Blog

Rabbits · June 6, 2019

rabbit

It has been a banner year for rabbits, for whatever reason. (I'll go ahead and call it a banner year for the abundance, though others, including my grandfather, would see them simply as vermin.) There have been very frequent and continuous rains, which is the other thing that stands out about this spring, but I can't figure out why that should have anything to do with the number of rabbits. Indeed, I remember Robert J. Lertsema, in a news broadcase in the early 1970s, talking about how very heavy rains had filled their burrows, decimating the population.

(I have also seen as many foxes this year as I usually see for several years together, but that isn't a really big number of foxes.)

Fixing machines · May 18, 2019

drill press head

I have been hit with a rash of machine failures lately. It's very unusual, but still a nuisance because I have no patience with fixing machines. I know other people, especially males, thrive on the activity and challenge. My expectation of a machine is that I will turn it on and it will work. If it doesn't, I will hire someone to fix it if the repair isn't glaringly simple and easy. The recent batch generally represent things that can't readily be taken to a repair shop or serviced by a technician in a house call.

The first casualty was the backup disk system for my computer. I had bought an Apple Time Capsule for the purpose when I got my last Mac, with good results and long-term durability. On April 26, Apple discontinued its Airport line, including my Time Capsule. On April 27, my backup system stopped working without warning to me. I presume that Apple had programmed things that way. I wasn't too worried because I didn't care about the wifi capabilities anyway, since I could just plug it in with an ethernet cable, as the Apple Store explained to me years ago. Unfortunately, that didn't work. Shortly thereafter, my internet connection stopped working, though clearly the machine reported being connect to a wifi router that other devices were using successfully. Apple was helpful enough to provide phone support, but unfortunately the technician was baffled. Eventually I figured out that the problem with the internet was that the machine thought the ethernet cable to the backup drive was a connection to a router. Presumably some odd line of code buried in the discontinued Airport support accomplished this. I got the internet working again after a few hours and purchased a new backup disk, so within a few days all was well.

The next problem was with my garage door, which began to stop closing halfway down and then climb back up. This one was relatively easy. Presumably the interruption of the closing reflected an intentional safety feature to keep the door from doing damage or causing injury if it encountered unexpected resistance. Observation showed that where the door stopped moving, the roller wheel was binding against the side of the track. A mounting hole had been drilled outside of tolerance, and the installation crew hadn't bothered to correct that. The garage moves slightly over time, like most buidings, and the margin for error went away. Inside of fifteen minutes, with a drill and a wrench, I had things going again.

Problem three: a rather freakish encounter between the right rear-view mirror of my car and a stick in a trash can knocked off the external housing for the mirror. I was pleased (eventually) to find that the auto manufacturer had designed things well for this situation, a common one. The plastic housing snapped back on, though it took a bit of head-scratching for me to figure out how. I was off – but the instrument panel warned me, "Check right mirror turn signal." It turned out that the cord for the indicator came unplugged at the collision. Again, the underlying design was thoughtfully done so that all I needed to do was to plug the thing back in.

Problem four: the belt tension adjustment for my drill press failed the first time I tried to change the speed range by switching pulleys. I would have been glad to pay for a service call, but the machine is still under warranty. I called Wen customer service. The person I spoke with was very helpful, but the answer wasn't: bring it in to a factory repair shop. The thing weighs 150 pounds and I don't have a truck. When I explained that, he talked with a technician, who suggested, take off the head and have a look. Well, the suggestion was helpful, but the process wasn't. The head weighs 100 pounds or so, more than I can lift and move around with any precision. To make things worse, the ceiling of my cellar is low, so that removing the head necessitates tilting the machine at an angle. As an expedient, I lifted the head off using a rope and winch, which is much easier said than done. After three afternoon sessions, I finally identified the root problem, which was that a piece of the internal mechanism had a loose set screw and slipped. Unfortunately, this section was one of the first steps of the assembly, not readily accessible. It took quite a fit of fussing to get an Allen wrench inside the shaft hole in the case iron casing to a suitable position to turn the set screw. You may note in the picture above that the hole (in the center) is just big enough to get one's fingers into, but tight enough that getting the fingers in blocks the light to the pieces involved. Well, finally I got the thing going. I am disappointed that the manufacturer would put such a key function so far inside the machine, and hold it together with nothing more than a set screw. I am also disappointed that there was no provision for a service call from a factory authorized technician. I eventually got the drill press going again, but it took an inordinate amount of my time – for something that was clearly a Wen factory defect and covered by warranty.

Fifth and last, my lawn tractor is developing intermittent hesistation and hiccoughing. I strongly suspected that the problem was dirt in the fuel line between the gas tank and the fuel pump. Unfortunately, again the problem is with components installed early in the assembly process, so replacing the fuel line would be a major undertaking. I have got good usage out the Deere tractor and am happy overall with it. I'd get a new one gladly, expect that it wouldn't be much different from the one I have, albeit with a new and clean fuel line. I temporized by blowing out the line with compressed air for now, with the thought of having it picked up and serviced by Deere in the fall.

Whew! I hope my other mechanical possessions have a quiet spell.

