Books: Fall 2015

Last fall I took a few minutes and wrote up reviews for some of the books I’d been reading. I have no idea if anyone read that post, let alone any of the books recommended, but it was a useful exercise for me to capture my fresh impressions. What worked for me, what I thought fell flat. Why I liked or disliked a book, and to what degree.

If you’re interested in book recommendations, Harper Reed crowdsourced a related question and the answers were interesting. Some of the recommendations there are excellent.

But of the books I’ve read over the past few months, here are some of the more notable ones both good and bad. I’m restricting myself to fiction because non-fiction reviews take too long, but for what it’s worth I’m finding Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns of August less compelling than I expected.

With that preamble out of the way, some thoughts on books.

The Good


If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino


This is an experimental novel by Italo Calvino that is relayed in fragments, with a meta second-person narrative interwoven with segments from multiple fictional and incomplete novels. This book was another that made me wish that Goodreads split its ratings in two – one rating for technical execution, the second for enjoyment. If On a Winter’s Night would score very highly on the former, for me. It’s an impressive achievement, and I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Which makes it worth reading, and guarantees it a place in the “Good” section. That being said, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the process of reading it. I’m glad I read it, but I wasn’t as glad reading it if that makes sense.

Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck


As with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I somehow missed the Grapes of Wrath in school, in spite of having read quite a bit of Steinbeck along the way. This was unfortunate, as the Grapes of Wrath is a brilliant piece of work. The prose is excellent but accessible, it’s stylistically enjoyable and the characters are well drawn – not surprising because they were based in part on Steinbeck’s firsthand impressions of having spent time firsthand with many of the poor Okie migrants during the period. This was an important novel at the time, and if Piketty’s ideas on inequality are correct, will remain an important novel for the foreseeable future. Read this.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson


Frequently compared – even in the book’s own description – to Forrest Gump, this book certainly has a lot in common with that novel. It also read to me like a less literate version of Mark Helprin’s Memoir from Antproof Case. Some reviewers hold it up as the antithesis – except in the quality, for better and for worse, of the writing itself – to Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Those comparisons are mostly reasonable, though it goes back to the slapstick well a bit too often to really present itself as the Swedish Forrest Gump. At times it has more in common with the old cartoon Mr Magoo. Going back to the two pronged rating above, I’d give Jonas Jonasson’s effort moderate marks for execution, but the novel itself is entertaining if ultimately light on the substance.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre


Though I’ve read a couple of novels by his son, I’d never actually read any John Le Carre. To rectify this, I picked up his classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Like Ian Fleming before him, Le Carre was actually in the trade, not just writing about it. Unlike Fleming, Le Carre’s works are stark, understated and full of moral ambiguity. His experience as a spy is constantly evident, but not in a flashy way: his comprehensive understanding of the basic, pedestrian mechanics of spycraft are sublimated into a confusing world constantly engaged in silent war. It’s a realistic rather than stylized spy novel, which will work for some and not others. Fortunately for Le Carre, the former group is much, much larger than the latter.

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly


This Neil Gaiman-esque adult fairy tale borrows heavily from actual children’s fairy tales – there is a curiously lengthy postscript/bibliography, in fact, which traces these influences in detail. It’s not quite Neil Gaiman-esque in terms of the quality, but it’s an entertaining and readable story. Given some of the descriptions and themes, however, it’s probably not the first fairy tale you read to a young child. Once they’re a bit older, however, they may recognize some of the drivers behind the youthful protagonist and I could see it becoming a favorite.

The Peripheral, William Gibson


This William Gibson novel was in every way a William Gibson novel. From the original, borderline-hallucinatory plot to the at times incomprehensible and yet taken for granted future tech, there is no point in reading the Peripheral when you’re not acutely aware that you’re reading Gibson. If you like Gibson, it’s probable that you’ll like The Peripheral. Not as much Neuromancer, but possibly more than the Bigend trilogy. I enjoyed it, even if he wrapped things up at the end a bit too neatly for me.

Revival, Stephen King


See above. If you like Stephen King, you’ll probably enjoy Revival. It’s a nod to Machen with some Lovecraftian elements, but is all King otherwise (regrettably including his recent and unfortunate tendency to match older male protagonists with improbable (much) younger female love interests). Still, that’s a footnote in the larger arc of the book, which is dark and spans time and distance. This won’t be counted among King’s greater works, but it was an entertaining read for me.

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach


This novel was born admist a great deal of hype; it commanded a sizable advance for a first time author, and a great deal of attention as a result – a place on the New York Times Best Book of the Year list included. And it’s about baseball. Put those things together, and you would have figured I’d have read this years ago. Instead, I just read it this year, and my immediate reaction was that reading it is like watching a slow-motion car accident. Self-destructiveness doesn’t begin to describe how just about every character torches their own lives in one way or another. Hell, if I’d known a great deal of the book was about a player with Steve Blass disease – an utterly horrifying prospect for anyone who’s ever played a sport – I may never have started the book in the first place. To the novel’s credit, however, by the time I figured that out it was too late, and I had to finish it. The baseball is well rendered, and Harbach can write. It was a painful read at times, but ultimately a rewarding one.

The Entertaining


The Niceville Trilogy, Carsten Stroud


I admit to being unfavorably disposed to a writer whose bio on his own website describes his own intellect using the adjective “staggering.” And each book in this trilogy is worse than the one that preceded it. All of that being said, this is an entertaining series which keeps horror, organized crime and bank job plots moving along at a reasonable pace, with each intermingling every so often. And from the bizarre set up to the conclusion, the series is original. The characters become more like cardboard cutouts as you go along, but in the beginning the series is several ticks above your usual thriller fare. If you treat these as pure entertainment – books for your next flight – you’re likely to enjoy them.

The Deep, Nick Cutter


A post-apocalyptic book that has nothing to do with the apocalypse, The Deep is equal parts Event Horizon, The Thing and The Abyss. It’s not exactly great art, but for purposes of entertainment it’s got just enough flesh on the characters to hold your interest. It also avoids some of the more obvious monster movie cliches in ways that books such as The Ruins didn’t, so as a horror read it gets the job done.

Ghost Fleet, P. W. Singer and August Cole


Picked this up before vacation following a recommendation from Tim Bray. As he acknowledged, it’s certainly not a great book – the characters in particular are cribbed liberally from your favorite war movie of choice. It’s no different, in that respect, from your average Tom Clancy novel, and Ghost Fleet is perhaps best described as an updated Red Storm Rising. With a few exceptions, the technical descriptions are plausible and the underlying assumption that the next war will be played out over networks seems certain, so the novel works and the pace is good. The book was of particular interest to me because one of the vessels playing a starring role, the USS Zumwalt, was built right here in Maine by Bath Iron Works, not ten minutes from where my parents live. It is just as weird looking as they describe. Ultimately, Ghost Fleet is a beach read, shallow from a character development and geopolitical standpoint but heavy on technical detail. If that’s your thing, it’s a quick read.

The Meh


Little, Big, John Crowley


This book is virtually impossible to characterize. It’s most commonly treated as fantasy, but in many respects it’s fantasy in the way that One Hundred Years of Solitude or Corelli’s Mandolin are fantasy. It’s not in the class of either of those novels, but Crowley is a writer of impressive ability. The book is reminiscent of Helprin’s Winter’s Tale in both setting and plot, but remains an entirely distinct and unique work. For that alone, I had a tough time keeping it out of the Good section. But as impressive as the writing is at times, it’s a difficult to follow work that didn’t ultimately deliver on its promise for me. Be aware, however, that there are many reasonable, well-regarded readers on Goodreads who consider this one of the best books they have ever read, so this rating could simply be a failure on my part as the reader.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson


I really want to like Shirley Jackson. Gaiman, King, Matheson and others all consider her a major influence. But something about her work just doesn’t click for me, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle was unfortunately not an exception. Novels that have a loose relationship with reality are fine in my book, but there has to be underlying framework to support the suspension of disbelief. I didn’t find that here. Apparently this book was influenced by Jackson’s own agoraphobia, a perspective that is alien to me, so this may read very differently to different audiences. But apart from the obvious talent of the writer, this didn’t do much for me.

