Splitting Wood

As I continue to observe the maelstrom of negativity and falsehoods that is Facebook, I still want to make notes about things that happen. And I want to be able to share those notes. And then I remember that I have this blog, which is what web logs, or blogs, were supposed to be before they turned into self-publishing platforms and the key to modern success.

I am not yet decided on how much I want to reclaim this particular domain — my own name (jl.o) — or some other space where I don’t feel responsible for hosting certain pages which have become mainstays, seemingly, on the web. On the one hand, this was once my “everything that doesn’t have any other place to go goes here” space. And a chunk of that stuff was about my daughter when she was young, but then the internet got creepy and I shifted from talking about her in what I now understood was probably an all too public forum. At the same time, as blogs “came of age” and became vehicles for the blossoming of personalities, some of whom became celebrities — e.g., John Gruber or Merlin Mann — I became increasingly concerned about “managing my brand.” That this blog was a space for me to demonstrate my professional abilities and to discuss professional interests.

And then I started tracking my experiments with computational matters and suddenly this thing got popular. Other people wanting to experiment with Python and/or with thinking about texts as data were searching for things and they found a post of two of mine that was helpful and they must have told people about them because suddenly this thing had something of a readership. It freaked me out so much that I froze like the proverbial deer in headlights and stopped publishing.

And now those pages that people found useful then are still being found useful, but I haven’t tracked my voyage, and discoveries, since then, and now it feels all weird to come back to this, especially since I have Evernote for web capture and Bear for everything else, including capturing all those stray thoughts that shoot through my head like neutrinos making their way across the solar system. But both of those applications somewhat obscure where your data is — in order, I think, to make sure you don’t mess with it outside the app and possibly corrupt the sync process.

There is, I think, something remarkably re-assuring about writing all my notes in plain text — structured with some version of markdown — and storing them in plain files or in a widely-known data structure like SQL. An ideal format, to my mind, would be something like FoldingText as the UI and MySQL on the backend with a blog an easy offshoot and one simply tags, or otherwise indicates which posts are public — it would have to be a choice each and every time.

Part of all this is, I admit, in addition to a response to the way matters are developing on Facebook but also my own preference not to give over my data to someone else so that they can then monetize it. That is, by using Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends, instead of other means, I’m allowing the company to profit from my relationships. That was acceptable, to some degree, when it was a happier place, but now I find that the dark side has emerged, and it has me not only walking away from the platform, but also considering walking away from some relationships.

So, this is not only about taking a break from at least one form of social media, but also about re-focusing my own energies and making my writing my own and finding positive places in which to publish it.

I did this thinking, by the way, while splitting wood, using a maul and wedge given to me by my stepfather and an old hatchet I had lying around the house. There’s no better time to focus then when trying to follow the grain of a log, especially when you find you’ve driven a wedge into an unsplittable natural joint in the wood:

IMG 0612

The whispy shadows of hair in the lower left are my child, still finding her way into this blog, who took this photo for me as I stood nearby, somewhat hunched over and breathing hard …

… I guess I need to split more wood.

Home Again

My mother used to sing out “Home again, home again” sometimes when we arrived home after being away for what felt like “a while.” It could have been a week-long vacation, an overnight trip to my grandmother’s, or simply an extended series of errands. She sang it to the tune of “To Market” and it itself now signifies something “homey” for me.

If I didn’t say it myself this morning when we got home, then it rang in my head as wobbled into the house with bags of stuff, bunches of balloons, and a daughter with one arm fixed in a splinted ell. We were home, and it felt good.

Our stay in the hospital was incredibly pleasant by any standard I can imagine. The nursing and support staff at Women’s and Children’s have an amazing ability to appear when you need them. Our night nurses never disturbed us: they whisked in, turned on a bathroom light and cracked a door to be able to see, did what they needed, and then departed again. The day time nurses regularly checked on us, checking in with our daughter to make sure she was doing okay. The child specialist who was also reading the Warrior series, and who revealed to us that Erin Hunter is not a person but a collective, was so personable that Lily missed her when she was gone. The young woman who brought us our dishes was the very face of conscientiousness.

