those that don’t know, that’s the famous tennis match in which Billy Jean King defeated Riggs in straight sets and changed the arc of history between men and women.

I’ve seen a lot of references to this story in my Twitter feed today, most of them some variation on “HA HA! Riggs threw the match! In your FACE women!” To this I say, “Meh.” Number one, the article is far from definitive. Aside from mentioning that many tennis people believed Riggs threw it (Riggs himself never admitted as much), the entire things hinges on the word of an 80-year-old man who supposedly overheard a bunch of mobsters talking. Even more so, for the past 40 years, he’s kept quiet for fear of retribution or something and he’s the only guy in the world that knows this. That’s pretty thin.

Further, if we assume for a moment that it is true, what’s to be gained by gloating at this point? Sure, if it was fixed, then knowing the truth is I suppose interesting. But when things counted, the entire world believed otherwise. If perceptions were in fact changed (and I have no reason to doubt they were), then does knowing now automatically undo everything the match did for women and sports? Is it the gloater’s contention that it should be undone because it was built on a lie? I just don’t see the point of gloating about this news.

So at best, those gloating are revealing themselves as preening a-holes. At worst, they’re fools getting taken for a ride. Not exactly a couple of great choices.

Something I did learn from the story is that King was not the number one ranked female player at the time. A woman named Margaret Court was and Riggs had played her 4 months prior to King and thoroughly whooped her. That was the match the that pulled King into the mix.

One thing I’d always wondered was, why did everyone think a 55-year old man losing to a woman was a big deal? Think about it- King was 30 at the time and at the top of her game. Riggs wasn’t. So why was it so monumental when she beat him?

The Margaret Court match is why. With that match, Riggs established that he was fully capable of not just winning, but dominating a top-ranked woman player.

As for my own opinion regarding the article’s theis, I find the evidence put forth in the article compelling, but not totally convincing. Mostly, it’s just another cord of wood for the “Battle of the Sexes” fire.

Adenium Blogging

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It’s actually been a tough year for my Desert Rose plants. I changed the location of my largest one, a Uranus variant, because it is difficult to move around. I thought it might do well out in our front yard, unfortunately it hasn’t gotten enough sun to cause it to bloom. With the peak of the Summer well behind us, this will end up being an off year for it.

Earlier this year, I lost my White Desert Rose. It just seemed to rot out inexplicably.

That leaves my Red and Black Orchid varieties. The Red is pushing a few more blooms, and the Black Orchid has finally bloomed:

Still, overall it’s been an off year for my adeniums.

An “Ehh” First Day

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I suppose the rain this morning pretty well captured the kid’s mood. They went through their routines- breakfast, making sandwiches, backpacks ready, a little morning cartoons. Neither of them was particularly pleased though.

The lass griped about he pictures- somehow she’d gotten some food on her dress. Rather than addressing he problem, she insisted there was none. We eventually opted to turn the TV off on them this morning to drive home the point that the bad attitude wasn’t appreciated.

On the ride in, the lass whined about recess and gym and why everyone like those times during school. She thought they were stupid and didn’t like them. Continuing with all the happy talk, the boy complained about being stuck in “smelly, sweaty rooms” all day. When we finally arrived at the dropoff, the boy stalked out the door, closing it in his sister’s face without so much as a backwards glance. With his head down, he might as well have been marching off to prison.

The lass brightened a little at that point. She opened the door her brother had closed in her face and hopped out without complaint. She turned and waved at the Wife and I, a big smile on her face. Then she was off, and we headed home.

By that point the rain had stopped falling, but the clouds remained.

A Quiet Final Day

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In contrast to most of the rest of the Summer, the kids spent their final day playing quietly. I had to go participate in sexual harassment training at the school I tutor for, so I left them for a couple of hours this morning. When I left, they were starting a game of Monopoly. When I returned, a couple of hour later, they were finishing that game of Monopoly.

They continued playing, changing board games as their patience with each other began wearing thin over a new game of Monopoly. In the meantime, I had a little lunch and then tended to some outside chores that needed doing. I’ve replanted grass over all the areas of the lawn that I’d wrecked during the Great Patio Project of the Summer so I’ve been tending to that with water and the like while waiting for the initial sprigs of grass to show up. I told them I’d probably be going into the pool for a bit after I was done.

