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After an awesome September for fall surf and a mostly satisfying October, November brought a sort of doldrums of surf to southern Maine. With fewer sessions available, and decent swell seemingly more rare than a snow leopard, I have been hunting down 2' waves in 35mph offshore winds just to get on something - or so it has seemed.

Just before dinner on Sunday, December 3, my friend and colleague Matthew called to ask if I'm planning a session under the supermoon. I could see the moon through the trees across my street because I was out grilling at the time. But I quickly dismissed him: it was already quite dark and I was about to head in for the family Sunday dinner.

But over the course of dinner, the thought sat in the not-quite-back of my head. I hadn't caught a really good wave in more than a week, and the moon was, as our president might say, "YUGE!"

At the end of dinner, I pulled up the Wells Beach cam to see what - if anything - I might see. Not much. I pulled up a swell, wind, and tide report, and things looked semi-promising. After checking in with the family, I threw gear in the car and a board on the roof before driving to Wells on a semi-hope for a 3' wave. Was I ever rewarded.

It was hours after sunset when I arrived, of course, but the sea, sand, and sky were nicely lit by Supermoon. It was tough to gauge the size of the waves from the lot, but it was clear that I'd at least get on clean, 2' waves while bathing in moonlight and ocean temps in the mid-40s.

Supermoon over Wells Beach, December 3, 2017
Supermoon over Wells Beach, December 3, 2017

But it wasn't 2'; it was a solid, consistent 3-4'! And clean. It was a bit tough to really judge position and time the waves. While the moon carve a long, runway-like swath of bright light across the narrow band of the ocean, outside of that band it was really tough to see the incoming swell. When I dialed it in, though, the near-dark drops were exhilarating. I caught perhaps half a dozen rights and at least as many lefts. Partly owing to the vision penalty, I often struggled to get the most from the waves, and there was a bit of a rip where I was set up, which pulled me too far outside over and over. But also got my share of 10-second rides complete with cutbacks.

The hardest part of it all, I think, involved finding and maintaining trim position on the face. The supermoon lit the lip right up, leaving a really dark (practically black) face and trough, which made it really difficult to judge position on the face. Going left, especially, I found myself riding up the face (towards the lit lip) and even off the wave - even with some conscious efforts to avoid that problem. It was interesting - and weird.

I've been thinking about it, and I liken it to driving a car into a pronounced curve. If you look to the inside of the curve, you'll drive right in and round nicely. If you let yourself look to the outside of the curve, you find yourself battling an outward drift that can actually be dangerous. I think my eyes were drawn to the light of the lip, and the board just followed.

December 3, 2017: 1 hour of night surfing under the supermoon at Wells Beach, Maine.

Lil' House Pose.
After three days on Lil' House. From left: Roger, Michael and Nate.

Lil' House comes to life! It's taken a couple years of stop-and-go tinkering, but our lil' house on the Mousam is now habitable. It's certainly still a work-in-progress, but she's turning into a cool little hangout in the woods.

When we bought our home, it came with this tiny, turn-of-the-century cottage on the back of the lot, in the woods. Mostly, the cottage was slowly rotting away and turning to mulch. Rotting trim and broken windows were letting rain and snow slowly decay the floorboards in the back left corner, and the cool brick chimney (boarded up) leaked, further compounding the problems. But it had charm.

Originally towed from some property in Wells sometime in the mid- or late-80s, the cottage sat precariously balanced on the two pressure-treated 4x4s used as a sled for transport. Under those beams were three old-style railroad ties. Back in 2013, Nate and I spent a day moving and leveling the cottage, then I used plastic sheeting to help slow the onslaught of water damage. But every time I went inside, I was turned away by the sheer magnitude of the interior project, the desire not to spend money on a tiny shack, and confusion about handling the built-in cabinetry. Do I try to salvage and reinstall it? Do I just toss it?

In early summer 2015, at a time when I needed to swing a hammer at something, I took a sledge hammer to the interior walls of Lil' House and attempted to pull the cabinetry without damaging it. I half succeeded, put all the woodwork under a big tarp, loaded up all the debris for the dump, then let the house sit for another year.

Lil' House picture. Interior
Interior of Lil' House. Gutted. Skylight openings cut.

Then in August, my son Nate, my father-in-law Roger, and I got a bit busy on the cottage. We stripped the moss-encrusted, leaking asphalt roof, found two cheap skylights at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store store and some shingles. We cut two 2'x2' holes in the roof, installed the skylights, and re-roofed Lil' House. Nate took a small sledge to the chimney, which we removed.

