Drying Out

I’ve been dabbling with non-alcoholic “spirits” lately, since, like many people, I’ve probably been drinking more than usual during the pandemic. There are a lot of resources out there to get you started, I recommend Julia Bainbridge’s email newsletter (she also has a book). There are some interesting new beverages coming out every day that are not only non-alcoholic, but low in calories as well.

I ordered some items from No and Low: Seedlip’s Garden 108, Pentire’s Adrift, Proteau Rivington Spritz and Three Spirits Livener. They have free shipping over $65, so it was worth trying a bunch of them. Plus they had some of the most interesting bubble wrap I’ve seen!

Bottle bubble wrap

I’ll start with Seedlip and Pentire. Both are similar in that they are intended to be mixed with tonic or something along those lines. The Seedlip Garden 108 was on the light side, and I mostly got snap peas out of it. I paired it with Q Indian Tonic and it was nice on a warm day. The Pentire Adrift was strong on sage, and slightly salty. I had it with Q Elderflower Tonic and liked it a bit more than the Seedlip. My wife tried a sip and really did not like it at all, so be forewarned.

The Rivington Spritz was one that I thought we be great to share with a group. The label suggests that you “Consume on the spot for the best bubbles,” and the bottle is a bit big for one person. Have it on ice in a wine glass, fruity and nice acidity.

So far the one I like the most is Three Spirits Livener. It’s a little fruity, but has a nice spicy kick as well. It’s great on its own with an ice cube as a sipping drink, but beware it does have caffeine, so make sure you’re not starting your cocktail hour too late. I haven’t yet trying mixing it with anything, but I may try to experiment at some point. Maybe a No-groni with the Adrift?

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I looked for the new Athletic Brewing NA beer but instead found a Lagunitas NAIPA and also a local NA beer from Three Notch’d. I’ll try those out and report back.

Nerdy Weather Station

Last year, I decided to learn something new and followed this guide to make my own IoT weather station. It turned out well!

IoT Weather Station
IoT Weather Station

However, that original project relies on IFTTT, which has suddenly decided it is going to charge for anything more than 3 applets. (I had, oh, 15 or so, one for updating the weather each hour, and one for the next day’s forecast, displayed around 9pm.) I figured there had to be another way to accomplish this simple task: check weather report, send conditions and temperature to the Adafruit IO API. I may yet end up converting this to a Python script so that it lives on my own hardware, but for now, I converted it to a Microsoft Flow. (NOTE: my company uses all Microsoft software, so I was able to use the HTTP portion of Flow without paying extra; a definite downside and another reason to convert to a Python script eventually!)

Microsoft Flow is very similar to IFTTT in that you can set up the output of one action to be the input of another. But it also ended up having the added bonus of more configurable recurrence intervals. So now, instead of updating every hour, my weather station can update every ten minutes. It also ends up using MSN weather instead of Weather Underground (which requires purchase of a real weather station to get access to their API) or Dark Sky (which closed access to their API following their purchase by Apple).

UPDATE: I just couldn’t stand it, so I decided to take a crack at converting this to a Python script, and it was super easy. I’m using the OpenWeather API, specifically the “OneCall” API, which gives me the current weather and a 7 day forecast, all in one. I wrote two scripts, which provide the forecast every night, and the current weather updated every ten minutes. My Raspberry PI uses the cron to schedule these and send the output to Adafruit IO. The best part of having my own scripts is that any new “unknown” weather conditions can easily be adapted to the conditions that the weather station code understands. (For example, the weather station understood “Sunny” and lit up the sun icon, but did not know “Partly sunny” should do the same. Easy fix now, rather than having to reprogram the weather station itself.) The OpenWeather API is free for most of its APIs, up to 60 calls/minute and 1,000,000 calls/month, way more than I should ever need. So far, the data looks decent too, at least somewhat in line with other weather apps.

This was supposed to be a fun side project to teach myself more about soldering and programming Arduino devices. As it turned out, it was a great project for figuring out how to adapt a project to use completely different services than the ones that were originally used.

Virtual National Park Week

Our second week of “virtual” summer camps saw us visiting the National Parks.

I kicked us off with a visit to Katmai National Park in Alaska. It’s probably best known for its Bear Cam at Brooks Falls, where the brown bears feast on salmon heading to their spawning grounds. But its origins come from a 1912 volcanic eruption at Novarupta which created the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and prompted calls for protection. For a long time, it was thought that Mount Katmai erupted, but it turned out that nearby Novarupta was the main source, and that all the magma underneath Mount Katmai drained out because of the eruption and the mountain collapsed! There’s now a crater lake there, over 3000 feet below the height of the previous peak.