This news got them outside for a bit. They were in the pool well before I was, eagerly awaiting my arrival in the pool. They’ve invented a new game they call “Shark”. Original, I know. It’s basically a form of under water tag. The person that’s “it” swims around but can only tag someone when they and their target are both submerged. We play with eye goggles one, so it’s actually quite difficult to get tagged. None the less, we managed several rounds until it became too cool to continue.

Plus, it was time to start prepping for dinner. We wanted the boy to attend martial arts class tonight to make things easier for later this week. I’d missed my own usual Monday morning class because of the training I’d gone to, so I decided to attend classes tonight as well. The boy has been participating in teen classes lately because the children’s classes have nothing left to offer him at the junior apprentice level. So my participating tonight meant we got to take a class together, which he seemed to take as a novelty. Anyway, in order for him and I to make class, I had to get dinner going a little earlier than usual. While I took care of dinner, the kids went back to playing their games.

We returned home for class to find the Wife and the lass curled up on the couch reading together. They had already done some prep for tomorrow morning, getting lunches and snacks ready. The boy had to go take a shower, then he got a little ice cream- a final summer treat before the long slog of the year began. Afterwards, he also took care of some of the formalities for the next day, assembling part of his lunch and making sure his school bag was ready to go.

They were both in bed by 8. The Wife is in bed now, and I’ll be following suit shortly. The Summer was, in many respects, too short. For all the parental joking about “relief” that school is back, the house will have a quiet about it that will take a little getting used to. On the way home from martial arts tonight, the boy said, a little glumly, “I guess a lot of parents will be happy come tomorrow.” I thought for a moment and then told him it probably wasn’t quite like that. I said Summer’s are a fun time for everyone since we all get to spend a little more time together doing things, even if it’s just hanging out together. Summer is a nice break from the routine of schools- the dropoffs, the pickups, the homework, the activities.

When I finished explaining this to him, he seemed a little more pleased about the circumstances. I suppose it never occurred to him that, while he and his sister were busy enjoying their Summer vacation, the Wife and I were as well.

Pool Chemistry

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We had a pool growing up and I actually did a fair amount of the maintenance for it, especially as I got older. So when we got our own pool this Summer, I had a fair amount of practical experience with pool care. Still, there is a difference between being the laborer versus being the guy responsible. Then, I was the laborer. Now, I’m the guy in charge of the pool.

My first learning experience was with our sand filter. Growing up, we had a DE filter and it basically had 2 operating modes: filter and backwash. The new sand filter has filter, backwash, circulate, rinse, closed, winter and a couple others I’m forgetting. When I started running it I had it set to “circulate”, which seemed reasonable at the time because I hadn’t noticed the “filter” option. I realized something was wrong the first time I vacuumed and realized nothing was getting accomplished.

Filter issues aside, the biggest deal with a pool is chemistry. Namely, maintaining pH, alkalinity and free chlorine levels such that swimming is a pleasant experience. All three of those are, to a certain degree, interrelated. Arguably, the most important of those is the free chlorine level. That’s what keeps the pool clean and sanitary. The trick is, too much and the pool’s liner or filter life can be greatly shortened. Too little and the water is not that pleasant to swim in.

Fortunately, we got off to a good start and never had any problems, though I did have one minor issue that made me go to the web looking for answers. As part of our “kit” we got from the installer, our filter has a chlorinator. Within the first couple of weeks, I went through 2 cartridges of chlorines tablets for the chlorinator. I asked at the store if that was normal and they indicated that a cartridge should be lasting me a month or so.

So, I started my search and came across Trouble Free Pool, which is full of useful information about pool care and chemistry. Since I wasn’t having any real water issues, mainly a chlorine level issue, I opted to try the advice from there using liquid chlorine to maintain appropriate chlorine levels. I haven’t spent any money on the fancy test kits recommended there(I use test strips), but I’ve saved myself some money not buying expensive chlorine packs while still maintaining crystal clear water.

As for Trouble Free Pool, they’ve got a wealth of information there about pool care and the forums are a civil and an informative place to find help for dealing with problems of all sorts. It’s definitely worth a look see for pool related issues.

I Want Cake Now!

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If you’ve seen something funnier than this today, I envy you:

Ending the Summer with a Flourish

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The first day of school is next Tuesday. Why it starts on Tuesday instead of Monday I have no idea. Considering that weather has extended the past several school year significantly due to days cancelled, I’d think they’d try to front load the year a bit more. But I’m not in charge. So school starts on Tuesday.