Lil' House under construction.
Old windows are out, rotting wood is being cut away, old roof is on the tarp, skylight holes are in, and chimney hole (on left) is covered.

I had been collecting old, vertical sash windows from the side of the road for a couple years, knowing that I did NOT want to spend much money on this project. I mostly hoarded them in Lil' House, waiting for the day when I would actually put some windows in. But salvaged windows aren't uniform, and they typically don't match.

We made the best of it by greatly expanding the glass area of the house. Including the skylights, there is easily more than 24 square feet of glass in this tiny, 10x9 cottage. We kept just one window - itself a replacement, vertical-sash frame from an old double-hung - and put in four additional, fairly large windows. Two open in, suspended from the rafters. Two open out. And one is fixed.

Roofing Lil' House.
Skylights are in, shingles are on. All that's left is the ridge cap.

I salvaged screen material and built fixed screens for the windows that open. Where Lil' House was once a dark, dank shack with low ceilings, boarded up, missing, and broken windows, she is now a small room with tons of light, a breeze, and a view of the woods.

It made little sense to try to reinstall the built-in cabinet: it took up about 25% of the square footage and a good portion of the wood was damaged in the removal. Instead, I committed to re-using it where I could. It became exterior trim board, replacement sill plating and structural beams, and more.

And I decided to use the biggest "counter" piece to make a built-in, drop-down desk/table. While the desktop is way overbuilt, coming in around 50 pounds, it gives me a good feeling to keep it. It folds down and out of the way, helping to maximize the 90 square feet of floor space, but then it pops right back up to become a five-foot-long desktop.

Lil' House Interior.
Looking in on Lil' House from the front door, floor view. Notice all the light.

Next came some wiring. There's nothing fancy here because I'm delivering power via extension cord. I picked up a couple interior wall sconces and wired them together and to a plug. I even found a free front porch light that I mounted right outside.

I had picked up a stereo receiver/tuner and a CD changer from the transfer station Treasure Chest a couple months ago. And last year I picked up a couple bookshelf Realistic speakers at Treasure Chest. I built a small shelf in the corner and above the desk, where I put the stereo system. I mounted the speakers up in the peak. This little cottage is coming along!

Lil' House.
View from the back side, with outward swinging windows.

Much of the site is still a construction zone, with tools in boxes in the cottage and piles of debris scattered about. And she still looks just awful from the exterior because I need to get busy on some sanding and painting. She's all trimmed up on the outside now, though I still need to replace a couple rotting trim boards around the doorway. But this Lil' House is now a legitimate cottage. I could bring a cot out and easily use it as a three-season shelter.

 

 

In a moment of wild enthusiasm, I decided to develop a surf wax brand: Humanism's Surf Wax. It's a great wax for New England, and it has a history dating back to the gods and titans.

Humanism's Surf Wax image.

The Legend of Humanism's Surf Wax:

Invented by Hephaestus, god of fire and woodstoves, this wax helped Poseidon surf the ancient seas. Stolen from Olympus by Prometheus, the formula contributed to human flourishing for millenia. Its loss ushered in the Dark Ages. But fortune favors the curious, and Renaissance scholars found the lost formula while translating Homer's third epic, Kymatistá. This wax - now forged in New Hampshire for those strong in spirit, free in thought, and sound in body - may have failed Icarus. But it is perfect for New England. Enjoy!

The back story involves a trip to a local surf shop and discovery of the option for surf wax custom branding options out of New Hampshire.

I reached out to Jim at Jimbo's Surf Wax to get a case of "private label" Cold Water wax and got busy with a design. Along the way, I got a bit overzealous and ended up designing three distinct private labels (Lil' Crippsy Surf Wax and Ma Em's Noogis Surf Wax are the others) and getting Jimbo to put his special blend in my wrappers. Fun stuff.

To put it mildly, I won't be wanting for wax anytime soon!

The inspiration for my "legend" is the legend that appears on every carton of Newman's Roadside Virgin Lemonade, a great lemonade that pairs well with brewed tea in the Maine summer.

Two undergraduate English majors (Lauren Levesque and James Muller), Cathrine Frank, and I joined Michael Smith at York College/CUNY on a panel at the 2013 AAEEBL ePortfolio conference in Boston. Our panel, "Who Owns the ePortfolio," explored some of the tensions in ePortfolios when an institution is interested in assessment but wants students to embrace the value of ePortfolio for their development and digital identity.

Our English majors offered brief tours of the ways they are putting their ePortfolios to use. And with Michael's support, we streamed the presentation to the Web at CUNY.is/LIVE, a phenomenal free streaming service available at the CUNY Academic Commons. And we recorded the broadcast do document our students' presentations.

