Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where to vote

Hopefully, everyone voted today.

I voted this morning on my way to work. Then, this afternoon, I got a voicemail from the Champaign County Democrats (I live in neighboring Vermilion County) reminding me that the polls were open until 7PM and that my voting location was the Urbana Civic Center. Um, no.

We haven't lived in Urbana for 10 years, and even when we did, we never voted at the Urbana Civic Center. Looking at the county clerk's website, it looks like our old polling place has not changed. I'm glad that I knew where to vote.

For what it's worth, Cunningham Township in Urbana and Vance Township in Fairmount probably could not be much more opposite on the political spectrum. We probably don't count as "average" voters out here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Real American Hero

Kimberly has been wanting to add a peat gravel play area near our play structure for years. In July when I made her go to Menard's for other landscaping materials, she picked up a few bags of peat gravel.

One nice Saturday afternoon, we decided the "rock quarry" should go under the play structure. After we poured in the gravel, I decided the middle boys needed some motivation to try out the new play opportunities. So, I brought out the top-secret containers that have been hiding in our basement for years. By some people's standards, these containers would be nothing short of a jackpot:

That's right! Most of the G.I. Joe toys that Nick and I adamantly collected as kids were saved for years by our mother. Then, while cleaning out the basement, she decided to make the collection my problem. I couldn't just throw that stuff out!

The boys went crazy and commenced playing non-stop for several hours.

While some of the stuff looks "newer" (late 80's versus early 90's), there are still a few of my original figures and vehicles from when the 2 1/2" toys first came out. I won't name names, even though I could. It's crazy that those guys are pushing 30 years old at this point.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bike Train

It's been a crazy busy/fast summer here on the farm (when we were actually here). Baseball season consumed the first half of the summer, and weekend driving trips seem to have consumed the second half.

We were home on a hot Sunday morning three weeks ago when I finally told Ethan we could ride our bikes to Homer. Of course, his brothers wanted to come too. A quick trial revealed that Owen and Aidan could fit in the trailer together...and they looked like sardines.

I hooked up the Trail-a-Bike and forced Owen to ride down the driveway against his will. I finally convinced him it was safe by holding the bike up and letting him try to push it over. Fortunately, he couldn't do it. After that, he was really excited about the Trail-a-Bike.

All that was left was to hook up the Burley to the Trail-a-Bike and we were ready for town. It was a nice ride, but really hot on the way home. We were all a bit pooped. My arms ached the next day from counterbalancing Owen's haphazard balance.

Here we are, finally back in the shade. Ethan is posing here, trying to take credit for being on the bike train. He was actually our scout

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baseball Season

Baseball season is upon us! It seems like nearly all of the families in Homer both look forward to and dread baseball season. It seemed like we were at the ball fields a lot when just Ethan played. This year Owen started t-ball, and now we really are at the ball fields all the time. Next week, there is at least one game every night, except one.

Ethan is doing awesome in baseball this year. Something happened during pre-season practices that changed him from a mediocre player to a confident ball player. He has hit two in-park home runs this season! And, he loves to play, which makes it that much more fun to watch. This is his second season in coach-pitch. Next year, he steps up to the big leagues.

Owen started t-ball this year. He's playing in full Owen-style. For his first at-bat, he came high-trotting up to the plate with his bat over his shoulder. I only wish I could have gotten it on tape. He frequently pulls his shirt up while trotting from third to home base and makes a funny sound. His skills still need some work, but he hit his first pitch last week, which was very exciting.

However, nothing can beat his t-ball picture that he insisted posing for:
From Misc

And, of course, here's his older brother:
From Misc

Monday, May 31, 2010

Like Son, Like Son

This picture of Ethan was taken in June, 2002, possibly on Father's Day. He was almost 8 months old.

This picture of Atticus was taken May 2. He was 7 months old.

Sadly, we don't seem to having matching pictures for the other boys.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First Home Run

Last night, Ethan's baseball team played a late (7:30) game in Tolono. Ethan has been hitting really well this season, compared to last. On his first at-bat, he hit a solid double. However, due to infielder errors (commonplace in coach pitch), good attention on his part, and fast running, Ethan stretched it into his first home run! He also brought in one or two runners.

