New England and Canada

A couple of weeks ago Erin, Beatrix, and I went on a New England/Canada cruise with my parents. I have finally readjusted to real life enough to get some pictures posted...

We left out of Baltimore and went up the day before so we had a little bit of extra time to kill. The nerd in me couldn't resist going to the National Electronics Museum, which was just down the street from the hotel. Their main focus is on communications and military electronics. They have a lot of great stuff in there and quite a few hands-on displays for kids. It is well worth the $5 admission.

My favorites were the Enigma machine and the Norden bombsight. I had never seen either in person before.

We sailed on the Grandeur of the Seas. She's nice but she is definitely starting to show her age. We heard from an officer later in the cruise that she has had her last refit as a Royal Caribbean ship. In the next couple of years she will probably be sold to another cruise line.

On the way out of Baltimore we saw Fort McHenry and I tried to get a photo of the NS Savannah. The Savannah was the first nuclear powered merchant ship. Now she's basically a museum ship (that's closed to the public) just waiting for the government to allocate the funds to decomission her nuclear reactor.

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After a day at sea our first port of call was Boston. I was determined to go to the Paul Revere house because last time I was in Boston Brandon and Pat wouldn't let me go.

Well... Brandon and Pat were kind of vindicated. It was a comedy of errors even getting to it and getting in and there isn't really much to it once you do get in. I like this photo, though:

Then Erin, Beatrix, and I went to some base ball park...

We went to Portland, Maine, which is nice and I destroyed this lobster.

Then we went to Bar Harbor, which was even nicer, and Dad destroyed this piece of blueberry pie.

While Mom and Dad and I were stuffing our faces with seafood and pie, Erin and Beatrix went out on a lobster boat to see how lobstering is done. Bea made a friend but she had to put him back in the ocean.

Our first stop in Canada was in Saint John, New Brunswick. We just did the most Canadian thing we could think of.

Our last stop was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We went to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I fell in love with a little sloop and Erin and Bea took the helm of the CSS Acadia.

It was a great trip. I took too few photos, and probably should have taken my real camera with me. The iPhone camera did a good job but it can only do so much.

Cool things I saw but didn't get photos of: the Saint John City Market, many dolphins and whales in the Atlantic, crossing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at night on the way back, the Ames Mansion, the Harvard Bridge.

Apollo 8 is My Favorite

A while back I retweeted a Vintage Space video about Apollo 8, mentioning that it is my favorite of the NASA Apollo missions.

Here are some of the reasons why it's my favorite...

First and foremost, it was the first time a manned mission left Earth orbit and went into translunar space. The three men of Apollo 8, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders were the first to point their spacecraft away from Earth and truly go out into space. And they were relying on the Moon's gravity to capture them and keep the spacecraft from sailing out into deep space with no hope of return. Imagine knowing that you're going to do that, relying on engineers and 1960s-era computing power to get everything right. One mistake, one missed digit in the guidance computer and you sail past the Moon and into certain death. And these three men got on top of that rocket and did it.

In the process they became the first humans to leave Earth orbit, the first to orbit the Moon, the first to see the far side of the Moon (there is no dark side, that's not how orbits work), the first to see – and photograph – the Earthrise from the Moon, and, thankfully, the first to return from the Moon.

Second, the flight patch for Apollo 8 is perfect. It’s an eight looping around the Earth and the Moon in a simplified version of their flight plan. Jim Lovell sketched the insignia during a training flight and a Houston-area artist finalized it. It is one of those rare designs that seems so simple and yet so meaningful.

They saved Christmas!

You can see the Apollo 8 capsule in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. That is definitely on my must-see list.

Wood Rack 2.0

I honestly didn't think I would be doing any significant projects in the shop/garage this soon. I finished up the Xmas projects and found a home for the new drill press and thought my next project would be the workbench I'm planning on building this Spring. But...

The other night, as we were engrossed in The Hobbit before bedtime we heard a huge crash. I went to investigate and found my plywood rack had given up and everything had come crashing down. Admittedly, it was a terrible design, poorly built, and overloaded. I should have known better. Thankfully everything fell straight down between the wall and Erin's car so nothing important was damaged.