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick


The set up for this made the novel sound perfect: an alternate history in which the Axis powers won the second World War, including a novel within the novel casting doubt on the reality of the alternative reality. Dick-style questions about the nature of perception and reality combined with the author’s vision of a victorious Third Reich would seem to be a solid foundation to build from. Amazon certainly seems to think so, as they’re turning the novel into a dramatic series. For me, however, The Man in the High Castle was undone by characters that were shallow, two-dimensional and rarely worth investing in. The ending attempted to cover for the fact that the ambition and scope of the novel may have been a bit too broad to begin with, but only partially succeeds. This is worth reading, because of the topic and the writer, but keep your expectations muted.

Bird Box, Josh Malerman


This book was buoyed by one of the more unique post-apocalyptic scenarios you’ll ever read, and it understands implicitly that what cannot be seen is always more frightening than what can be. That being said, I felt like I’d read the story arc of the protagonist, her children and the other characters many times over the past few years as post-apocalyptic fiction has gone mainstream. Couple that with a lack of any real answers or payoff, and the result is a well written genre book with a unique twist but not much substance.

The News


There is news and there is news. The former is never in short supply. Anyone who’s ever caught up with an acquaintance understands this kind of news. Promotions. Trips. Moves. Stories about friends being trapped in hotel stairwells in Brussels. This kind of news is not mundane, exactly. As Raymond Carver put it, “There are significant moments in everyone’s day that can make literature.”

But there are other moments. Moments you may only experience once in a lifetime. If you’re lucky. This is one of those moments, that other kind of news.

Kate is pregnant. We are expecting a baby daughter in early December.

The proximity of that date may surprise some of you. It certainly surprises the hell out of us when we actually sit down and count the weeks between now and then. We are making this news public at a date later than might be typical in part because we are both superstitious (I blame baseball, not sure what her excuse is). But while we’re all of the adjectives that mean excited, we’re also cautious because it’s taken us a long time to get to this point, and there are many, many hurdles yet to be cleared.

If all goes well, there will be other times and other posts and far too many words to discuss, among other things, how as the product of a household with one brother and zero sisters I am completely and utterly unprepared for a daughter. But for now, we just wanted to share this news with everyone, because there’s news and there is news.

Hopefully we’ll have more of that last kind soon, but in the meantime keep your fingers crossed for us if you would.

I Have Squandered My Days With Plans of Many Things

As usual, my summer vacation was a mixed bag.

In the world at large, as is typical when I’m out of the office, things went completely bonkers. Google reorganized itself and became Alphabet. Pivotal got a new Chief Executive. And a bunch of tech companies lost a fifth of their value in a matter of minutes when the market imploded.

Even closer to home, the Red Sox reacted to a second consecutive abysmal campaign by over-reacting. They brought in a new President of Baseball Operations, effectively cutting their existing General Manager off at the knees, so he quit. The television voice of the team for the past fifteen years, meanwhile, was fired and ordered not to disclose the fact that he’d been fired over the remaining forty some-odd games of the schedule because it might embarrass the people who fired him. That was all bad. And in the actually bad, real world news department, our field manager was forced to take a leave of absence after he was diagnosed with lymphoma only as a result of having hernia surgery. Compared to that, having to put in a new clutch in my car was no big deal.

The good news on that front, at least, is that they appeared to have caught it early so the prognosis is good. Get well soon, John Farrell.

Things on the home front, however, went much better. Admittedly, my vacation skills were still less than impressive:

But while there were a number of to do’s I didn’t get done – hanging the remaining storm window, for one – there were enough I did. From cleaning out my workroom to weeding and mulching our hop vines to fixing the bathroom sink, I feel reasonably good about the home improvement portion of my summer vacation. Much of this, of course, was that unlike past summer vacations, I got my big project out of the way before it started.


Beyond my lists, however, my vacation was excellent. It was excellent in large part because Maine is an absolutely ridiculous state. My only request to Kate every summer is that we not get on a plane. Having to spend a large part of my year in the air, to the extent that it’s possible, I try to spend whatever vacation time I have within a radius navigable by boat, car or train. Which would be problematic in some states. In Maine, however, it’s easy. Here are a few of the things I’ve done this summer.

My vacation started, predictably, at a brewery.


Where else would I want to kick things off but with our friends up at Oxbow?


For a friend’s birthday, we took a spin around Casco Bay on a schooner.


Along the way, we ran into a few lighthouses. We have a lot of those.


I tried (and failed) to get our outboard running in time for a week on the water up north.

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Consoled myself about my failure by walking down our rickety steps to sit down by the water. With a growler of Bissell Brothers.


Hunted for snowblower deals, because Winter is Coming.


This is cheating, because it was earlier this summer, but Baxter State park is not awful.


And has waterfalls.

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While we couldn’t get the boat we have up and running, my parents also have a boat. Was great to sit and read and jump in the water when it got too hot.


It wouldn’t be summer for me if I didn’t get out to Houston Brook Falls. As you can see, I get a lot of use out of my Monktoberfest growler. Guess the contents.


This past week, Kate and I rented a small cottage on the water up the road from us in Bristol.


This was my view for good parts of the week.


Though not the parts that looked like this. It wouldn’t be an O’Grady vacation if the weather wasn’t bad at least for some of the time. Reading and listening to it rain, however, is an underrated activity. As is falling asleep while reading and listening to it rain.


Besides, it looked like this for the entire back half of the week.


So we did things like run down to Fort William Henry to walk the grounds.


Friday was our anniversary, so we celebrated by taking the ferry out of New Harbor over to Monhegan.


Where we visited a brewery, naturally. That fencing, by the way, is a couple of rows of lobster traps with hop vines growing through them. In a year or two, the smell of all of those hops is going to be incredible.


You wouldn’t think a brewery ten miles off the coast on an island with a limited water supply would put out good beer, but the folks from Monhegan Brewing do a great job. The Balmy Days Kolsch, in particular, was excellent, and I’m not typically much for the style.


That night we went to Coveside for our anniversary dinner, in part because we love it but more because it’s right across the water from where we were married five years ago Friday, the building all the way to the left of this shot.


This was the view from the cottage when we got back that night. If you’re going to staycation, it’s nice to live in a place like Maine.

As I tell people from work all the time: there’s a reason I live here. If you’ve read this far, it’s probably not hard to figure out what that reason is.

How to Build a Woodshed


When Kate and I bought our house, we knew going in that it had two primary heat sources: an oil furnace and a fireplace. We weren’t thrilled about the former due to the cost of heating oil and a host of environmental concerns, and while we both enjoy a roaring fire, the unfortunate reality is that fireplaces are by and large better aesthetically than they are at actually serving as a heat source. Taken together, our heating situation was less than ideal.

To address this, we first invested in making the house more efficient at retaining the heat it did have. We had blown insulation installed in the attic, we tore out and replaced the existing insulation in our basement, ripped out an old front door and sealed it, replaced the remaining entryway with a new efficient model, installed storm windows where they were lacking and more. This did have the desired effect of cutting our oil consumption substantially – anywhere from a half gallon to gallon per day during the winter heating season. Which was a good start. But it didn’t address the core problem that our heating system – systems plural if you want to count the fireplace – was extremely inefficient. And so we set to evaluating a wide variety of heating options.

Why Wood?

Natural gas, the option involving the fewest compromises both economically and environmentally, is unfortunately not going to be coming to our neighborhood. The cost of a propane-based alternative wasn’t prohibitive, but the payback period versus our existing oil infrastructure was lengthy. My preferred option of a ductless minisplit heat pump, meanwhile, was interesting, but given that they’re less viable in extreme cold and more problematically will not integrate into an existing thermostat system, they’re not quite ready in our eyes. We’ll probably go down the heat pump route eventually, but only when they’re guaranteed to play nicely with our Nest units.