Ellie followed up by taking us to the opposite side of the country to Dry Tortugas National Park. The most obvious feature of the park is Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fort that was mainly used to house deserters, but also held Dr Samuel Mudd, infamous for setting John Wilkes Booth’s leg, helping him to escape after Lincoln’s assassination. The coral reef is also a big draw, being part of the third largest reef in the world. Much of the park is technically underwater, and is home to a wide variety of sea life, including the turtles the park is named after.


Lisa took us to Dinosaur National Monument, where you can actually touch the fossils! The theory is that there used to be a vast inland sea in the area. Droughts followed by floods deposited a ton of fossils around here. The Green and Yampa rivers also converge in the park, leading to some of the best white water rafting you’ll ever experience. There are also petroglyphs left behind by the Fremont people. The park is within a few hours of several other national parks in Utah, so when *all this* is over, it’s worth a road trip to see them all!

Evan took us to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, so named because parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day. Hiking down to the canyon is so difficult that the NPS doesn’t maintain any official trails. You have to be able to navigate the unmarked trails on your own. Evan was fascinated by the town of Cimarron, which used to be a big rail hub, particularly for livestock. The railroad was narrow gauge in this area due to the difficulty of carving out space for the tracks. The most spectacular part to me was Painted Wall, the third tallest cliff in the lower 48 states. Its unique look is due to the pegmatite granite, formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.


Finally, our dog, Eliza got in on the act and shared how to become a Bark Ranger. BARK is an acronym:
Bag your poop
Always wear a leash
Respect wildlife
Know where you can go (stay on marked trails and be aware of buildings that aren’t pet-friendly)
Ellie and Eliza did a great job with their presentation!


Virtual Museum Week

In the midst of a pandemic, everything is being canceled. Normally around this time, we’d be heading up to Michigan to visit Lisa’s parents and for the kids to go to summer camp with their cousins. Instead, we have *gestures everywhere* all of this. So, in lieu of that, we’re trying to make the best of it by doing week-long virtual summer camps. Each family member picks a place or topic and tells everyone else about it. First up is museum week.

On Monday, I took everyone on a visit to The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park. Of course, Bletchley Park is famous for being the home of World War II’s greatest codebreakers who cracked the German Enigma with their Bombe machine. It has the world’s oldest original working digital computer, the Harwell Dekatron Computer, or the WITCH.

On Tuesday, Lisa took us to The British Museum, home of the beautiful yet controversial Elgin Marbles, originally from the Parthenon. It’s huge! It would take days to see everything there. They also have the Rosetta Stone. They have entire departments devoted to Egypt, Greece and Rome, and even “Coins and Medals.”

Next, Evan took us in a new direction with the Museum of Failure. He was especially amused by Crystal Pepsi and the Nintendo Power Glove.

For the last virtual museum, Ellie took us to The Broad in LA. They have some great videos like this one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinite Mirror Room. We even made some art in the style of Ed Ruscha! I drew HALF Dome in Yosemite.


Finally, we visited an actual museum… outside! Glenstone in Potomac, Maryland is allowing a limited number of visitors at timed intervals, with mandatory mask wearing, to roam the grounds. There are a number of pieces of art on display outside, including Jeff Koons’ “Split Rocker.”


And “FOREST (for a thousand years…)”, an audio installation by Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller was really cool.

Next week, we’ll be virtually visiting some National Parks!

They’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series!!!

It’s a sentence that seemed so far away, in the early days of terrible teams playing in their temporary home at RFK Stadium. I still loved going to watch them play in that dump of a stadium, just because baseball was here, in DC. But man, there were some bad teams. Some guys (Alfonso Soriano, Dmitri Young, Adam Dunn) stopped in for a quick visit to reboot their careers. Some guys (Nook Logan, Nyjer Morgan) seemed to have so much potential only to fizzle out.

Then there are the ones that I wish could have been a part of this. Brad Wilkerson, my favorite player that first year, traded to the Rangers for Soriano. Nick Johnson, oft injured but a “professional baseball player” in every sense. Chad Cordero, the Chief, and bright spot in dark days. Ian Desmond, anchor of the infield for years. Michael Morse, who brought fun to the park. Jayson Werth, who signed when it seemed like no free agents wanted to come to DC. Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, and rubber-armed Livan Hernandez.