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Clearly a new design was in order. I found a good one on The Wood Whisperer that I could easily modify to work with the existing French cleat. The plans are available for free there on his site.

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I ended up cutting most of the parts with my favorite hand saw because most were too long for the band saw and I don't like using the circular saw if I can avoid it – too much dust and noise.

I assembled it all together with regular Titebond and screws. You can sort of see from the pics above that it's basically a t-joint and an i-beam attached together. It is overkill for the amount of weight they will be holding – especially since the weight is distributed over three of them and the cleat is screwed into three studs with decking screws – but overengineering is exactly what prevents the failure I had with the last one.

Christmas Projects

Now that it's after Christmas and all of my gifts have been given out I can finally post some pics of what I've been working on.

The main project, and the one that was actually the easiest, was a longboard for Beatrix. It's cut out of a piece of 3/4 inch baltic birch. I basically just found a template online, printed it and stuck it to the board, and did a rough cut with the band saw. Then I sanded it to final dimension and rounded the edges on the router table. After that it was just finish sanding and painting. And then installing the trucks and wheels and applying some grip tape.

Beatrix has already tested the board in the neighborhood and gotten it scratched up, which is pretty awesome in my book.

The rest of the projects were small in scale but a lot more complicated than the skateboard.

I glued together layers of walnut and cherry and cut them into some bandsaw boxes. The more rectangular one – on the right in the photo – was for Erin and it was way easier to cut and sand than the others. The owls, one for Bea and one for my mother-in-law, were moderately difficult to cut and sand. The elephant, for my mom, was a nightmare all around. All of those tight curves made everything so much more difficult. After the boxes were cut out, and the drawers cut out and glued up (and small cherry pulls glued on), I sanded them all to 400 grit and applied danish oil to bring out the grain. For a first attempt they're ok but I can see every single flaw and mistake in them. At the very least I learned a lot about the process.

The other two items are razor stands. The one on the left is make out of teak and it was for my brother, Randy. The other one is made of wenge and I gave it to my dad. For those I used veneer rather than regular wood stock and glued the layers together to get the thickness and, for the upper part, the curve I wanted. Parchment paper was my best friend for that. After glueing up the layers I applied templates, cut them out, sanded to final dimension and then – learning from the bandsaw boxes – did my finish sanding before glueing the pieces of the stands together. Then it was a pretty simple matter of glueing the stands to the bases and finishing with some touch up sanding and a couple of coats of spray laquer.

These projects took me a ton of time to complete because I don't really have a proper workspace. I'm going to take care of that soon, though, because my next big project is a workbench and tool storage in my garage.

Crime Dramas

I really enjoy British crime dramas. They are better than the vast majority of American crime shows in just about every way. First, the seasons run two to six episodes, generally, and tell a complete story. There may be a "monster of the week" (hat tip to Mr. Fish) but there is almost always an overarching story line that drives the series. And a really successful show might run two or three seasons. None of this CSI bullcrap. Second, the acting is really good. These shows almost exclusively use trained, professional actors. Looking through the IMDb pages for the actors is like browsing a list of British universities with drama programs. The point is, these shows are worth watching and thanks to Netflix and Hulu we can.

Here are some of my favorites.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is first on this list alphabetically and may be my favorite of the genre. It stars two of my favorite actors, David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Season one is about the investigation into the death of a young boy in the town of Broadchurch and season two deals with the trial of the suspected murderer of the boy and goes further into the backstory of David Tennant's character by re-opening the case that has been haunting him throughout. Don't be fooled into watching the American remake, Gracepoint, even though David Tennant (sort-of) reprises the role. He speaks in a terrible American accent and the show is terrible in comparison to the original.

The Fall

The Fall is a dark, brooding show following a Detective Superintendent hunting a serial killer in Northern Ireland. Gillian Anderson – yes, that Gillian Anderson – is the DS brought in to work the case after the local police reach a dead end and Jamie Dornan – a.k.a. Christian Grey – is the killer. It's a great show with lots of intrigue with many great actors with interweaving storylines. They've done three seasons but I've only seen the first two. Hopefully we'll get season three here in the States soon.

