I am still alive and well, but it would be hard to tell that lately from my blog. I have been busy, and I have not taken very many pictures. I guess it would be fair to say that my camera drives this blog. It would also be fair to say that this blog drives my camera.

Fall has peaked and ebbed here. I was able to catch some of it, but not nearly as much as I wanted to.

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Sandogardy Pond

Sandogardy Pond

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Northfield Town Forest

Northfield Town Forest

The colors here were a lot more vivid in real life. They got better when I switch the camera’s white balance setting to “cloudy” vs “automatic.” It’s probably still on cloudy, as that’s not something I usually think to check.

At the beginning of this month the Pathfinders collected food for the needy. Last week our Church’s Community Services director came in and we helped her sort and store it. We also packed up a couple of boxes for people who requested them. I handed my camera to one of the kids, and he took several shots for me including this one.

Packing a box

Packing a box

I think he did a great job.

That was the same day we did the President’s Challenge Fitness Test. That includes five events – the mile, the shuttle run, V-sit and reach, curl-ups, and push-ups. I always participate in the test with the kids because I think it sets a good example. My own challenge to them was that I would give a dollar to any kid who could beat me in the mile. I also told them that if they wanted to beat me, they would have to run the entire mile, because that’s what I was going to do. I figured I’d be out six or seven bucks, but that motivator only cost me one dollar. I wish it had cost me fifteen. Maybe if the motivator was “whoever is less sore than me tomorrow” it would have.

The day before all that we had our annual induction service. It served as our church service, and I had a ton of work to do to get ready for that. It went pretty smoothly except that I had double-booked one of the parts to two kids. I also forgot to alert the person who had signed up to be the scripture reader that day ahead of time. Sigh.

David played in two more chess tournaments since I last wrote. One was a “quick” tournament where the players had 20 minutes per game. He placed second in that one. The other was a “standard” tournament – his first. In a standard tournament each player gets more than 60 minutes (they had 65 unless I am mistaken). As a result of that tourny, he now has a provisional standard rating – 1843. That’s pretty good. It’s the best rating in his local chess club, and I think he said the 11th best in New Hampshire.

On the heels of all this, we are going to go camping this weekend. I bought all the groceries tonight. I still haven’t packed my things (and Beth has not yet finished packing). Tomorrow I will buy the last few remaining items (such as ice).

The weather is supposed to cooperate, so hopefully I won’t have to dry tents while Sandy blows through New England.

David hits 2004

David hits 2004

David was happy tonight. He finally got over a 2000 rating in chess. Good job, David!

2000 is significant because in some rating systems, that’s the threshold of being a titled player. His 2004 was from chess.com though, not from a “real” chess organization (such as the USCF or FIDE). David says it’s pretty hard to correlate the two, but still… 2004 is pretty good!

He plans to play in another tournament next month, so we’ll see how he does there.

Today was my firstborn’s last day at work, and my lastborn’s first day of sixth grade. We’ll start with Beth, because that happened in the morning.

Beth's First Day of Sixth Grade

Beth’s First Day of Sixth Grade

And then we’ll move along to Jonathan’s going-away lunch at work today.



These two events happening on the same day caused some logistical difficulties. Jonathan now has an apartment near UNH, and is ready to move in. The apartment was originally a dormitory, but UNH sold it to a commercial interest some time ago, and now they call it an “apartment.” But it is a dorm as far as I’m concerned. Apartments don’t have common bathrooms for everyone on the floor – dorms do.

It was not furnished though, so in that regard it is a bit more apartment-like than I’d like it to be. We’ve been scrambling trying to get stuff together for him. He needs a bed for the next two years. I had been intending to build a bed for Beth, so when she outgrew her crib, we got her a cheapo particle board and contact paper bed until I’d have time to make a nice one. But I never found the time. Rather than buy a bed intended to last only two years, we decided to have Jonathan use her old cheap one. It’s not a girly bed or anything like that – just not a very high quality one.

So we bought Beth a nicer new one, and I put that together a couple of nights ago. We wanted to load it into my car (it fits if the back seat is folded down), but since it was the first day of school for Beth, we needed the back seat for her.

We ended up stuffing it in Va’s trunk. She came to Concord after lunch (Jonathan’s going away lunch), and we moved it to my car. We could have just had him drive her car to UNH, but… he can’t drive a manual transmission. I have failed my fatherly duty. 😦

He and David went to UNH to wait for the cable guy to come and install his new Internets and to shuffle stuff from the car to his room. They were not able to get the furniture together (the bed plus a desk). I will go there tomorrow evening and make that happen. Second failure.