It was really awesome. He followed that at-bat with two more doubles and a single, all of which were eventually converted to runs.

He played in the pitcher position the entire game and made several nice plays, including catching a line-drive.

As many of you know, I'm not Mr. Baseball. However, I love watching those kids play. They really get into it. It's fun to see how much the kids have improved in the 3 years since they started t-ball.

Sorry there aren't any pictures. Maybe next week.

On Owen's t-ball front, he had practice tonight and was super excited to catch a ball while they were playing catch.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Take Your Child To Work Day

Take Your Child To Work Day was celebrated last Thursday. For the first time, we decided to participate. Included in Ethan's were his Cub Scout binder, and his Nintendo DS. Much to his chagrin, I informed him that if he was going to miss school to come to work, he would be doing some learning!

The main accomplishment of the morning was earning his Cub Scout computer belt loop and academic pin. This involved studying the inner workings of a PC, using software to write a report, learning about Ethernet networks (sadly, just the 100 Mb/s that we use, not the 100 Gb/s that we build), learning about servers, and visiting the Boy Scouts website, where he discovered some games.

Next up, we decided to do some Snap Circuits projects. Handy enough, I stumbled over their introductory logic circuits. Ethan learned about AND, OR, NAND, and NOR. I explained the logic portion, and how charge actually flowed to make the circuits work. He predicted the truth tables for NAND/NOR and tested his hypothesis. Finally, we discussed how NAND is itself a complete logic set and that, in theory, you could make entire computer from NAND circuits!

All-in-all, we had a fun morning and I think Ethan learned a lot. I even got some of my own work done on the side!

When his brothers came to pick him up, they decided to extend some of the logic truth tables.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Now and Before

I just received my freshly-renewed passport. I'm wondering how many "watch lists" I am now on due to my new photo. It looks like I've gone from grimy college student to "international trouble-maker."



Friday, March 26, 2010

New Drill Press

I have been thinking for a few months now that it is about time to invest in a modern drill press. Since we moved to Homer, I've been using an antique that my grandfather left behind. It's the loudest tool in my shop, and the 1/4hp motor has a tough time driving 1 1/2" forstner bits. I won't discuss the aggravation when the gears fall off. It also only has one unknown speed. A couple of recent mistakes caused by the inaccuracy and vibration of the spindle finally pushed me over the edge.

So, after a great deal of research over the last two months, I settled on the Ridgid 15" floor-mounted drill press. However, in classic form, something got me thinking that maybe I should go a little bigger so that I never have to replace this tool. After even more research and several trips to the CU Woodshop, I settled on the Jet JDP-17DX. This (cheesy) video review was what made up my mind. By some unbelievable luck, the week I went to buy it, Jet had a 10% sale. That closed the deal, and I got to buy my first big purchase from CU Woodshop. Thanks guys!

It took just over a week for it to arrive. I picked it up Wednesday and rushed home to put it together (all 200+ pounds of it). Owen and Aidan helped with the lower half. However, after dinner, I needed the "big guns" to put the unbelievably heavy head on the column:

Here I am after we got everything upright:

It is amazing! If I had any idea what a real drill press could do, I would have bought one years ago. With a large forstner bit and medium speed, it mows right through hard and soft wood. With a twist-style bit and fast speed, it went right through a piece of oak. I can't wait to use it for real work.

Here's the finished product. I reworked my fence to go on the built-in T-tracks. At least for now, I don't think I need to make my own larger table.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tummy Tub

By the time you're on your fourth child, you have to do some things differently. Otherwise, you just get bored caring for four kids! Because we gave away our old baby bath seat/tub, Kimberly decided to try a new type of tub for Atticus: the Tummy Tub.

Here's all 20+ pounds of him, still fitting in the kitchen sink. Of course, if he had it his way, he'd be taking big boy baths with Owen and Aidan.

In the fall, the Tummy Tub will come in handy for thawing the 20+ pound turkey.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Maybe I'm Not Actually a Geek...

