Escaping the 06511 zip code

Leaving behind some great friends

Now, do not get me wrong – I had a lot of fun with many of my friends in New Haven, and for those who will be staying there for additional school or folks I met who live in CT outside of New Haven – I will miss them greatly.  They were the most immediate source of aid and comfort in the face of often finding coursework and daily life experiences with the rudeness of New Havenites – and I am deeply thankful for their presence.

Plus, they gave me excuses and dining partners for outings to the various delicious restaurants around the city:

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the photo!

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the sole photo I could convince our waiter to take with my expensive DSLR camera (they were nervous about breaking it)!

For the ways in which “technology can really ruin people’s ability to be truly present with one another” can sometimes sound like a valid concern, it will be that self-same technology which allows me to continue to cultivate and enjoy friendships forged over as many as 3 years – and that is a wonderful thing.

No end in sight/packing up the remainder of my crap

So, as mentioned in the previous post, the afternoon after commencement was meant to be packing whirlwind, but it turned into a much-needed 12 hour coma for myself and my visiting family.

It is a damned good thing we did so, too… because even in the face of weeks (in fact more than a year, as I used the space in my car to bring home stuff every time I have gone home since May 2013) of packing and preparation, the amount of crap we had to box, bag, and otherwise defenestrate was astonishing.

IMG_20131210_102846_677

The room prior to being emptied, back in the middle of December

Sure, it is true that I was in the same house in DC for nearly 4 years and had accumulated a lot of stuff there (and I am a camper and a builder/fixer, so much of it was useful gear)… so that all got moved up north in 2011, and then I added 3 New Haven years of crap to it (again, mostly useful stuff… just bulky).

So.

It was a hell of a long day, with our intentions starting at “it should take about 4 hours, we can depart at noon or so and drive part of the way to our respective destinations” and eventually arrived at “well, we just packed for 8.5 hours, Michael is passing out standing up.”

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk... like me :D

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk… like me 😀

I went to Bob’s to pick up the trailer, and again recognized how tired I was, and also how unsafe it is to drive while exhausted… but even less safe to tow a trailer in the darkening evening.

I spoke to Bob and was able to secure a bed in their guest room to sleep for the night, and I cannot overstate how important this was to my (eventual) safe passage south to Maryland.  I slept deeply and departed on Wednesday (rather than Tuesday), and did the trip in one fell swoop.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

For more on the arrival and continuing story of my time in Maryland, please see the blog I put together for that experience, at this link.

The setting of New Haven. and (happily) moving away from it

The number of gang shootings and drug violence in my immediate neighborhood (some of which can be seen here) was a serious part of my time in New Haven – something like 21 or 22 instances of shots fired in 3 years, within 5 houses of mine.  This is besides the more “typical” crimes experienced by Yale students – down around the university, muggings are a common experience, and not where I lived (after all, I lived in the poor part of town so no one had money on them to be stolen).

Crime is not a new experience for my living situation, but I will tell you what really wore me down the most – the rudeness and generally aggressive-paired-with-frustration that came forth from many of the people I interacted with in New Haven… particularly while driving.  In a serious way I am thankful for 3 years spent in the area, 2 of which involved a lot of driving – I was always a decent driver, but I am at a place in my life where NYC is “just an annoyance to be avoided” as opposed to the stressful bugbear of past-Mike’s outlook on driving.  Through this crucible I became a better driver, and indeed the crucibles abounded in and around New Haven.

Thankful as I am for all the good and for the bad experiences turned into good lessons learned, I was more than ready to get out by the time the semester ended and I headed south.

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

Final thoughts on school

I have always loved Calvin & Hobbes, and this one comic captures many of my thoughts about the academy in general, after a good 8 years trapped in it:

Cannot agree enough

Cannot agree enough

Critical thinking and carefully examining the problems of our world are vital aspects of any well-lived life – but the number of times I have watched the sinking ship of “a conversation with relevance to the real world” from a lifeboat, as my peers would continue the quibbling that sunk the ship of relevance in the first place… was too many for me to bear.  I was way ready to get out of the academy more than 2 years ago, even – but I stuck it out, and for many reasons (the lessons learned in class, the lessons learned about how not to act or live by observing other people, and most importantly: nearly full coverage of my shoulder surgeries and physical therapy all made this waiting game worth it).  I am deeply thankful for the opportunities I had at Yale, but it simply wasn’t a good fit for me in many ways because, frankly, I dislike obfuscation and prefer action to pontification.

There are a lot more things I could say about this place, but suffice to say: I took the advice of a YDS peer long ago and always assumed good intentions in the words, throughts, and deeds of my Yale Divinity peers – as everyone up there, so far as I could tell, had their hearts genuinely in the right place.  Just, too often did someone offer their politics instead of their religious convictions (if any, a complex issue at YDS as I experienced it) – and just like in church in real life, I didn’t come to hear about a person’s politics, I came to hear a religious message.  I got some of the religious insights and training I sought, often from unexpected sources, but at the end of the experience I am so deeply, truly grateful to be moving back out into the real world and out of the bubble of seminary (which, to be fair, is a reality about most seminaries, being a bubble).