And this says nothing about our daughter’s surgeon and his physician’s assistant who were her primary care givers in this moment. They both took their time to speak with us and answer any and all questions. (And, too, I have to thank the doctor for catching me when I almost fainted after he told us the good news about our daughter’s operation.)

On top of all that, we also had the most amazing experience of friends turning out to show their support. Two of my colleagues showed up, bearing gifts for our daughter, as did several of her classmates: one brought his iPod so that she could listen to music; another brought her barbies so that they could play together — Barbies spilled across the floor of the hospital room!; and yet another brought nail polish so that they could do each other’s nails. Our daughter’s teacher also came by with a poster-board sized get well card. And it didn’t stop there: three teammates from gymnastics showed up as well as two coaches and the owner of the gym. The balloons and posters and cookies and pet pillows really began to pile up in the room.

What we would like to say to all of you is *thank you, thank you, thank you*. You simple cannot know how much you brightened not only Lily’s day but ours as well. At times, the visits came back to back to back and they were exhausting, but it was the kind of exhaustion one lives for, the exhaustion of being surrounded by such amazingly good people, by such thoughtful, kind, generous people that the world itself is almost too much and we realize that we really do enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

Thank you.

The NEST Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere over the past week or so. I don’t know where it first started, but the best place to get a really nice overview of what is being called a “learning thermostat”, as opposed to a programmed or manual thermostat, is the TechCrunch video interview with its CEO Tony Fadell.

Fadell, it turns out, is a former Apple employee and Dan Frommer argues that the Nest thermostat is the first of many products that will be “Apple-ified” from conception. That is, following in the wake of the iMac and with every Apple product since, there have been a host of knockoffs, copycats, and design clones. The Nest thermostat is different in that it actually has as part of its design DNA the same set of ideals and perspectives that inform Apple design, which is arguably simply good industrial design in the first place. (I have always thought that what Apple did was simply pursue the European modernist aesthetic in a way that Americans could follow, but I will leave that discussion for another time.)

Frommer’s visual is fantastic. I am reproducing it here in order to encourage folks to visit Frommer’s site. He’s smart.

Levenger Skyline Furniture On Sale

Yung-Hsing has a section, or maybe it’s a chapter now, on Levenger in her book. I don’t know how we got to be familiar with Levenger now. It must have been back in the days of catalogs. When you would purchase something from L.L. Bean or some other slightly upscale catalog, you would find yourself receiving catalogs from all the other slightly upscale merchants. Levenger came at us with an assortment of pens and book cases. We could, at the time, only afford the low end pens. Now we can afford the occasional bit of furniture.

Yung and my mother teamed up this past Christmas to give my home study a bit of an update:

Home Study, Spring 2011 Edition

The matching rolling ottoman-filecart and small writing table work really well with the bench we picked at World Market. The bench, unfortunately, is presently home to a pile of receipts and other “inbox” things that is, fortunately, hidden in this image.

I couldn’t help but notice that Levenger is having a sale on the book cases that go with my current office furniture. [The Skyline bookcase is quite nice][1]. (You can even add a drawer to it!)

I should, I know, probably consider building my own bookshelves. (And I think I have an idea of what I want/need.)

[1]: HTTP://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/PRODUCT/Product.asp?Params=category=5-19|level=2-3|pageid=993|special=|Lnk=Img

Wifi and Energy Efficient Homes

It turns out that one of the problems a lot of people have with their homes — the inability to get your wireless network to reach some part of your house or yard — is a function of the kinds of materials we use to make our homes energy efficient: a lot of the wraps and foam sheets used in new construction have some sort of foil layer to reflect radiant heat in and/or out of the house. (I am also reminded of my friends Alan and Deb who have a lovely stone house built with two-foot thick walls that is backed into the side of a hill. (That’s a wireless problem I would love to have — oh, Indiana, how I miss you now.)


Ack. Restarting the home NAS was more difficult than I imagined, thanks in part to Amazon sending me mis-matched drives. While trying to trouble-shoot what turned out to be a hardware problem, I came across Netgear’s great online forum for its ReadyNAS products and a nicely-maintained FAQ.