I found an interesting Geekdad article today:

Everyone has annoying habits, and a sizable part of every successful marriage is learning to live with those things each other does that annoy you. I think it’s safe to say, too, that geeks have some habits that we think are awesome, but that non-geeks find a little…less awesome.wired.com, 10 Annoying Habits of a Geeky Spouse (GeekDad Wayback Machine), Mar 2010

As an electrical engineer, life is a constant struggle to keep "normal." One must always be on the look-out for engineerisms and taking the engineer's view in an argument/discussion (same thing for engineers).

So, here's a summary of the 10 Annoying Habits, and my participation therein:
  1. Punning - I just don't do it, nor am I any good at it. I think this is a personality strength.
  2. Using “frak,” or Klingon, or both, instead of regular swear words - For one, I just try not to swear in any form near my kids. Second, when it's time to swear, damn it, it's time to swear. Maybe that's just my rural Midwest upbringing. I won't even dignify the Klingon reference.
  3. Weird or over-the-top ways of celebrating mainstream holidays - Who are these people?
  4. Dissecting movies - I try not to do this too much, but it's sometimes unavoidable, especially when technology-related SNAFUs occur with too much frequency.
  5. Wearing obscurely geeky T-shirts to “normal” places - Because my wife buys all of my clothes, this is theoretically impossible. I've mostly even weened myself from corporate polo shirts, t-shirts, and jackets.
  6. Requiring extra room in the house for geeky things- I guess it's only fair to mention that I have two separate workshops, one of which is a separate building. But, I like to do manly projects and buy big, cast iron tools. Did I mention that I just ordered a new drill press?
  7. Geeky toys and decorations can be hard to explain to kids - No need to collect these for myself, I just bum off my kids' geeky/fun toys.
  8. Looking up information while a discussion/argument is still in progress - What can I say? I don't own a laptop or a smart phone.
  9. Needing to watch certain TV shows ASAP to avoid spoilers - Alright, I'm definitely guilty of this. Oddly enough for me, this only applies to sporting events - not geeky. Specifically, I try to avoid news coverage of cycling and the Olympics...they're sporting events, trust me...until after I've watched the TV coverage.
  10. Geeky projects that take over the house and whole weekends - Well, I don't know about the geekiness, but our house is constantly one giant project that consumes itself and most weekends.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chainsaw Blessing

In February, as I was ready to cut up a fresh supply of firewood for my work shop, my McCullough chainsaw decided not to run. It would start but die when I gave it any throttle. After dismantling it (and kicking it) for about an hour, I gave up and decided to take it to a professional.

So, I stopped by Specialized Small Engine Service in Champaign. It's the little blue block building between the library and the Do-It-Best hardware store. The guy fiddled with it for about 2 minutes and decided the carburetor was probably clogged. He'd be happy to fix it for $80-$100. Having done my homework, I knew that new Poulan saws run for about $140. Add to that the fact that my chainsaw has only worked right about half the time since I got it.

Although his saws were priced higher than average, he offered a discount in exchange for my old saw -- deal. I paid about the same as the box stores, and I disposed of my old saw in an environmentally conscious manner. So, I wrote the guy a check, then he got out his service plan, which is outstanding. He charges $32 flat rate for repairs, and you get put at the front of his work queue. So, if the new saw gets a clogged carburetor, it won't cost $100 to fix it. He should have advertised his service plan sooner. There would have been even less thinking and more paying.

I highly recommend visiting this place if you have small engine needs. The guy was knowledgeable and friendly.

My new 16" Poulan saw is great. I just spent the better part of the afternoon with it trimming trees. It starts easily, runs great, and restarts easily. It also has a tool-free chain tensioner which is extremely useful when the chain comes off.

Here's my new saw atop the wood pile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Day!

It's a snow day, and since Kimberly and Atticus are out of town, it's just me and the "big boys." What better to do with their time than play outside in the 10 degree wind chill?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Router Debacle

This post is a tech rant, so don't feel forced to read the whole thing.

Our ISP constantly has horrible service, but more of that in a later post. After suffering through 100kb/s (slightly better than an old-school modem) bandwidth from October through December, they finally fixed the problem right before Christmas. It was beautiful to have nearly 1Mb/s service. We went from the internet unpaved roads to internet county-maintained striped roads.