Happy Valley

Happy Valley is a great example of fine, British actors doing great work. Seriously. Sarah Lancashire's portrayal of police sergeant Catherine Cawood is amazing. And her sister is played by Siobhan Finneran, who Mr. Fish will no doubt recognize as O'Brien from Downton Abbey. Not to take anything away from the story in this show, which is great, but Happy Valley's real strength is in the performances from the actors. There are two seasons out and there have been preliminary talks about filming a third.

Hinterland

Hinterland is the English-language version of a show produced in Wales, Y Gwyll, which translates to "The Dusk". This was part of a BBC initiative to have more Welsh shows, so they filmed it in both languages concurrently. Most of the cast and crew are also Welsh, obviously. If you're looking for a dark, moody, contemplative show this is the one for you. There are lots of shots of people being still and thinking. But the atmosphere and the cinematography really shine here. It's a beautifully shot series. There are two seasons.

Luther

Luther is so good a show it almost deserves its own post. It's about DCI John Luther, a brilliant detective with lots of personal problems and demons haunting him (not literal demons). John Luther is played by Idris Elba at his Idris Elba-est. He's excellent. Much of the series he's pursuing a psychopathic murder played by Ruth Wilson who is also excellent in this series. There are three full-length seasons and a shortened fourth, which I didn't think lived up to the first three. But Luther is a worthwhile watch for any fan of good tv.

Prime Suspect

Helen Mirren plays DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect and, as you would expect from Dame Helen Mirren, she's excellent. Tennison is a driven detective in a male-dominated environment trying to solve a series of brutal murders. For some reason I haven't seen all of this one but there are seven mini-series of two episodes each - except season four which has three – and I plan on restarting and seeing all of them soon. Bonus: Ralph Fiennes is in season one in one of his first acting roles.

River

I don't want to ruin the excellent moment in the first few minutes of River so I'm not going to tell you too much about it. It's about John River, played superbly by Stellan Skarsgård, a Luther-esque detective whose brilliant mind is offset by his internal demons. Specifically, River is haunted by the murder victims he couldn't save. There is one season of six episodes so it's very binge-watchable.

Southcliffe

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Southcliffe is the story of a series of shootings told from various perspectives and in a non-linear fashion. It is very good, but may be a little weird on first viewing. Rory Kinnear and Eddie Marsan (two of my favorites) have prominent roles and Sean Harris (who plays the shooter) won a BAFTA for his performance. There are four episodes so you can knock this one out in one long evening.

Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake is an outlier in this list. It's set in New Zealand and stars an American. The series was co-created, co-written, and co-directed by Jane Campion (she wrote, produced, and directed the film, The Piano). Elizabeth Moss, who is a much better actor than I think most people give her credit for, plays Detective Robin Griffin. She's searching for a missing school girl who is also pregnant.

Wallander

There are two different Wallander series, both based on the series of novels by Henning Mankell, one Swedish and one British. I'm sure the Swedish one is great but I've only seen the UK one. It stars Kenneth Branagh – and he's excellent, as you would expect – but you'll also get some Tom Hiddleston and friend of the show David Warner as Kurt Wallender's dad. There are four seasons of three episodes each.

Whitechapel

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The first two seasons of Whitechapel are great. Season one is about a Jack the Ripper copycat killer and season two is about a series of copycat crimes of the Kray twins. The series also stars one of my favorite British character actors, Phil Davis, who Sherlock fans will remember as the taxi driver from the A Study in Pink episode. The problem with Whitechapel comes in seasons three and four. They changed the format and the storylines started getting weird. Feel free to just watch seasons one and two. They have three episodes each.

A Couple of Related Shows...

These shows are different enough that I wanted to keep them separate from the main list, but they both deserve an honorable mention.

Vexed

Unlike all the other shows here Vexed is a comedy-drama. It centers on DI Jack Armstrong, a lazy and disorganized detective who's partnered up with a by-the-book, efficient female detective in season one and a strong, competent female detective in season two. It's basically an Odd Couple situation but with cops. Season one has three episodes and season two has six. It's a good, funny cop show.

Sherlock

I don't think any description I could give of Sherlock could do it justice. It's just a great show. If you are unaware, it's a modern re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. It's great and you should watch it. There have been three seasons of three episodes each and a special (which I think was a bit underrated). Season four starts in January of 2017 and season five is in the works.