Things To Know About Closet Organizers

this project was a disaster from the start, and still has my blood on it, but at least it's done

A photo posted by stephen o'grady (@stephenogrady) on


I’d never really thought much about closets, to be honest. Whether that’s because I don’t generally wear things that need to be hung up, or that even if I did I wouldn’t, isn’t important right now. What happened was that I ran across a closet organizer product and showed it to Kate. In my defense, recreating one didn’t look that hard at the time. And probably isn’t, actually, if you have the right tools and know what you’re doing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The basic idea of a closet organizer is that most closets don’t use their space efficiently. Hangers, for example, are typically at a height to accommodate longer garments. Have mostly shirts? Too bad, it’s wasted space.

If you have a lot of closets, or if you don’t have much worth hanging up, this isn’t a particular concern. In our case, the fact that we were wasting maybe a third of the available space in our closets was less than ideal.

Most people, if they care about their closet space at all, will just buy a solution.

We had a complicating factor in our testbed, otherwise known as the second bedroom, however. The entrance to the attic happens to be in that closet’s ceiling. Which meant that a closet organizer either needed to be designed with that in mind, or be entirely removable. Neither of which described most of the commercial closet organization products, so we were doomed to a custom job whether we liked it or not.

Rather than starting from scratch, I borrowed ideas from other closet organizer systems – hanging two rows of dress shirts, one on top of another, for example. I didn’t think building one of these would be that hard, which is almost funny in retrospect. I won’t go into detail on how to build one, because anyone who’s handy can figure that out. Basically you build a narrower bookshelf with fewer shelves, then hang things off its side. No big deal, right?

Well, there are a number of things I wish I had known ahead of the project.

  1. Melamine Plywood is Heavy. Also, Sharp.
    Some people build closet organizers out of expensive hardwoods, but given the fact that we didn’t know how long it’d be in there as we are planning on remodeling, we were going with plywood from day one. Given that, we opted for melamine – a white plasticky material – coated plywood. The good news is that it looks clean, is easy to maintain and you don’t have to paint it. The bad news is that a 3/4” 4×8 sheet of melamine plywood is heavy. Heavy and unwieldy enough that if you’re working by yourself, as I usually am, it’s a pain to even get a full sheet up on to sawhorses for the initial cuts. As for the sharpness, let’s talk about clamps.

  2. You Need a Lot of Clamps

    I have a fair number of clamps, but most of them are smaller and of no use in clamping bigger projects. In total, I had three 36” clamps that I could use to build the center console which was six or so feet high and had seven shelves. Ideally, each shelf would be clamped front and back during the glue in – 14 clamps in my case. When you have three clamps total, you’re looking at two to three days minimum just to glue in the shelves with three clamps – time which I did not have. Instead I tried using my three clamps to glue up the completed console – twice. The first time, the lack of clamps holding everything in place meant that it collapsed, knocked over a sawhorse and snapped one half of the console in half (which was the cause of much later woe). The second time, it was still unstable and collapsed again. This time I couldn’t get my hand out in time and four shelves and half of the console fell on the tip of my index finger, with the sharp melamine edge slicing the nail on my right index finger in half. I was fortunate to not lose the tip of my finger entirely, though I still don’t have much feeling in it. Melamine is sharp. The third time, I bought a few more clamps and was successful. Depending on your definition of “successful.” Basically, have all the clamps.

  3. Check Your Router Bit Width

    While I initially considered using a jig to drill holes for pins to make the shelving movable, given the requirement that the shelving system be removable in case of a need to access the attic, I decided on a fixed central console for the closet organizer. To accomplish this, I decided to cut dados (“a groove cut in the face of a board, into which the edge of another board is fixed”) and glue the structure together. Given that the melamine plywood was 3/4” thick, this meant I’d need a 3/4” router bit, which I ordered from Amazon. It showed up, and I cut a few dados with no issue. Trouble was, it was actually 11/16” – a sixteenth shy of what I needed. Generally when people have issues with router bit sizes for dados, it’s that the bit is larger because the plywood is actually smaller than claimed. This was the opposite. I ended up having to drive down to Rockler to get another 3/4” router bit, and recutting the dados. Sometimes this worked. Other times, the second pass cut was slightly too big as you can see in the picture above.

