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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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.

The Problem With Heat Pumps (Or Why We Won’t Buy One Yet)

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A year ago this month, Kate and I bought our first house together. Ultimately we’re planning for a very different configuration, but at the moment it’s a pretty standard single floor ranch. Though the original part of the house dates back to the seventies, we were pleasantly surprised when our inspection revealed that the property was both well insulated and included a furnace of recent vintage – albeit one that ran on expensive fuel oil.

The big problem with these two findings is that neither was true.

This past winter was hard on everyone, and compared to many, we don’t have much to complain about. So let me complain about the size of our heating bills. First, because the furnace was (theoretically) current and therefore efficient. Second, because we had locked in at a price that was $0.20 less than what heating oil eventually peaked at. Third, because we had invested ahead of the heating season in Nest thermostats to help maximize our savings. And last, and most importantly, because we keep our house cold. Not as cold as these guys, but cold. During the week, our program for the Nest is simple: we keep the house at 50 degrees except for an hour in the morning and three or four at night – when we splurge and bump the heat up to 60. Weekends are a little more liberal for obvious reasons, but we were in the top 25% of Nest users every month of the winter in terms of relative efficiency, and the top 15% for two.

While oil is expensive then, we didn’t expect to be paying hundreds and hundreds a month to keep the house just this side of a meat locker. In spite of the horrific nature of the winter.

Which helps explain why we engaged the services of an energy auditor (DeWitt Kimball out of Brunswick, whom I highly recommend). He delivered the first piece of bad news: our adequate insulation situation was considerably less adequate that we had been told. Attics, for example, have a recommended R factor of 40+. Ours was, charitably, in the high teens. Which doesn’t factor in the other various insulation failures we have in a few older windows, the basement door and so on. According the blower test, our house places in the top third of “leaky” homes. We were paying all season, therefore, to heat the outdoors. Which we’ll be addressing by insulating. Heavily.

The far more expensive problem, however, was one we discovered prior to our audit. The oil furnace we thought had been installed in 2005 actually dated – by serial number – to 1992. Our primary heat source, in other words, was 22 years older than we had believed. 22 years less efficient.

The auditor’s recommended solution for heating issue was to keep the oil furnace in place, but to complement it with a “ductless mini-split heat pump,” which are generically referred to as heat pumps or heat exchangers. Popular in both Asia and Europe, these systems are hyper-efficient because they don’t actually use energy to create heat, they simply move it from one place to another – much as your refrigerator does. If a propane furnace is 80 something percent efficient and an oil furnace 90ish (due to the nature of the two fuels), a heat pump is closer to 250% efficient. Couple that with the fact that electricity in Maine is much cheaper on a relative basis than fuel oil – and potentially can be generated on premise were we to invest in solar – and the heat pumps appeared to be a perfect solution. Oh, and you can reverse the direction of the heat exchange and use them as air conditioners in the summer.

The most obvious downside of heat pumps, the fact that they perform less efficiently as the temperatures decline – eventually ceasing to function well below zero – would be a non-issue for us as we already have an auxiliary heat system in place for the few days we see real, deep cold. For most of the winter when the temperatures are 20 degrees fahrenheit and above, we could heat the house using the cheaper and more efficient heat pump. For the day here or there that it got seriously below zero, we could fall back on the oil furnace.

The more I read about heat pumps, the better they sounded. One guy on Martha’s Vineyard heated his house for a year for the grand total of $250 – a fraction of what we paid per month. Another from Presque Isle, almost as far north as you can go in Maine without being in Canada, estimated that he’d save $1,000 a year.

And yet there’s effectively no chance we’ll invest in the technology this year. Why? Because their interfaces are entirely proprietary.

When doing the initial research, I assumed that if there was a problem integrating heat pumps into our existing infrastructure, it would be with our two Nest units. But as it turns out, Nest is more than capable of working with heat pumps as well as an auxiliary heat source like our oil furnace. Called “Heat Pump Balance,” it essentially allows you to use the heat pump until the outside temperature renders it inefficient, then kick in a backup. Perfect.