With gas, propane and heat pumps out, we were left looking at wood. Which in turn led us to look at converting the fireplace into something more efficient – both as a heat source and environmentally. After a lengthy research process, we ended up buying a new EPA certified Jøtul fireplace insert – the Rockland 550, specifically. Manufactured here in Maine, they essentially convert your existing leaky fireplace into a woodstove, which a) is capable of heating an entire floor and b) burns wood far, far more efficiently.

Like every other heat source, wood comes with environmental tradeoffs, but it’s the best choice for us at present.

What Does it Mean to Heat with Wood?

Most obviously, you need wood to burn. Given that stacking it inside is impractical for a variety of reasons ranging from space to insects, it also means that you’re going to be making regular trips outside in the winter cold to bring in wood for the stove. Which in turn implies that you have somewhere to store the wood outside, preferably someplace close to a door.

In years past we’ve made do with makeshift wood racks that consist of two metal frames that you attach to the end of a pair of 2×4’s. Given the more primary role wood will play in this winter’s heating plan, however, we needed more wood than was practical to store in this manner. This much wood, in fact.


We needed a wood shed, in other words.

What Kind of Shed?

One of the things you figure out quickly when you Google “woodshed” or “firewood shed” is that there are a lot of woodshed plans online. Many hardware stores, in fact, sell packaged shed kits that you assemble like a piece of Ikea furniture. Both because none of these quite fit our needs and because I wanted something a little more challenging, I eventually ended up basing my shed plans on this post and beam design I found on Popular Mechanics.

This design involves a bit of actual carpentry such as cutting notches in the posts to seat beams, which made it more interesting than putting together some pre-drilled lego-style pieces. It also gave me a chance to use a set of hand tools like the chisels below that belonged to my grandfather and have been passed down to me to complete the project. This made the experience special for me in a way that something more straightforward would not have been.


As a side note for anyone interested, the Popular Mechanics link does not include the PDF plans, and as they’re not mine I can’t post them here, but the PDF schematic which includes a detailed lumber shopping list isn’t too hard to find.

How to Build It?

Particularly if, like me, you’ve never built anything like this the natural question is where to start. The answer, as always with DIY projects, is YouTube. I watched a dozen or more different videos about building sheds. No matter what your question is, from foundation to roof, there is a YouTube video that covers it. For this project, as an example, I wanted to put on an asphalt shingle roof instead of the corrugated metal one the plans called for. The tricky part was that while I worked construction in high school and college, I’d never so much as looked at a shingle previously. Thanks to videos like iCreatables’ “How To Build A Lean To Shed – Part 7 – Roofing Install,” however, it wasn’t as technically difficult as I expected. It was much, much worse in other ways, but we’ll come back to that.

The other important recommendation is that advance planning is your friend. Even with plans in hand, it’s necessary to work out a host of details – and doing them ahead of time is far preferable to trying to working them out while you’re scrambling around on a roof, for example.


It’s nice to have a cutlist, for example, so that you’re not cutting each piece one by one in the middle of the project. Understanding the precise spacing between beams, joists, posts and rafters is also important. I also liked to have a diagram for myself not just of how pieces fit together, but with which fasteners. 3″ screws? 16d nails? How many per location? The plans I had included a list, but having them laid out on a diagram is much easier to refer to while in the middle of things.

It’s also useful to have a wife patient enough to let you turn her kitchen table into a construction site for a month.


How Long Does it Take?

It depends in part on your skill level: I had to figure out how to do several of the steps from scratch which took longer. The tools you have on hand also make a difference, as does the site choice. Also, weather is a huge factor, because standing on a 12′ metal contractors’ ladder holding thin sheets of aluminum is not what you want to be doing when a typical summer pop up thunderstorm rolls overhead.

All told, this project took me the better part of three weekends, with a bunch of lunch hours and evenings thrown in as well. Your mileage may vary, however.

Lessons Learned

Without walking through the entire construction process, which would be tedious even for me, here are a couple of notes for anyone else who builds this or something similar. It’s also worth getting these down for my own benefit, because while they’ll likely come in handy on other projects later I’m unlikely to remember all of this by that point.

Don’t Do This On Your Own

I picked a bad time to build my shed, as the friends who would normally be up for this kind of thing were either traveling for work or away at the usual summer slate of weddings and so on. And while either my father or my father-in-law would have been happy to help if asked, it’s a longish drive for both of them and the weather was unpredictable enough with sudden thunderstorms so as to make that impractical.

Which is how I ended up building this by myself. I figured out how to do the things that were hardest solo, as I’ll talk about below, but I don’t recommend it. If only because it’s more boring.

Foundation Choices

Basically, you have two choices: on-grade (i.e. concrete blocks or similar seated on the ground) or poured concrete footings. While I had to go the former route due to zoning restrictions, I highly, highly recommend you not do the same. Poured concrete footings are substantially easier to level, less vulnerable to things like frost heaves, etc. Speaking of leveling.


Leveling Sucks

There’s a reason they always skip over the leveling process in YouTube videos, and the reason is that leveling sucks. In my case, I was working with six concrete footings. One of the videos I watched, unfortunately, recommended leveling down from your highest point to the middle footing and then to other end. This, as it turns out, is idiotic. If you’re working with six footings, Level your four corners and figure the middle out later. You should also be prepared to work hard, have everything level, and have all of that thrown away instantly when you add a new post, move a foundational piece slightly or similar.


How to Notch Posts and Rafters

As mentioned above, this was a post and beam type project, and so the roof beams actually sit in notches cut into the posts themselves. The simplest way to notch a post, I’ve found, is to set a circular saw to the appropriate depth (1.5″, for example, if you’re seating a 2xX piece) and make a straight (shoulder) cut at the bottom of where you want the notch. Then simply use the circular saw to make a dozen or more cuts above it at the same depth. The remaining thin strips of post are then easily removed with a chisel.

You can kind of do the same thing in notching the bird’s mouth of rafters, but it’s tricky. Make sure you have spare lumber on hand.


How to Hang End Rafters Solo

This seemed challenging because the end rafters were pressure treated 2×6 strips that weren’t light, and not only needed to be fastened to the shed wall but at a particular angle and height to match the rafters. Even solo, however, this was pretty easy: use two clamps to attach them to the wall, adjust as necessary, tighten the clamps and fasten them permanently.

How to Hang a 2x8x12 Fascia

When writing up the instructions for this step the night before I was to hang the fascia, the last bullet was “How?” I couldn’t figure how – or even if – I was going to be able to haul a heavy pressure treated 2×8 over 12 feet long and hang it levelly between two end rafters 12 feet off the ground. After several failed attempts and one crushed pinky, I worked out how to do this. Using two clamps, create a stand or brace of sorts perpendicular to your fascia using a spare 2×4 or similar in the middle of the shed. Make it as close to your ideal height as possible. Then, when you haul the 2×8 up to temporarily fasten it to one rafter, you rest it on the foundation that’s a foot or two shorter than your rafter and you have one end temporarily attached and held up by your 2×4. The stand you’ve created acts sort of like a second set of hands would, holding the fascia up. Then when you move the ladder down to the other end of the structure, the fascia is already near the height you need and thus easy to level and attach.

Simpler still, of course, is simply having someone help you. But if you have to do it this way, it is possible.

Shingling is Awful

After watching all the YouTube videos, I mistakenly thought shingling wouldn’t be all that bad. I was seriously mistaken. It isn’t technically that difficult, as mentioned above. Once you get the idea, the pattern, shingling is straightforward. But there are a few problems. First, the pitch on my roof was greater than in the videos, so I couldn’t walk around like they did and casually use a nail gun to attach the shingles. And not just because I don’t have a nailgun. Best I could do was crab walk around, and then sit sideways on one leg while nailing in a shingle.