  4. A Table Saw is Helpful

    The workroom in our basement is tiny, which is why I haven’t prioritized a tablesaw. For this project, that would have been much simpler. I have a homemade cutting guide that I can use, but making straight eight foot cuts into plywood with a circular saw is a pain even with a guide. Add in all of the repetitive smaller cuts you have to make for things like shelves and it’s would have been a lot easier and faster if I had a table saw. You can make it work with just a circular saw, at least to my level of dubious competence, but I don’t recommend it.

  5. Glue Goes Through Drop Cloths
    One of the few things I did correctly on this project was realize before I started that if I’d assembled the bulk of the closet organizer in my tiny basement shop, I would never be able to get it out of there. Between its small size and the fact that it’s at the end of a long narrow hall, anything large built in there stays in there. Instead, I did the glue up in our upstairs hall. Which has a nice carpet in it. A carpet that I responsibly protected with two layers of our painting dropcloth. Which wasn’t enough, as it turns out, because – surprise! – glue goes right through dropcloths. This is where I’m at with that issue. If anyone has suggestions for removing glue from a carpet that don’t involve cutting it (that’s been forbidden), I’m all ears.

The bad news is that the resulting project is charitably described as a mess. More than usual, I mean. Two of the dados were cut too wide thanks to the router bit issue, so the shelves don’t fit tightly. Two other shelves seated improperly thanks to a lack of clamps and aren’t flush, which looks weird. The good news is that, functionally speaking, none of that matters particularly. The shelves will still work fine, as will the clothing rods. Also, the closet has doors – which we took the opportunity to paint – which help conceal my shame. All of which in turn means that our closet will be much more efficient at utilizing the available space, and if you don’t look at it too closely you might not notice how poor the implementation was.

The big question now is the master bedroom closet. Was the lesson a) building this is dumb and a waste of time, just buy one or b) building the first one gives me the experience to get it right the second time around? The answer? TBD.

I Have Squandered My Days With Plans of Many Things

All good things must come to an end, and in spite of another home improvement injury (no hospital this time), a multi-day storm without historical precedent, and the fact that I spent the majority of my time off from work working with my hands, it was a good vacation.I may have negatively impacted my ability to make fun of my parents for being the world’s worst retired people based on their inability to stop actually working, however.

As is usual, the world spun on without me. Also as is usual, things in the technology world went bonkers in ways large and small. Sooner or later, those craving stability are going to relent and pay me to never go on vacation. Though admittedly my weather-blackmail scheme shows more immediate promise.

The plan going in to my mutiple weeks off was to take the downtime and leverage the bulk of it on projects in and around the house. The good news is that I completed 13 of my vacation To Do’s. The bad news is that the original list had 28 items on it. Part of the poor completion rate was project setbacks, part of it was injury, but mostly it was the fact that a bunch of the work consisted of doing things I’d never had the opportunity to do before. Which made for a great learning experience, but terrible efficiency.

Lest all work and no play make me a dull boy, I took a day off from hurting myself for a road trip, then closed out my vacation with a week in a cottage up north with the family. And by up north, I mean within an easy driving distance. The best part about living in Maine is that I don’t have to get on a plane to visit amazing places, which is fortunate because I spend so much time on planes for work that literally the last thing I want to do in my free time is fly.

Anyway, the following is my report on what I did on my summer vacation.


With a bunch of construction projects looming, we tested the hearing protection for my shop assistant. She wasn’t terribly enthused, but we’ll work on that.


After watching dozens of YouTube videos to look at how other people did it and optimize my technique, I used everything from a simple prybar to a sawzall to deconstruct six or eight pallets I found in Portland on Craiglist for free.


This yielded a fair amount of “reclaimable” wood, which is another way of saying wood with a shitload of nails in it.


The first project with the pallet wood was building a patio table to replace the glass one that was shattered by a freak gust of wind. If you’re interested, here’s more on how to do that.


Building the table was the first of many days spent wearing a respirator.


Though it turns out that a shop-vac makes a reasonable dust collection system for a random orbital sander.


For this and my follow up project, I bought a used but perfectly functional lunchbox planer off Craigslist. The seller’s story was interesting: a former master electrician, he and his wife were headed out to California to work for the National Park Service. His first post? Death Valley.


With the wood left over from the table, I built a companion bench. This would have been a somewhat easier task, but I made the mistake of showing Kate a video of a substantially more complicated model than the one I had planned on building which she preferred.

Thanks to a very kind brother-in-law, made my first second appearance at Fenway this season. The knuckleball giveth, but it also taketh away.


