The Path We Take

I heard Henry whine-harumph.  I did not open my eyes.  I could sense, from the warm breath on my face, that he was likely an inch from me.  He was awake, having heard my early-waking father upstairs making coffee.  With my eyes still closed, I asked Henry if I could get 15 more minutes of sleep; he wanted nothing to do with that desire.  He licked my face.

Henry, my five-year-old basset, and I had traveled up to Hibbing the day before.  I had waffled on the heading north for a while.  Melissa was heading the opposite direction with a load of puppies and plans to work with her horse, Victor.  In the ended, Melissa said she could take, in addition to puppies, the other dogs with her to the kennel; Henry and I could venture north for a long weekend.

I rolled off the couch, put on pants and socks, walked up stairs.  Henry happily followed.  Even though there is a guest room at my parent’s, I have always have chosen to sleep in the basement on the couch.  Henry takes a chair that once resided in grandparent’s house.  The guest room in my parent’s house is actually the room that my sister and I once shared when we were in the low-to-mid-single-digits of age.  Later, the room would become just my sister’s.   Since that time, has been remodeled.  New wall-covering, new hardwood flooring; it’s a different room from the room my sister claimed as hers in the early-to-mid-90s.  Henry is a wanderer and harumpher.  Any detectable motion on the part of the parents, and I feel Henry would want to investigate.  It works best if Henry and I just stay elsewhere in the house.

Coffee and toast was had while my mother discussed with me a recent study she had read that involved the efficacy of placebos.  I brought up a question that had been rolling around in my head that involved charter schools and success of public education systems.  An email arrived, it was from my good friend Pete.  In addition to sitting in on a hearing or two today, did I want to have lunch, too – maybe noon?  Yes, I did.  I needed to get going then; it would be at least an hour and half drive to Two Harbors, and it was 9:45am.

With a reassuring pat on Henry’s head that I would return later, I headed out for Two Harbors.

Periodically, I notice that people cycle back into my life.  Sometimes, the person runs parallel with me for years only to disappear and then reappear a couple years later, or reappear just for lunch once every six months.  Some, through happenstance, who have been absent thirty-years, come into contact, maybe via email or text message, only to have emails and text never returned.  Others, after a year or two, disappear all together.  Life sometimes has hard turns where you jettison individuals who were not hanging on tight enough.  I wrote about this idea a while ago.  The idea of hard inflection points in ones path that sends two friends in different directions.  The idea that individuals cycle back, even just for the briefest of moments, is phenomenon that sometimes bewilders me and sometimes amazes me.

I have known Pete for thirty years.  It was not until college, however, that we became great friends. Maybe we connected because of our hard times; I was coming off of having been ill and out of school for my entire senior year of school; Pete was mentally digesting a death of a parent.  In 2003, Pete was best man in my wedding, and eleven years later, I returned the favor by being best man in his wedding.  Throughout grade school and high school, Pete and I were always in the same mathematics and science focused courses and after school programs.  I remember making an text-based animation of a race car hitting a wall – all in BASIC on an Apple IIe – in an after-school science program.  After two years at the community college in Hibbing, I followed the woman I had been dating to Duluth; Pete stayed on at the community college one more year.  We drifted apart for a few years.
IMG_2810The road to Two Harbors is almost mind-numbingly straight.  There are a couple turns or twists, but from a turn around the Makinen area up to Bassett Lake, the road is without a curve.  There are a few turns and bends around Bassett Lake, a final ninety-degree right turn south, and then more straight road into Two Harbors.  Even on an overcast day with a bit of moisture in the air, Lake Superior can been seen in the distance as you drive south, descending in elevation as you approach the town and lake.

The woman that I followed to Duluth had already been at the university in Duluth for a year.  In the overlap time of my attendance at the community college and her living in Duluth and attending university there, too, I had made traveling to Duluth for weekends a routine.  From time to time, the weekend visits would involve meeting other university friends of hers.  One such friend was Belissa.

