Miles to go before I sleep

Friends,

This week represents a significant milestone in my athletic life. It was 40 years ago in 1976 in the fall at the start of my senior year of high school that I began running for fun, health, and exercise, and I am still doing it today! I rarely ran every day – that would be too much mentally and physically. Everything in moderation is generally how I live my life. These days I usually run 2-3 times a week depending on the season, including a long run or a race on the weekends from spring to fall. The most down time I ever had was two 3-week periods due to injuries not caused by running.

My motivation to start was the doctor who performed triple coronary bypass surgery on my father. He looked at me and asked “What will you do so that you don’t have to go through this?” I had no answer. I had never thought about it. I did some research, and the “jogging” craze was popular at the time with heart and fitness benefits so for a phys ed elective in school I took “Jogging for fitness”. I loved getting outside (away from school) into the open air and Berkshire hills countryside of Western Massachusetts. I continued running through college and beyond, signing up for road races also. While training for my first marathon at age 31, I wanted to do some cross training. I came across something called a “trail race” which was being held in my home town on trails I used to hike on. Boy, did I love that! Soon after I switched to primarily trail runs for training and races which I have been doing for over 25 years now.

My next goal is to reach 50 years of running. I have been fortunate to make it to 40. It may be good genes, good habits, or just good luck. It may ultimately be bad genes which also cause me to quit but for now I am focused on the present. I am thrilled that my daughter Carolyn has also taken up trail running and is kicking ass in her division. I was not able to do that.

While thinking of a title for this post and with high school on my mind, a poem I first read back then in English class popped into my head. The last “stanza” (I looked that up) is most appropriate:


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Patience

A long time ago (>10 years), I received an Amaryllis Bulb from my mom as a gift. It bloomed that first year, but from then on it did not. I am sure it is because I did not follow the procedure recommended too well, but I did try several things to no avail. Somewhere along the line it also split into 2 or 3 separate bulbs.

This spring, for some reason, it decided to bloom again after all these years! Quite impressively as well. Here are some pictures of the sequence:

Amaryllis #1Amaryllis #2

Amaryllis #3Amaryllis #4

Amaryllis #5
Amaryllis #6

Bruschi!!!

On May 5th I went to an Enterprise Bank Business Excellence awards night at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Top shelf affair, starting with the greeting lines made up of numerous bank employees lining the pathway as you walk up to the building and thanking us for coming. It was like a movie star stepping out of a limo and walking into the Academy Awards with loads of people lined up on the sides. Inside there were numerous food tables with all kinds of great food including a raw bar with incredibly good cherry-stone clams, oysters, and shrimp. Open bar as well. Since Enterprise Bank is a sponsor of the MVVF, and one of their VPs is on the Board of Directors they gave us some tickets to attend.

Little did I know that one of the finalists for “Business of the Year” was Barbara’s very own Countryside Veterinary Hospital!!! Out of five or so finalists, they WON the award!

CVH Finalist

That was an unexpected surprise. The planned highlight of the evening was the guest speaker – Tedy Bruschi

Bruschi

On the upswing

One sign at this time of the year that warmer days are coming is when we order our garden seeds for the coming season. That is in-process now. I can add one more sign to the list this year. After 6 months of decline on the angle of the sun, and adjusting the Photovoltaic panels lower each month, I recently started raising them again. The days are getting longer and warmer weather will soon follow!

Holiday updates

Being the new year/decade with the Christmas season behind us, I am declaring my photovoltaic experiment a success. I was able to power our Christmas tree every day this season using only the solar energy I collected with my two PV arrays!!!

A couple caveats:

  • I switched to LED lights. The incandescent lights, even the tiny ones, would not have made it. The same number of bulbs would have used over 75 Watts compared to the less than 15 Watts we drew.
  • We had a much smaller tree with only 1/3 the lights (210 vs. 600).
  • I was more conservative in light times, especially after a few cloudy days in a row when the battery voltage ran low
  • I plugged the track lights into the wall. Running both those and the tree would have been too much!

All in all, I was quite satisfied.