Next up after the bench was building a closet organizer, which was going swimmingly until a saw horse collapsed and snapped one of my two center panels. This required some in project adjustments and compromises that resulted in a center portion that is, well, let’s just say mistakes were made.


To be fair, if someone had given me a choice between being injured by one of the many power tools I used over my vacation or plywood, I would have taken the latter. That being said, it’s amazing how much damage several thick and heavy sheets of melamine coated plywood can do if they drop suddenly. If you’re not squeamish, this is my finger eight days after the initial injury.


Taking advantage of a break in the weather, I picked a good day to take a road trip through some beautiful country.


My destination was a place I try and visit every summer, one of the few swimming holes with a waterfall I have a shot at having to myself.


A day after that, the whole family packed up and headed up north to one of our favorite towns in Maine. Town being a somewhat generous term in this instance.

We took up a full size station wagon and a midsize pickup truck. Both were absolutely packed. Traveling with kids is no joke.


The view out of our cottage was not too bad.


The view from the deck of the cottage was also better than average.

Eventually, I more or less gave up taking pictures because Kate was getting shots like this one.


Because Poseidon hates me, the better part of the week was characterized by truly massive surf, the ancillary effects from Hermine, a truly unique storm system. The swells were big enough, in fact, that when they impacted the granite ledge the cottage sat on, you could feel it.


When we weren’t at the beach, out on a seal watch, or walking the neighborhood, life was hard.

Exhibit A: Wednesday, we had a family outing to Oxbow.


On Friday, we returned to Monhegan Island. Two things made this trip stand out. First, it was by far the roughest crossing I’ve ever had out to the island thanks to Hermine. I didn’t get seasick, thankfully, but it’s the first time in a long time where it seemed like a possibility.

Daddy & Sophie & E ❤️ Island trekking. #BabyEOG

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

The other first for this trip was that I’d never visited the island as a dad before.


Importantly, we also verified that the Monhegan Brewery is a) still there and b) still delicious.


While the weather was both colder and foggier over our week than was originally forecast – thanks again, Poseidon – it was, as ever, a great and relaxing week. We were also gifted with a very nice sunset to close out our time up in Chamberlain.

Now it’s time to get back to work, but I’m already looking forward to next year.

About the Truck

call me marty mcfly

A photo posted by stephen o'grady (@stephenogrady) on

Friday afternoon, I got out of work a couple hours early and bought a truck. Or more accurately, I leased a truck, but I’ll come back to that. A lot of people have had questions about the truck, beginning with: why did you get a truck? So that seems like a good place to start.

Why a Truck?

The answer is mostly: our house. That’s not the only reason, of course – I spent almost a half hour trying to shoehorn our stroller into the passenger seat of my Volvo S40 last weekend because it didn’t fit in the trunk, for example. But it’s mostly the house. As has been documented here many, many times previously, we have done and will continue to do quite a bit of work on our home. It’s a lot better than it was when we bought it, but there’s a lot left to do.

Which means picking up everything from plywood to drywall to solid core doors to gravel to 8′ weather treated 4×4’s to fill. Taking construction debris to the dump. Picking up random free pallets to build a pallet wall. Trailering down my father-in-law’s Kubota. And on and on.

To his credit, my Dad’s been fantastic about driving down with his F-150 whenever we’ve needed him. But I could honestly have him down here two or three times a week, which is a bit much to ask given that he’s forty minutes up the road and that my parents have a schedule of their own (they are literally the world’s worst retired people).

A truck, then, is something we’ll get a lot of use out of. Having sadly failed to persuade Kate to get one when we replaced her car, then, the job fell to me. Even though I hate driving trucks and have always driven sports cars (Mustang/Thunderbird) or sportier sedans (Taurus SHO/S40).

Why not an SUV?

This is the second most common question I got. The short answer is that there are enough things I need to pick up (e.g. plywood sheets) that either a) wouldn’t fit or would be awkward to fit in an SUV or b) would destroy a carpeted rear cargo area (e.g. fill or gravel), that an SUV is optimal only for a subset of what we need it to do. A cargo space not constrained by a roof that I can clean with a hose has advantages for what I need it for.

Conversely, as a two adult and one baby household that also has a station wagon, we’re not in desperate need of additional interior storage space. The versatility of an open bed, therefore, was preferable.

Why a Midsize?

Theoretically I get better marginally better mileage, but really it’s the size. As someone who drives to and parks in Portland a lot, I was in the market for the smallest pickup that would work for what I need, and the midsize (Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier) are basically as small as it gets.