Windows Woes

At some point, I really do need to figure out why our Windows 7 machine won’t sleep. (Yes, we have a Windows machine: it’s in our kitchen as a place for our daughter to do occasional bits of homework that require a computer, for all of us to look things up, for cooking with Pandora playing, and, yes, for me to play the occasional game.) When I get around to figuring things out, I should probably start [here](http://www.windowsbbs.com/windows-7/87612-windows-7-wont-sleep.html).

Study Dreams

I have to admit: I never thought my new study would come together as quickly or as nicely as it has. When I glimpsed the space when we first toured the house, I was immediately taken with it, but I came to worry about both its size and how bright it is. Would it be too small, too cramped a space for thinking and writing? Would it be too bright to see a computer screen? Would all that sunlight make it too warm? How could I ever make the space feel like my own?

The images in the Flickr set reveal, I think, that my concerns have largely been allayed.

Mountainside Study - All

A quick glance at the image above as well as the images in the set reveal that the space is indeed small: approximately eight feet wide by eight feet deep. The potential crampedness is offset by the vaulted ceiling which culminates in a four foot square skylight and by the six foot square sliding glass door that, thanks to the faked mullions, reads more like a window.

If those two windows weren’t enough, there is also a three foot square window over a room air conditioning unit that I hope not to use, both because it would blow right on me and because those things consume electricity like beasts. It will be interesting to see if I can pull that off because with so much sunlight coming in, the room does warm up considerably, and, because the room was an addition to the house, there is no direct connection to the house’s central air conditioning. Instead, I have both the dining room windows, that once opened to the outside, opened with a fan blowing cool air into the space. I have also discovered the pleasure, just this afternoon, of lying with my back on the cool marble tiled floor with my head propped up on a few pillows. I did so while reading Ruskin’s “The Two Paths.” It seemed fitting.

The bench on the righthand side of the room as you enter was made by my father while he was in college and is a version of an Eames piece, which, I think, was itself inspired by one designed by George Nelson in 1946. (Anyone who knows furniture history please feel free to correct me.) I’ve covered it with a Tibetan rug which was a present from my mother and which makes it work perfectly well as a divan.

The book case on the lefthand side of the room was built over the course of last week. It is all that remains of my attempt to build a wall of book cases for our new living room. In the end, a lack of decent tools and the incredible head and humidity that has descended upon Louisiana so early this summer defeated me. We have purchased a basic set of cases from a local unfinished furniture store and I bolted together these two pieces which were to be the “towers” that flanked the original design. (See the scan of the original drawing.) The case is overbuilt, but it was the best I could do in order to achieve the functionality I wanted, given my state of mind. The vertical edges will shortly be covered by a decorative strip and the top will receive a pit of crown molding and a bit of other frippery. The bottom will get a heavier piece of millwork that I found in the new garage and is just enough to supply my needs.

Excuse the Interruption: We Moved

Please excuse the recent interruption in posts. We have just completed our move to the new house. I am, in fact, posting this from my new study, which is a small space on the first floor but which offers me an incredible amount of natural light: there is a six foot by six foot sliding glass door, a three foot by three foot window, and a four foot by four foot skylight.

Which is to say, be careful what you wish for. I’m a little worried that there might be too much light to work on a computer in this space, and so it could very well be that The Makers of Things will be written this summer by hand and later typed. The marble and brick floors of the new house almost demand that the old ways, the old materials, are better.

Beyond the confines of my small, but well-lit study, the house affords our little family more room for everyone. Yung-Hsing also has her own study, which is twice mine is size but will also serve as a guest room. It will be the perfect place for her to work in the coming year while she enjoys a sabbatical to finish her book. On the same floor as her study is our daughter’s bedroom as well as a sizable landing which has become our daughter’s play area — she has quickly occupied the 12 by 20 space with an array of toys.

Downstairs we have a living area of perhaps the same square footage as the old house but its square shape, as opposed to the longish rectangle of the old living room, actually makes it feel a bit smaller at times. It doesn’t help that books remain in boxes for the time being, while we await more book shelves. (More on the bookshelf-building adventure elsewhere.) But we now have a separate dining area, and a breakfast area that is not in the middle of the kitchen. The kitchen itself is a bit smaller, but a nice sized pantry and a separate laundry room make it feel like we have gained more than we have lost.

I will post images of the new space, perhaps paired with some “before” images,” as things fall more into place.