There are two more problems, however. First, shingles are like large pieces of sandpaper. By the time I figured this out, I’d sanded most of the leg hair and some skin off my left leg, and I had a fair amount of asphalt embedded in it. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, as you can throw on jeans and be done with it. Because it was pushing 90, however, I opted out of that plan and instead made myself some leg armor using cardboard boxes and duct tape. The other problem with asphalt shingles is that they are deep, deep black, as was the felt building paper under them. So the roof is exceptionally hot as well as painful. Also dangerous, if you were to fall off. Which is why shingling is awful.

Pay Attention to Weather

This is especially true for me, but really for anyone who doesn’t want to be caught holding electrical power tools in the rain, paying very close attention to the forecast and weather radar is important. Otherwise you end up trying to cover the unshingled plywood roof with a giant tarp in 30 MPH winds and driving rain. Not recommended.


The End Product

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A leanto firewood shed certainly isn’t going to win any design awards or be featured in architecture magazines. This is especially true of this one, about which the best that can be said is: “mistakes were made.” As one of my friends observed after looking at it for thirty seconds: “little shy on this end?”

But mistakes or no, there’s something satisfying about building things with your hands. Particularly when using tools with handles worn smooth by years of your grandfather’s usage. More to the point, even if it’s not perfect, as another friend put it, its only job is to keep rain and snow off of a pile of wood. So far tonight, it’s been up to the task.

This one’s for you, Gramp.

Three Days in Dublin

Hunting for a picture earlier, it occurred to me that I have thus far neglected to document the trip Kate and I took to Ireland back in February. After quick stops in London and Brussels for the Monki Gras and FOSDEM, we tacked on a quick three day jaunt in Dublin. We’ve both been to Ireland before, but we’d never been with each other. Our original idea was to tour the west and see more of the country, but given the compressed timeframe Dublin was easier to manage.

It was an especially interesting visit for me, because the last time I was in the city – aside from stopovers at the airport – was as a student. One summer in college, I was over for six weeks to take a course at Trinity on Irish history. Unsurprisingly, I loved my time in Dublin. The class, too.

Here are a few of the things Kate and I saw while we were over.


The Trinity campus was as impressive as I remembered, and we were staying at a Westin that was a short walk away.

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Turning around, we headed over to see the book of Kells.


Pictures are prohibited of the book itself, but the Old Library you pass through on the way out is at least as impressive. They just don’t make rooms like this anymore.


After the book of Kells, we took a walk down to the Pavilion. It was quiet, almost empty, but the summer I was over it was always packed. A couple of us students would get pints and sit out on the deck to watch cricket played on this field.


I had no idea then and still have no idea now how cricket is played, but sitting outside in the sun watching it, Guinness in hand, while old men yelled obscure cricket taunts at one team or the other was not bad at all.


A short walk from there was the Oscar Wilde memorial, a fitting tribute.


We also visited the Michael Collins memorial, which was important to us as some of Kate’s family fought with him.


The picture’s terrible, but in the other direction, we walked through the Dubhlinn Garden behind Dublin Castle.


The administrative buildings built off the castle end up in this courtyard.


For its part, the castle has been almost subsumed by the city around it.


We made sure to catch some live music as well. Catching Irish acts is always fun, as I grew up on the music. At the same time, it always reminds me of an absent friend.

You are missed, Sean.


No trip to Dublin, of course, is complete without a visit to the Temple Bar.


But while the traditional venues remain fantastic, it’s nice to see craft focused venues springing up. After striking out when one prospective lunch venue was closed, we wandered down one street and ended up at P.Macs. The servers were great, and knew their craft beer.

Overall, it was a great trip, if too short. Look forward to getting back over, and I hope I don’t have to wait as long this time.

Blue About JetBlue


I fly JetBlue a lot. According to, I’m at 34 segments and 48,497 miles so far this year. From 2010 through 2014, I’ve averaged a bit over 86,000 miles a year on the carrier. For the second year in a row, I qualified for JetBlue’s frequent flyer program, Mosaic, by June. With the exception of the odd international trip here and there, the majority of my air travel is domestic which is how I’m able to standardize on JetBlue.

As to why I’ve standardized on JetBlue, that question is just as easy to answer: legroom. There are a lot of reasons to like JetBlue: the planes are in reasonable shape, the staff is friendly and helpful, and they are typically cost competitive. But for me, it’s always been about the legroom. Of all of the major domestic carriers, JetBlue is the only one with regular economy seats that don’t require me to be shorter. My knees will brush the front of the seat in front of me, but I have just enough room that flying coach is not the excruciating experience that it is on, say, United.

At least for now.

It’s possible, however, that 2015 could be my last year as a JetBlue regular – my earned 2016 Mosaic status notwithstanding. The carrier has two problems. First, they’re taking away some of the core features that made flying JetBlue a different, more pleasant experience. Second, their rewards program for those of us who fly a lot isn’t particularly competitive.

In the airline’s defense, it’s not their fault they’re about to get worse – it’s Wall Street’s. Equity analysts covering the carrier got tired of Chief Executive Dave Barger being “overly concerned” with minutiae like passenger comfort and eschewing the nickel-and-diming approach of its competitors. Which is presumably part of the reason why he got to add “Former” to his job title. Under the leadership of Barger’s replacement, former British Airways executive Robin Hayes, JetBlue customers can now look forward to additional baggage fees and 15 additional seats per plane – which is another way of saying less legroom.

This might be acceptable if JetBlue took care of those who flew the airline the most, but its Mosaic program is relatively benefit free. It eliminates change fees, which does save me a few hundred dollars a year when schedules change. Mosaic also allows me to board first, but the extra fee Even More Legroom seats I typically purchase for longer flights board early as well. The program waives checked baggage fees, but if you fly enough to qualify for Mosaic you should know better than to check bags. I certainly don’t.

Nowhere in there, noticeably, is any mention of upgrades. Most frequent flyer programs include the ability to earn upgrades to first class, or the ability to purchase them at a discount. Virgin America, for example, lets its Gold and Silver flyers upgrade to the equivalent of Economy Plus for free, and purchase unsold first class inventory at a fraction of the retail cost. One friend tells me he regularly upgrades to first class on flights in and out of Boston for $200 or less. JetBlue, by contrast, offered six complimentary upgrades to Even More Legroom seats for Mosaic members the first year of the program (which you could not redeem online or at the airport), then quietly eliminated that offering. And there is no formal upgrade path whatsoever – free or paid – to their new first class Mint seats.

Which leaves us with an airline that by all accounts is poised to substantially downgrade its customer experience, removing much of its competitive differentiation in the process. Worse, the carrier is without a competitive loyalty program for frequent flyers to compensate for the reductions in service.

I really have enjoyed flying JetBlue over the years, but it’s about to get harder to find reasons to not give my business to alternatives like Virgin. I’ll be watching how the company behaves through the end of the year, but for the first time in years I’m evaluating my options for standard carriers in 2016 (non-United suggestions welcome). If I’m going to have to shoehorn myself into a seat regardless of where I fly, I might as well pick an airline that will at least give me a shot at the sweet, sweet legroom of first class.

Still, my first choice would be to keep flying JetBlue, provided they can get their act together. You guys listening?

Goodbye, Penryn Way

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I was twelve, maybe thirteen when I went golfing with my brother, father and grandmother. We were halfway through a round near her home in Rockport when we noticed that someone had left a putter on the previous hole. Technically you weren’t supposed to drive a golf cart until you were fourteen, but I was behind the wheel with my grandmother in the passenger seat next to me. I banked the cart up and around, driving like an asshole, and fired us back towards the green where we spotted the putter. An adult would simply stop the cart, get out and pick up the club. Being an asshole kid, I decided it would be faster to simply lean out while driving by and pick it up on the fly.

You can probably see where this is going.

