Code, Beer and Thunderbolts

Triumph Spitfire

The only time my Triumph Spitfire had a proper passenger. That’s David in the passenger seat.

When I wrote about being at The Molly Wee Pub, David Pennington commented to remind me that he and I spent some time in that bar. There have been plenty of posts where I could have included “David moments” in the description, but I realize that since I’ve never introduced David, I’d have to add a few hundred words to an already over-the-limit-post. I have been telling myself that “the right time to introduce David will come” but every time I try to write that post, I don’t know where to start or where to end.

As you have probably guessed, I have found a starting point.

Actually, if it hadn’t been for the fact that fathers trump all else (except maybe mothers) and a 500 word limit (of which I am already over a quarter of the way to hitting) I could have used the Cherished Blogfest to introduce David. He’s not cherished, well that’s not true, we cherish David in our family; I meant to say that I have a cherished object from David. Actually I have several. So, before I get too much further, allow me to introduce David Pennington, a.k.a. Long-Haired David, a.k.a. “our eccentric Uncle David.

David lives in England, and we are not related. He and I started working together after I purchased some software from him in the mid-90s. Now that he’s been being introduced, I’ll be able to tell that story at a later date. After several years, we had our first opportunity to meet face-to-face at a technical conference sports bar in Cincinnati. I knew that I liked David before we met, but that first evening cemented a bond between us that has lasted over 20 years and routinely crosses 3,000 miles and five times zones. David might be the most interesting person I have ever met. I have to think about that, but if he isn’t the most interesting, he’s in the top 1%.

Trade show

Manning the Totally Objects boot at Smalltalk Solutions in Cincinnati

David has been: a currency trader, a magazine publisher, a software designer, a programmer, a consultant and a software vendor. He has owned a scrapbooking store, a model shop and a mail-order business and he blogs about making models, model railroading and life alongside Ipswich Harbor, or is that harbour?. Wait, did I mention that he’s been a very, very good friend? After post edit: I forgot that David also operated a cabinet shop for a couple years.

David and I have worked together, traveled together and, remarkably, we have visited each other’s houses. That’s remarkable because, while David easily fits the description of “world traveler,” my visit to England is the one and only time my feet have been off North American soil.

In future posts, I may talk about when we visited Canada and Niagara Falls, visited the Molly Wee and other bars, completed various software projects and when I showed him around north central Connecticut and when he drove me around the middle east side of England (I think). At least those are all the draft posts I have squirreled away in Evernote. Today, though, it’s about an A-10 Thunderbolt II a.k.a. Warthog.

Last week, as I was viewing the blogs I follow, I stumbled upon a story about a model A-10. Comments were exchanged and I was led to another story on that modeler’s blog about another A-10, one decorated in the fashion of the Connecticut Air National Guard (CT ANG). Now, I know something about CT ANG. They were based about two miles from my house and before the idiots in Washington transferred the A-10s out of here, they used to routinely fly over our back yard.

I have also seen the A-10s up-close-and-personal because a former coworker was the maintenance manager at the base and he invited us to attend Family Day with him and his family. Our daughter Faith got to sit in an A-10 (soooo jealous).

David, well aware of my love of that particular aircraft, turned his considerable model-making talent to making me one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received – a model A-10 in CT ANG colors as they were painted when they deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Desert Storm.

I looked for a blog post to share with amateurairplanes, but I couldn’t find one. David has written about tons of model projects. Could it be that he never wrote about my A-10? Maybe he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Maybe he’s still waiting for me to send photos. Maybe the search option on his blog isn’t working properly. Oh well, now the post has been written, David has been introduced and other stories can be told.

Posted in Family, Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

Cherished: A Portrait, a Photograph, a Memory, a Feeling

Note: This is a guest post for the Cherished Blogfest. It was written by my brother Bruce and I am honored to present it to you.

1976 Mt. Tamalpais

1976 Mt. Tamalpais

I have an oil painting of my late wife Barb from a picture we took in Mt. Tamalpais State Park in 1976. It was painted by my daughter, Sara for Barb’s Memorial Service in 2013.  It shows Barb dancing at the top of a trail in the park in front of a huge tree. She is happy and carefree and that is how I always want to remember her. The trip was a family reunion, our fourth anniversary (June 24), and we spent the Bi-centennial in San Francisco, with dinner on the wharf and fireworks shooting up through the fog!