They also get Friday off as well.

With school vacation fast coming to its end, the kids are getting every opportunity to continue enjoying it. The weather has been absolutely fantastic for awhile now. How fantastic? If summer weather were typically like this, I might actually not cringe at the thought of Summer’s arrival. Warm days with highs around 80, cool nights with temps in the low 50’s and even the 40’s sometimes. Little to no humidity, which is the typical hallmark of New England summers. The past several weeks have been this way.

So they spent today in the pool for the afternoon. They’ve thoroughly enjoyed the addition of the pool this year. I have as well. It’s been very refreshing a number of times after finishing outdoor chores.

Tonight, the boy is sleeping over at a friend’s for a birthday party. It isn’t the normal sort of sleepover either. They’ve setup tents for sleeping outdoors tonight and they also setup their own “drive-in” movie. They took bedsheets and erected a big screen and are using a projector so the boys can watch. There’s a campfire as well as cake. A pretty good setup.

The lass her time with Mom and Dad at one of the local fairs that started today. After dropping the boy off, we took her there and spent the evening walking around and seeing the sights at the fair. She watched tractor pulls and lawnmower races as well as checking out livestock. Plus, she got to eat fair food. Always a hit- except at the weighin the next morning.

The fun doesn’t end for them today either. Tomorrow, the boy has a practice at his dojang, after which he’s invited to go to one of the instructor’s house for a pool party. The lass isn’t left out of the action either. She’s going to a friend’s birthday/ pool party as well. Possibly the only thing better than a pool in their own backyard is a pool in someone else’s backyard.

Not sure what Sunday or Monday have in store. But I’m sure we’ll try to make the most of it. Because next Tuesday, it’s time to get back to work.

What to Make of This Followup

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A couple of days ago, I related what I considered to be an unusual exchange in our school’s office. My brother commented:

As a Connecticut resident, you should be able to think of at least one horrific reason why office personnel may be a little less lenient with visitors now a days. I am not saying you should be suspected of anything, but it is always the people that people least suspect. Additionally, I find it encouraging that someone in that office has the guts to stand up and say something that puts everyone on notice that “we are watching”. Would you rather have them not notice?

You may be known, but how many times does the crazy person have to calmly walk into the office before everyone is comfortable with that individual too?

Liability is a scary thing, and when the lives of children are at stake, it might be best to support efforts at security and encourage a second glance or an extra question. Unfortunately, it only takes one person letting something slide to change the course of a life forever.

I received another comment highlighting this article as well, which was something I was aware of.

I had considered this but didn’t bother writing it up in the original post. I might as well address it here.

So, assuming it is part of some kind of new security protocol, allow me to say I’m more concerned now than before. Keep in mind, I had already gained access to the building. Not only that, I had walked straight into the office. School shooters are not rational people, and this “security protocol”, if it is such, seems to have been concocted by someone expecting rational behavior. If I’d been armed and intending to do damage, then I was at the point where all I had to do was start shooting.

I don’t think it’s too hard to game out that trying to account for everything an irrational person is a near impossibility. Perhaps I’d planted a bomb. Perhaps my target was down the hall from the office- remember, I was already inside and no one met me until I reached the office.

It’s scary to think about this stuff for too long because it quickly becomes apparent just how easy a target a school is. I would say 99.99% of the time, the person walking through the front door is a parent with some kind of legitimate business. Administrative people need parent’s help and generally don’t want to create too many hassles for them. To impose enough obstacles so as to dissuade an irrational person would impose serious inconveniences on the 99.99%. Personally, the one thing I think would work is armed guard, or making it known that there are teachers with concealed carry permits within the building. But that’s an argument for another post.

So, based on it’s complete ineffectiveness, I’m going to say I hope this wasn’t part of the school’s new security measures. Thus, why I didn’t mention this in the previous post.

My best guess is there’s some kind of new office protocol that hasn’t been communicated to us, the parents, yet. Perhaps they were saving it for the 1st day of school packets. My second best guess is this woman is a new hire and she was just carrying out her job. Clumsily, I might add.

Straight-talk or Jerk?

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John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame points out this article on speaking in tongues and opines:

Hard to believe The New York Times ran this piece of claptrap on their op-ed page. “We” don’t speak in tongues; religious nutjobs do, and they do it because they believe in superstitious nonsense. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that there is a high correlation between tongue-speakers and climate change deniers and creationist “science” school curriculum pushers — people who are doing real and genuine harm to our society and the planet.

