Friday, May 31, 2013

Parenting 31 months: The Ego has landed

We made it halfway through the 2 year old time with a very agreeable child.  His goto word when he did not know what he was just asked was 'yeah'.  His version of rebellion was "I do it."  This month, he has learned to appreciate the word 'no' and all of its friends and relations.    This comes along with being possessive of things (i.e. not letting go of his toys), and being generally willful.  Of course, being us, our response is to tease him for saying no for any reason at all.

Grandma was visiting at the first part of the month.  And she joined us for one of our favorite activities: going to a concert.  Fittingly, the concert was based on the book Where the Wild Things Are.

I'm going to a concert with Grandma

This concert also involved a train, which is something T does not get to do all that much.

Riding on the train with grandma

Now that summer has started, and our winter that did not want to leave is over, we are trying to get out more.  Swimming lessons have started.  But T is pretty bad at swimming.  Doesn't follow directions like blowing bubbles on demand or kicking or scooping (forward crawl).  It does not look like he is going to be prepared for graduation to the next level.

He is also highly imitative.  His new favorite toy is Handy Manny, which is based on a cartoon centered on a handy man and his tools.  He has the toolbox with the dancing/singing tools.  And he has enjoyed watching us do projects around the house.  And he likes to help out.  After all, he has Pat the Hammer, Rusty the Wrench, Squeeze the Pliers, and Turner and Filippe the Screwdrivers and he grabs the right tool for the job (ok, I think he sees what we grab and gets his version of it).

Riding on the train with grandma

Next month.  More projects around the house.  More outings outside (and hiking).  And grandma and grandpa come to stay!

Hiking in North Park in a ring sling

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Building a sawhorse workbench

My memorial day weekend project was to build a workbench.  Now, I have not done real woodworking before, but a workbench is one of those traditional first projects.  And since we really don't have a place to put a workbench I decided to make a sawhorse workbench with a plywood top that I can breakdown and bring it into the backyard when I want to work.

First the size.  Well, actually, I was thinking of something less ambitious, like a toolbox.  But I found this nice set of plans for a toolbox that could do double duty as a stool for working in the garden, and it required a 4' X 4' piece of plywood.  But plywood does not come in that size.  It comes in 2' X 4' or 4' X 8'.  So I figured I'd get a 4' X 8' and whatever was left would become a workbench top.  Which means I'm making a workbench.  Now, that makes perfect sense, right?

First part, making the sawhorses.  As a bonus we have a couple cabinet doors that we want to make into a table for T, so it is ok to mess up one set.

I did the first pair of sawhorses using a couple of sawhorse brackets.  The idea is you put 2"X4" as the legs into the brackets, and the jaws of the brackets close down on another 2X4. (with everything screwed in for permanence.  Problem:  The brackets are just a little to small to fit in a 2X4.  A quick search on reveals this is a common complaint.  Apparently at least one manufacturer of these things doesn't recognize the difference between inner and outer diameter (I figure they are too small by just about the thickness of the metal.  So after way too much work shaving the ends of the 2X4's, I had the first pair of sawhorses.  These will someday turn into legs for a table for T.

Building sawhorse using sawhorse brackets.  I'm going to saw these down to size so everything is clamped up.

So, let's try again.  This time I'm building these from lumber.  There is a set of plans that basically call for making an I-beam and putting legs on them, so that is what I'll do.  Now, I did a layout of the 4'X8' and figured I can fit the toolbox all in 4' X 37", which leaves 4' X 59" for the workbench.  Cut that in half and I get a two-ply 4' X 29 1/2".  I wanted a little more stability than you get from just a pair of sawhorses 3' apart so I will put in joist hangers so I can have a pair of crossbeams for more stability.

First, make the sawhorses.  The joist hangers really don't work with an I-beam, so I'm making a T-beam, and attaching joist hangers to the vertical.

Joist hangers for the sawhorses

Next, complete the crossbeam.  The Workmate workbench is good for holding the vertical in place while I work.  Also have a couple of blocks to help hold everything steady while I put in the horizontal beam.
Finishing the sawhorse beam.  I'm a member of the "You can't have too many clamps" club

Two crossbeams, then attach the legs (all this is using 3" drywall screws and a cordless screwdriver).  Now I have two sawhorses with joist hangers for crossbeams.
Here is the frame of the sawhorse table.