We were twenty-one years from the onset of symptoms of Huntington’s, but there was no way to know that. Still barely noticeable in 1997 but progressing over the sixteen years to follow, the disease slowly took one freedom or ability after another until she was taken from us on Feb. 15th, 2013.

The details of the loss of her abilities over time cannot be confined to five hundred words, so this post will be about “The Plan.” We suspected the disease would show itself by age 50 or so, as it had with her mother. If it didn’t (there was no test developed yet to let us know), we would continue to work as long as we could. In the meantime, we decided to do the things now that most people planned for their retirement. It would be more expensive because we were less able to afford these trips in our twenties than we would be in our fifties or sixties, but we were younger and could camp and motorcycle… We climbed up into that tree on the trail at Mt. Tam, where six miles of winding road to the southwest and about 1000 ft. lower is the entrance to Muir Woods.

Muir Woods became a favorite place for us. We would not get there often, but on every California reunion there would be a day spent at Mt. Tam, Stinson Beach and Muir Woods. A motorcycle trip in 1977 would find us in Juarez, Carlsbad Caverns and on the beach in Galveston. In 1979 it was Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and Estes Park. Later that year we biked to a motorcycle rally in Ruidoso, NM. A 1983 trip to California included a visit to Glacier National Park, this time with a three-year-old Sara along. That trip would be tragically cut short by my father’s untimely death at age 60.

We would take Sara to Washington D.C., Disneyland and the Grand Canyon, and Disneyworld with Grandma, who would also accompany us to Maine, Colonial Williamsburg; other places. There were family reunions in Pittsburgh, Jackson and Vicksburg, MS, Traverse City, MI, and Painted Post, NY, and numerous short trips to Duluth, MN, Galena, IL, and Kansas City. I can recall any of those joyous times when I lose myself in that cherished painting, those memories. 


Posted in Absent Friends, Family | Tagged , , , , | 53 Comments

Cherished – Scroll Saw Project

Plaque - The Lord is my shepherd

This hung in my dad’s workshop for about 20 years and has hung in mine for about 30.

The hardest part of this blogfest was narrowing the field of cherished objects down to a single item. The second hardest part was staying south of 500 words because WordPress counts the photo descriptions and, well, I do tend to go on. I quickly decided that I would go with an item from my father, but that didn’t help me much. I have several of those. This one got the nod, courtesy of a recent project our daughter completed in my workshop.

When I was about eight or nine, my father bought a table saw and a jig saw. The table saw was a Delta 9” contractor saw and was considered so dangerous to a man with two curious sons that he cut the cord to a length that wouldn’t allow the saw to be plugged into an outlet. Then he locked his extension cords in a closet. That also kept neighbors and relatives from using his saw. The jigsaw, on the other hand, was a pretty safe tool to operate. Not at such a young age, but a few years later, he was willing to let me try following a few lines on some scrap stock.

He followed a set of jigsaw patterns from DeltaGram magazine. He made a bunch of mail holders that featured a mailman on one side (he was a mailman) and he made several of these plaques for friends and relatives. Once, when he was making one for his sister, I was helping and I asked if I could do some of the cutting. He didn’t let me do that, but he told me if I watched as he made that one, then he and I could make a second one for his shop. He did most of the work. He explained every step, and he let me make a lot of the cuts.

That plaque, my first actual woodworking project, now hangs in my shop.

Faith has been a companion in my shop since she was a little girl. She completed her first project with hand tools, but she has long since moved up to using power tools.

A few years ago, my neighbor was selling the tools her husband owned before he passed away. One was a small Sears Scroll Saw. I bought that for Faith, as a way to start her workshop. It’s still in my workshop, because she’s in an apartment, but it’s her saw. As she was making a gift for a friend, I noticed the plaque on the wall and felt the circle completing itself.

Visit the other participants in the Cherished blogfest here.

Posted in Family, Woodworking | Tagged , , , | 89 Comments

Thursday Doors–Don’t Tell Mom


It is a door. It’s meant to keep us on the land side of this catwalk, but it’s open.

I left something out of the Urban Hike post last week. It was a planned omission because I wanted to save a little bit of sightseeing for Norm’s Thursday Doors series.