We had a different location for the tree this year – on the corner as you enter our family room instead of in the back corner of that room near the windows. Here is a picture, followed by two others showing the LED bulbs lit up (with and without room lights).

New Xmas tree loation

LED lights on plus track lightLED lights only

Dan was quite (pleasantly) surprised to have been given a new Android (Motorola Droid) smart phone for a Christmas present by his loving family! Being based on an Open Source platform, there are all sorts of cool apps to download, many for free. One of the best ones is from Google itself, which is a spoken turn-by-turn navigation/map system application that rivals any other dedicated GPS unit out there. We tried it several times already and it works very well. We also downloaded a compass app which displays a working compass on the screen! Fun stuff.

Just peachy

We have had two peach trees in our back yard for a long time now. They were grow from seed (pits) that we got when our neighbor Harriet gave us a bunch from her tree. It turns out there are two types. One is closer to a traditional peach although smaller, and the other has a more yellow skin, smaller, but sweeter and stronger flavor.

The first few years that they produced, we got loads of them. But then it tailed off and the past few years we got hardly any. Plus we have had that squirrel problem the last couple years (see earlier post on the subject). HOWEVER, this is the year of the fruit! All the rainy, wet weather in June and first half of July gave us in New England an incredible fruit crop, from Strawberries and Raspberries and Blueberries to peaches, pears, and apples. The peach tree is LOADED this year with the biggest peaches we have ever grown. Our pear trees which are not usually of good quality have been far better than usual as well.

Best of all, the squirrels have made a minimal impact to the peaches. They have eaten some, but not much. Perhaps the netting Barb and I put over parts of the tree has helped. Not sure, but I am not complaining. Here are a few pictures:

Peaches 1

Peaches 2

Peaches 3

Peaches 4

Let the Sun shine!

I have always been interested in solar energy. I once had a high school science project involving heating hot water with the sun, and in college my senior year EE project was to design circuitry for automated temperature control of a small greenhouse. With all this talk about alternative or renewable energy lately, I wanted to find out what it was all about and what it was capable of from a practical point of view. So I decided to implement a small scale photovoltaic project at our house. It would not tie into the grid or home electrical, but instead charge some batteries from which we could run lights and small devices. I am hoping we can run our Christmas tree lights by the power we collect, but that will be a challenge unless I switch to LED lights, because December 21 is the shortest day of the year light-wise and the sun is at it’s lowest angle on the horizon. We shall see.

The first step is location. It must face due South for full exposure, and from what I read it should receive sunlight from 9am to 3pm. Outside that the sun is too far off-axis and does not produce much power. I did not want to mount these on the roof, as that involves support structures, possibly professional installation, and possible leak issues. I couple have put them out in the yard, but then they would be in the way. Also they needed to be close to the house to minimize the length of wire I would need. I also did not want to bury the wire, which was additional expense and effort.

I ended up choosing the front of our deck, because that side of our house is directly South as we specified when we built the house (passive solar design). It took some persuasion to Barbara because she thought they would be ugly and stick way out. I think she has grown used to them by now. Here is the first picture:

TwoPanels

These two panels (connected in series for 24 volts to reduce the IR drop) go to a charge controller inside the basement:

controller

And then to a couple gel-type solar batteries rated at 98 Amp-hours each, or roughly 1 KWH (x2) :

batteries

I then have those batteries connected to a 1000 Watt AC inverter:

inverter

I have a power strip plugged into it which runs straight up through a hole in the floor where our hot water heat pipe goes up, and into our living room. From there we run various stuff off of it – primarily lights but also phone and laptop chargers.