As I approached the putter, I tapped the brake to slow us down. Or intended to. What actually happened was that I hit the accelerator. A few seconds later, I’d been ejected onto the green and the cart had powered into a service ditch with my grandmother in it. Miraculously, she was thrown free and not crushed. Or even hurt, though she was now covered in mud and goose shit. The cart, however, was perpendicular to the ground and sinking. It was pretty obviously not coming out under human power, let alone the muscle of one man, two kids and the man’s mother. We tried anyway.

On the way home, my father was apoplectic. As my brother tells the story, he was so angry he issued the following edict: “We will never laugh about this. Ever.” When we got back to the Rockport House on Penryn Way, I disappeared up to the attic for three days, coming down only for meals.

All these years later, we still laugh about that story.


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What O’Grady’s call the Rockport House, proper noun, has been in our family as best we can recall since 1905. Originally a summer home, it was purchased from siblings and winterized by my grandparents. Perched atop a rise which Google Maps tells me is 800 feet back from Pebble Beach, the front of the house looks out over the beach to the Atlantic. Milk Island’s to the right, Thacher and its twin lights left. When we were a little older than my nephews in the above photo, we used to sit on the deck and watch for large ships to pass by. Yachts, freighters, lobster boats, or, if we were really lucky, something military. We’d scan them using a pair of old German Army field glasses, brought back from the second World War by my great-grandfather.

It was our YouTube.


This is how my brother and me grew up at that house. We spent countless summer hours building sand castles with our cousins, hugely elaborate affairs architected to resist the tide. We picked through the rocks of Loblolly for beach glass. Red was the most coveted color, almost never found, blue a close second. We sailed the toy boats we bought down on Bearskin Neck in pools left behind by the tide. We played and swam off the rocks of the beach. To prove we were tough, we’d go swimming on Memorial Day with water temps in the low sixties. This left me with pneumonia twice, but I could call myself tough.

On the way back from the beach through the tall grass path, one of us kids would step on a thorn and implode into tears. Up at the house, someone else would get a splinter from the aging deck. In return for being brave and not crying while the splinter was fished out with a needle, we’d get a bottle of Twin Lights soda. Fruit Punch was it for me, Lemon-Lime a close second. Reading between the lines on Wikipedia, Twin Lights appears not long for this world. It’ll soon be just another forgotten artisanal brand, and its best hope probably lies in the hands of discovery by future hipsters.

We had a game we’d play with our cousins on the rocks behind the Rockport House. I don’t remember it having a name. Probably it was something like “matchboxes.” It went like this:

  1. Pool our respective matchbox cars.
  2. Push them, one at a time, down the rocky incline.
  3. Pick up a rock and crush the matchbox into flattened pieces of metal and plastic, the better to simulate a real car crash.
  4. Ask for more matchboxes.

So we never had many matchboxes. Resupply request denied and forbidden from destroying anything else, we’d turn to the board games my grandmother kept in the storage lockers – Stratego was my favorite – under her window seats. We also played a lot of cards. At one point while we were learning poker, I stacked a deck so that my younger brother would have a king high royal flush. Great hand, but surprise! I also had a royal flush, ace high.

The movie Gremlins came out in 1984, which was how our black lab puppy ended up with the name Gizmo. From the day we first brought her there until the day she died, Gizmo was never happier than she was at the Rockport House. We’d spend days at the beach, taking turns throwing the ball into the surf for her for hours. Back at the house, we’d look around and she’d be gone. She knew the way to the beach as well as we did, and would sneak down without us to try and find some poor victim at the beach to throw the ball for her. Most days we figured this out in time, and then there’d be an argument about whose turn it was to go back to the beach to collect her. Others, someone on the beach would get pissed at this crazy barking animal that wanted nothing more than fetch the ball forever, call animal control and she’d end up in the canine equivalent of the drunk tank. We had to bail her out more than once.

As Gizmo got older, she began to go blind. She never stopped loving that beach, though. The trick was having a handful of small stones on hand. Throw the ball into the surf, and she’d take off in pursuit – arthritis just a memory. Being blind, she had no idea where the ball was. You had to lead her in by landing small stones to splash just in front of her nose until she ran into the ball and triumphantly returned with it. Then barked at you to throw it again.

Another summer we brought my Tuxedo-colored cat – ostensibly named Sylvester, though we never called him that – up to Rockport with us. The day after we arrived, he disappeared. He was a one person cat whose one person was me, so I was crushed. Two days later, he casually wandered in the door having gained a noticeable amount of weight. Turned out the neighbors had had a wedding reception at their house, and with guests dropping pieces of shrimp or lobster every so often, he’d been sitting under their deck eating like a king.

Once a few of us kids even snuck up to the World War II submarine watch tower up the road, which was on private property at the time, for an up close and personal look at the relic. For a giant concrete tower hastily erected by the military during wartime and later effectively abandoned, it was surprisingly ordinary. Great views though.

The house at Rockport also served as a base of operations for trips into Fenway. In that way, the house is part of why I’m a Red Sox fan. I was at Rockport the summer I went to my first game. Most adults talk about their first trip to the park with reverence, speaking of their first look at the Monster in hushed tones. What I remember was that Jim Rice hit a foul liner that hit the kid sitting next to me in the stomach. He ended up being ok, but gotten take out on a stretcher.


My favorite memory of the Rockport House, however, will always be the attic. Originally a summer house, the winterization effort ended at the second floor. Sleeping up in the attic was like sleeping outdoors. When it rained, you’d fall asleep to the rain softly pinging off the roof. And the smell of that old wood.

It still smelled like that when I was up there for the last time in February.


In many ways, my cousins, my brother and myself were just following in our parents footsteps. Those rocks on Pebble Beach that we grew up playing on? They’d all been named by my father and his siblings before us. Station Rock was a gray, flat rock halfway out. Turtle Rock was just what it sounds like. The Dives were the end of the rocks, and when we were old enough we’d have to time a dive off of them with a swell, and swim the long way back around to the beach.

In his younger days, my father spent a lot of summers playing tennis, racing sailboats and lobstering off Cape Ann. Incidentally, curious where the best hauls were? Near the town sewage outlet.

A hell of an athlete, just like his mother, my father accumulated tennis cup after tennis cup winning tournaments in the area. Trophies that later served as table centerpieces for my wedding.

Another time, he and my uncle were racing Fireflies out near the Rockport breakwater when their boat capsized and the mast snapped off. Eventually, they were recovered and brought in. Laying on the wharf when they got back, caught not a 100 yards from where they’d gone into the water? An 11′ shark.

It’s hard to conceive of this these days, but my father would hitch back and forth from the house to Williams, which I later attended. It was a different time, I guess. Halfway through school, he met my Mom and she was introduced to the house. Unlike some sixty thousand other Americans of the Vietnam Era, after volunteering for the service he came home to the Rockport House unharmed.

I’m not entirely sure, because there were so many events at the house over the years, but I think it might have been my aunt’s wedding where one of my cousins snuck me my first beer.

It tasted awful, but then it was a Bud Heavy.


As the years passed, so did the milestones. I realized my first serious girlfriend was my first serious girlfriend when we drove down to the Rockport House from Williams for Easter in my old Mustang. We slept in the attic and listened to the rain.

When I graduated, I interviewed for several jobs in the Boston area. I used the Rockport House as my launching pad for these trips, as I was living in Manhattan at the time. My grandmother would make me dinner and see me off in the morning in my brand new interview suit – charcoal gray. One of those interviews led to a job with Boston-based Keane, which is how I ended up in the technology industry in the first place.

The final Rockport House milestone for me, as it turned out, was my engagement. In the summer of 2009, my grandfather had been gone for many years. My grandmother’s health began to fail. Then only dating Kate, I moved up my plans to propose to her by a few months so that Grammie might have some good news before she passed. Kate and I were engaged in August of that year. A month later, I was told I was told to come down as soon as I could.