My Dad’s full size F-150 counterintuitively helped sell me on a midsize. His has a short bed – around the same length as my own – but still could handle 4×8 sheets that we braced and hung over the tailgate. Seeing that I could generally get what I needed in a more compact footprint made a midsize pickup seem like a reasonable option.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the midsize trucks start at eight or ten grand less than their full size counterparts.

Why a Tacoma?

When I first started looking, I really thought I’d end up with a Chevy Colorado, as that is getting the best reviews in the class at present. But it was narrowly edging the Tacoma, for the most part, and Toyota’s truck offered two things the Colorado didn’t: a manual transmission option on any engine, and a moonroof.

The latter sounds dumb, but I’ve really grown accustomed to having an open roof, and it’s not available on the Colorado at all. Even on Chevy’s full size Silverado, the moonroofs are available only on models that start at $50,000 – far more than I wanted to spend on a pickup.

As for the stick, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a manual transmission on anything these days. Basically zero full size trucks come with one, and the Chevy Colorado comes with a stick but only on the most basic models with a tiny four cylinder engine. Outside of Subaru, Toyota is one of the few vendors selling a standard on any engine you like – though it’s not available on their highest end Tacoma model, the Limited.

Car people will tell you that automatic transmissions have come a long way in reliability and efficiency, and that they are now superior to humans with manual transmissions in both aspects. I have no doubt that they are correct. For me, however, there is something profoundly enjoyable about how a manual transmission involves me in the driving process in a way that an automatic or even manual paddle shifters never could.

So yeah, I might be able to do without a moonroof, but once I found out I could get a stick with the Tacoma’s V-6, I was pretty much sold.

Do You Hate the Environment?

I don’t, and it’s unfortunate that the mileage on a pickup isn’t better. But the work that needs to get done on our house is going to be done by a truck, whether we own it or not, so the net loss to the environment by a truck sitting in our driveway is marginal. That being said, if Tesla ever gets around to making a pickup – a prospect which is reportedly not as crazy as it sounds given that electric motors apparently can produce virtually infinite torque – I’ll be first in line.

One other helpful development: bus service from Freeport down to Portland starts this Thursday, so wherever and whenever possible, I’ll be taking public transportation.

What Don’t I like?

Apart from the fact that Toyota puts reverse on the other side of the gearbox from Volvo, which means that I keep stalling out the truck while trying to back up because it’s in 6th, the most unfortunate thing about the Tacoma so far is its electronics package. GM has wisely, in my opinion, punted and acknowledged that they are probably not as good at developing consumer electronics systems as Apple or Google, so they support both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Toyota, meanwhile, has borrowed from Ford’s playbook and is attempting to outcompete the consumer tech giants. The result is Entune, a poorly reviewed – to put it charitably – app that patches your phone into the Tacoma’s electronics package, allowing the passthrough of apps like Pandora. It’s not Ford Sync bad, but it’s not great.

The good news for Toyota is that my S40 was literally the last model Volvo ever made that was incompatible with an iPhone adapters, so I’ve been patching my phone into my car stereo with clumsy Monoprice FM radio adapters forever. By comparison, Entune – warts and all – is a godsend.

Why a Lease?

Generally speaking, my preference is to buy a car, both because I have no interest in always driving a new car and because the years without car payments are really enjoyable. In this case, however, I’m leasing for three reasons. First, because my brother who’s in finance ran the numbers for me and told me to lease. Second, because I have no idea whether or not I’m going to be able to adapt to driving a pickup after spending years driving things that actually handled well, so limiting my commitment to three years makes sense. Last, because a lease allows me to hedge against factors I can’t predict right now. What’s the trajectory of gas prices three years from now? How much progress have electric vehicles made in that span? And so on. If I buy, particularly given the unnaturally long lifespans of Toyotas, I’m locked into the Tacoma for a decade plus. With a lease, I can reassess the landscape in three years and re-up if that makes sense, or head in an entirely different direction if gas costs $4 a gallon again and electric vehicles can make it from Maine to Fenway and back on a single charge.

What Did You Do With Your S40?

Normally it’s bad news when they don’t offer you much for your trade-in. In my case, it was something of a relief. I get to hang on to my S40 for a little longer, providing it continues to run, and hope against hope for some sort of last minute miracle that restores it to working order so we don’t have to donate it to charity.

As Kate said today, people may think it’s a little weird that the first thing I’d do upon winning Powerball would be to fully restore my ten year old car with a hundred and ninety thousand miles on it, but those people have never driven my car.