Except for the fact that, as nearly as I can determine, the best and most efficient heat pumps – manufactured by Fujitsu and Mitsubishi – cannot be integrated into existing thermostat systems, Nest or otherwise. This was the response I got from Fujitsu when I asked about whether their system could be integrated with the Nest or even a standard thermostat:

Our systems can only work with our controllers, they cannot be controlled with the Nest thermostat. At this time there is no way to connect it to the Nest unfortunately.

Essentially, these heat pumps have to be installed as a completely separate system, one entirely independent of your existing HVAC infrastructure – Nest or otherwise. The only way to control the devices is with specialized equipment supplied by the vendor. Which means that we would have two independent, unintegrated heating control systems. Honeywell customer support described the situation to one Mitsubishi customer as follows:

The MIFH1, although built by Honeywell, uses a proprietary Mitsubishi communication protocol to translate and transfer commands between the Mitsubishi equipment and the RedLink enabled products that can also be used with it.

In other words, Mitsubishi’s integration with Honeywell’s Redlink system is a one-off, non-standard connection. Unlike virtually every other piece of HVAC equipment you could buy – air conditioners, gas/oil/propane furnaces, etc – heat pumps cannot leverage standardized thermostat connections. Even if said thermostat, like the Nest, has built-in, native support for heat pumps.

It is somewhat ironic that the most state-of-the-art, technologically sophisticated heating system currently available is unable to integrate with something as basic as a thermostat, but that is the current reality. Which means in turn that as a potential customer, I’m being asked to invest thousands of dollars in a product that cannot be controlled remotely, cannot be leveraged in conjunction with other heating systems, and can’t report telemetry back to somewhere I could use it.

But maybe the real irony is that I won’t invest in these technological marvels for lack of such basic functionality. Even if I could make two independent heating systems work together, I’d be kicking myself next year, or the year after, or whenever Fujitsu, Mitsubishi et al figure out that people want their heating and cooling systems to a) be aware of one another and b) work with each other. It may cost us in the short term with higher heating bills, but it certainly beats paying for heat pumps now, and then again later when the vendors have seen the light and let them work with our Nest units.

In the (hopefully) likely event that Fujitsu and Mitsubishi eventually see the light, my message to them would be simple.


A Year of Steps


A year ago last week I got a Fitbit Flex. I have worn it every day since, which means that with a few exceptions when I inadvertently let the battery die, it has tracked every step I’ve taken.

This wasn’t much of a chore, because the device itself mostly stays out of my way. The battery life is solid; I only charge it every five or six days. The fact that it’s mostly waterproof also helps. It stays on in the shower, and I’ve swum with it in both salt and fresh water with no issues.

Having a daily goal – 12,000 steps, in my case – helps incent good behaviors. Taking the stairs instead of an escalator. Walking to lunch instead of driving. And, much to the frustration of the occasional passenger, parking as far away from a store as its parking lot allows.

While the daily numbers are useful, however, zooming out to look at the data over longer periods of time is illuminating. The chart above depicts a year’s worth of steps.

Over the calendar year plus I’ve averaged 9,340 steps. Which is shy of my 12,000 step goal, but not that far from the 10,000 commonly recommended. It’s also easy to spot patterns in the data that aren’t as obvious when your focus is day to day: greater activity in the summer, with a decline in the winter and during the spring conference season. Theoretically the weather shouldn’t have a huge impact on my activity level thanks to the tread-desk I have at the office, but when the winter is bad enough that I can’t even get there – like this winter, it shows up in the data.

A third of consumers, reportedly, abandon devices like the Fitbit after purchasing them. A year in, I can’t imagine doing that. Just as it’s interesting to look back on a year to examine month to month trends, I’m hoping to be comparing year-to-year trends eventually.

For now, though, I’ll have to work on picking the activity back up so that this summer’s data looks like last’s.