For the top, I took the two layers of plywood, then glued and screwed them together (using Elmer's wood glue and 1" wood screws)  Clamp everything together overnight and I end up with a nice size worktable.  (oh, this is after taking apart one of the sawhorses and putting it back together because it wasn't really square on one side)

My first workbench

Some things still to do:
  1. Sand everything.
  2. Once I decide just where I want the table top in relation to the legs, I'll attach the crossbeams to the table top to give it more stability.
  3. Add in 3/4" bench dog holes.  Once I figure out where they should go.
  4. Probably fut a finish on the top (Danish oil?  Tung oil?)
  5. If I'm satisfied with the sawhorses (I probably will try to level them a bit better), I'll add in braces on the legs.  And probably a shelf on one of them (just one, so they will still be stackable)
Some things I learned along the way:

1.  Sawhorse brackets suck. Big thumbs down.  I'll never get those again.
2.  I probably was way too careful with clamping down while making the sawhorse.  It was a lot easier when I broke one of them down to put back together just bracing everything by hand.
3.  2X4 are not all alike in size.  Even when they come from the same batch.  Measure according to the actual piece you are going to put in.
4.  Jigsaws have to go real slow through 2X4's or they will bend.

Once I'm done sanding, I will actually get around to making that garden tool box that was the excuse for getting that plywood :-)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A tale of two faucets

This week's task was to replace two faucets, to go along with the renovation of the bathrooms that my wife has been steadily doing.  We figure that the faucets are original with the house, and, well, they are in pretty bad shape.  Replacing the faucet was not hard, the problem was taking the old ones out.

Faucet 1
Faucet #2 with a base that has corroded through.

So the first task it get the tools.  Home Depot had some good instructions on replacing a faucet.  They also allude to the fact that hardest part is getting the old faucet off and I would need some extra tools.

iPad with instructions and some plumbing tools
So, I got a basin wrench for those nuts that were hard to reach under the sink and a locknut wrench for the locknuts that were holding the faucet in place.  The first faucet resisted the locknut wrench.  It finally came off after several days of using penetrating solvent into the faucet hookup.

The locknuts of faucet 1

And so faucet one was done.
One faucet done

The recalcitrant locknut and the beat up locknut wrench

Now for the second faucet.  This was harder because it was in a cabinet.  The standard nuts came off fairly easily.  But these locknuts were of tougher  stuff.

This locknuts did not just beat up the locknut wrench, they cracked it.

Locknut wrench showing battle damage in defeat

I finally decided to forget it and I cut off the stuck locknuts using an oscillating multi-tool.  After all, the faucet was so corroded that it was well beyond saving anyway.

The remnants of the locknuts and the tools that took them apart.

The replaced faucet

The end result, a second faucet done.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stryker: The Seige of Sadr City by Konrad Ludwig

Stryker: The Siege of Sadr CityStryker: The Siege of Sadr City by Konrad R.K. Ludwig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ludwig gives the story of the Siege of Sadr City as he saw it, as an infantry part of the 2nd Cavalry. And as in all stories that do this right, he does not start with the battle itself, but with how the elements were prepared to be sent into battle, so this book is a story of how a U.S. infantryman is trained, then equipped, then prepared for battle.

The first parts of the book could be subtitled as the making of an infantryman. Ludwig writes of his state of mind in choosing infantry as a branch when his recruiter told him that he had options. He focuses on his desire to challenge himself, and demonstrate that he could meet all challenges. And the disappointment he had when after finishing school he gets sent to a unit that was not deploying into combat anytime soon. The goal here is to explain the aggressiveness of infantry, why it is needed, and how it is distilled. We also get the source of their pride. It is not just the aggressiveness, it is also the excessive attention to detail required even under stress that is developed in training and emphasized and honed when infantrymen arrive at their units and are further trained by the NCO masters of their craft.