I think, if you go back and read through this blog, you’ll see that I moved over time further and further into projects and camping trips because 1) they were in the real world and away from the bubble; and 2) they were constructive actions, as opposed to the academy’s tendency to deconstruct everything with a nauseating smugness and then offer no solutions whatsoever.  My mind and body were ready to depart, and now departed I am (save for the summer’s internship, which due to my fighting for it, will be physical labor- and project-heavy… as rehabilitation after so long in the academy).

Glad to have gone, but more glad to have finished and now to be gone, it seems.

Thanks for reading the blog!

To those folks who have followed my blogged time in New Haven and at Yale Divinity School, I can quote unto you the message I painted on the basement stairs over 2 years ago:

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

Advertisements

The final final has been vanquished; preparing the trailer for my caravan to freedom

Getting a great deal

(Editor’s note: this post is going live some 2 weeks after the fact, because the last portion of my time in New Haven was simply too busy for me to compose this before now!)

In February or March, it occurred to me that it would be 1) a lot easier to move; 2) a lot easier to do farmwork in Maryland for my internship; and 3) prepare me for years of utility and capacity ahead.

I knew that Harbor Freight is at times a great place to purchase tools and gear – they claim to offer the best deals on great gear, and while their prices are always very low… the quality of what they sell isn’t especially compelling in some cases.

That said, I did a hell of a lot of research over months, looking into whether or not their trailer kits could be trusted – and what I found was, a resounding yes IF you properly clean and repack with grease the ball bearings in the wheel hubs.  Which I did, very carefully, as per below.

My good friend Syed helped me find out that HF was going to hold a sale on Easter Sunday, for 25% off of one item.  The specific store I went to didn’t have any in stock, they gave me a voucher to get the sales price after the day once they were back in stock… and I ended up getting the kit from the New Haven store.

My good friend Bob finalizing bolt placement through the deck

My good friend Bob finalizing bolt placement through the deck

 

Test fitting one of the side walls to the vertical upright beams

Test fitting one of the side walls to the vertical upright beams

Building the trailer

My good friend Bob is a retired Marine and retired police officer, who is working security for Yale Law School – and over the 16 odd months I did IT there, I often helped Bob with various IT problems which arose.  He had told me about the garage he had, where he likes to fix cars – and when I mentioned the trailer, Bob jumped at the chance to help me out with a project before I departed New Haven!  Thus, once I finished the last final of my academic career (thank Jesus it is over), I dove into working as many hours at the Law School as I could, while also working on the trailer after shifts ended.

Bob and his brother Eddy and I, hanging out on a Saturday in the car shop they have used for more than 30 years

Bob and his brother Eddy and I, hanging out on a Saturday in the car shop they have used for more than 30 years

Over several nights and weekends, Bob and I (and his visiting older brother Eddy, at times) worked to put together the metal frame, to prepare for the decking and side walls.  I decided to do 2 foot tall walls, making use of the slots in the steel frame as to ensure they are stable when in place but also make their removal a non-issue.  We used pressure treated lumber for the deck and uprights, to make sure they last as long as possible – and then I painted the side panel plywood prior to assembly.

I found a special set of interlocking corner hardware for trailers, and then a set of super heavy duty Tacoma pickup truck bed D-rings, as the other modifications I did on the trailer.  The corner hardware got put onto the side walls and they do an excellent job of holding the walls very steadily in place, even at speed.  The D-rings were drilled into the outside edges of the frame, as to allow for tie-down points when I have the walls removed and am transporting heavier or larger items such as 4×8 plywood (as opposed to the lighter duty door handles I put onto the deck for internal tie-down points).

Ready to go!

After a great deal of work, the trailer was ready to go – and my best intentions were to take it home to New Haven from Bob’s garage, load it completely for the Maryland trip, and then return it to Bob’s locking garage for safe storage until the moment of my departure south.  I did indeed do that, and in retrospect am VERY glad I did so!

Other than electrical, the trailer was ready to go on schedule (I ended up finishing a few days later)

Other than electrical, the trailer was ready to go on schedule (I ended up finishing a few days later)

Preparing to camp in Vermont; delving into the land of DSLR cameras

Recovering from the Maine trip: Dylan’s visit to New Haven

I had a load of fun in Maine, but beyond being tired from the trip itself, the clean up and then catching up on work and school communications and assignments saw me quite tired by the time the next weekend rolled around.  Luckily, I had planned for my old friend and roommate of several years in DC, Dylan, to come visit for a weekend – and we had a blast relaxing and gaming!

The big events for the weekend included Starcraft the board game:

The game comes with some fantastically detailed miniatures for each of the class factions...

The game comes with some fantastically detailed miniatures for each of the class factions…

The board is randomized each playthrough, and grows a LOT as more players join.  Also, the order system is uniquely clever - each planet has one space to place order tokens, and that means the orders are executed last one laid down  first... So good.