How Did Our Heating Upgrades Pan Out?

IMG_20150413_131825 (1)

One of the things you do when you’re an analyst is try to turn everything into numbers. Which you can then analyze. If anything, this tendency has gotten worse since becoming a parent, because I find myself up late but not in a position to watch one of my movies which typically involve explosions, a lot of yelling or both.

The latest target of this unhealthy fixation on metrics is our heating costs.

By way of background, our house is a modestly-sized single floor ranch built in the 1970’s. When we bought it, we believed that the house had both adequate attic insulation and an oil burning furnace of a relatively recent vintage. Both of these things were later proved to be untrue. Which is how we ended up paying around $2,800 to heat our house two winters ago.

Part of that was oil that cost two dollars more a gallon than it did this winter, but still, that’s bad for a house of our size, even in a climate like Maine’s. Terrible, actually. Worse was the fact that we’re using the word heat very loosely. Up until this past winter, we kept our house cold: heat set to 50 the majority of the day, bringing it up to 60 during the morning when we left for work and for a few hours when we were making dinner.

Humans really are adaptable creatures, so this felt normal to us. Friends wore mittens when they came over. This, for almost $3,000.

So we did the logical thing: we contacted an energy auditor. He had a lot of recommendations, new attic insulation among them. What we thought was adequate was actually somewhere around R17 versus the recommendation for new construction of R49. Thankfully, when we got bids for attic insulation, they came within a reasonable enough margin of the DIY cost, so I didn’t have to crawl around our attic with a respirator getting stuck with tiny shards of fiberglass. I have legitimately never been more relieved than when the winning bid came in.

One of the other recommendations from our auditor was ductless minisplit heat pumps, which are hyperefficient relative to our old and inefficient oil furnace. Not believing the technology was quite ready, we instead swapped out our fireplace for a fireplace insert (a Jøtul Rockland 550, specifically). If you’re unfamiliar with the product, it basically crams a woodstove into an existing fireplace. Wood is not a perfect heat source and has its environmental drawbacks, obviously, but given that the new EPA approved model wood stoves burn much cleaner and that after loading all of the costs oil doesn’t look too good we didn’t have much debate about the insert.

We made many other smaller changes to the house – I hung storms on two windows that were so leaky we used to get snow inside, we sealed cracks with spray foam and so on – but the major changes were the new layer of insulation in the attic and the stove. The question was: were they worth it?

Having run the numbers, the answer is an unambiguous yes – in spite of the cratering of price of oil.


  • As mentioned above, in 2013 we spent $2,821.29 on heating oil. In 2015, we spent $610.62.
  • The huge difference is not attributable to any single factor, of course. The average temperature was a few degrees warmer this year, and most obviously, oil cost a lot more in 2013. But the savings would be massive even without the huge price drop: at 2013 prices, we would have spent $1,368.29 on oil.
  • We would have spent less than half as much because we used less than half as much oil. In 2013, we bought 827.6 gallons of oil. This year, that number was down to 401.4.

The pricing numbers are slightly misleading, however, because a wood stove obviously requires fuel of its own. We spent a little less than a thousand on wood. If we take that thousand, then, and add it to what we would have paid for oil if it cost as much it did in 2013 we’d come out just shy of $2,400.00. A savings of better than $400 over our 2013 costs, but substantially less impressive. Except for the real wild card in all of this.

Remember how I said we kept our house cold? We did not – could not – do that this winter, because we came home from the hospital with a tiny human in December. What this meant in practical terms was first that we needed to keep the house a lot warmer than we usually do, and second that we needed to heat it essentially round the clock while we were home with the baby. So instead of heating the house to 60 for a few hours a day, we had to keep it at 68 or higher from December through March, 24 hours a day. All of a sudden, the numbers look a lot more impressive.

The analyst side of me desperately wants to extract and assign the precise savings per investment – the fireplace insert saved us X, the insulation Y – but even if that’s possible with any degree of precision, it’s not worth worth it. It’s enough to know that the combined investments have the potential to save us hundreds (potentially thousands) a year while allowing us to make the house much more comfortable for a child. The insert is also an excellent hedge against fluctuations in the market price of heating oil.

All in all, it’s money well spent. And when we build a fire now, it actually heats the room.

My 2015 in Pictures

As I’ve fallen into the habit of doing, it’s time to wrap up the year with a pictures post. This is where I 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. Everybody wins.