It has been over a week since I have posted anything, and that’s because I have been utterly exhausted every night for the week and a half. Work has been mentally draining, and on top of that, we had our annual Honors Week last week.

Honors Week is how I kick off the Pathfinder year. We teach one honor per evening for five days. That way people can come and check out the club to see if it’s the kind of thing they think they might enjoy, and new members get the chance to earn five patches for their otherwise blank sashes.

This year we taught backpacking, chess, candle making, wool and spinning, and Bible marking. Chess and spinning are new honors that have not yet been submitted to the national organization. Honors have to be piloted by three clubs before they are submitted, so we piloted two of them. Unfortunately, that means any new kids could earn only three patches for their sashes this year. Oh well – them’s the breaks.

On Sunday I ran a backpacking stove building clinic. We made a dozen penny alcohol stoves. I’ve been using one of these for about five years, and I love mine. I used to use denatured alcohol for fuel, but it burns with a nearly invisible flame, especially in full daylight. We found that 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol works just as well (70% does not though), but it burns with a yellow flame that is easy to see even in full sunlight. That should be a lot more safe.

Penny Alcohol Stove with Isopropyl Alcohol for Fuel

Penny Alcohol Stove with Isopropyl Alcohol for Fuel

What I love about backpacking is that it is one of the few times when I can eat whatever I want without having to think about what other people like. Everyone will pack their own food. I will pack food for no one except myself. And I am going to have penne pasta with garlic, mushrooms, and broccoli cooked in olive oil. Mmmmm. I can’t wait.

Actually, I won’t wait either. I intend to make some at home before I go to try it out under low-risk conditions. If it fails, I can work out the problems or choose something else. Maybe tomorrow.

I had to go to the bank today, so while I was out I did a lap around my usual lunchtime walk. The silver maple in front of the Holiday Inn was in full bloom:

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

It’s not a very spectacular flower, but I like it anyhow.

Yesterday I noticed that a crocus near my office had bloomed. I was on my way to the grocery store to get a pie for Pi Day when I noticed it, but I didn’t have my camera. I swung by today with the camera, but the flower had closed. Oh well.

When I set out for the pie, I thought I might try the bakery downstairs from my office. I asked the lady there if they had pie, and she said no – but lots of cake. Then she asked, “Does it have to be a pie?” Since I was getting it for Pi Day (March 14, or 3-14, as in pi ~= 3.14), I said, “Yes, it has to be a pie.” Then she surprised me by asking, “Is this for that Pi Day thing?” Wow. I guess Pi Day is famouser and famouser now.

Just in time for me to embrace tau (which is two times pi, and a much better number). There is a manifesto, but I will spare you. Suffice it to say that I think a lot of people would be less confused if we used tau (the ratio of a circle’s circumference over its radius) instead of pi (circumference over diameter).

Tonight was Chess Night again, so I took David to the community center for that. He won all his games tonight. Va took him to the library for chess on Monday, and he played a two-hour game against a guy, ending in a draw. He has still not been defeated.

While he played chess, I did a little shopping. I bought three gallons of wood glue, some cheapo paint brushes, a large sheet of plastic, some paint buckets, and some masking tape. This is, of course, all for the Pathfinders’ cardboard boat. I hauled a bunch of cardboard from the office to the church on the way home. Construction begins on Sunday.

A while back I saw that I could subscribe to Northfield’s weekly newsletter. So I did! There are all kinds of things going on in my town that I didn’t know about. One of those things is Chess Night at the Pines Community Center. They have that on Thursdays. They also have chess gatherings at the library on Mondays, but that starts kind of early.

Anyhow, it didn’t take much arm twisting to talk David into going. Chess is his passion. We were both afraid that it would be a dud though. The last time we tried that, we found an ad for a chess gathering at a bookstore in Concord. We arrived at the appointed time only to find that no one at the bookstore had any idea about a chess gathering at all. And we didn’t see anyone with chess boards.

When we arrived tonight, there were three guys in the community center with chess boards out. So yay!
David playing chess

I did not play. I know the rules of chess, but I don’t know how to play chess. I play like a six year-old. It would not have been fun for me or for anyone unlucky enough to play me.

Other than us, there were four guys there, the youngest being about my age. They were a friendly lot, and to David’s delight, were pretty good chess players. David played three games. The first was against their number three player, and he won that one. Then he beat their number two. Then he beat another guy who was not as strong as the first two. Time ran out before he could play number one. They were all pretty happy he was there, and “number one” got up several times during his own games to see what David was doing.