The board is randomized each playthrough, and grows a LOT as more players join. Also, the order system is uniquely clever – each planet has one space to place order tokens, and that means the orders are executed last one laid down first… So good.

Firefly the board game (sadly, Dylan took the sky from me):

Firefly in progress, making cargo runs of the legal and illegal varities through the 'verse

Firefly in progress, making cargo runs of the legal and illegal varities through the ‘verse

Sentinels of the Multiverse, a clever card game made possible by the online fundraising site Kickstarter, this game is completely original heroes and villains, in different settings, all done with cards (and is very quick to learn AND it has immense replay value):

Sentinels in progress with Firefly set up in the background, waiting to be played.  Dylan and I got our shit kicked in by some of the expansions' villains, yeesh

Sentinels in progress with Firefly set up in the background, waiting to be played. Dylan and I got our shit kicked in by some of the expansions’ villains, yeesh

… the Battlestar Galactica game with all three expansions included, which takes up most of a billiard’s table worth of space:

My friend Kelli was able to make it over to join us.  I turned out to be the Cylon, and I lost (but just barely)

My friend Kelli was able to make it over to join us. I turned out to be the Cylon, and I lost (but just barely)

… and the End of the Triumvirate, the good family fun involved in killing and backstabbing your co-consuls to take Rome and make it into the empire it was meant to be:

At the end, Kelli swooped in and took the military victory (though I was close at politcking my way to success)

At the end, Kelli swooped in and took the military victory (though I was close at politcking my way to success)

All told, it was a hell of a lot of fun (we also took a break from fun and games to go see the new Robocop with some of my friends from YDS, and that was more enjoyable than we were expecting!) and a much-needed weekend spent doing VERY little in the way of strenuous activity, or sleeping in 0 degree weather, or the like!

Work on the car

Near the end of February, I was idly searching Craigslist for rooftop accessories for my car, and I found a GREAT deal on a Bajarack Mule – made for offroading, it is a seriously well-constructed steel addition to the MFALCON.  They have several attachments for it, including the ability to lock fuel and water jerry cans into place onto the roof; they also make an attachment which allows for the transportation of a shovel and an axe on the side of the rack, preventing damage and/or dirt inside the cabin of the car.  I will keep my eyes out for those and snag them when I can (both for camping use, but also general travel utility), but for now, I am just thankful to have found one so close (in NYC, and on the evening Dylan was going to take the train from there anyways, so I just picked him up).  For an offroading accessory, it looks rather sharp on my car:

The Bajarack on the MFALCON, in the garage in NYC where I bought it

The Bajarack on the MFALCON, in the garage in NYC where I bought it

As a followup to the work I did in Maine with Mark, where we installed a new camshaft, I needed to change the oil early (after a mere 500 miles), to make sure any steel shavings or particulates from the cam wearing in are removed from the engine.  Interestingly enough, I had never actually changed the oil on this car myself, having only owned it since March 2013 and not having reached 10,000 miles until I was in Maine – Mark showed me the way to remove the under-engine cover, and that was the only thing between me and the oil drain plug.

As to avoid the DESTRUCTO DRIVERS of the New Haven area I would be at the mercy of if I worked on the street in front of my house, I actually did the work in the parking lot at school:

The number of very friendly "Oh can I call AAA for you" requests was noteworthy, but worth enduring: changing oil on Winchester is ASKING to be hit and killed

The number of very friendly “Oh can I call AAA for you” requests was noteworthy, but worth enduring: changing oil on Winchester is ASKING to be hit and killed

While the car was up on the ramps, I wanted to get another aspect of fluid maintenance under my belt – changing the manual transmission gear lubricant fluid out.  Given I do not know how recently it was changed by either of the previous two owners… or if it was ever changed… I wanted to do it.  This is a higher priority because the shifter has been a bit notchy recently (the closest word I can think of for “the shift pattern doesn’t always work every time, which means bad shifts unexpectedly).  Started to do it and then found out I was missing the 17 mm Allen wrench I thought I had.

Ordered it and two days later, dove into the project in the parking lot again, this time in 18 degree weather.  Cold and unpleasant for me, yes.  Cold enough to see the plastic tubing I was using to feed the new transmission fluid into the feed hole, yes.  I am still very grateful to and for my friend Chris, who drove up and got me, and took me to Home Depot (no way I could drive my car when there was no gear fluid in the transmission), and then ended up pouring the fluid into the funnel above the engine as I laid underneath and ensured most of it went into the damned transmission (the tubing I got was *exactly* the size of the godsdamned fill hole, so I had to wrestle and warp it into place, and then seal it with electrical tape).  Not the prettiest job, but it is both done and done well – the car shifts like a brand new vehicle.