Hopping in a car, Kate and I sprinted down from Maine. We didn’t make it in time. I got the call somewhere on Rt-133 in Essex, twenty minutes from the hospital. I had to pull over. Though I never got the chance to say goodbye to my grandmother, I like to think she knew I was in good hands.


Three years later, I was walking across the beach in bare feet with my brother next to me and his son on my shoulders to spread her ashes along with the rest of our family. My godson had many questions about why we were there, and what we were doing. I answered what I could.


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To get to Penryn Way, you start at the top of Penryn Lane. The road is narrow, barely one car wide, and frequently washed out. When we were little, our dad would sit us in his lap at the top of this narrow, winding lane and let us “drive” the couple of hundred feet down to the house. It makes you feel very grown up, driving. Not that we could reach the pedals or were even actually steering.

If it were up to me, the Rockport House would be handed down to a member of the family. But we’re spread far and wide these days, and that’s not going to happen. The house has marked the passage of my life from infant to child to teenager to college student to adult, as it did for generations before me. Now it’s gone. The closing was today.

It’s strange to think that I’ll never drive down Penryn Way again. But I hope the Rockport House gives its new owners a hundred years as good as the ones it provided the O’Grady’s.

I’ll miss it.

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How to Use an Electrical Pump to Make Homebrewing Easier


Because I like beer, I have over the years dabbled in trying to make it. At no point have I had much success. My first attempt came in college, where not having control over the temperature of the dorm, as it turns out, is a problem. Attempts to artificially create the correct temperature with a cracked window in winter led to two cases of frozen beer and very small glass shards everywhere. Subsequent efforts first in Maine and then in Denver were less destructive but best described as not provably toxic.

My willingness and ability to improve, however, was always limited by the soul-killing tedium of bottling. Each time I’d brew a batch, I’d remember why it had been so long since the last time: I absolutely hate bottling. It wasn’t until a conversation with Devin a month or two ago that I remembered that, as the owner of a kegerator, I had an option other than bottling: kegging.

Hence last weekend’s brew day:

The good news is that kegging is substantially lower effort than bottling. The bad news is that it comes with some additional costs in terms of maintenance. To assist with these as well as the brewing process itself, I decided to invest in an electrical pump. Here’s how we use it.

The Basics

Are not very complicated. The basic idea is to use an electrical pump wherever moving water is required, whether for cleaning, cooling or both. After looking around, and one aborted selection of a non-submersible utility pump, with the assistance of user @Mike_kever_kombi I settled on a Flotec 1/6 HP submersible utility pump, model # FP0S1300X. It’s available for $83.28 at Home Depot, which was considerably cheaper than the base ~$165 price I’d seen quoted for wort chilling pumps.

There aren’t too many rules associated with the pump; basically you drop it in, turn it on and it pumps water. But obviously be careful because you’re dealing with electricty and water, never a great combination. Besides the safety concerns, pay attention to the hose diameters on both sides. In my experience, the pump will not operate with 5/16″ tubing – common to many wort chillers – but is fine with slightly larger 3/8″ lines, in spite of what the user manual claims. It’s also critically important not to run the pump dry; pay very close attention, in other words, if you’re doing something other than recirculating water.

Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward. On to the specifics of how we use it.

Wort Chilling

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Whenever I’ve used our copper wort chiller in the past, I’ve always plugged it into a standard garden hose spigot and used your basic cold tap water to bring down the temperature of the wort after a boil. In Maine, in the winter, this is less practical, particularly during brew days like ours where the outside temperature is twenty degrees below freezing. Which is where the pump comes in.

In order to chill the wort, I take a piece of 3/8″ line and connect a standard garden hose connection (see above) to one end, hose clamp it, and clamp the other end to input of the wort chiller. A second 3/8″ line, meanwhile, is clamped to the output. The standard garden hose connection is then attached to the Flotec pump, and pump and output line from the chiller are both added to a six gallon bucket filled with cold water and a ten pound bag of ice.

Fifteen minutes or so before then end of your boil, you add the chiller to your brew kettle to sanitize it as usual. When it’s time to chill the wort, then, you merely plug the pump in. More or less instantly the ice cold water will be pumped into the chiller, which absorbs the heat and recirculates the heated waste water back into the bucket full of ice water. As a closed system, there’s not much to worry about here, and it works very well. We cooled our boiled wort down to the pitch temp in less than twenty minutes thanks to the pump.

When you’re done, simply unhook the garden hose connection, drain the pump, and you’re ready to use it for cleaning.

Kegerator or Jockey Box Cleaning

In addition to using the pump to chill wort, it’s highly useful in cleaning the lines of whatever you’re using to serve your kegs. Basically, I do this in three stages. The idea is to clean the lines, rinse them, then rinse them again.


  1. Detergent Clean: Mix 4 tablespoons with 2 gallons hot water in five gallon bucket (~$3 at Home Depot), recirculate (input and output lines both in the same bucket) through lines for 3-5 minutes. When complete, dump mixture and drain pump.
  2. Recirculating Rinse: In empty bucket, add two gallons of hot clean water. Recirculate this through the lines for 3-5 minutes. When complete, dump mixture and drain pump.
  3. Cleansing Rinse: In empty bucket, add one gallon hot clean water. Pump through lines outputting to sink or other drain until complete, watching carefully not to allow pump to run dry.

What You Need


To make all of the above work, you’ll need a different connector depending on what you’re cleaning. One end of your input line should keep the garden hose connection mentioned above to connect to the pump. If you’re cleaning a jockey box, then, you’ll simply need a 3/8″ barb (middle above) along with a standard 7/8″ hex nut coupler (left above) – the same one you use for keg couplers. Attach and clamp this to your hose, then screw it on to the back of your jockey box as if it was a beer input line.

If you’re cleaning kegerator lines, it may or may not be the same setup. For our usage, we use a male fitting that is the same threading as the tap mechanism (right above). This is fitted to the 3/8″ barb and attached to the other end of the line with the garden hose attachment. We then unscrew our tap assembly using a tap wrench like this one:


With that off, we use the above fitting to attach the tap tower to the pump, and proceed through the steps mentioned above. Apart from the different fittings, the process is essentially identical.


In general using a pump is fairly straightforward. Remember, however, that the pump valve is open at all times, and can act as a siphon even when powered off. Be careful of accidentally draining the pump bucket if your lines are hanging down lower than the bucket, in other words.

Also, use the provided handles to lift and move the pump; do not lift it by its electrical cord.

Questions? Make sense?

My 2014 in Pictures

If for no other reason than as a concise summary for my future self, it’s time for my now annual tradition of a wrap up post. As with last year’s edition, I’ll walk through the events of the calendar year via pictures along with the occasional tweet or screenshot. I write less words that way, which is less words for you to read. A win/win, in other words.

Like most years, 2014 was a year with some good and some bad. But just as my grandfather used to get up every morning and commit to having a good day, I try to think of every year as a good year – speed bumps and travel disasters notwithstanding.

Before we get to the pictures, a quick look at some of the data that describes my 2014.


2014 was a good news / bad news year from the travel perspective. The good news is that I traveled 22% less than I did two years ago. The bad news is that I traveled 17% more than I did last year. The worse news is that the trendline for my annual travel is not encouraging. Or sustainable.


Room for improvement, clearly. But as it can be measured, it can theoretically be managed. In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and


  • Distance-wise, I flew 103,563 miles, or half way to the moon.
  • This was the fourth time in five years I’ve flown over 100,000 miles.
  • 59 of my 75 segments were on JetBlue.
  • I connected through JFK 42 times.
  • I spent an absolutely horrifying 10 days, 20 hours and 5 minutes on planes.
  • My most popular route was between JFK and SFO at just under 30,000 miles.

