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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.

 

 

My digital humanities course took a trip to Walden Pond in early October to soak up the colors, scents, and textures of Walden while we worked on a TEI encoding project associated with the Digital Thoreau initiative at SUNY Geneseo.

Thoreau texting at Walden.
Thoreau texting at Walden.

Our guided tour began at the statue of Thoreau, where we immediately noticed the opportunity to invite Henry David to join us in our digital initiative by placing a smartphone in his hand. With skies threatening rain - and some rain during the walking tour of the original Thoreau house site - we wandered the pond, noting in particular the number of seemingly competitive swimmers stroking in the water.  Also striking was the odd color of the water itself.

It is difficult to bring together the close coding work of TEI diplomatic transcription and the "natural" experience of Walden itself. But I think the connection comes through the manuscript leaves. While they point in a decidedly digital direction when works to encode them for the web, the texture of Thoreau's handwriting and the assorted scratches signaling revisions point back to the site that inspired the text itself.

From UNE, this was a comfortable day trip that was only slightly rushed because of our need to be "home" by 5.  We clearly shortchanged the historic town of Concord, but perhaps that omission will inspire some to return to visit other historically significant sites in that area.

I made my final visit to York College (as a faculty member) on Thursday. After handing in my keys and ID, and before meeting with the dean and my chair one last time, I took a walk around the Jamaica neighborhood in which York sits.  It was fitting that I strolled up Archer Ave by the Jamaica bus stop. It was a gorgeous day for a walk, though the city was under a heat advisory. When I hit the entrance to York that runs under the LIRR, I couldn't help but reminisce about my first days there.  The picture I took of the entrance captures so much about the continuity and change in Jamaica, and at York.

Archer Avenue Entrance to York College (2010)
Archer Avenue Entrance to York College (2010)

This image has all the elements to it, save the heavy crunch of traffic normally running down Archer and the mass of residents waiting to catch the buses that line up at the stop.  (The absence of these core elements of Archer make the photo seem a little creepy.) When I started at York, a grafitti artist was painting the "Project Pick Me Up" mural on the wall.  I watched as each of the faces, and the background emerged over a week or two. For most of my time at York this entrance to the college was but a plan on the architect's desk. There was no branding, and no opening to the fence.

Some years later, soon after the Sean Bell shooting occurred around the corner, someone painted the mural with Mr. Bell sitting on a cloud wearing a sweatshirt with the words "50 Shots" on it. An image of Mr. Bell and his fiancee, dressed for their wedding, look up at the cloud.

Sometime after that, York College actually branded the entrance to the school with a very nice, stainless sign above the underpass and the York College and CUNY logos as bookends. The semi-open stainless steel fence  captures much of the college's relationship with the neighborhood - open, but not quite. Even with this awkward fence/gate, this entrance is so much more inviting than it was even 4 years ago.

And, in keeping with its tagline, York College remains On the Move.

I was watching TV with the kids one evening and a Dos Equis commercial came on.  You know the series featuring "the most interesting man alive." Anyway, there's an ad in this series featuring what appears to be a younger "most interesting man." When we saw the commercial the kids noticed that the guy looked like me.

I took it as an opportunity to play a joke on them. I insisted that I had indeed done the commercial.  It's ridiculous, unbelievable, and yet almost credible.

I'm not sure what I think about the narration that accompanies the clip.

I was blown away at our last department meeting when it concluded with a farewell cake and much well-wishing as I prepare to leave York College for a new position at the University of New England in the fall. The cake was beautiful and delicious, and the card everyone signed left me sad to leave my colleagues. They're just wonderful.

Deep took some pictures and sent them to me, and I'm posting them here so I'm reminded of my soon-to-be-former colleagues with each posting.

Cut the CakeMore Cake CuttingSome ColleaguesMore ColleaguesCadyAnn and othersAlan, Sam, Karin (with Dean Meleties in the doorway)A Posed Shot (no smile?)The Cake

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Snow day all around! The call was for 6-20" of snow in the NY Metro area.  I think we had perhaps 6", though it was probably more like 4. But the college closed its doors for the day, and so did the kids' school.

I managed to get out of the office, away from the computer, and into the backyard for an hour or two to help the kids build a monster snow fort. It looks a little like a white chocolate Hershey's Kiss from the front and it stands about 7 feet tall at the peak.

The snow was pretty wet and heavy, which perhaps explains the limited accumulation and our ability to shape a fort out of it using giant snowman-like snowballs.

Nate in the fort, as seen through the window

The great thing about winter is that it brings out the kid in everyone, or it should. We didn't hit the sledding hill today because of the roads and the wind, though we talked about it.

The challenge with a snow project on this scale is the cold and the kids' interest. Snowball-fight breaks and general shenanigans help a lot. But by the time the fort was built we were pretty much ready to head in to warm up! And then it was back upstairs to the desk for me.

My home office desktop, an AMD64/WinXP MediaCenter box, suffered a horrible crash back in March. After extracting the HDD and recovering as much of the data as I could (mostly family photos), I reinstalled XP over and over. I could never get Win to actually boot, and so I gave it the boot.

I installed Ubuntu 8.1, a beautiful interface that makes the addition of open source apps soooo easy. But I had been unable to make the OS play nice with my Brother printer, a real pain.

Being new to Linux - and pretty new to Apple as well - I was very much unaware of CUPS. All that changed today. I logged into CUPS on my machine by pointing my browser to http://127.0.0.1:631 and logging in. I was able to uninstall the failed install of the drivers for the Brother machine, then reinstall. Boom! Working printer. No CD/DVD to load.

If only I could get the scanner to work with the same level of ease!  From what I can tell, I need to get right into the CLI to make that happen.  I've tried on and off over about 2 weeks, all without success.

Brother has the support information, and there's lots of help in the linux community.  But the support presumes a level of unix command knowledge that  I simply lack at this point. Not so fun right now.