Every year has its ups and downs, but the peak was considerably higher this year than in years past. Unfortunately, however, the valleys were commensurately lower. As is the practice in my family, however, you take the bad with the good and make the best of what you’re given. Anything else is a waste of time.

Now before we get to the pictures, a quick look at some of the data that describes my 2015.


2015 was an improvement travel-wise. I still traveled more than I’d like to (i.e. basically not at all). But my mileage was down over 13K from the year prior, my status-match fueled affair with Virgin America actually saw me get a few cost effective upgrades to first class for red eyes and I finally got around to getting an AMEX Platinum card – which was worth the price for the automatic Starwood Gold and 4 PM checkouts alone. With circumstances changed at home – we’ll get to that shortly – I’ll be more strict about travel in the year ahead, so we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and

  • Distance-wise, I flew 90,023 miles, or 13% less than last year (the pre-baby travel blackout helped).
  • This was the second time in six years I failed to reach 100,000 miles.
  • 44 of my 60 segments were on JetBlue. 9, however, were on Virgin America which is likely to steal some of JetBlue’s business thanks to a better loyalty program.
  • Partially because of my time on VA, I was more likely to fly out of Boston (25) than Portland (17).
  • Interestingly, however, I was in SFO as much as PWM.
  • I spent over 9 days on planes.
  • My most popular route again 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) Facebook, 3) Reddit, 4), 5) Google+. Yes, Google+. Seriously.
  • Seven of the top ten searches on my personal site for the year were about building your own Netflix. The other three were about kegerators.
  • Per FitBit, I took 2.6 million steps in 2015, the second year in a row that number has been down. Some of that was a lot of time spent at the hospital, more of it was issues using the treadmill desk at the office which led me to relocate it to the home office. Still, work to do.
  • Per ThinkUp, I tweeted 47,678 words last year, or 17K words more than Hamlet, 18K more than Of Mice and Men and 21K more than The Old Man and the Sea. All I can say is: I’m sorry.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 3

IMG_20150103_193026518Kate and I brewed our first beer of the year, a Heady Topper clone. It wasn’t Heady Topper, but even fake Heady Topper is delicious. Plus the dry hopping made the house smell amazing.

January 4

IMG_20150104_175329274Finally got frustrated enough with my tool situation to go out and get pegboard and start hanging everything up. Still not finished, but it worked well enough that I’ve looked up how to do this on concrete walls for my Dad’s basement.

January 28

IMG_20150128_074704643_HDRGot a bit of snow, which meant we were not flying to London.

January 29

IMG_20150129_190338245Flew to London, just in time for the Monki Gras. As always, amazing.

January 30

2014-02-01 01.32.57Never miss a chance to visit Au Bon Vieux Temps. Won’t be there this year, unfortunately, but given the reason, I’m ok with it.

February 3

IMG_20150203_134508506Kate and I had both been to Ireland, but never together. Fixed that.

February 5

When we got home from our flight around 10 PM that night, our driveway was covered in multiple feet of snow. So after getting off a transatlantic flight, I had to dig out enough space to get our cars off the road and then get up the next morning and finish the job. Decided that I’d prefer not to repeat this and started looking at snowblowers.

February 7

IMG_20150207_132200328For the first time in my life, we had so much snow that we had to rake off our roof for fear of it collapsing. I wasn’t alone – the snow rake I bought from Home Depot was the last one in stock.

February 8

Remember how the snow was so bad I had to rake our roof off? It got worse.


This was looking straight out of the bedroom window. On the positive side, the bedroom stayed very dark during the day which made for good napping.

February 9

2015-02-07 17.38.18
The Rockport House, where I spent many happy summers and which had been in my Dad’s family for over a hundred years, was sold.

February 20

IMG_20150220_191749368My best friend flew in from Denver for my 40th birthday.

Screenshot_2015-02-19-17-53-01Not shockingly, he was delayed.

February 21

IMG_20150221_175818604My brother drove five hours to be there as well.

Some randos showed up too.

What followed was absolutely insane. Kate rented a small bus, crammed all of us in it, and we were driven from brewery to distillery to brewery for tours and fine libations.

IMG_20150222_222044534When we got back to the house, the big reveal was a custom built bar made from reclaimed wood, fully stocked with a little help from our friends.

If you’re going to turn 40, this is how you do it.

March 5

IMG_20150305_205856853Made it through one more offseason.

March 14

IMG_20150314_212459639Celebrated Pi Day with friends. And Sasuga.