I arrived at the courthouse in Two Harbors.  I had visited Pete and his place of work one other time, a number of years but the potential location of his office was not coming back to me.  The courthouse, however, has one courtroom.  The placard on the main entrance to the courtroom said, “Quiet, In Session”; Pete was in court at the moment.  I took a seat outside the courtroom.

Several months after I moved to Duluth, the relationship with the woman whom I had followed ended.  Belissa would become a person I saw now and again in the hallways at the university.  Pete was off in North Dakota causing mischief under the guise of “going to school.”  Everyone’s paths diverged.

The hearing Pete was reporting for ended, and the courtroom opened up.  I slipped into the back of the gallery and took a seat.  The next hearing started.  A mea culpa from the public defenders office for dropping the ball on the matter at the hand, a testy prosecution because of the dropped ball, a tentative rescheduling of the matter by the judge, and the hearing was over.  A short time later, Pete and I were heading to place a bit up the shore for lunch.

Visiting with Pete and sitting in on hearings in a rural courthouse was the plan for the day.  The evening, however, would involve attending a wedding reception.  Adam and Belissa’s wedding reception.

This is the strange sort of cycling back that I refer to.  I have known Adam since shortly after meeting Melissa.  He and I formed a software consulting business in the mid-2000s.  I knew him before he had kids with his to-be first wife.  Somehow, two individuals from two different areas of my past met, and are forging forward with a new path – together.

I left the reception after a couple hours.  I was exhausted, but still had the hour and half drive back to Hibbing.

Cyser, Mead and Cider

Cyser, Mead and Cider


Cyser.  It is a form of mead made with the addition of apple juice.  The word, cyser, is possibly a derivative of sicera.  It’s of latin origins and means an intoxicating drink or liquor.  Or so the Internet is telling me.

I have been interested in brewing and fermentation for while.  In the mid-part of the first decade in the 2000s, I picked up a few books on brewing beer or making cider and wine.  I never followed through with the creation of anything fermented and palatable — with the exception of sourdough bread.

At the old house, near Duluth, we grew grapes among many different fruits.  The hope was to some day grow enough grapes to make small amounts of wine.  The Frontenac vines grew and produced small crops, but not enough for wine.

The place we have now in St. Paul has no grapes worth turning into wine.  The grapes on our property tend to be Vitis riparia, or riverbank grapes.  Riverbank grapes are of little use on their own for wine.  High acid and planty-taste make for crappy wine; not to mention, the fruits tend to be in the tree canopy – up in the air, fifty or more feet.  Vitis riparia, is an important component in the burgeoning cold-climate wine industry here in Minnesota.  The Frontenac variety, for example, is a hybrid cross of Vitis riparia and Landot noir.  We will, though, be getting back to having vines that might some day produce a wine.  The first go at it will be with Maréchal Foch this spring.  Wine to follow in a few years.

Apple pulp wrapped in cheesecloth.

We do, however, have a few very old apple and pear trees.  The dogs like the apple trees as the branches tend to bow down far enough for them to pluck apples right off.  The pear trees are enormous and would take planning to harvest fruit.  The apple trees with their low branches pose an easier harvest opportunity.

During the mid-fall of this last year, I picked a 5 gallon bucket of apples from the two trees.  It was late in the apple season, and most of the good apples had fallen to their demise on the ground: quickly into a hound’s stomach after the fall.  This bucket of apples was not destine to be passed through a hound, it would first sit in the freezer in our basement.  Spread out in what could be a stainless steel steamer tray, the apples slumbered in the freezer until late January.

While looking in the freezer for any remaining chickens, I noticed the steamer tray of now slightly wrinkled apples.  I should do something with these, I thought.

Sometime in the spring of last year, we had a honey-related mishap.  Several (many) jars in storage blew their lids.  Nothing violent, these were more likely slow motion eruptions of a sticky mess.  It was brought to our attention when the dogs were licking the floor.  A few grains of wild yeast had remained in the jars, and with the right conditions, some unwanted fermentation occurred.  We filled half-gallon canning jars with the remains of the unfermented honey, and then pasteurized them in the oven.