If you need our new address, just drop me an e-mail at myfullname at gmail dot com. (I trust everyone will know what to substitute for myfullname?)

Me Want

What geek doesn’t dream of setting up his own elaborate IT cloud, complete with server at home? *Dreams of streaming audio and video. Dreams of gigabytes of data backed up. Dreams of* … oh, yeah, it’s probably not only cheaper but also better if you let Amazon’s AWS and Google’s Apps take care of this in some fashion. That and the hoped for, and much discussed, stream iTunes anywhere tech/service that Apple is said to be working on.

Microclient TC 2

My Apple Galette

As I noted on the Flickr description, the genius of this recipe from [*Cook’s Illustrated*](http://cooksillustrated.com/) is that I learned that adding one tablespoon corn starch to each cup of all-purpose of flour really delivers a great crust. I was, at first, surprised at how little sugar there was on the apple slices, only one-quarter of a cup for the whole dish, and no spices, but once I tasted the complete dish, it made sense. The apple-cinnamon-sugar combo is very American. This tastes like desserts I have had in Europe: much more apple flavor. (This is not a put-down of American cuisine, only an observation about how baked apple desserts have come to be cooked predominantly in the mainstream American tradition.)

Apple Galette

Instructables: Screen Printing

You have to love [Instructables](http://www.instructables.com/). So much great stuff, and so thoughtfully done. Now someone has posted how to screen print tee shirts: [here](http://www.instructables.com/id/Screen-Printing%3a-Cheap%2c-Dirty%2c-and-At-Home/).

Our Beadboard Bathroom

The photo on the cover of the *Cape Cod Beadboard Planking* insert looks so nice and inviting. The planks themselves, if one can call a mixture of sawdust and glue a “plank”, are nice enough. Certainly their ridges are more believable than those of the 4 x 8 sheets found just up the aisle in our local Home Depot.

I painted the first batch of planks with an oil-based enamel from Sherwin-Williams, using what is slowly becoming the ubiquitous off-white of choice in our home: SW 6154, aka “Nacre.” It’s the same white found on our kitchen cabinets. We have a brighter white in the rest of the bathroom, “Callalily,” but it’s just a little too bright to my eye these days.

The first batch of planks only got me a little less than halfway around the bathroom — it is quite literally the bathroom, since the bath tub is the only thing in this little enclosure — before I had to start using unpainted planks, fetched during a second trip to the Home Depot because those little 7-inch wide things go fast.


Our new bathroom beadboard wall stops where electrical work begins.

Some Grimm Coffee: “Grandma’s Gone But the Coffee’s On”

I’m lucky to have a number of people in my life who are incredibly supportive of the work I do. One of them happens to be my sister-in-law, who sent us a bag of [Raven’s Brew Gourmet Coffee](http://www.ravensbrew.com/) called “Wicked Wolf” which had the slogan “Grandma’s Gone but the Coffee’s On” emblazoned across the bottom of the front of the bag:


The blurb on the back begins: “Got big eyes, big ears, big teeth? Are you cross-dressing?”


It’s really good coffee, too. And I say that as someone from South Louisiana who has drank his fair share of “gourmet” coffees and/or “strong” coffees that were really nothing more than burnt. I don’t know what the folks at Raven’s Brew do, but somehow they get a strong, bold taste which really does have some fruit in it — I know, I know: I sound like a wine aficianado — or a coffee aficianado, I guess — but in the case of this coffee, it’s true, I tell you! (I would gladly accept any of their coffees as gifts. If it was available on Amazon, I’d already have it ordered by now. As it is, I’m already doing comparison shopping in my head to see how much I have to buy to justify the shipping cost.)

A Fine Sunday

There’s something to be said for work stopping Friday at 5. Today feels like a weekend day. I’m sitting outside on our patio, cold beer nearby, while smoke drifts out of the barbecue pit. Inside is the second round of hamburgers that will feed us and our neighbor who is recovering from a hospital stay both today and part of next week. The last bit of cool from the morning lingers in the shade, and I have successfully hidden the sun behind the patio umbrella. After this, I plan to go inside, eat my hamburger with a helping of beans and try to watch a little bit of football.

After that, unfortunately, I will have to remember that this is the weekend before both the Board of Regents and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities deadlines.