April 13

IMG_20150413_131825We replaced an inefficient fireplace with a hyper-efficient fireplace insert. We’ve turned the furnace on maybe three or four days this winter.

April 24

IMG_20150424_145359Already panicked about what to get Kate for her birthday, Rachel blew me out of the water before I knew what had happened.

April 25

IMG_20150425_122345Because I’m incompetent, friends helped me prepare for Kate’s bday.

May 9

so, so well done

A photo posted by stephen o'grady (@stephenogrady) on

With Kate off alcohol for the best reason there is, Ryan and I went to the Allagash / Cantillon / Russian River event at Allagash. It was easily the best beer event I’ve been to.

May 19

IMG_20150519_120423157 (1)Had never been to Vancouver. Once there, my only question was: why? Every tech event that will fit in their conference center should be in Vancouver. Gorgeous city.

June 3

My second book, The Software Paradox, was published by O’Reilly.

June 13

Our hop plants – Cascade and Centennial – sprouted.

June 20

IMG_20150620_165451298With wood playing a more primary role in our winter heating plans, started construction on a woodshed.

June 24

IMG_20150624_182117626_HDR-PANO (2)Scratched “watch game from the Green Monster and a private box at Fenway” off the bucket list.

June 30

IMG_20150630_154103527_HDRFirewood dropoff.

July 7


One of our favorite people in the world was in town for her birthday.

July 19

My best friend’s dog Floyd – who once was flown to LA to be on Pet Stars, hosted by Mario Lopez, where he (playfully) mauled Joan Rivers’ daughter – passed away. People who don’t have pets might not understand it, but this was devastating. He was not my dog, but I had known Floyd since he was a puppy.

I’d been all over Colorado with him, and remember him long before he was the biggest lab I’ve ever seen. My friend and I used to drive up into the mountains with Floyd, and along the way he’d take turns trying to lie on top of us as if we were mattresses. Once we got there, he’d be diving through snow drifts like a porpoise. He always slept very well up there.

It was time, and he had a great life, but that didn’t make it any easier. RIP Floyd.

July 31

IMG_20150814_163239529_HDR-PANOBaxter State Park is nice.

August 3

2015-08-03 18.10.12Woodshed was both finished and loaded.


The best part of the project was using chisels that had been polished smooth by my grandfather before me.

August 13

IMG_20150813_110411257_HDR-PANO (1)I really don’t mind staycations at our house.

August 20

this was a good day

A photo posted by stephen o'grady (@stephenogrady) on

Made the annual pilgrimage to Houston Brook Falls.

August 25

IMG_20150825_170612519_HDRKate and I rented a little place on the water up north for a week. Quiet, beautiful and local(ish). Perfect.

August 28

Made the annual pilgrimage to Monhegan Island (and the now annual visit to the Monhegan Brewery).

September 6

IMG_20150906_185240456_HDRCamping with friends. Having learned from last time, we didn’t try and hike a jockey box, ice and keg in a half mile.

September 21

Yet another birthday celebrated at the O’Grady Compound.

September 28

As many of you already know, my friend Alex King passed away after a battle with cancer. I was able to visit him a few weeks before, and we got to sit and watch baseball. Red Sox/Yankees, even. I got to tell him in person that Kate was pregnant, and to pick his brain on what it’s like being the father of a daughter.

He was still fighting when last I saw him.

I got the news via a personal Slack instance that we were all on together. I was coming out of the South Portland post office on a pre-Monktoberfest errand. I typed “oh god,” then sat silent in my car for a while. I called Kate, but couldn’t really talk. I was no better a few days later at the Monktoberfest.

To be honest, I’m not much better now. Pretty much every day I read something about technology, baseball or half a dozen other things and think, “I have to ping Alex.” I remember a second too late. I know from experience that this will get less difficult. But not soon.

Alex was my friend, and he is missed.

October 1

IMG_0032The fifth Monktoberfest. Still can’t believe I’ve survived five of them.

October 24

IMG_0096Remember when I said I didn’t care to repeat last winter’s experience?

October 24

IMG_0097One of my favorite events every year. Great beer, great setting. It’s good to be outside on a gorgeous Fall day drinking something nice.

November 6

IMG_0155With our new arrival looming, snuck in a last minute visit with my best friend. First task was getting Kate situated in her hospital room.

November 15

IMG_0219Stupidly rushing because I was splitting my time between home and the hospital, I almost put the router I was using to mortice the hinges on the door to the baby’s room through my palm. Instead, I caught it in time, disaster was averted and the nursery was now an actual room with a door.