Personal Stats

  • My Top 5 non search-engine referrers to the work blog were 1) Twitter 2) Reddit 3) 4) Facebook 5) Wikipedia.
  • Two of the Top 3 searches on my personal site for the year were “pony kegerator” and “make your own netflix.”
  • Per the FitBit chart, I took 2.852 million steps in 2014, including a few zero step dead battery days. The trendline isn’t great, and that averages to a little under 8,000 steps per day, which is low. Something to work on.
  • Per ThinkUp, I tweeted 5298 times this year, but only said fuck once, which is low. Something to work on.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 3, 2014

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The New Year welcomed us with a not-Buffalo-bad-but-still-not-awesome blizzard.

January 5, 2014

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Which in turn caused me to miss my first flight of the year, and my first professional engagement ever.

January 6, 2014

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Our basement, whose flooding problem we thought had been addressed via the addition of gutters, flooded.

January 8, 2014

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On the anniversary of our first date, Kate and I returned to the scene of the crime.

January 11, 2014

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With Corey’s help, finally sheetrocked over the area where we’d ripped out two closets. Felt like revenge after the debris from the removed closets sent me to the hospital the previous summer.

January 30, 2014

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James made us proud, as always, at the Monki Gras. Completely off the hook.

February 1, 2014

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When in Brussels and not at FOSDEM, this is probably where you’ll find me.

February 2, 2014

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Shawn, Ryan and Corey joined Joe, Kate and I in Brussels. Hearts was played, Cantillon drunk.

February 3, 2014

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Post-FOSDEM, we took the train up to Amsterdam. Can’t believe no one told me what a beautiful city it was before.

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While in Amsterdam, on the recommendation of our friend Ryan Travers, we hit the Arendsnest. When he recommends something, you just go.

February 4, 2014

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Back in Brussels, we all hit the Cantillon brewery. Consciously antiquated, very little has changed about how Cantillon is brewed.

February 5, 2014

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Took the train down to Paris for the day. This was the high day for me on the year at over 23,000 steps walked.

Oh, the Eiffel Tower is scary as hell in high winds, just FYI.

February 14, 2014

More water in the basement. The best part about sopping it up? It’s basically near freezing in temperature.

March 2, 2014

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While stripping faux-wood paneling in our basement, some of the glue used to attach it suggested that the previous homeowner and their contractor may have had a slight dispute.

March 12, 2014

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Flooding. Again. I couldn’t figure out at first why a shop-vac full of water was so heavy, even at 8.34 pounds per gallon. As far as I could tell, it was a 6 gallon vac.

Turns out it was a 6 horsepower vac: the capacity was actually 14 gallons. Which explained a lot about why my back hurt so much.

March 13, 2014

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Replaced an old, rotted out section of drywall in our beer cellar, insulating it in the process to protect our most important investments.

March 16, 2014

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Our friends Devin and Rachel came up to help celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

March 21, 2014

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Furnace had some problems, and we discovered as part of the fix that it was 22 years older than our inspection claimed. Good times.

April 7, 2014

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In Denver for work, got a firsthand look at my BFF’s new kegorator set up.

April 18, 2014

Visited New Orleans for the first time in years with Alex, Corey, Devin and Joe. The city welcomed Alex with his very own brass band parade.

May 21, 2014

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Had the house energy audited. Turns out our attic had about half as much insulation as our inspection had suggested. The silver lining was that having that corrected by professionals was close enough – ~$2100 vs ~$1700 – to the DIY cost that I didn’t have to do it myself.

Good times.

May 23, 2014

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Helped my parents clean out my Grandmother’s house in Rockport, MA, as a preparation for its sale. The house has been in the family for around a hundred years.

May 28, 2014

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First Seadogs game of the year. Ended up as a 9-8 loss for the good guys, but I got to see Blake Swihart play and the club went on to set a record for wins.

June 5, 2014

After a routine checkup and despite being entirely asymptomatic, Azrael was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. The good news is that it’s eminently curable. The bad news is that the radioactive iodine treatment is exorbitantly expensive, assuming you don’t want to shove pills down your cat’s throat for the rest of its life.

For me – and bless her, Kate as well – pets are family and you do what you have to do for family. So after being injected with radioactive material and isolated for six days until the half-life of the material rendered her safe, we brought her home. She’s been her usual insane but loving self since.

June 8, 2014

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First dinner of the season at the Osprey – which is now managed by our friend Tiff.

June 9, 2014

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Bought a bike based on the Wirecutter’s recommendation. At better than ninety minutes from our house to the office, it’s not exactly a daily commuting option but the planned Freeport-Portland bus service will hopefully change that.

June 20, 2014

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Attended Foo Camp for the first time. Amazing collection of people.

June 30, 2014

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Hit Fenway for the first time in 2014. The result…could have been better.

For the record, however, Stephen Drew broke up Arrieta’s no hitter with an eighth inning single.

July 10, 2014

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While in San Jose for work, paid a visit to the Winchester Mystery House. A little touristy, but just as strange as advertised.

July 24, 2014

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Borrowed a tractor from my father-in-law to begin construction on a…

July 25, 2014

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French drain. Remember all the water in the basement? This is our (theoretical) solution.

July 27, 2014

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First camping trip of the season. The good news is that it was easy to “hike in” the gear. The bad news is that that was because we were effectively “camping” in a parking lot.

August 8, 2014

The two weeks Kate and I spent in Chamberlain were easily the best vacation I’ve had since our Honeymoon on Nantucket. Waking up to waves crashing outside the window, no TV or internet, and, perhaps most importantly, nothing to do. Last summer was spent being sliced up by construction debris and with shards of tile in my hair; the summer of 2014 was spent on this porch, with this view, with a book in one hand and an Oxbow in the other. Not too bad.

August 21, 2014

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While in Chamberlain, visited the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. Highly recommend if you like antique planes, classic cars or fine engineering in general.

August 23, 2014

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Took the ferry out to Monhegan Island with my in-laws. The highest compliment I can pay to Monhegan is to say that if it was more practical to live out there, I would.

August 25, 2014

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Put the finishing touches on the French drain.

August 26, 2014

Annual pilgrimage to Houston Brook Falls. Had to share it with two families, but they were too scared to swim under the waterfall, which left it for me.

September 5, 2014

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Visited our friends Ryan and Leigh at Of Love & Regret down in Baltimore. If you enjoyed the Monktoberfest, this trip was a big reason why.

September 27, 2014

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Second camping trip of the season. Once you got to the campsite, the location was phenomenal. Problem was getting there.

Probably didn’t help that we had to hike in a sixtel of Classique, jockey box and forty pounds of ice.

October 2, 2014

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Fourth annual Monktoberfest. The response was humbling, as always.

October 5, 2014

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Private house show by Liz Longley with Alex, Caitlin, Corey, Devin, Heather, Joe, Kate, Rachel and Tess. Never been to a house show before, and only recently became aware of them as a thing. Great way to listen to music.

October 25, 2014

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Goods from the Woods. One of the highlights of Fall every year.

November 1, 2014

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Halloween. Oh yeah.

November 6, 2014

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Oxbow’s new Blending & Bottling venue opened in Portland. That’s good. The even better news is that they opened a quarter mile from RedMonk HQ.

November 20, 2014

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Some Williams alums might question the wisdom of marrying a Middlebury girl. Those alums probably are not aware that Allagash founder Rob Tod is also a Middlebury alum, and hosts a Middlebury alumni (and spouses)-only tasting and tour at the brewery.

December 14, 2014

Dear friends STOP Everyone survived the ballet STOP Live to die another day STOP

A photo posted by MK O'Grady (@girltuesday) on

(photo credit, @girltuesday)

Survived our annual trip to the Nutcracker, with a little help from the makers of Bulleit. Great to have special guests Devin and Rachel along this year.

December 20, 2014

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A few people in Denver were surprised that Kate and I flew out just to help celebrate my best friend Andrew’s 40th birthday. Their surprise, in turn, surprised me.

For the better part of two decades, he has been my best friend. We’ve had a lot of fun together. He and my brother were my wedding party. We won three national beer pong championships as partners. And he has been a surprise visitor for god knows how many of my own birthdays these past few years, as he and my wife conspired to sneak him out from Denver (you’d think that after a year or two of these I’d pick up on the patterns, but not so much).