The second part was his unit deploying to Iraq, as part of the 2007 surge. I remember this period as the time I was preparing for deployment and my actual deployment into Afghanistan. And I also remember at this time we laughed at people who said that we (the U.S.) were doing well or even that we really had a handle on what kind of wars we were in. Ludwig's stories here are of what that confusion looked like on the ground. Of soldiers in combat who completed the tasks assigned to them, whether they be kinetic combat or direct interaction with Iraqi civilians or training Iraqi security forces, but those of us who were trying to direct them were still feeling our way through. And then there were those who liked to think they actually understood what they were doing, which made things harder on those who were in direct contact with reality like Ludwig. We see the conflict that he had of being highly trained, focused instrument, but with those who were directing that instrument blind and not willing to admit it, and the combat troops were the ones who paid the consequence, physically and mentally. And this was up against Iraqi militants who were the ones who had survived three years of battle with U.S. forces, and they had no trouble with recognizing reality. It was an environment that U.S. soldiers entering for the first time had to grow up in a hurry. And they did.

The third was the actual battle of Sadr City. Here we see both the situation in contact, the overall situation, and the situation as seen by the platoon and squad level (Ludwig's understanding is probably informed by the time he spent in the tactical operations center). Ludwig shows the effects of some policies that we put into place by people who were removed from the reality of contact with either the Iraqi people or the militants we were in combat with. But he also shows how some leaders could adapt when confronted with reality. What makes this part shine is how you can see the battle changing character as both sides are adapting and responding to each others actions. The U.S. utilizing their training and resources, the Iraqi militants using the lessons learned by the survivors of years of combat. This part is probably more interesting because I've read some reports that were from the viewpoint at the company and battalion level. And I can see this narrative on the ground interweaving with how this battle was reported at higher levels. There is one scene where Ludwig leaves his unit to see General Petraeus. It was an amusing scene, and one where Ludwig depicts Petraeus in a highly positive light, unlike how he tends to view those removed from actual combat.

The last part is the aftermath. And Ludwig's goal is not to talk about the war in general, but to continue what he has done and what the aftermath looked like to the individual infantryman. And this meant what happens after they return to the U.S. For those who did not re-enlist, this meant re-entering the civilian economy with all of its difficulties. But this is the part that makes the book different, it starts with the young man who leaves his home to find the challenge of infantry, and ends with him returning after serving his nation in combat, and struggling to reintegrate himself after his nation has prepared him to face challenges under stress, but it itself is a society that does not value that.

I would put his as one of the books that should be read. Maybe even up there with Caputo A Rumor of War or The Things They Carried because of its completeness, for starting with the formation of a soldier to the return of that soldier to a not always remembering nation. And maybe we can remember what we have created with our Army. Men who are disciplined and focused to meet any challenge and mission under stress, but out of place in a society that works so hard to remove challenge and stress from life.

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Heinz Hall, Where the Wild Things Are

Waiting to see some Wild Things

When we found out about the 'Where the Wild Things Are', we started to prepare my two year old for it. We don't have the book, but I found videos of dramatic readings and readings set to music to get T familiar with the story. So we talked about it every day this week. Finally the day came. Today was a daytime father and son (and grandma) outing. Part 1. The train. Because while the train is a favorite toy in the house, T does not actually get to ride in one very often, and a concert during the day in Heinz Hall is a good excuse. Part 2. The concert. We said hi to one of the Pittsburgh Symphony staff who recognized T from Fiddlesticks concerts. And after walking around Heinz Hall to burn off some two year old energy, we got our seats in the family section. Front center of the Grand Tier. The best seats I have ever had!

We did not check the program, but I found the format to be a lot of fun. There was a piece with every scene of the story to fit the mood of the story. A Mendelssohn for the conversion of the room into the forest. Schumann for the voyage on the sea. Music to go with meeting the terrible Wild Things and for the rumpus. And the voyage home where there was good food to eat.

The kids enjoyed it. One of the nice things about this is that there is no artificial constraint to not respond to the music like normal concerts. So you had kids dancing in their seats. T would alternately huddle in nervousness and laugh and wiggle in glee as the scenes and the music changed.