Sometime after this, he added the following update:

UPDATE: As a perusal of my (and @daringfireball’s) Twitter replies will show, this post was, I suppose unsurprisingly, controversial. One word I’ve seen from those whom I presume to be Pentecostals or other evangelical Christians is “hate” — examples here, here, here, here, here, here. A lack of respect is not hatred; I do not respect superstitious nonsense. But this framing — equating lack of respect with hatred — is what keeps many from criticizing nonsensical religious views.

I haven’t bothered to copy over the links in the original update. See Gruber’s original post if interested. I’d recommend reading the original NYT article at the link above, if for no other reason than to contrast it with Gruber’s disrespect.

Gruber, I think, hangs himself pretty well in the update:

… A lack of respect is not hatred; …

No, I suppose it isn’t. But it’s not much of an improvement either, especially for someone who likes to consider himself so enlightened. Politically, speaking, Gruber is a liberal and one of the most oft repeated charges liberals bring against conservatives is the latter’s lack of respect for other cultures and many things liberals hold dear. Similarly, conservatives charge liberals with lacking respect for certain traditions and institutions that conservatives tend to hold dear. Last I checked this “lack of respect” wasn’t exactly resulting in a great deal of comity between liberals and conservatives. So the fact that Gruber is trying to draw a distinction between “hate” and “lack of respect” in his defense is pretty thin. Fine, his commenters in this case accuse him of “hate” and he’s playing a silly game of “Gotcha” pointing out he doesn’t “hate.” Roger that. He just totally doesn’t respect them. I’m sure they are assuaged.

I also note this line:

… “We” don’t speak in tongues; religious nutjobs do, …

Here, Gruber has setup the oft used “other” construct. But it’s more than that. By labeling one group as “religious nutjobs,” he’s implying that the other group, which Gruber is clearly a member of, is the normal, enlightened group. While I think that’s perfectly consistent with “lack of respect,” it’s hardly consistent with being tolerant, a typical source of pride for the enlightened.

Having read the original article, I’d personally go with labelling tongue speakers as “different” and leave it at that. No, I’m not about to start speaking in tongues, but that doesn’t automatically make me better than those that do. If I had a friend who spoke in tongues, it would certainly be a sort of curiosity to me. I might even think it weird; but, I wouldn’t lose respect for someone who believes in something like speaking in tongues. I find it hard to believe Gruber could make the same statement. Then again, perhaps some of Gruber’s best friends are tongue speakers…

Finally, as a form of justification, Gruber says:

I’ll bet my bottom dollar that there is a high correlation between tongue-speakers and … — people who are doing real and genuine harm to our society and the planet.

I suppose I should note that the “people doing harm” that Gruber specifically names are climate-change deniers and creationists. More of the “other” construct, along with some helpful labels! Gruber offers no support for his “enlightened” hunch- I’d take his bet.

As to the charge of “doing real and genuine harm to our society”, again I find that pretty thin. Gruber is a speaker all over the world. I’d refer him to this article about the actual real damage he’s doing flying all over the world, as opposed to the supposed damage his “other” is doing. No doubt, he’ll say how he doesn’t fly “that” much as his defense. That or I’m sure he gets the “Enlightened Group Discount” on damage.

So, enlightened people damage the planet as well. As for society? Gruber voted for President Obama, I’d bet my bottom dollar. I’ve got two words: “surveillance state”. Here’s two more: ’nuff said.

Consider this a shining example of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”- shoot, spoke in tongues there.

From a broad perspective, Gruber thinks himself as a “non-bullshitter.” A straight talker that tells it like he sees it based on available evidence. When it comes to computers and technology, he’s often quite good at the schtick. But in this case, he’s confused his strong opinion about how he thinks the world works for “truth,” a common mistake for the “enlightened.” Ultimately, in this instance, he’s not a straight-talker, just another disrespectful jerk.

This Guy Sounds Like an Expert

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I was cruising through some sports articles in my RSS app on the Nook when the following headline grabbed my attention: John Gruden says he would trade a first-round pick to get Kirk Cousins. It led me to a Yahoo Sports opinion piece by Anwar Richardson.