IMG_2468-1What does one do with thirty pounds of honey that you do not want to sell because it is no longer raw?

You give some away.  A co-worker used a bit in homemade ice cream.  I chose to ferment some.

Friends of ours, Alex and Larissa, helped out.  They are experienced home-brew-beer makers.

We started with a recipe from The Meadery, and then, did not follow it exactly.

Even though Alex and Larissa are experienced beer brewers, making mead, making cider, or making cyser was new to them, as well.

The Recipe (of sorts).

The apples ended up juicing out to about ¾ of gallon. In addition to the juice, we add 2.¼ gallons of water to a large, stainless stock pot.  We heated this until it was about 120° F.  The end goal was to make five gallons, and we stuck with the meadery’s suggestioof using a pound of honey to a gallon of liquid.  Five pounds of honey (a bit over one half-gallon jar) went into the stock pot to be heated.

January 29, 2016 — Primary Fermenter

Transferring the three gallons of juice, water and dissolved honey in a six gallon carboy, we topped the carboy with an addition two gallons of water to bring our total up to five.

IMG_2533The Meadery’s recipe mentioned using champaign yeast, and that is what we did.  Earlier in the week, I had ordered WLP715 Champagne Yeast along with some yeast nutrient.

We had to wait for the carboy of liquid to cool.  It took a while, but when it was below 85° F, we pitched the yeast along with the nutrient.  With a clean air-lock in place, we set the carboy next to a heat register in the kitchen.  And, we waited.

The air lock bubbled for days as the yeast did its yeasty thing.  By day ten or so, the bubbling was noticeably less frequent.

February 13, 2016 — Secondary Fermenter

Alex and Larissa swung by on a Saturday to transfer the goodness from the six gallon primary fermentation carboy into a five gallon secondary fermentation carboy.  There may have been telltale signs of a slight infection on the top of the liquid.  Even though we did heat much of the liquid enough to dissolve the honey, it was not high enough to kill bacteria or wild yeasts that might have been tagging along with the apples.

This went quickly, and soon we had slightly smaller carboy filled with much less opaque liquid then what we started with a over two weeks prior.

And now, we wait, more.  Around the time taxes are due, we will likely be bottling the cyser.  At which point, we wait more.  Mid-October is about the soonest we will get to find if the running joke of making five gallons of diarrhea is true, or if we have actually made something slightly more drinkable.  We sampled a shot-glass-worth of the yeasty smelling liquid: it was not terrible, but very rare tasting.  We plan to back-sugar just prior to bottling.  We should end up with sparking something.

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Alex J. Upper Falls, Brule River, Dec 31, 2010

Five years ago, around this time of year, my friend Andy and I ventured up the north shore of Lake Superior.  Andy is the fellow that I ventured and adventured with, to the Canadian arctic.  In the time since my first snowshoeing of Judge C.R. Magney State Park and then the arctic wandering with Andy, we both have physically moved.  Melissa and I are now in the metro region of Minnesota and we have been here for what is now approaching four years.  Andy now lives near Seattle and has moved a few times — each time more westward — in the in-between time.

I have stayed in contact with Andy since the arctic undertaking;  I last visited him on a pass-thru Seattle on the way to Tokyo.  He has since moved from his apartment in Kent, Washington, to a more permanent place: he and his girlfriend bought a house in Puyallup.  Needless to say, my past compatriot for wanderings in North America is no longer readily available.

Melissa is not one to green-light my wanderings by my lone self.  She much _DSC1196prefers that I wander and adventure with a willing associate.  She is not available for venturing, however.  She has been spending nearly all of her time away at a friend’s kennel in southern Minnesota raising her first litter of basset hounds.  She has been home to Saint Paul for only three days in the last month.

It was a bit of a whim and bit of a wanting to get back to Duluth and North Shore that I thought of snowshoeing to the Devil’s Kettle once again.  A friend from the office, who is somewhat new to Minnesota, seemed keen to the idea of snowshoeing.  He and I share similar interests – chickens, bees and gardening.  We also happened to have the same first name: Alex.   It was an easy sell, and we picked a weekend.