My guess is that David will want to go to the library Monday – all he has to do is talk Va into taking him there (or riding a bike – but that’s a long ride, and there are a lot of hills).

This morning, I took Va’s car in for an oil change, which meant I had a pleasant walk from the garage to the office. I was on the lookout for crocuses and daffodils. Instead, I found this:

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

It is the first blossom of the spring for me. It’s normally considered a weed, but I think it’s pretty cool. I like wildflowers better than cultivated ones for reasons I don’t quite understand myself. These flowers never open any more than shown here. I was fully expecting to see a crocus before I saw any other bloom. Go wildflowers!

So. Spring is here.

My son David loves to play chess. He is pretty good at it too, to the point where he has to go online to find someone who can beat him. Unfortunately, he lets his love of chess interfere with his studies at times, so it’s something we have to watch.

Before he got into this hobby, I had no idea that chess games were timed, but apparently, they are. Some games (bullet and blitz) are pretty fast, and some games are slow. Well, they are not slow to me. I’m used to taking all the time I need when thinking strategically. But I think the clock adds an exciting element to the game.

In live matches, the players use a chess clock. It has two clock faces on it (or digital readouts) and two buttons. When a player finishes his move, he touches his button which stops his clock and starts his opponent’s. They usually count down. The game ends at checkmate or when one player’s clock reaches zero (which counts as a loss for that person).

The really good chess players don’t usually play anything other than fast games when they are online. There is a good reason for this. As a person plays, his rating changes. A win against someone with a higher rating increases a player’s rating, and a loss against a weaker opponent decreases it. I don’t know what happens when a player loses to a better player or beats a weaker one, but if it affects the rating at all, it’s not by as much.

Once a player reaches a certain level, he starts running into cheaters. These people run a chess analysis engine on their computer, and plug its moves into the live online game. This is harder to do in blitz or bullet, because making the move in those games represents a pretty significant amount of time relative to the thinking. Cheaters can’t keep up with a real chess master. And that’s why the really good players don’t play anything other than the fast games online.

So why write about this tonight? Because as it turns out, a chess clock may have other applications, and I have ordered one to try it out.

Beth takes piano lessons, and part of that includes 45 minutes of practice five times a week. This is a point of contention and a source of major unpleasantness in our household. She will whine and fuss and “ask questions” during practice, and all of that is intended to reduce her actual practice time. Apparently, whining is more enjoyable to her than playing beautiful music. Go figure. By the end of practice everyone in the family is mad, because no one likes to listen to this. I have tried many things to try to put an end to it, and I’m about to try one more.

Enter the chess clock.

Player one is Beth practicing. Player two is Beth not practicing. Practice ends when player one’s count reaches zero. If player two’s count reaches zero (which is not only possible – at this point it seems even probable) then… I don’t know yet. Maybe we start over. Maybe something else. The clock will be here in a week, so I have time to decide.

Yesterday I shod myself in snowshoes and made my way into my woodlot to check my sap bucket. There was a tiny bit of sap in it – maybe a quarter cup. It was frozen solid. Then I made my way around the rest of my trail, down the driveway to the front of the property, and across the woods in front to the frog pond. The snow was rather crunchy, and Penny was having a pretty hard time of it. She would get up on the surface, take a step, and then crash through up to her chest. She couldn’t plow through that, so she’d get up on the surface again and repeat. It was enough to make a border collie quit chasing sticks, which really says a lot.

We had more snow today, but just squalls. It wrecked havoc on the roads though. It wasn’t bad in Concord at all, so I let David drive us home (he came to town for a Pathfinder TLT meeting, but we ended up canceling it when the other TLT called in sick). Conditions quickly deteriorated after we got on the Interstate, and there were wrecks, ambulances, and fire trucks galore. And there I am being piloted by an unlicensed driver (NH does not require a driver’s permit for learners). Traffic was crawling along at 15 MPH on I-93, and he was really white-knuckling it the whole way. But he did fine. As soon as we got of the Interstate though, we traded seats. He was relieved.

We were planning to go to Border’s after grabbing a bite after the TLT meeting. They have a chess club that meets there, and David is now all about chess. He has gotten pretty good at it, and I have not been able to beat him for some time now. He wanted to check out this chess club so he could play people in person vs over the Internet. But with these snow squalls, wrecks, ambulances, and fire trucks scattered everywhere, it seemed prudent to wait for the next one.