We spied this door while heading north from Charter Oak Landing toward Hartford. The catwalk leading out to the door looked a little dangerous, but very interesting, in other words, compelling. One or both of us said “we probably shouldn’t go out there” but the door was open. The catwalk looked sturdy enough. We could easily get out there, get some pictures and get back safely. My editor needs to know that we always consider safety.

I am not sure what this structure is. Maybe it is/was some sort of fuel transfer thing. It’s not like the Connecticut River is a heavy shipping lane, but there are a couple of cruise ships party boats plying the waters in and around Hartford, they must need fuel. On the other hand, we weren’t too far south of the steam generation plant operated by Hartford Steam, so maybe this is a way for them to unload fuel from barges. Then again, maybe this was something that was used by Colt Firearms in the 50s and everybody forgot about it. One thing was certain, Faith was gonna want to take some pictures of it.

If you scroll through Faith’s and my Flickr accounts, you will find numerous combinations of me taking a photo of her taking a photo and, eventually, the photo that she took.

Sometimes I watch as she’s taking a photo and I think “what on earth is that girl doing?” I also sometimes think “why is this taking so long?” Occasionally, I think “I’m not sure she should be doing that/going there,” but not often, she really is pretty careful. Editor, did you get that? Really, she is careful. And, her results are always worth the wait. Sometimes, the photo opportunity results in a “Don’t tell mom moment” (DTMM).

Most DTMMs have been revealed to mom/wife over time. The first DTMM that I remember was when Faith was about six and we were driving my red Dodge 4×4 out of Spring Park the “back way” a.k.a. through the woods. I’m not sure if it was related to our activity, but the Parks and Recreation folks have since put barricades on each end of that exit road pickup-truck-wide-path. Anyway, we weren’t the first people to discover that path. We were sometimes the first to use it. That’s because I used to get Faith up early so we could go for a ride in the truck before the plows came and ruined everything cleared the snow from the streets.

One day, we noticed tire tracks turning to the left, off the path. Faith asked (yes, I am throwing her under the bus on this) “where does that go?” Having no idea, I simply turned left to find out. It – didn’t – go – anywhere! The tracks ended, abruptly, at the edge of a cliff. OK, it was really only a severe drop-off-point but it would have required a tow truck to get us out (and this was before cell phones). Fortunately, that big Dodge stopped as well as it went in the snow. We backed out, and exited the park. Faith looked at me and said “is this something we should tell mom?

No, honey, not right now. I’ll tell mom later.”

I did tell mom later…about 18 years later but the point is I told her.

As for the catwalk out to the pump-thingie, Faith posted her pictures on Flickr within a week. Mom might still be trying to figure out whether she raised an irresponsible child or married one, but she’ll have to accept that we are curious adults who always exercise appropriate caution. Really. Always.

Posted in Family, Photography, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , | 68 Comments

WordPress Might be Improving

This is the way it's supposed to be

This is the way it’s supposed to be

When I was working in the yard digging those trenches, I had my iPhone in my back pocket. I always have it with me. I check it now and then, and I usually turn it off before replacing it to avoid butt-calls. You know, when your movement causes your phone to dial someone and then you start recording your life into their voice mail. This would happen to me if I were ever dumb enough to have an affair.

The longest butt-call I received was from my wife’s phone when she and my daughter were shopping. I listened for a bit. I didn’t hear anything like “you won’t believe what your idiot father did…” so I figured all was right with the world.

Anyway, back in the yard, I must have placed my phone in my pocket without turning it off, because the next time I looked at it, it was different. I hadn’t called anyone, but somehow my butt rearranged my phone. Icons were missing. Icons had been moved on the screen. Icons had been moved in and out of folders.

My phone should know better. Seriously, my phone knew that it was upside down. Who rearranges their Apps when the phone is upside down? Also, Apple, you should add a list of recently deleted Apps to the phone somewhere – just sayin’.

I still haven't figured out what's missing here but CBS Sports used to be on page 2

CBS Sports should be on page 2

Among a bunch of annoying changes that I know only because key icons are out of place, there were three curious changes that made me wonder what my butt knows that I don’t:

The flashlight app had been moved out of the Utilities folder onto the main screen, like I was going to need it soon.

The Flickr App had been moved to the second page of my “Photography” folder, and

The WordPress App had been deleted.

