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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

My intent for this blog was always to give a running commentary on my various projects, and for a while I managed to do so. I even got some feedback and made some useful contacts in the blog’s early days when I discussed my tech projects.

Lately, though, it’s really gone to seed. In large part, that’s because I’ve been up to my ears in my projects, and haven’t really felt like taking time from them to blog about them. But something about my projects over the last year has also changed, and I feel like there’s been less that I can comment on that would be potentially useful to anyone else. So I haven’t been quite as vocal about them as I’d like.

So, with that in mind, here’s an accounting of my major projects from this past summer. Read them if you like, but be prepared to learn absolutely nothing.

1. The Bantha
Always a source of projects, I spent a good chunk of time fixing up my beloved Land Cruiser. It keeps on getting better and better, but since it’s a quarter century old, it needs constant upkeep. This summer I replaced all its rusty and dangerous steering linkage with new (to me) pieces that I bought from another Mudder. Following that, I put add-a-leaf springs on all four corners. That particular project took a fair bit longer than I anticipated because of all the rust and because I had to have replacements made for two broken springs that I found in the left front and left rear spring packs. On the plus side, I got fairly friendly with the folks who run an automotive leaf spring business in Danbury. Once that was done, the truck looked pretty goofy sitting on its stock tires, so I combed the junkyards in my neighborhood for replacement all-terrain tires. Now it rides on 31″ BFG ATs, stands a few inches higher than before, looks better, and drives way better. I guess the old tires’ sidewalls weren’t really up to the task of supporting such a heavy rig. The new tires, though, are awesome.

2. XL250
“What the hell’s an XL250?” I’ll bet you’re wondering. It’s a model of Honda enduro motorcycle that basically defined the class when it was introduced in 1972. A real classic. And in a fit of midlife crisis, I picked up a very sad and tired one for cheap last June. Slowly, slowly, I’ve been taking the thing apart, and hope to have it running again in time for next summer. The two-part punchline to this joke is that a) I knew nothing about motorcycle maintenance when I started this project, and b) I don’t even know how to ride a motorcycle, either. Now, after having spent a few aggravating months with the machine, I know quite a bit about motorcycles and grok their mechanics, but owing to years of neglect and rust and breakage, I still don’t have mine working yet. It’s now in my basement, sure to give me hours of amusement and scraped knuckles as I work on it through the winter.

3. Mr. Mom
Yelena went to Syria for the last two weeks in June, and when she got back, she was bogged down with a lot of major projects. (I promise a post soon on one of them.) So that meant that I took most of my summer vacation in Brewster, taking care of the kids, and being Mr. Mom while she stayed in the city and worked. Overall, it went well. The kids and I all survived unscarred, but it did complicate my getting my projects done. Woe is me.

4. Camping
I used to be a pretty avid camper, and spent much of my summers as a child in the Boundary Waters. Yelena and I also used to camp with some frequency (mostly because we were grad students, and it was cheap accommodation when on road trips), but hadn’t done any since 2000, when she was pregnant with our first child. The bug bit me again, though, last Spring and I’ve been out three times this year. All three trips were just single night car camping stays—nothing like the multiple-week trips to the north woods that I used to do—but were way better than not camping. The first time I took both my kids, along with a co-worker and his two kids, to a state park near us. We roasted marshmallows on an awesome campfire, slept out, and hiked on the Appalachian Trail the next day. Good times! The next two trips were just my son and me going north a bit to hang out and go wheeling with the guys from my Land Cruiser club. As far as the camping is concerned, both times were great. Wheeling the first time (prior to the lift and new tires) was a bit problematic because I had such crappy ground clearance. The second time, though, was easy. This Saturday, I’ll probably take my family out again for one last overnighter, and I can’t wait.

5. Welding
In our beery discussion during the first camping trip, I lamented that I don’t know how to weld. How could it be, I wondered, that I, a guy who is perfectly comfortable with all types of tools and construction, got by for so long without learning how to weld? There was no good answer to that question, so I did the only sensible thing: buy a cheap welder and teach myself. Predictably, I weld for shit. However, I have already used it to weld some new exhaust hangers for the Bantha (oops, there’s a project that I forgot to mention above), as well as to attach a new bump stop (make that two projects that I forgot to mention). I’ve got to say that it’s growing on me. It’s making me think in new ways and consider steel, as a material, in ways that I’d never considered it before. I’ll probably have to flesh out my thoughts and write about them sometime soon.

6. The Canoe
Last year I bought an awesome canoe, an old Sawyer Special, for a song. This thing is brilliant and fast and barely drafts is sleek and silent and chock full of awesome awesomeness. It also was abused by its previous owner, who painted this beauty with roll-on house paint. So, in a fit of “hey, I don’t have enough projects on my plate,” I spent a few evenings stripping off the old paint, patching and smoothing the gelcoat, and repainting it. Not much to report here, and I still haven’t paddled it since it got its new finish, but it was a fun little side project, and my daughter helped me a lot with sanding and waxing it, which was very good of her. Some day, it’ll look great when I load it onto the Bantha to go camping with my family.

7. The Shed
My single big project this summer was supposed to be the building of a new shed. After years of dithering and drafting multiple designs, I found a Costco ad for an 8′x12′ shed kit for $1000, delivered. “To hell with my plans!” I figured. This is the bestest, fastest, way for me to finally build my shed. The kit was actually pretty good, but erecting it was a two-person job, and since I’m too cheap to hire anyone to help me, it took longer than it should have. Miraculously, though, I got it all together without any help and without injuring myself. And now that it’s completed, I have tons of new storage space and have cleared out my basement for the next project: a family room. Wish me luck.

8. Server Infrastructure
Just looking at the above list exhausts me. Prior to writing it all out, I felt like this was pretty much a lost summer, but now I guess that I was actually pretty busy. So though I had planned to tell you about our major infrastructure projects at work—including virtualizing almost all our server room onto VMware ESX—I’m too bushed to go on. Maybe I’ll get into it sometime in the future. But now I think I’ll just grab a beer and relax.


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