New transmission gear oil, and then a much-needed filter for the boost gauge I added into the cabin - the filter will prevent buzzing as I crank the throttle up

New transmission gear oil, and then a much-needed filter for the boost gauge I added into the cabin – the filter will prevent buzzing as I crank the throttle up

Finally, to handle the other aspect of clutch maintenance, the brake fluid will need to be completely changed out – this car has the clutch and the brakes share a reservoir.  I did the easier version of this (namely, a turkey baster to draw as much out of the master reservoir in the engine as I could) in May, and the stuff in there was in NASTY shape.   To properly do this, though, I will need to bleed the actual valves at each wheel, near the individual calipers… and so I am leaning towards just holding off until I switch to the non-winter tires and will have the wheels off anyways, to do this.

The finishing touches: getting and modifying snowshoes of my own

Craigslist has served me remarkably well in the past few years, in terms of finding good deals on peculiar outdoorsy or car accessory items I would have to spend a fortune on to get brand new, and this past week was no exception.  In this case I had to travel fairly far away, to Blauvelt New York, but got a pretty good deal on some once-used snowshoes, some very old ski poles in good shape, and most importantly: she threw in a free pair of snowshoe bindings which I will use to modify the snowshoes and make them a LOT more reliable.

The snowshoes, VERY old ski poles (they have the original leather wrist holders on them!), and the snowboard bindings I will be using to modify the snowshoes

The snowshoes, VERY old ski poles (they have the original leather wrist holders on them!), and the snowboard bindings I will be using to modify the snowshoes.  Thanks, lady in Blauvelt NY whose name I never caught!

Thankfully I continue to have access, albeit not enough time, to go and make use of the CEID at Yale.  The trick in this case was being sure that the snowshoe ABS plastic (similar to what garbage cans are made of, its very heavy duty) was warm enough to not shatter, split, or crack… and to really ensure this, start with a very small drill bit and move progressively larger.  The bindings on the shoes stock sucked, to be honest – they are super easy to tighten…. and thus have no ability to remain tight!  The lady who sold me the shoes is a sort of collector of winter sporting goods and likes to sell it used (she had upwards of 75 pairs of skis in her basement, for instance) – and the snowboard bindings she tossed in were actually selected from a set of gear she had, to make sure my damnably large boots fit them.

Now, shifting back to reality for a moment, I did two separate multi-hour mechanical tasks on my car in less than 20 degrees this week, AND I drove more than 4 hours total to get a pair of snowshoes.  What I ACTUALLY am going to do on this trip to ensure the snowshoes stay on my feet mostly is: industrial strength velcro.  If it can hold the winter front covers on my car at 75 mph, it can hold the damned snowshoes on my feet at approximately 1mph.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it, because:

The camera has arrived: purchasing and learning the weatherproof Pentax K-30

So after a LOT.

A.

Lot.

of research and speaking with photography friends, I decided to go with the Japanese-made Pentax K-30.

The camera body and the 18-55mm lens, which combine to form a completely weatherproofed camera

The camera body and the 18-55mm lens, which combine to form a completely weatherproofed camera

The major selling points for me were:

1) it is less than $1000 but is completely weather-proofed
2) it has the image stabilization built into the body (rather than the lens like Nikon and Canon, which drives up the cost of each lens AND makes older lenses less useful)
2b) I can purchase and use lenses as old as from 1956 from this company, and they will receive the benefits of the modern stabilizing technology.  This will save me large bundles of cash.
3) it will allow me to use AA batteries in a pinch (but I also bought a car-capable battery charger)
4) it offers great options for automatic use; full manual use; and intermediate steps, to help me better learn to do manual photography to a high degree of proficiency

The only drawbacks I read about in hundreds (no hyperbole, I read hundreds of reviews and comments) of online  testimonials were the lack of an external microphone jack, and some problems with image stabilization with taking video… but I am buying this to take stills only, so those do not concern me whatsoever.

One of multiple test photos, this one of the organ in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School

One of multiple test photos, this one of the organ in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School

With this camera, the car work, and having gotten in some great relaxation time… I dare say I am ready for camping the frozen wastes of Vermont next weekend.

NECE 3, Day 2 – checking out Bar Harbor, working on the car with Mark

Checking out Bar Harbor

After a VERY cold and dark night (3 hours south of me, the thermostats read -8 degrees at 7am), I was ready to 1) eat, and 2) be out of the cold.  So I headed down into Bar Harbor, both out of an interest in getting to see the town, and also hoping for a hot breakfast in a warm restaurant.  I took some photos of the town, which was actually rather small (and buttressed on 2 sides by the Atlantic Ocean), and then found the Two Cats bed and breakfast.

Two Cats Bed & Breakfast, and their lovely carving out front

Two Cats Bed & Breakfast, and their lovely carving out front

The town itself was fairly empty, which (upon asking folks) was normal – the town booms during the summer months with visitors to Acadia, and then busts during the late fall to early spring.

The lonely streets of Bar Harbor

The lonely winter streets of Bar Harbor

Along the way to Mark’s workplace (see below), I stopped by the Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic, and got to meet a very friendly whale skull (the poor fellow apparently decided to ram a ship!).  They had some other neat things in the building, but I just marvel at the fact that a student did an independent study on bone reconstruction in order to rebuild that skull for display – talk about a LOT of homework!