In the article, Mr. Richardson isn’t impressed with Gruden’s judgement. He notes that Gruden only ever developed veteran quarterbacks in the league like Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson, but claims he (Gruden) never had the patience to develop young quarterbacks like Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski. Finally, he finishes with the following:

Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2012, played well when Robert Griffin III missed a game last season due to a knee injury. The backup completed 26-of-37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns during a 38-21 victory against Cleveland. If an NFL team offered a first-round pick for Cousins, it would mean they believed he was better than every quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft class, which could include Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. That just does not seem likely, considering NFL teams had a chance to just take Cousins last year and passed until Washington took him with pick No. 102.

Anyone with any kind of memory for great-college-quarterbacks-that-flopped-in-the-NFL should immediately recognize that his guy doesn’t have any capacity for reasoning. His a short list of celebrated college quarterbacks that never made it: Tim Tebow, Ryan Leaf, Gino Torretta, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Vinny Testaverde, Kerry Collins and Danny Wuerffel. So the notion that a current backup with one really good pro-game under his belt doesn’t have a better resume than a bunch of college stars is pretty thin gruel.

Also, he claims that Gruden didn’t have the patience to develop young talent. That’s possible. It’s also possible that Gruden quickly realized those guys would never make it. Considering that the 2 guys Mr. Richardson names aren’t even recognizable names makes me think the latter, as opposed to Mr. Richardson’s thesis.

None of this is to say that Kirk Cousins is worth a 1st round draft pick to get. (I’d never considered the notion until now- I actually think it’s justifiable.) It’s mainly to point out that Mr. Richardson’s reasoning is completely lacking.

What to Make of This?

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With the new school year approaching, I have Cub Scout business to attend to. Most importantly, I had to make sure I reserved the school’s cafeteria for our upcoming Joining Night activity, where we will hopefully pull in a new battalion of future Scouts. In order to do so, I have to stop by our school and fill out a building use form.

When I stepped into the office, everyone was busy with whatever business needs attending to by the office personnel. So I quietly stepped around the welcome counter to where most of the pertinent forms are and pulled out a couple of building use forms. I’ve done this action many times now since taking over as Cubmaster for our town’s Pack. I figure it saves everyone time and hassle since the office people don’t have to stop what they’re doing and I don’t have to wait. I then returned to the visitors side of the counter and started filling out my form.

At which point, I was disturbed by a tiny, pleasant looking woman with brown curly hair. “Hi,” she began. I lifted my eyes to look at her, but didn’t really lift my head. She put some kind of a smile on her face as she continued “I’m with the office police and you’re not supposed to come back here.” She pointed at the floor behind the counter. “Someone is supposed to help you by getting the forms for you. I have to warn you about this, so, um, considered yourself warned. OK?” She then flashed me her biggest smile.

I politely smiled back, nodded and said “Yep, I guess I’ve been warned.” She then returned to her desk at the rear of the office and I finished filling out the form, turned it so it was prominent on the counter, and left.

I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a sign of something, what I’m not sure. I mean, this is a small town and I’m pretty recognizable around here. I was actually a bit of a running joke last year for the school’s office because I visited regularly. I’m not asking for special treatment either- anyone that the office personnel recognize as being with any of the many school related organizations should be able to go grab one of those forms. I mean, what’s important is that the form gets filled out, not who gets it right? And, well, when someone introduces themselves as “the office police” and acts like they are standing on hallowed ground, call me crazy, but that ain’t right. I’m also wondering, what are the consequences now that I’ve been warned?

Also, for some reason, this person came to mind.

The Boy Earns Junior Apprentice

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At the end of July, the boy earned his Junior Apprentice Black Belt at his martial arts school. The instructors at the school have created a stripped down curriculum for kids not yet in their teens. The instructors experience is that young kids don’t have the maturity to properly learn all of the nuances needed to earn a full “adult” black belt. So, in order to reward their progress and dedication, they created an intermediate level belt called a “junior black belt” that serves as a bridge to a full adult black belt. This is the path the boy is now on.

There was a meeting last week for all of the kid about to enter the next “testing cycle” for the black belt and junior black belt levels. It was interesting in that the expectations for the kids in the testing phase are quite high. The instructors were quite clear in communicating that it was on the kids to make sure they were ready for the upcoming tests, that they knew which classes they needed to attend and that they adhered to the “roadmap” provided them. In short, they were telling the parents that outside of getting the kids to the school, to back off and let the kids flounder.