I Remember Books

Stephen King: Night Shift

The last physical book I read was a well worn 1978 paperback copy of Stephen King’s short story collection Night Shift on January 2nd of this year. The fact that I can tell you this says more than I’d like it to about my changing relationship with books.

I’ve always had a lot of books. My parents, both readers, encouraged my brother and I to read at an early age first by reading books to us and then by buying them for us. Old enough to buy them on my own, I did, in volume. I’ve moved maybe a dozen times since college, and the only thing that followed me from state to state, city to city was my books. Boxes and boxes, all heavy, of books. Kate is just as bad. Between us we’ve got one entire room paneled with books, one half of another and two more large bookshelves filled with boxes left over. This is with the majority of the books from my childhood still with my parents.

My problem isn’t that I don’t love books. It’s that convenience kills.

I was an easy and early convert to digital music. I appreciate the affection that many maintain for physical recordings, particularly vinyl. But I could not get rid of my physical music collection fast enough. This was literally true: between small, slow spinning disks and anemic processors hard pressed to compress my CD’s efficiently, converting to digital music was a chore. And yet one I embraced.

Books, though, held out.

I’ve been traveling heavily for almost twenty years. For maybe nine or ten months of every year, I spend some portion of those months on the proverbial plane, train or automobile headed somewhere to do something. For the majority of that decade plus, I dragged physical books with me. One of the most important parts of my pre-flight ritual, in fact, was ensuring that I’d packed enough reading material to get me through a trip – the alternative being paying twice as much for a book I didn’t actually want at an airport Hudson News.

It’s true that for a part of the last decade my alternatives to physical books were limited. The Kindle wasn’t introduced until 2007, and the e-readers that predated it were primitive in design and limited in titles. As for audiobooks, they were both expensive and difficult to manage on the basic interfaces of the first iPods. But the Kindle has been a practical replacement for physical media for most of its lifespan, which is seven years now. As for audiobooks, I haven’t really had any excuses about avoiding them since getting my first iPhone in December of 2007.

Through 2012, however, I resisted. An audiobook here, a free classic on the Kindle app there, but most of all good physical books. Looking back, however, I’m fairly confident I haven’t read an actual book since then. There was no epiphany, no breaking point, no watershed decision that I can recall. The surrender was so gradual, actually, that I missed it.

The good news is that I’m reading as much or more than in years past. The internet and its infinite distractions notwithstanding, I’ve plowed through everything from McCullough’s 1776 to Wasik and Murphy’s Rabid to Chandler’s the Lady in the Lake in one digital format or another. I even made it halfway through Bleak House before half a dozen people on Twitter talked me out of it. When I’m on a plane, the Kindle app is open unless the Red Sox are on in-flight TV or I’ve got a deadline to meet. And while my commute is less than half of what it was before we moved to Freeport, that’s forty minutes per day that I can reallocate to a book.

The bad news is only bad news, I guess, if you appreciate physical books. The bad news, then, is that I’m is going on sixteen months where I’ve opened one once. As much as I’ve tried to reintegrate them into my life, it’s not exactly taking. Maybe it’ll be different sitting out on the deck by the river this summer, but I’m not hopeful. Which is actually the worse news. Bad as not reading books is, not being able to even project to read any for the foreseeable future is downright depressing.

There’s no getting around it: audiobooks and ebooks are simply more convenient than their physical counterparts. One of the biggest advantages they enjoyed, meanwhile, was eliminated by the FAA when the organization did away with its restrictions on phone/tablet usage during takeoff and landing.

That said, I’m not giving up on a comeback for the real thing. And I’m certainly not giving up my books. As long as they’re kicking around, there’s always the chance that I’ll find the key to getting back on that particular horse. And worst case, there’s something comforting about having them around, even if it’s just as a reminder of how life used to be.

My 2013 in Pictures

It’s been a few years since I did an annual wrap up post. Where a few years equals seven. While it’s taken me longer than it should have to realize it, however, I miss them. True, the posts are really only relevant to me, but as a sucker for nostalgia, I have always enjoyed revisiting these snapshots years later. The little flashes of memory – I remember that trip – is worth the relatively minimal effort involved.