These panels are rated at 115 Watts each, which of course is the maximum they can produce under ideal conditions at peak light direct-on. From the spot checks I have done I am seeing about 95 watts each at peak. The angle to match the height of the sun in the sky is adjustable by the holes in the steel brackets at the bottom. I change it each month. At spring and vernal equinox. it is equal to the latitude of Tewksbury which is 42.61 degrees. At summer and winter solstice it is -15/+15 degrees, so that means 5 degrees a month.

brackets

Anyway, on a good sunny day I collect a little over 1 KWH of power. Since my batteries together hold almost twice that, I do have some reserve capacity to both charge into and carry over for cloudy days. One KWH sounds like a fair amount, but it is amazing how quickly it goes. For instance, we have a track light plugged into it which has four 60W bulbs. Running that at full brightness for four hours (like one evening while watching TV or reading) uses up all the power collected that day. One reason is the extreme inefficiency of incandescent bulbs. This experience really drove the point home for me. I recently replaced them with dimmable LED bulbs. Expensive (especially the dimmable ones) but they only use 7 watts each at maximum while producing the same brightness. They are fantastic and barely make a dent in the power draw.

Another example is a laptop. While using it or charging a drained battery those can draw 90 watts or so (depending on the model). Even when charged, they draw some. So if we were to use it for 2-3 hours, have it charge for 2-3 hours, then leave it plugged in it will mostly use up the 1 KWH collected as well. It is not always the instant draw, but the draw over a 24 hour period that adds up.

A big science project, but I have learned a lot and that is the whole point.

Squirrel trouble

We have too many gray squirrels in our area. Tree rats! They strip all our corn, eat the walnuts from the tree while they are still green, and eat the green peaches! This year they also ate my one and only sugar pumpkin just as it was ripening! That last one was the final straw.

So I went out and bought a Havahart trap thinking they are supposed to be very effective. Wrong! I am dealing either with very smart squirrels or very dumb ones. Over the past two weeks they have set off the trap once or twice a day but there is nothing inside. Either they know enough not to go inside so they poke at the bait through the side, or they don’t know enough to go in through the ends. Either way, they trip it and that is that. I did catch one squirrel once, but I also caught two of these:

PossumInCage

A sucker for free gifts

This spring and summer I participated again in the Bike-to-work incentive program at Sun. I should have remembered that most of the time it is not all that much fun. Too much traffic, not enough clearance on the sides of the roads. I do get a lot of exercise from it, and no flat tire this year. However, it has been a month and a half since the program ended and I have yet to receive any of the promised goods as a result of my 2000 hours in the saddle. I wonder if the Sun budget freezes have had an impact?

Lost and Found

I was one lucky dude today. Fortuitous. I was out for my weekly long training run on the weekend, which I normally drive to since I go to State parks and such to get to the trails. This time I had the BMW which meant the key was smaller but heavier than the Tahoe one. I had it on the key chain in the pouch on my water bottle waist pack. The key + key chain bounces around some, but I usually check on them every few minutes plus I can usually hear them jingling.

Towards the end of my run, I was at the end of one trail which was near the exit of the reservation and thus near my car. However I still had another 10 minutes to go for my target training time so I turned around and headed back the way I came with the intention of taking the next trail on the right which would have also sent me also back to the exit but the extra distance would have added the time I needed.

So there I am running along when I felt something on the back of my calf. I stopped to look but it turned out to be just a piece of leaf stuck to a spider web which was now clinging to me. As I cleared it off I looked down on the trail and what do I see but my keys right in front of me on the trail! They must have bounced out previously. This was on a steep incline where I would have been going faster than usual and thus more bouncing. Being at the end of my run, I must have lost track of whether I still had my key in the pouch and just kept on going.

So imagine that – stopping at the EXACT spot where I had lost my key! Also if I had not decided to stick to my original training time it would have not worked out either. I just had to say, “Thank you Lord” for that one!!!

Antique wood

Barbara’s sister Susan had some scrap wood from their old farm house that we took as kindling for our wood stove. In the pile, I found a piece that was apparently the side of a wood box with Russian lettering on it.

Russian box picture

At work we have several engineers in my group from St. Petersburg, Russia so I asked them for a translation. Here is what they replied with:

Hi Dan,
yes it is a Russian inscription. Better to say old Russian because after the October Revolution 1917 we do not use “Ъ” letter in the end of words.
The inscription is:
“Cartridges
3 l. b. 1916 year Lovell”
So the box contained cartridges which where very marketable goods that time…
I could not guess what is l.b. abbreviation means. Lovell I suppose is the last name of some person.

regards,
Alexandr.