Ship hull: 1, Whale: 0

Ship hull: 1, Whale: 0

Meeting Mark, getting going on the car

The trip down the coast (approximately 3 hours) to the water pumping and treatment station in Woolwich saw me encountering several places worth a photo, including this:

The ocean was quite nice, and right off US 1 for ease of enjoyment!

The ocean was quite nice, and right off US 1 for ease of enjoyment!

and this:

A gorgeous Maine home, with a gorgeous winter day around it

A gorgeous Maine home, with a gorgeous winter day around it

As someone who continues to grow into the wonderful online community at the TDIClub forums (THE place online for learning about and the troubleshooting of owning a turbodiesel Volkswagen), I had been in conversation with a member there named Mark, who is from Maine.  I asked him if I might get his help on properly doing the coolant change on my car (besides its being corrosive as all hell, the chemical must be fully washed out prior to adding the new stuff… and I didn’t want to wreck the car by doing that wrong!), and Mark, in the first of MANY acts of gracious hospitality, told me he would be happy to help me do that and a handful of other things on the car.

MFALCON parked in the Woolwich water pumping station, ready to be worked on

MFALCON parked in the Woolwich water pumping station, ready to be worked on

All told, the day of work saw us do the following:

Repairs
1) the coolant needed to be flushed and changed out (as I didn’t know how old it was).  Once we did it, it was blue… so the original, stock coolant… meaning it lasted for 245,000 miles (and is really rated for approximately 100,000)
2) an extraordinarily leaky o-ring on the oil filter got replaced, as well as an oil change
3) the valve covergasket was replaced, as were the grommets which keep the head cover in place
4) the engine bay was sprayed with industrial strength cleaner and then hosed down, and now shines!

Upgrades
1) side marker lights – in place of the Castle Wolfsburg emblems which come stock, I was able to cannibalize a set of side turn markers from a *wrecked* 2001 Passat in a New Haven junkyard for a mere $10.  Mark helped me properly wire them up so that they can be easily removed for future maintenance, but also so that they work with the front turn signals AND the emergency flashers.  Writing in retrospect, these make a HUGE difference for safety at night and/or during storms
2) the 19 year old emergency brake cover, which had rotten away, got replaced by a spare genuine leather one Mark had on hand.  We had to heat it to 105 degrees C for over an hour to become pliable enough to get onto the plastic handle, but it looks so much better

To be clear and concise: Mark is some sort of VW angel in human guise, and is simply astonishingly good at glancing at a Passat B4 and seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Kevin, myself, and Mark with the car inside the water pumping station

Kevin, myself, and Mark with the car inside the water pumping station

At the end of the day, I bought Mark some dinner and then realized how exhausted I was… and asked if I could sleep in the back of my car in his driveway (rather than a 3+ hour drive north starting at 1130pm).  I can tell you that Mark and his wife were so hospitable that they let me sleep in their home that night (and I passed the hell out once there).  Both of them were extraordinary examples (or perhaps run of the mill, I do not know Maine well enough) of genuine hospitality I have not previously encountered in New England (much less the rest of the world).

A long day, but a great one.

The final academic showdown: the last semester

Academics, nearly defeated

Reptilian possibilies for the future...

Reptilian possibilities for the near future…

So here we are, the final spring semester (or really, ANY semester) of my academic career.  I am almost as tired as the above leopard geckos, when it comes to school and its crap.

At least for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps one day, I will be dumb enough to go for a PhD of some sort and again give up my ability to enjoy myself and the people in my life due to asinine assignments and abnormal hours spent working.

Even still, the class lineup for this spring is as follows:

1) Southeast Asian Christianities – merely a requirement, the Non-Christian requirement, to be fulfilled here (not too many other options are offered, so a LOT of people take this course).  Taught by Chloe Starr, a scholar focused closely on that area, it will hopefully be interesting to examine issues of native Korean and Japanese religion, and how those tend to interplay with the rise of Christian presence in those lands over time.  Given it will be a strongly historical course, I am thinking it will be pretty good.

2) Introduction to Christian Ethics II – this is one of those courses where you surprisingly don’t have to take the first portion of the content first, or at all – this class will focus heavily on differing notions of social gospel; and more contemporary developments in Christian ethical thoughts.  Taught by Frederick Simmons, a very very very very intelligent man, the class will be a good closing experience for the slew of ethical this and ethical that I have taken over the years.  In a peculiar way, I have taken several courses at YDS with “ethics” in the title… but none of them, I have discovered, actually counted for the “ethics” requirement.  Discerning the difference between “ethics” and “ethics” apparently being some kind of master final exam of ethical prowess, I just took this class to satisfy the requirement.

3) MLK, Religion, and Civil Rights – taught by Clarence Hardy, this course ought to be a very interesting look at the Civil Rights movement; more on this as the course develops.