This year, I’m doing it a bit differently. Having a smartphone has not only killed off my SLR, it’s meant that significant – and not so significant – moments are all documented. Not to mention, conveniently backed up for me online by Google. So instead of a list of links, this is my year in pictures.

Before we get to the pictures, however, a few quick numbers courtesy of FitBit and TripIt (the latter via this little tool):

  • From late May, when I got my FitBit flex, through December 31st I took 2,415,119 steps
  • FitBit translates that as ~1,170 miles
  • I flew 85,886 miles
  • 43 of my 62 flights were on JetBlue
  • I spent over 2 full days in transit to and from San Francisco
  • I actually flew out of Boston (26) 4 times more than Portland (22)

The goal for this year is to travel less than I did last. Which sadly is not likely. But anyway, on to the pictures:

January 1, 2013

Spent New Year’s Day walking at Reid State Park in Georgetown.

January 6, 2013

In Fort Lauderdale for work, I visited Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar marina as a gesture of respect to one of my favorite authors. McGee would not recognize the place these days.

January 9, 2013

My first book, The New Kingmakers, was published by O’Reilly.

January 31, 2013

Attended the Monki Gras in London, which was excellent.

February 1, 2013

Caught the Eurostar to Brussels

February 2, 2013

Hit my favorite bar in Brussels with friends and co-workers.

February 7, 2013

Got a treadmill desk. Still love it, a year later.

February 24, 2013

Got snowed in in Georgetown.

March 14, 2013

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While house hunting, viewed a property right on the water in Freeport.

March 16, 2013

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Went to the boat show.

March 21, 2013

As a function of their move, my parents finally sold my first car, a ’73 Mustang. It wasn’t one of the pretty Mustangs, and it had a ton of mechanical issues, but I really loved that car. It is missed.

March 26, 2013

Did my first (and only) book signing. In a bar.

April 13, 2013

Visited In’finiti, the newest Portland craft beer venue, for the first time.

April 15, 2013

Had to turn down tickets to the Patriot’s Day game due to a conference in Portland, OR. Watched the bombings unfold from there. Coped.

April 27, 2013

Approximately 24 hours before our scheduled closing on the property on the water in Freeport, our USAA-backed lender informed us we would not close, requesting documentation we had provided twice previously.

May 8, 2013

Using local bank, closed on the property on the water in Freeport.

May 9, 2013

Commenced second career as general contractor.

May 21, 2013

Visited friends, and the Crooked Stave brewery, in Denver.

May 26, 2013

First dinner of the season at the Osprey.

May 31, 2013

My friend Alex announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

June 1, 2013

With Corey’s help, ripped out two closets to free up floor space.

June 6, 2013

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For the first time in 40 years, my parents were once again residents of New England. And after a mere six months in Maine, my Dad has gone completely native.

June 15, 2013

Unable to successfully conceal an injury from Kate thanks to some pulsing blood, was forced to go to the ER. Total stitches required? 3.

June 22, 2013

Attended Shelton Brothers’ The Festival in Portland, ME.

June 30, 2013

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With my brother, took my godson to his first Red Sox game. He made it through five full innings. The Red Sox won.

July 4, 2013

Spent July 4th on the Eastern Prom with friends.

July 10, 2013

Late, but got the boat in the water.

July 13, 2013

Visited brother/sister in law up in Chamberlain.

July 23, 2013

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Thanks to Kate, got to go on the field at Fenway.

August 17, 2013

Weekend at Sugarloaf with my in-laws.

August 24, 2013

Ryan and Shawn’s wedding.

August 30, 2013

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Finished tiling the backsplash in the kitchen.

August 30, 2013

Annual pilgrimmage to Houston Brook Falls.

September 13, 2013

Thanks to very good – and very generous – friends, had my 1000th unique beer on Untappd. The selection? A 1972 Kriek brewed by a defunct Flemish brewery called Felix.