The rationale for this approach was pretty simple- they feel the kids need to struggle, fail, cope, persevere, succeed. In particular, in order for the success to have its maximum effect, they want the kids to be able to recognize that it was their own efforts and dedication, rather than their parents driving them, that resulted in their success. The instructors have created a curriculum, or “roadmap” as they referred to it, that, in addition to the classes, they believe will allow the kids to successfully negotiate their apprentice belt level.

Tonight, the boy was doing some of his push-up and sit-up requirements as specified by the curriculum. The Wife also took him for a bike ride this morning to help satisfy other parts of it. Assuming he’s able to stick it out, I think it’s safe to assume he’ll have learned more about how to succeed than I had at his age.

The Latest Scam

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UPDATE:
It appears this has been around for awhile, according to this Ars Technica article. Amusingly, the same guy got another call from these bozos. Sadly, I have to agree with some of his conclusions. Happily, these bozos also got a dose of their own medicine.

There seems to be no end to what scam artists will try. Whether it’s claiming you’ve won a big prize to other well known concoction, they never seem to run out of hooks. I just took a call from one the Wife had previously dealt with, and I dispatched him with great prejudice.

Unfortunately, the caller blocked their phone number, so my caller ID came up with “Private Caller.” But after picking up, there was a pause, which is always a bad sign, followed by some fellow with some kind of accent telling me he was contacting me about something. I couldn’t catch what the something was- a combination of the accent and what seemed to be a crappy phone connection. After about 4 times, I finally heard enough to understand: he was returning our call about tech support for our computer.

The problem was, I hadn’t called anyone about tech support for our computers. I AM tech support for our computers.

I told him this, and he innocently replied “Are you sure someone didn’t call about tech support?”

Now I was mad, because this was so obviously some sort of scam. My guess is they wanted to put some kind of malware on our computers that snooped username, passwords and anything else of value they could pull of our computers, possibly some kind of keyboard tracker as well.

So I got belligerent and started demanding to know how he’d gotten my number. I went through this about 3 times, he’d reply with some kind of BS, I’d call him on it and demand to know how he got our phone number. He finally hung up on me. With any luck, they removed our number from their system.

So be on the lookout for this kind of crap. Obviously, someone thinks it’s the next big thing.

Of Tweezles and Things

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Tucked away in the woods of Storrs here in Connecticut, is a little park. It’s call, somewhat unimaginatively, The Adventure Park. I mean, aren’t they all?

What sets this one apart is that some mad genius devised a way for people to safely traverse through the trees of a forest like a bunch of monkeys, or maybe squirrels, or any other woodland creature that calls the trees their home. Essentially, they’ve created a bunch of “trails” through the trees, where a participant’s sole goal is to make it from one tree platform to the next along a trail.

Did I mention the lowest trail is 15 feet in the air?

Did I also mention my rather strong aversion to heights?

There are any number of ways to get from one platform to the next on these trails. The how depends on the trail’s difficulty rating. For instance, the easiest trail, which is also the lowest, had things like swings that we had to walk across, an 6 inch log to walk across, wires with hoops to pass through, and on and on. The easiest ways to get from one platform to the next is using the zip lines- those are also the most fun way to do it. The harder trails had things like, tightropes.

The adventure starts with getting outfitted in a climbing harness. Then, it’s on to the safety course, where the wonderful tweezle is introduced. The safety harness has two clips, one of which is always attached to the safety lines that are run throughout the course. Manipulation of these two safety clips is the key to being able to navigate the courses. First, one clip is always locked, the other is not. The one that is unlocked is used to latch on to the next safety line. On that line is a tweezle, which is a locking/unlocking device for the clips. Once the clip is put onto the line, the tweezle is used to lock that clip to the line. Locking the one clip simultaneously unlocks the other clip, which can than be removed from the previous safety line. Then, it is attached to the safety line with the other clip and the climber can move on to the next section of the course. In this way, a climber is always attached to a safety line until the end of the course. Or they decide they’ve had enough of navigating flimsy pathways high in the air and ask the staff to rescue them.

So here’s how all this work in practice. Start on a platform and locate the safety loop wrapped around the tree. Clip onto the loop with the unlocked clip, tweezle to lock it, then attach the other clip to the safety loop. Then, work around to the “path” to the next platform. Take the unlocked clip, unhook it from the safety loop and attach it to the safety line for the path, tweezle to lock it, then unhook the other clip from the loop and hook it to the safety line. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, work across to the next platform, and start the cycle again. Keep doing this until the end of the trail, then kiss the sweet ground and glory in it’s solidity.

