Route With The Old, In With The New

ASUS router on fireOur ASUS RT-AC66U router played out last Friday evening around 10:30. Dede was using her iPad to surf while we were watching TV and the signal went dead. When I checked the router, it had no power so I disconnected it, moved the wall wart to another outlet, and still nada. Rinse, repeat. No go. Just dead. It might’ve made sense for the router to have given up the ghost a coupla nights before when we had a fierce lightning storm and multiple power losses. But no, it gave out on a quiet Friday night.

Some of you will remember that I had sung high praises of the ASUS when I bought it nearly 3 years ago because it was fast, had better Wi-Fi range (altho we still ended up adding an Amped High Power Wi-Fi Range Extender about a year ago which dramatically increased the Wi-Fi range), and perhaps most cool, the ASUS router also functioned as a DLNA media server that allowed us to stream photos, music, and video files stored on a USB hard drive plugged into the router to devices throughout the house—like our Sony Blu-ray player connected to the main TV. With this, we were able to cobble together something akin to our own home version of Netflix, albeit without the snazzy menus.

All was well until a firmware update from ASUS broke things about 8 months ago. The Seagate USB hard drive would no longer mount and so couldn’t be accessed by the router’s media server function. I could still use the drive as a quasi-NAS to store files without fail, but could no longer stream content from it. I tried 2 other USB hard drives with the same net effect. From the comments I found on various forums, this was a common affliction that many ASUS router owners had recently begun suffering from.

So, with the ASUS down, I wasted no time heading back to my old standby, The Wirecutter to find out what I should replace the dead router with. And following a hasty trip to Best Buy early Saturday morning, I returned home with a shiny new Netgear R6400. Not only was it quick to setup, with most of the configuration being wizard-driven and easy to understand, but the attached USB drive was easy to share as a network storage device—and we have a DLNA media server once again!

Pruning Palms, Not Fingers

Hardly seems possible that it’s already been over 5 years since we cut down the oak tree in the back yard that was causing so many problems with the pool. But recently I went to battle with another tree back there—this time the Washington Palm in the opposite corner.

I had long since neglected the palm because I had no idea how to prune such a foreign creature. And the viral trumpet vine that’s perpetually laying siege to the flowerbed below had crept up the fence and lept over to the tree. While this made for a attractive mix, red trumpet flowers dangling between the fronds, the vines woven in and among the palm made the prospect of pruning the tree all that much more daunting.

But fed up, armed with good advice from Dave I., and with much more audacity than aptitude, I propped up the ladder, gloved up, and went to war:

The palm tree before battle

The palm tree after battle

When the dust settled and after more than 2 dumpster-loads of debris, I not only cleared out all of the invasive vines, but also removed all of the dead palm fronds that were weighing the tree down. In the weeks since, the tree has responded with lots of new growth and appears to be more healthy than ever before!

Gotcha Day – 8th Anniversary

Well it looks like it has been a year since I last blogged! The ease of FaceBook posts are slowly killing off my blog postings but I’m not quite ready to give it up yet. Our 2Dolphins blog has a lot of sentimental value and was very theraputic during our adoption journey so it must go on!

We celebrated our 8th Gotcha Day this year and I hadn’t realized how much Liam had grown until I just saw his last year’s photo again. That boy is going to be taller than me soon!

One of our annual Gotcha Day traditions is to create the stairwell photo comparison from the day he left his baby home to now. It’s always a challenge to find the right stairs for him to pose on and this year’s stairwell is from the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef Aquarium.

Every day I think I could not love this boy any more than I do right now but every day I love him a little bit more! I’m so thankful that Rob and I are lucky enough to be his parents.

Liam's 8th Gotcha Day

Gotcha Day – 7 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 6 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 5 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 4 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 3 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 2 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 1 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 7th Anniversary

Gotcha Day is here again and it continues to amaze us how quickly a year passes. Our little guy is growing up so fast and we are so proud of him. He is such a sweet and intelligent guy that has a tender heart that is full of compassion. I hope he never loses these qualities.

Below is our annual stairwell photo comparison of then and now with links below it to past years. Happy Gotcha Day Liam, we love you!

Gotcha Day – 6 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 5 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 4 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 3 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 2 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 1 year anniversary photo

Look At That Escargot!

car design sketch

Dogleg. Rocker panel. Tumblehome. Daylight opening. Strake. Mohican Line.

Do these terms bring to mind something in your garage? Well, they should! They’re automotive design terms that describe just a few of the styling cues that make your car look the way it does.