It goes without saying that I am most happy for the franchise player, Ryan Zimmerman. Even in those early days when I still went to Nationals games to see them play my beloved Yankees, I couldn’t help but cheer for him walking it off on Father’s Day in 2006. He’s been through everything with this team, and he deserves it more than anyone.

You may be wondering, “What if the Yankees make the World Series too, who will you root for?” The Yankees were my team growing up, I was born in New York, and I loved watching them my whole life. But DC is my home now. The Nationals are my team. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Weather Station

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more “tinkering” with little side electronics projects at home. It started when I tried to teach Evan how to solder while also learning the skill myself! We managed to put together a tiny LED flashlight kit and it all snowballed for me from there.

I managed to put together another beginner’s soldering project.

And then I even soldered the headers onto a Raspberry Pi Zero W. All forty of them! I ended up using that to put together another one of the Google AIY Speakers so I can play my music in the workshop.

Having found a bit of confidence in my tinkering ability, I moved on to a more involved project: an IoT Weather Station. I largely followed this Instructables course, but made a few changes to suit my preferences. This project was a bit trickier, as I had to solder the headers onto my Adafruit Feather Huzzah as well as the Adafruit 7-Segment FeatherWing display! Soon, I had the breadboard circuit wired up and ready to go.

Breadboard circuit

I also used four NeoPixel LEDs, which provide the color for snow, rain, clouds, and sun.

Final Weather Station
The finished product, with hand drawn logos, showing partly cloudy conditions and a temperature of 86 degrees

Every evening at 9pm, the weather station will display the forecast for the following day. The following morning, beginning at 8am, it will show the current weather conditions at the top of every hour. Pretty nifty!

I learned a lot doing this project and got to use skills in the physical world (soldering, circuit building, even drawing and building the box) as well as the virtual world (coding, IFTTT, APIs). I have a few more ideas on what my next project will be, so stay tuned!

Meet Eliza!

On Saturday, we adopted a new puppy named Eliza.

She’s about 3 months old and came from a shelter in Mississippi. She’s mostly corgi, but something else mixed in as well. Evan is clearly in love (he has wanted a corgi for a while now), and even Lisa has warmed up to her pretty quickly.
Luckily she is sleeping through the night, but we are still working on potty training. She still has all her baby teeth, so she likes to chew everything, including tennis ball fuzz, socks, and shoes. (So far, we have successfully defended the shoes.)

The Year in Concerts

I decided early on this year that I would try to see as many concerts as I possibly could. There was a wealth of great bands coming to DC that I really wanted to see, and I ended up going to 17 concerts in all. Here’s a quick (but still long) review of what I liked and didn’t like.
First up was the Verve Pipe at the Barns at Wolf Trap. I had never been to a show at the Barns, only their outdoor venue in the summer. The Barns was a cool place to see a show, and even though I didn’t know all that many songs, it was still a good performance to start the year.
I was surprisingly impressed with We Were Promised Jetpacks at Jammin Java. They ended up playing a show later in the year at the much larger 9:30 Club, so I felt pretty lucky to see them in a smaller venue.
The most fun show of the year had to be the Legwarmers at the State Theatre. I went with a group of friends for my birthday and we went full on 80s retro garb and just had a blast singing along to every hit.
Black Star was the first of several shows at the Anthem, a venue I still can’t quite get behind. The floor is way too big, and I’d rather go to the 9:30 Club, though I understand the desire to sell more tickets. Everyone was super into this one which made it fun.
I took Lisa to see The Accidentals at Jammin Java. They were great performers, even if the crowd was a little restrained. I’d go see them again for sure.
Probably the biggest surprise for me was going to see HAIM at the Anthem and being more entertained by the opening act, Lizzo. She and her dancers and DJ were on fire, it’s too bad there was too long of a gap between them and HAIM, it might have been my favorite show.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats always put everything out there for their shows, but again, the Anthem just didn’t seem like the right spot for them to play.
We saw three fun bands at the Nottoway Nights concert series this year. Karikatura was a funky sound from a NY band. The Hot Lanes Big Band played just the kind of music you think they would. And Maybe April will probably be big on the country scene in a few years.
We took the kids to see Barenaked Ladies on the lawn at Wolf Trap. They’ve maybe lost a step lately, but still very entertaining. We’ll probably go see them with Hootie next summer.
Japandroids is my favorite band so it’s no surprise that their show at the tiny Rock and Roll Hotel was my favorite this year. I got there early and enjoyed Bacchae from right next to the stage. I chatted with a guy I recognized from the Pup show there the previous year. And then we got sweaty and loud and it was awesome. I even came away with one of David Prowse’s drumsticks!
Weezer and the Pixies and Sleigh Bells was at Jiffy Lube Live, a venue which I probably will only return to when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately a storm made me miss most of the Sleigh Bells set. The Pixies were pretty blah. But Weezer was so great.
Future Islands was another weird Anthem show. It was fun but I still maintain they should have played at 9:30.
The most frustrating show of all was AJJ/Kimya Dawson/Rozwell Kid at the Black Cat. It didn’t help that I was really tired, but after Rozwell Kid got me rocking, I felt like Kimya Dawson was out of place in this lineup, and since she was technically co-headlining, she played for a lot longer than I wanted, and I ended up leaving in the middle of AJJ’s set. Disappointing.
The year almost wrapped up where it began, back at the Barns for The Lone Bellow and Tiny Desk Contest winner Naia Izumi. Izumi is super talented and the Barns was a great place for his voice and guitar to resonate. The Lone Bellow are also fantastic performers who I would recommend anyone see even if you don’t know their music.
The year did close out with The Menzingers at the Black Cat. After getting to the show a little late, I squeezed up toward the front for some last sweaty, loud action. Super fun and energetic performers as well.
All in all, a good year of concerts. Even though next year won’t have as many concerts, I’m sure that music will continue to have a big place in my life.