4) the Lutheran student colloquium, on the final topic of “random things the professor wants to teach” – I just enjoy spending time with some of my closest friends from and at YDS, in the Lutheran student contingent.  Not 100% clear on what will be taught, by former bishop of New England Margaret Payne, but it should at least be fun to sit in with friends.

Sadly, of course, I will have to do a damnable internship over this coming summer (with the associated 6 credit hour course, thankfully which takes place over 2 full days in May in New Haven in person, and then solely via Internet communications… so I will be free to escape New Haven VERY soon).

Games galore, sweet baby Jesus

So the job with managing the researchers for the French Resistance project has been lucrative enough to pay for car upgrades, cover some cost of living stuff… and thus left enough for more games to be added to the collection, including:

3 of the new games, gotten for 50% off and brand new in box (via BGG)

3 of the new games, gotten for 50% off and brand new in box (via BGG)

Android: Netrunner: a two player assymetrical card game, pitting the big evil megacorporation of the cyberpunk future versus the lone hacker, this game is surprisingly easy to play once you work through the odd language choices for many of the components of the game. And highly addictive. Highly.  I bought more of the expansions for it than I am comfortable admitting.
A Few Acres of Snow: a two player board game, the core mechanic of which is drawn from Dominion (namely, deck building during the game), this game involves the French and British battling for the American provinces during the French and Indian War.  Also addictive and awesome.
1989 Dawn of Freedom: a 2 player game which pits the Communist against the Democrat in Eastern Europe in the eponymous year, the game revolves around using your sides tools (communist uses repression and arrests; democrat uses intellectuals and protest marches) to try and sway the opinion of each sub area on the map to your side.  Interesting that the Communist player starts in control of the entire map, and gains points for maintaining as much control as possible over time, whereas the Democrat scores for gains.
Galactic Emperor: Quite honestly, not a game I was aware of… but the guy who sold me 1989 and Tzolk’in was willing to toss it in for 50% off the list price of $60 brand new in the box, so sure!  A quick paced and small board to battle for control of the galaxy (oddly enough, given the title)
Tzolk’in – The Mayan Calendar: this game has a series of plastic cogs built into the board upon which each player places worker tokens… and then the gears move and thus the “calendar” represents time moving them about.  Heard great things, got 50% off as well.
Ticket to Ride Marklin Edition: got this over Christmas, but its the quintessential railroading intro game for non-gamers, but the map is of Germany (and the trains are all Marklin model trains).
Bora Bora: a German game about settling and expanding in the Polynesian part of the world, the game balances economy building with propitiating the Gods, and seems to be really quite interesting to play with the full 4 players based on scarcity of space and resources.
The End of the Triumvirate: one of the few three player games out there, its Caesar vs Pompey vs Cassius, and its SO much fun, forcing players to watch both political and military gains of their rivals.
Glory to Rome: a card game with somewhat tongue-in-cheek art, the core mechanic is apparently around gaining and then profiting off the resale of materials to rebuild Rome after a fire, and involves all manner of delightful screwing with other players
Pandemic On The Brink expansion: another expansion purchased over break, it makes a tough game damned near impossible to win 😀

Making my own billiards table lighting, for $48 less

Billiards table, but not lit well enough :(

Billiards table, but not lit well enough 😦

The fact of the matter remains, the basement is not well-lit enough for my tastes.  I suppose, to be fair, my tastes are known to widely vary, as most of the time I prefer no light at all; but when gaming or working on a project, I want to see everything in great detail.

Exterior fixture, ready to be installed

Exterior fixture, ready to be installed

The basic idea was: buy light fixture, don’t break the bank, and install it.  Then, Home Despot decided to dislike offering decent deals on lights suitable for the unfinished ceiling in the basement (with exposed rafters, not much space existed to connect fixtures).  So their offerings were in the $60-$80 range, which is to say: way too goddamned expensive.  Not being especially interested in that, I looked in other aisles and found an exterior flood light fixture with third socket for a total of $14… bought a simple extension cord, rigged it up, and now have more light in the basement than I know what to do with!

The lights, lit

The lights, lit

As a matter of fact, I am so pleased with that on-demand light above the billiards table that I have decided to now use it as the gaming table; this also have the nice side effect of reducing time spent dissassembling or setting up the projector on the circular table, which IS a big deal, given my having infected my friend Kelli with an addiction to Battlestar Galactica!!

Fabricating LED stairwell lighting for the basement

Prepping the low cost LED fixtures for the stairs...

Prepping the low cost LED fixtures for the stairs…

The other aspect of basement lighting which needed some help was the stairs – painted dark brown by “choice” (namely, that is what the landlord had on hand for free), it is a hell of a contrast from the super bright projector on the white screen… so restroom breaks during screenings are precarious at times.  Being disinterested in spending lots of money on assembly or powering it, I came up with and fabricated 6 modules with 2 LEDs apiece, on every other stair.

One fixture working and in place

One fixture working and in place

At the time of this writing, between 1 and 3 of the modules work.  Looks like I have VERY selectively flaky soldered connections somewhere in the lines, and will have to go back through to sort  that out.  Even still, I happen to think it looks pretty awesome (and more importantly: provides enough light to see the stair edges without making the ambient light in the basement during a screening increase)!!