There are 5 color coded courses, increasing in difficulty and height. As I mentioned earlier, the yellow course is about 15 feet off the ground and the easiest. There are 2 green courses that are about 20 feet in the air. Next, there is a blue course which is about the same height, but more challenging in passing from one platform to the next. Finally, there is the “black oak” course. It starts with a twenty foot climb up a “ladder” where the “rungs” are six-inch wide bars. The stringers for this “ladder” are some kind of wire. Supposedly, this course is 25 feet in the air. I had no interest in further discovery there.

So we finished our safety course and then got to work on the yellow course. It took us about 20 minutes, with me leading the way, followed by the boy and the lass and finally the Wife. With the kids sandwiched between us, we figured that was the best way to make sure they were tweezling properly. The obstacles were more challenging for me than the kids because most of the things I had to squat down to pass through, the kids could more easily just bend down a bit, or even pass through without any problem.

Having completed the beginner course, the Wife decided to stay below and watch. Leaving me, the height averse one, to work through one of the green courses with the kids. So we started on our next adventure, which was pretty straight forward until we reached a fairly unassuming looking series of wooden slatted tunnels. The slats ran the length of the tunnel and were attached to 3 metal rings. There were three of these tunnels between the tree platforms.

After looking it over, I decided to just crawl through them- they were way to narrow for me to simply squat down or bend over to pass through. The Wife called up from below that I should go through feet first. When I got to the end of the first tunnel, I realized she was right.

The first unobvious thing was the tunnels were a bit slippery. By itself, that’s not a big deal. But couple with the other unobvious fact that the tunnels were not LEVEL, and I found myself sliding down towards the open end of the tunnel. Which brings me to the third unobvious thing about this particular obstacle- I had to pass from one tunnel to the next over a gap that was about 18 inches wide and 20 feet in the air. This meant that I basically had to reach across open space and then drag myself across that space to get to the next tunnel. Then, I had to do it again to get to another tunnel, and a final time to get onto the next platform.

I’d hoped that was the worst of it. Alas, it was not meant to be.

After passing across a couple more relatively simple platforms, we came to a tightrope. Literally. Twenty feet in the air and we had to walk across 1/2″ piece of wire. Uphill no less. The only thing we had to help with balance was a 4-foot long board suspended above the tightrope. The board is suspended from another line with a roller, so we could work across the tightrope while holding onto it. Halfway across, the tightrope started shaking uncontrollably. It occurred to me that, if I slipped, the safety system would catch me, but I’d roll back down to the platform I’d just left- meaning I’d have to start all over again at this obstacle. I completed that obstacle on the first try, but I was relieved to get to that little 5-foot square platform on the other side and tweezle onto the safety of the tree.

In the end, the lass out did us all. My nerves were shot after completing that second course, I was done. The lass wanted to continue on to the next course. But that was it.

That had been enough adventure for one morning.

In Related News Patriot Football Fans Taken Off Suicide Watch

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Just thought I’d note this.

Whatever hopes New England has for a successful season are pretty much in stride with Tom Brady and how he performs. I saw a tweet earlier today that he’d been injured during practice and my first thought was “All of New England is holding their breath now.” Looks like they can breath again.

A Summer of Harry Potter

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It’s actually kind of interesting for me to think back on this. When the boy was about 5 and the lass about 4, I read them the entire 1st book of the Harry Potter series. They were both intrigued by it and even more so after seeing the movie.

And that’s where things stayed for several years.

The Wife and I stuck to our guns on the matter of the movies- we would not let them watch the movies until they had completed the books. The boy made several attempts at starting the 2nd book, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this past school year when he finally managed to keep at it. It was during a martial arts tournament in March that he finally finished the 2nd book and also started the 3rd.

I also remember back in May when he started the 4th book, The Goblet of Fire. He was a little intimidated by the 700+ page count. He figured it would take until the end of the Summer for him to finish it. The Wife and I told him, there was no rush and whenever he finished it would be fine.

He finished it shortly after school got out.

He finished The Order of the Phoenix a month-and-a-half later, and then the Half Blood Prince he finished this past Saturday. He finished The Deathly Hallows today- he could barely put it down.