November 26

IMG_0254That time we had Thanksgiving at the hospital. That’s Allagash Tiarna, in case anyone’s curious.

November 30

IMG_0282The morning of our big day.

IMG_0287An hour later.

IMG_0292 (1)
An hour later.

I will never have a more important day than November 30, 2015.

December 7

IMG_0371The O’Grady Family heads home for the first time.

December 26

Kate got a new baby-friendly ride.

December 31

New Year’s Eve was a little quieter this year for some reason.

From other similar year end accounts, I  know many of you had up and down 2015’s as well. Here’s hoping the new year treats us all well.

Enjoy your time.


How We Leased a New Car Without Setting Foot in the Dealership

Volvo XC70 exterior

After a quick mention on Twitter, a number of people have asked how we managed to buy a car without visiting the dealership we bought it from. The answer is pretty simple: email.

With Kate’s old car, a 2002 Volvo S60, having crossed the 210,000 mile mark with a relatively expensive exhaust system repair looming, we’ve been in the market for some time. My efforts at convincing her to replace it with a pickup truck having failed miserably, another Volvo was the default choice. We’ve both been very happy with the reliability and maintenance record of our Volvos, and this is the second in a row for Kate that’s eclipsed 200,000 miles.

So we headed to our local dealership to test drive two models with a little more space than her S60 (new baby, new priorities): the XC60 and XC70. Kate had no real preference, so I went to work finding the best deal we could on either.

Step one was tracking down every Volvo dealership within a reasonable driving distance: 110 miles or so. I would have stretched it further to include Boston-area dealerships, but with a new baby time is at a premium. Interestingly, Google Maps was less than helpful for this exercise, including as it did a host of service stations that weren’t relevant for this search. Volvo’s website gave me a list, however, and I emailed five dealerships in New Hampshire and Maine with basic information: the two models we were considering, the lease terms we expected, the details of our trade-in, and so on. I (eventually) got five replies.

From there, I simply negotiated over email, taking the best offers and seeing whether or not other dealers would match or beat them. It took a couple of rounds of this, because a few of the dealerships were more traditional and wanted to do things over the phone or in person, but eventually one of them (Portland Volvo) was willing to go the extra mile and give us a higher end model at our price target and we were done.

Even better for us, Portland Volvo has a drop off delivery option. The first time I spoke to anyone on the phone was the day before Christmas Eve to put down a deposit. Three days later, I called their finance department to provide the necessary information for the credit application and the car was dropped off at our house an hour later. The driver brought all the necessary paperwork, which we signed and then he drove back to the dealership in our trade-in.

All in all, that’s about as painless a buying process as you’ll find, with the possible exception of Tesla. Not every dealership will drop off the vehicle, of course, but there’s no reason apart from test drives at this point to visit a dealership to talk price. It’s much more efficient to stick to email, engage a number of dealerships and let them compete with one another. If you’re working with one that has an internet sales department, as well, expect them to be much more efficient.

So that’s how we leased our new car without setting foot in the dealership.

November 30


Many things have happened on November 30th over the years. In 1782, the preliminary peace articles that would later be known as the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the Revolutionary War, were signed. In 1954, in the only documented case in the Western Hemisphere of a human being hit by a rock from space, Ann Elizabeth Hodges was struck by a meteorite while taking an afternoon nap. After it was slowed by the roof, she was bruised but otherwise fine. In 1980, Shane Victorino was born. This later became very relevant. Two years after Victorino was born, Thriller was released on November 30th and went on to become the best selling album of all time.

Shane Victorino or no, however, 2015’s November 30th will always be the best November 30th for us. At 8:33 AM, we welcomed Eleanor Gilman O’Grady into the world. Our first child, and one who brought her share of complications, we are grateful beyond words that she arrived happy and healthy. Well, healthy, anyway. She was a little grumpy post-delivery. She got here a little late for Thanksgiving, but as she was five weeks early (as Kate says, she’s already an O’Grady) we can’t really hold that against her.

Kate and I are adapting to the life of parents of a newborn, which is to say we’re adapting to a life where you measure sleep in minutes rather than hours. Exhausted as we are, though, what pretty much every parent told us has proven true: it’s all worth it. It always was.

November 30th, 2015 was a good day.

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.

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

2015-08-03 18.10.12

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.

IMG_20150203_134508506 (1)

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.