September 20, 2013

Removed our old front door.

September 21, 2013

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Kim and Sheila’s wedding.

October 3, 2013

The Monktoberfest.

October 7, 2013

Post-Monktoberfest visit to the Allagash brewery. This is the barrel room.

October 23, 2013

Caught Game 1 of the World Series from the Connecticut Yankee in San Francisco, CA.

October 26, 2013

Goods from the Woods at the Oxbow Brewery, Newcastle, ME.

October 30, 2013

November 2, 2013

Took the boat around to get hauled.

December 31, 2013

And to ring in the New Year, a marathon Hearts session.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation


I would love to tell you that I spent my vacation at places like Houston Brook Falls. But we’re homeowners now, so vacation is just another word for work. While I did take an afternoon off for my annual pilgrimage to swim under the falls, I’ve spent the majority of the past few weeks covered in some combination of grout, mastic, paint, sawdust, stone dust, wood glue and tiny shards of tile.

On the one hand, this is less exciting that than killing lazy August afternoons on the boat with a growler of Oxbow and a couple of John D MacDonald novels. On the other, a lot got done.

This, for example, was our kitchen when we moved in.


After finishing off the tile – and for your sake, don’t look to closely at the grout lines or you’ll get seasick – this is what it looks like today.


Even with the amateur hour backsplash, that seems objectively better.

One of the other projects was getting our brand new LG washer and dryer off the concrete floor in our basement – apparently elevating the machines extends their lifespan along with making them easier to use.


Rather than pony up $600 for the official LG laundry pedestals, $70 worth of plywood and 2×4’s along with a borrowed miter saw produced a platform that has been charitably described as “functional.” As an aside, if any of you need to manufacture something similar, I used the plans here, modifying the dimensions slightly for our larger, heavier equipment.


With an assist from my father and brother – my wife didn’t think I should lift the 226 lb washer by myself, oddly – they’re now elevated to a more convenient level.


Outside the aforementioned basement, meanwhile, our walkout was a lumpy, uneven and moss penetrated disgusting slab of asphalt. Which tore out, fortunately enough, in sheets courtesy of a pick axe. Into the hole that created went a hundred pounds of stone dust and surplus flagstones my parents had left over from their front walk project.


It needs to settle and then be edged, but as with the kitchen, it’s an improvement even as is.

Interspersed with these larger projects were the predictable volume of smaller ones: leveling the dishwasher, priming and painting unfinished bookshelves, repairing and re-caulking seals in the shower, securing loose water pipes to joists and so on.

All in all, it was a unique vacation. But undeniably a productive one. The other silver lining? Working on a computer never seems more attractive than after you’ve spend a couple of days almost cutting your fingers off with a tile saw.

Tl;dr? I’m really looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow. Vacation is hard.

So We Bought a House


If you’re looking to buy or sell real estate, you want to pay close attention to my wife and me. Not in a good way. After we married and were comfortably settled in Maine, it became clear that owning a loft 2200 miles away in Denver was less than ideal. So we put it on the market. A new, modern apartment – with a huge patio and two parking spaces downtown, even – it should have been easy to move. Except that we listed it in the midst of the worst real estate market the US had seen in decades, and possibly since the Great Depression.

Real estate crashes too shall pass, however, and eventually we found ourselves a buyer. We even managed to eke out a profit in the process.

Free of the Denver anchor, our attention turned to finding a home of our own in Maine. There was just one problem: the real estate market had recovered. In a major way. Every day NPR had new, “thrilling” news about the housing recovery. Thrilling news that was terrifying from a buyer’s perspective. When our broker informed us that inventory was so tight that even average properties were getting upwards of four offers the same day they were listed – as if Maine had somehow become San Francisco – it was pretty clear that we were doomed.

Then one random Friday a property that we had looked at last fall, and had assumed to have been sold, hit Zillow. After debating over the weekend, we decided to schedule a showing first thing Monday morning. So obviously it went under contract that day.