My daughter is talking about the new X-Files mini-series, maybe my butt and I are going on an adventure with Mulder and Scully. No, the flashlight on my phone is way brighter than the ones they carry into dark basements. Unless I use the flashlight in an attempt to follow a creepy path out of the woods, only to have it drain the battery to zero just as I reach a point where I get a cell signal. I see the bars populate, I hear strange noises behind me and the light fades slowly to black. Yeah, that could be a scene in an X-Files episode.

The Flickr App is awful. Flickr, the Yahoo-owned-photo-service-website is gradually climbing out of the pit of awful it fell into after someone got the idea that users wanted Flickr to be more like Instagram. Their first attempt to get out was to start digging deeper, and to pull the App into the pit with them. The website has improved, but the App is still digging. If I upload three photos from my phone, they all still get one title and I can’t seem to describe them until after they are posted. That’s just dumb.

WordPress, as many of you know, went into an awful state several months ago. I think it is gradually making some progress. People are still complaining, but I can tell you that the Automattic Folks (no, not misspelled robots, that’s the name of the company that owns WordPress) are listening. I know because I complained and they responded. I complained about the fact that I could ‘Like a post I in my browser, but the Reader would make it appear that I hadn’t liked it. If I liked it in the Reader, it would unlike the post on my behalf. Sad faces all around.

I complained that the Reader crashed a lot on my iPad. I complained that the iPhone App no longer had spell-check. I complained that I wasn’t seeing posts from people that I follow and I know had published something, and I complained that the Reader kept scrolling me around, causing me to lose my place. I also complained that if I posted a draft, but published the post a day later, the published post had the date of the first draft.

Lots of those things got fixed. WordPress isn’t perfect, but it is better than it was in March. The recent changes to the Reader aren’t getting a lot of positive comments, but I actually think they are moving in the right direction. The Reader has a nice responsive layout. It looks a little weird on a large monitor, but it looks good on my phone and my iPad and if I scrunch the window down (which I always do because I like to have lots of windows open on my laptop), I can still see most everything I want to see.

My iPad isn’t crashing and they added Spell-check back to the iPhone app. You all should know that because I write a lot of comments from that App, and now, at least some of the words are spelled correctly.

If you have a serious complaint, submit it to WordPress. Be prepared to respond to questions, to generate logs and to work with them to help them figure out what is wrong. Be specific. Tell them why you don’t like what you don’t like, especially if it impacts your ability to write or read. They may not consider every random tweet to be an official complaint, but they seem to handle official complaints pretty well. At least that’s my experience. Your mileage may vary.

Posted in Blogging, Technology, User Experience | Tagged , , , , , | 57 Comments

Fleas, Weeds and Bunnies

socs-badge_thumb.jpgYour Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “fly/flies/flew/flu/flue.” Choose one, use ’em all, it’s up to you. Have fun!

I know that Linda’s alliterative and repetitive prompt doesn’t mention fleas, but as soon as I read it, I started reciting:

Through three cheese trees three free fleas flew
While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew
Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze
Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze
That’s what made these three free fleas sneeze

-Dr. Seuss

That’s from “Fox in Sox.” I could recite the whole thing. I’d be willing to bet that our daughter could recite the whole book, including the Tweetle Beetle’s saga.

Anyway, for a stream of consciousness post, I just handed the microphone to the voices in my head, and that’s what they came back with. Besides, the fleas did “flew,” so I got the prompt covered.

I loved reading Dr. Seuss books to Faith when she was little because they were a fun way to learn to read, to learn a few good lessons and to learn that reading is fun. Also, I like nonsense and goofy contraptions and when people like Yertle the Turtle get their comeuppance. Wow, I not only used comeuppance, I spelled it correctly without using spell-check. Yertle, on the other hand is causing Word to give me the red squiggle.

Oh, the prompt.


Shoo! Maddie has to pee. You have to be gone.

Usually, when Linda gives us multiple words, I try to use them all, but not this week. These words are not working. I could have forced something with the “fly” series if I worked in how Maddie likes chasing birds, but lately, the wildlife action around this place is dominated by bunnies.