Locust tree · April 19, 2019

I have an area in back of my house that has a very nice view. It would offer a very pleasant place to sit, except that later in the day, which offers the most likely hours for idling, it faces directly into the unshaded sun. In midsummer, the glare and heat are very uncomfortable. I've thought of all kinds of ways of providing shade that don't block the wonderful view out the kitchen window. There are a lot of approaches that wouldn't work.

I have settled on planting a locust tree. Locusts have very airy compound leaves that generally create light shade. They are one of the last trees to leave out in spring, and one of the first to lose their leaves in autumn.

I've found that transplanted trees usually don't do a lot in the first year in their new location, beyond getting themselves established. If after that the tree grows, say, two feet a year, it will be ten or fifteen years before it would begin to fulfil its mission of providing shade. That's fine. My yard has trees of all stages of their life cycles, from infants to decrepit old things. After twenty years here, some of the first things I planted are in the prime by now.

Most of the trees in my yard are native specimens that I've dug from elsewhere in my yard or nearby and relocated. Usually these are a foot or two in height at the time. There aren't native locusts around, however, so this one came from a nursery and is quite a bit taller going into the ground.

My Aunt Janice · April 2, 2019

Janice Mitchell

My aunt Janice Mitchell died on Saturday, March 30.

Janice was an amazingly cheery, aware person. She told me a couple of times about how her mother, who had pressured my mother to succeed, treated her differently and wanted her to be well liked. She was that.

I got to know Janice much better when my mother grew demented and there were difficult questions about how to deal with her life. My mother had told me that if such questions arose, I should talk with my brother, Peter, and figure them out with him. Alas, by the time my mother's difficulties were in full press, Peter had died a premature death. My mother, fortunately, was too far gone mentally by then to understand that she had a son, let alone who he was or what had happened to him. I began to look to Janice as someone to consult. I was very glad of the help, because the caregiving role was very confusing at times. As we spoke more often, I came to understand more and more how good-hearted a person she was. Following my mother's death, I drove to Denver to visit Janice and her family.

Janice married her high school sweetheart, Clyde. There was never anyone else. They were amazingly close for 72 years.

Completion of house renovations · March 25, 2019

I bought my house in 2000 and have been working on it ever since. There was a very intense period shortly after I bought it, with the activity tapering down as time went on. I always kept at it with some level or the other of activity. In the last months, I have completed the last bits of work, down to getting at least one coat of paint everywhere. The last bits of carpentry and finish were the living room baseboard, not because it was such a large project, but because moving furniture around to get at it was a nuisance and disruption. Now, it is scraped, sanded, washed with hot water and ammonia, and painted with a primer and a finish coat. And everything around the has been thoroughly cleaned. Whew! Twenty years' work!

Of course, houses are never complete. By the time one has finished the original scope of work, something else has come up that needs attention, or there are later thoughts of improvements. For instance, now that I've retired, I am spending a lot more time in my shop in the basement and am looking at doing something to insulate it.

Signs of hope · February 26, 2019

It hasn't been a really hard winter, but it has been colder as it's gone along. It's reassuring to see the traditional first signs of garden life, crocus spikes an inch high. It's supposed to continue cold and snow in the next twenty-four hours, but it's nice to see these harbingers of hope.

Ipswich Planning Board · January 10, 2019

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to join the Planning Board of the Town of Ipswich as an associate memmber.

The Planning Board has dual missions of helping set goals and policies for the community, and of application of existing policies to individual cases of proposed land use and development. This placement of the combination of theory and practice is a fundamentally sound one.

The Town of Ipswich is characterized by a long history and the presence of significant open spaces. As time moves on, physical structures deteriorate, and social and economic conditions evolve dramatically, it is often challenging to maintain the fundamental conditions that its residents value. The Planning Department and Planning Board have done an outstanding job of recognizing and foreseeing this evolution, and steering change in directions and channels that provide both for modernization and preservation.

Housecleaning · January 1, 2019

This web site began some five years ago as an afterthought from the one I did for my mother. Like many other homes, it has accumulated clutter that is no longer of use or relevance.

I do a certain amount of housekeeping on a regular basis. For instance, as I add pieces of artwork, I sometimes remove others that appear, with the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time, not to hold so much interest or merit.

Larger undertakings have come to be in order as well. For instance, what was a while ago an occasional pursuit, stonework, has evolved to become a core activity. With the new year, I am limiting that focus on stone landscaping, removing a number of posts that seem at this point to have held only transient interest. Meanwhile, the three-dimensional art page continues to expand. A couple of other pages haven't had anything new for two or three years, reflecting reality, but I am thinking actively about going back to the activies they cover.

Five years is, of course, an age in terms of supporting information technology infrastructure. I've asked myself if it is time for a complete new home shell, presumably with a lot of content moved along like furniture. Maybe so. I will look more deeply into what's involved as effort and as benefit. It would be a question of purchasing a new package, probably from Project Seven, the authors of this one. They seemed, and still do, to be at the top of the pack simply as far as visual design. Still, if I don't want to write all the code myself, I would want to understand it at least well enough to make modifications. That would mean some technical learning for me. For the moment, I'm holding off but leaning toward an update. My experience is that deferred maintenance is particularly risky and often painful in software.