Bass and Eynon

Following our panel, I attended the keynote jointly delivered by Randy Bass (Georgetown University) and Bret Eynon (LaGuardia Community College/CUNY). Their central questions as they look to the future of higher education: How do we create an integrated learning experience for students across an increasingly disintegrated set of structures and contexts? How do we assess learning holistically? How do we demonstrate educational distinctiveness?

Bass and Eynon are interested in the contributions ePortfolio might make to the future. After introducing their FIPSE-supported project entitled "Catalyst for Learning," they articulated a set of practices that seem to yield effective ePortfolio initiatives.

  • They function at campus level, with departments, and with institutional stakeholders. Successful projects work with all groups.
  • Pedagogy, professional development, assessment, technology, and scale must come together if ePortfolio is to make a difference.
  • Inquiry learning, reflection, integration work iteratively in successful initiatives.

Their research (based on 24 campuses) shows that ePortfolio initiatives:

  • Advance learning success
  • Make learning visible
  • Catalyze institutional change

If the data support these conclusions - and they presented some of this data - they're working in a space that meets a real need for the ePortfolio community.  Moving beyond testimony, individual spotlights, and even department-level assessment, the "Catalyst for Learning" project seems to speak to some of today's hot-button institutional outcomes. Some of their data point to associations between ePortfolio implementation and retention, GPA, and even graduation rates.

But what might ePortfolio have to do with the challenges of higher education? What does this future look like?

  • MOOCs today look like a return to an instructor mode, an earlier teaching mode, but this will likely change
  • Endless pursuit of productivity, scale, efficiency, with quality often dropping out of the conversation
  • High failure rates in online learning environments may change,  but this problem also points to opportunities

The discourse that emerges from these higher ed discussions is focused on data, scale, and personalizing learning through knowledge of individual learners' behaviors.

As Bass and Eynon see it, three core principles seem to guide those involved in much of the higher education discussion.

  1. Technology is only way to break the access, cost, quality conundrum
  2. Learning processes can be understood via data analysis
  3. Improving human learning depends on improvement in machine learning.

The landscape in this future:

  • Taking Instructivism to Scale
  • Learning Paradigm on Analytics
  • Productivity Agenda

As Bass describes, MOOCs focus on the fact that a large part of education is generic/interchangable.  On the other side of a continuum is the local and identity-specific component of education.  In between the generic and the local/experiential, Bass argues we find the high-impact integrative curriculum. The challenge is that higher education seems not to recognize these three zones, making it difficult for institutions to make this change.

For Bass and Eynon, ePortfolio may be an "agent of an integrated learning culture through evidence of impact." If this it to happen, Bass thinks we need Integrative Learning Analytics.  We need "integrative learning" analytics, ways of evaluating integrative learning. But we also need integrative "learning analytics," a bringing together of a range of learning analytics.

Their talk was a fascinating argument for the potential centrality of ePortfolio to an institution's effort to meet the challenges of higher education: a bridge between instruction and learning, between productivity and quality, between granular learning/metrics and integrative learning/outcomes.

This is a heavy burden for ePortfolios. While I am an advocate for ePortfolios, I'm not yet convinced they can meet this challenge. Certainly, the larger forces of education commodification, standardized assessment, and the cost containment pressures on colleges and universities are not particularly conducive to some of the more exciting elements of ePortfolios.

Big "Fail" for the Hynes Convention Center Exhibit Hall

The conference venue gets a big "fail" on its family-unfriendly accommodations in the exhibit hall.  A conference attendee, presenter, and friend of mine with a toddler in a stroller was denied access to the lunch because it was held in the Exhibit Hall.  The hall, it turns out, would not permit individuals under 18. Insurance liability, according to security.

And they placed lunch at the back of this "childfree zone" in the Hynes Center, so my friend couldn't actually get to the food or network with other attendees in a structured luncheon program that involved sitting at the tables focused on specific aspects of ePortfolio and technology.

Apparently, shameless promotion of products by vendors hawking tech wares is allowed, encouraged, and monetized by the Center. Every accommodation was made to ensure vendor access to adequate power, bandwidth, and presentation space. But a conference presenter with a paid registration (and a child in a stroller) cannot get in.  And a look at the swag given away by the vendors would suggest that the Exhibit Hall is actually a confectionery and toy shop: lots of hard candy, and even Peeps; buttons with fun pictures on them; wind-up dancing robots; funny little squeezable figurines with big hair; and more.

