Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I am an early riser, and the first thing I do after I wake up is walk down the hall to my son's room. I duck my head in the door and listen for the sound of his breathing. There is no sound more innocent than the breath of a sleeping child. It fills me with happiness, knowing that he is warm and well and sleeping.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Limmer boot grease

Five years ago I made one of the best purchases of my life. I had a bootmaker named Jim Freeman in Middlebury Vermont make me a pair of custom hiking boots. I've probably logged 3,000 miles on those boots since then, and they have been wonderful.

When Freeman gave me the boots, he told me to use Lexol leather shampoo to clean them and Sno*Seal to seal them from water. Unfortunately, I have found that after five years, these boots have started to show some significant cracking around the flex points.

I decided that it was time to start looking for some replacements to use when these boots got too cracked, and I came across the Limmer family in Intervale NH. I got a new set of boots (factory made in Austria) from them along with what they recommended for taking care of the boots: Limmer Boot Grease.

During the process of breaking in my new Limmer boots, I've been using the grease on the new boots, but I've also been using it on my old Freemans, and it's definitely rejuvenated them. The leather is more supple, and more waterproof.

Something simple that I like: a hand-made product that lets me keep something that I treasure in good condition.

Porsche 911

It's a foolish thing to give your heart to a car, but mine belongs to my Porsche 911.

Brilliantly simple in design, meticulous in execution. Room for two adults and their luggage, plus room for two small children. A top speed of 150 MPH, vivid handling, astonishing brakes.

It doesn't get driven much in the winter, but come spring watch out!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Limmer boot grease


We recently upgraded our cable service to use a DVR. This lets us record shows to the cable box, and it lets us watch one channel while recording another (or record two channels at the same time). This is great, and a nice simplification.

But every so often, the DVR cable box would get into a state where no sound came out of the TV set. The screen said "Muting", but the TV wasn't muted and pressing the "Mute" button on the cable box remote did nothing. I gave my wife the big shrug and power-cycled the box, which fixed the problem but interrupted the Olympic event she was trying to tape.

On a lark, I did a Google search for "Comcast DVR mute problem" and the first search result provided a detailed description of the problem (a bug in Comcast's DVR software) and a fix (how to reprogram any button on the Motorola remote). Wow.

This is an experience that I often have. I am trying to solve a problem that is so obscure, bizarre, or obsessive that I am convinced no one has ever even thought of it before. But 30 seconds of Googling, and I have an answer.

Another example: my wonderful, sweater-knitting mother-in-law recently got a new Macintosh iBook to replace her ancient iMac. I've been trying to provide her with technical support over the phone, with some success. But it turns out that a person developed a wonderful free, secure toolkit that lets you remotely log in and view someone else's OS X session over the internet. This post was so awesome, because the writer was trying to solve exactly the problem that I was trying to solve, and he had exactly the same concerns:
  • No cost
  • Minimal configuration changes to my mom-in-law's system
  • Easy for my mom-in-law to initiate the connection
  • Secure, encrypted link.
I guess, in addition to the internet, I also like Apple, Google, and the fact that OS X is based on Unix.

Not simple, but something that I like.

The maple tree

Right behind our house is very old, very tall maple tree:

This tree keeps our house cool and shady during the hot summer and provides shade for picnic lunches on the deck. In the fall, it turns beautiful shades of orange and red. In the winter, with the leaves gone, it lets the sun shine into our family room. And in the spring, it buds out and provides a new green canopy for the gardens.

The previous owners of our house built a deck around the tree, which is one of the things that's helped the tree do so well. This spring, I need to cut away some of the deck, since the tree has grown to the point the root flare is in contact with the deck beams.

We're concerned about winter moths (they were swarming in November and December), so we've arranged for the tree to be treated in the spring.

Trees, especially this tree, are something simple that I like.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The sweater

My mother-in-law is a big-time knitter. She's knitted me a lovely black cotton crewneck sweater, many sweaters for my wife, and an extremely cute sweater for my son with a pattern of excavators (his favorite thing in the world).

My favorite sweater of hers was one that she wasn't going to finish. I'm not sure why she started it, but she got about 20% through it and decided that it was "too ugly". I told her I thought it looked fine, and she should finish it:

I wear this sweater nearly every day. It is a heavy wool sweater and I wear it on my morning hikes. I love that it keeps me warm, but it also breathes. When I wear it over two layers of fleece, it's good down to about 10ยบ, as long as the wind's not blowing too hard.

As you can see, it's a big floppy sweater, the kind of thing that Ernest Hemingway was always photographed wearing. It probably makes me look like a big, striped whale, but I don't care because it keeps me so warm!