He’s also been with me for a lot of low moments in my life. Being unexpectedly laid off. Being dumped. Having my apartment sold out from under, leaving me temporarily homeless. Or, during one particularly unfortunate stretch, having all three of those happen at once.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that not everyone has a friend like Andrew. That they’re exceedingly rare, in fact. I feel bad for those who don’t, because it’s worth more than I can say.

So yes, I was in Denver for his 40th birthday. Happy birthday, old friend.

December 26, 2014

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Having already invested in home automation equipment from companies like Nest and Sonos, the buildout continued with the installation of a Belkin WeMo switch (Christmas present) that controls our front door light. Coupled with IFTTT, the light is programmed to, among other things, turn itself on at sunset so that when we arrive home at night, we no longer have to use our cellphones as flashlights to pick out the right house key.

We’re probably one or two more IoT gadgets away from the house talking like Pierce Brosnan.

December 31, 2014

Happy & Merry 2015!

A photo posted by MK O'Grady (@girltuesday) on

(photo credit, @girltuesday)

Welcomed in the New Year hosting friends from out of town with a fire, champagne and the champagne of beers. And the odd Curieux or two, naturally. Here’s to 2015.

Books: Fall 2014

To be perfectly honest, I’m terrible at accepting recommendations for books. No idea why, but this is a long term trait. For some reason, however, a bunch of people have asked me about books recently, as they search for new things to read. Given that I had time to cycle through a bunch of books in August and the planes I’ve been on since, here’s a walk through some of the highlights and low lights.

I was not an English major, however, so take the following for whatever it’s worth.

The Good

Angelmaker, Nick Harkaway


This was a good book. As reviews state, Harkaway occasionally gets a little self-indulgent with his prose (though not nearly so much as in his debut the Gone Away World) and would benefit from a stronger willed editor – his father, perhaps? – but the entire package is original and entertaining. It borrows from the Stephenson tradition of everyman/woman types inadvertently placed in positions of historical significance, but is distinct enough in plot and direction so as to not be derivative.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman


The third Gaiman book I’ve read, it’s consistent with the others in its ability to seamlessly transit between reality and, for lack of a better term, magic – the kind borrowed from older Celtic traditions, as opposed to more Rowling-esque modernities. Gaiman’s real success here is the perspective; relayed (for the most part) from the viewpoint of a child, it captures the isolated confusion and incomprehensible choices of childhood with ease. It’s a quick read, but worth the time.

The Martian, Andy Weir


Given the build up around this book, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this story before, but just in case: this is a book that could not find a publisher and ended up being optioned as a movie with Ridley Scott and Matt Damon rumored to be attached. In between, it attracted a cult following because the book is just brilliantly executed. Chronicling the life and times of a stranded astronaut, the technical details were rendered well enough that I assumed the author worked in space flight (he didn’t), but the real highlight of the Martian is its humor. I’d avoid reviews simply because they tend to be a bit spoilerish, but if you’re looking for something to read I’d put this at the top of your list. It’s excellent.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman


Finally got around to this in August, and while the foreward claimed the usual reaction was love or hate, I fell in between. Gaiman’s trademark magic is at work, with a narrative that pits old world traditions against new world addictions. The path meanders at times, but overall the plot moves and its conclusion is worthy of the build up. Still, the serious moral ambiguity of pretty much everyone involved makes it difficult to pick favorites, which leads in my case to a lessened attachment to the work as a whole. Overall though, it’s a tremendously creative book and worth the read.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami


There’s a reason that this book sits up near the top of so many top 100 lists: it’s really, really good. The atmosphere is as thick in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, but Murakami answers just enough questions to satisfy the reader, while leaving open huge areas for interpretation. The plot is seemingly simple – where is the protagonist’s wife? – but becomes fractally strange as events move forward. If I had one quibble, it’s that the characters, particularly on the periphery, occasionally lack depth, but some of that undoubtedly is translation. Ultimately, though, that’s a minor point. The overall package is well worth your time.

The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman


The conclusion of Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, this brought things full circle for the protagonist of The Magicians. For those that missed the first two books, you can think of them as being set in a cynical, world-weary version of the Harry Potter universe. Magic works, but creates as many problems as it solves for its practitioners. Without giving anything about the plot away, this third book revisits common ground in terms of landscape and the people who occupy it, so if you’re invested in the characters, you’ll like this. And the conclusion is satisfying, if somewhat ambiguous. All in all, a good conclusion to a good series.

Lexicon, Max Barry


This novel starts off with a bang and in the beginning, you’re likely to be as confused about what’s going on as the first time you watched the Matrix. If you’re patient, however, Barry creates a world that borrows something from the aformentioned Grossman’s Magicians and Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It’s unique, fast-paced and entertaining. The confusion eventually wears off, and what’s left is inventive, often comical and well worth your time even if the ending is a bit neat.

The Meh

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey


I somehow missed this in school, and never saw the movie, but this had less impact than I expected given the book’s reputation. It’s well executed, but it may just be that I’m a square content to be a cog in the machine, because the central theme of rebelling against authority didn’t do much for me. That being said, the bigger picture isn’t necessary to enjoy the story for the cast of characters it introduces and the decisions they make. Not sure I’d recommend it, but it’s worth reading, if only to remember that the World Series was once the big deal.

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King


To provide some context for the following comments: I consider myself a Stephen King fan. He was one of my favorite authors growing up, and unlike many of his bestselling counterparts, I believe he takes the craft of writing seriously. He’s not Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the pen, true, but who is? At his best, he’s excellent at capturing place and time, and is always willing to put his characters – good, bad or indifferent – in harm’s way. Oh, and I live in Maine, so naturally I like King. I say all of this because hating on King is fashionable in many literary circles.

All of that said, Mr. Mercedes didn’t do much for me. I’m not among those who say that King’s lost his fastball – I thought Joyland was great – but it had some real issues. First, the characters were borderline cliches: depressed girl, precociously brilliant kid, suicidal ex-cop. Second, the love interest was…not plausible, and that wasn’t the only unlikely behavior. And so on. This wasn’t a bad book, exactly, but it’s certainly not at the top of my list of King novels to read.

The Ugly

Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer


Did not enjoy this. Actually, that’s not being honest: I disliked this book intensely. In fact, this book is one of the reasons I bothered to write all of this up in the first place, because the mainstream reviews were – to me, at least – terribly misleading. I didn’t want anyone else to dive into these without a warning.

The intended conclusion of a trilogy about a doomed region known as the Southern Reach, Acceptance cycles us back to characters introduced in the first two novels. Sort of. Probably. Billed variously as Lost meets HP Lovecraft with a dash of Nic Pizzolatto, the one thing I’ll give VanderMeer is that he does atmosphere very well. The first book of the trilogy in particular, Annihilation, is legitimately creepy. The problem is that the rest of the trilogy then completely fails to deliver on the set up. The linked NPR review claims that VanderMeer is:

Trying to tell a story that’s not about knowing and understanding (which is what all books by rational, non-insane people are basically about), but about the impossibility of knowing and the failure of human language and intelligence to encompass something that is completely and totally alien to us.

To me, that’s a cop out. It’s not that every loose end needs to be neatly tied off – see the review for the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – but I found the complete lack of answers – any answers whatsoever – profoundly disappointing. Selling that as somehow brilliant seems like an excuse after the fact. But even if you accept the above premise, that VanderMeer’s brilliance is about depicting some sort of post-modern unknowability, well, how satisfying is that? Does setting everything up, then saying “well, we can actually never know what any of this is or means” sound like an enjoyable read to you? If so, this is the series for you.

By this third book, I was reading only because I’d invested the time in the first two. Throw in characters not worth investing in and rooting for along with a truly baffling decision to render one entire narrative in the third person, and it was a real slog.


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