WTF.  It's 2013. It's the United States. And it's Boston.  We're not in the 1950s or in some backwater where people think women should be bound to the home. And it's not the nineteenth century in which children should be seen and not heard. Is this an emerging trend? In the twenty-first century children should be neither seen nor heard?

One has to imagine the money saved by not buying the liability for children for three days ($50? $250?).  Juxtapose that economic reality with the cost of the electrical drops to support something like 100 technology vendors, including the placement of a leather-appointed, limo-like surveillance van right in the hall.

The overall conference venue was very welcoming, but the Exhibit Hall earns a big fail.

After living for more than 20 years without cable, I was "forced" to sign on with Time Warner when I relocated to Maine. I'm exaggerating about the lack of cable: I spent years with Dish Network, and later adopted AT&T's uVerse service when it hit my neighborhood and bundling meant a savings fo $50/month.

It's funny, but I loved the Dish UI, and the uVerse UI was also reasonably decent. (Where Dish simply hid unsubscribed channels, uVerse gave me visual cues that showed channels I didn't get.) TWC's UI is just awful! They tease you by showing you the entire package of programs, and many of them are not really available without significant subscription charges. And, oddly, the entire system has a time lag in the UI - try scrolling through a channels menu and the system can't keep up. This from a company that advertises super high speeds.  (My guess is that Dish and AT&T DL channel menus to a HDD, but TWC prefers to serve it all up over and over.

Anyway, I've just completed my one year "teaser" rate on the bundled TV, Phone, Internet service.  (It's really about the only game in town, or in the woods where I live.) When I called to secure a continued discount I learned that I'd be getting the "step" rate. I get a discount over full retail pricing, but it's less than the teaser.  This is like getting the second bag of dope at half price. Why the discount? To lock you even longer so you really feel the pain of loss (withdrawal?) should you cancel.

So we're cutting the cable! Think cold turkey.  OK, not quite.  I'm implementing a hodgepodge setup for media.  Netflix streaming and a DVD plan, something we've had for nearly a decade.  I've spent a whopping $79 on the refurbished high end Roku box, with the bonus of a HD Netflix stream that far exceeds the quality we've been getting through our Wii.  And now I'm working up a set of channels on the Roku that will get us some of what we'll lose by cutting cable. Plex is going to be an awesome way to stream our own media to the TV without putting a computer in the room. And I'm likely to subscribe to Hulu Plus to get some network programming.  For the networks, I'm toying with the OTA HD reception we can pull in from the Portland stations.  That's a project, but I can already see it working reasonably well.We'll end up saving about $40/month, so it will take a couple months to recoup the Roku investment. And a decent HD antenna will run me close to $100.  Of course, that's all equipment I get to keep, unlike that cable box I rent for about $100/year.

We'll lose Disney, and the kids do watch 2-3 of their shows pretty regularly. And Cartoon Network is a favorite for the Clone Wars animated series.  I'm working on solutions for those challenges. I'm hoping that I might use Plex, iTunes, and possibly Hulu Plus to assist here. And I don't have a DVR solution in the mix - yet.

And we're also talking about dropping the landline for another $30 savings.  I'm still feeling too old fashioned to be without a phone, but we're already getting a VOIP phone setup through TWC. We don't get the old phone system that works in power outages anyway, making the security of a landline a kind a mental fiction. There's no reason I can't implement a third party VOIP solution at a fraction of the TWC price, and I've looked into it. My real hesitation: TWC has my number and won't allow another VOIP provider to port it out.  We'd need to get a new phone number! Local calling only is my fall back option here. Save money, but keep the phone number. Our cell plan could easily handle our national calling, particularly if mostly restricted to cell-to-cell and evening calling.

 

 

1971 Iverson Road Runner

Over the weekend I picked up a complete, original 1971 Iverson Road Runner, a classic rat rod bike style that brought me right back to my childhood days on a banana seat Schwinn my dad repainted and named "The Streaker."

This Maine barn find is the coolest thing. Stickers on the double-crown fork give it the look of a sprung front suspension. Ape hanger bars are each mounted in their own posts, affording maximum flexibility in positioning the bars. The chainguard is in great shape, and both fenders are solid, original, and nearly perfect.

Sure there's rust all over the chromed bars, the rims, and even the chainring. And the foam in the seat is, well, nonexistent. But the seat has no tears in it and the tires held air when we got it home and pumped them up for a test ride.

Why did I get this thing? Over a couple weeks, I had been eyeballing it beside a barn during my commute. It looked like it was going to the trash, but I couldn't tell for sure. Jess could tell that it pained me to see it out in the weather. When I saw the homeowner outside, I pulled over, made some inquiries, and loaded up the bike (and one more that isn't nearly as cool).