I’m far from your typical car guy—horsepower has always been less interesting to me than form & function—but I’ve long since been fascinated with the design choices, compromises, and risks that automobile creators take that ultimately shape (and continually reshape) what we perceive as appealing. It’s amazing how easily automakers can tweak their designs to visually imply capabilities or imbue their creations with certain assumed characteristics:

  • Want a muscle car? Oversize the rear fender flares like the beefy haunches of an animal, emphasize the front wheel arches, and add sculpted swage lines to suggest bulging, sinewy biceps. Also lower the front to again emphasize the hips and reduce the metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want to make a car seem nimble? Shift the cab forward (increasing visibility and shortening the hood), radically reduce the rear overhang, set the chassis higher on the suspension, and black out the turnunders so it appears perched for attack. An arched beltline also suggests sprightliness and affords a taller DLO without it seeming like, well, a greenhouse.
  • Want a robust and sturdy vehicle? Increase ground clearance, carve out chunky, squarish bumpers, scale up the fenders, and use an imposing, monolithic grill & fascia to communicate ruggedness. Also, be sure to use wheels that borrow heavily from industrial themes wrapped in large knobby rubber. Wheels and wheelarches pulled out from the body sides help imply aggression. Here too, you’ll want to reduce the height of the greenhouse so there’s a higher metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want a ride that seems lightning quick? Slide the cabin backwards, sharpen the rake (the windshield angle), emphasize the swag and beltlines, and hug the body to the ground. Adding scoops and gills, even if non-functional, implies that this beast runs so hot you have to make extra efforts to draw in cooling air. A spoiler, even if little more than an integral bump off the trunk lid, suggests sportscar-like performance.

Mind you, all of this is largely irrespective of the underlying mechanics. The design of the vehicle makes subliminal “claims” that you subconsciously associate with that car—regardless of whether it’s true or not. These design “tricks” work even if the car in question is, for example, neither fast or agile—used effectively, overall stance and sharply contoured bodylines connote movement, or dynamism, even when the car is sitting still.

Now sure, form does generally follow function and automakers do usually try to back up the implied “claims” that their highly-sculpted exteriors make with complementary powertain, suspension, etc., but for many buyers, aesthetics remain the key draw. And automobile designers have an exhaustive toolkit to tweak those aesthetics to wordlessly convey volumes.

Does the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor rev you up even though it’s simply 8″ of added muscular fiberglass and a chunky grill rework? Do the subtle waves in the sides of the Mazda 5 do anything for you? What’re your favorite automotive styling cues? Or maybe you have some distinct car design peeves? Did the 2015 Mustang break too many ties to its visual heritage to still live up to the name? Does the squashed roofline of the 2014 Volkswagen New Beetle destroy the iconic shape for you? Leave a comment and share car designs that you love or hate!

Third Grade

Hard to believe but Liam started 3rd Grade today. These school years are going by quickly and we will have a teenager on our hands before we know it. For now, I am happy that he is still in the somewhat innocent years of elementary school.

It seems like kids are growing up so fast now and the things on his mind were never thought of until we were much older. Over the summer he began questioning his purpose in life. What 8 year old does that or even cares? Maybe it came from the influence of The Lego Movie and Emmet’s dilemma; who knows? He is such a deep thinker. He also worries about having friends (which he has never had a lack of) and it makes me sad that he thinks he doesn’t have friends or doesn’t fit in. In the past, his teachers have assured me that he has lots of friends at school and does just fine so I hope that’s true.

We ran into his new teacher last week and she was very excited to see him and seems like she is going to be a good one. He had a great year last year and we are hoping that trend will continue!

Below is a picture of my baby this morning all ready to conquer another year of school!

Who’s Your (Go) Daddy?

Go Daddy logo

After far too long on our old, kinda inept and no longer competitively-priced web hosting company, we finally took the nerve-wracking leap over to a new web hosting company… Yup, we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and moved this blog to Go Daddy!

So far, I’m supremely happy with the helpful, knowledgeable, and very patient phone support reps and the ease with which I was able to migrate the site and our email accounts over!

Camp Arcadia

We just returned from a weeklong vacation in Arcadia, Michigan. The majority of our time was spent at Camp Arcadia. Even though we didn’t actually get to stay at the camp (there are a limited number of rooms and it’s a lottery system), we were fortunate enough to get to spend our days there. The camp sits on the waterfront of Lake Michigan and is just beautiful. There are daily activities for the kids and lots of adult activities as well (i.e. wine and beer tasting events)! There are nature walks through woodlands, people bicycling everywhere, and the cool summer climate can’t be beat (think: San Diego on a budget).

Thanks to my good friend Gretchen’s hospitality, we stayed about 2 blocks from the camp at her Mother’s cottage along with some of her family. The cottage was a hub of activity with people arriving from all corners; Gretchen came in from Bangkok, others came from Chicago, St. Louis, Eastern Michigan, Texas and there was even an Aussie in the house! All the kids were piled up in one room and Liam finally fulfilled his dream of having a sleepover and sacking out in the top of a bunk bed.

