Thursday, March 27, 2008

You've Got Something in Your Teeth

Ryan & Bethany have entered another video contest for big big prizes. This time it is for something called DentaBurst. You will understand its virtues after seeing their entry here. I'm excited about this one, since Ryan and I talked about it and he liked some of my ideas enough to use them. I don't feel like a director, or a cinematographer - I didn't have a lot of ideas. I feel like a producer - I'm Robert Evans!

Arlington Triangle

I took my first proper bike ride of the season yesterday. Until now, I've been using my indoor fluid trainer. Mostly because I am literally a fair weather fan when it comes to biking - I do not enjoy being out on the trails while cold or wet. And I hadn't gotten around to tuning up my road bike until last weekend.

The weather was too perfect to pass up yesterday, though. Warm, but not hot. Good cloud cover, so I didn't have to gear up with SPF 60 beforehand. And only a light breeze - no need to work against a headwind on any of the legs.

I did the Arlington Triangle route, up the 4-Mile Run/W&OD to the Custis, east through Rosslyn, and back down along the Potomac. Great route, good for about 18 miles, and much of it recently repaired and reconditioned. I was surprised there weren't more people out, though - as I said, it was a perfect day to bike or run.

This will have to do for a while, though. I like the Triangle, but the longer ride to Mount Vernon is my favorite. I just don't have the time to do that right now, and still get my PE studying done. And as much as I enjoy riding, I would like to do more with my free time than exercise and study. I also enjoy tv.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dan vs. Nature

I noticed recently that a tree in my side yard has grown up against the house. In fact, some of the branches have damaged the roof, slightly, peeling away a handful of shingles. The branches also provide my nemeses, the squirrels, access to the roof and the upstairs window. So I resolved to cut back the tree.

Of course, first I made sure I had the right tools (a Leatherman with a saw blade) and a way to access the branches (climb the tree). I formulated a plan (climb tree, start hacking) and put that plan into action. I thought it was foolproof. Unfortunately, I was the fool who had to prove it.

I started to climb the tree, and the very first branch I stepped on turned out to be problematic. In the sense that it was dead, and immediately gave way. Since it was the first branch, though, my journey earthward was thankfully short. I did get some nice scrapes on my legs and hand to help me learn an important lesson. After that, I was more thorough about testing the limbs I used for support, and made it up the tree without much trouble.

Once at the top, I took some time to savor the view (Shingles!). I then discovered that the Leatherman saw is best suited for cutting branches for use roasting s'mores . My stay at the treetop was lengthier than I planned. But the limbs did get cut down.

Climbing down was... tricky. I remember flying up and down the old maple tree behind our house growing up. Now, I'm think I might be sore tomorrow from this minor chore. I'm reminded of a quote, "we are not now that strength which once moved heaven and earth."

For my future landscaping projects, I think I'll stick to mowing the lawn, mixed in with the occasional weed-whacker run.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Studying for the upcoming Professional Engineer exam is becoming burdensome. I've almost finished all of the practice problems. My textbooks and references are bedecked with a rainbow of quick tabs. There's not much left to do, but getting it done each evening is getting harder and harder.

It isn't as much work as I once did with ease in college. But clearly I've gotten out of the habit of studying. And while the mechanics of it came back quickly, I don't seem to have the endurance for it. I think I may have started off too fast - flaming out quickly. If I end up following up the PE with an attempt at grad school, I'll need to remember that particular lesson.

The studying has come in handy on the job, however. Not in a direct way - I haven't had work projects recently that use the particular theories and principles I'm reviewing. But I have been doing some analysis that goes more smoothly when tackled with more methodical techniques. Lots of notes, showing all the work - exactly how I work the study problems. It's true that most engineering work benefits from that kind of treatment, but this project particularly so. It is nice to have some tangible benefit from this grinding effort almost immediately.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

001.422 Tuf

It is beautiful outside today, so I went for a walk around the neighborhood and ended up at the Duncan Branch Library. Alexandria has a pretty good city library system, and the Duncan is a very nice local branch. It was renovated and expanded just recently, and has a decent collection on site.

Finding myself there without a particular plan, I decided to look for a book I just heard about recently, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. They had a copy checked in, and interestingly enough it was the first book in the non-fiction stacks, on the very end of the top row of the first shelf.

I skimmed through the book, but did not check it out. I think I might prefer to have my own copy. It has been described as a "Strunk & White for graphics." Tufte lays out how graphics can be best used to convey complex information, while avoiding numerous common errors. He shows how graphs and charts are used to lie or made confusing with "chartjunk." And the text gives simple rules for conveying the most information with the least ink, eliminating confusion and errors. I would recommend anyone who regularly creates or reads graphs and charts, professionally or otherwise, to see if your library has a copy.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I was doing some chores around the house this weekend, and made an interesting discovery. Squirrels are eating my window frames.

Upstairs, there is a windowsill that is close to some branches of a tree in my side yard. Apparently, the squirrels were curling up there to enjoy some of the heat leaking out through the very old windows. While they were there, they must have been teething or something, because they have gnawed away much of the part of the windowframe that holds the storm windows. I put in some stop-gap measures to secure the storm window, but more is required. I need to find an extension ladder, so I can get up there, remove the storm window, rebuild the frame, and reinstall. Also, I need a way to kill squirrels. I should probably trim back the tree limbs while I am at it.

If I owned the house, this could easily be the start to a number of small maintenance projects - the trim could use new paint, for instance. But I think I'll have to talk to my landlord, and see if I can get him to take care of a few things. It seems like once you start down that road, there's always another project cropping up, something else that needs to be stripped, painted, rebuilt, replaced, or repaired. Perhaps if I enjoyed the sweat equity, but just not worth it in a rental.