From St. Paul to Grand Marais, and then on to Judge Magney State Park, is just shy of a five hour drive.  After a stop in Duluth at Duluth Grill for breakfast, we continued up the shore.  Alex had been up to the Iron Range with me in fall of 2015, but he had never been up the shore of Lake Superior.  He liked it – having lived in Boston and Vermont prior to moving to Minnesota, he was missing hilly landscapes.

_DSC1123Judge Magney park is about fifteen to twenty minutes up the shore from Grand Marais; we made a stop in Grand Marais for snacks and bottled water.  A swing thru the Coast Guard Lighthouse parking lot where the sound of ice crushing against the breakwall was the dominate feature.  A collective effort on our parts, we pushed an enormous ice hunk back into the harbor, had a good laugh and were on way to the park.

The park was how I remembered it, with the exception of the road being completely plowed back to the parking area this time.

I had read the air temperature reading in the car several times on the drive to the park from Grand Marais, but it did not register: 42° F.   Very warm for January, very for January in this park of Minnesota.  I left my outer jacket in the car and opted for just a heavy sweatshirt.

Alex J, Upper Falls, Brule River, January 30, 2016

With camera, tripod, snacks and water in my backpack, we strapped on snowshoes and began the trip in.  It’s about a mile hike back to the Devil’s Kettle.  It’s nearly all up hill, until you get to the Upper Falls, at which it is nearly all down a very steep set of wooden stairs.

It was a fantastic day for snowshoeing and hiking.  Perfect weather, perfect temperature, and only a few people on the trail.

Even though we snowshoed in to the falls and to the Devil’s Kettle, which was nearly completely frozen over with ice, we ended up carrying the snowshoes on the way out.  The above freezing temperature meant the snow had started to melt and collapse a bit.  Besides, the hike out was all down hill.

Henry & The Chicken’s New Year’s Romp

Henry & The Chicken’s New Year’s Romp

My mom and dad sent home some of the left over New Year’s ham for the chickens to enjoy. Henry got to tromp along out to the coop with me to give it to the chickens. All of the chickens enjoyed their treat!!!!

Semester Done, School-year Done

Semester Done, School-year Done

recommender0The fall semester is in the books.  I am now about two-thirds thru the required credits for a master’s degree in computer science.  With chipping away at the degree in a part-time manner, when complete, it will have taken me around four and a half years to finish an otherwise two-year degree.

This year, the courses I took involved HCI – Human Computer Interaction.  For those who did not click on that Wikipedia link, HCI is an area of computer science that looks at (observes) how people use computers and associated technologies, as well as the creation (design) of technologies that let people computers in interesting ways.

For the spring semester, the course I took was titled, Collaborative & Social Computing.  It explored, from a fairly high-level, the many aspects of HCI.  We looked at Wikipedia, Zooniverse, Mechanical Turk, a host of dating sites, as well as Chris McKinlay’s gaming of OkCupid (there’s also a book on this, too).  The class ended with a two person project – my partner and I implemented a very crude Wikipedia-of-CompSci-course-work.  Think of this as a free and open platform to obtain questions and their answers for computer science coursework.  This was to be an instructor-centric platform where instructors could share with other instructors their courses’ questions.  We called it AssignmentHub.

This course was a bit of a gateway-drug for HCI.  Little samples – gets you hooked, gets you interested – convinces you that the next level, HCI & UI Technology, should be a great course.

The name, HCI & UI Technology, is a bit of a catch-all and does not clearly state what my fall semester’s primary course was about: research methods within the context of human-computer interaction.  What’s that I just said?  The gist of the course was look at a research paper from the HCI-world and look at the methods of research used.  Grounded theory method, surveying of individuals, was there a statistical process applied, and so on.  We read a lot.  Thirty-eight papers or chapters, likely many hundreds of pages.

Many of the papers and chapters have blended together in my mind.  Which ones were on Facebook?  Which ones used mturk?  Which ones were about designing technologies and which ones were about evaluating perceptions of technologies?