Things were great for a couple of weeks until DNS name look-ups stopped working, well actually taking 90s to resolve, which is about the same as not working. This was really aggravating. You could surf, but just barely. My VPN worked great, so I knew that DNS was the problem. After a week of complaints, I finally decided to dig further into the problem. After a couple of hours, I discovered that our router (Netgear WGR614) was dying after about four years. A firmware upgrade fixed DNS, but then packets started getting dropped. Why can't these things just die? The slow death drives me nuts. This is the third Netgear router that has died an unobvious death.

So, I decided we needed a new router - one that doesn't bear the Netgear name. A few minutes of searching lead me to the Linksys WRT400N. It's a dual-radio 802.11n router. It got decent reviews, and Newegg had a great price.

Three days later ($1.99 3-day shipping), I proceeded with the installation...for two hours. For some reason, the router could not talk to our ISP. Our ISP provides a standard ethernet connection with a static IP, no authentication, no modem. Basically, it's the simplest possible connection. Linksys customer service finally decided that I had a defective router. Customer service informed me the next morning that they would not replace it. I would have to go through Newegg. Who doesn't replace (they called it "warranty") a DOA product?

Newegg, however, was quick and easy and provided me with replacement service, including all shipping costs. Newegg is my new personal hero.

After two weeks, I received the replacement. All excited, I quickly hooked it up and...had the same problem. After poking and prodding and searching, I finally found references on the internet to people who had problems getting the router to talk to older ADSL modems. This problem was solved by placing a switch between the router and modem. So, I tried this out, and just like magic the router worked fine. I finally decided that the router could not negotiate a 10Mb/s half-duplex network (provided by our ISP).

So, I called up customer support to find out why not...their customer service was Indian and barely understandable. He suggested such things as upgrading the firmware (no upgrades available) or returning the item for another. I finally hung up on the guy.

Newegg came to the rescue yet again by providing return shipping and a refund. I'm still waiting to see if I get inflicted with their 15% restocking fee.

On Friday I visited the Illini Apple Center and bought an Airport Extreme, which is what I should have done a few weeks ago. It doesn't have any problems talking to our ISP. All of the computers hooked up to the wireless without issue (although, all of our older 802.11b devices, including Nintendo DS) have to use the unsecured guest network because they can't do WPA2 encryption, which is the only encryption available with Airport Extreme. However, it's great to provide an easy, isolated, unsecured guest network. I hope no one drives all the way out here to steal our bandwidth...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Korean Barbeque

As we sat down to breakfast last Saturday, Kimberly said, out of the blue, "Korean barbeque sounds good." Well, as a sucker for Asian cuisine, I immediately reached for the Korean cookbook that I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. Although I've read it, I have never actually cooked out of it.

A quick phone call revealed that the Green Onion Market on Neil. St. not just carries bulgogi meat (Korean barbeque), but that they even have it pre-marinated! This place is great. They have a large selection of fresh items, including meats, vegetables, fish, and Korean side dishes. They also have huge jars of kimchi. No Korean meal is complete without it. They just happened to have a special on the bulgogi, and even had some cooked up for tasting. Excellent!

First, we prepared several banchan dishes, which are the small side dishes that are served with Korean meals. We made kohng namool (seasoned soy sprouts), shigumchi namool (seasoned spinach), gamja jolim (seasoned potatoes), and of course the kimchi.

For the kids, we made mixed rice bowls. These are similar to Chinese stir-fry, except each ingredient is stir-fried separately. They looked impressive, but only Ethan was very interested.

Finally, Kimberly and I ate the bulgogi Korean style: wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with some rice.

The whole meal required about 1 1/2 hours to prepare and was delicious. I'm sure we'll be having this again in the coming weeks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cutting Big Boards

As I'm finally finishing the drywall on our bathroom ceiling, it's time to think about new trim in the bathroom. Of course, I'm a woodworker, so it's not much fun to go to Menard's and pick out pre-built molding.

Thus, it was not a difficult decision to make our own trim in the bathroom. Additionally, the style we wanted is "built up" from multiple pieces and difficult to come by at a box store.

For the project, I decided to make my first attempt at using rough-sawn lumber from our new wood working shop, CU Woodshop Supply. Even though I've been woodworking for about 8 years, I've mostly bought my lumber pre-shrink-wrapped at Menard's. They have a large assortment, it's usually in good condition, and it's generally cheaper than Lowe's. We've just never had a local source for rough-sawn lumber.