A Winning Weekend

I’ve been trying to run the EX2 Adventures Hemlock course for at least 5 years now, but something always seemed to get in the way. One year, I had to curl that day and decided to skip it in favor of that. Another couple of times, it was rescheduled due to rain or snow and I couldn’t make the rainout date. This year, it turned out I had a potential curling conflict again, but I was running that course no matter what!

The theme for the Potomac Curling Club‘s Embassy Row bonspiel this year was Scotland. I was playing with the team that I am planning to play in the mixed playdowns with in 2019, and it was our first spiel playing together. We ended up playing pretty well for the first three games, leading us into a matchup with Courtney and Melvin Shaw’s team on Saturday night. If we lost, we would drop into the D event semifinals on Sunday morning at 9am, directly conflicting with the race. Win, and we’d play in the A finals at noon instead. I managed to line up a spare to play just in case we did lose. Luckily for us, our opponents didn’t have a great game and we played well enough to move on, and for me to run my race.

I was originally planning and training to run the 10 mile course, which is essentially two loops of the same 5 mile course. But with a tight window to get up to Laurel from Hemlock Overlook park, I decided to drop down to the shorter distance instead. Since I knew that I was in shape to run 10 miles, I went out hard and tried to keep my petal to the floor the whole way. The hills kicked my butt and I got passed by a couple of folks, but I managed to hang on for 4th place overall and 1st in my age group!


After a quick shower, I headed up to Laurel for our final against another Potomac team. Alas, for this game, we needed a lot of shots to go our way and it seemed that few of them did. Still, managing to finish second in our first bonspiel together was quite an accomplishment! We’ll be playing together again in Philadelphia in January to continue to tune up for the big event in February.


Hard to beat a good weekend of trail running and curling!

Social Media hiatus

Boy, has it been a tough year or what? I have had to make a concerted effort to stay positive more than I can remember in a while. Starting a new job helped a lot with that, as the old one was just beating me down. I’ve also continued running a lot, to get back in shape for running the Boston Marathon next April. I haven’t biked as much as I would have liked, even though work is pretty close for me; it always seems like there is something going on before or after the work day that I need to get to, but I will make more of an effort with that. Curling also started again, which is a nice reprieve two or three times a week. After a slow start to the year, I’ve even started reading more regularly. And yet….

I decided that it’s time to get off of social media for a while. Even after culling the people I follow on Twitter, it still makes me angry more than it brings me joy. Facebook has gotten to be mostly useless noise. Half the time I check anything out on there, I’m just scrolling and not really taking anything in. So I’m quitting them, for now. I might occasionally pop on to do a quick update for curling or that sort of thing, but I’m going to make a serious effort to avoid them altogether. I deleted them from my phone even.

So now what? I devote more time and attention to real life. I’m going to keep reading more. I’ll catch up on some TV shows I’ve missed (without looking at my phone the whole time I’m watching!). I’ll dust off that old Raspberry Pi project I was working on before our basement got renovated. But mostly, I’ll just be here, in the present. Sounds pretty great.