Maddie hasn’t actually chased a bunny because we now have a two-stage take-the-dog-out process. Stage-one, walk the yard in search of bunnies. Did I mention that these are baby bunnies? Stage-one-and-a-half, shoo the bunnies into the bushes and hopefully the neighbor’s yard. One bunny shoos well. The other one shoos about five feet at a time. We have to shoo him (maybe her) several times.

Stage-two, bring Maddie out. Maddie runs around the yard pointing and looking as if to say “there was a bunny here, there was a bunny here and there was a bunny here.”

Yes, since I haven’t met a human who calls these fluffballs “rabbits,” I’m going to assume that dogs call them bunnies too.

We mostly stand there saying: “those are all from the same bunny and it’s been 12 hours since you peed!

These bunnies didn’t have the best real estate agent. They appear to be living in our neighbor’s yard. He has a veritable jungle of ground cover and perennial gardens. He also has a dog. The people behind him have a dog. We have a dog and the people behind us have two dogs. They seem to like to eat in our yard because we have bunny-friendly stuff growing. Our neighbors have lawns, with grass and few weeds. We have weeds and a few large sections of grass, but there are weeds in the grass.

We don’t worry about the grass, because…Maddie. Dogs absorb stuff through the pads on their feet, so we don’t want to put stuff down to kill the weeds that might also hurt her. Also, pollinators, bees, butterflies and even hornets and wasps like to dine on the flowers of those weeds. Finally, now we have bunnies. They seem to like clover and plantain. My father would cringe at the sight of our yard, but the animals like it, so I’m good.

Before I fly (see, I remembered why I’m here) let me remind you of the Cherished Blogfest which starts on Thursday the 23rd. I’ll be showing you a door on the 23rd, but I have a cherished object to share next Saturday. If you have a cherished object, tell us about it, show us a picture. If you have 15 cherished objects, pick one. Maybe we’ll do this again next year.

Posted in Pets, Prompt, SoCS | Tagged , , , , , , | 74 Comments

Thursday Doors–Big Plans, Sad Story

Society for Savings

Excuse the distortion but this is the only way to get a photo of the door without a car in front of it.

Society for Savings was the first mutual savings bank in the state of Connecticut. Incorporated in 1819, it operated in Hartford until it “merged” with Bank of Boston under the weight of a failed commercial real estate loan portfolio. Lots of savings banks in New England followed that same tortured route.

Savings banks were under a lot of pressure in the 1980s. For over 150 years, they were considered slow, simple, albeit successful institutions. One disparaging adage was:

Running a savings bank is as easy as 3, 4, 5. Pay 3% on deposits, charge 4% on loans and be on the golf course at 5:00.

In the early 80s, savings banks felt that they had to compete with commercial banks. They began by offering Demand Deposit Accounts (DDA) a.k.a. checking accounts. Those accounts were attractive because savings banks paid a little bit of interest on the average monthly balance. The strategy helped them make inroads on the commercial banks. That small success inspired a lot of these small local savings banks to start commercial lending operations and commercial mortgage operations. To go for the big money. Hey, a mortgage is a mortgage is a mortgage…right? Well, so it seemed.

By the mid-80s, Society for Savings was doing well, so well that they started making big plans. They decided to get into the commercial real estate market in Hartford in a significant way. In the most significant way. They decided to build a skyscraper of their own.

They bought all the small businesses next to their main branch office, including my favorite hardware store – Greenspons Hardware (that had been in Hartford since 1919). They tore all those buildings down in order to build a high rise office tower that was to incorporate the façade of the original branch, including the doors featured today. Just about the time that they finished creating a sprawling vacant dirt lot, they started losing money. They soon realized that commercial lending, commercial mortgages or commercial anything is nothing like guarding the life savings of little old ladies.

Society for Savings moved quickly from losing money to bleeding money. Their construction plans never came to fruition. Bank of Boston bought the assets of the savings band and absorbed it into their network the way you and I might swallow a handful of peanuts.

Bank Fish

“Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”

In the late 90s, Fleet Bank (a bigger Borg) came along and bought Bank of Boston. In 2005, Bank of America bought Fleet. The grand lobby of Society for Savings’ main branch is now the Society Room, a place to hold political fundraisers and fancy functions. The land where the small businesses used to thrive is a parking lot. Hartford lost a great hardware store.

This post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. It’s a great series and you are invited to share your doors with us as well.

Posted in New England Life, Photography, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 46 Comments