Monday, February 20, 2006

14° F

This morning it was 14° F when I left for my walk around 6:30 AM. As I made my way across a nearby meadow, the moon was still high in the sky:

I could hear hundreds of Mallard ducks grumbling and thrushing in the stream behind my house. There is a spring behind our house that keeps a small brook full of flowing water, no matter how cold the temperature. On cold evenings around sunset, I hear the sounds of the ducks wheeling in to land, and all during the night they grumble. In the morning, just at sunrise they leave for the day.

I love our spring, and our stream, and the birds and animals that come to visit us here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


We have houseguests this weekend, and they're sleeping in a room that is just off the front entryway in the house. Because I'm an early riser, and because I didn't want to wake them, I walked around the outside of the house from the back door to pick up the Sunday papers, left on the front step.

It's 10° F (-18° C), so I was pretty focused on getting out and back in a hurry, but I did stop to look up in the blackest of night skies to see

I love the moon. Implacable, wise, huge, always changing. I love the fat orange moonrise that comes in early evening. I love the aching moon, hanging overhead. I love the moon setting in the west, while tendrils of dawn stream toward it.

I also love stories about the moon:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Container Store

Life is complicated, and one of my life goals is simplification. I call little simplifications "friction reducers". For example, if you have a computer, you need to back it up. If you can figure out a way to do the backup automatically, that is a friction reducer. One less sharp edge to catch your sweater on during the day.

The Container Store sells devices for managing and storing stuff around the house. Plastic storage tubs for organizing pictures, shower organizers to hold your soaps and shampoos, partitioned trays for decluttering your kitchen drawers, and so on. I recently got tired of the collection of half-empty bandaid boxes cluttering up the medicine cabinet, so I bought some pharmacy boxes:

Which let me organize the bandaids (and see them) and get rid of the bandaid boxes. Handy.

But what I really like is the Container Store tape measure. An automatically retracting cloth tape measure. It has a lanyard hook, a stainless steel tip, and a white plastic case. It fits the palm and pocket perfectly:

But the very absolutely most wonderful thing about it? It is made in Germany.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A simple lifestyle

My life is essentially simple. I work one full-time job. My wife is at home full time, taking care of our home and raising our son, who is three.

This essential simplicity, just one job, just one house, leaves the three of us with the time to...

  • Volunteer in the community
  • Pursue hobbies
  • Visit friends
Not living on a treadmill. That's something simple that I like.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

All weather woods walking

Here in Boston, the weather can make walking in the woods challenging. I have a range of clothes and footgear that lets me walk under any conditions. Gore-tex shell and rainpants for rain or wet snow. Various fleece tops and a heavy wool sweater from my mother-in-law cover temperatures down to 0 degrees F.

For heavy snow, I have the snowshoes, and for any combination of water and mud, my Limmer mid-weights.

The most challenging woods walking conditions are when a snowfall is followed by rain followed by a hard freeze. Every surface becomes glazed with ice, and it's difficult to stand up, let alone walk. For those days, and there are many in a typical winter, I now have a set of 10-point crampons. With these on, walking on snow or ice is just like walking on a dry surface. No slipping, sliding, slipping, or falling.

But the best part of an all-weather woods walk is coming home to a warm house full of warm, wonderful people.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My commute

When my wife and I were house shopping after we got married, our first priority was a location that was no more than 1 town away from each of our jobs. We wound up equidistant from our two jobs (7 miles each). I'm fortunate to still be at my job, while my wife is now home full time.

It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to get to and from work, and my journey has just three traffic lights. I find that it is just the right amount of time to transition between work and home, and most of the trip is conducted on very pretty roads:

All of the ugly, irritating parts of the trip are right at the end:

On a nice day, like yesterday when I took these photos, driving to work is nice, not just 'not as bad as it could be'.

Something simple that I like.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Abel Pelletier

For many years I've owned a pair of beaver tail snowshoes

Made by a man named Abel Pelletier in St. Albert Quebec. Today I used my snowshoes to take my morning woods walk. The sun was rising just as I crossed a small clearing in the woods, and there was a wash of red across the snow, filled with impossibly small sparkling points of light.

Later, I heard one of my favorite woods walk sounds: A hairy woodpecker, tap tap tapping high above me. I love this sound, because you hear it as you're walking, then you stop and wait for the sound again. The second time you hear it, you try to locate where it is. And then you wait for the sound again. If you're lucky, the third time you hear the sound, you'll also see the movement of the woodpecker.

So those are some simple things I like today.

Thinking small

It's about to be bonus time where I work, and if the bonus is sweet enough, I'm hoping to replace our tube TV with an HDTV LCD flat panel. We just got a Comcast/Motorola 2-tuner DVR cable box, which has HDTV outputs, and I'm looking forward to watching at least some HDTV content. Plus, we'll be able to watch our widescreen DVDs at a more normal picture size.