The exciting spring ahead: non-school related things galore 😀

As much as it pains me to say (and to be clear, it is actually my genuine pleasure to admit this), I am going to have to do as little as possible school-related this spring.  Spring break will be mostly spent daring to rent a trailer and move home to OH most of my belongings, to make my May escape quick and painless.  The weekends I won’t be board gaming or screening television and movies with friends, I will be restarting this past summer’s New England Camping Experiences (NECE), starting probably at the end of this month.  The big one will be most of a week in February to Acadia National Park in Maine, to be there at the point where the sun first (also?) rises on these United States.

Stay tuned, the blog should have lots of awesome photos this semester.

Finally, a sneak peak of the new glasses I have ordered and am awaiting

Finally, a sneak peak of the new glasses I have ordered and am awaiting

A blessed month at home – sending 2013 packing

The trip home

After prepping the car (packed full stem to stern, and also with the rooftop box filled, too), I drove half way home, to my friend John’s house in Rochester NY.  The huge predicted winter storm was nice to 1) scare EVERYONE else off the roads and 2) not actually occur on Saturday.

The entirety of the winter storm was to hit Route 90, my intended path

The entirety of the winter storm was to hit Route 90, my intended path

The roads within 20 miles of Rochester were really nasty, and all sorts of cars were spun out.  Thankfully I made it, and got to spend time with my old friend John, from board games and sub sammiches, to seeing his research lab whereat he does research for his PhD in neurology.  A great time, and also gave me the chance to rest before the remainder of the drive home on Sunday… which had extremely bad weather and dangerous roads for the remainder of NY and the entirety of PA.  Luckily, I got home safely and was thusly able to enjoy Christmas with my family:

Christmas dinner, another culinary masterpiece by my sister

Christmas dinner, another culinary masterpiece by my sister

Working while relaxing

Large chunks of each week spent at home have been used to work my job, managing all the other Research Assistants working to study individual events of the French Resistance during WWII.

The portable workstation set up in the family room at my parent's house

The portable workstation set up in the family room at my parent’s house

Without a doubt, the work gets boring… but it is often fascinating, to bear in mind the big picture (namely, that I am the first person in 60+ years to know or care about these instances).

My screens - one holds the note card image, the other the spreadsheet

My screens – one holds the note card image, the other the spreadsheet

The money has enabled me to start to pay down credit cards more quickly, and also to buy certain upgrade parts for my car!

The MFALCON is official; engine computer and fuel injector upgrades

So, the fact is, my car struggles up hills.  Several actions taken this Christmas vacation to remedy that include:

1) finally getting the MF4LCON vanity plates (she’ll hold together)

The delightful (horrifying?) nerd synergy between license plate and bumper magnet is QUITE powerful

The delightful (horrifying?) nerd synergy between license plate and bumper magnet is QUITE powerful

2) upgraded fuel injector nozzles, and having the fuel injectors refurbished and rebuilt, through kermaTDI (and a BIG thank you to Paul there for helping me out)

Injectors with Sprint 520 nozzles in place

Injectors with Sprint 520 nozzles in place

3) engine computer chip tuning, also from kermaTDI

(photo coming soon!)

4) headlights replaced; foglights in place

(photo coming soon!)

5) spring shoes for the car, with a GREAT deal on Hankook tires

The sexy Borbets

The sexy Borbets, freshly cleaned and polished

All of these facts were enabled by my good friend, the Wallet Destroyer, often called Tom.

Games galore

The biggest part of my vacation is (as it always seems to be) is spending quality time with my brother and old friends, over the course of a wide variety of board games.

From 7 Wonders

7 Wonders with Leaders - the gift that keeps on giving

7 Wonders with Leaders – the gift that keeps on giving

to Cosmic Encounter,

The Lunatic - an alien race which is allowed to send ships to help attackers (so that win or lose, the Lunatic wins!)

The Lunatic – an alien race which is allowed to send ships to help attackers (so that win or lose, the Lunatic wins!)

The fun didn’t seem likely to stop. I seriously played 14 hours of board games with my brother on New Years, with several friends.  Which. Was. AWESOME. Just another component of my getting the rest I so deeply need while at home.

All told, then, probably the best Christmas and New Years I have yet had in my life.  Productive in the important ways, quality time with friends and family.  What more could I ask for?

One possible answer is: a great Saturday spent hanging out with my old friend Jeff at his place in Pittsburgh, involving delicious foodstuffs and gaming.  A delightful ending to a much-needed, much-enjoyed Christmas vacation.

