Skip to content

Silver Pixel from GoogleI picked up a new-to-me Google Pixel to replace my aging, beloved Nexus 5. I grabbed it off Swappa, my first-ever use of this great little marketplace. The seller offered a great price on a pristine 128GB silver version, complete with all packaging and the Daydream VR headset and four cases.

I like the Nexus (or Nexi?), but Google abandoned the Nexus line of reasonably priced "pure" Android phones before rebranding its flagship phone as a Pixel. The Nexus phone had a run through "Nexus 6." (Bladerunner, anyone?) For me, it seemed that everything went all phablet after the Nexus 5, or so it seemed. I'm not interested in a two-hander that won't fit in my front pocket. This explains my choice of the Pixel over the XL version, even though the XL seems easier to acquire aftermarket. (It's hard to get ANY Pixel direct from Google; they have a production problem.)

All was wonderful with my purchase, until I found the phone had an unlocked bootloader, which threw up cautions when the phone booted up. Turning a problem into an opportunity, I took a couple hours to research the issue. The seller was also helpful.

No biggie. I just needed to install Android Studio on my computer, open a Terminal, hook up my Pixel, and lock it down. It was a little more complicated since I didn't know the commands. But the Internet came to the rescue - again. Obstacle one overcome.

And overcoming that obstacle forced me to do some things I've been wanting to try for years: install some tools on my Mac that will enable me to root a phone to put newer versions of Android on it. I think I'll try that with the Nexus 5 down the road.

Project Fi was on my radar for a while. I figured I'd free up some shared data for the kids and the cost would mostly be a wash in the move. (I could be on Fi for $30/month, I think.) But it turned out that moving my number off the family's plan to play with Fi would not save me money. (Funny. I was sure it would.) Curses!


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.

It's taken a little while for me to take it up, but I finally broke down and upgraded my WordPress install to the latest version. I'm only just starting to get to know this version. Still, it's pretty clear that the WP team has made some good additions.

Drag and Drop Media Upload

Right away, I noticed a simplified media upload mechanism. WP is getting smarter. It can now detect the media type you want to upload and sort it appropriately. Even more interesting is the drag-and-drop functionality for media uploads. I gave the tool a quick test drive by uploading a header image, a shot of my backyard pond, below.

Header for Spring 2012 English Composition Course
Backyard Pond.

Flyout Menus

Anyone who spends time with WP knows that the dashboard sidebar menu structure is a bit long.  On a laptop, it's not uncommon to see the menu run below the fold, forcing a scroll just to locate the settings options.

Flyout menus changes all that.  It's easy to see your menu options on hover, saving the extra click and streamlining the look of the text in the dashboard sidebar.

Why Update?

Good question. When is something good enough?  I can't really answer that question.  There are security issues to consider, of course, and the newest version closes some vulnerabilities. In all honesty, the security concerns weren't enough to move me to the upgrade.

I needed a little down time on my running sites to feel comfortable with an update.  The semester break created that down time for me.  (I didn't want to break course websites midstream.) But that wasn't even enough, really.

In the end, my desire to create an option for users to subscribe to Page updates through RSS led me down a path that required the update. RSS Pages for WordPress 3+ required an update to my WP 3.  That update went well, although the plugin page indicates that it had not yet been tested with 3.3.1.  Consider this a leapfrog moment.  I installed the plugin and it seems to be working just fine.

As I suspected in the fall, Smith Preserve is a beautiful, local winter getaway. The trails are frequented by cross country skiers and hikers alike, and it is a beautifully quiet place to spend an hour or two. I strapped on snowshoes a couple weeks ago during a deep freeze.  I found solitude, crisp air, and frozen streams.


This week I took another late afternoon/early evening hike in Smith.  As I rounded the bend on a loop I've been taking an owl flew right across the trail, landing in a tree about 50' from the trail and 20' off the ground.

I dropped my poles and headed off into the woods to see if I could get a closer look.  Amazing! The owl was both completely aware of my presence the whole time and undisturbed by my effort to get close.  I stood under the owl and we stared at each other.  I took about a half dozen pictures with my phone, though darkness was beginning to set in and so it was tough to get a nice shot.

Smith Preserve is proving to be a really sweet spot. It's halfway between home and office, and it's position on the commute makes it ideal for a quick trip into the woods.

My friend Daniel and some of his colleagues have been hard at work on a really important documentary about development in New York. Having done a lot of the hard work behind the documentary, they're now at a financial impasse.  They need additional money to be able to purchase rights to some of the archival footage they want for their documentary.

To help generate funds for this important next stage of their project they've turned to Kickstarter, a really interesting crowdsource-based fund-raising tool. And they've created a trailer to both set up the context for their project and to solicit donations.

The clock is ticking. Consider a pledge.

I have a really cool space in Kennebunk, inside a historic Masonic Hall. With 15' tin ceilings, massive windows, and an open layout, the space just breathes. After wrapping up my second week with the Masons, I'm starting to feel at home. It's a very quiet area, though the construction on Main St. starts at about 6 AM. (Good thing I'm an early riser!) And the people in the area are so friendly and helpful.

Masonic Hall
Masonic Hall - Main St., Kennebunk

I met one of the individuals running the cafe downstairs (Jason), and took a brief bike ride around the Kennebunk neighborhoods to check out housing in the area. I was even able to unpack some research and do some writing. I'm feeling like this is going to be a great place to live, at least for now.