There is one paper that stands out a bit in my mind.  It is likely that it stands out because I had to co-present it to class.  The paper was Project Ernestine: Validating GOMS for predicting and explaining real-world task performance.  

It’s a 74-page paper, published in 1993, that chronicles the scientific effort to compare work-times of telephone operators using two different workstations at NYNEX.  Those with a keen mind for remembering late 1960s television might realize that Ernestine was the name of one of Lily Tomlin’s characters on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.  Ernestine was a sarcastic telephone operator.

The paper also draws on work from Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their efforts to measure worker performance and study motion in a more scientific manner.

After all the readings, the term was rounded out with co-authoring a research paper.  The paper was modeled after Understanding User Beliefs About Algorithmic Curation in the Facebook Newsfeed. Instead of Facebook, we looked at Reddit and people’s perceptions of Reddit’s Best algorithm.

And, that’s it.  Lots of reading, three research projects (including the research paper).  Social and Collaborative Computing was certainly gateway-drug to the more hardcore HCI & UI Technology (HCI Research Methods in disguise).  It was interesting to learn more about the inner-workings of a sub-area of computer science, but I have definitely had my fill for a while.

Below is a table of nearly all that we read this term.  Enjoy.

Paper or Chapter NameAuthor(s)
Curiosity, Creativity, and Surprise as Analytic Tools: Grounded Theory MethodMichael Muller
An older version of the Wikipedia talk page for Edina,
Excerpts from Old Edina, MN Wikipedia Talk
Is it really about me?: message content in social awareness streams.Naaman, Mor, Jeffrey Boase, and Chih-Hui Lai.
Hustling online: understanding consolidated facebook use in an informal settlement in Nairobi.Susan P. Wyche, Andrea Forte, and Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck
Understanding User Beliefs About Algorithmic Curation in the Facebook News Feed.Rader, Emilee, and Rebecca Gray
Mediated parent-child contact in work-separated families.Yarosh, Svetlana, and Gregory D. Abowd
Experimental Research in HCIGergle and Tan
Understanding User Behavior Through Log Data and AnalysisSusan Dumais, Robin Jeffries, Daniel M. Russell, Diane Tang, Jaime Teevan
Research Ethics and HCIAmy Bruckman
Effectiveness of shared leadership in online communities.Zhu, Haiyi, Robert Kraut, and Aniket Kittur
To stay or leave?: the relationship of emotional and informational support to commitment in online health support groupsYi-Chia Wang, Robert Kraut, and John M. Levine
Practical Statistics for Human-Computer InteractionJacob O. Wobbrock
Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.Kramer, Adam DI, Jamie E. Guillory, and Jeffrey T. Hancock
Predicting tie strength with social mediaEric Gilbert and Karrie Karahalios
Survey Research in HCIMuller et al.
Concepts, Values, and Methods for Technical Human-Computer Interaction ResearchHudson and Mankoff
Research Through Design in HCIZimmerman and Forlizzi
Skinput: appropriating the body as an input surfaceChris Harrison, Desney Tan, and Dan Morris
The bubble cursor: enhancing target acquisition by dynamic resizing of the cursor's activation areaTovi Grossman and Ravin Balakrishnan
Field trial of Tiramisu: crowd-sourcing bus arrival times to spur co-designJohn Zimmerman, Anthony Tomasic, Charles Garrod, Daisy Yoo, Chaya Hiruncharoenvate, Rafae Aziz, Nikhil Ravi Thiruvengadam, Yun Huang, and Aaron Steinfeld
Performance and User Experience of Touchscreen and Gesture Keyboards in a Lab Setting and in the WildShyam Reyal, Shumin Zhai, and Per Ola Kristensson
The drift table: designing for ludic engagementWilliam W. Gaver, John Bowers, Andrew Boucher, Hans Gellerson, Sarah Pennington, Albrecht Schmidt, Anthony Steed, Nicholas Villars, and Brendan Walker
Predicting human interruptibility with sensors: a Wizard of Oz feasibility studyScott Hudson, James Fogarty, Christopher Atkeson, Daniel Avrahami, Jodi Forlizzi, Sara Kiesler, Johnny Lee, and Jie Yang
Zensors: Adaptive, Rapidly Deployable, Human-Intelligent Sensor Feeds.Laput, Gierad, et al.
Beyond the Belmont Principles: Ethical challenges, practices, and beliefs in the online data research communityVitak, J., Shilton, K., & Ashktorab
Unequal Representation and Gender Stereotypes in Image Search Results for OccupationsKay, Matthew, Cynthia Matuszek, and Sean A. Munson
y do tngrs luv 2 txt msg?Grinter, Rebecca E., and Margery A. Eldridge
Becoming Wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia.Bryant, Susan L., Andrea Forte, and Amy Bruckman
Wikipedians are born, not made: a study of power editors on Wikipedia.Panciera, Katherine, Aaron Halfaker, and Loren Terveen
Agent-based Modeling to Inform the Design of Multi-User SystemsRen and Kraut
Project Ernestine: Validating a GOMS analysis for predicting and explaining real-world task performance.Gray, Wayne D., Bonnie E. John, and Michael E. Atwood
Cooperative inquiry: developing new technologies for children with children.Druin, Allison
Sabbath day home automation: it's like mixing technology and religion.Woodruff, Allison, Sally Augustin, and Brooke Foucault
SpeechSkimmer: interactively skimming recorded speech.Arons, Barry
Sensing techniques for mobile interaction.Hinckley, Ken, et al.
A touring machine: Prototyping 3D mobile augmented reality systems for exploring the urban environment.Feiner, Steven, et al.
"I regretted the minute I pressed share":
A Qualitative Study of Regrets on Facebook
Wang, Yang, et al.
Winter Forest & Almost-Solstice Bonfire