Talking with him about it, he didn’t retain all of the details and he missed some things as well. I suppose that’s to be expected for a 9-year old reading big books like the final few were. Still, in some respects it’s too bad because there are a lot of details that make the story more enjoyable. Perhaps some day he’ll go back and re-read the series.

The best part, though, was a question he asked shortly after he’d finished The Deathly Hallows. “What story should I read next?” he asked.

Still Learning to Look

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There’s the old adage “An emergency on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I bring this up in the context of the boy coming screaming down the steps this morning and asking me, in an extremely agitated state, “Do you know where my swim shirt is?”

I flatly replied “No.”

He seems not to have figured out that I don’t have a “lost item” tracker in my cerebral cortex. Nor do I have x-ray vision. I can use logic though, and invariably this is all that’s needed to track down 99% of the “lost” items he and his sister come at me with. The thing is, I hate to do that because he’d rather I or the Wife find his lost items. He won’t learn if he doesn’t do.

“Well, it’s not my fault that it’s lost because you did laundry, so you were the last one to see it.”

These sorts of statements test my patience. On the one hand, he’s frustrated and doesn’t possess very good coping skills yet and I’m aware of that circumstance. On the other, he’s being extraordinarily rude to someone he’s asking for help. On yet another hand, he seems capable of using logic, albeit a twisted form of it. Ultimately, today, I decide to hold my tongue and let his comment slide. But I don’t get up to help him look- I’m sure it’s somewhere obvious and sensible, he’s just too worked up to think of that spot.

He stomps upstairs to continue his search, screaming “It’s not anywhere!” This is always the pattern for lost items. He looks in the spots where he expects the item to be and doesn’t find it. He then looks more frantically in the spot he expects the item to be, and still doesn’t find it. In between, he gets up and walks in circles gazing at all areas of the room along the way, declares “It isn’t anywhere!” and then looks a third time where he expects it to be. Unremarkably, he still does not find it. When I or the Wife ask “Where did you see or have it last?” the reply is invariably “I had it and then put it away right here. Someone picked it up and moved it on me. This always happens to me!” The thumping sound that follows is typically my palm hitting my face.

By this point, the boy is highly agitated and difficult to deal with. He yells, and retorts to suggestions with great amounts of sarcasm. We calmly try to suggest places he might look and he invariably replies he already looked there. The Wife and I are dubious of this prospect because, well, every time we intervene we look in a couple of spots and lo-and-behold the item turns up exactly where we said it would.

The good news is the boy finally found his swim shirt in the laundry. Apparently, he actually had to look to find it. You know, that means moving a couple of other articles of clothing to uncover his shirt. The bad news is he was an ootch to his Mother, who was trying to get ready for the day while he stomped around with his searching antics, along the way.

My assumption is that someday he’ll learn how to find things in a more congenial manner. The tough part is I’ve been thinking that for what seems a long time now.

Before and After

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Now that it’s basically completed, I thought some before and after pictures for the patio area were in order. My first pictures were taken on May 1st, while today is, well, today. I wasn’t able to work every day on it during that time between weather, vacations, trips and other duties or logistical delays. I’d guess I have about 250 hours into it as of today.

First, a wide view:

Tough to see much there with the pool dominating the foreground. And yes, I’ve got to get some grass growing again. I did say “basically” done.

Now, here’s the left side as viewed from under the deck:

Just a little different. Now the right side:

As I mentioned earlier, the first order of business will be to get some grass growing again around the pool. Next year, I think, we’ll tackle some of the landscaping in the immediate area of the patio.

Here are some statistics about the scope of the project:

  • There are 20 tons of wall stone in the 3 retaining walls.
  • There are 20 tons of 3/4″ stone used behind the retaining walls and under the patio.
  • There are 15 tons of 3/4″ processed gravel (this is a combination of sand and gravel) in the project, about 10 of those are under the patio and the remainder is under the pool.
  • I had to move about 30 tons of earth between digging out for the retaining walls and then down to set the patio height. Most of that is under the pool, the rest I spread out in different parts of the property.
  • There are about 11 tons of pavers in the patio.
  • There are roughly 7 tons of sand, a couple under the pavers and the rest under the pool. There is another quarter ton of polymeric sand filling the paver joints.
  • The apron around the pool has about 3 tons of 4″ river rock.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a ton of work- it was many tons of work.

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