I'm not sure what I want to do with the bike.  It's an excellent resto candidate since it is, quite literally, complete. But I almost think it's just more fun the way it is. For now, it's just really cool to see my own kids taking a spin on the kind of bike I rode back in the day.

Oh, the Price? Free!

 

This summer we finally made the move to Maine. After a year of weekly 500-mile commutes, we threw in the towel on selling the house, rented it out and made the move up to Maine. It's a wonderful thing!

One of the first things our daughter Emma wanted to do was make jam with the berries growing all around the property. She and I collected about a half gallon of black raspberries one morning. The next morning we got up early and started cooking. Amazingly delicious stuff!

Then Will wanted to do the same thing with the wild Maine blueberries around the house. Those are harder to collect because they're so small, but the jam he and I made is just as tasty

What a simple, yet pleasant experience. Walk around the yard with a bucket, pluck ripe fruit, boil it down and add sugar, seal it in jars, and spread on a good toast.

We're about done on the blueberries since the season is almost over. But the raspberries look like they'll be ripening for a couple more weeks. Perhaps another batch is in order. And we'll need it since the kids insist that we mail a bunch out to family.

After waiting all summer to sell our house so we could hold a yard sale, we decided to have the sale even though the house hasn't sold. Emma came up with the idea of a lemonade stand, and she added iced tea to the menu. She sat out front all day selling lemonade to people who came to the yard sale, to the mailman, and to passers by. I think she made almost $20 over about 6 hours. (That's more than I made in 6 hours when I started flipping burgers at 16!)

At the end of the day, I pulled out my phone and shot some video of the kids pitching lemonade. Today I pulled the video off my phone, imported it into iMovie, added a filter to give it an old movie look, and put a piece of the video on my Youtube account.

[Video deleted at Emma's request - February 22, 2013]

You'll notice that Emma isn't offering more than unpaid internships at her stand! Too bad for her brothers.

PDAnet (junefabrics.com)

Last week my wife and I made the move from Palm to Android. It was sad to see my venerable Treo go, but it really wasn't cutting it any longer. No wi-fi or GPS (in 2010!). And while it had good bluetooth functionality, the IR port on it just screamed retro. (People in IT literally laughed when I pulled it out of my pocket to schedule a meeting or check an email.) While I have yet to box it up and sell it back to Sprint (for $10 - ouch!), it's done.

The new hotness (for me) is the HTC Evo, a candy bar of a phone with a 1 ghz processor and a 4.3" display. It would seem huge to just about anyone in the market these days.  But it's actually about 2/3 as thick as my Treo and not all that much larger. HD video, 8 megapixel camera,  GPS, wi-fi, and so, so much more. I'm still working my way around this beast, but it is so nice and super responsive.  I used the GPS (my first GPS experience, really) on a Maine trip and I might as well have a Garmin since the screen is about the same size.  Spoken turn-by-turn directions courtesy of Google.

And today, after discovering that my wi-fi will be a bit spotty in my Maine residence, I decided to try to use the phone to establish a wi-fi connection via USB tether. June Fabrics' PDAnet on the Mac and on the Android. 5 minutes of installation and setup. Voila! (The image in this post comes from the June Fabrics site.)

You're reading a blog post made from the Mac via USB tether. How's that for cool? (Yes, I have the WordPress app for my phone and  I can post that way. But the point here is to test my ability to conduct "real" work from a 15" screen  via my phone's data connection. Done.)

Looks like it won't last through the next OS update. I'll have to think about that data plan add on, or find a reliable hotspot.

While in Maine last week, I took the opportunity to check out some of the single-track available in the Portland area. A quick search turned up Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, Maine. Online discussion boards suggested a really nice, well-maintained network of challenging single-track. The boards were right!

Bradbury is a really nice place for either a short or long ride, and it's full of multi-use trails (horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, x-country skiing, and, of course, hiking).

I took the advice of a couple people in the parking lot and rode the east side of the park, on the side with the campground. I found some really nice, technical trail full of little ups and downs, swithchbacks, rocks, roots, and more.

Then, on Sunday evening at my local riding spot, I ran into a guy who was talking about racing in Maine. I told him about the ride and he went on to describe for me the races he's done at Bradbury. I guess I picked a good spot to check out the single track!

The ranger and park volunteers I talked with were really pleasant and helpful, and the riders were all eager to share their knowledge of the park. I'm thinking this will be a very nice place to go for camping, and for some less technical family rides on the snowmobile trails.