In the end, however, as it so often does for me – eventually – things worked themselves out. Having struck out on one property from the fall, we looked up another we assumed had sold. As with the first, it hadn’t: did we want to take a look? It was a few weeks away from listing, but available. On the water, in Freeport, with a huge deck? Why the hell not?

Two plus months later – and a horrific secondary mortgage market disaster that will be fully chronicled in gory detail for posterity at a later date – we closed on the home, finalizing the paperwork late this afternoon.

The most immediate change as a result of our move involves our respective commutes. My wife’s is maybe ten minutes shorter; mine is almost thirty. If thirty minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, remember what an extra half hour of sleep means before a 6 AM flight. The only real downside to the location is that we moved ten miles further from the Oxbow brewery up in Newcastle, though it’s worth noting that we’re now less than three miles from the Maine Beer Company.

Longer term, we are both of us going to learn a lot about home improvement, because it needs a lot of improvement. Everything you need to know about our plans for the property – which is, to be fair, completely livable at present – can be summed up in two purchases: the ten pound sledgehammer I bought at Aubuchon Hardware two days ago, and the Senco drywall screwgun that Amazon delivered today. Oh, and the Benjamin Moore paint my wife picked up on the way to our closing.

But to be on the water, in a good town that halves my commute, I’m happy to trade some labor. Particularly because I actually enjoy working with my hands. If you have suggestions on that front, by the way – I’ve already discovered the YouTube channel – please sing out.

In the meantime, it’s time for me to get back to packing up our beer cellar. The new house, after all, has a corner room in the basement with no windows.

Question 1

As a rule, I do not discuss politics. Not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not here. Three years ago, I made an exception to that rule and publicly commented on a political matter. Not because it affected me personally, but because I don’t believe it to be a political matter. For me it was a matter of standing up for what I believe to be right.

In November 2009 Maine had a chance to make history, to become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage via the legislative process with a governor’s signature. Instead, the law was overturned by a state referendum, 300,848 to 267,828, on November 3rd.

The defeat was a surprise. Polls had shown support for same-sex marriage, and Nate Silver forecast a narrow victory for advocates of same-sex marriage. But the loss at the polls was more surprising because the vote seemed at odds with who we are as Mainers.

Liberal or conservative, the people of Maine have something of a deserved reputation for being private. Minding your own business is a way of life in this state, which admittedly can be an adjustment for transplants. That a majority of the population, then, felt it necessary to vote in a way that negatively affects other Mainers’ lives was as baffling as it was disappointing.

In the aftermath of that decision, however, it became apparent that much of the opposition to same-sex marriage was based upon what we refer to in the technology industry as FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt. Nor was this an accident: as the head of the campaign to overturn the law says in the first minute of this documentary, “All you have to do is create doubt. You don’t have to convince people that you’re right.”

Many Mainers believed, as an example, that the same-sex marriage law meant that homosexuality would be taught in schools, even when the Maine Attorney General had confirmed otherwise. Others whose faith prohibits same-sex relationships were concerned that their respective churches would be required to perform same-sex marriages, which was not the case.

This November, same-sex marriage is back on the ballot. It remains to be seen what difference three years have made with respect to the levels of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Certainly some have changed their minds upon further consideration. For me, however, this is still a simple matter. As an American, I – like WWII veteran and lifelong Republican Philip Spooner above – believe that “the proposition that all men are created equal” is one of the things that makes this country great, and a country worth dying for. Whether someone was born gay or straight, therefore, can have no bearing on the “unalienable rights” granted to them as an American. And as a Mainer, I believe in minding my own business. Even if I personally opposed gay marriage, I would not favor legislation that imposed my personal beliefs on someone that did not share them.

And ultimately, that’s what opposing same-sex marriage is about. It is about imposing your objections – whether those are personal, religious or otherwise in nature – on your neighbors. And that is not what this country was founded for.

If you live in Maine, then, I would ask you to please Vote Yes on Question 1. In 2009 Mainers voted to deny other Mainers equal rights. We can do better this year.


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