Gretchen graciously allowed us to tag along on her daughter’s annual fishing charter trip. We caught the boat at 5:30 AM and watched the sun rise over the lake with our hooks already in the water. I’m definitely not a morning person but the sunrise was beautiful and worth losing my beauty sleep for. The kids loved reeling in the fish and my biggest kid enjoyed it too!

The sunsets reflecting over Lake Michigan sure give our West Texas sunsets a run for the money. I could sit by the water and watch those every night and never tire of them. I had to keep reminding myself that in just a few months winter would descend and the lake would be iced over.

Click on the image below if you would like to see some of the photo highlights of our trip.

New Car Fever

I’ve had the bug for awhile, but when Dede’s Honda-CRV (a.k.a. “Rocket“) was totaled last year and we replaced it with a zippy Mazda CX-5 (a.k.a. “Rojo”)…

2014 Mazda CX-5

Dede’s 2014 Mazda CX-5 a.k.a. “Rojo”

That’s when my new car fever started to become chronic!

I’d had my Honda Element since ’03 and it was still working fine. But it had always been really basic, devoid of all of the nice features that more modern cars have, and was also downright anemic on horsepower. With all of the comforts, electronic gadgetry goodness, and zoom zoom of Rojo, my ride seemed all that much more dated.

'03 Honda Element

Rob’s “Ellie” – ’03 Honda Element EX

My new car fever stayed in remission for a few more months but it sure didn’t help when Rich & Benie upgraded to a snazzy new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo. Lots of others were getting new cool rides too… Trey & Rob M. got hot new sports cars. A super clean used Highlander was an overdue upgrade for Clems & Sophie. Ryan & Daniel both got new cars? Yep! See the trend?

Plus, a host of small problems was starting to plague the Element, including the an A/C compressor on the fritz (projected to be a very costly fix) and some flaky electrical issue that was either draining the batter or causing it not to charge properly. I had looked at lots of different options but on Dede’s urging & Georgina’s seconding, I decided to test drive a Jeep Wrangler.

Sure enough, I really liked the Jeep’s elevated and upright seating position, the nimble handling, and lots of oompfh to spare. As much as I had loved my Element for the past 11+ years, I grudgingly but unceremoniously just… let it go. Now I’m a Jeep owner! It’s a 2014 Wrangler Sport S 4X4 in Flame Red loaded with 4-wheel drive, Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth phone pairing, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, removable front roof panels and top. And of course, 2 front-mounted tow hooks because, well, you never know…

About the only key thing it doesn’t have yet is a name—and I’m working on that!

2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Rob’s new 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

There are a few accessories that I’m itching for, including a dead pedal and trailer hitch—to make use of the folding trailer that Liam & I built last year! The vast array of parts, add-ons, and other sundries for the Wrangler “JK” (a.k.a. Third Generation) is almost overwhelming! Just look at the almost-endless assortment of goodies at these sites:

Quadratec – Parts & accessories for Jeep Wrangler, CJ & Cherokee
Mountain Off-Road Enterprises
4Wheel Drive Hardware

What’s more, the Wrangler platform seems expressly built for bolting on or otherwise adding after-market stuff so even a mechanically-challenged guy like me can handle lots of upgrades. There’s also a massive online community of Wrangler owners who post tips, tricks, stories, how-to instructions, and photos galore at forum sites like these:


Tip:   By the way, as I was settling in with the new ride, I was reminded of the classic Car Talk instructions for adjusting side mirrors that I heard years ago. Car mirrors are something that you usually just set and rarely change, so follow Tom & Ray Magliozzi’s advice to set ’em right to begin with and reduce your car’s blind spots!

Port-A Party

A couple of years ago we went to the Corpus Christi / Port Aransas area for an extended weekend with Glenda and her son Slaydn. We had a chance to repeat that trip last week and once again had a terrific time splashing in the ocean, spending time with friends, and getting our fill of seafood! This time, we were also joined by Georgina a.k.a. “GiGi” and her boys Nolan and Blake.

We stayed at the posh Port Royal and the boys loved the water slides that were at the end of the elaborate set of 5 interconnecting pools. Glenda even worked up the courage to zip down the twisty water slide tubes!

Of course, we had to eat at The Crazy Cajun for the Cajun boil!

Thanks to advice from Dave I., we all went out on a 4-hour bay fishing charter and had a fun time reeling in Gafftop catfish. What’s more, the bay dolphins sensed that Dede was about the fishing boat and came along for a few visits. And our catch was promptly cleaned then we took the fillets right over to Kody’s to have them fried up with trimmings just minutes off the boat. The fish was terrific!

We also had a great time at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. We got to touch Sting Rays and watch a dolphin show from a unique underwater perspective.

Later, we enjoyed a special viewing of The Lego Movie from poolside at the Port Royal. Adults watched from the patio areas while the kids floated in swim rings during the whole show.

Click on the boardwalk photo below to see pictures from our vacation!

Liam on the beach