I am not an early-adopter of technology; I'd much rather wait for the third or fourth version, the one that works and is cheap, before buying. Last year I installed a wireless network, got high-speed internet access, and replaced a desktop PC with a laptop. I also got a pair of Apple Airport Express units to let me stream music from ITunes to the living room stereo and the Bose radio in the kitchen, plus a third unit to use as a wireless print server. Plus an IPod. This year, HDTV and a DVR.

I particularly like how much space we can save with this new technology. Moving the desktop computer and its associated junk out of the study turned that room into a nice sitting room. Getting all of the CDs onto the Powerbook cleared out that shelf in the living room, plus we could give our old CD player to my mother-in-law when her CD player crapped out. Getting the DVR means we can toss that musty, dusty, basket of old video tapes. The new TV will have a bigger screen but take up much less space than the current one.

We live in a small, 100 year old farm house. The house was built before widespread household electrification, microwaves, refrigerators (but not iceboxes), convection ovens, computers, televisions, DVD players, and VCRs. As these devices get smaller, the house starts to feel more comfortable.

So that's what I like today: small devices for storing, transmitting, and rendering digital data.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow day

It is snowing...

so maybe today we'll talk more simple, happy tech stuff.

I live in a small house, and I don't really want to have a "computer room". So we use a Powerbook on a wireless network for computing.

The wireless router and cable modem are tucked under the stairs, in the back of a closet. My old Sony VAIO desktop used to be connected to the wireless network with a Linksys USB 802.11b/g adapter, but I could never get it to work that well. The Linksys drivers were constantly fighting with the Windows XP "Wireless Zero" -- great name -- stuff.

So when I got the Powerbook, I put the VAIO in the closet with the router and connected it via Ethernet for use as a file server for backups, and to provide access to my old PC data. This is great, except when it's time to administer the server. If the VAIO had Windows XP Pro, then I could administer it remotely from the Powerbook using Apple's Remote Desktop Client. But it has XP home, and it's a crippled OEM version from Sony with no CD-ROM media supplied, so I was dubious about whether an XP Pro upgrade license would actually work, and besides that's like $150.

Enter the wonderful world of free open-source VNC software. I used the RealVNC server on the XP box and Chicken of the VNC on the Macintosh. I installed this software from the web using all the default settings and it just worked! Amazing.

Wouldn't it be nice if Google would provide Picasa for the Mac...

Finally, a word of praise for AVG's free anti-virus software for Windows. I've been using this for years on the VAIO. Free, automatic updates, unobtrusive operation. Who could ask for more?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


The past few days in Boston have been warm, sunny, and free of snow and ice. With earlier sunrises, I've been able to get out for longer walks in the morning. One of the things that consistently makes me happy is a short stretch of trail that I cleared over the past two years. When originally laid out, this section of trail passed through a wet area:

Because I walk through this part of the trail nearly every day, I've been able to plot an alternate route that stays dry in pretty much all weather:

The initial work was to map out the route, which I did two years ago. The final work happened in January, when a friend and I went out with a chainsaw to clear the trail. Now, each time I walk across it, I think about the work I did, and how much nicer it is to walk there now.

Pretty much all of my walks make me happy. Here are some scenes from Friday morning (the 10th of February, 2006):

I think that it is safe to say that when the tree in the fourth photograph fell, it made a sound regardless if anyone was there.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The simple life

When you sit down to create a blog, what do you write about? Maybe the simplest thing would be to write about things that I like.

Simple thing that I like: Walking. I walk about 5 miles every morning around sunrise. I live near the center of my town, but I can walk out of my back door and into about 600 acres of meadows, fields, and forests. Some of this land is owned by the town, some by land trusts, and some by private owners. There's an amazing trails network, that I help to maintain.

Non-simple thing that I like: Figuring out a reliable, easy way of backing my Powerbook up across our wireless network. I have an old Sony VAIO desktop sitting in a closet next to the wireless router, plugged into the router's Ethernet port. The VAIO has a firewire port, so I bought a 250GB LaCie Firewire drive. I connected the drive to my Powerbook and created a Read/Write sparse image (.dmg file) of the entire disk using SuperDuper!. Then I took the disk and plugged it into the Sony server and shared it under Windows XP.

Now, when it's time to back up, I just mount the volume from the Mac and use SuperDuper! to update the disk image. It took about 90 minutes to create the initial image with the disk connected to the Powerbook, and it takes about 10 or 15 minutes to do the incremental update.

The complications that I encountered were that the only file system that can be mounted by both a Powerbook and a Windows XP system is FAT32. Mac OSX won't mount NTFS disks, and Windows XP won't mount HFS+ disks. And FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4GB, which isn't big enough to back up an entire disk. So I had to reformat the disk as HFS+, then buy Mediafour's MacDrive, which lets you mount an HFS+ disk on a Windows XP system.

The total cost for this adventure was $265.94 ($188 for the disk, $27.95, for SuperDuper!, and $49.99 for MacDrive). But knowing that I've got a bootable image of my Powerbook disk? Priceless.