And, by the way, it may be Lowell (a city in MA).
🙂

Vasiliy


What an interesting finding 🙂 Yep, it’s military ammunition for hand wielded firearms. For rifles, most likely. Maybe revolvers. Pistols weren’t much popular at that time.

Konstantin


We showed the sign to Barb’s father Stan and he said there was a munitions factory in our neighborhood back then off Woburn street along the Concord River (where the former Raytheon site was). There was a major explosion some years later that blew up the factory. He seemed to recall that there were people swimming in the river at the time that were killed by the explosion.

We also figured that the box of cartridges was manufactured there and exported to Russia.

Major update

Hey,

With the holidays upon us so quickly, we have been negligent in providing recent updates. so as a catch-up, here are a few entries rolled into one. I will let the photos do most of the talking 🙂

It starts with the two major snow storms two days apart the weekend before Christmas. As you can see by our snow gauge, we got 20 inches:

Snow Gauge

With the wood stove keeping us toasty warm, it also melted a lot of the snow off the roof resulting in lots of icicles:

Icicle 1Icicle 2

During the week, we made a pumpkin pie. Because it was late, we left the pie out on the stove overnight to cool. Fortunately there was tin foil over it because in the morning we discovered a crater in the pie:

Pie indent

And we think we found the guilty party!

Guilty

Switching subjects, we bought a dwarf lemon tree and lime tree a couple springs ago. The lime tree has not done anything (no flowers) but the lemon tree gave us one lemon the first year and three this year. We make a hot lemon juice drink with maple syrup in it. Here is the last one this year:

Lemon

On to Christmas Eve. This past summer Barbara and I celebrated our 25 year anniversary. I got this idea about recognizing the occasion on Christmas Eve with a bottle of top shelf champagne … yes, Dom Perignon! Quite the marketing for this stuff and image of exclusivity! It was real good, but we have had good stuff in the past that came close for 1/3 the price so I don’t think we will be having it on a regular basis. Actually, none of us had ever tried it before. Here are some scans from the booklet that comes with it:

Dom 1

Dom 2

Dom 3

Speaking of Christmas, check out our free Christmas Tree! Convenient too – from our front yard!!! It was given to us about 15 years ago by Barb’s father as a sapling.

Free Tree

One of the gifts Barbara received was a “Squirrel Stopper” bird feeder that is guaranteed to keep squirrels off. We need something like that because we are overrun with these things!

Grey squirrel

The feeder is high off the ground and has that baffle half way up that not only goes outward as you go up, but it also rocks back and forth and is on springs to bounce up and down.

Feeding station

So far so good. The squirrels hang out below it but have not tried to climb up that we have seen. BTW, there was a black squirrel out there the other morning:

Black squirrel

However, about 5 days went by and there were no birds. We were getting concerned. Then we got another snow storm today and all of a sudden the birds found it! Lots of them – red cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, and others.

Found it

Press 1 for this, 2 for that

I wanted to share a rather humerous automated phone survey I participated in (reluctantly). Our Chevy Tahoe (the one below that reached 200K miles in September) broke down on Barb last week on her way to work after voting. So we called AAA and had it towed to our mechanic. It needed a new fuel pump, which went once before and left us stranded years back at 97,000 miles. It appears 100K is the life span for this fuel pump.

Anyway, the automated phone survey was regarding their service. One of the questions was something like “How satisfied were you with the promptness of the driver? Press 1 for Very Satisfied, 2 for Satisfied, 3 for Neutral, 4 for Dissatisfied, and 5 for Very Dissatisfied.” Since we waited over 30 minutes (they had estimated 45 minutes) I chose #2 for Satisfied. The system came back with:

“You pressed the number 2. If this is correct, press 1. Otherwise press 2.”

In other words, I had to press a number to confirm that I had pressed a certain number. Talk about introducing confusion and opportunity for error! I used to work at a company (Voicetek) that developed and sold IVR systems capable of applications like this, but it was essentially a tool kit. With it a customer can write a good application or a poor one. So I always tell people not to blame the system. Blame the application designer!