Safely back to the Winchester house

Safely back to the Winchester house

“This baby’s got a few surprises left in her, sweetheart.” – the return of the MFALCON, new foglights and winter front grill covers

Leaving the Jeep better than I received it

So to be sure, it has been a massive blessing to have borrowed my friend Andrea’s Jeep – but I am ready to be back to my car and the stick shift’s far finer control.  As I send the Jeep back, the hood struts have been replaced (so the hood can remain open by itself) and the tailgate lock actuator (so now the gate can be opened from the outside AND locked).  I also ran Lucas fuel additive through several tanks of fuel, and both improved the fuel efficiency as well as brought the idling RPM from 1100 down to approximately 575 or so.  Definitely a fun vehicle to drive (and to think, I didn’t even get the chance to off-road with it), but too expensive per mile for me to drive any longer!

Thusly, given that this week saw me move to pushups on a 45 degree incline at physical therapy, and then on Thursday I received the permission of the surgeon, I have returned to my beloved MFALCON.

But I was not idle during my convalescence.  I planned out, and as of very recently, did the work involved in a couple of modifications and additions to the vehicle.

Clean and shiny as all hell (call it 90% wax, 10% sheen off the frozen rinse water)

Clean and shiny as all hell (call it 90% wax, 10% sheen off the frozen rinse water)

Fog lights, replacing the turn signals

Initially back in August, I recognized I would eventually want to install fog lights on my car – the extra light is a good thing for safety, but I also happen to think that fogs which are tinted look damned sexy whether on or off! :3

the new turn signal and fog light arrays

the new turn signal and fog light arrays

The assembly comes as a set (the stock assembly is a turn signal, a reflector, and then a fake fog light lens reflector), and thus I had to purchase replacement assemblies with the real fogs, as the sizing on the middle reflector is different.

the finished product, turn signals orange and fog lights yellow

the finished product, turn signals orange and fog lights yellow

And let me tell you, it was REALLY enjoyable to do a project even as simple as this, ordering and then cutting to size amber (turn signals) and yellow (fog lights) vinyl tint.  Having been incapable of doing much of anything for months as my arm healed, this was a really viable project for my still-healing arm while also being very practical and not too expensive.

New turn signals and fog lights installed, looking *awesome*

New turn signals and fog lights installed, looking *awesome*

Fabricating winter fronts for the upper and lower grills

A few weekends later, being optimistic that the surgeon would indeed clear me to drive my car again, and bearing in mind my home town of Chesterland Ohio is functionally the central Antarctic frozen wastes, I realize that my poor diesel engine will have a tough time warming up and staying warm while driving at home for a month (not as a flaw from my personal vehicle – diesels in general produce far less waste heat).  So taking a cue from school buses and semi trucks, I wanted to figure out some sort of winter front for my car.  There is a recently-released professional winter front available from ID Parts – but I do not want to spend $100 for this addition to my car’s winter time capabilities.

The initial pile of materials is confusing.

The initial pile of materials is confusing.

The solution was obvious, then: TO THE INTERNET!! I looked up various materials, even things like Lexan and Optix (various strength grades of acrylics) as backing materials; while using my friend Tom’s suggestion that the visible portion ought to be leather, for cool looks.  I ended up deciding on a lauan back board, with material taken from a $5 faux leather lady’s coat (thanks Good Will!!!) as the cover; the covers would attach to their respective grills using Velcro.

The finished bottom grill cover

The finished bottom grill cover

Without the CEID at Yale, I would have had to buy a bunch more tools (particularly on the fabric cutting and working side of things) – even still, I did pick up a titanium circular cutting tool and am VERY glad I did.  The overall cost was slightly over $50, so that is half the cost of buying a premade one.

The mockup emblem with the now-finished top grill covers for either side of it

The mockup emblem with the now-finished top grill covers for either side of it

Though the brown coat material doesn’t look half bad, I decided I wanted an accent color to really pop against the Storm Grey of my car; Burnt Orange it was!!

Yours truly, test-fitting the winter fronts

Yours truly, test-fitting the winter fronts

Additionally, even though this is faux leather (and thus a petroleum product), I want to try and protect the paint as best I can from the elements.  I looked into the options for leather conditioner + water sealer, and I found Aquaseal.

Fogs and turn signals still look good; winter fronts installed and making a HUGE difference on time to warm up

Fogs and turn signals still look good; winter fronts installed and making a HUGE difference on time to warm up

Traveling home to Ohio for Christmas and the 2013/2014 transition

So, these mods done, I got some help from a friend (for the sake of my poor shoulder) to get the Thule roof box atop my car, and then loaded – since last spring, I decided that each trip I take home will see my car loaded with things I do not want to get rid of, but do not need here with me in New Haven… so that eventually, when I depart this place in May 2014, the moving experience then will be easy (and almost solely furniture).

Thule box on the roof, the car is getting packed and ready to be driven into (apparently) some serious Lake Effect snow in NY

Thule box on the roof, the car is getting packed and ready to be driven into (apparently) some serious Lake Effect snow in NY

Also for the sake of my shoulder, I decided to split the trip into two days of travel – I will drive first to my friend John’s house in Rochester NY, to visit and board game with him.  Then, on Sunday, I will drive the approximately 4 remaining hours home.  Apparently big winter storms all across New England and New York starting tomorrow, so this should be interesting!