Winter Forest & Almost-Solstice Bonfire

My parents generally do not travel out from their house after dark.  On the Iron Range, where they live, in late December, it gets dark rather early.  This means it is rare for them to leave their house after 4:30pm.

A few weeks ago, Melissa and I traveled up to Hibbing; my sister was in from North Carolina.  I can’t remember the exact reason, but after dinner and after sundown, we all ventured thirty-minutes north to the familial land.  Overcast, but not too cold, it was grand to be in the taiga at night.  We stomped around a bit, and then headed back to town.

After that bit of post-sunset pioneering, and several days later, my mother got the idea that she wanted a bonfire, at night, on or very near the winter solstice.  She dropped the idea of me coming there for a solstice fire via email…many times.

I ended up taking the twenty-first off from work; hound-Henry and I drove up on the twentieth.  The fire was not exactly on solstice – we had it after dark, on the twentieth – but it was close-enough for my mother.  The morning of the twenty-first, we returned to the woods to survey the remains of the fire and to pickup a memory card from a trail camera.

Gram’s Anise Cookies

Gram’s Anise Cookies

Gram's Anise Cookies
Print Recipe
These are the cookies that Gram would always make for Christmas and give us a tin of them. They have the texture of a shortbread type cookie.
Cook Time
7-8 minutes
Cook Time
7-8 minutes
Gram's Anise Cookies
Print Recipe
These are the cookies that Gram would always make for Christmas and give us a tin of them. They have the texture of a shortbread type cookie.
Cook Time
7-8 minutes
Cook Time
7-8 minutes
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cream butter.
  3. Add sugar gradually.
  4. Stir in the yolks and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Add flour, baking powder, salt and anise seeds. Beat until mixed.
  6. Roll into balls.
  7. Dip in poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired.
  8. Bake 7-8 minutes.
  9. Cool cookies.
  1. Mix powdered sugar, milk and anise extract to make a glaze.
  2. Mixture should be somewhat thick, microwave for 10 seconds to thin.
  3. Dip cooled cookies into glaze, let some drip and turn over to place on cooling rack.
  4. Immediately add sprinkles if desired.
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