But by the end he was ready. As the voyage home started T picked up on his cue and asked to 'go home.' And this very happy little boy enjoyed a train back home. My wife has informed me that 'Wild Things' has entered his vocabulary, so I think we are declaring this to be a successful outing.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Parenting 30 months: Toddler in motion

This past month T has turned into a proper toddler boy. Constantly in motion and talking. Some well used phrases include "I needs a ___" and the related "Is that a ___?" (where ___ is usually food) "Look daddy/mommy" "This way" "go home" (when he is tired). And then his favorite toys "marble run!" "Handy mandy" And some favorite videos "Pocoyo" "fun fun elmo" "three-two-one" (a video that includes a rocket)
 I can play drums on the rail in Heinz Hall
He also has the proper toddler attention span where he switches activities about every minute. We think that this is a result of being socialized at day care. He is having more fun there. He plays with a couple of other kids (who seem to have selected each other on the basis of equal verbal skills). Actually, some of the kids in the day care act like moms and as one of the least verbal kids there, these kids like to act like he is the little brother (I think they do this with any of the less verbal kids) Its funny when I come to pick him up, if he did not notice me come, one of the mommy type kids will announce "T's daddy" and go get him, and his jacket, and maybe other things that he needs to bring home. He is still a very curious little boy and likes to explore. Of course, this seems to be more true when either mommy or daddy are around. One of his latests interests is rockets. He likes to watch rocket launches "five four three two one zero liftoff!" and the Lego set is currently set up as two rockets ready for launch.

Learning how to use a glovebox

The next month highlights will be visits from auntie and grandma, and the end of school for mommy and daddy, which means mommy and daddy school begins in earnest :-)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A recap on work flow, note takers and task organizers

Some experiments I have been doing with workflow over the past semester as introduced on this post back in January

1.  Using Pandoc, Markdown, and pweave for class preparation.  

I did the notes for my Logistics and Supply Chain course completely in Markdown.  This included slides for in class presentation, writing homework solutions, and everything else with the class preparation.  I wrote a Makefile that took care of everything.  Basically what it meant is that to create slides for class prep I wrote it as a text file.  It does force some simplicity because there is no ability to tweak a slide or an image.  But that is probably a good thing because it forces efficiency.

One nice advantage of using pweave for homework and exam solutions is that it makes it easy to have multiple versions of an exam.  If I have equations and steps in place, I can change a few parameters, and maybe an assumption or two and I have a new problem with not much extra work.  Also I did a lot of cut and pasting of code.  The code I wrote for presenting in class became the code that I used to solve the homework.  And since I let them see the code (and I also copied over the equations needed to solve the homework) it connected the homework solution to the lectures.  One issue is that so few of my students were competent programmers in any language that the Python code was not all that helpful to them (other than proving that I did indeed solve the problem)  But this was a definite success.

2.  Using Mercurial as a hosted version control system.  

I had to work with a new team on one project I was working on, so the first thing I did was to move the  former post-doc's work into a version control (Mercurial) and put it on a hosted repository (bitbucket).  And we spent a month refactoring the entire thing to separate out the code from the site specific bits (because we were going to apply it to a new location).  The repository meant that we were able to be aggressive in refactoring (yes, I did have to completely through out a day of work at one point because what I was thinking was not going to work.  All I did was wipe my directory and reclone the repository)  The others got into the hang of putting everything in the repository as well.  Now, the comments are not all that good on the part of the post-doc and grad student working with me, and we tended to work in separate areas so it was not true collaborative programming, but it was not bad.

I plan on continuing this over the summer with a few students who are learning agent based modeling together.  The intent is that if all of us are putting our models in the repository, we can ask questions like "why does ___ not work" and we can have their model to look at.  We'll see how that works.

3.  Google Tasks as a task organizer  

This worked out pretty well.  I ended up using Google tasks as a note taker (more on that later)  I was off an on regarding being consistent, but there were periods where I had a lot going on that this to-do list being available on all of my computers, my iphone and ipad was very useful.  Keep doing this.

4.  Tomboy as a notes organizer. 

Note taking sounds like a no-brainer.  Not.  This one pretty much died.  In February Canonical eliminated an API that enabled use of Ubuntu One as a storage place.  So I ended up storing the notes data on Dropbox (so my Windows and Linux machines were synced).  But the iPad app that integrated with Tomboy no longer worked, so if I was using the iPad, the notes were not integrated.  And this pretty much meant I was not using Tomboy notes.  Sometimes I would create a task in Google tasks and create a note if I needed something.  But generally this went unused.

I'm going to try this again.  But since I realize now that having it on my iPad and syncing to my computers is the key to the whole affair, my main focus was on the iPad integration.  So I am looking at Simplenote for the note-taking. It is originally designed for iPhone/iPad, and there are applications on Windows and Linux that integrate with it (and also the Google Chrome browser)