I chose poplar because we're going to be painting the trim in the bathroom, so the expense of a better hardwood would be covered up. I've found poplar is a little more resilient than ultra-cheap pine, so it doesn't get beat up as much. That's an important factor with four little boys running around.

After lots of tedious calculations, I figured about how many board feet I needed and headed over to the wood shop. Of course, I'd planned on 8 foot boards and most of their's were 10 feet. After some measuring, I decided I could use 10 foot boards, I'd just have lots left over. Because my Honda Pilot is my personal mechanical hero, the 10 foot boards fit fully inside on a very rainy day.

Fortunately, these were not totally rough boards. Both faces were jointed (which means the faces were relatively flat), and one edge had been jointed (so that it was clean and straight). Since I don't have a jointer, this is just the right wood for me.

My goal here was to turn these two 1.5" x 9" x 10' boards into several 1/2-5/8" boards for the trim work. Here are the process steps:
  1. Uncut boards

  2. Use my tablesaw to rip them down to less than 6" wide in order to fit on my bandsaw. Since these are 10' boards, ripping them required the full length of my shop, minus about 2 feet.

  3. Use my bandsaw to cut the boards in half (from 1.5" down to ~3/4"). This is called resawing. Resawing is a bit tedious. I've done it before, but never on such large pieces. The length made the process much more challenging, making it hard to maintain a straight line. I lost a little more thickness here than I would have liked.

  4. Plane the heck out of them to remove the resaw unevenness, and also clean up the rough-saw marks on the backside.

  5. Finished boards. Now, they are in the state that they usually are from Menard's (minus the shrink-wrap). One reason I opted for the resawing on this project was that I wanted 1/2" thickness. Menard's doesn't have that, so I would have to plane down 3/4" boards, which wastes a lot of money.

All told, these two boards cost about $60, and I still have more than half of one unused (~$17 worth). If I had bought this wood from Menard's, it would have cost about $64, with no leftovers.

Did I mention that it was crazy cold on Monday night when I did this and I didn't have my wood stove going? 35 degrees...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Parental Failure

While driving home from religion class with Ethan and Owen last night, I was smacked in the face with the fact that Kimberly and I have utterly failed at parenting in our first 8 years:

Somehow we quickly migrated from talking about Jesus and the church seasons to Owen declaring that he wants to be an Evil Scientist when he grows up. He already has particular goals, namely that he wants to be more evil than Dr. Doofenschmirtz (of Phineas and Ferb fame)!

This conversation continued with the boys discussing the evil things that Dr. Doofenschmirtz invents. Then Ethan commented that he wants to be an inventor. Thus far, his greatest idea (in his opinion) is a special perfume that can be sprayed on that will prevent you from having to ever take a shower or bath. He's just too young to know that this already exists and is used frequently by lots of people in Champaign-Urbana: Pachouli Oil!

I felt somewhat relieved when Owen later decided he wanted to be a paleontologist (thanks They Might Be Giants):

Next thing you know, one of the boys will want to be a professional athlete in some popular American sport (ie. not cycling).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ode To The Snow Blower

When we lived in Champaign, I always felt somewhat self-conscious when I pulled our snow blower out of the garage. It's not really a Central Illinois model, since we bought it when we lived in the mountains in Vermont, where it was requisite. You can certainly buy 8HP, 24in, dual-stage snow blowers here, not many people use them for personal use. I always enjoyed our neighbor's broom-sized Central Illinois snow blower.

However, since moving back to the rural life, our snow blower has continually proven to be my personal hero. Naturally, I'm too cheap to pay someone to plow and too stingy to buy my own plow. Despite the fact that our driveway is ~1/3 mile long, I can usually clear it in less than an hour, assuming there's more snow than I think the van can trudge through.

Yesterday was no exception. The recent 6" of snow, and a fierce wind had piled up a deep drift right in front of the garage. Despite having not been fired up since last April when I drained the gas, and recent near-zero temperatures, after a few pushes on the primer bulb, the AC-powered starter required just one short push to fire up the engine.